A Trace in the Sand

by Ruth Malan





Architects Architecting Architecture  

November 2013


Meet Ruth

Well, blush, Stuart and Tom kindly tweeted on my introduction (to Ed) with link here. Whatever bought you here, welcome. If you have a low tolerance for any manner of anything, be warned, for there is an excess of everything here. I have characterized this Trace as a tolerance workout, and if you're here to increase your flexibility, you might want to note that this is ... the advanced course. Suited, perhaps, only to architects of substance and determination, but with a desire to really stretch. Their patience. And tolerance. And dots collection.

Here are a few trace-snippets to give you a sense of some of the things I explore in this Trace:

Ambiguity and Uncertainty

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 be 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.

Ambiguity and Context

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?" My answer? "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 uncertainty and 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.

Uncertainty, Change and Requisite Flexibility

Architects and others are key to presenting (requisite) variety at the organizational interfaces, so that the organization has sufficient variety to respond to demands on it to act and respond to opportunities, challenges and threats -- and variability and change. And because change changes (with strking discontinuities, even), I also like the notion of "requisite flexibility" -- not only do we have variety to respond to variety but the ability to change what variety we present.

That is, organizations get the requisite variety they need to respond to the variety -- and dynamically shifting-changing variety at that -- within and without in good part from the highly adaptable, flexible matter of the humans that make them up. But as change and its pace changes, the demands on flexibility and adaptability go up.

What's a Trace?

So, you see, my Trace is a playground for developing ideas, for exploring architecture and the role of architects. I don't know where these ideas are going to come from, so I explore, finding the dots to connect and sharing them, and the connections I make, playfully and thoughtfully, here. To the impatient, mechanistically busy-busy-busy person, this may seem like a waste of time. Who wants to wander with a ruffyan sort of creature who tarries in unexpected places, when there is important architecting work-work to be done?

Who, indeed? You might tell me, you know. Kindred spirits are so hard to find. When one is so strange as a me!

And, if you are bold, you might let on to others. Because it takes an unusual degree of... kindness? intelligence? generosity? curiosity? joy? willing suspension of impatience and... disbelief? ... and self-confidence! ... to read here, and admit to doing so. ;-)

Um. In this overly pc digital world, is it ok to (do something so quaint as) blush? Or is that NSFW?


My World




Isn't it glorious?!

I tend to think that authentic enthusiasm for a person's work is important if that work is to be encouraged.

But the trees are in full blush of resplendent color, and remind me that... it is all fleeting, and ultimately what does it matter? Few care to make our individual brief sojourn on this planet the more happy, but the trees care not and make us happy anyway!

And my, my, my, they do make my spirit soar! I just wish I hadn't had to lend Dana to The Netherlands this week!


Storms (replete with tornado watches and high gusty winds) last night bought down a lot of the leaves. Halloween was postponed 'til tonight. You needed to know that. ;-)

Sara and her group of friends are doing nanowrimo -- they call themselves nanowribros. The dominant theme? Dystopian fantasy. Why, you might ask, are teenagers writing dystopian novels? Why do they have this concept of programmable people -- many who have been emptied of individuality, of desire to strive and reach, of mindfulness?

Fall. Reminding us how beautiful and how fleeting it all is.

This world, this created world, this socio-tech world? Amazing. But it chills to the bone. So cold. So shallow. So fickle and washed out.

We have to stand for something, if we're to make a world we want for our children and they want for themselves!

Ice-nine. Who'd have thought it was digital?


Well, I'm going to go back out and enjoy the Fall.

And I owe Peter Bakker a Requisite Variety post. I was going to do one on decisions. But I can't decide if I should do that, or a soapbox sermon on being a human being!

Down imp! <So sorry. My imp isn't very well trained. I'm too soft on her really. fear she'll never learn...>


I wandered lonely as a cloud:


Why, yes, we do have a splendid national forest nearby.


What? That's very pretty 'n all, but why did Stuart Boardman and Tom Graves so kindly RT my introduction (to Ed Featherston)? Clearly they are outstanding kind. Peter Bakker too. What? Not architecturally significant? Well you have a point. You can take it out of my back now. ;-) (Oh, here it's still Halloween.) Let's see. Beyond requisite flexibility (which is a thing now), there is this responsibility we need to step up to. A responsibility to the future. The trees make all that majesty from dirt and air and rain and sun -- and they clean our air. What a gift to the future, no? We could learn from trees. ;-) Stretching the point? Yeah. I'm teasing. I just thought, since so few people do visit this little plot on the i-way, those that do, might like to see how utterly lovely it has been here this week.

