I spared myself the horror of watching the first “presidential” debate last night. I made the right call judging by the reaction in the press and on my twitter feed. It’s rather terrifying that Trump and Biden are the best people we could put forward to lead our country. On to happier things.

Neil Buchanan, Banksy, and Art with the kids

Neil Buchanan vs Neil Buchanan

I came across a conspiracy theory of sorts that claims Neil Buchanan, co-founder and long time host of children’s show Art Attack, is Banksy. Neil has denied it but that’s exactly the sort of thing Banksy would say, isn’t it?

I remembered watching Art Attack in the late 90s on the CBC. It was one of the only shows worth watching on the Canadian channels we picked up thanks to a huge metal antenna my dad bolted on the roof after we begged him for cable.

After reading about the Banksy rumors I watched a few old episodes on YouTube. Neil was a great host, inspiring and friendly. And talented! He would do these “big Art Attacks” in every episode that used all sorts of common materials like clothes, skateboard decks, even garbage to make large installation art pieces on camera.

Big art by Neil Buchanan

I looked up Neil in more detail and discovered he is a legitimate Rennaissance Man. He started Art Attack in Liverpool in the 90s, sold it after almost two decades on the air to Disney (for £14 million), opened for bands like Judas Priest and White Snake while touring all over Europe in his heavy metal band Marseille in the 70s and 80s, and is still making, showing, and selling his art today as well.

He absolutely is Banksy.

I showed Art Attack to my kids (3- and 5-year-olds) and they loved it. We built the Carpet Croc’s from this episode. It took something like 6 hours over a few days and weekends but it was a lot of fun! We’ve done a few other things from the old shows since as well. I highly recommend Art Attack to you if you are a parent looking for things to do with your kids, or even if you don’t have kids and just want ideas for fun art projects.

Carpet Crocs paper mached

Working on a smaller screen?

I’ve spent most of September at a friend of the family’s house in the finger lakes. I only brought my 15” Macbook, a Roost stand, and my keyboard and mouse. I thought I would suffer without my large monitor but working like this has actually been very pleasant.

I most enjoy that my computer is now just a tool that can float around and be put away quickly when I’m finished with it. There is no megalithic almost religious structure glowing in the room beckoning me to return. I think when we go back to Boston, I might find a way to keep working like this.

I wish all tools felt like simple tools.

UPDATE: A week later, I am back to my 1440p monitor 😂

Ideals and messy code bases

I read Kent Beck’s blog Oh The Messes We Will Make the other day. The gist is that messy codebases are probably an ideal state to be in. A mess is a side effect of healthy exploration, success, and continued growth. This makes sense, yet I don’t find making that trade-off to be a natural one. By default I will choose neatness. I wondered why.

Kent’s article is framed from more of a product level: what’s the return on investment for neatness versus other possible benefits? One example he shares is the messy one-day version we can test and discard quickly versus the one-week version with code we are proud of. Hard to argue that it was a “better deal” to go with the one-day version there.

Sandi’s talks are usually framed by the developer’s experience. The struggle of dealing with messy code and with code that tried to DRY itself out too early, or picked a bad abstraction too soon. It’s often better to hold off, duplicate things, and collect information for as long as you can before taking the refactoring plunge, she coaches us.

This all leads to the same place: building software is not only about writing (what you at the moment believe to be) “neat code” but keeping the trade-offs in mind as you go. I can nod my head vigorously along with Kent and Sandi but I also think it will probably always be hard to fight this impulse.

There are two things I get tripped up on:

  • I like writing neat code. It’s aesthetically pleasing.
  • Sometimes a lingering fear that I am tackling a problem “the wrong way” can lead me to overcompensate by getting too clever too early.

Programming is hard on many levels. Besides being “smart” about writing code it turns out you also need to be relatively self-aware and keep track of the ways you get yourself into trouble. I do think (and hope) it gets easier with time and experience. The more you see the problems described by Kent and Sandi in the wild, and the damage that floats in their wake, the easier it is to see the value in being self-aware and self-critical so you can avoid that pain.

Unexpected recently benefits

I had several other short things I wanted to write about in this recently, but they’ve grown longer and I am not finished writing them. Somehow, I ended up starting 3 full fledged articles without realizing it.