Trust is Critical to Building Software

So much of software engineering is built on trust.

I have to trust that the other engineers on my team will pull me back from the brink if i start to spend too much time chasing down a bug. I have to trust that they’ll catch the flaws in my code during code review, and show me how to do it better. When reviewing their code, at some point I have to trust that they’ve at least tested things locally, and written something that works, even if doesn’t work well.

Beyond my team, I have to trust the marketing and sales folks to bring in new customers so we can grow the company. I’ve got to trust the customer support team to keep our current customers happy, and to report bugs they discover that I need to fix. I have to trust the product guys to know what features the customer wants next, so we don’t waste our time building things nobody needs.

And every time I use test fixture someone else wrote, I’m trusting the engineers that worked here in the past. When I push new code, I’m trusting our CI builds to run the tests properly and catch anything that might have broken. By trusting those tests, I’m trusting everyone that wrote them, too.

Every new line of code I write, every test I create, adds to that chain of trust, and brings me into it. As an engineer, I strive to be worthy of that trust, to build software that is a help, and not a burden, to those that rely on it.

Cranky Old Man talks about the new Apple Watch

“It tracks your exercise!”
“I don’t need a watch to tell me when I’ve gotten exercise. I’m well aware when it’s happening, because I’m the one doing it!”

“It keeps accurate time!”
“So does my alarm clock, my computer, my phone, and my car. When do I not have a clock staring me in the face, counting down my final hours?”

“Friends lets you send a message with a single touch!”
“All my friends are dead.”

“It gets your attention with a tap! Isn’t that cute?”
“A tap? From that whopper? It’d break my wrist!”

“You can dictate messages to it!”
“Sure, if you enunciate like a British MP. That’s all I need, to spend my day, sitting on a park bench, cursing at my wrist.”

“You can read email on it!”
“Maybe YOU can. With the fonts I use, it’d only display one word at a time!”

“You can send sketches to people!”
“Right. Just what the world needs, more shaky doodles from my arthritic hands.”

“It can record your heartbeat!”
“Now that might be useful. Can it send it to a doctor, or – no? Baldurdash.”

“You can use it to pay for things!”
“Like I couldn’t do it before? Listen, sonny, cash is still accepted everywhere.”

The Decline of Doctor Who

Earlier seasons had episodes that were standalone: the Doctor and his Companions having adventures.

Moffat’s tenure shifted the focus away from the Doctor, away from adventure, and toward drama: Amy and Rory’s relationship, Amy and the Doctor’s relationship, the Doctor and River Song’s relationship.

In the first four seasons, these sort of themes were subtext, part of the background fabric of the show. Moffat’s tenure brought these elements front and center, to the point where you can’t pull an episode out of the Sixth Season that doesn’t deal with some aspect of the Doctor’s death scene from the first episode. The entire season is basically setup for that one event, which means you can skip the entire season and be happier for it.

This leads me to the contradiction in my feelings about Smith’s time as the Doctor: I like Smith’s Doctor, but I hate the episodes he’s in. Smith’s ability to portray a younger, more quirky Doctor one minute and an older, more stern Doctor the next was and is amazing to me. His portrayal is still one of my favorites, and yet, because of the way they used him, I don’t enjoy watching his seasons nearly as much as I like watching Tenant and Eccleston’s.

It’s not until Season Seven that we start getting episodes that are fun to rewatch (“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”, for example). And only once Clara joins the Doctor do we get consistently good episodes.

Even with Clara, though, we can’t escape the Moffat approach of wrapping the Companion up with the Big Bad of the season and defining her mostly by what she does for the Doctor (Impossible Girl? The Girl Who Waited?). Martha Jones used to be my least favorite companion, but compared with Amy or Clara she’s incredibly kick-ass: a doctor, a smart woman who kept her head when the hospital she worked in got transported to the Moon, who had a life beyond the Doctor and went on to be a hero in her own right.

I almost think Doctor Who needs a reboot. Not just a new Doctor (we got that, hooray), but a scratching-out of most of the Doctor’s history since Moffat took over. I mean at this point, the Doctor we have is pretty lame: he’s 2,000 years old but lived in one single town for half of that time, his grave at Trenzalore – where he must never go – is not really his grave, and he’s given up caring or acting in the world because he’s lost his confidence.

