Hong Feng is a software developer and passionate free software advocate of many talents. He’s based in mainland China (although he gets around a lot) and he has a mission to help Chinese programmers make great contributions to free and open source software. I got to know him after he founded O’Reilly’s Beijing office in 1997, although he is now independent.
He’s developed several courses and is working on a 500-page book, aimed at both beginners and graduate students, that is meant to help them develop the discipline to be competent hackers. I can’t read the poem, but he tells me explores not only the major topics in computer science but such intellect-building activities as GO playing and the I-Ching, which presents original thoughts on “how to think about ancient Chinese intelligence in conjunction with modern math and technologies.”
Hong Feng’s approach fascinates me for combining a wide swath of influences with a joy in Chinese culture and pedagogical practices. He’s even written his personal story of development up as a poem, and set it to a melody from the time of the Great Cultural Revolution to his computer teaching. I can’t understand the song because I don’t know Chinese, but it’s available as an MP3 file.
He brings in the I-Ching by explaining that it was effectively a computer–designed very systematically–used to compute survival methods and determine their degree of luck. He has discovered four basic categories of modern physics in the 64 diagrams of the I-Ching: scope (time and space), mass, energy, and information. The I -Ching can be viewed as a theory of relativity concerning transformations among these four categories.
Modern math tools and physics research may help us rediscover the I-Ching’s structure and methodology, and its ancient intelligence can help us to free ourselves from constraints we have (implicitly or explicitly) placed upon ourselves. Some of the research Hong Feng cites include:
Jury Smirnov’s theorem concerning the metrizable measure of the topological space, discovered in the early 1950s, which describes the relationship between metrizable space with static boundaries and topological space with dynamic or floating boundaries
Einstein’s E=mc2 for transformations between mass and energy
Claude Shannon’s mathematical theory of information
But the Chinese from the very beginning treated all these in a unified manner, according to Hong Feng.
His Hackerdom Training Program is summarized online in Chinese and English. The course, and his recommended book list–much of which will be familiar to well-read programmers, but some of which could generate interesting discussion–ranges freely over system and application programming, scripting languages, third-generation languages, assembly language, software engineering texts, and books about the social impacts of open source. Hong Feng has structured it along nine degrees, like the levels of mastery in the GO.