A poem about Silicon Valley, assembled from Quora questions about Silicon Valley

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Pyramid Scheme by Hera Lindsay Bird | Poetry Magazine

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

Pyramid Scheme by Hera Lindsay Bird (Poetry Foundation)


the other day i was thinking about the term pyramid scheme, and why they called it pyramid scheme and not triangle scheme
and i asked you what you thought
you thought it added a certain gravitas, and linked the idea of 
economic prosperity
with some of history’s greatest architectural achievements
unconsciously suggesting a silent wealth of gold and heat
a triangle is two dimensional, and therefore
a less striking mental image than the idea of a third dimension of financial fraud
which is how many dimensions of financial fraud the term pyramid scheme suggests
but i had to pause for a second at the financial fraud part
because it occurred to me i didn’t know what pyramid schemes really were
i knew they had something to do with people getting money from nothing
the person at the top of the pyramid scheme, or more accurately
triangle scheme, acquires a number of investors and takes their money
and then pays the first lot of investors with the money from another bunch of investors
and so on and so forth
all the way to the bottom of the triangle
or pyramid face
which is the kind of stupid thing that happens
if you keep your money in a pyramid and not a bank account
although if you ask me banks are the real pyramid schemes after all
or was love the real pyramid scheme? i can’t remember

maybe it’s better to keep your money in a pyramid than a bank
and i should shop around and compare the interest rates on different pyramids
maybe i should open up a savings pyramid
with a whole bunch of trapdoors and malarias
to keep the financial anthropologists
i mean bankers out
my emeralds cooling under the ground like beautiful women’s eyes

i think this was supposed to be a metaphor for something
but i can’t remember where i was going with it
and now it’s been swept away by the winds of
but knowing me, it was probably love
that great dark blue sex hope that keeps coming true
that cartoon black castle with a single bird flying over it

i don’t know where this poem ends
how far below the sand
but it’s still early evening
and you and I are a little drunk
you answer the phone
you pour me a drink
i know you hate the domestic in poetry but you should have thought of that before you invited me to move in with you
i used to think arguments were the same as honesty
i used to think screaming was the same as passion
i used to think pain was meaningful
i no longer think pain is meaningful
i never learned anything good from being unhappy
i never learned anything good from being happy either
the way i feel about you has nothing to do with learning
it has nothing to do with anything
but i feel it down in the corners of my sarcophagus
i feel it in my sleep
even when i am not thinking about you
you are still pouring through my blood, like fire through an abandoned hospital ward
these coins are getting heavy on my eyes
it has been a great honor and privilege to love you
it has been a great honor and privilege to eat cold pizza on your steps at dawn
love is so stupid: it’s like punching the sun
and having a million gold coins rain down on you
which you don’t even have to pay tax on
because sun money is free money
and i’m pretty sure there are no laws about that
but i would pay tax
because i believe that hospitals and education
and the arts should be publicly funded
even this poem
when i look at you, my eyes are two identical neighborhood houses on fire
when i look at you my eyes bulge out of my skull like a dog in a cartoon
when i am with you
an enormous silence descends upon me
and i feel like i am sinking into the deepest part of my life
we walk down the street, with the grass blowing back and forth
i have never been so happy

Pocket Searching

Pocket dialling was bad enough. I once received a phone call from a friend whose phone called me – as the last number he’d dialled – just as he was putting on a harness in anticipation of doing a bungee jump. So all I got to hear was rustling, and shuffling… and then a blood-curdling scream. Nice one.

A cat on a mobile phone.
Hello? Yes, this is cat. Just thought I’d press some buttons and see who I got.

But in this age of smartphones, the pocket search has become a new threat. Thanks to the combination of touchscreens, anticipatory keyboards (I use SwiftKey, and I’m beginning to think that it knows me better than I do myself), and always-online devices, we’re able to perform quite complex queries quite accidentally. I’ve got a particular pair of trousers which seems to be especially good at unlocking my phone, popping up a search engine, typing a query (thanks to the anticipatory keyboard, usually in full words), and then taking a screenshot and saving it for me, so that I can’t later deny having searched for… whatever it was.

This morning, while cycling to work, I searched for the following (which I’ve reformatted by inserting line breaks, in order to transform it into the sort-of poem you might expect from sombebody both insane and on hallucinogens):

thanks again
and it all goes on
and I will Also
Also A bit LIKE THAT
That you are looking at your Local Ryanair
and a ripening
and a ripening
I can assure are a BIT
and see the new template by clicking here
And the other side and I will have the same
as a friend or relative
relative humidity
to you
you are here car
and embarrassing
the best thing is the first three years and over

Maybe my phone is gradually becoming sentient and is trying to communicate with me. I for one welcome our new robot overlords.

A cat on a mobile phone.×

They Say that Programmers Never Die

They just gosub without return. That is, of course, a joke (with all due apologies to those of you to whom it means nothing), but there’s a kernel of truth in the saying. In their own way, programmers are like authors or artists in that their work can easily outlive them, and their unique and distinct style can be found in their creations: and in that created by those that learn from or imitate them.

