April 24, 2010
Follow me on Twitter

Sweet Reason

As expected, “Unreasonble” evoked a lot of correspondence. Lots of people disagree. But – in contrast to my call for Law Blogs which yielded all sorts of terrific suggestions – people are not flooding me with pointers to good writing about good software.

One exception is Melbourne programmer Gregor McNish. He writes:

Well, it's not much, but there's Creative Applications. I've also followed tinyapps.org for years.
"But who writes about software you want to use with the passion people spend on gadgets?"
Perhaps people arguing emacs vs vi? The lisp machine? People talking about Lotus Agenda, or Hypercard? There's also a number of videos on Ableton Live that might be a bit passionate. Also the working out of how to use wikis on [Ward Cunninghame’s original wiki] c2.com. In terms of writing, Ted Goranson's column on outliners in was good. (ATPO in ATPM).
There's the precious few books; Rheingold's Tools for Thought, the old Programmers at Work, the new Beautiful Code, and Masterminds of Programming. A large number of talks by Alan Kay. Ted Nelson's Computer Lib/Dream Machines (the book I most regret lending, cause now it's gone). Neal Stephenson's wonderful "In the beginning was the command line". Dave Winer on his own OPML. Raskin on his Humane Interface? And of course programmers can get quite passionate about languages, which are just programs anyway. Lisp, Forth, APL, Smalltalk/Squeak, Haskell, Erlang, Ruby, Python...O/Ss -- AmigaOS, Sugar on the OLPC? More recently, there was quite a buzz about Quicksilver (Merlin Mann on 43 folders). And of course web apps can inspire a certain passion -- twitter, wave. Perhaps it's not the same thing though-- successful web apps are impersonal by definition.
To get passionate about software, you have to go beyond the surface and get with the program :-) . It's often a lot of work, and the benefits aren't immediately apparent (and may never obtain). Often you're in a local maxima and there's the uncomfortable stage of being less productive before you can reap the benefits of learning a new way of doing things, or allowing your tool/habit dialectic to change.
I've been thinking I should learn emacs for years, but have never got stuck into it. I've been aware of your Tinderbox for years, and have thought it might be a wonderful thing, but I'm not sure (I've just bought your book as a way to find out). For me, there's the worry that I'm fiddling with tools rather than actually doing things; it's a form of procrastination I'm guilty of.
My personal favourite from the DOS world was micrologic's InfoSelect. It kept all my notes, I could do (text) screen grabs, and very quickly find notes. I used it to remember things, to store programming snippets, book notes, phone numbers, book references screen grabbed from the library catalog. It was a TSR, so it was always available. Because I could output notes to the screen, I used it for tricky command lines, and dbase programming. I used a windows version for a while, but it wasn't as useful in that context.
A depressing number of these examples are quite old. Which, I guess, is your point.