(You can see why I totes relate to this tot. ;-)

11/3/13: The nanowribros? Just teenage fashionastas, meta-hipsters who do irony ironically? Just? Put your dismissive self on time out and listen up. Not just do teens today have to deal with the existential angst of mortality (for many, in a post-God world), but they have to deal with the Pandoras Box of mankind's amazing accomplishments. Yet we have no clue. Literally no clue what we have unleashed. Well, we have little glimpses of clues, like climate change. Like drone attacks. Like peacetime nuclear disasters and war-time chemical attacks. And I think these teens, and other sci-fi and dystopian writers are exploring imaginatively and importantly (witness the importance of 1984) what it is we are drawing forth to visit on their future. They're filling our clue bucket. They are not to be dismissed. Listening to what they have already written, to their storylines, I am blown-away impressed. The future doesn't look so bleak when it is these kids who are writing it out. We are doing a lot wrong. But...

Hope -- or is that just denial?

Yes. We write to work things out. And they are working out important stuff -- important for us all to come to terms with. We're building the future with what we do, all of us. Those who imagine it and fire our sense of what we incline to and what we must avoid, and those who imagine it into built systems.

“We have killed the utopia, and you are perhaps in the middle of reviving one." -- Bernard-Henri Lévy

Me? As far as the future of the machine goes... Hm. Naturally I think my view is uncontroversial in that it is so "right" ;-)  Where we're headed is cognitive computing that will use us poor creatures as brain nodes, so they don't have to have our features (like hormones and other bio-gunk) to assimilate and emulate and go beyond what we think and how we decide/prioritize and moralize... Of course, this is already happening -- we have the meta-organism that is the interconnected brain-of-brains -- sort of like the Armillaria ostoyae fungus :-) But I mean something more discrete and functional in ways we recognize as intelligent machines...  But like an advanced Watson, they will use what humanity has learned as the basis for their cognition and learning advancements.  And I think bio-digital-mechanical creatures  (more powerful than we already are with our cell phones :-) are a strong possibility, because we're greedy and proud and will push frontiers even when they are bad for humanity.

Grok check: this trace explores the interaction between humanity, nature, and what we are creating, we technologists taking up where god left off, so to speak...



More! More!??

More uncertainty? Okay, since you asked, this from Big vs. Small and Organically Composable:

Even so, humankind has taken something of a knock to its collective confidence these past several years, what with:

  • global recession, and struggling national economies
  • climate change

Not only has the vulnerability of interconnected global systems snuck up on our general consciousness, but our human fallibility is becoming all the more clear. Add to that wave after wave of digital transformation that is reshaping entire industries. The peril of change is constantly before us with a litany of fallen and stumbling giants ever resounding through the formal and social media: Borders, Kodak, RIM, Nokia, the list goes on. To be sure, some recover themselves, as GM did.  While others manage to reinvent themselves, morphing to fit and even shape changing contexts, as IBM has done. 

Still, “the topple rate–which tracks the rate at which companies change rank–has more than doubled, suggesting that winning companies have a tough time keeping their leadership position for long.”  -- Irving Wladawsky-Berger, Why People Are Gaining Power Over Organizations in the Age of IT, April 23, 2012 [quoting shift index]

All this change and uncertainty, taken together with a sense of inadequacy in the face of complexity and turmoil, and John Gall’s title for his delightful keynote/essay “How to use conscious purpose without wrecking everything” (2012) strikes a chord! How indeed? If we think of business strategy as organizational intentionality, and architecture as design to achieve more the outcomes we intend, this is something we ought to have some interest in understanding. What are the forces and dynamics at play? And more to the point, what is to be done, that we might adapt and thrive, taking advantage of the possibilities scientific discovery and innovation opens up, rather than falling to the waves of change? And how does this relate to architecture?  And system development?

And this from Confidence and Vulnerability:

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 unintended 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! ;-)

More still? Wow, I'm impressed! Here you go:



Call: SATURN 2014

In case you're interested:

"SATURN 2014, to be held in Portland, Oregon, from May 5 to May 9, 2014, marks the 10th Software Engineering Institute Architecture Technology User Network (SATURN) Conference. SATURN is the conference for engineering scientists who practice in the field of software architecture. Knowledge shared at SATURN is intended to be put into practice. The technical program--organized into the themes of Technology, Methods and Tools, and Leadership and Business--is all about sharing important lessons we have learned when designing and building software systems.

Submissions for 30-minute experience-report presentations, 90-minute participatory sessions, and half-day tutorials for the SATURN 2014 technical program are now being accepted. If you act now and submit your proposal to the online submission system before November 22, 2013, the program committee will provide feedback that you can use to refine your proposal before the final deadline of January 10, 2014. Presenters will be notified of acceptance in late January."


