Julian Fell

A Prototype of the Amazon

It was Byron’s first day.

Eve, his new supervisor, met him in the lobby of the AWS building.

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Her body language gave no opportunity for a handshake, turning quickly and leading him deep into the building.

They wound up staircases and twisted through byzantine hallways, encountering no one.

Having only a cryptic website and no social media, Eve offered no clues from which to divine the appropriate conversation.

They walked in silence.

They reached a conference room. Glass, metal, and pine.

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The clack of her fingers on the keyboard filled the empty space as she summoned multiple terminals. Byron had not been given a computer yet, so his empty hands were nervously clasped together. He started to sweat as he peered into the abyss of symbols swirling on her screen.

“Our team will not conform to the Amazon groupthink, the forests are denser here,” she whispered, “as the guardians of balance, we will interrogate, transform, rethink, but not interfere.”

“Interfere with what?” he asked.

“The rainforest, the jungle, the living masses of wood.”

“I thought I was joining the cloud infrastructure team?”

“There are no clouds without trees. Look:”

Her terminals flashed and re-arranged themselves, a chaos of indentation filling the screen.

“These are solid roots. Just as Bezos before us, we must bend the laws of growth to our will.”

She slid the laptop towards him and closed her eyes. The lights in the room flickered and the temperature dipped. He puzzled over the code, identifying the language as one he had not encountered in some time. While he had been looking at the terminal, the building had been overtaken by old growth. Branches, ferns, and weeds pressed up against the glass walls. The door led to an impassable wall of green.

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Byron looked back at the mess of characters and the empty function stubs. There was no package manager, no internet access, no textbook. Just the editor and blinking cursor, waiting for him to bring them to life. The compiler purred in wait, a long way from its origins in Glasgow.

He could tell that she didn’t trust him with the CloudFormation yet. There was no use for ancient data structures in modern cloud computing, but he could not contradict her. He would have to solve her puzzle.

Looking again at the rendered tree, he came to see the patterns. An ordering and a redistribution were the required incantations, plus some trimmings for the crown.

He had dabbled with Haskell in his student days, discussing the functional faith with academics but had always harboured doubts. Their faith veered terribly close to dogma while his mind favoured pragmatism. Conjuring processes from dust with nested fork syscalls, he coaxed ever more speed from his clusters. There was no place for formal methods when computing at the speed of light.

Here though, he would need patience. First, he gained some perspective by measuring the dimensions of his garden.

Byron flexed his shoulders, kinked his neck. He started feeling the electricity of creation. Tens of thousands of possible configurations of branches, leaves, trees and nodes arranged themselves in his mind’s eye, twisting into contorted, impossible shapes. He rattled off the obvious cases and his creation grew, rotating a leaf on itself and marshelling patterns from the chaos. Gnarled oaks stiffened and grew tall. Order was instilled.

He gould feel that he was an arborist now; he held the secrets of balance in his palm. Eve observed his progress and began to chant softly. Her facial expression remained unreadable.

The next part came easily with the fundamental logic of insertion being, of course, rotation.

He had never appreciated the symmetry of trees as he did now. It was an elegance that had been shown to him, but he had not known how to see.

The crowing morass demanded care, with each dot, slash and underscore needing to be perfectly weaved into an intricate web. Byron laughed as the final pieces fell into place. The final shape of the solution was obvious to him now, he just had to fill in the details.

With the compiler’s thirst satisfied, it rumbled and generated the binary. He ran it and was glad.

The full source is available here.