Coding mythically

I never quite know how to take Dave Winer. I pointed out a bug in his new discussion group software and I felt like his response was kind of testy.

I've also been puzzling over a longer rant that was inspired by a Robertson Davies essay which referenced a Joyce character "living mythically". I posted a response to Dave , but I feel like it needs to be fleshed out a little bit.

A decade ago I got a bug report that read something like "If I go into the application, go to this screen, then that screen, then exit the application, delete this index file, then go to this other screen, it crashes. Why?"

My immediate response (as a brash young turk yet unused to the vagaries of the mass-market) was somewhere between "What did you expect?" and "Don't do that, then." The bug reporter (Hi Liz!) found this unacceptable.

Back in the days of the Apple ][ we expected apps to go down on us occasionally if we fed them back input. Often we knew enough to fix what we'd done wrong and get them back up and running again (interpreted languages are so much fun!). Alas, those days are long gone, and now a good bit of code is spent making sure that the users don't shoot themselves in the foot by entering something they shouldn't.

Robertson Davies (which I allude to in my profile) commented about the desire to "live mythically" (and actually I think he was referencing Joyce). One of the great things about emerging technologies like the web and dynamic pages and implementing the buzzword o' the moment is that we get to code mythically. None of this worrying about what happens when the user tries to sabotage us, we write in the broad strokes of grand ideas.

I don't want to spend my time making sure that the user really entered a number in that amount field, I want to be extending the framework, showing them what that number means.

This isn't about the day to day drudge work, picking up after the users, this is about the story, grand architectures and broad strokes! Slaying damsels, rescuing drago... err... you get the picture.

It's heady stuff, I miss it in my day to day work right now, and one of the reasons I'm attracted to the Open Source and similar development communities is that I get to see the grand ideas implemented.

Monday, November 16th, 1998