What Dots to Connect! (The extraordinary childhood of Heinz von Foerster)

"I had the luck to be born into a family which was participating in all that activity. As a little boy I was already associated with them: I was sitting under the piano and listening while the grownups were talking with each other. It was always fascinating to listen to what they were saying. My mother's and my father's house was a very open house, but the really open house was the house of my maternal grandmother. She happened to be one of the early and leading feminists who published the first women's journal in all Europe -- Documents of Women. Politicians, writers, journalists, theater people, etc. were in my grandmother's house. We, as kids, were of course always looking and listening; we were immersed in a world that had no specifics, no disciplines. I mean, everybody was connected and arguing about what art, politics, philosophy, should be. Growing up in such a world brings you into a state of affairs where you have difficulties looking at single disciplines. I see practically every sentence we are speaking as already like a millipede connected with five hundred -- oh but a millipede, so a thousand -- other notions. And to talk about a single notion has a built-in sterility which does not allow you to make the semantic connections to all those other concepts."
-- Interview with Heinz von Foerster, Stefano Franchi, Güven Güzeldere, and Eric Minch

And it gets better! Read the interview. :-) It is wonderful!!!!tangles (not my image)



Fewer Loose Ends

Have you noticed how quickly dust bunnies form? No? Oh. That's embarrassing. Um. Have you noticed how, when you tie flies, the bits of thread so quickly form a knotted bundle no-one could untangle? No? Hm. I know. I know. The laundry. If you don't tie off or bag up all those stringy things on garments, they may get inconceivably tangled and tied up with each other in the drier? [And when they do, it isn't just a schlep to unknot but can be irreparably stretched and misshapen.] What? You don't wash women's clothing? Scandalous! Do your share!! (All-male households may be excepted.)

Ok. Ok. Those IFs, those conditional/control structures? Loose ends, right? You put in a perfectly innocent IF and next time you look, it has an ELSE appendage and all kinds of junk is snarled up in it. And more nested IFs. And. Conditionals form "threads" (in the terms of our analogy). Not only do they make it harder to follow code because the mental jumping and juggling, requiring that we bifurcate our thought stream and hold (multiple) alternative streams in mind, but they can so quickly become points of entanglement, attracting and tangling up with still more threads (of concern or work, and convoluted flow). I think that was what Michael Feathers was trying to say. Don't you? No? Oh. That's embarrassing. Um.... ;-)

In all seriousness, Michael does this neat thing where he makes us question something we never really thought to scrutinize, and these points are important:

"The problem with control structures is that they often make it easy to modify code in bad ways.  Let's take a simple if-statement:


Every place that we have ellipses in that code is a place where we can put more code. Those places can access variables outside of the if. It's very easy to introduce coupling.  Moreover, people do routinely nest conditionals inside of conditionals.  Some of the worst code I've ever seen is a cavernous nightmare of nested conditions with odd bits of work interspersed within them. I suppose that the real problem with control structures is that they are often mixed with the work. I'm sure there's some way that we can see this as a form of single responsibility violation."

-- Michael Feathers, Unconditional Programming

Boom. Quantum entanglement -- tangled flow (with mixed concerns) and data coupling with (hard to detect) side-effecting...

We could expect, for example, that no-one would use the ELSE clause as a "miscellaneous" tray into which to throw all stuff "when not IF". Still, "places to put things" is the other big issue alongside the "naming things" bug bear in coding, no? *

In other discussions of conditionals, broken windows has been mentioned -- neighborhoods with lots of conditionals invite vandalism by communicating a tolerance for sloppy arrangements? Disciplined, proactively closed-off structures don't invite promiscuous entanglements.

The approach demonstrated in the example, is to make the (control) flow the same (regardless of number of elements), which adds overhead. But it serves to get us to revisit our notions around conditionals. If we have to trade-off developer cognitive load versus computational load, we're in "it depends" territory. What I like is the exhortation to rethink how we frame the problem up to ourselves to avoid conditionals wherever we can, because they are... like the space under my kids beds. ;-) Uh. No. They spawn dangling threads that snarl up on more threads -- not in the process/thread sense, but in the thread of program flow sense. What words would you prefer that I use to express that???

Why did I repeat what Michael did (and did better to begin with)? Because it is the sense I made of these discussions each time they've come up, in various forms, around conditionals/switch statements, and I just wanted to jot down my take. Sheesh. It's just a trace. I do that to see better what I think. So I can discover where I'm being an idiot and be embarrassed. I mean, so I can see where to push my thinking forward. Nudge. Nudge. :-)

Image source: I stole it from the internet. I need to find an ascribable image.

The lesson? If you have stringy [en]tangly thingys, consider using a [garment] bag to contain them?


* What we are striving to do is to craft "crisp and resilient abstractions" (a Boochism). Granularity is a judgment call, and cohesion of responsibility can be a bit of a slippery notion. Sure, we have heuristics, but assumptions are a kind of dependency, if you like, on some external condition. I stray. You see? Cohesion. Slippery slope. ;-) Anyway... Crisp speaks to being non-leaky, non-tangly and resilient speaks to adaptable under change without flaking out. "It's midnight my dear//The insomnia's creeping..." What's that? Oh. Nothing. Just a line from a Sara song. But, late. And I'm too playful when it's late and I'm probably being an idiot. (Now, and any other time.) [Non-leaky, non-tangly? Well, ok. Less leaky, less tangly -- as little as we can manage.]

