Rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Perfection vs performance

This essay The psychology of learning by Robert Strandh is worth reflecting on. He draws attention to people being too 'performance oriented' - sticking to what they know will give them immediate results, at the expense of discovering better ways of working. I'm generally more 'perfection oriented'. I'm interested in learning for its own sake, particularly when it comes to computers. However, I have been guilty of dismissing ideas, tools and languages I haven't spent enough time to understand. Maybe I'll give them another look, or at least acknowledge my ignorance.

Of course, and this is something he doesn't mention, you can be too perfection oriented. The trick is knowing the difference between the two attitudes and choosing the right one at the right time.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Oh no, not again!

So terrorist bombings have become a fact of daily life once again. That's just brilliant.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Apple, Intel and Hollywood

Wired and Bubblegeneration have the most insightful commentary on Apple's decision to switch to Intel processors. As Cringely has pointed out several times, Apple wants to have the same success as a digital movie distributor as it has had as a digital music distributor. Hollywood won't cooperate without strong DRM protection which Intel can provide.

Strategies that acknowledge that digital reproduction and modification is easy and inevitable, and work with that will be more productive than those that waste energy fighting against it. Can Apple be a platform for all players, or have they chosen the losing side?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

A message from Bill

"I’m dead, you’re in hell. Ironic how that turned out."

Bill Hicks
From http://www.whatwouldbillhickssay.com/

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Revenge of the Sith

Now that was more like it! A Star Wars movie with a bit of passion at last! That was what I wanted to see when The Phantom Menace came out. Did we really have to go through episodes I and II to get here? It seems now that they were only backstory to the main event. Take out the filler and you're left with no more than an hour of material - if that.

What a program is

"Programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute."

- Abelson & Sussman, SICP, preface to the first edition

These words ring very true to me right now, as I read through reams of open source code composed of deeply nested six page long if statements, sparse one-line comments and a smattering of global variables for extra flavour.

My own formulation of the same sentiment might be "Programs are documents used by programmers to communicate their ideas to each other, which also happen to be readable by computers." Or more briefly "Code is documentation".

Now any book that starts with a statement like that must be worth reading. It's been on my to-read list for a long time, but never really seemed essential. Now I think it is. The systems I work with are getting bigger and more complex, so I need more guidance on how to deal with that.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Reading - The Tao of Pooh and the Te of Piglet

I've nearly finished The Tao of Pooh and the Te of Piglet. I liked the first best, but they're both easy reads. A lot easier to understand than the Tao te Ching!

I've never read the original Pooh books, I think I'd like them - apparently they were an influence on Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. From the excerpts I've read I can see some parallels between the two. Pooh shares a similar warped logic with the guide, and obviously Marvin is Eeyore.

Nobody likes a smart arse part 2 - I've created a monster

I've done it again. Another overdeveloped abstraction that takes more time to understand than it could possibly save. Amazingly I managed to get a working project out of it, but it's not been fun to write.

Lessons learned:
  • Work it out on paper first. I now carry with me a low-tech pda (a small notepad and a retractable pencil) to develop my ideas on.
  • Write small libraries/classes that can be easily picked up by others and are an obvious benefit.
  • Solve the problem at hand, not the one you'd like to be working on.
  • Know what the problem is!

I heart del.icio.us

I read Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags and signed up to del.icio.us to see what he was talking about. I really like it. It's a much better way to organise my bookmarks than a rigid heirarchy. I like the idea so much I'm going to steal it. I've already written a few notes on my ideas for a CMS organised around URLs, tags and links.


There is a special level of hell for people who write code that looks like this:

var e = "";
var r = true;
var z,n,q,t;

t = true;
q = 0;
n = 0;
z = 0;

Monday, January 24, 2005

The future's back

While high street retailers were reporting 'disappointing' Christmas sales, online shopping in the UK is going from strength to strength. I was pleased to read, in several papers this weekend, about Asos the online fashion retailer. It's a particularly interesting example because clothes are one of the things that, with post dot bomb hindsight, obviously can't be sold online. I guess they can now. The key selling point of Asos is that their range is based on the clothes that celebrities wear. You see your favourite celeb wearing something you like on TV, and with a few clicks you can find something just like it online. The founders admit that this is not a new idea, it's what fashion magazines do all the time. The difference is that being online Asos can update their catalogue instantly.

Dot com is back, and this time it has a business plan! Old ideas are coming back in new guises. As Alvin Toffler wrote in Future Shock "The future arrives too soon and in the wrong order." I think we're sorting it out now.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Tai chi classes

My tai chi classes started again this week. I much prefer doing tai chi in a group to practicing alone. I'm feeling quite pleased with myself for having kept up practice over the Christmas break. I took special trouble to focus on a sequence that I know I'm weak on, and was quite pleased when we got to that part and I passed through it smoothly.

After warm up and going through the form we tried a new exercise. The purpose of it is to develop a sense of where your partners 'root' is. Your partner stands still with their arms folded, feet shoulder-width apart and sinks their weight down into the ground. You do the same and place your hands on their elbows. Slowly, without pushing, you then sink into their space, sensing where they are rooted and eventually uprooting them, so they have to step back or fall over. The movement is very very subtle. An observer would only see two people standing still. It doesn't feel like pushing either - as I stood there with my arms folded, all I could feel was my centre of gravity shifting slowly backwards, making it harder and harder to keep my balance. On the other side it doesn't feel like pushing either, I just tried to feel where my partner was rooted and expand my root into that space. Very little happened for a long time until suddenly they went.

Having experienced tai chi it's very easy to believe in concepts like chi energy. Some people where quite happy to speak in those terms to describe what they were doing. I'm not ready to believe such a thing exists in an objective measurable sense. It does, however, match my subjective experience, so for the practical purpose of learning tai chi it's the best way to visualise what's going on. Just one more impossible thing to believe before breakfast!

In exercises like this I find that every partner is different, and I'm different with every partner. Some seem heavy, some light, some stiff, some flexible. You don't often get the opportunity to read someone like that.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Tower of Babel

On wednesday night I attended the weekly Brighton freelancers meeting at the Lord Nelson. By random chance many of the conversations highlighted the importance, and difficulty, of effective communication.

Paul Silver related the difficulties he had had explaining to a non-technical client what exactly it is that MySQL is, and why PHP and MySQL are nearly always used together like bread and butter.

Richard praised Sevan's encylopaedic knowledge of windows security and configuration issues, but professed to not always following his detailed explanations of how he fixed his PC. The tables were turned when Richard gave Sevan his wife's PC to fix. "It's all in Chinese!" He navigated the menus by memory, but eventually had to find another way.

As we'd all had very little chance to talk tech over Christmas, there was little room for social chit chat, and conversation narrowed in on quite specialised areas of technology. I bobbed along in the fast moving stream of in-depth hardware and networking talk, occasionally gaining some insight, but finding it hard to contribute much.

All this has made me more aware of how easy it is to mistakenly assume your audience has understood what, to you appears pefectly obvious, but to them may as well have been spoken in Chinese. Intelligence and technical knowledge don't always guarantee understanding either, as even in this group of highly technical people, we each speak a language based on our own knowledge and experience. To get the most out of a conversation, whether in a social, business or technical context, clarity and understanding are vital. I can recall conversations I've had where we've both been talking past each other. Taking a little time to consider, listen and ask questions would have helped a lot.