Sportsball Deciphered (II)

It’s Thursday. Sadly enough, this year, that means there’s football on. We’re far from peak football, but it’s getting closer. Prepare yourself, and tell your kids of the days when Sunday was a special day because no other day had real football. Now, on to more no-nonsense, jargon-free definitions of football jargon.


A Hail Mary is the most desperate offensive play. If you’re doing poorly, the end is near, and you need a miracle, your Hail Mary effort is the low-odds, high reward manuever to save the day.

You start executing your plan with the snap.

If someone inappropriately prevents someone else from doing their job, you could say they have committed pass interference.

If you’re not making progress forwards or backwards in your plan, and are instead moving laterally, you may have gone sideways.

If you want to commend a teammate for doing well, and you’re comfortable around them, you might give them an ass slap, but be careful; everyone watching will notice it and wonder things.

Coaching in the NFL is now sufficiently complicated that coaches often have a list of plays that resembles a laminated take-out menu in-hand at all times on the sideline. This is addition to the radio headset that makes them look like they’re working the drive-through at your local burger joint.

A strategy that involves taking medium-to-high reward, low probability chances all the time is not too dissimilar from always passing the ball. If you were instead going for lower reward but higher probability tactics, you’d be always running the ball.

If you run out of chances and don’t even succeed at a small incremental goal, you’ll have to punt. The other team will get a chance and hopefully you’ll get to try again, but your tactical progress will probably be reset.

A strategy that emphasizes protecting against big losses over smaller losses is not unlike a nickel defense.

If you fail to protect the leader, you have given up a sack.


For more, revisit Part I.

Put. The phone. Down.

Nick Quaranto has Too many streams:

There’s just too many things to pay attention to. I get questioned pretty frequently about this: how do you pay attention to nearly 1,500 people on your Twitter timeline? Here’s an easy answer:

I don’t.

Nick’s conclusion, in short, is to put the phone down. There will always be too many things seeking your attention. You can never Read the Whole Internet. You can only hope to mark it as unread and go on with your life. Hence, just put the phone down.

I came across this little trick where you get all the stuff you tinker with off your phone’s home screen. All functional apps, no social networks, no web, no mail, nothing that’s going to grab your attention. Software calmness, per se. I’ve done it for a week and love it so far. I highly recommend it, if you have the means.

Conservation of complexity

You can’t fight the Law of conservation of complexity:

The law of conservation of complexity in human–computer interaction states that every application has an inherent amount of complexity that cannot be removed or hidden. Instead, it must be dealt with, either in product development or in user interaction.

Turns out one of my criticisms of microservices and microlibraries is a law. A LAW PEOPLE, YOUR ARGUMENT IS INVALID. Hilarious narcissism aside, keep an eye out for practices whose tradeoffs don't fit inside the depth of reasoning a blog post (like this one!) afford. Turning monoliths into services begets operational challenges. Microlibraries beget choices and wiring things up. Maybe the former is your thing, maybe it's the latter. Tradeoffs happen!

Executables deciphered

What's inside a compiled Hello, World program? Julia Evans is on that. How to read an executable:

Executable file formats are regular file formats that you can understand. I’ll explain some simple tools to start! We’ll working on Linux, with ELF binaries. (binaries are kind of the definition of platform-specific, so this is all platform-specific.)

I thought I had a rough grasp of how executables worked, and I still learned things. I love this format too. Julia Evans writes these fearless, curious posts about the deeply mysterious underpinnings of our computers and I learn a lot every time. More like this, please!

Sportsball deciphered

It’s September and football season is upon us. Thus, I will soon annoy the snot out of people who say “sportsball” and generally ignore sports. Some will be able to mute me on Twitter and avoid most of the annoyance. Others, however, work with me on teams and will have to put up with the times when I slip and work a football metaphor in to the process of software development.

What follows is a glossary of things I may say that are football and/or sports related and a simple explanation of what they are. I’ve omitted what the term means in football so you don’t have to learn any sportsball if you don’t want to!


Move the goalposts is when you change the rules so it’s easier for you to achieve your goal. It’s like how Captain Kirk solves the Kobayashi Maru test. (Ed. David Romerstein pointed out that moving the goal posts often means someone constantly changing the parameters of success such that it’s impossible to succeed. Beware!)

A lead blocker is someone who precedes a person trying to get something done and removes impediments to their goal.

If you start doing something before the official start time, or you start doing it and then have to stop and start over almost immediately, it’s a false start.

If you fully succeed in the task at hand, you have scored a touchdown.

A penalty flag, or just flag, is thrown when you break the rules.

If you force so many mistakes on your adversary that they run out of room to retreat, you have scored a safety.

If you’re doing really well, and you don’t mind giving up a few small victories to get closer to winning the overall game, you are running a prevent defense.

You might attempt to run out the clock if you’re winning and want to use a strategically conservative plan until the game is over and won.

