Writing vs. Coding

Developers write programs with code.

Writers write stories with words.

A good developer understands that a program is about data. Data behaves.  The program has threads and control, but a good design is about how the data behaves under certain conditions.

A good writer understands that a story is about characters. Characters behave. The story has a plot, but a good story is about how characters act and react to their worlds.

A good developer understands that code is for people, who will need to understand it in the future when it needs to be fixed, improved, or even replaced. Writing elegant code that demonstrates skill and runs efficiently is fun, but if it can’t be read, it’s just bad code.

A good writer understands that their writing is meant to be read and understood. Beautiful prose and intricate description can be rewarding to write, but if it can’t be read and enjoyed, it’s still bad writing.

There is no such thing as completely correct code. There comes a point where it’s best to release the application and walk away, at least for a while. Maybe there will be another release.

There is no such thing as a finished story. There comes a point where it’s best to press “publish” or send it to an editor (or whomever.) Maybe someday you’ll write another version of it.

Appreciating Slow Consumption

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading the Monster manga series.  (Affiliate link to volume 1.) It’s nine volumes (18 if you can find the older format) and would run around $125 to buy new.

It’s not available on Kindle or any other electronic format. At least not legally.

But my there’s a library in my local library system that has the whole set. I requested the volumes one at a time, read them, and then ordered the next. It takes close to a week to get each one, so in between, I read a few other books.

It was the opposite of how I’ve been doing things that past decade or so. I took my time, instead of getting everything at once. I read them almost like one would as they were originally released. It’s the new old Eric.

It’s the new old Eric.

Some of you might remember this book:

It’s one of my most treasured possessions. Not because of its value (not very much) because of the memories it holds.

It was announced like this:

It was available via mail order, not on the newsstand. I had to order it. (Although it does have a cover price that is higher than the mail order price, so I guess it was available on shelves somewhere.)

After seeing it advertised a few months in a row, I had to order it. Mail order was the only way to get it, and ten-yar-old Eric had to see the origins of the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Thor et al.

It does have a cover price that is higher than the mail order price, so I guess it was available on shelves somewhere, but not any of the shelves I saw in Ridgewood or Midland Park, NJ.

I filled out the form, and then my Mother intercepted the letter when she noticed it had cash in it. Then I had to convince her how important this book was, so she traded a check for my money and we mailed the order.

Three hundred years later I got the book. Well, maybe it seemed like three hundred years to ten-year-old Eric. It may have only been a few weeks.

But when I got the book it was wonderful. Sheer joy. I didn’t read this book; I devoured it. I absorbed it.

We don’t experience this kind of delayed gratification as often as we did in the past, especially not when it comes to entertainment. Overnight delivery is almost a worse-case-scenario for most things. This isn’t a bad thing. Not at all! I appreciate ordering a book or movie and being able to enjoy it in seconds.

But sometimes I feel that the wait is part of the process. It’s part of the fun. It also makes me appreciate things more. The Stoics recommend going without the luxuries in our life from time-to-time, so we appreciate them more.

Maybe just imagining it might take a week to get them is a good place to start.

Total Perspective Vortex

The Total Perspective Vortex appears in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It shows one their relevance with respect to the rest of the Universe..

When you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it there’s a tiny little speck, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, “You are here.”

The only person to survive the Vortex interprets it as telling him that he was the most important being in the universe. It did this because of a mistake, but due to his ego, he finds the mistake perfectly logical.

I thought of this today when I was reading someone’s tweets. Because reasons.

Why I Am Not On Facebook Anymore

Last week I mentioned not using Facebook. I’ve been away from the platform long enough now that I am ready to write about why I am taking a (temporary?) break.

I mentioned leaving in the context of ISPs being permitted to continue selling our data, so I should start by saying that protecting my personal data is not why I left the social media site.

Selling our data is a part of how Facebook makes money. This mission has, over time, made the website more clingy and less useful. But it’s not why I left. It sure as hell made it easier, but it’s not the main reason.

I’m perfectly ok with the fundamental proposition that Facebook offers: we’ll let you communicate with your “friends” (we’ll even redefine the word, so you have lots of them!) in return for remembering what you say to them and what you share with them.

Makes perfect sense, right?

This deal has become a little fuzzy, of course. If you don’t use an ad-blocker, you may have seen ads and “suggestions” on Facebook that relate to products you purchased or even just browsed on other sites. This is because that deal with Facebook has expanded beyond their borders.

The expansion of the deal is also why you should be using an ad-blocker. Sites have been complaining bitterly about their use “costing them revenue.” Well, until they figure out how to generate that revenue without sharing my every move on the web to every other site that uses ads, I’m going to keep using one. Hint: charge a small subscription and find out just how important your site is (not.)

The main reason I stopped using Facebook is that I was spending a lot of time on it while deriving almost no enjoyment.

If Facebook was a book, I would I have put it down. If it were a TV show, I would have stopped watching. If it were a movie, I would have left the theater.

And these are things I’ve been consciously doing over the past few years to regain time, so I can focus on the things I do enjoy.

So why not quit Facebook if it’s no fun?

When I asked myself that question, failed to answer it, and then found myself back on Facebook, I realized that some form of social media detox might be in order.

Almost every article about a “detox” bothered me in one way or another. I am not in love with that particular link, but it does cover how social media does provide us with positive reinforcement, and how it provides it to us on an intermittent schedule.

It’s a slot machine, and slot machines work. (Except in New Jersey, but that’s another story.)

60 Minutes is going to air a segment this weekend about how people can’t put down their cell phones. (Breaking news, right?) Even the teaser for the show mentions social media apps and uses the term “slot machine.”

Some people can dip into Facebook, look around for a few minutes, and then leave. I might not be one of those people, for the same reason that I’m not the person you should seat next to a quart of ice cream or plate of brownies.

But at the same time, Facebook is not a neutral tool. When someone keeps coming back or never leaves, Facebook has succeeded. Last year, the average user spent 50 minutes a day on the site (and/or in one of the phone apps.) That number comes from Facebook, on one of their earnings calls. It’s a metric they use as a measure of success.

It’s also almost a year old. Maybe we’ll soon hear that it’s gone up. If not, we’ll probably hear about a “bad earnings call.”

Their goal, keeping your attention so they can sell it to advertisers, is accomplished with a system that promotes, by accident or by design, relentless controversy and negativity. The site is something less than a neutral tool.

It’s been a little over two weeks since I suspended my account, and I don’t miss it.

I undoubtedly missed some deeply insightful opinions last week about the Gorsuch nomination, the attack in Syria and then on Syria, and of course, the weighty affair of the Pepsi commercial.

Or, I missed a lot of screaming, yelling, and confirmation bias. Much of which I likely would have participated in.

Depends on how you look at it, I guess.

I miss “seeing” friends, some of who I only have because of Facebook, but even doing that has become more and more difficult because that’s not the site is for. I miss a Facebook that existed for a brief period between when they opened the doors to people outside of college and started making money. It showed me what people shared in chronological order.

Am I going to delete my account? I doubt it. Things may change, and I want to use it again.

But at the same time, I’ve quietly done this a few times before and I know that I have already been “punished” by their algorithms. By not participating, the “importance” of my posts is diminished, and I will have to start posting regularly again before people start to see what I share again.

This is a contest I am not interested in.