It seems to be a rite of passage for a new editor to write an entry into the fabled Editor Log as soon as he gets his buttons, so I shall do what all of you have done. I'll tell you a little bit about my background and then finish with a list of intentions I have for Everything2.
I have a master's degree in electrical engineering. I was the oldest student in the history of the electrical engineering department to begin an ScD at the George Washington University. Classes weren't much of a problem, but holding full time jobs in the go-go era of the dot com boom years of the 1990s was, so I never did finish that. Would have loved to have gotten a doctorate to teach somewhere part time.
I am a science geek. Always have been. There is an austere beauty to mathematics and physics that had me in its grip since high school days. This love for science is not a casual thing. I have read textbooks on mathematics and physics just for fun since college days, and continue to do so. I love the texture of equations, of proofs, of beautiful unifying themes that appear like giant bridges connecting widely disparate branches of science.
I have seen science's progress. In the 1970s the powerful theory of quarks dominated the thinking and funding of high energy physics research. Later, the wave of string theories and superstrings made their beachhead. In the 1990s it was chaos theory, the theory of complex dynamic systems, and how order grows out of chaos. This very key theory will have a huge influence in the theories of biology, where the 'genesis' questions remain huge mysteries: how did amino acids self assemble into primitive collections of proteins and acids? This property of emergent behaviors of complex systems is just the thing that evolutionary biology needs to answer the intelligent design critics.
It is a glorious time to be alive. We're finally pushing back the darkness and finding out how life really did emerge here on earth. Cosmologists are, at the same time, making huge inroads into understanding how the universe itself came into being. These are puzzles being solved on the cosmic scale, and it is thrilling to watch scientists unleashed.
I have always been a huge fan of the economy of words and symbols that marks the works of the very best scientists. They can reveal things in just a phrase. Albert Einstein, Paul Dirac, de Broglie, Abraham Pais, Chandrasekhar in the realms of physics. Countless more in the field of mathematics. They are pithy, laconic. They reveal truths like Zen koans, and we are enlightened.
Somewhere along the line, I've come to appreciate economy as a defining part of the aesthetic of science. Somewhat surprisingly (to me), there is a similar sort of economy in the field of literature.
My education in the sciences was so all consuming that little time was left to study the great works of literature. In the mid 1980s I began reading Michael Dirda's columns in the Book Reviews section of the Sunday Washington Post Books magazine. He took me through worlds of literature that had gone untouched: Homer, Plato, Euclid, Aristotle, Aeschylus, Euripides, Thucydides, Julius Caesar, Plutarch, St. Augustine, the venerable Bede, Dante, Shakespeare, John Milton, Marlowe, Shelley, Keats, Nietsche, Mill, Spinoza, Locke, Kant, Voltaire, T.S. Eliot, on and on. Dirda's words were like wings. They took me flying over foreign landscapes I could only imagine, but had never read. I realized I would have to further my education in order to become acquainted with literature, and so I did, and began reading.
This required a structure. Fortunately, the Great Books colleges of St. John's in Annapolis, MD and Arizona, and the University of Chicago, had defined a basic canon. This looked like a list Michael Dirda would approve of. The promise was that the reading of these books would provide literary background a well-educated man ought to have if he is to understand the grand thoughts of the western world. I began reading. The books were boring. There was no feedback, no class, no instructors.
I brought this up with some colleagues at work at a company called Stanford Telecommunications, at the time one of the most enlightened engineering companies in the country. The founder, James Spilker, had been a professor at Stanford University and had helped create the basic signal structure of all GPS satellites used today. Our technical staff was heavily laden with PhDs and masters' level engineers. A very cerebral bunch, but quirky. They were all multiply talented. My colleague and officemate took his PhD from the University of Virginia in the area of neural networks. He was also a stage combat master and a bit player in summer stock Shakespeare plays the university sponsored yearly.
We decided to form a Great Books reading group to go through the list in a systematic way. A decade later, and we're still going strong. We've read close to sixty books on the list. I've finally read Milton's magnificent Paradise Lost. We've read French, Russian, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Middle Eastern, and Latin American works. I think that - finally - I can call myself human. I am close to having hit the mark I set for myself so many years ago, of having acquainted myself with some of the greatest literary works humans have ever written.
