Shai Sachs

Programming. Prose. Progress.


Blog Book Reviews Projects

Blog

  • On having been

    This week, after a twenty-year-run, the podcast On Being turned off its microphone. Sort of. The podcast is shifting from a weekly schedule to a “seasonal” one, which is something like semi-retirement. I have been an occasional, maybe too-sporadic, listener over the last few years. It’s quite a fascinating, contemplative series, with discussions ranging from poetry to astronomy and everything in between. It’s a real shame to lose this podcast, particularly at this point in history, but then again many of the episodes are rather timeless. Indeed some of the episodes are interviews that were conducted years before the publication date, even including some posthumous interviews. I’ll miss the show but I certainly have to hand it to host Krista Tippett and her crew. This show, begun in the shadow of 9/11, has created a kind of sacred space online, and that was quite an achievement.

  • Moving the Goalposts

    This week’s earworm, for some reason or other, is Moving the Goalposts, a 1991 song by Billy Bragg on the album Don’t try this at home. I have no idea why, but I started thinking about the song earlier this week and have listened to it about a dozen times. It’s a wonderfully-arranged song, but also a very strange one.

  • First thoughts on The Check

    I’ve started putting together some thoughts on my next short story, The Check. As I wrote in my first thoughts on The Game, I’m hoping to use the kishōtenketsu format to tie my first three stories together. As with the others, it will also live somewhere in the genre I’ve been calling techno-magical realism - a machine with impossibly fanciful intelligence, materialized out of nowhere as if by magic, will satirize the notion of artificial intelligence.

