Blog roundup: Auftragstaktik, files, lesser-known cryptocurrencies

Once again I’ve fallen down the very deep rabbit hole of Bret Devereaux’s blog A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry. (Previously on this blog: “What I’m reading lately” (2020-07-06).) This time it’s a multi-part series on the myth of the “universal experience of war”:

(As of this writing, Part III has yet to be released.)

In the process, I learned that the word “shock” has many meanings — feeling shocked (shocked!), going into shock (cardiac, septic, hemorrhagic), getting an electric shock, being hit by a shock wave — but these are all metaphorical modernisms. The root meaning here is the one from “shock absorber” and “shock troops”: the sudden and devastating collision of two bodies. (Compare Spanish chocar. English “choke,” on the other hand, may be derived from the same root as “cheek.”)

I also learned a bit about Auftragstaktik, of which Wikipedia says:

For a mission-focused command to succeed, it is crucial that subordinate leaders:

  • understand the intent of their orders,

  • are given proper guidance, and

  • are trained to act independently.

The obverse of this is the implicit requirement imposed on superior commanders:

  • to give their subordinates no more orders than are essential (every order given is regarded as an additional constraint upon its recipient), and

  • to be extremely rigorous, absolutely clear, and very succinct in the expression of their commands.

Sounds kind of like the philosophy of C++ templates to me! To write a good piece of template code, as the “superior commander,” it’s a good idea not to overconstrain your function templates. Vice versa, it is sometimes crucial that the “subordinate” (the template implementation) be able to act independently. For example, rather than drudging forward, ++ by ++, like some Early Modern musketeer, std::advance has the freedom to exploit the local terrain and use += when possible, even though the “orders” given by its “superior commander” (its template-head) don’t explicitly mention += as part of the mission parameters.

Naturally, this works only when the subordinate template is able to understand the intent of their orders. The superior officer is expected to be “extremely rigorous” in expressing their (minimal) syntactic constraints; but it’s equally important that the subordinate understand and respect the more fluid semantic requirements of the overall strategy.

Don’t look at this allegory too closely. :)

Quite a long while ago, I read and enjoyed Dan Luu’s “Files are fraught with peril” (July 2019), and I’ve kept it open in a tab until I’ve utterly forgotten what I was going to say about it.

I think my main takeaway was that you can start with a nice clean API, but then as users push for more control (over performance, or over error-tolerance and correctness for that matter), you need to expose ickier and ickier parts of the implementation into the public API. fprintf works great until someone needs fflush… which works great until someone needs fsync… which works great until…

Finally, via Hacker News, a “List Of Fictional Cryptocurrencies Banned By The SEC” (February 2021). This was my first awareness that Scott Alexander’s Slate Star Codex seems to have been resurrected as Astral Codex Ten?

RedCoin: Karl Marx always said that communism would be a non-hierarchical economic system that prospered after the state withered away. A group of Marxist intellectuals took the obvious next step and made it an altcoin. RedCoin is notable for its reverse-proof-of-stake; you get more RedCoin in proportion to how little RedCoin you have right now, ensuring that all wallets naturally tend toward an equal amount.

If you liked that, be sure to check out UNSONG. Or ease into UNSONG with some of Scott’s “Little-Known Types Of Eclipse” (May 2019).

Posted 2021-02-13