The art of literature is not so different, at a bird's-eye level, from the art of mathematics or physics. The economy of words is there. Anyone who's read Borges recognizes the brilliance of his all too brief description of the infinite Library, and anyone who's read Mishima or Hesse knows their tremendous economy of words to describe great ideas. It is the same. Mathematicians have a name for likenesses between disparate disciplines in mathematics: isomorphisms. Using the language of mathematics, then, there are isomorphisms between great literature and great mathematics. You won't recognize them right away, not until you've read widely in both disciplines. But they're there.
Up to now, I've been describing knowledge as a static thing, a dead thing, something other people have done. I went into engineering precisely NOT to do that. I wanted to create things: circuits, radios, systems, small things and big things. I wanted to use science to make things, and I did. And I was yearning to do the same thing with writing.
My first exposure to Everything2 is recorded in a daylog. Here was a site which did not study writing - it created writing! It was like a laboratory for writers. I was acquainted with engineering laboratories, having worked in R&D labs for over a decade, and was familiar with the incubation and creation process of new product development in electrical engineering. I had assumed that writers were solitary creatures, however, so Everything2 came as a bit of a surprise. It seemed to make sense, though, that writers would have a communal playground where they could chat and discuss learned writerly stuff, just like we did in the engineering field.
And so it was. A glance in the catbox of the time revealed that this was a highly literate, playful, and intelligent collection of writers. They came from all walks of life: college students (even high school students!), professional writers, film and stage professionals, housewives and househusbands, scientists, goof-offs, rich kids, poor kids, the whole waterfront of life, right here.
I loved the articles here. I even liked the linking to existing articles. There was a tangible sense of creation, of experimentation with words, with literary forms, that was so very appealing. This was the culmination of my studies in literature. I'd read enough -- well, that's not true, one can never read enough -- that I thought I'd give writing a go.
As you all know, I am an enthusiastic but not a skillful writer. My writing is workmanlike and mechanical. I don't have the flow or the dazzling technique that many of you have. However, I do have a spirit of encouragement and appreciation for good literature that many of you need. I am your biggest fan. I don't know how to make good pieces better, but I can tell you, "That's great! Keep going! Write more!" It may be a naive appreciation for your work, but the hope is that cheerful words will sustain you in your writing hobby. Other content editors are adept at the fine tuning of pieces. I am not. You know this.
I hope that I can provide this place a bit of social lubrication. There are many strong personalities here. Some are strong because they were born with strong personalities. I don't really care about them. I care about the strong personalities that come from being very talented writers, who care strongly and passionately about how this site is going to be sustained and evolve. You love this place, and you are not indifferent to policies that make this place run. You are the person I care about. I care that the collection of the very best and strongest writers will always work together to make this place be as wide open and caring as it can possibly be, to encourage new writers, to be attractive to writers who are not yet here, and to turn away people who are detrimental to the elusive goals of E2.
I have seen organizations rise and fall. There are many ways to fail. Success is a succession of the avoidance of many ways of failing, that's all. We can fail many ways here: we can allow one person or group of people to dominate too strongly. The opposite is also a failure: when no one leads, and we collapse due to apathy and indifference. We can fail by too-harsh criticism. We can fail by not permitting criticism. We can fail by listening to our own voices too much, and not listening - truly listening - what the other person is saying. We can fail because we are unwilling, as an organization, to adapt and change. We can fail by changing too much, too abruptly.
dem bones's true genius was that he was able to navigate this ship between the Scylla and the Charybdis of extremes. He was a skillful pilot who navigated E2 through tricky waters. He was both a masterful writer as well as a good tactician. Sometimes he acted as Pericles, and sometimes he wrote like Euripedes. I was amazed at how he was able to bring both about simultaneously.
Well, here we are, five years later, on the verge of a new epoch. I'll try to do my part to keep things going. I'll try to praise and encourage new users. I'll try to keep destructive users and philosophies out. I'll press for very high quality of writing.
And also have fun. Now let's see. What happens if I press this button here?