Link tags: software

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Software and its Discontents, Part 2: An Explosion of Complexity | Kellan Elliott-McCrea: Blog

Talking primarily to engineering leaders, but also CEOs, VCs, ICs, and other practitioners, the most common response to the question of “has something substantially changed?” is that software, counter intuitively, has gotten harder to build. This is counter intuitive because the tools are orders of magnitude better, the amount of work you can cheaply outsource is nearly miraculous, computers are so damn fast and cheap these days, the quality of resources, much of it free, is off the charts, and the talent pool has exploded, and shows every sign of being smarter and better educated than ever. But software has gotten harder to build in one very particular and important way: it’s gotten more complex.

Kellan nails it:

We’ve developed an aesthetics of complexity: the sense that a good system is a complex one, that you should prefer a SPA over a web page, a distributed system over a simple one, a service over a config file, the idea if you aren’t on the latest technology you’re wasting your time, and potentially damaging your career.

Craft — PaulStamatiou.com

I often use the word quality when referring to apps, products and services I hold in a high regard but another word that often comes up in this context is craft. Craft, as in something that is handcrafted where something someone spent a lot of time on and maybe even embedded their own personal touches and personality in it. Often something handcrafted feels more premium.

Jack Rusher ☞ Classic HCI demos

At Clarity last week, I had the great pleasure of introducing and interviewing Linda Dong who spoke about Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines. I loved the way she looked at the history of the HIG from 1977 onwards. This collection of videos is just what I need to keep spelunking into the interfaces of the past:

A curated collection of HCI demo videos produced during the golden age from 1983-2002.

Towards Growing Peaches Online - by Claire L. Evans

A beautiful meditation on Christopher Alexander by Claire L. Evans.

Descriptive engineering: not just for post-mortems – Dan Slimmon

I wrote a while back about descriptive and prescriptive design systems—and a follow-up post—but I didn’t realise there was such a thing as descriptive and prescriptive engineering.

Malleable Systems Collective

Modern computing is far too rigid. Applications can only function in preset ways determined by some far away team. Software is trapped in hermetically sealed silos and is rewritten many times over rather than recomposed.

This community catalogs and experiments with malleable software and systems that reset the balance of power via several essential principles…

I’ll be adding those principles to my collection.

Have I reached the Douglas Adams Inflection point (or is modern tech just a bit rubbish)? – Terence Eden’s Blog

This chimes with something I’ve been pondering: we anticipate big breakthoughs in software—AI!, blockchain!, metaverse! chatbots!—but in reality the field is relatively stagnant. Meanwhile in areas like biology, there’s been unexpected advances. Or maybe, as Terence indicates, it’s all about the hype.

Quality Is Systemic - Jacob Kaplan-Moss

Software quality is more the result of a system designed to produce quality, and not so much the result of individual performance. That is: a group of mediocre programmers working with a structure designed to produce quality will produce better software than a group of fantastic programmers working in a system designed with other goals.

This talks about development, but I believe it applies equally—if not more—to design.

And this is very insightful:

Instead of spending tons of time and effort on hiring because you believe that you can “only hire the best”, direct some of that effort towards building a system that produces great results out of a wider spectrum of individual performance.

Ancient Web Browsers | tweedy

This is an archive of the very earliest Web browsers — the true pioneers, the Old Gods, the Ancients:

WorldWideWeb, LineMode, Viola, Erwise, Midas, TkWWW, Samba, Lynx, w3, FineWWW

Folk Interfaces

Folk creations fill a gap. They solve problems for individuals and small communities in a way that that centralised, top-down, industrial creations never can. They are informal, distributed practices that emerge from real world contexts. Contexts where individuals have little or no control over the “official” means of production – of furniture, urban architecture, crockery, artwork, media stories, or taxonomies. In response people develop their own unpolished, unofficial, and deeply practical creations.

Now apply that to software:

Only professional programmers and designers get to decide what buttons go on the interface, what features get prioritised, and what affordances users have access to. Subverting that dynamic is the only way people can get their needs met with the computational tools they have at hand.

The Grug Brained Developer

If only all thinkpieces on complexity in software development were written in such an entertaining style! (Although, admittedly, that would get very old very fast.)

A layman’s guide to thinking like the self-aware smol brained

I don’t care how you web dev; I just need more better web apps – Baldur Bjarnason

The problem I’ve regularly encountered in my work is that I don’t get to do my job the way I think is best for both me and my employer or client. The employer, who isn’t the web development expert, almost always has a clear idea of what real web development is supposed to look like: Single-Page-Apps and React (or React-like frameworks).

An intimation that it wouldn’t be the right solution for this particular problem is taken as an admission of incompetence.

I’ve experienced this. And I think this observation is even more true when it comes to recruitment.

The collapse of complex software | Read the Tea Leaves

Even when each new layer of complexity starts to bring zero or even negative returns on investment, people continue trying to do what worked in the past. At some point, the morass they’ve built becomes so dysfunctional and unwieldy that the only solution is collapse: i.e., a rapid decrease in complexity, usually by abolishing the old system and starting from scratch.

Notes from a gopher:// site - daverupert.com

The result of adding more constraints means that the products have a broader appeal due to their simple interface. It reminds me of a Jeremy Keith talk I heard last month about programming languages like CSS which have a simple interface pattern: selector { property: value }. Simple enough anyone can learn. But simple doesn’t mean it’s simplistic, which gives me a lot to think about.

Agile and the Long Crisis of Software

Time and again, organizations have sought to contain software’s most troublesome tendencies—its habit of sprawling beyond timelines and measurable goals—by introducing new management styles. And for a time, it looked as though companies had found in Agile the solution to keeping developers happily on task while also working at a feverish pace. Recently, though, some signs are emerging that Agile’s power may be fading. A new moment of reckoning is in the making, one that may end up knocking Agile off its perch.

The cost of opinion – Dimitri Glazkov

This is a terrific analysis of why frameworks exist, with nods to David Hume’s is-ought problem: the native features are what is, and the framework features are what somebody thinks ought to be.

I’ve been saying at conferences for years now that if you choose to use a framework, you need to understand that you are also taking on the philosophy and worldview of the creators of that framework. This post does a great job of explaining that.

Software Paper Cuts · Matthew Bischoff

Running up against a paper cut bug feels a little bit like getting a physical one: not the end of the world, but certainly unpleasant. These types of tiny annoyances accrete over time, especially when no one is paying attention to them. In a single day of using my phone, I encounter dozens of these minor bugs that each annoy me just a little bit, making the task I’m trying to accomplish just a little bit more complicated.

Linking Manifesto – Manifesto for Ubiquitous Linking

We invite software developers to do their part, by

  1. ensuring their users can conveniently obtain a link to the currently open or selected resource via a user interface; and
  2. providing an application programming interface (API) to obtain or construct a link to that resource (i.e., to get its address and name).

Making Colophon Cards – Baldur Bjarnason

I think Baldur is onto something here with his categorisation of software. There’s the software based on innovation, something truly novel:

Innovation’s the word. Pushing the boundaries. You know the phrases. Usually spouted by that dude at the party.

Then there’s the software based on itertion, making a better version of a proven tool:

We are now in a place where we have entire genres of software that have decades of history, are backed by stacks of new and old research, have dozens of successful, well-made exemplar apps, and a broad enough conceptual space to allow for new variations on the theme.

In short, we have genre software and we have avant-garde software, and I’ve always been more interested in genre fiction than literary fiction.