… they went so fast that at last they seemed to skim through the air, hardly touching the ground with their feet, till suddenly, just as Alice was getting quite exhausted, they stopped, and she found herself sitting on the ground, breathless and giddy.

The Queen propped her up against a tree and said kindly, You may rest a little, now.

Alice looked round her in great surprise. Why, I do believe we've been here under this tree the whole time! Everything's just as it was!

Of course it is, said the Queen. What would you have it?

Well, in our country, said Alice, still panting a little, you'd generally get to somewhere else – if you ran very fast for a long time as we've been doing.

A slow sort of country! said the Queen. Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!

I've had the good fortune to work for some software houses that are systematic about verifying, recording and cataloguing bugs – all of which makes it easier to find and fix them. Such software companies also recognise the need to test thoroughly and treat changes in third-party aspects (whether version of the operating system our customer uses or all their text is in some foreign script) as development, trying not to impinge unduly on background maintenance effort which will have to mop up anything the development team misses. So, where it comes to maintaining software, I've had it about as good as it gets.

Even under optimal circumstances, maintaining software is just like The Queen describes it.

Maintaining my web site

The world tried really hard to teach me that new stuff is A Good Thing. I earn my living maintaining large bodies of software: at least most of which wasn't written by me and much wasn't new when it was written. If that seems like a drop from my younger ambition to chase the riddles left by Einstein's legacy, I have a deep suspicion that new isn't the guide I should have followed if I'd stayed on it: I should attend first to a full understanding of what is supposedly known in the early stages of that path, directing my search initially within that domain, guided by my intuitions of where to go; my suspicion is that most of the answer has been lying in our hands, un-noticed (for half a century or more) because it is no longer new yet takes much understanding, so that whatever else there may be in the answer is unseen until this old cranny is properly explored. (The hunt for the right cranny looks more like bug-hunting, interspersed with occasional forrays of fixing, than like development – most of the effort is devoted to groking what's already there, however good or bad it may be.)

I digress, I use convoluted sentences and, even when I don't, I'm not famed for my ability to say things clearly or tersely. It works better if I get feed-back, best if the feed-back is information-rich. I have a steadily growing body of web pages, devoting less time to rationalisation and sub-editing (I shall not pretend to warrant the title Editor – that post is vacant, where I merely fill several others imperfectly) than to writing new stuff. Meanwhile, the internet fills up with … material is the best word I can find for it: some rich in information for one audience, useless to all others; some useful but dull to most audiences; and the whole panoply beyond, including the tiny corners on which most old media focus attention. Finding anything gets harder. In principle, what gets found might be expected to improve: but only in so far as the better finds are recognisable as such to the search engines.

Now, I'm more usually looking for somewhere to find information; but even if I were writing software to search the internet, I'd prefer sites which are well-organised, straightforward and information-rich – even when answering a query in which two competing sites provide the same information (in so far as my software knows how to assess that) as regards the user's query, I want the software to give the one which says most simply. As with Occam, one has to make one's own judgements as to what one considers simpler or, indeed, to answer how much does this say ? – but reasonable folk may hope to agree enough of the time to make it possible to write software which homes in on what folk want.

So, I guess I should stop rambling and tidy up my site, migrating it all to ISO HTML in the process. However, I notice that there's a lot of that to be done and I'm definitely not going to be doing it when I've got my head full of new stuff that I want to write down – though I try to tie it in with what's already present when I can. It will be some time before this site is anywhere near tidy, especially if I keep adding to the mess by writing new stuff. So finally, in Autumn 1999, I realised I should have a page explaining how to cope with the mess – which is clearly here for the foreseeable future.

Purpose

It will be easier to make sense of my site for the visitor who bears in mind my purposes in having the site. In particular, my primary purpose is simply to record some of what I know in a more orderly memory (that of my computer) than the one inside my head. Remembering things is something computers do vastly better than I do. My writings took off with the advent of HTML, which provided me with a suitable balance between ease of writing and display issues. This fortuitously made it easy to allow other folk access to what I write; in so far as such access is any use to other folk, this is a delightful bonus, which has encouraged a secondary purpose – to make the site intelligible to other folk too – which is, in any case, well aligned with much of my primary purpose.

The alignment between getting it clear in my head, albeit via my head's computer extension, and making it useful to other folk is worthy of note. It is slightly inaccurate to assert that if I can't explain it to other folk, then I don't undestand it, yet this is near enough to the truth to serve as a useful guide – I'll say what I intend as best I can, even if this is hard for other folk to understand (it may be also for me), but given a choice between two ways of describing a matter, all other matters being near enough equal, I'll prefer the one I imagine other folk better able to understand. It's usually a pretty good guide at a good way of saying the matter.

One more small digression, and I'll have somewhere to stuff all those fragments that I need to clean out from other pages because I don't want to lose the little sense there is in them, yet don't have a Right Place to put them, or Right Way to say them.

Status

This page is unfinished. Maybe I'll get back to it some time. Apparently, I thought a seciton on apologiae, rants and kindred detritus might be worth including; but I can't think why. I write haphazardly from time to time, when I feel so inclined. I sometimes update an activity diary, in pages associated with my thoughts of the moment, to reflect what I'm playing with lately.

See Also

Check out Jamie Zawinsky's just tirade about the web design industry; or Tim Seifert's advice against moronic web design.


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