Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dave Coplin Reimagines The Office

Understand your office situation better w/RSA Animate & David Coplin



Raised many interesting points. I still see value in being able to pair and mob, and would like to have heard more talk about that, but I think his idea about being in control of how you work is important.

Enjoy.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Christopher Avery and The Responsibility Process (vid)

Here is Christopher Avery shows us a mental model that will help us to become more responsible.

I found it concise and helpful. I hope you may also.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Communication is a very human process.

A quick model

Every being has its own mental model of a domain 

Connected to it is a hearing/understanding apparatus. When you tell me the sky is beautiful, my mental model suggests it is a nice shade of blue and had some light, interesting clouds. But it could be that we don't share a model, and you meant really intense lightning and fast-moving thunderheads. 

Provided that there are not too many great disconnects, though, what you tell me may provide information that I can add to my mental model. 

It's relatively easy to learn things that add more information and causal connections to an existing model.

So recognize there is a difference between what I hear, and then what I understand.  It is sometimes said that "memory is the residue of thought" so my memory of our conversation may not be my memory of the sounds and words used, but of my interpretation of the sentences as they occurred. 



Also connected are the meaning/saying side of things. From within my model is a thought I want to share with you. To communicate that I have to pick the words that I use to say it. Each of those words is a citizen of my mental model (not necessarily yours). 

So just going from what I think, to what I mean, to what I say, to what you hear, to what you understand and remember is an amazing act of human thinking, openness, and imagination. 

If our models are not too disconnected, then you can apprehend a reasonably close interpretation of the same thought I'm expressing, and you can add it to your model.

In fact, the text and drawing above just did this. You now understand what I'm talking about.

What if we're disconnected?


What if I tell you things that contradict your mental model?  It is uncomfortable. It unsettles our ability to communicate and share. Do we need to start all over? Did we never understand each other?

What are the options? 

  • Perhaps I'm being ironic. 
  • Maybe I'm wrong. 
  • Maybe I'm lying to you. 
  • Maybe I have different meanings for the words I'm using. 
  • Maybe there is something wrong with at least one of our mental models. 

It's unsure, complicated, and fairly deep.  We feel frustration, and confusion. Some people would break off the conversation. This is why a mentor of mine once told me "never tell anyone something that they cannot hear." He advised instead, bridging the gap first -- and taking the time to do that well.

We get cognitive dissonance if we assume neither of is ill-intentioned. It's easier to write the other off as a liar or kook or moron. But those are the easy, value-less way out of the bind. Better that we try to understand the other person's mental model.

Most people are mis-trained to shy away from upset and frustration that would possibly help them understand another person's model. They likewise avoid the opportunities to improve or correct their own mental models. 

Add to that the old Left Brain Interpreter, whose job it is to interpret our memories of ourselves in the most flattering and heroic terms possible. It tells us we're right and that it's wrong of people to make us feel confused or upset.

I suspect this is one of the reasons that programmers tend to plateau and quit learning after their fifth year of experience; they have enough of a model built up, and believe strongly enough in it, that they are able to easily reject anything that doesn't clearly agree with what they already know.

Conversations need to focus compassionately on the differences we have in our terminology or mental model. 

It's hard to be human, and it's not something that we can do alone.

What I'm learning from this is as follows:

  1. Every skull is a cultural boundary.
  2. Frustration exists to help me; I should learn from it instead of avoiding it
  3. Using words in a straight-forward way is a kindness
  4. Using pictures will get us past many of our terminology issues
  5. Recognizing a mismatch in terminology v. model is hard, and important
  6. Avery's Responsibility Process is a helpful mental model to help me adjust my terminology and mental model.
  7. We all live far beneath the endowments given to us mentally, and walk past dozens of lessons every day that could enrich our lives.
If you find the model flawed, or incomprehensible, or not particularly useful please join in conversation with me here. I'm happy to explain, rephrase, or even rebuild the whole model if it helps us communicate more clearly and freely. After all, you have a lot of information I could use. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why Your Code Has So Much Duplication

