Thinking aboutA Trace in the Sand

by Ruth Malan





Architects Architecting Architecture  

April 2013


Storylines tubempa of traces by Peter BakkerWhat's a Trace?

For those new to my Trace, be warned, this is "different"... It is a dynamic trace of (part of) my exploration of topics and content I relate to architects architecting architecture of various systems including software-intensive, socio-technical, systems of systems, and enterprises. I share the thoughts that these encounters touch off in me, as well as the places I go (references and links), in the hope that you will find my investigation and insights useful, even though they are jotted in the style of a journal which is suffused with my distinctive personality. That is, after all, what you get when working with a person, so why not when reading their journal? It makes things "interesting."

How did it get to be a week into April already?

4/13/13: Peter Bakker has created an awesome storylines tubemap that makes connections among various of my traces. The view that is threaded here is time-sequenced, and the storylines map is threaded by conceptual relationships and building storylines. It has been fun to see how the different sequencing makes something new emerge.


4/6/13: It's late, but I want to catch hold of a few ideas before they escape -- this way I'll have to revise myself when I'm in less of a sleep-deprived fog. ;-)

Enterprise Architecture: A Matter of Relevance

In The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent and some of my subsequent ecosystems and adaptability and agility traces, I've pointed out that organizations work to create relative stability in the ecosystem where entities in relationship networks are co-evolving. Waves of disruptive change may wash through the ecosystem, overthrowing the established competitive order, but a new competitive order is established with its sets of value-networked relationships that co-evolve and mutually work to create the stability that allows diversification and niche markets to form and grow. Moreover, different parts of an organization may participate in value networks that are at different points in the disruptive versus incremental evolution ecosystem cycles. That is, some parts of the business may be more stable, facing incremental evolution so they can proliferate product lines with variation along themes to variate niches and create more opportunities to differentiate through providing value into adjacent market niches. Other parts of the business may be inducing or responding to disruptive change in the ecosystem it inhabits/plays into. In either case, wicked problems abound, though in the disruptive case uncertainties are all the greater.

Tonight we went to see Leviathan with every expectation that it would be an immersive experience, but my experience of it, anyway, was that it did not rise above being merely contrived and choppy. It was just a blur of images that did not put me on the boat or in the ocean or anywhere other than a disco ball-like array of image flashes with only the sound of the ocean. I was neither fisherman, nor fish, nor boat, nor ocean swell. I had no thread of narrative nor perspective to hold onto. My viewpoint was switched in and out, fragmentedly. I felt neither seasick nor put off by the messy business, only by the pretentiousness. It tried too hard to do something, and gave me no handle on what that was. Perhaps it was to put the audience in a place of disequilibrium. But I just felt that was not an authentic place for any of the perspectives it chopped through. Sure, for the fisherman any stability they attain through experience and competency is tenuous in a dangerous and changing environment, but the choppy view didn't produce that sense of a delicate balance perilously close to the edge of chaos. So I'm afraid we left after giving it half an hour of our finite lives, and looked for a music recital to go to instead. (OMGoodness, is that how you feel, reading this trace? ;-) It did serve to remind me of the importance of establishing relevance, of providing context, framing, narrative threads, views that help reveal and explore relationships, and so forth.

A key responsibility of the enterprise architect is establishing what is relevant to informing and enabling business strategy and strategic business initiatives. And doing so with a sensibility that appreciates the uncertainties and interleaving-interweaving, yet need for views that help the organization reflect on opportunities and threats so that it can act with intentionality, adapt or disrupt, thrive and stuff. ;-)

4/7/13: Anyway, Serendipity and Bliss (or happy accident and the tenacious shape-shifting angel-demons of my passion -- that's a playful wink; read: be alert to ruffian layers of free-wheeling teasing humor and a tautly laced kind of seriousness) had their way with me yesterday. Allow me:

I quip that my litmus test for architects is tolerance of ambiguity (and my Trace is a workout to keep that ambiguity muscle flexible). Following up on negative capability, I read Keats letter to his brothers, where he introduced the term:

"several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakspeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason. Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, [34] from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration."

-- John Keats, (2011-03-30). Letters of John Keats to His Family and Friends (Kindle Locations 1126-1131). Kindle Edition.

Come evening, Dana reads off movie options and Leviathan attracts me, in good part because of all the above, along with the promise that the format breaks new ground. Now, I hate sharing my "poetry" because it puts you on the spot. Huh? You know, reading mediocre poetry is worse than reading mediocre code, and until some authority vets poetry as being any good, there's a tendency to low expectations and a sense that ethos is being abused. Now, with your permission for my reaching only the lowest bar fairly established (wink), here is the point I wanted to make:

I was a girl in Africa,
barefoot free;
the vibrant rhythm of that life,
and its discordance,
shaped me

Alternately put, I have a deep history in tenuous equilibrium in deeper disequilibrium, disquiet, disharmony -- even cacophony -- of competing, interacting, paradoxical, multiplexed realities. Beauty in the people, and the landscapes, constrasted with an apalling setting of inequality and inhumanity and abusive cruelty at every level, including the stance of people towards people. Immense peril looming always, due to the unsustainability of such a world.

Am I chopping about too much? How do I draw these images together in a way that makes sense, even to me?

That letter from Keats is interesting -- earlier in the same letter, he writes:

"I spent Friday evening with Wells and went next morning to see Death on the Pale horse. It is a wonderful picture, when West’s age is considered; but there is nothing to be intense upon, no women one feels mad to kiss, no face swelling into reality. The excellence of every art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate from their being in close relationship with Beauty and Truth—Examine King Lear, and you will find this exemplified throughout; but in this picture we have unpleasantness without any momentous depth of speculation excited, in which to bury its repulsiveness—The picture is larger than Christ rejected."

-- John Keats, (2011-03-30). Letters of John Keats to His Family and Friends (Kindle Locations 1115-1120). Kindle Edition.

Perhaps by reading that in the morning, Keats had set me up to see Leviathan in a way that was unfair to it. Perhaps I felt I was being unfairly looked down on by the filmmakers, who seemed to think it a fine object to merely place a person in disquieting disequilibrium. Perhaps there is irony in both Keats reaction to Death on a Pale Horse and my (mirrored) reaction to Leviathan, or perhaps to rise to note, something more than negative capability must be asked of the audience?

But how does all this relate to enterprise architecture? Hell if I know! Just kidding! I have, you know, ideas. ;-)

Partly, I wonder if entertaining chaos is a seductive intellectual exercise for that is where a dark peril lies, but the greater realities have more threads of sense and sensibility to draw on. Enterprise architecture, Ruth? Hm. ;-) Oh, I'm getting there. Obliquely. Perhaps.

Ok. Returning to the opening paragraph of this trace, enterprises are complexes of multiple internal value networks located within larger interrelated relationship networks and value flows in the ecosystems (yes, for complex organizations, multiple) the organization plays within. There are wicked problems, attempts to adjust in the face of change. But there's also stability, one might even say inertia. Fine, so long as the ecosystem isn't being washed out by some reshaping change. We tend to get pretty hung up on change, because shift happens. But the inertial web of relationships in the ecosystem can mean that the proactive have time to respond to opportunity. It's those who don't perceive or can't get alignment around change that get stymied. Nokia is an interesting case in point. It's not that they didn't see smartphones coming, nor that they were slow, they just had fragmented political will -- aspects of the classic Innovator's Dilemma, but not entirely a clearcut case.

In a song Sara wrote, the chorus goes "In the black of night, there's a lack of light, 'til the morning chase' the dawn." A key message of the song is that in the darkness it is hard to tell what is right from what is wrong, and we should not take actions in the dark that will undermine or damage in defining ways. Isn't that lovely and powerful? The kid is 13! Relevance Ruth? Relevance? I'm not sure. You tell me. ;-) In a highly uncertain world, it can all seem like darkness or at least that "fog" as in "fog of war." So part of our role is figuring out where we need light, and how to shed it. We'll wait for the morning whenever we can. But sometimes we need to get going sooner than that.

What I'm really doing is punting on writing more on Postel's Law, huh? ;-)


Postel's Law or the Play Nice Principle

Postel’s Law ("be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others") is also called The Robustness Principle, but I think "play well with others" projects the intent better, don't you? I guess that's because I'm just back from a doctoral saxaphone recital ('twas awesome!!). ;-) Had it been a jazz sax recital, playing nice might have more degrees of freedom in the protocol. Or something. ;-)

Playing well together is nice, but comes at a cost of dealing with variance in what's accepted. In a world of "play well together" uncertainties, the extent to which we can anticipate and avoid or reduce the cost of tolerance for deviance signifies.

See also:

4/9/13: Mentioning jazz as a "play well" analogy (bringing improvization into our mental image, but stylized so it's not altogether an "anything goes" situation) does double-duty -- the analogy itself serves (hopefully), but also reminds us that analogies help surface facets of the challenge before us, or how we might approach addressing it.

Scanning for other analogies, cell membranes came to mind. I went back to Alan Kay's classic 1997 talk because that is where I remember first hearing the cell (and membrane) analogy being pitched. Which had me listening to Alan's characterization of architecture at around minute 15-17:

The bacterium/cell analogy starts around minute 29. The point at minute 34:30 is interesting. :-) He gets to membranes around minute 37. And the security hole moments later, though he was pitching the converse, injecting a fix... So, immune systems.

The other analogy that came to mind was prompted by the Feynman clip on waves and the thought that our eyes process certain wavelengths but not others. Which enables an enormous range of seeing, but consider how stunning the images of Edward Tufte's sculptures in their landscape settings are, when an infrared camera is used, to see what we miss, seeing only part of the light spectrum! Wavelengths outside of "spec" don't cause the seeing system to flake out; it simply processes those it is set up to. But don't look directly at the sun, because UV rays will cause burn damage to the cornea, and with more exposure, damage the retina. The eye does take in messy data though -- our brains can accommodate, for example, to fixing refractive error (long/short sightedness) for just one eye. But "be liberal" has its limits. We might notice that the eye exists in a larger system context that shields the eye from what should not get in -- the cornea is not the first point of defense against foreign objects (choice not to enter hazardous conditions, hands, etc., also play a role). It is liberal in what it accepts, but what we mean by liberal is within a design context; it is already conscribed. It isn't designed to deal with just anything, for all its range of tolerance. And what the cornea passes to the retina, and what the retina hands off to the brain, has (represented), at each step, less of the huge amount of variance in the world outside the system (a person, in this case). Interestingly though, downstream tolerance means that the seeing system can accommodate to unanticipated design variation -- Alek Komer can see the ultraviolet spectrum with a cornea implant.