This morning I was working on some legacy Perl code that holds together a part of a client’s web site. In particular, I was refactoring the code that displays dates and times in an appropriate format, as part of an effort to simplify the code after fixing a bug that would, under some unusual conditions, use the “pm” suffix for morning times (e.g. 11pm, when it means 11am). Under normal circumstances this would have been a simpler job than it was, but this particular piece of software has been passed from developer to developer, and (until it came into my hands) I’m pretty sure that none of them took the time to understand what their predecessors had done. Several different stylistic and semantic styles are used in the code, and several different solutions are used for the same problem, depending on who was in charge at any given time. In short, the code’s a mess, but the client is on a tight budget and can generally only afford to pay for the minimum amount of work, and not for the sweeping overhaul that the system so badly needs.

I came across a particular line of code, today (evidence, perhaps, of a previous developer looking into a related issue to the one with which I was tasked):

$leu_something .= $hour . " - " . $amorpm;

Even without the developer’s name embedded within the variable name, I could have told you who wrote this code because of its distinct style. Even this single line has a defining appearance of its own, to the trained eye. To illustrate this, consider that the line could equally have been written in any of the following ways (among hundreds of others, without even looking at the optional space characters and interchangeable types of quotation marks used), and would have functioned identically:

  • $leu_something = $leu_something .= $hour . " - " . $amorpm;
  • $leu_something .= "${hour} - ${amorpm}";
  • $leu_something = join($leu_something, $hour, " - ", $amorpm);
  • $leu_something .= sprintf('%s - %s', $hour, $amorpm);

Some of these methods have specific advantages or disadvantages, but all have the exact same fundamental meaning meaning. However, even from a glance I could tell that this code belonged to the former developer named Leu (and not any of the other developers whose names I’ve seen in the project) because of the style in which he chose to write it.

Non-programmers often fail to understand why I describe programming as being as much an art as a science. The work of a programmer has been compared to the work of a poet, and I agree with this sentiment. Even merely on a superficial level, both computer code and poetry:

  • Can be good or bad (by consensus, or subjectively).
  • Attach significant importance to proper syntax and style (you need the right rhyming pattern in a limerick and the right number of brackets in a loop).
  • Express a concept through the artistic use of a language.
  • When used to express complex ideas, benefit from creative and sometimes out-of-the-box thinking.
  • Often lose value if they are literally translated to another language.

Not only that, program code can be beautiful. I’ve examined code before that’s made me smile, or laugh, or that has saddened me, or that has inspired me. I shan’t argue that it’s on a par with the standard of spoken-language poetry: but then, programming languages are not designed to appeal to the pathos, and are at a natural disadvantage. Sometimes the comments for a piece of code can in themselves carry a beauty, too: or they can serve simply to help the reader comprehend a piece of code, in the same way as one can sometimes find guidance in the interpretation of a poem from somebody else’s research.

However, it’s possible to say things with code that one simply can’t convey in the same way, using a spoken language. To prove this point, I’ve composed a short haiku in the medium of the Ruby programming language. For this purpose, I’m defining a haiku as a poem whose lines contain 5, 7, and 5 syllables, respectively. It’s an existentially nihilistic piece called Grind:

def grind(age = 0)
  die if age == 78
  grind(age + 1); end

Vocalised, it would be read as follows:

Def grind: age equals zero,
Die if age equals seventy-eight,
Grind (age plus one); end.

I enjoy the subtlety its use of recursion to reinforce the idea that every year of your life gives you a bigger burden to carry (and a larger amount of memory consumed). This subtlety does not adequately translate to a spoken language.

The line of code I showed you earlier, though, is neither interesting nor remarkable, in itself. What makes it interesting to me is that it persisted – until today, when I removed it – in this piece of software. The author, Leu, died several years ago. But there will exist software that he wrote, being read again and again by tireless machines on a daily basis, for years to come.

I wonder how long the code I write today will live.

Saying Goodbye

Just thought I’d briefly share all of the different ways I’ve been saying goodbye to Aberystwyth and the people there, along with some photos:

Goodbye Friends

I’d hoped to make a proper blog post about the barbecue/bonfire we’d had to “see of” JTA and I (and later Paul, who’s leaving later this year, and sort-of Ruth, who’ll now be visiting far less-frequently), but I decided to wait until Rory got around to uploading the photos he’d taken. He still hadn’t done so by the time I left town, so, you’re stuck with the handful of pictures that I took.

Sam, both Rorys, Gareth, Jimmy and Claire
Sam, both Rorys, Gareth, Jimmy and Claire

You can even see Rory on the right of that first photo, taking pictures, the swine. As usual for our beach barbecues there was no shortage of food nor booze, and a copious quantity of firewood. Also a huge amount of paper and cardboard which needed disposing of before the move, which lead to one of the most violently spectacular beach fires we’ve ever had – perhaps second only to the time that Kit, Claire and I found large parts of a bar (as in, one that you serve drinks over at a pub) and ignited it , many years ago.

