Saturday, December 11

and all history unfolds before you

It's 4am, and the country of sleep is a neighboring polity where the authorities have taken a strong dislike to my activities, revoking my visa and uttering vague menace in the press about the physical safety of my person.

There are people who drink who will sometimes say to you "I never get hangovers." These people are known, in the jargon, as "liars".

PHP is a programming language. Its problem domain is, more or less, the construction of web pages. I've spent the better part of three years making things happen in PHP.

I used to hate PHP with an indignant, sputtering passion. But of course, use will always change your relationship to a given tool: These days, I hate PHP with a kind of comfortable, almost friendly familiarity.

Certainly it's an ugly mess of a language, its haphazard thievery from better languages predicated more on whim than discrimination, and most of its gestures towards cleverness, subtlety, or sophistication rooted in small-but-fundamental misunderstandings. Still, it's practical enough, once you've made your peace with the jagged corners and broken ideas. Meanwhile, I am coming around to the age-old view that, above a certain baseline of utility, your real problems are social. Or perhaps one might even say spiritual.

In a certain kind of technological environment, you must first understand that everything is a hack. This alone will give you the courage to build other hacks which are sufficiently egregious — dirty enough in their very heart of hearts — to serve as a foundation for elegance.

Worse is not better. Worse is just your only real option.

It's now 4:37am. At 8:30, it is Inventory Day, and I am due at SparkFun to start counting small things in boxes.

I have never really settled for myself this question of whether, after dozens of people spend a day counting and/or typing, the numbers in the database which (theoretically) map to the quantity of widgets in the building are more or less accurate. I'm inclined to think that, at best, we may have reached an equilibrium of noise in the system. That is, with luck, the inevitable drift in some numbers is perhaps offset by the correction of others.

I imagine people have been wrestling with this basic problem since somewhat before the historical era. Come to that, I suppose there's an argument to be made that mathematics and written language emerged from efforts to solve it.

We are as gods compared to the primal hackers, feverishly scratching their marks in the dirt as the grain piled up. But at the end of the day somebody's still going to be standing around going "wait, are you sure we only have 57 of those? I could have sworn..."

Two important properties of measurement:

First, it's often better than guessing.

Second, it's often the same damn thing.

tags: topics/php, topics/sparkfun, topics/technical

p1k3 / 2010 / 12 / 11