To be liberal in what is accepted, the connection surface (interface -- structure and protocols) isn't too fussy and pedantic, and allows in some iffy stuff so the system doesn't break at the interface. And some of that iffy stuff may hard to deal with, but it is repaired as best it can be, and dealt with accordingly, so the component can do the best it can to keep the system viable and running, if a little wonkily for a moment, but recovering and proceeding. Handing off to other components in good form. By being more accommodating -- tolerant, or liberal in what is accepted -- of variance, the range of situations that need to be accommodated gracefully is greater. By responding conservatively -- maintaining "good form" -- downstream variance is reduced, decreasing the range of accommodations needed downstream.

We're playing nice, if we don't break the game with what we do, or make it hard for others to pick up from us. But we also break the game if we aren't tolerant of what others expect us to pick up. Like. I expect you to grok my point because you can handle it, but if you bullheadedly insist on misunderstanding me because I'm using analogies not making my point with code, dammit, you're not playing nice and this interaction breaks down. ;-) Sure, I'd be playing nice and making the system more robust if I did what you expect, within tight restrictions (to accommodate any "you" out there). But if I mess up, as I'm want to do, your being liberal in what you accept, and dealing with my fudgy way of making the point, would keep the system running.

Why am I rambling around the point here. Well, see, it's like this. It seems to me that Postel's Law gets brought up in different contexts -- so different levels of granularity, composition and hazard isolation zone (or lack thereof). So, hexagonal architecture or software cells come at this from a composite interface standpoint (Isolate interactions with outside world by kind of interaction, and from internal mechanisms), raising different considerations, options and implications than at the level of class interface...

Context factors in other ways too: in-house bounded development contexts, for example, are different than composition/integration/opportunities for mischief insertion across organizational boundaries; systems that run nuclear power plants or the power grid have different intrusion/mischief consequence structures than Angry Birds; a one-off todo list app has different in-the-future composition implications than a product line of manufacturing robots; and and and)... Again, if we can isolate and lower the cost and consequence of the "be liberal" side of Postel, the better for us. So, for example, if the system is reducing some form of variance upstream, we don't have to bear the cost of dealing with the variance or threat that's already eliminated.

4/11/13: I played with the notion of calling it the "play well with others principle" but there is a serious point behind both "play well with" and "principle." Law is putting it strongly for there are tradeoffs involved. More pedantically, it is neither generally true (work has to be done to make it true, so it is not always the case that components are liberal in what they accept, for example) nor universally socially enforced. With Postel, we're implicitly shifting much onus for robustness inside the component. That's ok, so long as we recognize that we're doing that. What do I mean? We have to absorb something into the component (service, application, whatever is being composed into a larger system) to handle the variability and security and so forth that will keep the system robust despite being liberal in what we accept. But at least we won't fail at the interface. So good principle. It just has, you know, implications. As good principles do.

So. Henceforth, let it be known as Postel's Play Nice Principle. ;-) It is a robustness principle, so Postel's Robustness Principle works, but isn't as vivid, now is it? ;-) Play nice now. ;-)

4/17/13: Speaking of play well, of course exploring Postel's Law was doing a riff on mfeathers tweet and seeing that he was doing a talk on Postel's Law, which set me to wondering what I think. The analogy Michael Feathers uses in his (recommended!) talk is a useful way to think about it. I was thinking about playing well into the future when now unknown (and potentially subversive) components will integrate with this one, but there's also playing well with a plethora of legacy components or backwards compatibility. The browser example that Michael explores highlights the costs and benefits associated with being liberal in what is accepted -- high cost to handle lots of variance from sloppy to clean html, but removing the burden of the work and expertise related to diligent html compliance from content creators, meant they could focus on content without regard for the behind the scenes wiring and plumbing. This lowered the barrier to entry for content creators and arguably did much to make the web viable as an information hub of great vitality and richness. The example also demonstrates that being liberal isn't just a matter of the connection between pipes but in what flows across the pipes. That is, it is not just a matter of syntax, semantics and protocol at the interface allowing hookup, but also what can move across the interface. That's obvious, but sometimes the obvious is the most unlikely thing to see. Gorilla! ;-)

4/16/13: Postel's Law

2.10. Robustness Principle

TCP implementations should follow a general principle of robustness: be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others.


That's a beautifully written architecture document. :-)

4/25/13: What would Postel do?

5/26/13: (Counter)example:

9/21/15: Here's a nice example:


Now that's a tolerant reader ;-) Our internal written language processor, that is. You too, though. Reading here!

As hazard isolation zones go, I always think of this (from Bierce' Devil's Dictionary):

ABATISn. Rubbish in front of a fort, to prevent the rubbish outside from molesting the rubbish inside.

;-) Also related:

ACCOUNTABILITYn. The mother of caution.

If you want to harness network effects, make it easier to connect:

That post by Michael has to be the definitive treatment of Postel's Law.

9/22/15: Today we might call it "Postel's Resilience Principle," and it would get a lot more attention. So I did. I was explaining Postel's Law to my son (high school -- very relevant ;-), and it just popped out quite naturally as a resilience principle -- that is, tolerant in what it accepts from others (sometimes things in the world slip, sometimes malevolently, often simply just cascading effects of something unintentional, ...), and responsible in what it does with that and what it passes on to others.

"Play nice" speaks to lowering barriers (costs, consequences, making it easier, ...) to connection (to the connectee, by taking on some extra design work in the context, and the connector), and hence is important in gaining momentum if network effects are important. Resilience speaks to keeping things going -- gracefully. Robustness is about not failing, so there's that. But resilience is that and more -- there's something about accommodating to change, too. Take the eye, it allows not just bounce back, but bounce forward -- it accommodates to novel situations (within some range of tolerance, but still) that weren't thought up in the "design spec" -- like new lens technology, on the front end, and, because the eye passes on visual data without being fussy about meaning or range of content, the seeing-sense-making mechanism could evolve to make sense of abstractions like symbols. Within limits of course. Ruth's writing may be outside those limits. ;-)



Well, That Does It!

Ok, so today a trace got called awesome and my Trace got called "most creative reThank you!source on #entarch & #architecture" -- well, you know, life goals accomplished. I'm done now, right? ;-) Seriously, faint in surprise and gratitude. Peter and Stuart, that was a kind and sincerely nice thing to do. It is incredibly rare that something just spontaneously enthusiastic is said about my work to others. It is a tad less rare for someone to say something positive in private or directed to me. But a tweet out to all of a person's followers happens maybe once every year or seven! And then happens twice just today! Happy me! Smiles.

(Unaccustomed as I am to this, does protocol allow fainting in pleasant surprise on Twitter? I'm not versed in the etiquette here, so let me know if that's like no-no.)

4/8/13: Oh my, Tom Graves kindly characterized The Art of Change as essential for enterprise architects -- that is generous and much appreciated. Thank you Tom! It is nice to have some company out on that "mention Ruth's work" limb! It gets lonely out there. ;-)

I realize that I don't make my work easy for people to access. My Trace makes no allowances. You either get it, or you don't. There's no easy landing. You come out there on a high wire with me, or you don't come along. I expect my audience to know that curiosity, exploration (not just in the under the current footing of today's task-oriented, reactive reality), fuels the inventiveness that we need to discern and shape both problems and solutions -- and that how we shape problems, per Einstein, is where the real leverage lies. Einstein also said that the imagination is a preview of coming attractions, and my Trace is, in a way, a preview of coming attractions too. ;-) But even my formal writing tends to be on the advance guard, so though The Art of Change was written in 2010, it is very relevant still today. ;-) We will call that "leaning in." ;-) And we will call the kind mentions and retweets examples of pitching in. Something we should all be doing, if we want a democractic gating to attention, rather than the status-tree power-gating of publishing houses and formal paths to making it through the attention zapping info glut.


Upcoming Workshops

There are still seats available in the our EA workshop with Dana Bredemeyer in two weeks:

And I have a Role of the Architect Workshop in Chicago on July 15-17 that we need to be at critical mass on before the end of April, so let's make this happen! :-) I love it when architects who have taken one of my workshops want to take another, but oh, the pressure! ;-) {I'll add more info once Whitney is back in the office on Tuesday.]


Architecture and Sketches, Maps, Models

I found these notes in an old notebook, and thought they were worth stashing here. :-) I'm not entirely happy with them (for example, I think there is a lot to functionality that isn't visible), but I think it is worth keeping track of the notion that while we might see entities like packages in the code base, we don't see (all the) structural relationships let alone dynamic relationships. Nor do we see rationale (you know, the "why" that even a two year old wants to know, but not the computer) or alternatives considered but ruled out. We need to draw these out. We design, redesign and evolve the design in order to achieve more the outcomes we want. Doing so is some part imaginative leap (that we then, hopefully, refine through proof of concepts and such) and some part reasoning facilitated by (just enough) modeling and experiment (including thought experiments, pretotypes and prototypes).

Architecture has to be made visible


And, absent architecture, there's this "Pollock-inspired" rendition of the mental model of the system I hold in my head versus the one you hold in yours:

The Pollock in my head, and the one in yours....


With architecture in place, it's all more connected:

Just kidding!


Just kidding. :-) Um, in case you're not familiar with archman, that's just the head and shoulders view.


More stretchnotes (that's right -- it's a stretch ;-) on technical debt:

Stretchnotes on technical debt



Wayne Wallace Awesomeness!

IU's Latin Jazz Ensemble played with Wayne Wallace tonight -- it was awesome! He is such an amazing man and musician, and it was so cool to see him (have so much fun) play(ing) his compositions with the 25 or so person IU latin jazz ensemble (who were also totally on, and totally into playing with this American legend). Oh, and they also played a Gershwin piece that Wayne did the latin jazz/jazz latin arrangement for -- and which the IU band funked up. Woot!

And I'm looking forward to my young man getting to hear and then play with one of his heroes this week -- Gordon Bok is playing at a house concert in Bloomington on Wednesday and giving Ryan a private guitar lesson on Thursday. (Everyone who remembers Ryan singing Wabash Cannonball a couple of years ago, would be surprised by the young baritone now.)


Confidence and Vulnerability

A peculiar confluence in the flows of interaction lately...

Vulnerability and complex ideas

and my "watch this man!"-tagged (visual) poetry hero, David Troupes saying "Your website is intense." (Don't worry, his ego is safe from my characterization for he won't be back. My kind of intensity throws off architects. Even.)