I know the analogy isn't perfect. It's an analogy. A thinking tool. And what it illuminates is the self-containment of recursive structures (that weave logic "inwards," as it were) as opposed to the openness of conditionals to entanglement -- to logic bifurcations that not only create multiple threads of logic we have to hold in mind, but tend to become catching places for still more stuff (sliding responsibility scope and even mixing concerns), including further bifurcations and deeper logic entanglements not to mention data coupling from inside the entanglement to outside (action at a distance). An IF is a little thread of an opportunity to become multiple and bigger threads and it is up to the dev to be disciplined... But though I use garment bags for delicates in the laundry, I still sometimes forget, and get that reality-reminder that given the leastest opportunity, strange and prolific entanglements happen.

Now I have to think about promises. And null checks. And moats and fort design. As the type and range of weaponry changes. ;-) [Hint: we need to play nice -- with the future!! ] [Remind me to do my anticipatory "car body language"/driving analogy too. ;-)] [And a hard-coded directions versus fluid choreography analogy. And agency, roles and context/state. And. ;-)]

11/8/13: Oh, this casts the gist of Michael's post really well:

Mix concerns

Masterfully done! Given Michael's masterful post, of course.

11/11/13: See also Cyclomatic Complexity discussion on wikipedia (via Pablo Chacin).

Now here's someone who has no problem telling personal stories to illustrate my point:

Lashings of lashes

What? I shouldn't abuse Josh's tweet? But, but. It became entangled in my unconditional attention stream. See how things just love to catch on and become tangled? Entropy. And battles of epic proportions to fast-forward the organizing powers of life given that entropy tries to take back the rich firmament it gives. :-)

See also:

Which begs the question: do conditionals attract entanglements? Do conditionals become messy -- because we can add to the if and the else clause, does this happen? Enough to be concerned about? I see that mfeathers is planning to run an analysis to see when code is added to existing conditionals. That's interesting. Does code support the contention that conditionals are "broken windows" that invite ghetofication? If they do, does this come into play right off, or under project pressure, for example, as cognitive load increases, or under schedule crunch. Does a messy piece of code become more messy because it is messy, or because the problem is messy (e.g., lots of flow orchestration going on right there) or because it is at the convolution of lots of (project) pressure that cycles through (so rushed/pressured when get to that spot)... or because it is a spot in the code that has become a miscellaneous catch-all spot for messy bits or....

11/22/13: We can reason by analogy and from grounding principles, and we can create heuristics based on experience. But it is just as well to recognize that we need to test our theses and see if they are born up under the weight of an (attempt at an) objective look at statistically significant data. Certainly before we declared IFs unconditionally bad, we'd want some evidence to back up any claim they invite entanglements (any more than any other code, which is, after all, highly mutable, tends to become fraught with unintended coupling (unintended, for what reasonable person in a reasonable frame of mind with reasonable attentional resources would create the "big ball of mud" systems that are the "dominant architecture" around today -- all those "reasonable's being said with tongue pointedly in cheek). IFs are handy, for they are a very simple way to choreograph state-dependent flows. But does that very simplicity (tend to) lead to wonky building blocks? Which'd be bad since "Computers, after all, are just shaky towers of nested abstractions" (Frank Chimero).

11/13/13: Hey this:

like an episode of hoarders!

relates to

Oh, oh, oh, and this:

What? ... You don't like that I'm a mfeathers fan? Aren't you? No? Oh. That's embarrassing. For you! ;-) Just kidding. I think it takes a largeness of spirit to see the greatness in others, and delight in it. And I will argue that point with all the fierceness of my small-minded self-justification. ;-)

What's that? Architecturally significant? Well, it's like this see. The architect decides. What? What is. Architecturally significant. Okaaaay. First, these concerns about "containment" or "bagging up the tangly bits" so that interaction spaces and their side effects are bounded and scoped, is the kind of thinking we're doing. Weighing when to couple, and when to decouple. Understanding the forces, and resolving them so we get more what we want and less what we don't want.

11/22/13: And the architect needs to do this kind of process. Think about and identify the forces. Think about and justify heuristics. And investigate whether they are born out by experience, at one level, and by research -- collecting data on the code (and its context, including team context) and the (running) software, and investigating the research others have done. Form opinions about what works well, what will make the system better. Work those that are significant and highly fruitful into hypotheses. Test them. I don't think the architect should be opinionated in a corrosive and abusive way that ignores and overrides others (to the point of being toxic; some amount may be expedient or just in the personality), but there is a way in which the architecture needs to "take positions" and hold them (not obstinately under change that undermines their rationale or clarifies different forces are at play, etc). And one of the positions should be "be alert to when positions need to flex, adapt, or give way entirely". ;-)

For example:

Opinions are just questions masquerading confidently

Of course, opinions are just questions (hypotheses) masquerading with obfuscating confidence. ;-)

I posit. Anyway.