A blitz is an aggressive plan to overwhelm by speed and force. Just like the blitzkrieg, but with less actual war.

The draw is about the simplest tactic you can apply on offense. You rely on one person to get the job done and everyone else supports them.

A read option is one of the most complicated offensive tactics where you prepare multiple different strategies and the leader choses which one to execute at the last possible moment depending on what they see in the situation they face.


More definitions coming soon! Leave a comment if there’s a sportsball term you’ve always wondered about and want a no-nonsense answer.

Make systems from goals

Use systems to get where you’re going, not goals:

My problem with goals is that they are limiting. Granted, if you focus on one particular goal, your odds of achieving it are better than if you have no goal. But you also miss out on opportunities that might have been far better than your goal. Systems, however, simply move you from a game with low odds to a game with better odds. With a system you are less likely to miss one opportunity because you were too focused on another. With a system, you are always scanning for any opportunity.

Applies to personal life, biz, programming, hobby, whatever. Use goals to figure out what systems you need in place, then get habits and systems going to make those goals, or something better, happen.

Yet another way you can use your skills as a developer to construct a system that really solves the problem, and not a symptom of the problem!

Microservices for grumpy old men and women

Microservices? I’m not entirely sure what they are. The term seems to exist on all parts of the hype cycle simultaneously. It’s on the ascent of excitement, the descent of disillusionment, and the plateau of productivity for different people, simultaneously. Some folks know exactly what it means, others know entirely nothing about what it means. Weirdness ensues. People talk past each other.

It’s a mess. Grumpy old man mode is in full force. (FWIW, I am the grumpy old man in this metaphor. I can not speak to the stature of Fowler or Feathers at this time.)

If I’m pessimistic, I nod along with Michael Feathers. He’s on to something when he observes the use of microservices as a blunt weapon against failures of encapsulation. Microservices become SOLID principles using units of deployment and even teams as a barrier between concerns. I feel that’s rather draconian.

If I’m optimistic, I cite Martin Fowler. To his credit, Fowler is doing the best work sifting through the noise and sensibly organizing what microservices might, in fact, be about. They’re probably not distributed objects, if you do it right. But you should understand the details, lest you get swallowed by the novelty and forget to realize the benefits. Make sure you’re tall enough for the ride your operations team is about to endure.

I get the feeling that radical approaches to working with Rails and microservices are tilting at the same windmill. You won’t fix the human tendency to build complicated structures with more software. Employing more buckets, or smaller buckets, in which to put your software doesn’t solve it either. You need a human factor to jump in and say “Hey, this is complicated! It might even be essentially complex. Let’s manage that complexity.” If you’re actively managing complexity, microservices or monoliths, Rails way or your own way, microservices and decoupling are a lot more of a detail than a foundational principle.

Jerry Jones: slightly human, mostly Faustian

The best thing you will read about Jerry Jones this year. Slightly humanizing, even. What Jerry Jones wants, he cannot have:

I’ve never wanted anything as much as I want to win the next Super Bowl.

The owner of the Dallas Cowboys is his own worst enemy. His general manager, Jerry Jones, is able to make decisions good enough to prevent the team from sinking too far. He is not, however, able to make the decisions needed to return the team to legitimate contender status.

If you somehow made it this far without knowing much about football, let me clarify. Jerry Jones is Jerry Jones. Owner and general manager. Everyone who has watched football for more than a few years knows that Jones’ ego is what prevents him from separating the wildly successful owner Jones from the wildly sub-par manager Jones. And yet: it never happens.

That said, it does sound like somewhat Faustian fun to hang out with Jones, as the ESPN reporter who wrote this piece did. On the one hand, it’s obvious that a billionaire is using his considerable resources to come off as a reasonable, alright dude. On the other hand, he stands on the side of not renaming the Washington football team, so you know that Jones is subtly awful in ways he can’t even begin to wrap his brain around.

Thought + Quality

Oliver Reichenstein, Putting Thought Into Things:

Quality — as in “fitness for purpose” — lives in the structure of a product. A lack of quality is a lack of structure, and a lack of structure is, ultimately, a lack of thought. One does not find a solid structure by following some simple method. We deepen the structure by deepening our thought on the product. Our role as designers is to put thought into things.

I’ve noticed I do the worst, as a developer, when I’m using tools and methodology to avoid thinking. Not entirely sure how to solve this problem, write some tests and commit whatever makes them green. Troubleshoot by tinkering with commenting code out, trying different incantations, pasting snippets found on the internet.

Each advance in how I build software is lead by finding some way I defer or avoid thinking and correcting that shortcoming. In doing so, I find myself a little more opinionated, a little more specific about what really matters in making software and what is dressing.

Put more thought into what I build. Always think about what constitutes The Quality for the kind of software I want to build. Seek to avoid the tech vogue in search of deeper quality and thought. I’m far from mastering any of these disciplines, but the results so far are promising.

Get thee to thy hammock!