To Make or To Do

“Did you know,” said Gina, the other day, “that in Spanish, the word meaning to make is the same as the word meaning to do?” I don’t speak Spanish, but it seems that the usage of the Portuguese fazer and the French faire supports this hypothesis. I’m going to have to back up and put this comment in context.

When we met, Gina’s friends were unanimous: I wasn’t her type. And my family was likewise unanimous: Gina wasn’t right for me. Ever since, we are always on the lookout for proof that this relationship couldn’t possibly work — because we have nothing in common and are completely opposite in every regard. So this rumination about vocabulary was about to turn into the latest salvo in this decade long game.

“Because, you see,” she continued, “you are a maker whilst I am a doer. Proving, once again, that we have nothing in common.”

Setting aside the interesting conundrum of a pair of verbs which are arguably opposites in one language whilst being the same word in another, I’d like to ponder the significance of this observation to information technology. More specifically: software. The question that suggests itself is: is coding (or cutting code as Amir would have it) doing or making? I used to think it was making — but that, of course is a product-centric view. Software-as-a-service needs to take the world view that the production of software is doing: there is no such thing as finishing.

The real import of this question, of course, is that doers and makers are different kinds of people; if in fact this essential nature of software is changing, then the people who participate in the activity and enjoy it will also change.

Unless they speak a Romance language — in which case there doesn’t seem to be any difference.

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Faster and Better

This story had the following curious observation:

Among some people, the efficacy of open-source projects has amplified long-standing complaints that the JCP is not nimble enough to outpace Microsoft’s development efforts and bring enhancements to the market quickly.

If I understand that aright, it means that Microsoft’s development efforts are more nimble than the JCP’s. And the solution, therefore, to become even more nimble, to become more like Microsoft, is to become an open source project.

I must agree with the sentiment, but the logic escapes me.

Spelling

The dental hygienist who cleaned my teeth today asked if I knew why, in the English language, the word for the country (Philippines) was spelled with a “ph”, but the word for the inhabitants (Filipino) was spelled with an “f”.

I love going to the dentist.

New Machine

My new machine arrived this past weekend. I guess I must have been one of the last people on the planet to order a PowerMac Dual G5 before the Intel announcement was made. Timing is everything. Maybe it’ll be a collector’s item.

Why the new box? The crystallizing moment probably came when Gina, in frustration, finally snapped “You’ve been going on about this ever since I met you. Just stop talking about it and buy it already.” The it in question is Mathematica. When I was at Morgan Stanley I scored a copy — and that was probably the most fun I had with a computer in the last decade. I first stumbled across it when the NeXT machines came out (also at Morgan Stanley).

Well, if I was going to order a copy of Mathematica, it seemed like a crime to install it on a laptop. Or a Mini. It deserved a worthy machine.

As they say, in for a dime, in for a dollar. The other piece of software I had been interested in noodling with was Motion. And that certainly wasn’t going to run on a laptop. Or a mini.

Well, if I’m going to be animating things with Motion, I’ll need things to be animating. So, logically, I’d also need something like Adobe’s Creative Suite.

Well, the machine is here. Mathematica, however, was delayed for two weeks. In the meantime, I’m working my way through the Motion tutorial.

Professionalization

I met and had breakfast last week with Ben Hyde. A really smart and interesting fellow — I wish I had recorded our conversation. We had fascinating and wide-ranging discussions all morning — but like when trying to remember the really hilarious stand-up routine you heard last night, you can only remember one or two jokes. So it is with that morning.

We did talk about my earlier post comparing the open source movement to the labor movement. Ben agreed that there was merit to an analogy around the idea of “principle for organizing the labor pool”, but suggested that professionalization was a better analogy. My initial reaction was that I liked the idea — we both grew up in an era before software engineering was invented. Back then, it was an art.

When I speak about computer programming as an art, I am thinking primarily of it as an art form, in an aesthetic sense. The chief goal of my work as an educator and author is to help people learn how to write beautiful programs…My feeling is that when we prepare a program, the experience can be just like composing poetry or music…Some programs are elegant, some are exquisite, some are sparkling. My claim is that it is possible to write grand programs, noble programs, truly magnificent ones!…computer programming is an art, because it applies accumulated knowledge to the world, because it requires skill and ingenuity, and especially because it produces objects of beauty. Programmers who subconsciously view themselves as artists will enjoy what they do and will do it better.

— D. Knuth (Computer Programming as an Art. Turing Award Speech 1974)

What the discussion highlighted was the way in which the open source movement falls short of either of these two labor movements. In the event that open source becomes a union movement, open source developers need to start paying dues to fund open source organizations, and start to negotiate with their employers to insist on “free software rights” as part of their employment agreements. Free software sanctions against organizations that balk.

To become a professional movement, there needs to be some form of accreditation with a governing body (like the AMA, or Bar Association) in order to be permitted to “practice open source programming”. Presumably, only accredited practitioners would be allowed access to the source code.

Neither one of these scenarios seems very likely.

Pro-Am

The latest issue of the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing has an article entitled Between Expert and Lay — talking about the blurring of boundaries between amateur tinkerers and professionals. The article used the word Pro-Am to describe this blend.

I had never heard the word before. It is not a new coinage. The word is apparently used in the sports world. I guess that says something about me.

The article cited this essay / study / book as a reference. The essay is entitled The Pro-Am Revolution.

The first sentence of the essay mentions Linux. The discussion begins with open source. However, having introduced the topic via Linux and open source, the article goes on to explore the idea of collaborating amateurs blending into professional domains for a variety of other activities — and open source fades out. In fact, on page 31, when surveying fields of endeavor for pro-am activity, the list includes photography, playing a musical instrument, many others, and “maintaining a web-site”. That’s as close to “programming” as anything on the list gets.

There are some interesting observations. Like the fact that men are much more likely to be pro-ams than women. This is not restricted to any particular field of endeavor. Which seems to suggest that those fields of endeavor where “pro-amishness” is rising will tend to have fewer women involved.

Another observation is that most of the fields of endeavor tend to be age specific. Different fields, different ages. What’s the age range for pro-am software, I wonder?

Recommended. It ends with this observation:

Knowledge, once held tightly in the hands of professionals and
their institutions, will start to flow into networks of dedicated
amateurs. The crude, all or nothing, categories we use to carve up
society – leisure versus work, professional versus amateur – will need
to be rethought. The Pro-Ams will bring new forms of organisation
into life, which are collaborative, networked, light on structure and
largely self-regulating.

Blocked

Every time I went to update my blog in the last couple of weeks, the site was down. Upon investigation, it turned out that the site wasn’t actually down — my IP address had been blocked. So, when I was home, it appeared to be down — when I was traveling, it didn’t. I had observed that the site appeared to be unstable — but I was traveling a lot — and didn’t correlate the apparent “outages” with being home. Last couple of weeks, I wasn’t traveling — so the site was “down” all the time.

It’s fixed now.