Caveats. Caveatedly.

2/8/14: Not advocating ghettos, of course! Just noting that though they serve a need dreadfully poorly, but they are there because they are the desparate solution to something.

9/17/14: See also (really -- if you're impatient to see why I point there in this context, look at example 5 and 7):




Some Pointers

Here's a mixed bag of post-Halloween goodies:

Fail case in the spotlight: Healthcare.gov


Plumbing down systems and cognition lines:

When figureheads are very territorial, their "marking" behavior can be misleading. We just need to remind ourselves to see where they are making an important contribution, and not get caught up in the cultish tribe thing that strong dominance tactics and marking behaviors induce. Same goes for the guy who wanted to commandeer a tribe within the resilience field. ;-) Me? Ooooh nooooo. I'm not trashing anyone to build my platform for fame. ;-) Dialectic thinking is important. But we have to recognize that it is a tool to progress thought, not an endpoint. Generally.


This is super interesting and required reading for EA:

This especially jumped out:

“The life sciences experiment is not working with respect to our analysis or in reality. Proper analysis of Monsanto requires expertise in three industries: pharmaceuticals, agricultural chemicals and agricultural biotechnology. Unfortunately, on Wall Street...these separate industries are analyzed individually because of the complexity of each....At PaineWebber, collaboration among analysts brings together expertise in each area. We can attest to the challenges of making this effort pay off: just coordinating a simple thing like work schedules requires lots of effort. While we are willing to pay the price that will make the process work, it is a process not likely to be adopted by Wall Street on a widespread basis. Therefore, Monsanto will probably have to change its structure to be more properly analyzed and valued.” -- Todd Zenger, Strategy: The Uniqueness Challenge,

See also:

More strategy:


Visualization, Sketching, Maps and Suchness:


Nooooooooooooooooooooo! Not Buttercup!

I hope, hope, hope that David Troupes didn't give up on us for being a suckish unresponsive lump of an audience...

No more Buttercup Festival, at least for a while? No. No. No. I can't stand it! It was my fix of joy and sparkle, a reminder that intelligence can be optimistic and joyful and whimsical. That a smart modern visual poet can be utterly sensitive and deep-currents-of-life clueful; that we don't have to be fully represented and projected by harshness, by the jaded and bleakly cynical.

Even if the meaning of a BF is not all bounce and rosy, it is expressed in a way the lightens and lifts. Consider our fishbowl lives...

BF was my spirit buddy, able to express so much what I feel, and able to extend and enhance and renew and ignite so much in me, in lovely poetic images.

I know. That's creepy in a connected world, where older women (than the artist/author) fangirl indelicately. ;-) But sheesh. I'm a person and I respond to what David achieves in BF. I think more people would, if they just gave BF a chance to work its magic on them.

Dust off those lenses, and take a look. If at first you don't get one, hang with it. Like this.


Shake Off the Silt of Cynicism!

I love this:


This course began as Form and Theory of Fiction, became Form of Fiction, then Form and Texture of Fiction, then Surface Criticism, or How to Talk out of the Corner of Your Mouth Like a Real Tough Pro. It will probably be Animal Husbandry 108 by the time Black February rolls around. As was said to me years ago by a dear, dear friend, “Keep your hat on. We may end up miles from here.”

As for your term papers, I should like them to be both cynical and religious. I want you to adore the Universe, to be easily delighted, but to be prompt as well with impatience with those artists who offend your own deep notions of what the Universe is or should be. “This above all ...”'

-- Kurt Vonnegut, quoted in Kurt Vonnegut’s Rules for Reading Fiction

Damn, I wish I'd had a class with Vonnegut, so my homework assignments would've had him addressing me in a letter as Beloved! No. I mean. So I would have had such assignments. The very wording of which teaches so, so much!

Speaking of Vonnegut,

Shades of Felix Hoenikker? ;-)

Perception, cognition and that (selfish) brain of ours:

  • Why Can't We All Just Get Along? The Uncertain Biological Basis of Morality Squaring recent research suggesting we're "naturally moral" with all the strife in the world, Robert Wright, Oct 23 2013
  • How to Build a Happier Brain A neuropsychological approach to happiness, by meeting core needs (safety, satisfaction, and connection) and training neurons to overcome a negativity bias, Julie Beck, Oct 23 2013
  • The Classic Pamela Positive: The Power of Gratitude

Like, sheesh, we need to be nice already -- we'll be better for it! People don't seem to have as a goal practicing generosity and just making someone happy each day. In this list of virtues and strengths, humanity (and being in unselfish service to other people's humanity) seems improperly small as a category. We're so wrapped up in the lint from our own navel, we can't see the good in others and what they do.

