19 October 2011

Git as Menograph


In Mar. 2010, Matz came and talked at MWRC.

The awesome talk focused around Ruby as a great invention that makes it possible for programmers to bring a new world into being that could only be imagined before.

He made reference to the inventor in Hugo Gernsback's book: Ralph 124c 41 +.  The name was a play on words "One to foresee for one", with "+" being reserved for the 10 or so greatest inventors currently living.

Although Matz's reference could be interpreted as prideful, anyone who has ever had anything to do with him would correct you -- he is a very humble programmer who does awesome stuff.

Because I wanted to understand Matz's reference very thoroughly, I went and read the book.  I was able to appreciate the scope of Matz's talk much more clearly after having read about Ralph, the great inventor.

Menograph, the invention

One thing that Ralph invented was a Menograph.  It was a mind-recording device, operated by pressing a button that started a mind wave recorder and operated a scroll of fabric on which the waves were traced in ink, similar to an old-style seismograph.

The Menograph was one of Ralph 124C 41 +'s earliest inventions, and entirely superseded the pen and pencil.  It was only necessary to press the button when an idea was to be recorded and to release the button when one merely reflected and did not wish the thought-words recorded.

Those thoughts could then be replayed again verbatim by any person by use of a device called a Hypnobioscope.

After reading an account of Ralph using this invention, which is more detailed than I am able to reproduce here, I had a vague sense that I had experienced a similar feeling before while programming.

Git as Menograph

After thinking about it for a while, I realized that how Ralph used his Menograph is how I use git.

While coding, I work on stuff, then I record commits into git.  Then I work on stuff some more, then record commits.

Then I take passes back over what I've recorded and get rid of the bad stuff and keep the good stuff.  Then I push it out to the team.  Sometimes, a pair or triple on the team do this as a group exercise, working history over a few time until it won't break the world.

The parallel to git was eye-opening.  In fact, after having noticed this behavior in myself, and seeing the behavior tendency grow over time, I'd say that git encourages multi-pass thinking styles.

P.S.  If you care at all about Ruby, listen to Matz's talk.  Some of the future stuff he was talking about is already in Ruby 1.9.2.  NOTE: I'm on linux, and I had to use the flash player to get the video to show.

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