archive

Book Reviews

  • God: A Human History

    This book was a completely fascinating history of the concept of monotheism, and I highly recommend it. There were a lot of pieces I particularly enjoyed, and really it pushed me to investigate a lot of ancillary topics - in some ways that’s the best thing a book like this one can do! Perhaps the most interesting concept explored was politicomorphism - the notion that religions change to accomodate or reflect the forms of government which their society adopts. Hence, for instance, the animistic “lord of the beasts” of hunter-gatherer societies gives way to an agricultural pantheon of anthopomorphic gods, which each govern some aspect of the natural world. Aslan doesn’t explore this topic through to moden times - indeed, the last chapter concerns Rumi, who died over seven hundred years ago - but it’s easy to imagine how this concept plays out in the concept of the divine right of kings and so on. I’d be more than eager to read a book exploring this one topic in more detail. Politicomorphism is somewhat related to some relatively recent “chicken-and-egg” findings in archaeology. Until recently, it was commonplace to assume that humanity developed agriculture first, and that religion followed as a way to organize newly hierarchical societies. There are some very fascinating findings at the ancient temple of Göbeklitepe which suggest that it may have been the other way around: agriculture emerged as a way to support an organized temple complex. I don’t know all that much about the archaelogical consensus, but my sense is that Aslan tends to paper over some fairly important nuances in the debate in presenting these findings. Is it possible that religion developed first at Göbeklitepe, for instance, but that agriculture emerged first in other areas of the globe, like the Indus valley? Impossible to say. As a general rule this book focuses on Abrahamic religions, and is particularly occupied with the mideast as a result. Left out of the picture are some fairly important religious traditions, and one gets the sense that they are ignored primarily because they don’t really make for a nice narrative arc. That’s understandable but somewhat unfortunate, as it paints a somewhat incomplete picture of the way we view monotheism as a whole; it also leaves unaddressed some interesting questions about how major world religions interact with each other, particularly Hinduism and Islam. I was especially interested in the history of Jewish monotheism, and the related history of the Torah. Here again, the book papers over some rather rigorous and unresolved academic debate. It presents the three/four-source “documentary” hypothesis of the origin of the Torah without acknowledging other popular theories like the supplementary one. Nevertheless it’s a pretty interesting look at the history of this concept, and a pretty key turning point in the history of monotheism! I quite enjoyed this very fine-grained examination of the interplay of history and theology, particularly as it pertains to the Babylonian exile. (Though the conclusion that a big part of the Torah was written as a result of the exile is not even clear - there’s at least good reason to believe that major monotheistic themes emerged in the Torah decades before the Babylonian exile.) It certainly made me think a lot more about the traditional interpretation of the Torah, not to mention some related questions about the social justice tradition in Judaism. I was a little unsatisfied by the conclusion of the book, which seems to leave the concept of monotheism firmly resolved by about 1250 AD, in the hands of Sufi mystics. Their notion that everything which was created by G-d must in turn be divine is certainly very fascinating and thought-provoking. But it seems a little odd to leave it as the final word on the matter, particularly because it just-so-happens to mirror Aslan’s own personal religious journey. A lot has happened in the history of religious thought over the last seven-hundred-plus years! Of course, it’s Aslan’s book and he’s entitled to fashion it in a way which promotes his doctrine of choice. It just seems to me that there’s more to be said. I’m extremely glad to have read this book, despite a handful of shortcomings here and there. It’s really sparked my curiosity on a wide variety of topics, and it’s been rather eye-opening to have explored them since reading the book. I’d certainly recommend giving it a read!— layout: bookreview title: “God: A Human History” date: 2021-08-13 13:00 bookfinished: 2021-08-13 rating: 4 — This book was a completely fascinating history of the concept of monotheism, and I highly recommend it. There were a lot of pieces I particularly enjoyed, and really it pushed me to investigate a lot of ancillary topics - in some ways that’s the best thing a book like this one can do! Perhaps the most interesting concept explored was politicomorphism - the notion that religions change to accomodate or reflect the forms of government which their society adopts. Hence, for instance, the animistic “lord of the beasts” of hunter-gatherer societies gives way to an agricultural pantheon of anthopomorphic gods, which each govern some aspect of the natural world. Aslan doesn’t explore this topic through to moden times - indeed, the last chapter concerns Rumi, who died over seven hundred years ago - but it’s easy to imagine how this concept plays out in the concept of the divine right of kings and so on. I’d be more than eager to read a book exploring this one topic in more detail. Politicomorphism is somewhat related to some relatively recent “chicken-and-egg” findings in archaeology. Until recently, it was commonplace to assume that humanity developed agriculture first, and that religion followed as a way to organize newly hierarchical societies. There are some very fascinating findings at the ancient temple of Göbeklitepe which suggest that it may have been the other way around: agriculture emerged as a way to support an organized temple complex. I don’t know all that much about the archaelogical consensus, but my sense is that Aslan tends to paper over some fairly important nuances in the debate in presenting these findings. Is it possible that religion developed first at Göbeklitepe, for instance, but that agriculture emerged first in other areas of the globe, like the Indus valley? Impossible to say. As a general rule this book focuses on Abrahamic religions, and is particularly occupied with the mideast as a result. Left out of the picture are some fairly important religious traditions, and one gets the sense that they are ignored primarily because they don’t really make for a nice narrative arc. That’s understandable but somewhat unfortunate, as it paints a somewhat incomplete picture of the way we view monotheism as a whole; it also leaves unaddressed some interesting questions about how major world religions interact with each other, particularly Hinduism and Islam. I was especially interested in the history of Jewish monotheism, and the related history of the Torah. Here again, the book papers over some rather rigorous and unresolved academic debate. It presents the three/four-source “documentary” hypothesis of the origin of the Torah without acknowledging other popular theories like the supplementary one. Nevertheless it’s a pretty interesting look at the history of this concept, and a pretty key turning point in the history of monotheism! I quite enjoyed this very fine-grained examination of the interplay of history and theology, particularly as it pertains to the Babylonian exile. (Though the conclusion that a big part of the Torah was written as a result of the exile is not even clear - there’s at least good reason to believe that major monotheistic themes emerged in the Torah decades before the Babylonian exile.) It certainly made me think a lot more about the traditional interpretation of the Torah, not to mention some related questions about the social justice tradition in Judaism. I was a little unsatisfied by the conclusion of the book, which seems to leave the concept of monotheism firmly resolved by about 1250 AD, in the hands of Sufi mystics. Their notion that everything which was created by G-d must in turn be divine is certainly very fascinating and thought-provoking. But it seems a little odd to leave it as the final word on the matter, particularly because it just-so-happens to mirror Aslan’s own personal religious journey. A lot has happened in the history of religious thought over the last seven-hundred-plus years! Of course, it’s Aslan’s book and he’s entitled to fashion it in a way which promotes his doctrine of choice. It just seems to me that there’s more to be said. I’m extremely glad to have read this book, despite a handful of shortcomings here and there. It’s really sparked my curiosity on a wide variety of topics, and it’s been rather eye-opening to have explored them since reading the book. I’d certainly recommend giving it a read!

  • Kong: Becoming a King of API Gateways

    This book is a reasonably good introduction to Kong, especially its APIs and the various extensibility options it provides. The language is rather awkward, with some particularly drawn-out and convoluted metaphors that often get in the way of the text. There’s also some unusual and in some cases plainly misleading commentary on the larger microservices ecosystem surrounding Kong - that could have been excised altogether. As far as I can tell, there are actually no other books providing Kong introductions, so this one will have to do… but it’s surely possible to improve upon it!

