NetKernel News Volume 4 Issue 17 - On Empiricism - Part 1

NetKernel News Volume 4 Issue 17

July 5th 2013

Catch up on last week's news here, or see full volume index.

Repository Updates

The following updates are available in the NKEE and NKSE repositories

  • database-relational 1.14.1
    • Fixed the possibility of leaving an unclosed idle connection on the RDBMS when a bad/misconfigured connection-test-query could have led to a connection being removed from the connection pool. Thanks to Matthew Lieder at for reporting this.
  • lang-dpml 1.22.1
    • fix to EXISTS functionality to propagate an exception rather than return false should the EXIST attempt result in an exception. Thanks to Menzo Windhouwer for reporting this.

On Empiricism - Part 1


Once upon a time there was a small town in a land not that far away...

The people of the town were very clever. They were renowned far and wide for their craftsmanship.

Everything in the town was clockwork. Everything in the town ran like clockwork.

The buses and trams were clockwork. The houses were powered by clockwork. The kitchens had clockwork washing machines and clockwork cookers. The factories made clockwork mechanisms. The schools taught the town's children the rules of clockwork.

The people of the town loved living there and over the years the town had become moderately wealthy. As an expression of their civic pride and as a demonstration of their skills, the people of the town decided to make a clockwork Mayor.


The very best craftsmen were selected and, after many years work, they proudly unveiled a full size walking, talking clockwork Mayor.

The Mayor was wise and beneficent and the people happily embraced his simple rules and the well ordered lifestyle.

After a year in office, things were progressing nicely. Everything was running like clockwork.

But there were still some aspects of life that had not been updated to clockwork. The baker's oven was still powered by logs. The cows were still milked by hand. The chimney's were still swept by hand using brushes. And of course the clockwork would wear down and need maintenance and even, as progress was made, would need replacing with new clockworks.

The Mayor saw these things and decided now was the time to set out a step-by-step plan for the town...

"We have made great progress with our expertise and mastery of the spring, cog and gear; but we can go further.

Within the next ten years we shall have reached a level of skill in which no aspect of our lives cannot be enhanced through clockwork.

Indeed, I proclaim that one day we shall have the ability for clockwork to design and produce clockwork. The days of tedious labour, filing gears and tensioning springs, will be past - we shall simply specify our requirements and the clockwork will be conjured for us."

The people rejoiced. This was a grand vision. A world of Complete Clockwork.

And so they went about their lives happy that the clockwork future was limitless...

Little did they know that the future was to be short-lived. For, entering the first year intake at the school was a small spectacled boy with shy demeanour but a prodigious talent for clockwork.

The small boy attended lessons, assiduously completed his homework assignments and progressed rapidly. As the years in school went by, he was taught about, and began to contemplate, the Mayor's vision for Complete Clockwork. The boy was uneasy - he couldn't quite say why, and, not being able to discuss this with the happy town's folk, he held his tongue.

Eventually the boy entered his final year and, as was tradition at the school, the children were required to produce a project demonstrating their clockwork skills. The small boy stowed himself away in his bedroom workshop to work on his project.

Days, weeks and months passed.

Eventually, one slightly grey morning, the boy placed his project, covered by a sheet, onto a clockwork barrow and headed off to the school for the assessment ceremony.

The Mayor was present, along with the proud families of the graduating students. Each pupil took it in turn to demonstrate their work and in turn would receive the praise and applause of their community in the form of enthusiastic chanting of "tick-tock, tick-tock, whirrrrrrrrrrr". The final 'R' being rolled in the manner of a Scottish dialect.

Finally it was the boy's turn. He tentatively pulled away the sheet. The people gasped - they had never before seen such a beautiful and elaborate mechanism. Simultaneously simple and yet apparently endlessly complex.

The boy said, "This is my Complete Clockwork Engine". Another hushed gasp. The Mayor beamed a clockwork smile.

With a flourish, the boy pulled away another sheet, one, it now appeared, of several on the barrow. He announced, "Here is a clockwork weaving machine which it built for me. The sheets were made with it". The crowd cheered.

The boy said, "But, there is a problem". The crowd stirred uneasily. The Mayor's smile faded.

"I have, on endless occasions, asked it to create me another Complete Clockwork Engine.", the crowd frowned, it needed some effort to think about this, for it was a brand new idea to them.

"Each time I have tried, the Complete Clockwork Engine has jammed. At first I thought this was my lowly skills. But I have come to understand that the Complete Clockwork Engine is not Complete. There are clockworks it cannot make. Clockworks that cannot exist.". The crowd gasped, the Mayor wobbled imperceptibly.

The boy was very clever, he had realised that he needed to prove his insight. He quickly snatched away a third sheet covering a very small clockwork.

"This is a clockwork proof. This machine will count springs. But no matter how you start this machine it will never stop. The cogs and gears will wear away before it will give an answer."


Finally, while the crowd were still realing, he said, "This is my second clockwork proof.", and revealed an even smaller machine, and this one was very simple indeed. A series of interlinked cogs each progressively larger than the last. "You can see that it shows that no matter how well you make your cogs, there is a point beyond which the complexity and interplay of the parts will always lead to a catastrophic jam up."

The Mayor was incandescent with rage. This could not be. This must not be.

But the people had intimate knowledge of clockwork - they could see that the machines embodied a deep truth. The world could never be the same again...

Next time we'll leave the parables and take a history lesson...

Have a great weekend. Enjoy the summer.


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