Monthly Archives: February 2010

10 years of weblogging

I’ve been trying to write a riff on Garret’s 10 year anniversary piece on blogging for a while now. But every time I start, it ends up way too long. So just read his piece and come back.

Okay, did that? Because as is old fashioned blogger custom I expect you to derive context for my following thoughts from my links (did you read Garret’s piece yet?) and from what I usually talk about here.

The march towards a plethora of walled-garden-social-networks has been a drag. And maybe it will be standards that will provide us a way out of the counter-personal-ownership of data mess we’re in right now. I’m hopeful. And I hope to do some hacking along the way to try and put together some duck tape of my own.

But the important thing is here we are.

Flashback to 1999. Conservatives were accusing Clinton of ‘wagging the dog’.

We were about to intervene in the Kosovo conflict. I felt our intervention in the Kosovo crisis was misguided for different reasons than those on the RIght. I felt that bombs couldn’t be the answer.

Yes, I was (and am counting who you talk to) a peace loving hippie.

I wanted to share my view, but I realized my voice held little weight, so I collected stories that supported my opinion and added them to a headline feed.

I ran that feed of headlines into My.Netscape and My.Userland so that people who might be interested could follow.

The feed reached people around the world even though I believe there were only a few hundred subscribers. People from Russia and Kosovo sent me emails to comment.

Let me repeat that again “People from Russia and Kosovo sent me emails to comment”.

I had made some kind of connection, with people from different countries, talking about war.

Me.

All it required was a text editor, searching for interesting stories that reflected my view, and manually writing out the RSS XML and storing it on a Web host. I registered the feed with My.Netscape and My.Userland and away it went.

Today, any of us can open an account at WordPress.com or TypePad and do that and so much more. Everything we post to Facebook, Twitter, our blogs, our forums generates RSS and Atom. These common communication formats helped lay down what is becoming the foundation of the real-time web. Where any of us have the potential to reach anyone else, anywhere.

This very post, when it goes live, will appear in Twitter, and Facebook, and even more amazingly, Google and Yahoo! in the order hours if not minutes.

What Tim O’Reilly had called the “Architecture of Participation” and Dave Winer called the “Read-Write Web”, way back when, continues to evolve and grow.

There is still much to do for it to reach its full promise. It has never lived up to its potential to enable those who need to be heard to be heard. Human nature is human nature after all and we tend to tune into voices that resemble our own. But the potential still is there to make a connection across our own biases and our own filters. The potential and capability.

For all the negatives that still abound, all the opportunities left to explore, the challenges left to solve, blogging has helped me connect with Garret, and many other terrific online travelers across the world and here in my home town. People who I consider teachers. Thought provokers. Inspiration. Friends.

You know who you are.

Thank you to all the folks who laid down this architecture for all of us to participate, twist, turn, innovate on, and completely take for granted. And thank you to all those who have made that connection with me and enlarged my heart, my mind and world.

Douglas R. Hofstadter “analogy as the lifeblood, so to speak, of human thinking”

Douglas R. Hofstadter: Analogy as the Core of Cognition:

My point is simple: we are prepared to see, and we see easily, things for which our language and culture hand us ready-made labels. When those labels are lacking, even though the phenomena may be all around us, we may quite easily fail to see them at all. The perceptual attractors that we each possess (some coming from without, some coming from within, some on the scale of mere words, some on a much grander scale) are the filters through which we scan and sort reality, and thereby they determine what we perceive on high and low levels.

“A Conversation with Martin Fowler”

Bill Venners interviewed Martin Fowler back in 2002 that resulted in six part series filled with engineering wisdom to absorb.

Among the many exchanges was the following on flexibility that reinforces some principals I try (not always successfully) to put in practice:

Bill Venners: In Refactoring you write, “Before I used refactoring I always looked for flexible solutions. Because design changes were expensive, I would look to build a design that would stand up to changes I could forsee. The problem with building a flexible design is that flexibility costs.” What is the cost and what is the alternative?

Martin Fowler: The cost of flexibility is complexity. Every time you put extra stuff into your code to make it more flexible, you are usually adding more complexity. If your guess about the flexibility needs of your software is correct, then you are ahead of the game. You’ve gained. But if you get it wrong, you’ve only added complexity that makes it more difficult to change your software. You’re obviously not getting the payback.

It’s not hard to guess wrong about flexibility needs. You can guess wrong if requirements change. What you think is a requirement for flexibility now may go away or change in the future. You can also guess wrong if you put extra code into the program to improve flexibility but you don’t get it quite right. You get more complexity without getting the flexibility you were after.

The alternative is to use the XP approach and not put the flexibility in at all. XP says, since most of the time we get it wrong, just don’t put the flexibility in there. Now if you can’t evolve your design safely, then that is a foolish route to take. But if you can evolve your design safely, it becomes quite a nice approach. In fact it becomes a self-reinforcing approach. If you strive to keep your design as simple as possible by avoiding speculative flexibility, then it’s easier to change the code because you have less complication to deal with. The code is easier to understand and easier to change. As a result, you can make changes much more quickly.

Read the whole series:

Refactoring with Martin Fowler

Design Principles and Code Ownership

Evolutionary Design

Flexibility and Complexity

Test-Driven Development

Tuning Performance and Process

Charlie Lord, RIP

“Charlie Lord, Mental Ward Photographer And Activist, Dies At Age 90″.

Charlie Lord’s work, which exposed the horrors of Byberry State Hospital here in Philadelphia in the 1940s, was recently profiled by NPR:

At Byberry, Lord sneaked a small Agfa camera in his jacket pocket. It was the camera he’d borrowed to take on his honeymoon. But he’d dropped it in a lake and then felt he had to buy the damaged camera from his friend. Now he could use it to take pictures to show conditions in the A and B buildings.

When no one was watching, he’d quickly shoot a picture without even looking through the viewfinder. “I’d try to fill the frame,” he says. “You know, not just have little people far away. I’d get up as close as I could. I was aware of composition. But the main thing was to show the truth.”

Over a few months, Lord filled three rolls of film, with 36 exposures each. His pictures showed the truth, in black and white. In the past, reformers and journalists like Dorothea Dix and Nellie Bly sneaked into institutions and wrote exposes about the horrific conditions there.

But Lord was one of the first to ever expose institutions by using the power of photography. “I just thought this would show people what it was like. It’s not, not somebody writing to describe something,” he says. “They can use flowery words or you know, do whatever they want. But if the photograph is there, you can’t deny it.”