Complexity and the book.

Spent most of the evening trying to track down an InstantiationException thrown in some arcane branch of a procedure way too long to handle, let alone understand. Grown software. A large, fragile complexity, step by step built by adding small, simple changes, straightforward and in a disputable understanding of pragmatism. Documentation is tough. Tough when it comes to writing, maybe even thougher to read. That’s the very moment you end up with many thousand lines of code and hundreds and hundres of pages of text and pictures hyperlinked all across your intranet, making even simple problems incredibly difficult – such as where, for gods sake, to even start reading?!

That’s where your reading habits gradually change, time being the limiting factor with a continuous massive influx of input and information on virtually all channels. There’s a growing load of books partially read or unread at all piling up next to my bed. There’s an even larger bunch of books read once or twice, filling shelves just vaguely sorted, anything but a library as one would expect it. And there are megabytes and megabytes of digital books stored on hard drives or removable media. Collecting things, knowing it’s hard to actually do anything with them. You’ll never ever actually read most of these books, but it feels good to know you could, doesn’t it? The digital representations seem to make some things easier. Keeping them around is easier. Finding something in there is easier, if you’re not about just reading books for the sake of it but then and now keep track of quotes, inspiring moments and paragraphs that might prove useful for whatever purpose in whatever short-term future. Not reading them, actually, is easier.

Getting rid of it all is easier … after all you just remove entries from a file system index, in most cases not even caring about purging each and every bit of your digital book. Just forget it’s been there and let it be overgrown and ultimately replaced by new information, the same bits in another order representing something else. You will never have to go through the painful process of discarding actual books, those that still bear your liner notes, those that still have traces and scratches of sand on their covers, memories of earlier holidays sunny beaches. Those that still bear the smoke of your nightly cigarettes, reading through gloomy poetry in early twenties late summer nights. Those that helped you earn a living while guiding you through your first technical projects, all of a sudden figuring out that there’s a mismatch between theory and real-world problems, sending you back to re-learning things you thought you learnt ages ago. But how to attach such memories to digital data? Your bits surely don’t bear any of these, no matter how hard you try…

But reading technical documentation is nowhere near the joy of reading books for the sake of it. Yet, at times and in my world I sort of envy people who are into writing such books. Sit down, follow your flow, work and write and come up with something. Review it. Edit it. Review it again. Edit it again. Shape that stone until you’re happy – and then just publish it and leave it like this. No digging into ten year old story lines to fix logical errors. No need to repeatedly and frequently rewrite parts of the story while making sure the logic and the flow of the rest of the text still works and makes sense. Things are always so much easier to an ignorant outsider.

The source of InstantiationException has been pinned down and hopefully fixed. Minor changes, adding to the overall complexity. Another new path on the way through a vast structure of a system. And yet the usual flow. Edit. Build. Commit. Deploy. See it come up again, see it make through the tests to, at some point, just work. For a certain period of time at least. And I’m about to be a writer now again. Things are so much easier …

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