Here is a quite nice example code block for C#'s Dataflow blocks, specifically showing usage of the WriteOnceBlock:

ActionBlock writeToConsole1 = new ActionBlock( integer => Console.WriteLine( "Console 1: " + integer ) );
 
// true if the source should unlink from the target after successfully propagating a single message
// otherwise, false to remain connected even after a single message has been propagated
bool unlinkAfterOne = false;
 
WriteOnceBlock writeOnceBlock1 = new WriteOnceBlock( integer => integer );
writeOnceBlock1.LinkTo( writeToConsole1, unlinkAfterOne );
 
// prints 12 via Console 1:
// Console 1: 12
writeOnceBlock1.Post( 12 );
 
// create 4 additional Targets
ActionBlock writeToConsole2 = new ActionBlock( integer => Console.WriteLine( "Console 2: " + integer ) );
ActionBlock writeToConsole3 = new ActionBlock( integer => Console.WriteLine( "Console 3: " + integer ) );
ActionBlock writeToConsole4 = new ActionBlock( integer => Console.WriteLine( "Console 4: " + integer ) );
ActionBlock writeToConsole5 = new ActionBlock( integer => Console.WriteLine( "Console 5: " + integer ) );
 
// link those Targets to WriteOnceBlock which already holds a value
writeOnceBlock1.LinkTo( writeToConsole2, unlinkAfterOne );
writeOnceBlock1.LinkTo( writeToConsole3, unlinkAfterOne );
writeOnceBlock1.LinkTo( writeToConsole4, unlinkAfterOne );
writeOnceBlock1.LinkTo( writeToConsole5, unlinkAfterOne );
 

This is example code, and so there was no reason to make it particularly clean and beautiful and obvious via method and variable extraction (though look at how the author aliased the non-obvious false value as the unlinkAfterOne variable). This code illustrates how a lot of real world code is written.

I think the example code is just fine. I wouldn't change it. Examples have different requirements and goals than real code. They're meant to take up little space on a page and to be complete enough that you can follow them without investing much, and so that the function can be illustrated. I'm not picking on this author. He did a good job.

It is when real-world code follows this pattern that we need to rethink organization. Check out the signal to noise ratio in the code. Some lines have very little unique content, mostly duplicating the line above or below them.

For example code, it's really great. For REAL code, however, it's got a real problem.

What if we rearranged the code to be by subject rather than by step? It would look like this:

const bool unlinkAfterOne = false;

ActionBlock writeToConsole1 = new ActionBlock( integer => Console.WriteLine( "Console 1: " + integer ) );
 
WriteOnceBlock writeOnceBlock = new WriteOnceBlock( integer => integer );
writeOnceBlock.LinkTo( writeToConsole1, unlinkAfterOne );
writeOnceBlock.Post( 12 );
 
// create and link additional Target 2
ActionBlock writeToConsole2 = new ActionBlock( integer => Console.WriteLine( "Console 2: " + integer ) );
writeOnceBlock.LinkTo( writeToConsole2, unlinkAfterOne );

// create and link additional Target 3
ActionBlock writeToConsole3 = new ActionBlock( integer => Console.WriteLine( "Console 3: " + integer ) );
writeOnceBlock.LinkTo( writeToConsole3, unlinkAfterOne );

// create and link additional Target 4
ActionBlock writeToConsole4 = new ActionBlock( integer => Console.WriteLine( "Console 4: " + integer ) );
writeOnceBlock.LinkTo( writeToConsole4, unlinkAfterOne );

// create and link additional Target 5
ActionBlock writeToConsole5 = new ActionBlock( integer => Console.WriteLine( "Console 5: " + integer ) );
writeOnceBlock.LinkTo( writeToConsole5, unlinkAfterOne );

This is doing the same thing, but in a slightly different order.

