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.

Software professionalism

An interesting essay by Philip Greenspun. (Hat tip: Eric Raymond, via Artima.)

I’m still ambivalent about open source. Actually, I’m less offended by Open Source (TM) than by Free Software (TM). Seems to me the only way to make any money in a Free Software world is patronage.

Of course it has nothing to do with being blown off by RMS at a lecture a few years ago :-)

The Sons of Martha

Here’s to the people who know how to run things: “People who society
allows to get kicked around like slaves for no reason other than because
they know what they’re doing… a mind-set that makes no fscking sense to
me. I mean… the sheep bleat and trample us… because *we’re* the ones
who know how to keep their precious sites and blogs and e-mail running?” (Steed in ASR).

The Sons of Martha
Rudyard Kipling 1907

The sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited
that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the
careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she
was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without
end, reprieve, or rest.
It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and
cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that
the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care
to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by
land and main.

They say to mountains, “Be ye removed.” They say to
the lesser floods, “Be dry.”
Under their rods are the rocks reproved-they are not
afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit-then is the
bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly
sleeping and unaware.
They finger death at their gloves’ end where they piece
and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry
behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into
his terrible stall,
And hale him forth a haltered steer, and goad and turn
him till evenfall.
To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till
death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matters hidden – under the
earthline their altars are-
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to
restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again
at a city’s drouth.

They do not preach that their God will rouse them a
little before the nuts work loose.
They do not teach that His Pity allows them to drop
their job when they dam’-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark
and the desert they stand,
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s
day may be long in the land.

Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path
more fair or flat –
Lo, it is black already with blood some Son of Martha
spilled for that!
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness
to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their
common need.

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessed – they
know the Angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessed, and for
them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the Feet – they hear the Word – they see
how truly the Promise runs.
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and – the
Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons!

This poem is part of the ritual of Calling the Engineer. I am not an Engineer, but as a programmer and, especially, a systems administrator, I know the feeling.