Another interaction causing me to cast the paradoxical yet important pairing:

Humility: the willingness to find myself wrong
Confidence: the willingness to act on my judgement

I indicated my reluctance (read vulnerability) to share my "poetry", but then there's the tantalizing relevance of one in this moment, for it was my reaction to someone characterizing me as confidently intentional:

au contraire
confidence is but a dress I wear
in a man's world

but we all dress, layer by layer,
our presentations to the world.

one part of me observes
the part that acts
dresses and redresses

the appearance of confidence
upon underclothes of uncertainty

Funny, the poem I quoted from memory to Dana was the better for leaving out several of the lines in the above. If I treated my "poetry" seriously, I might revisit it, but I tend to think of poems that arrive full-formed as "thoughtchildren left at the doorstep to my mind by my subconscious" and I hate hacking their limbs off. Or something brutalizing like that. ;-)

The striking thing, though, is that in the version I ran by Dana, leaving out the "one part of ... redresses" verse, the meaning shifted in an important way, to a recognition that we all do that. We all have our uncertainties. It is a challenging world. Just the single fact of mortality is enough to put a crisis of uncertainty at our core! But add to that the unwieldiness of others. The scantness of our means to influence how others orient to us, or to something we see needing to be put to rights in the world. A problem arises though, when those layers of confidence entrap us. Become rigid and unyielding. Ossify into arrogance we take to be ourselves, rather than a particular projection, dressed to accomplish or convey something. Not inauthentically, if we know and are true to ourselves, to uncertainties but also to our gifts of insight. Gifts we receive and take into ourselves, renew and (re)combine to lend new meaning, make the new possible. This from another poem:

inspiration, then, a gift
returned and yet kept

speaks to the reciprocal nature of enriching relationships, and the mutual triggering of imagination and creativity (applied imagination) and innovation (creativity applied to the creation of value).

Is that me being confident, or vulnerable? Or just intensely ferocious, tearing at the walls of the tunnel of understanding, to get at the insight gems that sparkle when the light catches them just so? ;-)

Is it relevant? To architects, I mean.

What do you think?

Hell yeah! Better be your answer, or I'm not talking to you! Of course, you could ask me why I think so, and disguise your uncertainty. ;-)

My objection to Leviathan (which I still feel bad about, and still expect I didn't shift to just the right perspective to catch what it was trying to reveal to me), was because I felt like it's object was to throw me into confusion, into a state of disequilibrium, of not being certain, of feeling like my grasp on "reality" is tenuous. And maybe that is a fine object, if one was to assume that the audience needs that. But goodness me, it sure feels like the contrary. It feels like we need the John Galls of this world to give us insight into "HOW TO USE CONSCIOUS PURPOSE WITHOUT WRECKING EVERYTHING". Which is where systems and enterprise architecture comes in. To help us understand that though there is plenty to be uncertain about, and though our confident actions have compounding untintended side-effects and consequences, we must act all the same. Use our best judgment. Be confidently intentional, despite ambiguity and uncertainty in some areas, because we have experience, because there is enough continuity and inertia so that there are realms of qualified tendency towards control. But know, too, that we are acting within limitations, and we need to stay humble -- that is, stay a particular kind of fleet of mind that enables us to loose our conceptions of ourselves and what we're doing when our probing-testing reveals we need to adjust or change course. Now I'm using our in the personal and in the organizational sense there.

Anyway, I guess the root of the point I'm dancing around here is that we need to sense what is relevant and draw it to view, to see the need or opportunity to improve the system (within systems) we are charged with helping to bring better outcomes to. And everything we do is so much a matter of judgment we have to both be kind to ourselves and critical, to act with confidence yet humility, to be comfortable with ambiguity yet draw more into clarity and make decisions that rend partitions of certainty. Paradox. Upon paradox. Rigor and analysis here. Loosey goosey there. Investigating options in one moment. Closing off options in another. A dance. Hopefully more elegant than mine!!! And less distracting and nervous! ;-)

Aside: A few posts on arrogance (and not):

  • Innovation, 2/9/11
  • Identity Issues, 12/2/10 (Serendipity, or in this case deep memory? -- is so very strange -- that post refers to the poem above! And no, I haven't only written 2 poems. Gracious!)
  • Empathy, 1/22/13

A natural easy-wearing confidence is woven in trust. Which is to say, trust allows a comfortable co-existence of vulnerability and confidence. If trust is absent, we have to dress up confidence to the level of arrogance. Or dress it down, 'til uncertainty is too exposed and NSFW. Or something like that.

4/24/13: The Value of Uncertainty, Steve Berczuk, April 12, 2013


When Indulgence isn't Over!

Ok, so I confess. Last night we went to the IU modern dance program's choreography evening -- it is really neat, because composers at IU's music school team with choreographers in the modern dance program, and dancers from the program and musicians from IU's (top 2 in the country) nusic school performed. Several pieces stood out, and the last piece in particular was outstanding -- innovative and lovely! Mostly live music (a few of the compositions were electronic). Sensuous dance that interprets and makes the music visible.

And tonight we went to the eagerly anticipated Gordon Bok concert at a home in a lovely country setting outside Bloomington. Gordon Bok is an amazing guitarist -- 12 string looks easy under his command! He covered the globe with his selections -- from New England to Irish drinking music to Australian folk songs to Mongolian traditional music. And his voice is wonderful. Can you imagine -- pot luck dinner at a home not 20 minutes away, with Gordon Bok, Cindy Kallet and Grey Larsen!!! And Gordon's lovely wife Carol. It struck us that all of Cindy's students that are in school are boys, and all her adult students except one (that we know of) are women. Anyway, 3 of the boys/young men were at the concert and I'm so glad that folk roots appeal at least to some boys in this generation. :-)

Live music three nights in a row? Wow. And it isn't over. Falstaff on the weekend. I'm not usually big on opera I must say, but I'm open to it, and every now and then an opera, or even just a song, is so singularly beautiful, that I go along with it... once in a while. :-) More latin jazz on Sunday night. Then IU Ballet's choreography evening. But this is the culmination of the year for IU music and ballet students, so we hit this sort of crescendo of great music options and it is so very hard to resist. :-) Oh right. Here I am apologizing for not working every evening. ;-)



It's Official Then

I haven't logged in to LinkedIn in forever, but I get emails about people endorsing me. I guess I should go approve those messages. :-) But one struck me this morning -- I was endorsed for "agile methodologies" -- all this time, and finally someone gets me! I mean, not just the Koolaid version, but true agility. That's an endorsement I can put a shoulder behind.

I tell the kids that talent comes with tremendous responsibility to oneself and to the world we could do something spectacularly unique in. And of course they see me as one who well demonstrates what happens when one shirks that responsibility. I jest. I jest. Goodness.


Works For Me!

Right. So I've told you before that Randall Munroe works for me. I bet you never quite believed me, huh? Well. See this. And this.

Gives you pause, huh?

Best take this ruffian seriously, just in case. ;-)

PS. Peter Bakker is officially AWESOME!

xkcd #1052


Works as Implemented

A system software architect friend visiting us for the weekend, recounted a conversation along the lines of:

"But... that's not in the spec"

"Oh, it works as implemented."

Not only does the implementation define the requirements, but it works. As implemented. How cool is that? (Let's face it, how often is that the case? ;-) JK.

Inspired, I "invented" a new dish tonight and it was awesome*. I called it greens fanagalo. It works as implemented. Yesss! I'm liking this.

Falstaff? So nice of you to ask. The ending was great. :-)


* Oh, before you get in a tizz about me complimenting myself, finish the paragraph. ;-) But in my defense, even Sara liked it. And it had chillies in it. So that's saying something. I once told her she ought to be willing to experiment more with what she eats, you know, as part of her development as a writer -- requisite flexibility and all that. She told me "Nice try Mom, but no. Just. No." Or something like that. With more spice. Probably. You say the same thing when I say my Trace develops your flexibility muscle, huh? Oh well. I try.

Image source: from Every Major's Terrible, xkcd 1052

4/24/13: As for my response to Falstaff, isn't that up there with Mark Twain's response to Wagner: "It's not as bad as it sounds"?? ;-) (It was reminiscent of a Shakepeare comedy, but given that comparison, fell far short. As operas go, no pax de deux of voices...)


Thank you!


Now I Get It!

At long last? ;-)

Peter Bakker has created an awesome storylines tubemap that makes connections among various of my traces (surprising me too! :-). This work is a great demonstrator of Peter's storylines tubemapping concept and implementation thereof, and I recommend you check it out! It is also a wonderful way to get a sense of my Trace other than through the time sequenced stream-of-consciousness view that you get reading a month's traces. :-)

A big thank you to Peter. His generous work humbles me in a way that makes me understand at least one meaning of that phrase! I feel unworthy, but I also feel inspired to be worthy, to reach more for what I could do. So it is at once a feeling of gratitude in the face of great generosity, and feeling of the smallness of one's contribution in the scope of great possibility, but still a feeling of confidence and worth. Humility is not a destitution of spirit. It is more a sense of the possible. A very positive possible. Vast, but inspiring. A bowing, or inclining of one's sense of self to the larger possible -- the immensity of all possible, but also the larger possible for one's self. I say that, because I've seen people react to the phrase along the lines of "it's arrogant" and self-serving to say "I"m humbled." And I object. Because I think humility is a quality that holds multiple stances or orientations to oneself and one's larger context in a comfortable creative suspension together -- none of which includes arrogance. I arrogantly declare it to be so. ;-) No, no. That's confidence. Over. ;-)

I don't even know how to begin to thank Peter. He has put a lot of work into it, having to read my traces to see where they connect into larger threads and storylines. That all by itself has me rather in awe of Peter, for that is a generous thing to do. Way generous! If you read even a little here, you'll understand how generous! :-)

Ah, in Chrome I see the hover-over text teaser/trace previews -- very nice! :-) And it is fun that the first storyline begins with "Connecting Impressions." That both introduces and sums the whole thing up nicely!

Defining the Possible.

Thank you Peter. I can't begin to express how much it means to me that someone takes my Trace seriously. And advocates it to others in generous terms at all, let alone with such a degree of generosity and artistry.

Peter has invited me to suggest storylines, etc., but I'm enjoying seeing what he draws together and what emerges from his combinations and conjunctions. Innovation is, afterall, creative combinations of existing ideas and capability bundles.

I had to reuse my red balloon heart image to thank Peter. :-)


Hm... Did that look like this:

I didn't mean it to!!! [What? You know, self-serving. Ewwww. Well, when we saw that, we were perfectly enchanted -- that tongue is like 18 inches long and purple.]



Decisions that Shape

Some decisions we make are shaping. They determine what the system can become -- make something possible that was not possible, but also close off possibility. They change the nature of the system. Impacting encompassing systems.

4/17/13: For example, when you pick an application framework (like RoR), you're implicitly deciding to onboard a whole slew of architectural design decisions. That enables something, most obviously a whole lot of work especially in terms of "a leg up" or a "raised platform" from which to start. It is (re)use of significant architectural thinking and design and implementation work (like infrastructure heavy lifting we don't want to do over and over) as well as ongoing evolution (or "maintenance") thereof. But it also constrains. And ripples maintenance impacts. The constrains part impacts the encompassing system, which becomes entangled, among other things, with the decisions that have been engorged via the framework.

[When I was describing this entanglement of business and technology assumptions and dependencies, I wove my fingers together. I'll have to draw that. But for now, just imagine I did that already. You can picture it, can't you? Dana often quotes Bucky Fuller saying "only the impossible happens" and I always want to strike the "only" from that phrase. Whatever. The point is, consider how often something (seeming) impossible happens -- something you could not repeat if you kept trying at it for hours and even decades. You know. Like when I toss a wadded paper ball and it lands in the trash can. Impossible happens. ;-) And impossibly entangled webs of interrelationships form in an instant. Even.]


So Sorry

Feeling such empathy with those who lost loved ones in Boston. How does one cope with losing someone you love? Better not to feel? Or better to cast oneself fully into enjoying -- with the full radiance of joy -- the magnificence of loved ones, love them dearly while one can? Shadowlands is the more poignant today. Loss is so rip-tearingly hard. Our lives and loves so fragile and precious.

4/16/13: Brian Andreas (I think he's reminding us to give and take hugs, among other things):

Brian Andreas on loss

Brian Andreas on dealing with loss



Drawing a Smile

Fishing, rendered with elegantly simple whimsy:


La Linea 101

And might we think of this as a glorious ode to the power of the imagination and of abstraction (oh yes, and Mozart):

Mozart - Linea 

And a lovely post by Stuart Boardman:

Stuart really has found his voice. It is wonderful to witness and be wayside companions as he takes his writing journey.




I have (at last!) posted another Requisite Variety discussion starter. This one is on assumptions.

Following that, I have a very interactive exercise to do, so let's get some turn on this assumptions thing, so we can spin the next one up, okay?

If you are excited about the novel format for participative learning, or about the discussions and how important they are to architects, or what exciting and important lessons are learned there, or... something... by all means go ahead and give it a genuinely enthusiastic shoutout... ;-) As much as we benefit from the voices of the few assembled in the virtual discussion room that the blog hosts, it would be wonderful to be joined by other architects. Help share the burden of adding perspective -- worth 80 IQ points -- and all that.

Thanks to Gene Hughson for getting the discussion started! And to Peter Bakker for a tweet-out. Your support is much appreciated! The collegial camaraderie demonstrated when people pitch in to make something work is heartening but also crucial to creating joint good or shared value -- the opportunity of the commons. ;-)

4/18/13: Great discussion of assumptions started -- thanks Gene, Stuart and Peter! I need to gather my thoughts -- but what comes to mind is ignorance, obstinacy and selective attention all blind us to assumptions that come to govern the path we have open to us.

[Ecosystems aside: Learning to live in a global commons: socioeconomic challenges for a sustainable environment, Simon A. Levin]


The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent

I'm seeing the Fractal and Emergent paper through a new lens, with Peter Bakker's tubemap thereof!

When I read, I interact with the work and in that interaction new meaning and understanding emerges. It is fun to have that be visible in what Peter draws out, interprets, connects, and creates.

Don't you think Peter's map of my F&E paper (ebook!) looks great? Network effects, strategy, design, sociotechnical systems, ecosystems and capabilities as the main storylines -- who knew? ;-) I'm sold on tubemaps as a really powerful alternative to mindmaps. Way to go Peter!!!


Storylines tubemap of Fractal and Emergent executive report


Storylines: Next Up?

Peter's storylines mapping work inspires me in several ways. One of the most important being visualizing what he would map of my next piece of work. ;-) Excuse me, would you. I have things to do. :-)

How 'bout those unintended consequences and side effects, huh? ;-) Just kidding. As you well know, this trace is entrenched by habit and by identity. I created a projection of a whole thinking discovering sense-making person with this Trace and even though it means few do, I like her, and that has to be enough. That is, after all, what one gets when one hangs oneself on the digital self-line like this. What? A person. Mucky. Full of ups and downs and perhaps irrelevancies that turn into serendipities of discovery and. And. And. Distinctly not likeable to most. Way too much ambiguity and complexity. But nonetheless a piece of work, if not (exactly) art. Or at least a glorious example of camp -- pitched to an extreme of intellectually demanding yet absurd self-consciousness, if nothing else. ;-)

Isn't it sort of nuts that no-one has tweeted something like:

and so on and so forth... ?? Hm. Mirror? Ye-essss. The style is... choppy. Idiosyncratic. Not what one expects. Hard to recommend.

Soooo. I redesigned the book redesign. ;-) Feedback so far: "Awesome. Do it." Okaay. It will definitely be a candidate for storyline mapping, to design/communicate different routes through the content. :-) And I've put in motion a (fiction) book idea that I'm all tingly about.

But. I still like my jotty traces. Nuts. But hey. It's me. And I give myself permission to be one of a kind. ;-) (Someone had to.)


Architecture DocThud-uments (Not)

As serendipities go, last night Sara was complaining that her name is sooooo boring and I joked that she just needs to marry a Dipity 'cos then she'll be Sara An Dipity. ;-) No, no. That's not it. We saw a movie about Antônio Carlos Jobim at the "50 years of Brazilian movie making" film festival at the IU cinema. It's not music I've tended to spontaneously queue up. But it was an interesting movie. Director Nelson Pereira dos Santos was there and interviewed after the movie. Anyway, it is an unusual and compelling film in large part for the choices dos Santos made in telling the story. There are no words, save a few at the end. The story of the evolution of Jobim's music is entirely told through movie clips of performances of his music over the decades.

How the frabjous day does this relate to architecture? I'm getting to that. Sheesh. We're doing conversational stylin here. Slow down. Need a chill pill?

Irrelevant? No. Not at all. All that entirely makes my point. You'll see. I hope. ;-)

Okay. Ok. Many people ask me for an architecture document template. And when they do, my heart just sinks, like they've learned nothing from me. Whaaat? No architecture document template? Uh. Ruth. Architecture frameworks? Hm. Yeah. One size fits... Gene Hughson has a post for that. Well, alright, templates are like checklists of a sort and if you're getting started you might want to use such a thing as a fail-safe to make sure you didn't miss something important. And to leverage someone else's starting point. Good following means accepting another's decisions. So why not someone who knows a lot about architecture. I agree. That's all very well for an architecture specification or reference document. With the caveat that judgment applies and less is more. The thing is, though, such a document can become dull and lifeless.. a reference that isn't referenced ... decays as quickly as the system structure that drifts away from any concerted effort to make architectural integrity a living evolving thing.

What's the cure? And what's the point of dos Santos storytelling choices and style? How 'bout you tell me?

No takers? Smiles. If we think about architectures as works of art and system design+structural and resilience engineering* with a story to be told, rather than something that gets filled out rationo-mechanically, we'll get to something we, the architects**, are more passionate about conveying in a more rich and compelling and uniquely styled way.

What do I mean? Everything from naming whimsy or underlays of geeky referential humor to the values variously and repeatedly expressed (in actions as well as in suggestions -- by which I mean both practical guidance but also images and symbols and stories that suggest in different ways the values you're weaving into the visual and verbal lingua franca of the group, shifting its culture so outcomes are shaped through shared values and mores). Mean something unique and distinctive, and have it show up with personality and style -- with opinions and aesthetics and discernment.

* for technical systems; I'd go easy on the engineering word (and all its implications) the more social the socio-technical system.

** individually, or as a hat everyone in the team wears, though hopefully in the latter case the team (of teams) will still have a designated architect to make the ultimate call when forces pull too much in different directions to reach consensus, or timing simply demands an expeditious decision based on judgment and mastery. E.T.C.

4/23/13: I've been loosely following a twitter-scussion along these lines, kicked off by the ever awesome Brenda Michelson. Of course, in communicating with particular stakeholder (groups), be relevant and interesting! And be disciplined about what we share (as opposed to what we do to think and record design decisions) with which stakeholders and in what format.



Uh, yeah. Sorry. Took a couple of hours off tonight. Just thought you should know the IU student choreographers and dancers totally wooed and wowed us with elegant and graceful, witty, playful, sensual, daring, physically and artistically stunning dances. I truly do not understand why more people don't love ballet, given how body-beautiful it is. I mean what is not to like about incredibly sexy young adults being in fine control of every muscle to the point that they not only defy gravity but can make music visible in the most incredibly dynamic and bows-one's-spirit-in-stunned-amazement way? Point shoes that make the women's legs long-long and graceful, even when doing a spunky funk-jazzy dance? Well, anyway. It was gorgeous. And it happens again tomorrow -- yay!




Ambiguity and Authority

Uh. No. Just no. Well, with a caveat. Depending on context. ;-)

Love you Tony, but... Uh, No. Just. No. Well, with a caveat. Depending on context. ;-) Pick your battles with ambiguity carefully. She is a wily foe. Not to be dominated. Rather invited to reveal the clarities we can act on. Make decisions with the understanding that we need to watchful, for our assumptions will, sooner or later, become again tenuous in that fog of ambiguity and uncertainty that change churns up..

"He who fights the future has a dangerous enemy." -- Kierkegaard

Oh, I know we need to make assertions, make decisions based on those assertions so that we can move forward, testing the assertions as we go, and further clarifying and resolving the future we're building out with our very actions. Today looks much like yesterday, gestation rates for new technologies are generally extraordinarily slow. And yet when we look around us, we are stunned by how very much has changed even in the lifetimes of our children -- still in school. If we can't be comfortable with multiple things being true at once -- including the need to be comfortable with both ambiguity and the need to resolve ambiguity, we're fighting the future. And we're fighting the multithreaded present, that is a complex of past and future threads all entangled and interrelated. by jsonmez

I would change what Tony said by one word (and some punctuation, but who's counting?). And it would so work for me:

Learn to be comfortable with ambiguity. And attack it with a vengeance.

Then I can be comfortable with the ambiguity that is left in "attack" and "vengeance." ;-)

Uh. Does it sound like I'm defending one of my (most) cherished children? ;-) Last week I quippingly asked a group of managers and tech leads "When you ask a question, what two word answer distinguishes the architect?" And they didn't miss a beat, answering "It depends" in an instant. "That's my litmus test for architects." I told them. "So, how do I tell a good architect?" Sometimes I'll make people wait through the awkwardness of silence until someone gets impatient or gathers enough spunk to venture an answer, but, you know. if I'm concerned about tolerance for ambiguity I'll skip the silence bit and answer myself. That's a mischievous wink. We're doing comedy here. Sheesh! Anyway, I said "They tell you what it depends on." Yes, "it depends" is a hat tip to multiple simultaneous possibilities and even truths, which is the hallmark of ambiguity (of the kind that shuts down those who are uncomfortable with it). The good architect can sense what the dependencies are, and figure what to resolve and what to live with, to make progress. She retains her resourcefulness in the face of ambiguity (multiple possible meanings or intents, ambiguous relationships, ambiguity in options), and can hang with it long enough to sense how to respond -- do that OODA (observe, orient, decide, act, observe, orient...) thing. Recognizing that many threads are simultaneously present, and one thread of acting may be stomping on the tail of another, causing that to snarl up.

Oh. Don't worry. Tony doesn't actually read here -- it's just you and about 13 of my inner voices (I keep an odd number, so my inner critics can outnumber my inner cheerleaders ;-) But really, I was ever so tickled by Tony's tweet. With it he demonstrates the audacity and courage required to attack ambiguity with an assertion that clarifies a stance to build upon. He is both absolutely right. And not. Of course, he could be more right if he did it my way.

Am I making any sense? ;-)

Grok check? If you're not comfortable with ambiguity, you're not living with a woman, or a man. No. No. That wasn't it. If you're not comfortable with ambiguity, don't let it fight-or-flight you into a defensive posture? Uh. All evidence to the contrary, no. ;-) Dance in the line of fire? Yep. that must be it. The future is a dangerous enemy if we provoke it with a hostile stance. Better learn to dance, 'cos it's going to take some grace and agility to deal with it. [Or take Tylenol.]

Women, Fire and Dangerous Things. Yes, that's Lackoff. The language we use shapes possibility. We use it to extend ourselves. To build a compute-enabled world. We use it to create ambiguity for that is a tool, too. And we use it to clarify, to uncloud, to create "ground under our feet" so we can move forward with sufficient enabling confidence in an otherwise uncertain world.

To be clear, I love Tony's tweet because it is simultaneously very right and spot on, and not so much. We have to be impatient and assertive and act ambiguity into clarity. And we have to at the same time not become so filled with hubris that we are blind to ambiguity that threatens the "reality" we're depending on. (Apple is a case in point?)

Extreme positions are valid in extreme cases. And only then.
(If you don't know me, the last part is irony. Satire in a nutshell, my dear Watson. Satire.)

-- To Redesign or Not to Redesign, That is the Question, moi, 1/6/09

[And this trace is the more ambiguous because sometimes I'm (ab)using the multiple senses of ambiguity, where it is not clear which meaning is being used, or not clear what of multiple alternatives has/should/will be taken. ;-) Fitting, don't you think? Testing, testing. Were you comfortable? ;-)]

4/19/13: Since uncertainty is related to ambiguity (ambiguity gives rise to uncertainty; uncertainty gives rise to ambiguity, etc., and both ambiguity and uncertainty give rise to the need to clarify and assert, to move forward, etc.), my serendipity sensors noticed these tweet by today:

and then there's:

and in a different vein:

Image/snip source: What Makes Code Readable: Not What You Think, jsonmez, April 14, 2013. [Thinking about what "it depends on" is what is important in the snip. As for the case in pointI would argue for taking the moment to upskill the audience -- how much does it take to grok the conditional operator?]

4/21/13: OMGoodness -- my response to Tony's tweet was ambiguous, so I attacked it with a vengeance. ;-)

"We build a temporary shell of meaning around the uncertainty of the symbolic" The Four Lacanian Discourses: or Turning Law Inside Out By Jeanne Lorraine Schroeder (via Richard Veryard)


"Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile." -- Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder


Emrbracing uncertainty

4/26/13: Hm. Very nice! (And not just because it is bookended with quotes from Mz. Ambiguity herself. ;-)

Well done Mr. Hughson!

Oh, and Gene's post extends the assumptions discussion nicely too.

See also:

In medicine:

4/30/13: Uncomfortable With Ambiguity, Tony da Silva, April 30, 2013

Good points. Again, context factors -- what seemed to be a general maxim was conceived in a more narrow frame. Still, not generally inconsistent with the points I was making. I said things like "act ambiguity into clarity" and "attack ambiguity with an assertion that clarifies a stance to build upon," and when we apply that in the context of a specific choice like what to state as the requirements (just one of the many contexts the trace applies to) we recognize that "requirements" are a judgment call. Perhaps "stakeholders" say requirements are what a competitor's product offers. Well, that's a judgement call. Often a pretty poor one. And so it goes. So when I say be tolerant of ambiguity, that is context dependent. Obviously. Hello. Ruth on the line here. Smiles! We just find that those people who are never comfortable in the presence of ambiguity, have a hard time being an architect who's life is:

"a long and rapid succession of suboptimal design decisions taken partly in the dark."

-- Philippe Kruchten, "The Architects -- The Software Architecture Team," Proceedings of the First Working IFIP Conference on Software Architecture (WICSA1). Kluwer Academic Publishing 1999

I think it is worth adding:

  • How to make an uncertainty cocktail: Take: Multiple (interacting) contexts. Multiple and varied stakeholders. Multiple meanings and options... Give it a stir.

It isn't the only way uncertainty arises, obviously. But uncertainty arises out of the interactions of even seeming simple, isolated, unrelated things and thingies. And ambiguous suchnesses. Take the very ambiguity of which context -- present? past? future? Whose context? Mine, yours, this user, that, developers, marketing,...? Yadda, yadda.

Yeah. So. I was writing this piece of code because the option set I was dealing with was too big for my mind to contain. Because the search space is not factorial but getting there, I had to not just find ways to limit the space, but seed my searches with guesses. Starting out, I have this deterministic solution space, but it is too big to be helpful, so I throw in fuzziness to see if what I know about the context can reduce the solution set (not the solution space). As I tune up my thinking about the algorithm, hopefully I get back to a manageable but deterministic solution set. And so it goes. A dance. Where I'm willing to reach my destination more quickly by injecting the fuzzy illogic human minds are good at. ;-) I'm relaxing my initial impression or interpretation of the requirements, to meet another requirement I equivocate on, namely putting myself into the computational puzzle.

5/25/13: Wonderfully forthright.... The Ability To Function, Tony da Silva, May 24, 2013

Yes, we collude with society to prune ourselves to better fit the social landscape... So arch-hippie-man is holding the pruning sheers...

Don't Shut Down Dissenting Voices

'Getting him fired is a classic case of winning a battle but losing a war. With every case of someone being fired for speaking their mind, we lock things like Twitter down a little more. We make it more “political.” We get people to think of it as being dangerous. We get companies imposing “No Twitter” rules on their employees.' -- mr. r. s. braythwayt

When bullying gains scale as it so quickly can on social networks, it becomes still more ugly and abusively damaging. What looks like bullying to those bearing the brunt, feels like righteous indignation to those wielding the social forces of disapproval and conformity induction (blame and shame foremost among them). We have given ourselves tools for a very advanced culture; we're going to have to make some pretty rapid progress on how we deal with ethics and morality -- and emotionally and economically brutalizing people with blame and shame and emotional blackmail into quiet quiescence is not it! I know what it feels like to be in a category that doesn't have a voice. So do you. A different category. But still, a social box that quiets us. We want to be unboxed, but we're also going to have to figure out how we let positions get articulated without going all pack-attack when we don't like a view that has been expressed.

I was so proud of my daughter for standing up to a teacher who made a Friday night activity the basis for getting or not getting an A in her class. She politely explained exactly how she would impact her other (prior and serious) commitments and refused to be swayed. That takes courage and a willingness to stand out for one's principles and commitments. Even though it meant (if the threat is executed) sacrificing her 4.0. {Update: The teacher did the right thing, and she got her A. Way to go kiddo!]

4/22/13: Another wonderful status image!

4/23/13: Ugh. We have come far. We have so far to go!


Forces in Software

"In physics, a force is any influence that causes an object to undergo a certain change, either concerning its movement, direction, or geometrical construction." -- wikipedia, Force

The "software forces" image of below is from Grady Booch's Models09 keynote, The Other Side of Model Driven Development (2009):

Software Forces from Grady Booch's SoftViz09 keynote

When we look at system qualities or properties (like resilience and dependability), we like to consider the context in which those properties are cared about. For example, during execution (at runtime) users and operations have their (rather different and also overlapping) concerns. During development (throughout the evolution of the system), different properties impact the experience and value/constraint envelope of those in the development community. In this case, we're concerned about the properties of the code. During execution we're concerned about the properties of the (deployed and running) software. Of course developers care about the properties of the software -- too. I'm just making the point that the properties of the code impacts developer experience, joy on the job and all that.

System properties (or qualities, in the SEI's quality attribute speak) interact, sometimes in opposition so that tradeoffs have to be made, and we have to design to get the base level of properties structural integrity of the system demands, and more the properties we want to deliver differentiation in user experience and business sustainability (including agility and adaptability and niche diversification, etc.).

Designing to achieve more the properties we want certainly influences structure. Likewise with constraints. And social forces like team structure and dynamics (Conway's Law). Overly tight schedules give rise to schedule pressure which I would see as a shaping force -- shaping, that is, manager and developer state and hence behavior and consequently the properties of the code and consequently the properties of the software. Since code is the matter of mind, formally expressed thought, then perhaps it is ok that what falls out of this line of reasoning is that what fundamentally shapes software is:

  • design intent (or lack thereof) -- the essential and desired system capabilities (function and properties), and constraints
  • design capability (or lack thereof) -- experience, talent, pre-formed or bundled capability like design patterns, frameworks, etc., ...
  • design context -- values, culture, ...

While it is certainly useful to consider what a system must address (that envelope of constraint, capabilities fundamental to the identity of the kind of system, and capabilities that distinguish or differentiate this system from others), and it is useful to have a model of stakeholder contexts and associated constraints and demands (as a reference to check against), and these do shape software, I guess I'm wondering if the notion of "forces" has other useful translations into software? Like what? Well... entanglement/coupling causing structures to develop high inertia. Other examples have more direct analogies to physical structure settings, like system load and capacity. Resilience and performance seem like good candidates for illumination by analogy. Whaddya think? (Grady Booch always makes me think/expand/inform/challenge/deepen my views; I wish I'd heard what he says with this slide as a prop.)

4/24/14: Also: Analyze requirements for complex software systems in a new, holistic way, Fabio Castiglioni and Peter Cripps, 2009



Happy Birthday, Good Friend!

I would like to wish my kind good friend a very happy birthday today! He has been company on the journey of this Trace longer than anyone else. He has been the kind of good friend who struck up conversations on a wide range of topics, bringing exciting thinking to my encounter. Also important to nourishing my spirit, he has noticed when I just desperately needed an encouraging word or a little spontaneous applause (tracing "out loud" is performance art) to offset feeling marginalized and isolated or lonely and in need of a virtual hug. That kind of attentiveness to the content and state of another person is beautiful and rare in this hurried world, and extremely rare in mine. So, my friend, in celebration of you, I would like to say I have valued the beautiful words you have shared, expressions of your insight and distinctive quality in seeing-perceiving-sense-making word dancing, I have valued trading stories as our children have been growing up. I have valued getting your wise and reasoned advice and input and discussion. I have valued encounters with new thinkers and their avenues of thought, introduced by you. I have valued your masculine perspective when my feminine one needed a little [just a little ;-) -- not that you'd put it that way :-)] counter-balancing. ;-) It makes me feel special to have been invited into the beauty of your friendship. Thank you. ;-)



Weeding Conceptually

Avoiding what I should be doing in that glorious spring day out there. :-)

Pursuing a modularization/coupling (set of) thread(s), ... I read Duplication in Software which I like but at the same time can't help thinking that one could take a different cut... distinguishing

  • duplication of function (which may be "literal duplication" or "duplication in intent" where the duplication is obfuscated by simply taking a different tack at implementing the same capability), suggesting that an opportunity to factor on user-facing capabilities/responsibilities was missed,
  • duplication of structural feature, suggesting an opportunity to factor on system-facing (mechanism or algorithm) form/algorithmic/language feature or responsibilities was missed.
  • The third large category has to do with factoring of state (which has time and context/relevance dimensions to it), but my intuition is having an even harder time finding an expression I'm happy with.

Well, of course, this is not unfamiliar (though often we hold the conversation at a different scale/granularity or scope/genericity), for the flip side of duplication is (re)use -- we abstract common services or components that provide "domain" or user-facing functionality, but we also factor out common mechanisms (many are named and described as design patterns or pulled into frameworks or algorithmic language libraries) that perform system-facing services/provide system facing capabilities..

But (aside from the challenge of better expressing myself), what really bothers me is, when should we care? Ad hoc emergent design just lets all these branches grow with their duplication and their variances... (And we get Twitter DM which works rather differently in different browers.?? Wouldn't that be an interesting case study?!)

So really, if we addressed why/when duplication matters and when it arises, then we might get more energy behind reducing it when it matters to do so, and being more intentional about exposing intent! (Intent being the highest leverage point for reducing duplication before different approaches to achieving the same intent obfuscates what is common.) Maybe. Even when it wasn't given a handle and glorified by the tribe, YAGNI was a powerful seducer. Mainly because so often we don't know -- but how often is it because we just don't want to do the OO that is in (Boyd's) OODA...?

And as useful as it is to notice strategies for refactoring the code to simplify and reduce the effect that duplication has of "sprinkling" changes all over, etc., approaches to "observe orient" proactively are useful too. And responsibilities are a useful tool. I know, at the conceptual level something may look "the same" and at the implementation level it turns out to be different in ways that have us looking at the kinds of strategies that the post outlines.

Well. Ok. Ok. Mow. Weed. I'm outta here see.




Thinking is Useful!

"Metaphor and analogy can be helpful, or they can be misleading. All depends on whether the similarities the metaphor captures are significant or superficial." -- Herbert Simon

I would moderate "All" to "Much" so that I have some room for the caveat of stance. If my orientation is exploratory, analogy can be useful in pushing my thinking, even if I conclude the analogy isn't useful for my application (which may be communication or to leverage a proven design in one place into another, etc.).

Often architecture documentation gets waved off as useless stuff that no-one reads and gets out of date before the bits have even been flipped on the screen upon first writing (or whatever "before the ink has dried" turns into, in the digital age ;-). But the thinking and exploring that goes into creating the architecture (and tightened up as it is written down and drawn out) is not -- should not be! -- useless. Analogy can be helpful, even if ultimately not applicable, in giving me something to push my thinking against. We put "ground under the feet" by deciding, and we give our thinking something to push against when we posit -- analogies, approaches, alternatives -- and test, probe, explore those positions. And we don't have to do all this thinking as we field systems. Like huh? what a concept? who knew? [I mistyped concept as koancept. How frabjously cool is that?] We can do some of this thinking more cheaply than in code that encodes and entangles assumptions and choices all the faster because it is so (locally) malleable, which seduces us into thinking it is entirely fungible but we can't (simply always) substitute local narrow scope near term thinking for system thinking and anticipatory thinking and exploring.

Of course, then we have to think about how much of the thinking-exploring-designing to share, trading off volume to understand and having more (prioritizing, direction setting, relationship revealing, interaction charting) context to work from and with and within. So often, we seem to have "lost the plot" -- given how challenging and fun the details are, we lose track of what is important, and why, and how best to do that.



Happy Earth Day!

Hug dirt! Thought for today: those beautiful trees out there, they did that with sunlight and what they get out of the dirt. Pretty cool, huh?


We're Toast!

"The mathematics behind the research comes from the theory of how heat energy can do work and diffuse over time, called thermodynamics. One of the core concepts in physics is called entropy, which refers to the tendency of systems to evolve toward larger amounts of disorder. The second law of thermodynamics explains how in any isolated system, the amount of entropy tends to increase. A mirror can shatter into many pieces, but a collection of broken pieces will not reassemble into a mirror.

The new research proposes that entropy is directly connected to intelligent behavior."


"The universe exists in the present state that it has right now. It can go off in lots of different directions. My proposal is that intelligence is a process that attempts to capture future histories," said Wissner-Gross.

Physicist Proposes New Way To Think About Intelligence, Chris Gorski (via Grady_Booch)

That. And this. And:


Video: Jonathan Coulton w/ Sara Quin and Dorit Chrysler - Still Alive (Official Video)

Yes, that's the song from the end of the Portal game (the computer is singing).

On that upbeat note... It used to be fun-weird driving the kids to elementary school with them singing that in the back seat; the innocence in the child voices contrasting with the lyrics. Last evening Ryan was doing science -- testing water samples from local streams we had to "bundu bash" to get to. And he and Sara were camped out on the kitchen floor singing Still Alive again. :-) It sure is fun to be some of the people who are still alive. :-) [This morning on the way to school, Sara was playing the Coulton station on Pandora over the car stereo and what should play? No. Not Still Alive, but Re: Your Brains. :-) He has quite an audience among geeky teens. Ryan has a self-professed "encyclopedic knowledge" of Jonathan Coulton's music. Don't worry. He's also been geeking out on Beethoven's symphonies. Kids these days.]

Hm. The cool thing about having people in our lives is they take us places we wouldn't think to go. Requisite Variety and serendipity. Bother. Machines can get that too. Think what we're doing with Twitter! We're creating Serendipity personality engines for the coolest robots eva.

Shoot! Oh well. In the meantime, it's fun, huh?

A specialty startup in Germany wants to use one of Sara's spontaneous little song videos in an ad. Tough call. Internet of Everything huh? I guess. My brain's hooked up. And yours. And your fitbit stats. Even the deep reaches of your subconscious (OMGoodness, that? Really?).


(I know. Should be wooooo but weeeeee did it. :-)

4/23/13: More to fuel the uncertainty revolution:

4/24/13: Hm. Empathy...


You mean "theory of mind." What exactly is theory of mind, and why is it so important in our evolution?

Theory of mind is being able to attribute a mental state to someone else. It's very interesting that the first studies of theory of mind were actually done in great apes. People trying to decide if one ape knew what another knew about where some food was hidden. As psychiatrists have developed this concept, they focused more on what I would call "intersubjectivity."

In a way this is a more useful concept for thinking about early humans, because we want to know when people not only attributed intentions and mental states to others, but also began to care about what they thought and care about what that individual thought about them—pride and shame. These are very human emotions, closely tied into empathy, so it's very hard to come up with separate definitions for theory of mind, intersubjectivity, empathy. These are all related, and all very much a part of what we think it means to be human and what I think of as emotionally modern.

When did humans develop this gift for attributing mental states and feelings to others and for caring about what others thought about them? [These are] absolutely critical underpinnings for later developments like the spectacular capacity of humans to cooperate. This is a really important sociocognitive difference between humans and other apes. It's because we can read the intentions of others and we know what someone else is trying to do that we can work together with them to cooperate."

-- The Evolution of Motherhood, NOVA, 10/26/09 (Interview with Sarah Hrdy)


My point? It's not just the brain-of-brains thing (a la Tim O'Reilly's point) we're creating, but the learning firmament for machines to leapfrog us in sentience. Scary as all get out! But fun in this moment, where machines amplify us, our experience and mind-to-mind contact (exchanging thoughts that tickle eureka chemical bursts our brains get off on), and our mutual mind-building. In other words, it is not just from a "tapestry of silicon and software" that we will build intelligence to challenge to our notions of sentience, and not just a tapestry of that and vast information sources, but also woven into this mix is the potential to construct, or at least seed, personality, given not just the development of character in novels and philosophy, but also the vast dynamic "reality show" of Twitter and Facebook and blogs and open brain experiments called Traces. Oh my! What have I done! ;-)


Plucked off the Serendipity Feed


Highly Recommended!

"want to work on something where success is in the envelope of possible outcomes!" ~ Elon Musk


A great lesson on how to think strategically about one's life, about big things to do, and how to do them.



Getting Stoke-astic

Interesting; there's an option to embed Nassim Taleb's Fat Tail Lectures .pdf, so of course I did. [But it bounces my page load so it's outta here!]


GOTO Chicago on Twitter

Staking out the territory

Uh hum tweeple, don't you know that your conference tweets make for a great way for you to persist and share your conference notes? Huh? Huh?

The "give the principle a catchy name" guy at it:

software mechanics


But, but... "Names come after structure"? To the mat and give me 50! Oh. Right. I have no idea what he meant by it. But hopefully I mistake the subtext or it was just a provocation, because, you know -- iteration? As for "Sweetness is Painful"... intriguing? Well, sigh, we have to wait for InfoQ to (hopefully) post these talks. And awesome that InfoQ does, generally. :-)

Still, I do declare. Nobody should be allowed to say "context is king" without saying "and diversity is queen, and out of their union innovation is born." Oh, just yanking your chain. But my version is distinctly important. I'm planning a context mapping exercise in the next Requisite Variety session, and I must say it is rather nicely set up by where the discussion of assumptions is right now. :-) Of course, I'm talking big picture context. And context is -- wait for it -- er. Fractal isn't quite right. Hierarchically decomposable neither. But something along those lines -- smaller and larger scopes of context, and different perspectives or filters on the view. And such. Ok. Maybe fractal. Sort of. Not strictly, mathematically speaking, but the analogy informs sufficiently, no? If you're willing to be loosey-goosey with it enough to understand my intent, without going pedantically nonlinear. ;-) Anyway, I like to say "context factors." Too. ;-)

Aside: Embracing Semantic Logging Grigori Melnik MSFT 7 Feb 2013


Totoro...  my signature :-)

Aside: Speaking of diversity, this is interesting:

Speaking of interesting, this is:

And this got a thumbs up from Grady Booch:

Me? Oh, you know. I think there's some value to conceptual design that he keeps sidestepping but what do I know? ;-)

(My Totoro is in the fishes mouth. We have a thing where imagination=Totoro and system discovery=fish, but I'm not sure why system discovery is engorging imagination?? Will have to ask...he who is responsible. I need to take a pic of the Totoro Sara made of fimo a year or two ago, And the marzipan Totoro she made. And more of my cuddly Totoro. In the fishes mouth. ;-)

4/24/13: Ok. So I tweet "context factors" and nobody retweets? Nobody get the beauty of the echo in that? People just have such low expectations of me! ;-) Your parser not keeping up? We need to factor context in, but also context factors in that multi-dimensionally fractal way, so we have to factor what we factor and factor that in. See. It echoes. It is much better than context is king. Remember that would you. ;-)


Put me in my place (happily! happily!)

5/6/13: Software Mechanics slides, Michael Feathers, GOTOChicago April 23, 2013



Protest/Awareness Has a New Face

I think it is cool that marriage equality is showing up as the protest/awareness avatar of more and more leaders on Twitter. Go Cory Booker. :-)

Cory Booker is a fictional superhero in flesh. And as fictional heroes go, he no doubt has flaws. Isn't it funny how we allow fictional characters to have all the tipped* strengths and fallibilities we would deny (socio-conformize out of) "real" people? Let those fictional characters play out all of human desire to do the amazing, soar and be crushed by the agonies of the human experience amplified by the kind of peaked imagination it takes to live larger than ordinary life as Cory does. I'm very much in favor of super-leverage, and reading to me is such for it allows me to run so many more lives through me than just the one shot I get. But I also want to live my life as large and distinct-uniquely as I can. But my, my, Cory Booker does that to a degree that is set-one-on-one's-heels and howl-at-the-moon in amazement great! He needs more than icecream to comfort him when the hard immutable surfaces of life just scrape at and bruise him though.

* peaks and troughs, highly developed in some areas, under-developed in others.


Uh, Better Not Let Word Out


What's Left (After I Take BORING Out)

I'm the poster girl for waterfall (or so the BDUF casket-makers might assume).

Oh, not really! I'm all about agile. I'm just an AND type (just not the logical kind ;-). I even think metaphor is spot on. And pairing. We can just modelstorm in pairs too. Documentation? Hey look, if it's solving the wrong problem, isn't code the most expensive documentation? Seriously? Seriously!!!

The way to be interesting, is to be interested. Iterate.

Curiosity. And enough imagination to expect and get a lot out of encounters with the unlikely.


Allspaw Is Awesome

Read bottom up; it's Twitter:

read bottom up; it's Twitter

Allspaw is awesome

Oh, and Tony is awesome too:


Oh Hell.

I mean, Oh Hal! It's lovely!





I lost confidence in my judgment, so pulled some posts to allow me to review them when I was in a more sense-able state. But Gene kindly quoted one of the pulled posts, so I have returned them, at least for now. In part, I'm just concerned that I comment too much... Taking Tony's ambiguity tweet as the lead note for a jazzy riff on ambiguity was fun, but I wouldn't want Tony (in the impossible event that he glanced by here) to misunderstand or feel put in an unwelcome spotlight for having inspired my riff... (I fear I rather flaunt ambiguity; I allow that people misunderstand my intentions and/or the content of mind I spill out in this Trace -- I would prefer that they know my intentions are those of a sweet and generous person, but I allow that they may not realize that).

4/30/13: Well, I had this radical thought -- instead of being concerned about how Tony would respond if he happened upon my taking his name in vain, I could just ask him what he thought. :-) Tony clarified his frame of reference for his tweet:


Making the Most of Moments

This week has been even more onerous on the mom-taxi than usual, what with rehearsals leading up to this Sunday's Indiana University Precollege Ballet recital. But my brain was buzzing and I started to jot poetry in all those little in-between waiting moments that are too short to pull up Twitter, but long enough to have a line or verse take shape. :-) Well, I felt way outdone when I saw these:

Which led me to this neat example of iteration.



Angels of our Better Nature

I call these the Angels of our better Nature

That reminds me, every time I re-see my avatar, I think I really need to redraw it!

I snipped my DM, to remind me to link that to Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature. I was doing a riff there on Joseph Campbell's "follow your bliss," Pinker's Better Angels, and my playful characterization of Bliss and Serendipity as "angels." Bliss, as I use it there, is a contraction (in a poetic sense) of passion-driven curiosity and questing, while Serendipity -- which acts very much in collusion with Bliss, in that "what we are paying attention to shapes what we perceive and pay attention to" kind of way -- is a mix of synchronicity and happy accident and and and... And "better Nature" is the better part of our own nature (personal) and the bigger all-of-Nature. It's an "angels as emergent goodness" sort of thing.

So, wow, the word empathy is barely a century old! (Better Angels of Our Nature, p. 574)



Michael Feathers wonderful RubyMidWest keynote: Code Standards -> Design Principles -> Design Challenges



Context and Stakeholders

What I want to cue up next on the Requisite Variety blog post, is a Context Mapping exercise. When we do this for a product or business, we call it a Competitive Landscape, but I want to start with the context for architects. Sound good?

Now, Tom Graves tweeted and wrote a post on stakeholders:

Of course, if we're going to talk about stakeholders, context factors, and in particular, stakeholders of what? When we're doing system architecture, I assert that architects are stakeholders too. We, too, have a stake -- a vested interest -- in outcomes (direct and indirect/side-effects) of the system and its role in its contexts or the larger systems (multiple) in which it plays. I say that, to remind architects that we factor. Too. I have put this in terms of the architect representing the "voice of the business" that brings cross-business or systemic concerns to the table when "the voice of the customer" may overly weight the local and the now.


A Contextual Riff, a Bit Ruff

Speaking of then and now, I thought this is an interesting contribution to the technical debt conversation:


Source: Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature

Pinker argues:

"Self-indulgence becomes irrational only when we discount the future too steeply— when we devalue our future selves way below what they should be worth given the chance that those selves will still be around to enjoy what we’ve saved for them." -- Pinker, Steven (2011-10-04). The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

Of course, when I think of (over)indulgence and refactoring... this comes to mind:


That said...

When it comes to designing systems, and when we are weighing indulgences that front-load today with something that has to be paid for and then some, we are factoring in what we make of the future (and generally doing a poor job of it?). The other day I read:

'Wissner-Gross calls the concept at the center of the research "causal entropic forces." These forces are the motivation for intelligent behavior. They encourage a system to preserve as many future histories as possible. For example, in the cart-and-rod exercise, Entropica controls the cart to keep the rod upright. Allowing the rod to fall would drastically reduce the number of remaining future histories, or, in other words, lower the entropy of the cart-and-rod system. Keeping the rod upright maximizes the entropy. It maintains all future histories that can begin from that state, including those that require the cart to let the rod fall.' ...

"The proposal requires that a system be able to process information and predict future histories very quickly in order for it to exhibit intelligent behavior."

-- Chris Gorski, Physicist Proposes New Way To Think About Intelligence

Yesterday I reread Tom Gall's wonderful keynote/paper, and was again quite enchanted by it. We have become rather acutely aware, in this climate change, economies toppling, systems failing in spectaular ways, world, that even if we put Curiosity on Mars we're nonetheless fallible. But, but... We did put Curiosity on Mars. Nail biting wasn't it?

We can write software because we make assumptions about the future possible. At a minimum, we assume what we know now extrapolates in sufficient degree to build something today. But if we're intelligent, we try to keep more future options open.


YAGNI go die in a hole!

Uh. I'm learning to talk like a teenager because that's who I get to hang out with. You should take note of that.

So, among (too) many other things today, I did spend some time on my code, watching joy of coding, and mowing, thinking about coding. And thinking about how my approach has shifted. Ok, let me back up a little. No, let's back up about hm 18 years. A few years ago I mentioned in a trace (that Charlie and Daniel would remember if their memory is as awesome as mine -- just kidding; sheesh) that I owned this gorgeous 20 acre lot of land draped over a hill in New Hampshire overlooking Lake and Mount Sunapee. My husband (then) would happily cut down trees with his chainsaw. Me? I would clean up. The frickin forest! I'm sorry, but that was beyond all. I would cut up the fallen trees and pile up the logs and separate the twiggy branches. By myself, because no-one else was quite that *retentive. Then real life happened to me, and now... George Carlin makes a whole different kind of sense. When I was mowing today, Sara groused at me, saying she likes the violets. I told her I'd be happy to have a meadow, we'd just have to live out of town because we have, you know, neighbors and a responsibility that I struggle to keep up with. Let's just say that it turns out that 4 people living full out doesn't leave a whole lot of time for cleaning up forests. YAGNI. YAGNI not.

Okaaay. TMI Ruthless. TMI.

Wait, wait. There's a(nother) point in here somewhere...

Right. Here's one. Saw mfeathers tweet about wisdom hairs long ago -- oh, you know, earlier this morning. Fast forward to mowing this evening, and thinking about coding (one has to work multiple channels every moment one can, you know). One of my "things" is that kids simply have to learn to -- and practice writing -- code while at school; it's like music and math. If they don't, they're too far behind everyone who did code at school when they get to university, and are at a relative disadvantage that is at least discouraging if not door closing. When I was in Brazil, some of the architects mentioned wisdom and experience, and the youngest of the architects objected, saying he was in his (mid) twenties but he had been programming since he was in school, started interning at a Global 100 company while in high school, and through university, and he had as much experience as many of the other architects. No argument from me or anyone else! But this is the world we live in -- it's not just here (in the US), but around the world. Competition is tough, and going to get tougher. From compute/AI, not just a planet of smart people, many smitten with the joy of coding from an early age. Anyway, ramble, ramble. You see too much how my mind works. How embarrassing. ;-) So I was thinking about wisdom and how I'd characterized wisdom as making multi-threaded connections, not just connecting the dots (reference back to John Gall's paper here) in our past trajectories, but also into the future, through the present, and to the past, across multiple planes, and so forth. And then, tears at this point, I thought about Aaron Swartz, and how much wisdom he had amassed at so young an age, and wondered if that was (part of) it. If so much wisdom, so young, is too much for anyone! And how there is this burden on smart young men, too many of whom take their own lives. I don't doubt the (in)justice system played its awful role, but the more awful when it is a compounding, not just an isolated instance, of a world out of whack.

Yesterday Sara got a beautiful letter from one of the graduating Indiana University ballet students who has taught Sara for 3 years (the precollege program at IU is awesome because they have IU faculty-- including visiting faculty, from France even -- teach them, and they also have very talented IU ballet majors teach some of the classes, so there is this neat mix). Anyway, the point I wanted to make here was a line in the letter saying "I love your happy disposition." Sara is one of the feelingest people I know, and if you read the poetry she wrote even at 7, you know she is wise beyond her years. I hope she retains her ability to laugh at herself, and maintain a playful-happy, compassionate orientation toward everythingness, including herself. Because this is a tough-troubling world to be wise in. I know. Messed up body chemistry doesn't help. But nor do hurtful people, including ourselves, if we can't be at least as kind to ourselves as we are to others! Because we will need all our resources/wits about us, to see this beautiful planet into the future of its best promise.

4/30/13: And if that didn't quite tie this rambling excursion together for you... First. Ryan is impressively tolerant of my ruthing on but (oh, I'm an introvert, meaning I stay in my head a lot, so it doesn't happen much, though when it does) he will, after listening intently, say "and how does that relate to where we started?" Which is neat, 'cos it allows me to summarize and connect the threads. So, first, Buttercup Festival. I love that David Troupes has this whimsical "grim reaper"-esque figure which is ambiguous enough for us to put what we want into him -- or her, as we please. But it means that the protagonist is this mix of delightful, but with the shadowy hint of mortality, that is the lot of humanity.

Another side trip: Killing another person is clearly evil. Unless it is done in war. Then? Some things are clearly wrong and evil -- murder and abusing children, for example. But so much is just a mess. Driving my car across town is evil, possibly even greatly. The material stuff in our lives that causes China to be a mass experiment in enormous doses of pollution to its mass city populations will likely prove to be way more evil than the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan. And we have done this evil in peacetime, with no evil intent. So much is about emergence and context.