Satoko and Paul
Satoko and Paul

As the light grew dim I recited a poem that I’d thrown together earlier that evening, for the occasion, expressing my fondness for this place where I’ve spent the last decade or so. I’d promised that I’d put it online, so here it is:


In nineteen hundred and eighty five,
When I was – ooh – nay high. [with gesture sadly absent when recited over Internet]
I first set eyes on this Welsh town,
It’s mountains, sea and sky.

And beach (sans sand) and shops
(now closed), and pier (missing an end).
And thought myself, “This place, perhaps,
Could someday be my friend.”

Thirteen years passed – lucky for some –
And found me here again
In search of a place to come and learn
[I had a line here about how long it takes to get here by train, but I’ve lost it!]

My open day was sunny (aren’t they all?
how do they make it so?)
As I visited the campus and
The quaint town down below

That day, as I sat on that hill, [again with the gestures! – this was Consti, of course] looked down,
And saw a pair of dolphins play
I realised I’d found a friend: this town
And loved her, in a way.

My love and I were something sweet.
My friends; they envied me,
As she and I would come back, merry,
With a traffic cone or three.

Ten years I gave her of my life,
And treasure every one.
A decade’s love and hope and dreams under
Wales’ (intermittent) sun.

But this was young love: first love, p’rhaps
And wasn’t built to last,
And so the time draws swiftly near
That it becomes: the past.

The friend I’ll think of, as I chew
A slice of Bara Brith
She’ll always be here, in my heart,
Beautiful Aberystwyth.

In other news, you have no idea how hard it is to find fitting rhymes for “Aberystwyth”.


Goodbye Samaritans

Of course, I’d hoped to say goodbye to the Samaritans branch where I’d volunteered for the last few years, and I’d hoped to do so at an upcoming curry night that had been organised at the branch. Little did I know that more than just an excuse to say goodbye, this little party had been geared up almost entirely to see off Ruth, JTA and I. There were tears in our eyes as we saw some of the adaptations to the training room.

The Training Room at Aberystwyth Samaritans
The Training Room at Aberystwyth Samaritans

The meal was spectacular, the beer and wine flowed freely, and we each left with a special gift showing how much the branch cared for each of us. I still have no idea how they managed to orchestrate so much of this without any of us having a clue that we were letting ourselves in for more than just a curry and a pint or two.

As I left the branch for the last time, I passed the reminder sign that reads “Have you signed up for your next shift?” and thought, with a little sadness – no, no I haven’t.

Goodbye SmartData

As if there weren’t enough curry in my diet, the lads from SmartData and I went out to the Light of Asia for a meal and a few drinks (during, before, and after) to “see me off”. This felt strange, because I’m not leaving SmartData – at least not for the foreseeable future – but continuing to work for them remotely in my office on Earth that I’ve taken to calling “SmartData’s Oxford branch”. But this does mark the end of me seeing them (at least in person) on a day-to-day basis, and it was also an excuse to catch up with former co-worker Gareth, who came along too.

I should have thought to take a picture.

Goodbye Claire

I couldn’t have felt like I’d said goodbye to my life in Aberystwyth without saying goodbye to Claire, who’s been a huge part of it for, well, almost eight years. She and I got together one evening in my final week, there, to break apart the QFrames (the picture frames full of mementoes from QParty). It was a somewhat emotionally heavy time, but – I suppose – an important part of getting some closure on our break-up, last year: if there was ever going to be a part of me that was perpetually tied to Aberystwyth, it’d be the half-dozen picture frames full of photos and letters and gifts that represented “us” that I was lugging around. Now, I’ve got to find something new with which to furnish the walls of Earth, and my housemates seem keen to help with this mission.

It’s been a long process – saying goodbye to everybody – but at least that’s the Aberystwyth chapter complete. Right: what’s next?

Sam, both Rorys, Gareth, Jimmy and Claire× Satoko and Paul× JTA× The Training Room at Aberystwyth Samaritans×

Dadadodo Poetry

Decided to have Dadadodo, which I used yesterday, to generate some poetry based on my vanity pages from the old version of AvAngel.com, my perpetually-under-redevelopment web site. Take a look at this:

My body, of the religion,
That of seeing myself in a moment,
Stares ahead.
Always been an existential touch,
And I banish this.
My life, without a link, is in my writing,
To her I’m water,
At the rain comes ecstasy:
It’s gone.

Not bad for an algorithm with no pre-programmed understanding of language, I thought. Meaningless… but in a good way…

I’m Not The Only One

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Badger badger badger,
Mushroom mushroom.

Apart from Claire, is there anybody else who doesn’t find that funny? Claire claimed that nobody does, but both Bryn and Paul laughed.


Claire is at work. Kit and Paul are pickling eggs with our new supplies of pickling vinegar.

While the eggs boiled, Paul seems to have used my fridge poetry set to compose a pair of unusual haiku. They are as follows:

this is a sad symphony
about two lovers
and there death by pink chocolate

man with purple hair
woman with enormous friend
sordid drunk mother