Reflections on a little thing I made, to learn how to better create the bigger ones.
After the last blog categories reorganization, I realized that I talk less about what I do and more about what others do. That make sense, as this blog is part of my learning process and I’m always looking around to find ways to improve myself. Yet, I’d like to start writing more about the little things I do. Writing helps me to reflect upon the how, so eventually I’ll learn more about my thought processes. These are likely to be very small things.
sum-csv is a small utility I have built to help me to crunch some statistics I was working with. I had a complete dataset in a CSV file, but what I wanted was an ordered list of the number of times something happened.
|Original CSV:||What I wanted:|
A data transformation
This is a small task – my old self whispered. Yet, instead of opening the editor and start coding right away, the first thing I did was drawing things. I am a visual person and drawing helps me to gain understanding. The algorithm I came up with was a succession of mathematical transformations: Which is to say:
- transpose the original matrix
- eliminate the rows I was not interested in
- for each row, group all numerical values (from column 1 onwards) by adding them, to calculate the total
- sort the rows by the total
Now, I was prepared to write some code. Amusingly, the gist of it is almost pure English:
d3-array.transpose( matrix ).filter( isWhitelisted ).map( format ).sort( byCount );
Creating production-ready code took me four times the effort of devising an initial solution: finding good and tested libraries for some of the operations not built-in in the language such as reading a CSV into a matrix or transpose the matrix itself, creating the tests for being able to sleep well at night, distributing the code in a way which is findable (GitHub/npm) and usable by others/my future self, and, actually, writing the code.
I am not always able to write code as a series of mathematical transformations, but I find pleasure when I do: it is much easier to conceptually proof whether the code is correct. I also like how the code embodied some of the ideas I’m more interested in lately, such as how a better vocabulary helps you to make things simpler.
mapand friends are more precise, sophisticated ways to talk about consistent patterns in data manipulation. Using them over
foris analogous to using the word “cake” instead of “the kind of food that you make by whipping egg whites and maybe adding sugar”.
Interestingly, you can eventually add new layers of category on top of established layers: just like saying that butter cakes constitute a specific family of cakes, one could say that
pluckis a specialization of
— Of vocabulary and contracts, Miguel Fonseca.
Precise words make communication more efficient. Arguably, software development is about managing conceptual complexity. Simple made easy, by Rich Hickey is a talk that tackles those two topics.
Two takeaways from this talk:
- The differences between simple and easy.
- Simplicity is an objective measure, and its units are the level of interleaving (of concepts). Simplicity should not be measured by the cardinality, the number of concepts/units.
- Easiness is a subjective measure, and it is related to how familiar you are with some topic or your past experience.
- We can make things simple with the tools we already have by favoring concepts that make things simpler to reason about, not quicker to write. He recommends:
I’ve been working from home for more than 3 years now, and my setup has gone through several iterations – the current one is i4.
After joining Automattic, I was encouraged to think about my office setup. The company sponsors the kind of high-quality office perks that you’ll expect in companies at this level, and I took that opportunity to upgrade my own in ways I had been already thinking about. The fact that you are not in their offices, but in your home adds a different feeling to it. Although I appreciate the company efforts and perks, I’d like to stay frugal within comfortable limits, so I didn’t get anything I wouldn’t buy with my own money. I think of my office setup as a gift for the elder me – I wish he’ll be proud of what his younger self is doing for him.
For i4, these are the new additions to my office:
HAG Capisco 8016 chair, which promotes and supports several seating positions.
DIY kit from Autonomous, to build my own height adjustable desktop so I could change between seating and standing positions.
We, humans, are not designed for seating. A lot has been said about the optimal seating position, but an idea that has gained recognition in ergonomics is that changing positions frequently may be the best long-term strategy.
For the past two months, I’ve been experimenting with that idea to learn what works better for me. I’ve used three main positions -traditional seating, saddle seating, and standing- and a lot of other crazy ones. What I’ve found out is that I change positions through the day as my body asks for it, but I mainly use the saddle position (most of the time, but especially when I need to write) and standing (for consuming information). The traditional seating feels a bit unnatural to me now, although it may be a side effect of using the Capisco which is more tailored for other postures. I also have a more traditional chair at home, but I rarely use it.
This is i4. This setup fits me so well that I cannot imagine what i5 will look like yet.
This is part of the invitation I was sent to join Automattic. I accepted. Today marks my first day as an automattician, and I am excited to become part of this family. My day-to-day will be filled with the joys and woes of programming but under Automattic’s creed, I feel safe, motivated and happy to do my best. Fun times ahead!
Most programmers who have only casually used PHP know two things about it: that it is a bad language, which they would never use if given the choice; and that some of the most extraordinarily successful projects in history use it. This is not quite a contradiction, but it should make us curious. Did Facebook, Wikipedia, WordPress, Etsy, Baidu, Box, and more recently Slack all succeed in spite of using PHP? Would they all have been better off expressing their application in Ruby? Erlang? Haskell?
Relacionados: inversión y amortización en la selección tecnológica.
While it might look like an overnight success in hindsight, the story of React is actually a great example of how new ideas often need to go through several rounds of refinement, iteration, and course correction over a long period of time before reaching their full potential.
Como parte de mi refuerzo de aprendizaje del inglés, en los últimos meses he estado escribiendo varios textos: formales, informales, críticas, emails, académicos, informes, etc. Mi herramienta favorita actual para esos momentos es Grammarly. Las sugerencias van más allá de la mera corrección ortográfica y son contextuales al estilo de la redacción, te recomienda sinónimos a palabras usadas en exceso, se integra en mi flujo diario de trabajo digital (email, Simplenote, etc) y me envía informes semanales de los errores más habituales que cometo, en el navegador funciona como tesauro al seleccionar una palabra, etc ¿qué más se puede pedir?
Al poco de experimentar la versión gratuita me hice premium; fue un flechazo a primera vista. Aunque no lo he usado todavía me gusta además que, de manera natural, te invite a contactar con un humano para revisar textos que son devueltos en menos de media hora, 3h o un día. Han visto muy bien que la gente con la sensibilidad para usar este tipo de herramientas son presciptores naturales de un servicio de traducción humano.
Como todo buen software, tiene sus peculiaridades que hace que les tengas cariño: por ejemplo, las comas de Oxford han sido un descubrimiento y todavía estoy decidiendo de qué bando estoy. Por el momento, lo único que verdaderamente me molesta es que sólo pueda usarla con los textos de inglés. Me gustaría ver algo así para el español, gallego o portugués. ¿Una especie del famoso dardo en la palabra actualizado al siglo XXI?
I want to push the idea that concepts are the real win, and they can be expressed in many different ways.
— Dumb Redux, Tom MacWright.