The knowledge exchange

I’m not vain enough to think that everyone who comes across this weblog is going to find all of my thoughts fascinating. So I’ve been giving thought to why I do this. The old “a writer has to write” thing seems like a cop-out, and besides, if that were the answer, why’ve I never been interested in creating a private journal?

Part of the answer can be seen in the way I started blogging. This entry flowed from my fingertips one morning, almost fully formed, and I thought it was fairly good … but so far as I could tell it wasn’t sellable. Many of the things I write are that way: they’re very small pieces that would be difficult to turn into full-fledged articles (and I wouldn’t have time to do it anyway). Thinking about that led me to approach O’Reilly about a blogging spot on their site.

Another part of the answer lies in the heading on my “blogroll” over in the right margin. A few weeks ago, discussing blogging with Mike Clark, I described the blogging community as “like Usenet, but with only the interesting people.” I like that phrase, and it’s a pretty apt description. I recall that even in the heyday of Usenet (i.e., before AOL and spam) I tended to gravitate toward posts by people who were interesting. (Of course, dull people blog, too. But the point is that you can choose which blogs you read.)

Communities like that are important. So important that people have to keep reinventing them. After Usenet degraded, mailing lists experienced something of a resurgence, as did IRC. For a while, in the software development world, Ward’s Wiki filled the void. These days, much of that community seems to be rebuilding itself using weblogs.

All of these things are just different ways of extending our communities of interaction, finding other people to be a part of them, and increasing the opportunities for sharing ideas. Five years in a row now, at JavaOne, Duncan and I have made it a point to have at least one extended meal together. It’s a great opportunity to share ideas (baked or not), things we’ve learned, things we’re working on, and things we’re thinking about. Each of us always comes away with a head spinning with new things. Dave and I have lunch every two or three weeks, for similar reasons. Greg Vaughn and I regularly have extended IM chats that help keep us energized with new ideas. Dave, Chris Morris, Joe Tatem, and I recently organized the Dallas Pragmatic Practitioners, and it’s the best “user group” I’ve ever been a part of – largely because there’s so much opportunity for informal discussion, where you learn so much from the ideas and experiences of others. (I can think of several other people or groups I could put in this list, but I think you’ve got the idea.)

Blogging is one of the ways I contribute to this little “idea ecology” that I’m a part of.

Here’s an immediate example: last Thursday, Mike Clark wrote some interesting things about EJBs, and Duncan responded. The combination of those two posts resonated with a discussion we’d had at the Dallas Practitioners meeting two nights prior. (Synergy!) Until today, I’ve been too busy to write my own response knitting the three together, but you’ll see it next.

Herding Racehorses, Racing Sheep

My friends Dave Thomas and Andy Huntthe Pragmatic Programmers—are always teaching me new things. This time, it’s “The Dreyfus Model of Skills Acquisition.” I ran across the slides from Andy’s talk at JAOO. Everyone involved in software development should be aware of this.

The funny thing, to me, is where I think it came from. A few months ago, while Dave and I were having lunch one day, he mentioned that he was reading a book about the history of nursing. My first thought was “that’s weird,” followed immediately by “I bet he’ll learn something interesting that applies to programming.” And sure enough, there are strong hints in Andy’s talk that they learned of the Dreyfus model through historical connections with the nursing profession.

One of the slides makes this point:

Experience comes from practice. (Broad and general, not narrow and specific.) Dave and Andy certainly cast their nets wide, and they are prime examples of the value of a generalist approach.

An unexpected treat from Google News

Since Google News showed up, I’ve been impressed with it as a news “hub” site. I find it utterly fascinating that they’re able to achieve that without human editors.

It does seem that they’re using something at least vaguely similar to PageRank—there’s definitely a feedback process involved to assess the importance of various stories. One of the nice things about this is that Google frequently features stories that are off the map for mainstream American media. I’m sure this is partly due to Google’s inclusion of non-U.S. news services, but I suspect it also reflects an American population that is changing faster than the newsrooms are.

Today, I was treated to not one, not two, but three stories about Cricket on the Google News front page. What a nice surprise. (And hurray for Australia! With Shane Warne looking more powerful than ever, they’re in great shape for the Ashes next month.)

Zeroing in on my crashes

I know, I should just reinstall. But I’ve been too busy to risk that much disruption when I don’t currently have a good backup solution, and I seem to have figured out how to avoid the crashes most of the time.

I noticed fairly quickly that the crashes seem to always be related to modem use: they happen either while the modem is disconnecting, or very quickly thereafter. And I also noticed, shortly before the crashes started happening, that disconnecting was taking a lot longer than it used to. Something’s up.

After playing around for a while, I figured this out: if I unplug the phone cord from my laptop before I tell the modem to disconnect, the machine won’t crash. So far, that’s worked. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Beginning the Day …

(via my O’Reilly blog)

A month ago, I wrote about “TechnoPop: The Secret History of Technology and Pop Music”, Rick Karr’s series of reports running on NPR’s Morning Edition. This morning I was listening to part 5 while driving to work, and I heard Karr say this:

Over the past decade, all this technology making modern music has gone digital.

Those of you as old as I am might recognize the middle of that sentence as a near quote from Rush’s 1980 masterpiece, “The Spirit of Radio”. That little touch put a big smile on my face.

Thanks to the magic of iPod, I had the song close at hand. So I popped my cassette adapter into the slot in the dashboard, plugged in my iPod, and had a listen. And I was struck by just how appropriate it was for Karr to quote from that song, which was a scathing attack on the music industry.

The first part of “TechnoPop” made a rather pointed reference to the current conflicts between the music industry and their customers (and, for that matter, the artists), and there’ve been hints that the series will come back to that issue in its final installment next week. So far, the series has covered the phonograph, microphones and electrical recording, magnetic tape, LPs, and multitracking. At each stage, the theme has been clear: technology inevitably changes not only music itself, but also the music business – often over the protests of established players in the industry, but usually to the long-term benefit of the music industry as a whole.

One still likes to believe in the freedom of music, but even the illusion of integrity that Rush sang about has vanished. The gift of music that radio brings to us, far from being beyond price, seems firmly in its grip.

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