October 2003 Archives

A Meme Mausoleum


I’m haunted by ghosts of stillborn brainchildren.

I need to exorcise them and bury them, and what better place to bury them than in a weblog. A weblog is like a graveyard for memes. A meme mausoleum. They at least deserve a decent, dignified burial. Every now and then, someone close to comes to visit and maybe leaves a few flowers. But most of the time they lie forgotten. May they rest in peace.

Happy Halloween...

--BF, in a pensive, slightly lugubrious frame of mind...

Thomas Jay Peckish II on 'Blogging


Don't worry about what you say, nobody's going to read it anyway...
--Thomas Jay Peckish II, on 'blogging...

There are what? Thirty million 'blogs on the web? …each in its own way, a desperate cry for help…
--Thomas Jay Peckish II, ditto...

The Second Most Self-Indulgent Thing a Person Can Do

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Blogging is the second most self-indulgent thing a person can do. Think of Paul Reubens, only in an empty theater.
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

It is not a bad idea to get in the habit of writing down one's thoughts. It saves one having to bother anyone else with them.
--Isabel Colegate

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.
--Robert Heinlein (1907 - 1988)

Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.
--Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784), from Boswell's Life of Johnson

Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good.
--Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784) (attributed)

Don't think of retiring from the world until the world will be sorry that you retire. I hate a fellow whom pride or cowardice or laziness drives into a corner, and who does nothing when he is there but sit and growl. Let him come out as I do, and bark.
--Samuel Johnson, English author, critic, & lexicographer (1709 - 1784)

Learning to Compromise


On the way to OOPSLA 2003, I found myself reflecting on how the design of any system beyond a certain size is inherently about making compromises. Perfection in any design effort involving trade-offs along a multitude of design dimensions, many of which are impossible to quantify, and some of which are intrinsically subjective, becomes not only impossible to achieve, but nearly meaningless, or at least profoundly impractical, to even contemplate. Any good design is an orgy of compromises.

Much of my thinking along these lines was shaped by reading Henry Petroski's work. There are other tentacles that reach all over the place. I'll try to find some.

My thought, though was this: If compromise is going to be an essential part of any practicing programmer's work, why are we so fixated on inculcating a passion for perfection in students, and so bad at teaching them to be good compromisers?

To be sure, there are realms where quality is measurable, and perfection can be pursued. Algorithm optimization and code succinctness come to mind. These skills can be taught, and better still, evaluated. This may be one reason we teach them first. Are we good at tempering the pursuit of these qualities with the judgement to effectively trade them off? Or can only experience teach this?

Anaheim's Etymology


I'm in Anaheim for OOPSLA 2003. Forgive my pidgin Deutsch, but I've found myself thinking about the lingusitic hybrid that names my destination. It's a peculiar locution. The suffix "-heim" in German mean "home", and is usually, I think, associated with something bigger than a "-dorf" (village, I think), but smaller than a "-stadt". Then again, size is relative, I suppose. The Ana is the same Santa Ana (Saint Anne) that gave the winds that are whipping those incredible brush fires down there their names. The marriage of the German -suffix with the Mex-American saints seems oddly charming. Only in Die Vereinigen Staaten...

Some of the long-in-the-tooth hotels sport what was supposed to pass for a Bavarian theme three or four decades ago. Like the name itself, this motif contrasts a little uncomfortably with the omnipresent palm trees. And like all of the Post War construction in Southern California, much of it hasn't aged all that well...

Virtual Zeal


http://physicsweb.org/article/news/7/7/13 An article on how a few zealots (fixed opinions) seeded / secreted in a population can turn it in a certain direction. This phenomenon, combined with the virtual intimacy of mass media, can have a disproportionately influencial impact on a population. Recall the immediacy of virtual disaster: TV kidnappings, sniper shootings, and terrorist atrocities engender a visceral sense of peril that goes way beyond the objective threat they pose. If we've seen carnage, we don't bother to calculate the odds. By a similar token, we regard our immediate friends and aquantances as more credible than "talking heads". A virtual zealot who buys in at "buddy" could wield considerable influence. Meld this with the virtual tribal zeal of sporting affiliation, and you've got a potentially decisive combination...

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