100% Organically Farmed Software

The book The Mythical Man-Month pointed out the organic nature of software development in 1975

...The building metaphor has outlived its usefulness... If, as I believe, the conceptual structures we construct today are too complicated to be accurately specified in advance, and too complex to be built faultlessly, then we must take a radically different approach.

Let us turn to nature and study complexity in living things, instead of just the dead works of man. Here we find constructs whose complexities thrill us with awe. The brain alone is intricate beyond mapping, powerful beyond imagination, rich in diversity, self-protecting, and self-renewing. The secret is that it is grown, not built. So it must be with our software systems.

—Fred Brooks

The book The Pragmatic Programmer nicely compares software development to gardening in its section on Refactoring (in 1999, so maybe it's taking 25 years for the idea to take hold):

...Rather than construction, software is more like gardening—it is more organic than concrete. You plant many things in a garden according to an initial plan and conditions. Some thrive, others are destined to end up as compost. You may move plantings relative to each other to take advantage of the interplay of light and shadow, wind and rain. Overgrown plants get split or pruned, and colors that clash may get moved to more aesthetically pleasing locations. You pull weeds, and you fertilize plantings that are in need of some extra help. You constantly monitor the health of the garden, and make adjustments (to the soil, the plants, the layout) as needed.

—Andrew Hunt and David Thomas

Back when I programmed on an Apple ][, programming didn't feel organic. It felt solid. When my program ran, nothing else ran on that machine; my code was totally in control. There was no OS upgrade coming along next month to plan for. My programming language was in ROM, wouldn't change out from under me. Those programs I wrote were solid... solid and brittle.

Nowadays, we write software that bends instead of breaks. When things change, we bend our software to fit. But we don't always get it right. It fatigues. So we talk about an organic model, software that is meant to grow. We try to create systems that live. Occasionally, we get it right. Often it feels like we don't achieve living, flexible software—just something solid with a couple of hinges in it. We're still figuring this stuff out.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even the Marin Headlands and maybe the Seat in Front of me on the Bus

There was that awesome Shinteki Decathlon game a couple of weeks ago. One of the clue sites was Hawk Hill, a high hill in the Marin Headlands. It seemed like a neat site, so... yesterday I went back there. I tried to snap a photo once every 5-10 minutes and mostly stuck to that. Well, every 5-10 minutes of travel. I think I waited half an hour for the Sausalito ferry, but I didn't snap so many photos of that.

So you ask, why am I calling this a "Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere" blog post. Well, most of my time in the Marin Headlands has been, uhm, for puzzlehunts. So I kept hitting these spots and thinking Hey, why do I know Battery Spencer--was I here before? Maybe in the dark? (Yes.)

Furthermore, when I was looking over these photos to caption them, I noticed something. I think I was sitting behind puzzle champ Tyler Hinman on the bus. (And you're going to make fun of me for not noticing this at the time. But I'm telling you, that was a distracting bus ride--a Haight Street bus on its way to the annual Haight Street Fair. Imagine the Haight. Now imagine a bus ride. Now squish them together. Now: street fair. Some folks had got a head start on their inebriation. Yeah, it was like that.)

Oh yeah, I guess the link would help: a page of photos showing how I got to Hawk Hill and back.

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Book Report: The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You

I read this book because it's by Dorothy Bryant who wrote the excellent The Confessions of Madame Psyche. I read it even though my mom read it and didn't care for it much. I didn't care for it much. In the book, the protagonist dies and goes to another world. Unlike John Carter of Mars, when he dies he doesn't go to a world of action and adventure. Instead he goes to a world where people live communally and simply and achieve enlightenment by paying attention to their dreams and....

This book is copyright 1971. It was a time when some people were trying to strip away the bullshit of materialistic consumer-ish lives. That's a good thing. But finding a compelling narrative underneath all that... it ain't easy. I'm not saying that I could do it better than Dorothy Bryant did. I'm just sayin' it ain't easy, and I don't think it happened here.

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Link: Coffee to the People

I guess as long as I'm linking to a cafe, I should link to the place where I pick up coffee on weekend mornings: Coffee to the People. I claim that it is awesome. It's a cafe at Haight on Masonic. There are tables, sofas, books, boardgames. There are coffee drinks, pastries, and some other bits of food that don't require too much prep: bagels, warmed-up quiche, etc. I usually get a depth charge and that depth charge usually keeps me awake without sending me into a clench-jawed frenzy. I.e., efficacious but not harmful. I try to get there early in the morning, before poseurs, hipsters, and fashionistas descend upon the neighborhood, cafe, and mood. Early in the morning, there might be grizzled political commentators, street people, and hippies, but nothing you can't handle. I drink coffee, maybe pick at a scone, sit, read, and wait for wakefulness to return.

Not to be confused with the People's Cafe. That place concentrates more on food, sandwiches and such. That's all well and good, but I like Coffee to the People better.

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Book Report: The Loneliness of the Electric Menorah (Cometbus #51)

This is a 'zine, the latest issue of Cometbus. This is a history of Berkeley's Telegraph avenue--mostly of the shops which arose out of a place called Rambam, which predates my Berkeley days. But thence sprang Moe's Books, Cody's, Shakespeare & Co, Lhasa Karnak, Black Oak Books. It's a tale told by Aaron Cometbus, who grew up amidst this, but wasn't privy to the stories until he started asking around. It's the story of the slovenly Ken who runs Rasputin Records and Blondie's Pizza. The SLA is is in there; the riots of the 90s, the inter-generational tension between the hippies and the punks. There is reflection upon the nature of a pig in mud. There is bookselling, there are books, there are ideas, there are ideals. I recommend it.

