November 30, 2003

Software that Doesn't Stink

I came across some fresh speculation about the enduring mystery of why so much of the software we build is so bad. This discourse at Better Living Through Software entitled Software that Doesn't Stink links the discussions instigators before adding a good size chunk of supporting commentary.

The notion that programmers who been around for a while develop a tolerace for a certain degree of "code clutter" rang true for me. What's more, I don't see this as only as a possible abdication of concern for the system's design integrity, but possibly also as a necessary means of holding conflicting, centrifugal forces at bay. Big Ball Of Mud speculates that different programmers differ in their capacity and willingness to cope with such clutter. The Selfish Class raised the possibility that inscrutable code may, ironically, resist change better than more readable code.

The observation that there is an appaling amount of waste in many organizations rings true, up to a point. There are a lot of forces at play here, and no single factor will be able to account for it all.

It seems like many organizations assume they need much larger teams, with their attendant support, than they really do. They employ an "infantry model" to staff their projects, when a "commando team" model might be sufficient, as well as more effective...

Joshua speculates that the software industry attracts a certain sort of idealist; persons enamored with the seemingly unliited maleability of this stuff we call software, and captivated by the sheer power that command of such stuff brings with it. One of this most exhilarating thing about programming is that, with enough effort, one can master the intricacies of what is "under the hood" all the way down to the silicon.

Or, one could. During the the '70s and, again, with the advent of the microprocessor, a single individual could master vast swaths of all the code that ran on their machines. These John Henry programmers could single-handledly design, code, and test quite substantial applications. Making all their design decisions inside their own heads kept communication overhead to an absolute minimum.

Are the most accomplished soloists less adept at ensemble work? Are commando coders hamstrung when co-ordinated co-operation is called far? Did those scurillous calumnies about the purportedly poor social skills of the cream of our indigenous hacker culture have any truth to them what-so-ever?

In any case, how surprising might it be were people who were trainted to be Crackerjack solo coders are surprised that collaborative work moves, by comparison, at a stately, even glacial pace?

Joshua observes that coders seem to do what they are good at doing; what they know how to do; regardless, it would seem, of whether doting on these dimensions for improvement is really a good use of their time. You get hand-coded inner loops that exhibit near theoretical peak performance, along with business logic that, at times, seems oblivious to task at hand...

He offer two additional pathologies, competition among programmers to excel at say, optimization, at the expense of master the intricacies of the domain. This sounds plausible, craftsmen of every stripe engage in this sort of one-upsmanship. I'm reminded of a story about the plasterers who stuccoed my house (which I will try to find).

The other is designing for extensibility. This too has, at times, had a certain cache among hackers. Therein lies a tale...

Posted by foote at 04:04 PM

November 29, 2003

Boil Order

Champaign-Urbana was placed under a boil order yesterday after a power failure, followed by the failure of a backup generator allowed water pressure to fall below 20 pounds per square inch.

For some reason, I woke up thinking about outsourcing. Hmm, decrepit infrastructure, low-wage workworce, maybe we are downscale enough now to get back into the game...

Posted by foote at 12:13 PM

November 28, 2003

Welcome to Tralfamadore

One of my sources for material for this weblog will be a collection of research diaries I've been keeping on paper since the mid-'80s, and electronically since 1993. As a result, entries might appear from time that will predate not only MovableType, but even the Web itself. This weblog may, in a sense, seem "unstuck in time" like Vonnegut's protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, in Slaughterhouse Five.

In general, I will reserve the right to revise correct, and extend such remarks (as they say of Congressional Record Entries), but will refrain from shameless, wanton revisionism in those (exceedingly) rare cases where an issue regarding intellectual paternity might concievably arise.

Posted by foote at 05:23 PM

November 27, 2003

Bird is the Word

After sitting on my hands for over a year as to whether to switch on Catfish in the Memepool , I've decided to mark this Thanksgiving by remanding this turkey to its fate. I pledge that I will strive to ensure that it is never too dry or too filling, and sincerely hope will not put you too sleep. No desiccated desultory soporifics for me. No sir.

--BF, slipping into that familiar biannual tryptophan coma...

Posted by foote at 07:08 PM

November 23, 2003

Thomas Jay Peckish II on Self-Deprication

A major problem with self-deprecating humor is that most people are more than content to simply take one at one’s word.
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

Posted by foote at 11:42 PM

November 02, 2003

Gabriel a Saint?

A number of us (at least two I know of), undertook the task of preparing a poem (in our native languages) to commemorate poet and aspiring auto-hagiographer Dick Gabriel's Hillside Meeting Halloween birthday.

My contribution is a "Sought Poem", a poem composed using a Google search for three selected terms, and cut and paste. Dick explained how to these sorts of poems are written to Ralph and me at the meeting. It's hard to do well, but easy to do badly...



The fictional devil played by Gabriel
The other clique members are female except for budding chef Gabriel,
a black who falls for Flan
Members are to distribute to trick-or-treaters on Halloween
I am possessed by the Archangel Gabriel," she bellowed
I just remembered that if this satanic group exists ...

Gabriel Catholic School emblem optional 
tobacco, drugs, or displays of violence, satanic symbols or
programs and topics
Dental Health
Halloween safety
Nutrition ...

Gabriel Ash: The Messengers from Hell
Does a Satanic Cult Rule the World? 
Bali Halloween
Lindenberger informed Council that the satanic church
participates in human or animal sacrifices on Halloween ...

Gabriel, President of South Brevard Habitat 
autumnal, Ray Bradburyesque season of Halloween, we thought ...
Were they satanic monks, who invited ?

Constantine used Gabriel, with or without his endorsement
Who joins a Satanic killer for a series of Halloween-night murders?

For Sale or Trade: Used William Shatner Halloween mask ...
"to be" statements by 'Allah' or 'Gabriel' to Mohammed
that were part of this satanic feast of 
Halloween, which like all the holidays, came from paganism, but  for
... One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel

I'll take Coolest Place To Go For Halloween for 200
98-99: the life of the martyr Gabriel of Bialystok
Yet this was no Halloween joke
From drugs, Ramirez had a passion for the mock-satanic music of ?
from his parents' home in Whittier, near the San Gabriel freeway
he is approached by the holy archangel Gabriel: "Cease being ..."

Children are acustomed to celebrating Halloween, and you 
to behave in a childish fashion (without the liberation of libation) was
... Alright all you tobacco chawin?, satanic, hillbilly punks

Gabriel - The planetary archangel in charge of the moon, a genius of ?
Gabriel returns to avenge he and his brothers ....
... to silence the author after his Satanic Verses was published ...

Lest it not be obvious, the three terms searched for to assemble this work were "Gabriel", "Satanic", and "Halloween". (I was fishing for more Rushdie than I netted, truth be told.) In other words, I used the result of running this query on the day the poem was assembled. The results will almost certainly have changed if you run it again....

Copyright (C) 2003 -- Brian Foote, The Laputan Press, Ltd.

Posted by foote at 03:21 PM