Virtual Tourist

My brother and sister sent me Dallas Kachan’s Starship Diaries for my birthday last month. It’s a book about a guy who got lucky in the dot-com boom, bought an airplane (a Beech Starship, one of the most interesting aircraft of the late 20th century) and flew around the world in it.

It’s quite an engaging story, although my early impression was that Kachan was in need of an editor. He was always pulling back on the control “yolk,” and the passive voice was used extensively.

Then more things began to niggle. His description of air traffic control terminology seem just a tiny bit off. But what do I know, I’ve only put-putted around the Lower Mainland in a few lessons in a Cherokee. His exposition of linguistics was, well, eyebrow-raising, and his politics seemed naive.

And he wasn’t a terribly good pilot. He’d leave the cockpit to use the lavatory in mid-flight, he fell asleep at the wheel numerous times, and he’d forget to double-check essential calculations and almost run out of fuel over trackless wastes or open ocean.

Then he began to conflate entire countries in his narrative, visiting tourist attractions in one day that were thousands of miles apart in different countries. I found myself thinking “He couldn’t have just made it all up, could he?”

Heh. Turns out he did. He flew around the world on his computer, using Microsoft Flight Simulator, and then made up the grand tales of his adventures at each stop. It’s supremely gratifying that I started wondering about his story before I found this out :-)

We Few

With apologies to the denizens of the Scary Devil Monastery:

This day is called the feast of Finagle:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will cringe in misery when the day is named,
And hide him at the name of Finagle.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil LART his neighbors,
And say “To-morrow is St. Finagle.”
Then he will strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had from PC case.”
Admins forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll be post-traumatic till the end.
What feats he did that day! Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as aged scotch,
Simon the Bastard, Shmuel and Shaw,
Kami and Kaze, Holdsworth and Murphy
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the bitter man teach none;
And Fingle’s Finagle shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the Unix over-roll,
But we in it shall be un-sober.
We few, we angry few, we band of Bastards;
For he tonight that bloods a server rack
Shall be my PFY; MCSE no matter,
This night shall agravate his disposition.
And gentlemen in England now abed
Will thank their lucky stars they weren’t on call,
And keep their sanity — they were not here,
Admin with us upon St Fingle’s day.

Programming as Art

Found some excellent computing links today. Tim Bray’s site is a cornucopia of riches.

There I found an essay by Paul Graham on programming. I found myself imitating Meg Ryan while reading this essay, much to the bemusement of my cow orkers. A couple standout grafs:

As far as I know, when painters worked together on a painting, they never worked on the same parts. It was common for the master to paint the principal figures and for assistants to paint the others and the background. But you never had one guy painting over the work of another.

I think this is the right model for collaboration in software too. Don’t push it too far. When a piece of code is being hacked by three or four different people, no one of whom really owns it, it will end up being like a common-room. It will tend to feel bleak and abandoned, and accumulate cruft. The right way to collaborate, I think, is to divide projects into sharply defined modules, each with a definite owner, and with interfaces between them that are as carefully designed and, if possible, as articulated as programming languages.

This is something that has been troubling me for some time. As my company has gotten bigger, some of our code has come to resemble a spoiled commons. As I’m one of only two originators of the code, this causes me some regret.