My first printed magazine experience

As I opened my mailbox today, among the countless spam flyers there was an issue of the first printed magazine I’ve ever subscribed to.

The issue’s yellow cover had the word “PROG” written in large letters. I run an indie Mac software company and do a lot of programming. But this magazine is not about PROGramming (as my sister, who happened to see it lying on the table, assumed). It’s about PROGressive Rock music. Yes, that music that was most popular in the early 70-ies, or as my former bandmate, Michael, introduced the Pink Floyd medley we were about to play: “This music was written before we were born. Nevertheless, it’s good.”

Prog Magazine

I love Progressive Rock and adjacent genres, like Jazz-Rock Fusion, Progressive Metal and everyone’s favourite: Classic Rock, whatever this means for you.

But this story is not about music. Rather, it’s about my weird first interaction with the magazine.

As I tore the thin cellophane in which it arrived and removed a one-page ad, which I didn’t care to look at, I was surprised to find a CD attached to the magazine itself. Its thin paper sleeve had a nicely designed cover with flying ravens, which reminded me of Steven Wilson’s melancholic song from 2013, “The Raven that Refused to Sing.”

Steven WilsonI know that adding “melancholic” was redundant here. Just as Michael Jackson was the King of Pop, and Elvis was the King of Rock’n’Roll, Steven Wilson is the King of Melancholy. But I digress.

The CD has a sample of new songs from various artists. It would’ve been nice to listen to it.

Except: who listens to CDs nowadays?

My stereo system in the living room doesn’t have a CD or DVD player attached to it. Two Macs that I use, an iMac from 2015 and a MacBook Pro from 2012 don’t have a CD slot. Yes, I do have 3 CD devices at home: my son’s PC, my older MacBook Pro from 2010, which my wife uses to run Windows, and Xbox One, connected to the TV in the basement, which kids use. Basically, nowhere I can listen to music and enjoy it.

I already imagine you asking: “Who reads printed magazines these days?”. And you’ll be right. I’m surprised myself. I’m pretty sure I’ll cancel the subscription because I also subscribed to their online version, which is cheaper, doesn’t have to ship from the UK and available all the time.

But then again, maybe not. There’s something about the feel of its glossy paper and the curiosity of just flipping through it. And, frankly, I forget to read the online articles. There’s so much to read online already. But I digress again.

So, after looking at the cover of the CD and wondering how I’m going to listen to it, I flip it over and look at the small print on the back:

CD Back

“If you experience any problems using this disc, you should first visit our support page at: www.futureplc.com/discsupport.”

Why yes, I do experience a problem using this disc! It might be not the problem you people expected when you built this support page but… still, I wanted to try my luck. Deep inside, I had a vague hope that maybe, just maybe, there’s a way to listen to the tracks on this disc online and they had instructions on this page.

I carefully type the address.

I press Return.

The page slowly loads.

And I’m presented with:

404 page

Nobody cares about discs anymore. I bet Steven Wilson could write a great melancholic song about it.

While my code gently weeps

It’s an observation and not a solid fact, but it surely looks like a significant part of software developers, at least those in the Apple ecosystem, are also aspiring musicians. From personal experience, any Apple developer’s conference of 100 attendees can easily assemble several bands, and in fact, there is one, James Dempsey and the Breakpoints, that has a raving fan base in the community and an album in iTunes.

As to myself, despite my mom being a teacher of music theory, solfège, and classical music in general, my interest in music only started when I became a teen.

And while I don’t think that teen hormones had anything to do with it, somehow from liking rap music I went on to develop a keen interest in learning to play an electric guitar. I remember well that I was mesmerized by the guitar work in En Vogue’s “Free your mind” and on Aerosmith’s “Amazing”. Now when I think of it, I never learned to play these two.

We also had a cool music teacher in grade 8. In those classes, we watched and analyzed Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” It so happens that David Gilmour is also such an inspiring guitar player.

David Gilmour

David Gilmour

Long story short, I convinced my dad to buy me an electric guitar when I was about 15 and taught myself to play using some books, the Internet of mid-90ies, and a little help from my friends.

Speaking of friends, with some of them we formed a progressive rock band and started to write music. The band was called “Gray Eclipse.” Yeah, marketing wasn’t our strongest point, and we were all fans of Pink Floyd.

We went on to record a couple of demos in a local studio and, after running out of funds for that, my dad sponsored some recording gear. So we continued to record at my apartment (except for the drums, of course). These recordings resulted in a demo album which we were very proud of. We ordered cover art, burned our CDs, printed the cover on an inkjet printer, had a concert in a local community center and tried to get some recording deal. One label liked half of the songs, so we started to work on more material.

