SIGAVDI #91: Sweet Potato Pie Edition

Hello friends,

What’s this? Two SIGAVDIs in two weeks??? OK yes I admit it, I’m using this to procrastinate on my email.

Schnappi, my self-appointed “pet”, has been growing bolder. Does anyone know what to feed an anole?

I'll Trade Ya!

Hey there! Archived SIGAVDI letters are for newsletter subscribers only. All it costs to join (and unlock this post) is an email address! I'll write to you weekly-ish with a few interesting links, some updates, and some reflections on the intersection of software and life. And I'll respond to your replies! Whattya say?

A photo of Avdi Grimm

What’s good

Somehow despite my best efforts to abstain I got sucked into gift-giving this holiday season. And in a few cases, I even managed to avoid the usual e-commerce leviathans. Some highlights, in case they inspire:

  • Tripp NYC now makes face masks to satisfy your inner 90s mall goth!
  • Years ago I had a lovely breakfast at the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. They ship, their gift wrapping is reportedly beautiful, and they stock some nifty teas.
  • Fair warning, I have not seen this one’s product firsthand yet. But at least judging by the photos, URWizards makes some stunning D&D dice and I have high hopes.
  • OK, I admit this was a gift to myself, but would totally buy a used car at CarMax again. Fun fact I learned: CarMax grew from the ashes of Circuit City!

What’s new

  • I’ve been setting up a brand new laptop and I decided to screencast the process for my Patreon supporters. With the advent of WSL2 (fast, native Linux), great Docker support, and rampant open-sourcing of tools both new and old, Windows has become an unlikely sweet spot for development in the last couple of years. If you’re curious what it looks like to outfit a Windows development box in this new era, check out the series. (Requires a Patreon subscription, but even $1 will do).
  • Recently a non-technical friend asked me for some advice on buying a video editing rig. Having run a screencast business for nearly a decade, I have a few opinions, and I also just completed a bunch of research in preparation for buying that new laptop. I scribbled down some notes in a Google doc. If you’re considering creating videos, maybe you’ll find something useful in there. Feedback welcome!

What’s in my head

Western European thinkers found first the clock and then the steam engine more suggestive than the manual crafts still practiced in their day and were impressed by the qualities of mechanically translated and controlled motion. They spoke of a clockwork world in which even animals were intricately regulated machines, or they regarded the world as a gigantic, inefficient steam engine.

— J. David Bolter, Turing’s Man

We seem to be doomed to think of the world in terms of the most exciting technology of the day. But the map is never the territory, and people are no more neural-network AIs than they are steam engines.

…the intellectual who “takes himself for Apollo” doesn’t realize at what point his sophisticated jargon becomes an obstacle to intellectual clarity. In his company, we feel suddenly stupid, we can’t understand what he’s talking about, we suspect his expert language isn’t entirely justified by the complexity of the subject, and we end up mistrusting intellectual reasoning itself as if it were a weapon to dominate others. He doesn’t shed light on the subject, as a true Apollonian would do; he turns the spotlight on himself. As a professor I have often noticed that those students who have a poor opinion of their own intellect submit to this kind of domination, and the less they understand the more they applaud. A true intellectual is the servant of ideas, while the caricature of Apollonian qualities expresses itself in mere academic verbiage. Inflation through an archetype makes us lose the very quality with which we identify too exclusively. In Greek mythology there are many warnings: don’t try to match a divinity, ever!

Ginette Paris, Pagan Grace

Oh this couldn’t possibly have any applicability in the software industry. No one worshipping the form of rationality without the substance here, nosiree

I like that note at the end. Ancient Greek thought (in the Jungian reading, at least) says you must honor the gods, but never try to become them. In fact, try not to be found in the same room with them. Because gods are one-dimensional.

Western Culture is supposedly founded on Greek thought but I feel like it lost that crucial proviso somewhere along the way.

Looking back over my career, one of my most reliable superpowers is saying “hang on, I’m going to go consume a massive amount of documentation, and then come back to this”. The willingness to say that I’m going to stop writing code and read a book instead (on company time!) has paid off time and time again.

This is one of my few notes of caution about pair programming and mob programming: practiced religiously, I think it makes entering this kind of deep research mode feel awkward at best, impossible at worst. Which is not a strong criticism; in my experience, solitary coding is still by far the norm. There aren’t many shops in danger of over-emphasizing social coding.

In fact it’s good to have tension between social coding and solitary research. Lord knows there have been times I’ve erred too far on the side of deep-diving, and kept studying past the point of leverage. Sometimes you also need someone to say “OK, but what if we just tried some shit instead?”

Thanks for reading. I hope to hear from you!




  1. Mealworms! You can get em on Amazon. Not sure if they’ll go for the dried ones, but if not, the woodpeckers and cardinals will become your new best friends.

    Btw, you’ve inspired me to pick up my Elixir studies/experiments again. I think this is the year that I finally make the leap and leave Ruby behind. It’s been a great few years and I’ll remember it fondly, but after having ported a handful of small Rails apps to Phoenix, I’m a total convert. Developing with Ruby is still full of joy, but these days, joy comes from fewer bugs and faster apps.

    And thanks… I now have Schnappi Schnappi Schnappi on an endless loop in my brain!

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