Gratitude. Like this! Oh, my! So effervescently grateful -- for a matchbox?? Seems like a good buttering; couldn't possibly be sincere? The real world has been giving you the wrong advice!! What do we have to be grateful for? What in Buttercup Festival do we find our spirit skipping at, falling in wonder to? What, in a colleague's work, adds to our thinking in a way we are indebted to, because we'd wrestled and not found just that angle, lit just that insight? That makes more insights fall into place, and delights our brain with eureka tingles and gives us something more to work with? We might want to note, too, that when we look for what is added to our encounter by another, it changes what we see and what we experience. We gain in the finding and the expressing of what we are grateful for. Taking photos this Fall, I notice all over again how what we see can be so forgiving of flaws, in a way we don't notice until we try to photo frame a view, but we can't find a viewpoint and frame which is blemish free, Aside from all the man-made stuff that litters our environment, nature is messy too, and has all these twigs and things. Most inconveniently. ;-) But when we are stunned by a scene, we're not seeing this and that flaw, but taking in what is stunning. We need to do that with people and their work. See the amazing, and not get distracted with the blemish here or there. For indeed, as in nature, those blemishes at another scale level, or at a different moment, or from a different vantage point, just disappear in significance or even become part of what is good.

From a page of Sylvia Plath's journal:

Plath's reality


When she was 7, Sara wrote:

Aside our dreams as hopes come,
We have our own realities.
Our dreams give us hopes,
And our hopes give us dreams.
We can only be us with them,
Till the real world gives us advice

"Til the real world gives us advice"??? Don't you just thrill to that? To "dreams give us hopes" and "hopes give us dreams" and they make us unique, distinctive, ourselves? Gah.

A 7 year old that writes "we have our own realities"?

Jump for joy! This is a marvellous world. There are spectacular people in it. Til the real world gives advice. Cruds us over. Hides our sparkle. Damps joy.

Shake off the silt!

It goes on:

Without our hopes and dreams
Life although,
Would be very different to us all.
And it would be nothing,
And we'd all be the exact same.
While the old true life sits alone,
Till people find it once again.

Shake off the silt!

"Why should we dream about dreaming?" -- Daniel Stroe

Because our dreams are our affirmation of our individuality and reality. "Cogito ergo sum."  And I dream, therefore I become. Dreams are what make us, in Bucky Fuller's words, "a verb" -- an intentional and vibrant verb. Our dreams are essential to making a distinctive mark on this planet, however brief. They give us that welling of rebellion, the passion to resist the damning damping dust of indifference -- to our own self! And everything else.

You lost the thread? How do these wanderings tie together? Did you read the opening to Vonnegut's letter, quoted in the opening to this trace? ;-) Kind of like my Trace, isn't it? And this trace? Oh, alright. This is the sense I make: We become what we vest ourselves in; our dreams lead and inspire our conception of our becoming selves. But it is not just about us. We participate in the construction of the built world -- objects and social experiences. And in creating affirmative beautiful experiences for others, we have to see them, strive to serve them, and in the seeing and the striving, we build ourselves. That "what I see defines me" from my byline. We have to shake the silt off our lenses. And see a Universe, the gorgeous earth, people, we adore and delight in. And yes, I can't emphasize enough -- this is architecturally significant. ;-)


A Little Contemplation on the Reality We Make Up

I don't encourage following my alter-ego since she's rather too much a walk on the wild side, but...

Making up reality


Do you know, that Ruffyan creature has yet to be spontaneously [out of the blue] complimented?

What? You think I appreciate myself quite enough for everyone? Seriously, if you think that, you need to learn how to read people! Sure I like what I do, and I think it makes sense ...and I know I am fallible and I can pull everything I do apart a thousand different ways. Moreover, I am a person bruised at the hand of reality just as you are. And reality tells me we all see things somewhat differently. So I don't know how anyone else perceives what I do unless they tell me. Uh. That bad, huh? Oops.

Well, even if I don't make the grade sufficiently to rouse positive response as a writer, I was declared a "crazy and lovely reader" -- made my day, week -- month even?!!

Oh. I do know that positive response comes in different forms. Mentioning my work, quoting words or referencing an idea, these are all immense gifts of peer-ship in this field that I value enormously! (Having learned the "ship" meme from our resident girl-teen, I had to make my variant. ;-)

You are part of my reality. For the most part the walls my bat pings hit, are cold and bounce back the shrill silence of indifference. But sometimes:

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it.
-- Seamus Heaney, Personal Helicon


Escape to reality

Image source: Escape to Reality by Michal Trpak (via Lillianloozee)



Product Design Inspiration

Reflecting on what he learned from jazz:

BARTHELME: "Maybe something about making a statement, about placing emphases within a statement or introducing variations. You’d hear some of these guys take a tired old tune like “Who’s Sorry Now?” and do the most incredible things with it, make it beautiful, literally make it new. The interest and the drama were in the formal manipulation of the rather slight material. And they were heroic figures, you know, very romantic. Hokie Mokie in “The King of Jazz” comes out of all that."