Unfortunately, our 18-yo keyboard player drowned in the sea, while heroically saving a mom and her daughter from the same. We became older, and adult life took over our time. Most of the recordings from that time are on SoundCloud. To this day I’m very proud of these.

We never came back together as a band, although my old bandmate and I started to work on a new song in the last year. Hopefully, we’ll get it finished and will be able to share it within the vast and lonely expanses of the internet.

I kept my interest in playing guitar and still have fun playing and occasionally recording stuff. Some recordings are available on the same SoundCloud, including covers of some of my favorite solos.

In 2015, I also recorded two videos of geeky parody covers. First was “Cocoa Police”, based Radiohead’s “Karma Police” with lyrics that only make sense to those who followed community discussions of the transition from Objective-C to Swift.

The second is a more accessible (for non-developers) cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” “App Oddity” tells about the ups and downs of indie app development.

In my most recent video, I recorded the solo from Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, which is one of my favorite albums.

Lately, I try to write and record in a jazz-rock fusion style, and that’s my current focus of creative musical work.

I wonder if the reason that so many indie developers are also musicians or are active in other arts, such as performing or writing, is that programming, especially as an indie, also expresses one’s creativity. As Steve Jobs famously said, it’s the intersection of technology and liberal arts that drives us.

TL;DR Programming

TL;DR, an abbreviation for “Too long; didn’t read”, is Internet slang used in reply to a lengthy online message. It is also used at the beginning of a summary of such a message. — Wikipedia.

TL;DR

This essay explores TL;DR in programming context.
It tries to find out if the trend of TL;DR behaviour spreads to software development as well, and what are the dangers of that.
It’s about Bob. It’s not about you. Good programmer don’t TL;DR. Good programmers read.

Enter Bob

Robert Kode1 is a long-time programmer. Bob loves to code. He was programming since his early teens and is fluent in six languages. He speaks only English but can read and write the other five. These five are not used for speech.

Over the years Bob developed good know-how in many areas of software development and has an intuitive understanding of many concepts. He can crunch code fast and his code is fast.

It just so happens that Bob is a TL;DR programmer.

Too Long; Didn’t Read

TL;DR comes from the increasingly short attention span of today’s Internet generation. Do programmers also fall victim to the short attention span which leads to TL;DR?

Bob believes that programming is about writing. Writing code. Writing code comments. Writing commit messages.

Bob was assigned to write a new module for an application. He skimmed the requirements for the module. He skipped half the paragraphs in the email that described some focus points. He didn’t get back to them when he churned out lines of code.

Eventually, Bob’s module implemented half the cases it was supposed to support. In some cases, it did what it wasn’t meant to do. QA filed a ton of bugs and Bob found himself in Tester Driven Development mode.

Now he cannot afford to skip reading the bug reports.

Too Lazy; Didn’t Research

How much research had to be done before writing the first line of code for Apollo Project?

Bob’s got years of programming experience, as I said, so he relies on his intuition. Oftentimes more than he should.

This time our Mr. Kode got the kind of task that he liked. He was supposed to implement a peculiar data processing algorithm for, well, the data.

Bob had prior experience writing some algorithms and was excited about the new challenge. He conceived the general approach of the algorithm as he was reading the requirements. He might have overlooked some of the intricacies of the requirements (see above) so it didn’t help either.

Bob went right ahead to writing it. After half a day it kind of worked. There were some edge cases that required attention. It was also slow. It also didn’t scale well for high amounts of data. Another day went on trying to optimize it. Then another day. Then it started giving the wrong results. And crashing on the edge cases.

Robert didn’t invest the time to think through his idea before developing. It’s not easy, so he trusted his intuition instead.

Bob also didn’t run a relevant search on Google. If he had, he might have stumbled upon a paper, or a blog post, or an answer on Stack Overflow, any of which might have helped him select and implement the right approach. Research is hard. Bob didn’t research. Bob was a bit too lazy.

They say good programmers are lazy. But they say it for a different reason.

Q&!A

Q: Does TL;DR programming lead to the culture of Stack Overflow questions of “please give me code to do X”?

Q: Do we see more bugs today because of TL;DR attitude? Including critical bugs like Boeing 787 bug which could bring the plane down in one case? Or more security omissions?

Q: How many programmers just try things out until they work, sometimes without understanding the theoretical basis of why and how? Or choose a simpler, inadequate solution?

Q: Could this also apply to other aspects of the software business, like product and project management, software architecture and market research?

Q: Are you a little like our Bob?
A: I am

👉 Discuss on Hacker News.


  1. Fictional character ^