We are at a time of huge potential for a mass, and massively debilitating, crisis of confidence in humanity. We're messing up, in ways we know, yet the alternatives are devastating too. And in ways we have no clue about. And we're doing the remarkable. I mean consider -- did you just read this trace? How miraculous that is! ;-) Don't you just marvel at how you extend positive expectation to me, time and again? I do!! So we have these messes of emergent evil, but also of wondrous emergent good. We have to negotiate tough personal paths, and societal. We project ahead, we take steps, we do our best, on balance. And at the end of the day, we have to be compassionate also with ourselves. This mortality thing, this one short life thing, is really, really hard. Hard personally. And hard when we visit pain on others even distantly and indirectly; worse directly. Anything we do, has consequences and side-effects, some good, some bad. We have to reduce indulgence, without crashing the planet's economies. And and and.

Ha. And you thought I wouldn't be able to pull all those threads together. Still not there? Ok, so I think there is a connection between wisdom and imaginatively predictive intelligence -- a "periscope" into the future, so to speak, that let a Steve Jobs be confident of where he needed to take the iPod/iPhone/iPad. Not one-to-one, but there is something about understanding relationships, including among desires and meanings and capabilities and such, that isn't just about making sense of a past. With our failures of (system-wise) imagination, and our Failures of imagination -- Brian Andreas (via Grady Booch)failures to account for the cost of indulging the present at the expense of the future, we're losing (have lost?) confidence in our ability to nudge the world in the direction of betterness. Which presages the need for still more wisdom, in acts of kindness -- towards ourselves and others. Empathy. But in a larger sense, taking in the whole planet. Not to disable ouselves in panic at our ineptness, but to keep reinvigorating our hope and willingness to try!

How'm I doing?

That YAGNI thing? Well, you know. We don't want to over-engineer building now for uncertain future possible needs. But in our pendulum swingy world, YAGNI came to mean don't do design cos we don't know what the future will bring. Instead of -- we don't know what the future will bring, so let's not disable it! Quite a different way to think about entropy and technical debt...

How'm I doing?


Ryan is doing a 1500 mile cycle tour this summer. Out at dinner last night, Sara remarked that Ryan is "an occassional person." His laughing reply? "I want that on a cycling jersey!" You needed to know that.


Oh. Right. So, how about that veil of  words, huh? Safe. ;-)

Iteration was such a great invention. Continuous deployment of performance idiocy is scary stuff, but less so when there's the option to revise oneself. Behind, you know, a veil [tl;dr] of words... ;-)

Oh yeah ah ha ah ha ;-)

Yeah! ;-) [Of course, when I said jester I also had in mind the court jester in Akira Kurosawa's Ran. Awesome movie, by the way. And an ideal to live up to, as jesters of substance go.]

ps. when someone tweets "inbox 0" (or 36) don't you just think they made a folder called TBD (as in "to be deleted?")? No? Oh. No. No. I never did that. Whaaat? (The things you're willing to think! ;-) Ok. I've thought about it. ;-) Too much stuff!

pps. Well, whoo. Will I be glad to turn the page to May. ;-)

Hm. People are so generous with letting me be the Fool...

Ok. I'm wounded on the barbs of my own audacious idiocy. I think someone is going to have to say something nice. People tend to think only actions count, but I think genuinely meant words are actions. Too.

5/2/13: Mentioned the puddle link I put on YAGNI. The response:

"Tail?, Who needs it?" "Second engine; who needs it?"

I said "I'm so using that." and remembered:

"May I please have my opinion back?" Retort: "No, it's mine now."

As well as:

5/12/13: This is a nice complement, at least to the points made at the start of this winding trace:


Joy of Coding

This too --> Well, so that it isn't buried in my play, Joy of Coding is an awesome talk! Highest recommend ever! Inspire and delight!

(That man is amazing. So many conference presentations, and each one so different, insightful, useful!)

As for joy, you no doubt totally remember this line:

"Let's face it, no spouse is more seductive than a piece of code that is not yet quite working, and the gratification from getting it working is hard for mere mortals to match"-- moi, 04/24/06

(Of course, you don't know this, 'cos your code is never not quite working, is it?)


Architect Skills Workshop

I suppose this would not be the best time to remind you that if you want to take a workshop with that Ruff there's one coming up in Chicago in July. :-)

Oh, you are interested? It's July 15-17.

Anyway, neat that some architects who have worked with me before wanted this to happen. I know. You think that's nuts, but hey, it's a big world.


Giving (or Flow?)

Today, thanks to a pointer from Peter Bakker, I read, and much liked, this:

One of the things I've learned working with architecture teams, is that there are "visions" and there's what we do to create that goodwilling giving, sometimes playing (joyfully), sometimes reasoning (care-fully, sometimes in code, sometimes in models including mental), sometimes evaluating (objectively but not abusively), etc. Anyway, there's "visions" (like the one a pm wrote up to make a checkbox) and visions. Just thought I'd throw that in the mix.

12:36. Why am I still awake? I really do have trouble letting a day go! (Well, after going to bed after 1:30 am, I woke up at 4:30am. Life! It sure keeps a mind busy!)




I hope that you have looked at Peter Bakker's tubemaps of the Fractal and Emergent paper and the Getting Past "But" executive reports, as well as my Trace. Aside from being an impressive discipline (those are long papers!), it is interesting to see what surfaced for Peter and what connections he made -- they teach me a lot about the architecture space!!

Peter, I can't thank you enough. It is awesome to be taken seriously. Makes one feel worthwhile, and all that. Thank you. (Wipes mists of gratitude. :-)


Thank You!

While I'm at it, thank you Gene Hughson for quoting me in a blog post. That was rewarding and encouraging. I would like to think I deserve to be quoted more, but that I am not, marks a gesture like Gene's all the more outstanding an act of inclusion.

And thanks to Stuart, Gene, Len, and Peter for pitching in on the Requisite Variety discussion on assumptions.



I also write at:

- Bredemeyer Resources for  Architects

- Trace In the Sand Blog

- Follow ruthmalan on Twitter



April Posts

- Enterprise Architecture: A Matter of Relevance

- Postels Law or the Play Nice Principle

- Architecture and Sketches, Maps, Models

- Confidence and Vulnerability

- Works as Implemented



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- Charlie Alfred

- "Doc" Andersen

- Tad Anderson

- Jason Baragry

- Simon Brown

- Peter Cripps

- Rob Daigneau

- Udi Dahan

- Tony DaSilva

- Matt Deacon

- Peter Eeles

- George Fairbanks

- Kevin Francis

- Sam Gentile

- Simon Guest

- Philip Hartman

- Todd Hoff (highly recommended)

- Gregor Hohpe

- Gene Hughson

- Steve Jones

- Frank Kelly

- Kirk Knoernschild

- Philippe Kruchten

- Sjaak Laan

- Dave Linthicum

- Anna Liu

- Nick Malik

- Chirag Mehta

- JD Meier

- Kris Meukens

- Gabriel Morgan

- Robert Morschel

- Dan Pritchett

- Chris Potts

- Bob Rhubart

- Arnon Rotem-Gal-Oz

- Carlos Serrano-Morales

- Shaji Sethu

- Leo Shuster

- Collin Smith

- Brian Sondergaard

- Michael Stahl

- Daniel Stroe

- Gavin Terrill

- Jack van Hoof

- Steve Vinoski

- Mike Walker

- Rebecca Wirfs-Brock

- Rodney Willis

- Eion Woods

- Brian Zimmer

Architect Professional Organizations




Software Visualization

- Adrian Kuhn

- Jennifer Marsman

Domain-Driven Design

- Dan Hayward

Agile and Lean

- Scott Ambler

- Alistair Cockburn


- hackerchickblog

- Johanna Rothman


Agile and Testing

- Elisabeth Hendrickson

- Elizabeth Keogh

Software Reuse

- Vijay Narayanan

Other Software Thought Leaders

- Jeff Atwood

- Scott Berkun

- CapGeminini's CTOblog

- John Daniels

- Brian Foote

- Joel Spolosky

CTOs and CIOs

- Rebecca Parsons

- Werner Vogels

CEOs (Tech)


CEOs (Web 2.0)

- Don MacAskill (SmugMug)

Innovate/Tech Watch

- Barry Briggs

- Tim Brown (IDEO)

- BoingBoing

- Mary-Jo Foley's All About Microsoft

- Gizmodo

- Dion Hinchcliffe

- Oren Hurvitz

- Diego Rodriguez

- slashdot

- smoothspan

- The Tech Chronicles

- Wired's monkey_bites



- Marci Segal


Visual Thinking

- Amanda Lyons


Social Networking/Web 2.0+ Watch


- Mashable


Visual Thinking

- Dave Gray

- Dan Roam

- David Sibbet (The Grove)

- Scott McLoud


Leadership Skills

- Presentation Zen


Strategy, BI and Competitive Intelligence

- Freakonomics blog

- Tom Hawes

- Malcom Ryder


Um... and these
- Nick Carr

- Tom Peters


Green Thinking

- Sylvia Earle, TED

- CNN Money Business of Green videos

- Matter Network


- xkcd

- Buttercup Festival

- Dinosaur comics

- geek&poke

- phd comics

- a softer world

- Dilbert




I also write at:



- Strategy, Architecture and Agility: The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent, 2010 

- Innovation and Agile Architecting: Getting Past ‘But’: Finding Opportunity and Making It Happen, 2008

- EA and Business Strategy: Enterprise Architecture as Strategic Differentiator, 2005

- The Role of the Architect:: What it Takes to be a Great Enterprise Architect, 2004


Ruth Malan has played a pioneering role in the software architecture field, helping to define architectures and the process by which they are created and evolved, and helping to shape the role of the software, systems and enterprise architect. She and Dana Bredemeyer created the Visual Architecting Process which emphasizes: architecting for agility, integrity and sustainability. Creating architectures that are good, right and successful, where good: technically sound; right: meets stakeholders goals and fits context and purpose; and successful: actually delivers strategic outcomes. Translating business strategy into technical strategy and leading the implementation of that strategy. Applying guiding principles like: the extraordinary moment principle; the minimalist architecture principle; and the connect the dots principle. Being agile. Creating options.

Feedback: I welcome input, discussion and feedback on any of the topics in this Trace in The Sand Journal, my blog, and the Resources for Architects website, or, for that matter, anything relevant to architects, architecting and architecture! I can be reached at

Restrictions on Use: If you wish to quote or paraphrase original work on this page, please properly acknowledge the source, with appropriate reference to this web page. Thank you.


- Links to tools and other resources



- Other Interests



- ruth's email @



the Tracer, circa March 2013

Copyright 2013 by Ruth Malan
Page Created:April 6, 2013
Last Modified: November 18, 2016