-- Donald Barthelme

Make it literally new.



It reminded me of my early introductions to pairing, before it was a named thing. One striking example, was a remarkable domain expert with some dev experience and a talented dev with some domain expertise pairing (in a specialized engineering field that is so specialized devs for these software systems typically come from the domain). This one man and one woman team broke the mold in every way. From within the incumbent company that dominated the industry, they created the next generation system that transformed that field -- new computational models and algorithms, new architecture, transformation. And they did it so fast, the incumbent product teams working on the old platform product family, never even saw it coming. (If you know company politics, you know why that is important. Witness Nokia.) The key point is that they made a great team, thinking "what and how" (designing the approach, algorithms and coding) in tight integrated on-the-fly cycles. That has been my experience too, because I'm good at conceptualizing and designing approaches/algorithms and have a diverse background from stochastics and dynamic programming and graph theory to social dynamics, systems and complexity, algorithm and abstraction design... to literature. I come admirably equipped to ask all the stupid questions that are actually great levers for progress. ;-) My point is simply that pairing can also be about much more innovative and better designs, not just catching coding glitches and such. Which of course also blends into "model out loud" in pairs and small groups, and Getting Past ‘But’ to use the most agile medium to address the uncertainties and challenges and keen thinking of this extraordinary moment.

More from Jessica:

Tech debt


PS. Dear conference organizer: If you want me to talk at your agile architecture conference, you should definitely come across like I'm about as exciting as a dead fish. That really gets me interested. I had to ask if travel costs were covered. They are. But get some enthusiasm going when you interact with women speakers. I can't speak for others, but I cue in to tone and I need to hear welcome in it so I know someone is going to get my back and be enthusiastic about me being there. Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. Generally speaking, women don't stand on a neutral platform in this field. Expectations of women are several rungs down from men before we even open our mouths. Or tweet. Or trace. [It is nice when a Michael Nygard follows me back, after a small interaction. And it is rather astonishing when people directly in the architecture space do not!]

I know. People want to see my code to see if they can trust me. And I say trust me, so we can start with here, not there. Some do. We can go far. Trust is an enabler. Vulnerability comes hand in glove with trust, like challenge and risk comes hand in glove with creating (more) value.

Confident humility.

And positive expectations.

Do it. Now.

PS: People really liked Angela's "confident humility" term - which no doubt reminds you of my posts:

Uh, apparently the conjugal high jinks of confidence and humility are something of old theme with me:

Humility leaves us open to influence, to connections. Confidence allows us to proceed, humble though we may feel. To the arrogant, these may seem like odd fellows to bed down in one person, but to the humble person confidence or self-assurance is not at odds with humility. 11/14/10

12/9/13: It occurred to me, thinking about humility, that it has a component of dignity that we often forget to accord the humble person -- whether of humble means, or of humble spirit or intellectual inclining. That is, we confuse humility with subservience.


Oh... Courage



The courage tweet points here:

And that points here:



Invented Key Underpinning of WiFi

More or less

She was coincidentally beautiful. Let's simultaneously undo our stereotyped, socially projected and entrenched, misconceptions about beauty and intelligence, and women and technical contributions. But it is hard to unpack. Hedy Lamarr did it all at once.



Not an Even Distribution

Watched Frida last night. Amazing movie, about an amazing woman (the artist, Frida Kahlo). As you might guess, I like reading letters and journals that bring us into the very thought stream of some of history's most fertile and original thinkers. Frida Kahlo's letters to Diego Rivera are no exception. I associate that quality with poems that:

"vibrate at that fertile intersection of the deeply personal and the universally profound" -- Maria Popova


Context, System-in-Context and System

In Visual Architecting, we (explicitly) view system design as a matter that dances at many scopes of interest/exploration, attention/analysis, and decision making. And "execution" (experiment/creation/adaptive evolution). The context, for an enterprise, is the ecosystems in which it plays (survives, even hopefully thrives, contributes, consumes and transforms, competes for resources including attention, is enabled and constrained by ecosystem infrastructure, etc., etc., etc.).

The structure and dynamics of the broader ecosystem isn't under the control of the enterprise, but it is within the bailiwick of (savvy) strategy to consider (and form positions on, probe and test and improve) strategic interventions to make the ecosystem more conducive to the value contribution the enterprise is seeking to make (and draw value from). In business terms, to affect the ecosystem in ways that amplify the strategic advantage of the business in question. [Hopefully this serves to enrich -- in the best way -- the ecosystem, creating conditions for its organisms (organizations, people, etc.) to thrive. And hopefully as we come to realize more deeply the interconnectedness and consequences of greed and corrupt power, we'll steer towards systems that seek to amplify good in broader ecosystems, rather than damning the ecosystem in tragedy-of-self-interest.]