Organizing by subject lets us see that entire swaths of code are duplicated, where organizing by step made it look like duplication was slight and very local -- one line at a time had a small change that would complicate duplication removal.

Now we can see that the code in Target2 differs from target3 in only two ways: the variable name, and the text.  The difference in the two paragraphs is one digit, repeated three times.  There is a lot of code space eaten up for such a tiny bit of unique content.

Some will note that in the new example, we don't create all the variables at the top of the block, and that bothers them because it's harder to find where variables are declared.  Bear with me, because that problem will start to disappear in a moment.

Now can you see the signal:noise issue?

We can simplify this by extracting one function. This makes us extract the unlinkAfterOne to a class field, but that's not a big deal (I think).

public void WriteToConsole(string id, WriteOnceBlock parent) 
{
ActionBlock block = new ActionBlock( integer => Console.WriteLine( "Console " + id + ": " + integer ) );
parent.LinkTo( block, unlinkAfterOne );
}

Now the naming is weak, but let's ignore that for a second...

ActionBlock writeToConsole1 = new ActionBlock( integer => Console.WriteLine( "Console 1: " + integer ) );

 
WriteOnceBlock writeOnceBlock1 = new WriteOnceBlock( integer => integer );
writeOnceBlock1.LinkTo( writeToConsole1, unlinkAfterOne );
writeOnceBlock1.Post( 12 );
 
var writeToConsole2 = WriteToConsole("2",writeOnceBlock);
var writeToConsole3 = WriteToConsole("3",writeOnceBlock);
var writeToConsole4 = WriteToConsole("4",writeOnceBlock);
var writeToConsole5 = WriteToConsole("5",writeOnceBlock);

The code is smaller already, and has a better signal:noise ratio. But if we look we see that console 1 is really the same kind of code as the others listed below. It's the same kind of thing, though it wasn't inline with the duplication we saw earlier. Let's fix that.

 
var writeOnceBlock = new WriteOnceBlock( integer => integer );
var writeToConsole1 = WriteToConsole("1",writeOnceBlock);
writeOnceBlock1.Post( 12 );
 
var writeToConsole2 = WriteToConsole("2",writeOnceBlock);
var writeToConsole3 = WriteToConsole("3",writeOnceBlock);
var writeToConsole4 = WriteToConsole("4",writeOnceBlock);
var writeToConsole5 = WriteToConsole("5",writeOnceBlock);

Now, we have used var and an extracted method to reduce the duplication, increasing the signal:noise ratio considerably.  Locally, we have a lot less code to deal with.

Overall, we need fewer comments now and we have less "fiddly bits." The code has fewer ways to be broken. There is still a lot of duplication in names. We might create a builder . But right now, it's so simple that we don't need comments. All we need is to see the helper function once and we grok this code.

Provided I need all of these consoles for some purpose other than demonstration, we could compress this further this way:

 
var consoles = new List>();

var writeOnceBlock = new WriteOnceBlock( integer => integer );
writeOnceBlock1.Post( 12 ); 

foreach(var id in new[]{"1","2","3","4","5"}) {
consoles.Add(WriteToConsole(id,writeOnceBlock));
}
forfo

This code can be extended more simply than before, and is down to about 5 statements (depending on how you squint. Now that it's so compressed, we could inline the WriteToConsole and not lose readability, but I actually find it more confusing when the loop body is complicated by creating the node and linking it inside the loop.

The real question, though, is not merely code size. If you were to modify the first loop to add a 6th, how would you do it? By copy-paste duplication? What if you were to modify the latest code -- would you use duplication?

The problem with having duplication is that it increases the urge to create duplication. Code that is small and tight might sometimes require some rework, but it is more likely to be managed without copy-paste.

The reason code has so much duplication is that duplicate breeds duplication. Clean code has advantages because the easiest way to maintain it is not the worst possible way to maintain it.

You may not agree that this is better.  If so, join me in the comments.