  • Rodham

    Rodham is a piece of historical fiction that imagines how the world might have been different had Hillary Rodham not married Bill Clinton, lo these many years ago. It’s a pretty entertaining read, with some rather fascinating character sketches. As a historical counter-narrative it’s pretty interesting to consider. Was Hillary really instrumental to Bill’s primary win in 1992, and was that decisive in defeating Bush in the general election? Perhaps, but perhaps not - the economy was a bit of a wreck that year, and it’s reasonable to think that any Democrat might have won. What’s more interesting is the notion that Hillary would’ve entered and then won the Illinois Senate race in 1992. Her credentials for public office, in this alternative narrative, were rather thin; and her aptitude for campaigning is prsented as marginal at best. In some ways this piece of the counter-narrative seems like the weakest. Most of all the book sort of sharpens the feeling that the 2016 was a real missed opportunity for the country as a whole - if anyone “should” be the first woman elected president, Hillary Clinton seems most appropriate, nevermind the whole suite of troubles that followed the real-world consequence of that election. As a personal narrative, this book is kind of entertaining and satisfying, because everything ends well and wraps up tidily. But it does seem to me that Hillary Rodham is presented with too few flaws. There is really very little that she does wrong in this story. Characters like Misty LaPointe seem to exist primarily to draw out her more saintly qualities. Even her flimsy attempt at scandal is pretty lame! The effect is to address and explain away the various scandals that have attended the Clintons’ public life - real-world Whitewater becomes an innocent episode in speculative futures investing; the real-world Lewinski scandal becomes a pretty silly story about shaving-in-haste; and so forth. As a literary device, it’s somewhat ham-handed and clunky. Not to say that real-world Hillary Clinton necessarily deserves to be dogged by scandal - by and large critique of her is essentially fluffed-up right-wing propaganda - but this aspect of the book just fell a bit flat. It might have been better to omit these side-plots altogether. It was quite an enjoyable read all the same, and certainly an interesting way of re-examining a rather fascinating life.

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Projects


Wayfair Governance Layer

I’m building the governance layer for Wayfair microservices. This work is a critical part of our self-service initiative, helping engineers drive the infrastructure needed for their microservices and alleviating the operational burden on providers. It’s a pretty fascinating journey already, and we’ve only begun!

Wayfair Pricing Engine

My main preoccupation these days is the Wayfair pricing engine. Specifically I’ve been focused on modifying the engine into a service-based architecture leveraging the latest distributed database and messaging technologies.

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Wayfair .NET Working Group

During my first year or so at Wayfair, I spent quite a bit of time guiding the .NET community. That included making the case for a company-wide .NET support team, adopting a proficiency quiz for code reviewers, and establishing best practices for API development. Most importantly, we developed a really lively community and had quite a bit of fun!

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NGP VAN Innovation Platform

As the Innovation Platform Director at NGP VAN, I managed our documentation and was the primary support person for API developers. I also guided our teams in designing APIs and oversee strategy for our API.

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ActionCenter

An app which allows volunteers to earn points and badges in exchange for completing tasks to support a progressive cause or Democratic campaign. I led the team which developed this app in preparation for a ballot initiative in 2011, and subsequently expanded and generalized it for the 2012 mid-term elections. We won a series of Pollie awards for it!

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OpenVPB

A website which allows VAN users to easily publish virtual phone banks and distribute them to volunteers painlessly. I developed this application during NGP VAN’s first hackathon.

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Progressive Workshop

A resource center for the progressive tech industry. It’s the home for my thoughts on this space, an “idea lab” proposing solutions to problems in the larger movement, as well as my collection of resources (git repos, Twitter lists, etc.) that cover the space.

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Laws of Software

A canonical list of the laws of software, including a bit of useful metadata about each one. I put together this site after realizing that no similar kind of list existed elsewhere online, and learned quite a bit in the process!

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The Game

A short story I wrote about correspondence chess, in the format of kishōtenketsu. Yet another piece of techno-magical realism. It’s perhaps my most prosaic and didactic work about the limits of AI yet. Like my other stories, this one is source-controlled and available on Gitbook.

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About Me

I'm a software developer who loves progressive politics and wonderful prose.

During the day I work as a Software Architect at Wayfair, which means I work with a variety of teams as they puzzle out some fascinating challenges related to our catalog. I’ve spent decades as a progressive activist, and about the same amount of time as a software developer. I started out with C, dabbled in Java, spent a little too long with PHP and Drupal, had some laughs with NodeJS, but seem to be hanging around .NET more and more these days.

I love reading, especially literary fiction, and have been doing my best to write a review of every single book I’ve read since 2013. Since I believe turnaround is fair play, I’ve dabbled in some writing projects of my own, and might one day share them. In my spare time I help organize a fun and fascinating book club.