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Monday, August 07, 2006

A Space for Half-Formed Thoughts[1]

Recording dynamic systems is hard.
I recently started learning the innards of a complex software system. Shortly thereafter, I found myself at Pearl looking for a 0.3mm drafting pencil. For those not familiar, an ordinary thin-lead mechanical pencil is 0.5mm. 0.3mm pencils are for drawing the kind of really insanely detailed pictures mentally disturbed people spend thirty years drawing in secret[2].

My diagrams aren't software architecture diagrams. That is, they are, in that I do them when I'm doing architecture, but they aren't pictures of the system. They're pictures of the contents of my head. You either know what I mean, or you're a person that thinks those really huge auto-generated class diagrams are cool. Anyway, the diagrams are a shorthand, which means they leave bits out. A proper diagram of what I'm actually thinking would probably look more like the little picture at the top of this entry, which is just Tuftey and annoying. So my diagrams come out looking sort of like hybrid object/class diagrams with lots of little annotations and callouts. (People who want to generate code from diagrams should be taken out and shot[3]).

I learned about the difference between diagrams as a shorthand-notation-for-thoughts and diagrams-as-reality when I was working at a company that did geological mapping and modeling software. It took me a while to understand that geologists wanted to record their opinions, not record data. Maps are acts of creative interpretation. So are good software diagrams.

So far, the best way to capture the kind of diagrams I make is paper and (very fine point) pencil. There ought to be a better way. I stole the title of this entry from [4], which seems relevant somehow.

[1] Sure enough, another repost. I'm just pitiful.
[2] http:// www.sfmoma.org/exhibitions/exhib_detail/ 98_exhib_ag_rizzoli.html , although really he used large sheets of paper instead of tiny pencil leads , which if you think about it gets you the same effect. Or maybe in addition to, which is even better.
[3] People who want to execute diagrams directly without the code generation step may be onto something. Or not. It's really hard to tell at this point. I'm hopeful.
[4] http://flow.doorsofperception.com/ content/ tabor_trans.html , I have a sort of perverse fascination with Doors. And First Monday. That sort of vaguely socialist Euro-academic stuff is somehow very attractive.

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Blogger daniel said...

r u perm in NYC now? r u going to be at earthcamp or barcamptexas or whatever?

and, this post was brilliant. good to be re-pointed to DoP.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Aww, we don't get to see one of your diagrams?

5:32 AM  

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