Some thoughts at the other blog.
I am selling off my collection of 1990s zines, including issues of Ben is Dead, Might, Brutarian, Whole Earth Review, Gauntlet, and bOING bOING, among others. Expect about 300 issues in excellent condition.
All funds will be used to launch the 1990s Political and Social Chaos Fund, specifically some projects that I have in mind that involve visiting you personally.
It is no coincidence that I’m reading Steven Moore’s The Novel: An Alternative History. Yes, I happened to jog quickly into the Ann Arbor District Library the other day to pick up my Mom’s eight weekly mysteries. And for no reason at all I stopped to browse, and there it was in the oft-regarded but underpopulated 000–002 shelf of New Acquisitions.
I’d never heard of it. Has a naked lady on it, which I admit is a plus. It’s a lovely crinkly brown, under its acetate. It’s got heft. The basket was mostly empty.
So grab; into the basket it went.
Yeah, that sounds like coincidence. It’s not. I insist.
Because I’ve been at the Bloom again lately. And the Rorty. And the Pragmatists more generally, and thinking about that perennial soapbox of mine: What’s wrong with all those stupid smart people over on the other side of Division Street?
And that very selfsame day, I crack this ink-stained mother open (fore edge stained no doubt by a prior New York Times subscriber, not the local fishwrap folks; covers shaken; corners lightly bumped), and right there on page one (1) Moore launches right in and provides more than an echo of the thumps my soapbox makes: a parallel line of attack, as ’twere. His introduction alone is worth your reading time, especially if you are a literate bookish library-infected person like those I seem to accumulate in my immediate social network.
[Aha: and here the point begins to gleam through the random-seeming chance.]
Because I’ve been thinking about an eight-year-old project, one I framed but have been too broken to implement for near a decade. And it’s about critical engineering. Not critical as in “crucial”, but more the wordy and literate and communicative reflection that literature has enjoyed and frittered away these last few years. Not more straightforward or telegraphic, but rather literate itself, and inspiring and poetic.
Where is the literature of engineering? Where is the literature of science? Why is it so stultified, as if the culture were a package offered by the fucking cable company, and you had to buy those channels of illiteracy with your Discovery Network?
And why do we stomach that other antipathy, the I don’t do math crap that humanities majors and Great Literary Minds proclaim?
All right, all right. Don’t get me started.
Nah, fuck it.
It’s not a zero-sum game, people. How dare the humanities go into closed session and block out all makers of this stuff we have? How dare the makers of this mess of stuff we wrap ourselves within ignore millennia of beauty and promote their history-blind notion of contextless progress?
And here Moore traipses into my bathroom [What? Tell me you don’t read in the bathroom; if you don’t you don’t love it enough.] with his amusingly targeted arguments against the foundationalism in literary criticism, and I’m like, “Hey, this man he is the dude. He has afforded me a big brown acetate-wrapped brick of complementary insight into the selfsame problems I face in a vaster, more malformed literature than even those expensive bottom-shelf litmags limn.” And then I’m like, “Hey, we should totally invite this dude to come to town and ride the teeter totter!” and “I should totally throw a copy of this at Cosma Shalizi and see if it sticks.”
And me, liking all these things, I flip to a rear flap, and there he is.
A useful sensitivity to coincidence is not a trait engendered by a broad and ranging mind (which I disavow having one of, anyway, being normal), nor of a supernatural mystical gullibility, but rather it is a practiced and targeted response to that web of social networks in which we all walk. A fostering of beneficial coincidence comes easiest to those with feet in many circles. From ignoring the borders most other people sense as walls. From passing notes between the brain and hands: He likes you.
One draws a circle beginning anywhere. But you also have to keep the pen moving, is all I’m saying. Elliptically.
What? You want succinct and targeted prose?
This is a book. He is a local author, this little bald man I expect to meet someday soon. I had no idea he was a local author when I started touting his book. But it’s good enough that I’ve started touting it after reading three chapters. Thus, it’s a good book. Go and buy it and read it.
And me, I am going to invite this gentleman to lunch.
When I first heard about test-driven development, it not only made perfect sense, I realized it was something I had been trying to implement (without the benefit of dynamic automated tests) by had in weird-ass languages like Prograph and R. Hearing about it just made sense, though it took me some time to climb on board the languages in which it was (back then) simplest to implement.
But I never got over the ass-backwardsness of assertion-driven TDD’s workflow: the sense that every unit test is a little magic trick. “Observe, as I create this NewObject. [applause] Nothing inside, nothing outside! I assert that NewObject.inside is aValue. No? It is not? [amused laughter] But where is aValue? Ah… but watch, watch carefully as I type, and… voila! My assertion is now correct!”
Close. I understand, I understood, I had been trying to do something like that in many ways, back long long ago.
But not quite. Especially, I’ve found, for the accumulation of unwritten tests. Yes, as you move forward with traditional test-driven development you will think of other things you should do. It should check for errors. It should fail gracefully when it can’t connect to the pipe. It should be an integer, not a float. &c &c
A while back (more than a year?), I installed and worked for a while with rspec and cucumber. I had been lured to Ruby years back by Ron and Chet, but never really got too far along my path that way. This was… different.
No, really: rspec is exactly how the smallest increment of automated test-driven unit testing should work. Cucumber is [almost] exactly the way the smallest, simplest increment of automated acceptance test-driven project management should work.
The problem? The rituals of file linking. You have a specs file; you have a features file; you have a steps file; you have your actual code; you have your helper files.… Somewhere in that mess, you have a mesh of spaghetti, all sorts of stuff referring to other stuff. And that’s confusing. A little, teeny bit disappointing, even.
Don’t get me wrong: the latest rspec/cucumber release is the next resonant “yes” in a chain of substantial improvements in the way code can be written. Because with rspec you can gracefully and communicatively catch those incidentals: “it ‘should check for errors’… it ‘should fail gracefully’” You can say that in rspec’s cunning framework; you can let the customer say what it is they want, with Cucumber.
A few days back, I was flattered to have Dave Pollard ask me to read his new book, Finding the Sweet Spot: The Natural Entrepreneur’s Guide to Responsible, Sustainable, Joyful work.
My review copy came today because of a mixup down at the Post Office, but I’ve had access to an earlier online version for a few days and looked that through in some detail. Here’s the simplest thing I can possibly say about it:
It’s an act of high hubris to ask a vitriolic critic of print publishing, and of professional advice-giving, and of mindless entrepreneurship to read… what? Your forthcoming book. Of advice. For entrepreneurs. Unless it’s a good and useful book, like this one. No advice can change the world, if you leave it on the shelf. But if you read this you can see the crucial threads Dave Pollard has woven together. And then maybe you can change the world. Go do that.
You want advice? You want to understand things about work, about life, and about some of the realistic, friendly, purposive lifestyles your habits and prejudices blind you to?
Go get a copy and read it. I don’t do this as a habit, and even when I do most folks regret asking me.
But I’m tired of people asking me for specific, prescriptive advice on what to do with their lives. Not because I don’t value their searches, but… come on, people—as if I was anywhere near as well-spoken and philosophically apt, let alone friendly, as Dave. I’m not. He is.
Go. Get it.