Does It Really Matter?

Everybody loves a Terry Pratchett quote, so I’ll start this week with “In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded”. It came to mind as I read in the science section of the newspaper about how those amazing people at CERN in Switzerland have managed to create a (rather small) handful of hydrogen anti-matter molecules, and then kept them alive for a little over 16 minutes. Before they, too, exploded.

It seems like they are trying to answer the question about where all the anti-matter that must have been around at the beginning of the Universe (when all of the nothing exploded) has gone. Theory says there should be equal amounts of matter and anti-matter, but the anti-matter has just disappeared. Or, at least we haven’t found any yet; which is probably a good thing because – rather like Linux and Windows users at a computer conference – if you let matter and anti-matter get too close together they violently interact. Then cancel each other out and disappear with a loud bang.

Of course, Terry Pratchett also has a highly rational theory for why there is not enough matter lying around in the Universe. He explained that, according to current scientific theory, nine-tenths of the mass of the Universe is unaccounted for (as I mentioned in Reference to the Universe Class some while ago). The missing nine tenths is, in fact, just the paperwork. And because you can never find the paperwork, we’re wasting our time looking for it.

Anti-matter is, as the name suggests, the opposite of matter. Instead of having a positive nucleus and negative electrons, it has positive electrons (positrons) and a negative nucleus. But what I want to know is how they can be sure that the stuff we have in our dimension of the space-time continuum isn’t actually “anti-matter”, and what they made is really “matter”. How do they know that what we are made of is the real one?

It seems obvious that people living in one of the other parallel dimensions in the Universe would think that they have the real “matter”. And probably all of the other stuff missing from our Universe as well, which they use in anti-matter engines to power their Starships and Battle Cruisers. Though I just remembered that’s in Star Trek, so it may not actually be real.

As to the lack of anti-matter in our Universe, I wonder if the reason they haven’t found it yet is because we in the IT industry are hiding it all in our software, hardware, documentation, and networks. Obviously much of what’s on the internet today doesn’t really matter at all to anyone, and I could easily be convinced that nine tenths of the software on my computer exhibits the same characteristic. The fact that I need over one and a half million bytes of program just to write this post must be an indication of how much anti-code it contains (to give you an idea of how big a number that is, bear in mind that one and a half million days ago they were still building the pyramids in Egypt).

Of course, we all know that – unless you are actually a genius programmer – your own code also contains a welter of nasty stuff such as anti-variables and anti-functions that automatically adopt or return exactly the opposite result you expect. And, of course, your code could well be riddled with anti-patterns as well. Meanwhile, in terms of documentation, it’s not untypical to discover help files that contain everything except the stuff you need to know (anti-information), including a ton of content that has no real meaning and would not matter a jot if omitted.

In fact the project I’m currently working on is displaying the after-effects of anti-matter content in terms of documentation. We’re updating a guide about Windows Azure to reflect the current release, and removing all the anti-content that has turned out to be unnecessary, misleading, and in one or two cases just plain wrong. Of course, when we wrote the original version it was completely anti-matter-free. It’s just that the changes between the beta version of Azure that we used, and the current release version, have converted parts of the content into anti-documentation.

But maybe there’s a lesson here for our heroic group of scientists at CERN. Instead of needing a multi-billion dollar particle accelerator and massive magnetic fields to capture some wonderful new anti-particle, they could just sit around drinking coffee and wait for the release version to come out…


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