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Book Report: All the Right Enemies

Here is a mini-puzzle from BATH3 (that pirate-themed puzzle hunt from earlier this year):


Ye seek a four-letter word.

Jack Flash                 _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Bill Cody      _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Abe (Lincoln)              _ _ _ _ _ _
Dan McGrew             _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Cal (Coolidge)             _ _ _ _ _ _
Dick (Nixon)           _ _ _ _ _ _
Bill Hickock           _ _ _ _
Marvin Hagler        _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Prince Charlie   _ _ _ _ _ _
Pirate Roberts           _ _ _ _ _ 

OK, that's the puzzle. It's based on people commonly associated with epithets.

I wrote the first draft of this puzzle and the folks on GC liked it--except that they didn't know many of the "famous" people I came up for the first draft. I was kinda expecting that--I didn't really think that GAIVS IULIVS CAESAR OCTAVIANVS was a great hint for AVGVSTVS.

But I was sad to hear that "Big" Bill Haywood was obscure. I'd thought that people would know that one. When I was growing up, we learned about the early days of organized labor in the USA. There are names that stick in the head: Harry Bridges, Debs, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Joe Hill, and, yes, Big Bill Haywood. I'm not sure why other folks haven't been taught about these folks. Did I learn about them because the San Francisco public schools were staffed by filthy hippies and foaming radicals? Have we tried to forget these stories because we've seen how the labor unions turned out?

Maybe it's because there's a stereotypical course to the story of a labor leader of those days, and it's tragic. Organize people, do good, find out that Stalin has transformed communism into totalitarianism and... join Stalin anyhow or give up.

Maybe that's why I enjoyed All the Right Enemies, Dorothy Gallagher's biography of Carlo Tresca. He was a labor leader. But he didn't join the commies and he didn't give up. When the bosses were oppressive, he rallied people against the bosses. When the commies were oppressive, he took them on. The mafia, sure why not. Here, the tragedy is that more leaders didn't join him, sticking with "people's" movements that had been hijacked.

Eventually, someone shot Tresca. But it took a while and he had a good run before it happened. And plenty of other people got shot who did less good along the way.

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Book Report: One Hand Jerking

My friend 'Lene was bicycling along, minding her own business, when this set of streetcar tracks came out of nowhere and flipped her bike over. I was making fun of her for getting into a bike accident just a couple of days before Bike To Work Day. It seemed OK to make fun of her--it was just a broken arm, right? Except today I saw her in the hospital and it turns out it's a pretty serious break and she needed surgery and general anesthesia and... Anyhow, I guess it's pretty serious and I'll stop making fun of her. Which is a waste of a great segue, because one of the book reports in my backlog is for One Hand Jerking, which would be a funny reference in another context in a nearby parallel universe where that broken arm hadn't been so serious.

Anyhow, 'Lene has her own blog where you can read about her injuries. Eventually. Uhm, when she can type again. You're not reading my blog to find out about her. You're reading a book report. One Hand Jerking. Yes. The topic. So what is this book? It's a book full of reminiscences and essays by Paul Krassner, who was editor of The Realist. Here we learn that nobody liked Ira Einhorn, not even the radical left. We get snippets of the tragic story of Lenny Bruce as seen by one of his friends. He talks about freedom of speech, changing standards of what it's acceptable to report in major media. We learn about Steve Earle's principles. Some thoughts on the re-emergence of Woodstock. It's all pretty wonderful. Much better than a shattered ulna.

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Book Report: Just for Fun

cranea17:/evidence> ls
What do you think this is, UNIX?

I think that's funny, but that's because I spend a lot of time in UNIXoid environments, specifically Linux. I'm biased. Maybe that's also why I enjoyed the book Just for Fun. It's a biography of Linus Torvalds so far. Well, not even so far--it was written back around 2000. Since Linus is mostly known as the guy who got the Linux kernel started, most of the exciting material is from 1990-2000.

Linus is not a wildly exciting personality, and that's part of why this book is so inspiring. Famed internet gadfly Eric Raymond is quoted as saying that part of Linus' appeal was that he was "less visibly odd than a lot of other hackers." I interpreted that to mean "Linus isn't an obnoxious jerk like RMS." (In RMS' defense, I've never met him; my accusation of obnoxiousness is based only on second-hand reports.) In fact, reading about Linus is a lot like reading about any of a number of other geeks you might know.

He wasn't so special. He liked to tinker, he chose an interesting project, he followed through. When other people had suggestions, he took many good suggestions. And thus he made the world a better place. Maybe you could do that too.

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Book Report: People's History of the United States

Reading Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States is hard work.

He writes about some parts of USA history which I didn't know about. Some of these pieces of history were pretty disturbing.

He also describes some Large Movements which, when you look more closely at the description, sound like small movements. If a government figures out a way to give free milkshakes and pony rides to everyone, you can bet that some people including a couple of semi-famous artists will protest. If a government oppresses its people, you can bet that more people will protest. Zinn writes about both sizes of protests, and you need to pay close attention to figure out when he describes a popular movement vs. a few looney-tunes.

Anyhow, it's an interesting book, but be sure to keep your wits about you when you read it. You always do that when reading non-fiction, of course. I'm just saying you want to gird your loins for a lot of critical thinking.

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