First Hike of Spring

I just wrote a big post about a 10 mile hike I took today, but I lost it. I hate web-based UI’s!

The hike was awesome, because it kicked my ass and will help get me in shape for more hiking and camping this summer. It took me all over the Purisima Creek Open Space.

Your tax dollars at work

I was poking around the WHO’s website and I found something called the Codex Alimentarius. Sounds mysterious, huh? Turns out it’s like the IETF, but for international exchange of food products. Guess what type of “nutritional packet” comes in these varieties:

Sweet-fig, Pisang Mas, Amas Date, Bocadillo, Ney Poovan Ney Poovan, Safet Velchi, Cavendish Dwarf Cavendish, Giant Cavendish, Lacatan, Poyo (Robusta), Williams, Americani, Valery, Arvis, Gros Michel, Highgate, Pink Fig, Green pink Fig, Ibota, Apple Fig, Silk, Pacovan, Prata Ana, Mysore Mysore, Pisang Ceylan, Gorolo.

I’ll answer in email if you can’t figure it out. Fascinating how much random stuff is on the net, huh?

Free Wireless

This weblog post, and the last one, brought to you courtesy of the owner of adsl-34-22-231.mia.bellsouth.net. Whoever you are, thanks for making it possible for me to sit in the shade on a Fort Lauderdale street and use the net. If you are ever on Arch St. in Redwood City, I’ll happily return the favor.

Hobby Horses

I used to work for Arnold de Leon. He has a method of teaching his coworkers lessons that Dave Winer just explained:

Moore did coin a new phrase, and like all good bloggers wanting to initialize a new meme, he repeats it over and over. This is not a new idea. Jake Savin was a music major at Reed College. He told me his composition teacher taught him that a good theme is worth repeating, many times.

When Arnold had a lesson that he wanted to impart into people’s brains like a searing brand, he’d come up with a catchy jingo. Then he’d tell the story of what got him thinking about it in a staff meeting, and sprinkle the jingo into it over and over. Then for the next week, you might hear his loud voice echoing down the hall punctuating the same story, or a new occurrence of the same idea, with the same jingo.

For some reason, he referred to this process as “getting on a hobby horse” about the topic. I never really understood the “hobby horse” part, but I watched his technique work from time to time. Its success seemed to depend both on the quality of the jingo and the relevance of the thought behind it. Not relevant enough and it didn’t come up enough times in a short enough time to take root in our brains.

The Cathedral and the Shed

I spent yesterday reading, debugging, and then fixing a Java program. What a pain in the ass. If I manage to go another 5 years until I do Java again, I’ll be happy.

The problem with Java is that the language provides the tiniest little basic units, and everything else you need you have to build. Or use other things that other people built for you (but first you have to learn about them and understand their quirks). That all makes sense from a theoretical viewpoint, but it is just much harder to use than a language like Perl which has very well developed, robust primitives whose quirks I already mastyered years ago.

I was thinking about an analogy in the shower this morning. Imagine you are standing in a meadow. To your left there is a shovel and a chisel. To your right are a bunch of bins, each with a neverending supply of various building supplies. You see doors, windows, hunks of tin, bolts, sinks, even a fireplace (with the fire already lit!).

You feel a drop or two of rain. You look up in the sky and see a huge thunderstorm on the horizon heading directly at your meadow. You need a shelter fast. Are you going to:

  1. use the shovel to open a quary, cut stones, mix mortar, and build a cathedral
  2. use the building materials to qucikly throw together a shed to keep the rain off

That’s what programming in Java and Perl feel like to me. With Java, you can build vast, intricate, beautiful structures. There will be mighty foundations, delicate spires, graceful buttresses, not to mention exciting spiral staircases and mysterious passages. It takes time, hard work, imagination, and finesse. Usually, the result reflects the amount of work that went into it. With Perl, you can make something that solves your problem right quickly and easily. It won’t be vast, it certainly won’t be beautiful, but it will keep the rain off.

Programmers are the kind of people who love vast intricate systems. The best programmers I have ever known are often less interested in the full context of the system than in the beauty and elegance of their part. They like writing code. When there are existing parts are available to them that are not quite right for the job and prevent them from writing code to do it right, they often make their own thing that they trust more.

At the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, I saw both kinds of construction in one place. The cathedral builders know that it will take a long time to finish. So they built a stonecutting shack out behind it. Gaudi also designed and built a school on the property with the Sagrada Família for the children of the workers. It was built cheaply of simple materials.

Even Gaudi knew that sometimes a humble shack is enough to solve the problem.

Advice from an Englishman

In the Daily Telegraph, Patrick Bishop writes of American soldiers, “In short, they must work harder to show that they belong to the human race.”

I don’t know who he is or if he has any credibility, but if the difference is visible to him, it probably is to the Iraqis too.