Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Textual Criticism

The textual critic seeks to determine the original text of a document or a collection of documents, which the critic believes to come as close as possible to a lost original (called the archetype), or some other version of a text as it existed—or was intended to exist—in the past.
— Wikipedia, Textual criticism
If you have been wondering why my posting has decreased from 2-3 posts per week to 2-3 posts per month over the past several months, perhaps the following may pass for something resembling an explanation.

The meaningful part of my title at work is "Programmer Analyst." People who have asked me that before often follow up with, "Oh. What's that?" The "programmer" part is easy: I build "stuff". ("Stuff" varies, and may be anything from database queries to web pages.) The "analyst" part is somewhat more complicated.

One of our major projects at work over the past few months has been a complete redesign/refurbishment of our account management website. What that basically means is that in 5-6 months we are trying to rearrange, update and in some cases completely rebuild hundreds of thousands of lines of code that are the result of seven years of continuous development by several dozen programmers. That's where the analysis comes in. In order to rearrange, update and rebuild without misplacing or breaking functionality along the way, we first have to determine what exactly the existing code does when and why, as well as what it is supposed to do (in rare cases those are two different things). Determining every last detail of what the code is intended to do gets exceedingly complex when dealing with code that has been worked on by a number of different programmers with different styles, different goals and different levels of familiarity with the languages involved. So, for instance, the process I started rebuilding a week ago started out as about 4-5,000 lines of code, became 10-15 pages of handwritten notes and a carefully drawn, labeled and color-coded whiteboard diagram and, hopefully, will in the end become 500-1,000 lines of brand new C#.

It doesn't happen without a lot of work though, and that leaves little time for much of anything that might inspire a post. On the other hand, all of the above is exactly the part of my job I enjoy most; I'm not obsessive, I'm Analytical Analytical.*

*Never heard of Wilson Social Styles? This guy I don't know apparently falls into the same category as me, and has a pretty good explanation on his blog. The usual disclaimer for these situations applies: I take no responsibility and make no promises for any other content that may be on his blog beyond the page I linked to.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Reading Rainbow

Tonight I finally finished reading The Four Loves, by C. S. Lewis. I think I probably started it sometime around the beginning of December. I can offer no reason why it took me so long to read 141 pages, other than that is simply my habit. Sometime last fall I went around my apartment and gathered up all of the books that were laying around, individually and in piles, on shelves, desks, chairs, various parts of the floor and even in my bed into three piles: fiction books I had already started reading, fiction books I had not started reading yet, and non-fiction books. The piles were actually of nearly equal height, which could be measured in feet (or perhaps only foot). Now at the end of April I have whittled the two fiction piles down to five books, all of which I have already started — though when I will finish them, I cannot begin to guess. The dynamic nature of my piles is such that even though I returned six or so partially-read books to the shelf (a reluctant gesture of defeat) and returned half a dozen never-to-be-started books to Half Price Books, I made up for them by reading the seven most recent Jack McDevitt books and the Fire of Heaven trilogy by Russel Kirkpatrick (and of course not finishing four of the remaining books which have been in the stack from the very beginning).

I think Jack McDevitt has by now earned the position of my favorite currently writing (and living) Sci-Fi author. I have read eleven of his books now, and while they are all easily digestible (in the literary sense, not the literal), they are also unfailingly entertaining. He also has a gift for describing scenes, painting vivid mental pictures with scant few words whose result is somehow greater than the sum of their parts.

Russel Kirkpatrick has earned the same post on the Fantasy side; his Fire of Heaven trilogy is a 1900-page epic (is that a redundancy?) that on the continuum of Fantasy sits about halfway between The Lord of the Rings and the reality of the Middle Ages. It's one of the more original works I have read in the Fantasy genre, in part because it is perhaps the only Fantasy work written in the last 50 years that doesn't include the words "elf" or "dwarf". It is also unusual in that its major theme draws parallels to Christian theology that are so strong as to be nearly allegorical. I emphasize the word nearly because the "Most High" in his novels differs from the Christian God in some subtle but important ways; however, his very thorough and matter-of-fact handling of a very Christian-like faith makes me curious as to what his beliefs actually are.

In any case, now that I have finally finished The Four Loves, next in the stack is another epic: John Calvin's two volume 1500-page Institutes of the Christian Religion, which has been waiting to be started for a few months. Perhaps I will have some (most likely confused) thoughts on it to post sometime.

Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). ... The man who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance can be our Friend. ... Hence we picture lovers face to face but Friends side by side; their eyes look ahead. ... One knows nobody so well as one's "fellow." Every step of the common journey tests his metal; and the tests are tests we fully understand because we are undergoing them ourselves.
The mark of perfect Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (of course it will) but that, having been given, it makes no difference at all. It was a distraction, an anomaly. It was a horrible waste of the time, always too short, that we had together. Perhaps we had only a couple of hours in which to talk and, God bless us, twenty minutes of it has had to be devoted to affairs!
God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing — or should we say "seeing"? there are no tenses in God — the buzzing cloud of flies around the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath's sake, hitched up. ... Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.

— C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves