Maintenance

I started on a new project last week. I started the way I usually do, with a sketch of how it should work, inputs, outputs, and a general idea of the data flow. Then I did a rough prototype. Progress was pretty fast, partly because the concept is simple, and partly because I wrote something similar for a past employer. After hacking on it over the weekend, I spent yesterday doing “cleanup” to get it ready for actual use. Yesterday afternoon I realized that, despite getting quite a bit done, I felt I had hardly made a dent in my “todo” list for the project.

This made me ponder. I feel as though the speed at which I can complete a given project has fallen since I was a kid. I remember being 13 or so and starting something after dinner, staying up all night, and having a working application in the morning. Has something changed since then? Or is it just my perception or poor memory?

On the one hand, the “quality” of the code I write today is much higher. For instance, when I was a kid I saw no problem with using a text field as the canonical storage for a piece of data. I also remember a lot of deeply nested branching statements and extremely long functions. Code quality certainly explains some of the “slowdown” I perceive.

But there is more to it. I didn’t write crappy code as a kid because I had no choice. In some cases I actually knew better, and I certainly had no shortage of books from which I could have learned the rest. As I thought about my younger self during my walk to the metro station last night I realized that the greatest difference between my younger self and my present self is that my younger self didn’t expect to have to maintain any of the code he wrote. Once it was finished, it was finished, I moved on to the next project (in a way, this reflected the prevailing software release cycle of the time, I’m not sure if that influenced me in any way).

Today, I expect to have to maintain the code I write. Every time I write a line I unconsciously consider whether I’ve just written a check I’ll be asked to cash later. This means I rewrite more lines than I used to, or take longer to write them the first time (more thinking, less coding). It also means that I test and document more.

Oh well, back to (slowly) writing code.

To Mac or not to Mac

I have been a loyal GNU/Linux users since Ubuntu 5.04 (side rant, I have no idea what stupid animal name it had and it drives me crazy that people insist on referring to them by their codenames). Over the years I owned two ThinkPads, a T61 and then later a T430s. I bought ThinkPads because they would “Just Work” with virtually all GNU/Linux distributions.

Recently, however, when it came time for a new laptop I bought a Mac and switched to OSX. I made this choice for three reasons.

First, the quality of the ThinkPad hardware, at least for my purposes, has been falling. You might have noticed, if you’re familiar with ThinkPad model numbers, that I had my T61 for quite a few years, but the T430s is still only one generation old. Why did I replace it so soon? It turned out that if you spill even a tiny amount of liquid (a few drops, caused by dropping a cookie into some milk) in the right place on a 430 series ThinkPad, the trackpad, and the TrackPoint device will stop working, permanently. In fact, if you don’t then disable their drivers in the kernel, you can’t even use the keyboard reliably. To me, this is the result of poor design. I had my T61 for so many years because it stood up to the occasional minor accident.

The second reason I bought a Mac, and this might be the most important, is the battery life. Back when I used a desktop computer I didn’t care much about power efficiency. When I started using a laptop, it was such a step up that plugging in everywhere I went didn’t really bother me. But more recently I found myself frustrated that I was basically tied to the nearest outlet everywhere I went. A MacBook is effectively a giant battery with a computer strapped to it, and that’s just fine with me.

Finally, screen quality played a role in my decision. Back when I bought my T61, pretty much all laptops had dim, washed-out screens. But I expected better by the time I bought my T430s. Unfortunately, Lenovo didn’t deliver. Many, many years ago I owned a Toshiba Satellite with a passive matrix display (the kind where the mouse pointer would get “lost”). I didn’t mind because it was a laptop and that was basically the coolest thing in the world. But my eyes aren’t what they once were, and I actually have real work to do now, so fiddling with (and squinting at) a laptop display is no longer on my list of acceptable activities.

I hope to return to GNU/Linux at some point in the future. But until the hardware ecosystem works itself out, I’ll be sticking with a Mac.