Dercuano is a self-contained downloadable HTML tarball containing a book’s worth of disorganized notes I’ve made over the last few years. As an alternative option for printing and for computer systems incapable of handling a downloadable HTML tarball, I've hacked together an inferior PDF rendering of it as well, which comes to some 3900 pages, formatted for comfortable reading on hand computers.
Buried among the errors, red herrings, and ratholes, there are numerous wonderful insights (perhaps even a few of them original), many fascinating facts about the world (many of which are true, and a few of which are original observations), and a wide variety of inventive ideas about what is possible and what could be done, in particular ideas about how to improve the world with new hardware and software — a few of them workable. I’ve published little of it previously.
Mostly, I made these notes for myself, though with the intention of someday getting most of them into shape for publication, but lacking the discipline imposed by regular publication, that’s probably not going to happen. It may not happen anyway. So, fuck it! Here it is, incomplete as it is — I hope you enjoy it!
Much of what is written here is wrong in a variety of ways.
On the other hand, some of it is correct. Of the correct part, most is unoriginal — sometimes I’m just taking notes on well-established concepts, and sometimes I’m laboriously rediscovering things that are already obvious to others — while some small part is both original and correct. Unfortunately, I don’t know which part.
Most of these notes are about things I barely understood, or didn’t really understand at all, when I wrote the notes. In some cases, I later came to understand them better, but in other cases I’ve lost even what understanding I had. Nearly every note is incomplete; of those that are complete, very few have been checked for correctness or revised for readability. So, beware.
Many of the dates are only approximate.
One of the distinguishing features of scholarly publications, as currently understood, is that they are consciously situated with regard to the existing state of knowledge: they are aware of the state of the art; they build on its successes (rather than falling victim to known pitfalls); they explicitly describe how they relate to that existing knowledge, declaring which pieces of its foundation are sourced from existing work and what its novel contributions are; and they give credit to existing scholarly work.
By and large, I appreciate these values, and I would like to do work that practices them. Sometimes, in the past, I have. Dercuano is not such a work. It is full of cases where I rediscovered known ideas (sometimes incorrectly) and cases where I think something is true, due to other people’s previous work, but I don’t remember who demonstrated it, or in many cases, precisely what they demonstrated. In many cases there’s existing work in a field that I haven’t done the work to understand; often I find that attempting to rederive such work from first principles is the best way for me to understand it, and much of Dercuano consists of such attempts. This is not due to malice, but simply because doing scholarly work properly is a lot of effort, and I haven’t finished that work, and in fact I’ve given up on ever finishing it for most of the notes in Dercuano. From a scholarly perspective, Dercuano is best understood as a collection of working notes on ideas that mostly seem promising and merit further investigation, which could lead to a scholarly publication, rather than a scholarly publication in itself.
The work that leads up to a scholarly publication invariably involves a great deal of information-gathering, experimentation, thinking, revision, and usually discussion before reaching the point of actually representing an advance on the state of the art. When you begin learning about a topic, you have no idea what the state of the art is, what is true or false, or what will work; bit by bit, you find these things out. Sometimes this process is recorded, for example in laboratory notebooks, but it usually remains secret, in part because of all of the embarrassing errors during the process. Preregistration of clinical trials is starting to reduce this secrecy in medicine, but it would be wonderful to see more people doing more of their thinking in the open. Dercuano is an example of what I would like to see more of: scholarly work exposed and done in the open even before reaching the level of a scholarly publication. I am fortunate to have been in the position where I could do this.
Often in Dercuano I refer to something being "published". By this I generally mean "made public". There's a current fad in academia (over the last, say, half century) to use "published" to mean "brought up to the standards of scholarly publication and approved as such by means of scholarly peer review". This is usually not what I mean.
On 2019-12-30 as I write this, the Dercuano tarball is 3.6 megabytes and contains some 1.2 million words in 882 notes, about 3500 paperback pages’ worth of text. The PDF rendering mentioned above uses a page size slightly smaller than standard for improved readability on hand computers.
As far as I’m concerned, everyone is free to redistribute Dercuano, in whole or in part, modified or unmodified, with or without credit; I waive all rights associated with it to the maximum extent possible under applicable law. Where applicable, I abandon its copyright to the public domain. I wrote and published Dercuano in Argentina in 2019.
The exception to the above public-domain dedication is the ET Book font family used, licensed under the X11 license. This doesn’t impede you from redistributing or modifying Dercuano but does prohibit you from removing the font’s copyright notice and license (unless you also remove the font). The PDF embeds part of FreeFont and of the DejaVu fonts, whose copyright notices are also included, but DejaVu and FreeFont are not used in the HTML tarball.
The note on Nova RDOS quotes significant amounts of source code from the Data General Nova RDOS operating system for the purpose of study and criticism ("I don't know how you start designing an operating system in 1977 and screw up the design this badly").
At this writing, there’s a replica of this repo on Gitlab.