July 28, 2006

And we're back....

Do you ever wander through your old blog posts thinking "Wow, I wrote that! Was I really that clever!?"

It's one of the best parts about blogging. You can track your descent into senility one post at a time.

Except it doesn't work unless you actually write, which I haven't been doing. So there's going to be a large gap in my record where I look like a boy wonder at the tender young age of 24 years and ten months, but a raving lunatic at 25 (minus one day).

Anyway, I'm back. I wanted to write something, anything to get the ball rolling again. Luckily the hard part is over now, because if there's one thing I've learned about writing, it's that writing has inertia. Writing spawns more writing which spawns more writing (recurse (recurse ( recurse...))) until there are nights when you can't go to bed because there are so many ideas you want to write down...

But unfortunately the opposite is also true. Not writing makes you want to write less and less ... and less.

So let's just try this and see how it works out shall we?

One short update. During my hiatus I accepted a spiffy new job within IBM. I'm not sure what I'm allowed to say about it yet, but for hints, read Bill's blog :)

The new job involves a lot of advanced Ajax programming using Dojo (Dojo rocks), so I've been spending a lot of time thinking in Javascript, which is loads more fun than thinking in Java.

Oh, and coincidentally I've been studying Jazz piano too. Small world, eh?

In General, Writing

Posted at 07:05 AM | Permanent link

March 26, 2006

Theory: chocolate inspires one to write

Has anyone else noticed that you suddenly have massive amounts of crap to say, that you need to write down ... after you eat chocolate?

I don't have any conclusive evidence yet. I just know that the last two times I parked myself in 3 Cups reading a book, sipping tea, and eating a chocolate bar... this happened:

3 Cups Tea Tray with writing all over it

(the scribbles on this tray will appear in future blog entries)

Ok, so I guess I really need to remember to carry a notebook with me wherever I go, but there's a certain charm to writing around the stains on a tea tray.

I've bought five chocolate bars of varying cocoa percentages, and I intend to test this matter. Anyone else is more than welcome to participate in my study. Just... uh... eat chocolate and try to write... or something.

In Matters that are otherwise worthwhile, Writing

Posted at 12:01 PM | Permanent link

February 22, 2006

Wordiness Considered Harmful

Good programmers know that code is not an asset. Code is a liability. Lines of code are something you spend in order to build a product.


Two reasons (mainly):

  1. The only code you can be absolutely, positively sure is bug free is no code.
  2. The more code you write, the more you or someone else has to (re)read to understand what your system is doing.

This is the Zen.

I was pondering this idea on my way home from work this evening when it hit me that there is actually a corollary in writing (English, that is).

Words are not assets. Sentences are something that you need to spend to get your point across.

Whenever I finish a new blog, the first thing I do is go back and delete all the nonessential crap: extra words, prepositional phrases - usually sentences and paragraphs too. A lot of the in order to's, that's, anyway's and so's get the axe.

Then I go back and read what I wrote again with an eye towards rewording sentences so they require fewer words. Then I go back and rewrite what I wrote with an eye towards rewording sentences so they require fewer words.

Why does this make your writing better?

In our code corollary, above, it has more to do with point two than point one. Words are things that your eyes have to travel over and your mind has to process in order to absorbe their meaning. Reading, itself, would really blow if it weren't for the ideas conveyed by those words on the page. The less you have to read to get at that meaning the better1, but then if extra words are necessary to convey the exact feeling you want then they're necessary and there's nothing to be done about it.

This is why someone like Jane Austen is such a pleasure to read while someone like Kant is so awful that we mostly just keep him around to make fun of his writing in essays like this2.

In most cases, however, the difference isn't so pronounced. It's more subtle and subconscious.

It's the difference between walking into a room that has just been dusted and one that hasn't. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred you can't peg the difference unless you're specifically looking for it. You just know that the tidy room feels better.

Concise writing just feels better.

In and of itself, it may not be the quality without a name (that magical quality that defines good writing). But if the quality without a name is there, it allows it to come through more clearly. So bring the axe, and keep it clean.

This, similarly, is the Zen.

[1] With notable exceptions mostly having to do with poetry and word play I think.

[2] Ok, I'm being facetious here. I don't actually know very much about Kant. I'm sure his philosophies are brilliant in their own way. I just wouldn't know because whenever I try to read his stuff it feels so much like trying to wade through maple syrup that I have to stop.

In Matters that are otherwise worthwhile, Technology and Software, Writing

Posted at 09:39 PM | Permanent link