Clips from unfinished pieces

On the crux of America’s challenges:

Part of the American experiment is answering the question, “how can we best take advantage of abundance?” Beginning with manifest destiny and evident in the machinations of Wall Street, one of the story lines of America is the quest to make sure resources of all kind are abundant and generating wealth. But we’re arguably at a pivot point. Our money and energy don’t go as far as they used to.

How do we make the transition from resource abundance to resource scarcity?

On helping people troubleshoot the Gowalla API:

While this level of self-documentation is quite helpful, sometimes people have questions on the developer list. For this, I’ve found that asking people to show me whatever it is they’re trying to do using curl is invaluable. It’s a win-win situation. Often, dropping down to a lower-level tool like curl helps to focus your thinking and makes silly error obvious. If it doesn’t become obvious to the API developer, they mail the list with the command they think should work. At that point its either obvious to me and I tell them what to change, or I have a nice, isolated test case from which I can easily try to reproduce their problem.

Who gets screwed when a borrower declares bankrupcty?

Is it possible that bankruptcy-declaring-borrowers are screwing lenders in aggregate? I find it really hard to believe that the banking industry, with its legion of lobbyists and regulatory capture, that any group of uncoordinated individuals could screw the banks.

On the other hand, there was lots of screwing on the part of the banks that led to the financial crisis. Whether it was predatory lending, relying on moral hazard to double down on terrible bets, or asinine compensation structures, the financial industry did something very human. They violated social norms. Except, corporations of this size don’t have social norms. They have only market incentives; when the executives, board members, and majority shareholders look at the books, the numbers devoted to “doing the right thing” are probably a rounding error.

On tail recursion and compilers:

Fact of life: modern processors don’t execute your code in the order the compiler spits it out.

If your code has, for instance, two adds followed by an if statement, it’s pretty likely that second add is going to be executed concurrently or after the conditional. In the world of computer architecture, they call this out-of-order execution, and it’s just another service your hard working processor offers to make sure your code runs faster than you ever intended it to.

On shorter cycles of production and the need to get past perfectionism:

Our modes of production are causing us to change how we produce. More and more mediums, be it journalism or software, are produced on shorter timelines. This is leading us to optimize production such that we can bang the content or code that matters into templates that mostly work, but have a tolerance for the rough edges where things don’t work.

On Barack Obama’s 2010 State of the Union speech that preceeded the health care debate:

Just for grins, I went and read the GOP response to the State of the Union. While they had some vague counterpoints policy-wise, it read mostly as subtle and useless jabs combined with carefully-constructed language to console their base. The GOP is a cynical, gutless organization.

On refactoring and deleting code:

People often say that they would miss having a refactoring browser in languages like Ruby, JavaScript, or anything that is reasonably dynamic. My glib response to this sort of comment is invariably “well, the best refactoring I know is to select the code to modify, hit delete, and start over.” Let’s take that apart.

I’ve observed that, despite our best intentions, we are often loathe to change code that we suspect is working, or that we suspect we don’t know why it’s there. And so, like the planet on which we live, applications accrete into Katamari balls of overly-coupled code that is bound only by locality. Cutting this Gordian knot is often the first step in reclaiming a project.

Deleting code is the knife with which we can attack this problem. Many will acknowledge the goodness of deleting code; it is, quite nearly, a virtue unto itself. I’ve observed that some of the best developers I know are always on the lookout for ways they can obviate code. So, by way of a strawman, I hope you see that I’m quite correct in this regard.