Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Public interest rule of thumb

TechCrunch is having a crisis of conscience over what they'll do with internal Twitter documents they've received.

My rule of thumb is pretty simple. The documents are stolen. Unless the documents reveal wrongdoing greater than stealing, such that the public interest served in publishing is greater than the private harm, then it's unethical to publish. Idle musings about "they are going to be published somewhere on the Internet" is specious; the morality of one's actions don't depend on whether someone else is "doing it", much less everyone.

If TechCrunch goes ahead and publishes these documents, it'll only further cement my already pretty low opinion of Arrington. (I'm not a habitual reader of TechCrunch, or otherwise I'd waste away over all the food I'd be vomiting up.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

StackOverflow and religious language in programming

I was reading Why I Don’t Listen to the StackOverflow Podcast any More, and in reading the comments, I found it interesting to see the amount of religious language.

#21 (sbohlen) I’d have to agree that they do indeed appear successful, but success / failure isn’t a boolean [...] The world is full of people who succeed due to all kinds of factors including dumb-luck, [...]

This reminds me intensely of "the race is not always to the swift" etc. Eccl 9:11.

I changed adopters to believers to accentuate the effect:

"#16: [...] I have also experienced that the non-[believers] aren’t (gnerally) non-[believers] out of choice but are instead non-[believers] largely out of ignorance and inexperience — they just don’t know what they don’t know [...]"
#16: "the [types] who aren’t interested in self-improvement; there’s not a damned thing I can suggest to help these people — I cannot MAKE someone want to better themselves, that’s gotta come from within"
#16: "I [...] think that Jeff and Joel are indeed preaching [...] they are (IMO) abdicating the unofficial professional responsibility that comes with having a pulpit from which to preach."
#14: "I am a strong believer"
#13: "@sbohlen. I fully agree with the sentiment that “up and running” is not a valid metric"

I'm not going to go on with this, though I could - the about page for the blog is particularly ripe for further examples of religious language - but I do want to make a further point.

Could it be that latent religious feelings are responsible for a good portion of the minor angst on display in these comments? Could it be that people are unconsciously annoyed, not with StackOverflow's success, but rather its success even in the face of quite mild contempt at the unit-testing / SOLID religion?

My own position: I'm a "believer" in evolution and the market. Neither evolution nor the market have any moral content (they can't say what "ought" to be), and both only measure success by effects rather than processes. In a phrase, "up and running" is not just a valid metric - it's the only metric, until it stops running. If SO continues to thrive, and doesn't die under the weight of its lack of unit testing (which seems to be the logical end result of the beliefs of the believers in the comments), where then is the truth in the proclamations of doom from the prophets of the true religion?

I don't think unit-testing is the only way to avoid long-term bit-rot. I think it's a good way, but not the only way; moreover, I don't think unit testing is especially useful in the very early stages of a project, where the design changes often and rewriting unit tests becomes a disincentive to larger refactoring and redesign. I think every one of the concepts embodied in S.O.L.I.D. is debatable in certain scenarios (except perhaps LSP).

In my experience, premature abstraction has been responsible for a similar number of ills to premature optimization: abstractions chosen at the wrong boundaries, for the wrong reasons, because designers thought they could foretell the future and anticipate where changes would come. Thus I am wary of merchants of abstractions and patterns, principles and practices. I'll use them when appropriate, but never with religious zeal.