Mere Code

Diverse Topics of General Interest to the Practicing Programmer

Rigor mortis?

I’ve been on a bit of a sanity bender recently: science, logic, evidence, experimentation, clarity and things like that. Here’s a short list of some of the things I’ve been reading:

If you’re writing software then I recommend “Pretotype It” first, because it’s likely to make you write less software, and that can only be a good thing. They are all great reads though.

There are a few general themes: be explicit about your assumptions and try to verify or falsify them as soon as you may; do experiments; beware of certain mistakes or logical short-cuts; learn statistics; understand what you are saying. Wonderful notions all, but I’m not sure whether they are working out for me.

Occasionally I’ll get an email that has a couple of sentences but somehow manages to squeeze in all sorts of conflations, non sequiturs, and general fudging. It’s hard to know where to begin. I can make a fair stab at analyzing the errors, but synthesizing a response that actually helps is very hard.

Rigour also puts a restraint on rhetoric. It’s hard to say something convincingly when you have a bunch of qualifiers dangling at the end. My writing (even now!) is slowed down as I notice the unfounded assertions and unstated assumptions that lie behind it.

Also, much of this doesn’t help you get from a vague, interesting intuition to a workable idea, from hunch to hypothesis, if you will. Sometimes a notion needs to time to grow before it’s rejected as irrational or incorrect. Something like Thinking Hats can help here.

This is all peanuts though. Do more science. Really.


glyph on 2012-09-02 00:56
I find that, when confronted with a muddled mess of ideas in email, friendly, direct communication is best. Especially because people will almost always surprise you with their capacity to improve their communications, and you'll rarely have to write a "these are the twenty-seven logical fallacies that you have committed in this message" kind of message twice.

It can take some practice to make this kind of communique not come off as super condescending, but it's definitely doable. The trick is to keep the focus on the communication and not the person or the ideas.
Jelmer on 2012-09-01 15:22
I just finished Pretotyping; that was an interesting and useful read. Thanks for the suggestion.