We need to wipe the Moffat years out, and start over.

We can do it by making the current Doctor not the real Doctor.

During the end of Season Five (“The Big Bang”) what Amy Pond remembered back into existence was not the real Doctor. It was the Raggedy Man, her Doctor, not the real one.

The real Doctor got shunted off to Gallifrey during the explosion to seal the rift (emergency temporal shift). He was trapped there, and regenerated into a new body.

We introduce this as a season closer, when Gallifrey comes back. The fake Doctor sacrifices himself, the Time Lords return, and the real Doctor emerges. We can drop all the history we don’t like from the last three seasons, and go forward with a revamped show. We can get a younger Doctor, a not-so-needy Doctor, and (if we’re lucky) a female Doctor.

How to Fix Doctor Who: Into the Dalek

This episode is irredeemable. From the bad acting, the heavy-handed rehash of ideas that have been explored in previous Doctor Who episodes, and how bored the Doctor seems at everything that happens (I swear, Capaldi takes deadpan to a whole new level), it’s one of the worst episodes I’ve ever seen. The only thing we really learn about the Doctor or Clara is confirmation that yes, Capaldi and Coleman have absolutely zero chemistry on screen.

Skip it. Watch episode “Dalek” from Season One instead. It’s the same theme, executed better, and without the Doctor-is-just-anti-Dalek retcon.

The Persecution Fallacy

Seems everyone wants to claim persecution of some sort as a way of bolstering their case. We’ve arrived at a point where we know enough about our recent history to see people – artists, scientists, political activists – that were persecuted in their time, but were right, and have now been vindicated. So we want to represent ourselves as being like those people: just as determined, just as persecuted, and just as right.

We’ll do it to gain sympathy for our cause, even when the persecution itself is completely made up.

I’ve seen Protestant Christians in the US adopt this tactic several times. They make themselves out to be the lone voices in the wilderness, when in reality over 80% of Americans believe in God, it mentions God on our money, and the Presidential Oath of Office is usually taken on a Bible. Not exactly a tigers-in-the-colosseum level of persecution.

I see anti-GMO activists take this stance when talking about Monsanto and other big corporations. These corporations are big, and mean, and use their lawyers to push people around, so obviously GMOs must be bad. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. There’s no scientific evidence that GMOs cause health issues. And really, if we had to give up GMOs, we’d have to drop most of our diet, seeing as domestication itself – of wheat, of cattle, of even friggin apple trees – is a way of modifying an organism’s genetic makeup. Being the little guy in this case doesn’t make them right. It just makes them little.

Finally, I see people that want better treatment for women in the workplace, or to increase the number of women in the sciences, that point to the vitriol from their opponents as support for their position. It’s as if they say, “Look at how mad we make people. We couldn’t make people that mad without being right, could we?”

Well, yes, you can. That’s not to say that I don’t agree with most of these people: I think women should be able to choose their career freely, without fear of harassment or hazing or running into a glass ceiling. But it’s not the anger that that stance can generate that makes it right. It’s right because respect is right, because we respect human beings and give them certain rights as part of that respect, and because women, as human beings, deserve that respect and those rights.

In the end, the Persecution Fallacy is another form of the ad hominem fallacy. It just operates in reverse: these people think badly of me and try to shut me up, therefore I must be a persecuted genius, therefore I’m right.

Unfortunately, while persecution is real and suppression of speech is real (and wrong), it doesn’t make the position of the person being persecuted correct. It just makes it harder to judge it impartially.

The Rule of Empires by Timothy Parsons

Couldn’t finish it. The first two chapters can be summarized as: “We have no idea what it was like for peasants in Roman and early medieval times, but I bet it was terrible, because every cultural achievement was built on their sweaty, overworked backs. Now here’s a bunch of quickly summarized history to wash that down.”

What did I learn? Nothing, really. There are better books out there on everything he tackles here, from the waxing and waning of Imperial Rome (see Peter Heather’s The Fall of the Roman Empire) to life in Spain during the Reconquista (see Kage Baker’s In the Garden of Iden).