Eventual Consistency and Jazz

The week before the first of May, I drove home to visit the family. After all, we had planned to go skiing when the virus hit my region of origin quite harshly. Additionally, my grandparents weren't doing all that well, so there was no consensus in the family on what to do genuinely.

I stayed in Berlin. At least half of my friends drove southwards to their families. And then in the south, I have no idea what people did. But naively judging by the numbers, Berliner's (at least in March) were less naughty and paid close attention to their central coordinator (the German government, the WHO?).

And then the second half of March and first of April were really just the weirdest moments of my life. Suddenly, there was actual social distancing and not physical distancing. It seemed that not only I but everyone was struggling one way or another. I felt mistrust building, especially since proper video calling simply didn't work well, but also since nobody was supposed to go out and have a healthy life. My natural paranoia gave it the rest.

But I think the weirdest part in all of this story played the city of Berlin. Why? Because it seemed that people genuinely didn't give a shit about the virus, but at the same time, everything worked so smoothly. I mean, nothing had changed in the city. People went to parks, had their coffee. Some even still went to work. Already in "the outbreak's" first week, lots of shops had completely turned around their money-making procedures. Instead of having to enter a cafe, now you had to scream "due Cappuccini" through a street-level window. The barista, a weird looking hipster guy, would then in safe proximity brew your drink while suddenly you were able to pay cashless.

Yes, you heard that right. You were able to pay cashless. In Berlin. But not only that. Additionally, the guy had set up a considerable area of very spacious benches outside. That meant keeping a safe distance while slurping Cappuccini was quickly possible.

Elsewhere, this early model of successful adaption quickly spread. My local baker soon had introduced spacious queues and even a pipeline system to handle customers. So while they had two entrances and exits before the crisis, they suddenly had one deliberate entry and one door. Eventually, they went further by introducing a cashier person (handling all the money) and a bread person (packing the bread).

The shop next to the baker did another cool thing. They gave a 25% discount on cashless payments. Not sure they still do it, but I found it a nice touch.

Many other things happened too. I could go on. However, eventually, I wanted to see my family, and so I rented a car and drove down south (I used to take the train). And I can tell you, it was great! Not having seen my brother, mom, and dad since Christmas, lots of information had to be replicated. Lots of stories hat to be synchronized. Tears, laughter, hope, despair. For sure, we had it all! And eventually, we phased.

In fact, there was one particular moment that really got me phased (or amazed?) very much. I guess I'm telling the story on the about page of this blog post too. Anyways, I've been practicing playing the piano for more than two years now. Initially, however, I had been inspired by my brother's sick e-guitar skills. In a nutshell, the two of us had been competing on playing instruments for a while now. Mainly on the piano, when suddenly I realized he had brought his e-guitar this time.

We plugged it in on our parent's patio, and I hit a few notes. Then - he had found the old western guitar from my mom - he played a few notes. Suddenly the piano music theory lessons about harmony and melody started kicking in, and I went into improvisation-mode trying to support and/or lead what the two of us were playing. It was a fantastic feeling! Truly a level-up in life. Jazz or multiplayer improvisation had always fascinated me. It had fascinated me with a profound intolerance and frustration of not being able to understand how it worked. But now, since all I had to do was either, hitting low notes when he was playing high notes, or high notes when he was playing low notes, it suddenly made sense to me. And not only that. The next days, it also made me think quite a lot about eventual consistency in distributed systems.

You see. These days all we seem to want is central coordinators with god views guiding us. We deliberately trust them with our lives and property. We do it because of Moloch. Or because our collective intuition tells us to throw our dearest values into the flaming pit, faithfully-believing that from the nutritious ashes, a tiny new bud of hope will eventually appear.

I'm not sure what it was this time we threw. Some argue privacy, others say it was our freedom to freely travel the globe. In fact, I think that on a global level, consistency hasn't emerged yet. It may be that it will not for many years or decades. After all, there's money to be made with this asynchronicity.

Also, I don't know much about these things, and so probably I should stay within the realm of my domain to make arguments. And so let's get back to Jazz. Well, actually, let's get back to uhm Cloudcountry and distributed systems.

A story that I found quite inspiring in all of this is the story of the creation of Lil Nas X's Old time road. Here's the video:

To me, that video is incredible. It's incredible because it tells the story of two entirely socially and physically separate musicians collaborating. Even more so as they do it asynchronously, on an idea's output that eventually requires total synchronicity (or strong consistency). I mean, watch the video. The story has already been told. YoungKio and Lil Nax X jazzed across a massive pond of water. They were able to simply create the mega-hit of 2019 (and a weird genre too).

I'm fascinated as in my naive understanding of music, I always thought that Jazz meant breaking the rules of social and physical distancing. I thought it meant getting together physically as bandwidth and latency of the internet didn't allow musical cooperation. I felt that through live streaming, we'd never be able to indeed compose collaboratively. But I was wrong. It's not better live streams or telephony or central coordinators that we need for music to truly succeed in times of SARS-CoV-2. What we need today is asynchronous Jazz, or as we computer scientists call it: git (and CRDTs), but for musicians! I'd call it an (.arc(hive)) or .hive :)

published 2020-05-02 by timdaub