Anyway, "context," or ecosystem(s), is the playing fields of strategy. But architects -- you know, those people who have a talent and toolkit for understanding the structure and dynamics of systems(-of-systems) -- have a lot to bring to the strategy table. Architects who take a leaf out of our playbook, are not just looking at the parts of their system and their interrelationships, and designing mechanisms to achieve architecturally significant system outcomes. Even if that is the extent of what their organizations are asking of them, when they allow them to put on that hat. Oh. That is important and core. But the core must fit and serve the context. And the context is itself highly mutable. And strategy considers what to bring under the design umbrella of the organization, what part of the value transformation and delivery streams to bring within its organizational boundaries. What to invest in. What capabilities to build. What alliances and partnerships and other interventions to make in the broader ecosystem to create a more fertile environment for itself to thrive in. Strategy is important stuff. Too important to do blind to the ecosystem(s)! Step it up, architects. ;-)

Architects? Yeah. At your level of scope, informing and impacting the strategy at that level of scope. Product or system architect -- product or service scope. Enterprise architect -- business/organization scope. I know. I know. What you can do, is bounded by allowances and expectations. So you have to bring something to the conversation that transforms expectations. If you want to be part of the conversation. That is. Not everyone does. Many of us like our more confined sandboxes.

Like where this is going? Or. Haven't a clue what I just did there? Get one. It's important. ;-)

Want to hear more? Context, and strategic design. System-in-context, and capability design. System, and architecture design. [The "system" here may be the enterprise (which we might view as an ecosystem or system-of-(multi-faceted)-systems).] {ISome might prefer "problem design" and "solution design" instead of capability and architecture design. I'm ok with that.]

"design is a function of connection" -- Brene Brown

11/22/13: To give you an idea: In the map of Visual Architecting we have context, system-in-context, and system as the columns, and strategy and definition (conceptual, logical, execution/physical) as the rows (plus some other stuff).  

Strategy in the architecture column focuses on identifying technical challenges and sketching strategies or approaches to addressing challenges, including qualities that present challenges worth calling out at the strategy level.

Key architectural structures/mechanisms are designed at these different levels – strategy/conceptual/logical/physical.



Well, this looks interesting:

  • The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society. Frans de Waal

Anyone read it? Should I?

Peter Bakker pointed to this wonderful collection of material related to empathy:





Don't Fall in Love... with the Scaffolding

Allegances drive divisions

The post referred to, is an instance of those that make the point that while extreme positions and dialectic thinking is good for pushing our understanding and option set, our actions need to be context/demand+constraint+fit centered -- generally more in between than at the poles.

Why do we tend so much to get stuck at the poles? These are/may be factors:

  • We are tribal creatures, and tribal leaders recruit members with sharp delineations of out=bad and in=good. [I notice this in traditional religions, as well as in technology "religions"... ;-)]
  • It takes so much ballyhoo to get anything accepted that it's kind of like rallying for battle or something that runs deep like that. With the result that we rend deep schisms and swing the pendulum between extreme positions. (7/29/13)
  • The media pitches the battle for attention and affect... And vendors and others with vested interests hype their silver-dipped bullet... To get a new technology to the tipping point often takes significant hype-momentum. After which there is the classic crash caused by over-expectation and just the natural depletion of energy that comes after too much zeal is poured into something. (10/19/10)
  • And then there poles and wholes... Some people just gravitate more to thinking in black-and-white, this or that binary option, sort of terms, while others think in terms of shades and connections and wholes.


Leaders trying to get something new adopted, tend to pitch its distinctions (and detract from alternatives) to create a following. And community identity comes to be wrapped around a technology or method, etc.

We need to remember the distinction between scaffolding and construction infrastructure and so forth, and what we are building:

One image we use is that of treating process as scaffolding we leverage only just enough of and dispense with when we don't need it to reach the outcomes of our charter and strategy. I'm not sure if organically is the right word, but I want a word that conveys natural and adaptively organismic rather than mechanical and standard and stamped out. This notion of process as "scaffolding" helps us keep our attention where it should be -- on the system. That is, the scaffolding should never be a "cathedral" unto itself. It does help to reach and do the things we couldn't otherwise do, but should be just enough to get the real job done -- to build complex systems, to engage more people, with different expertise and predilections, etc., effectively. (Well, if this were not a wonderfully quiet backwaters place, there'd likely be some going off pop about scaffolding as a metaphor because it relates to a building architecture analogy and that isn't dynamic enough. But I wanted to convey the idea of process being just enough to enable ourselves to accomplish something bigger and more ambitious and complex. -- Not Looking,  4/7/11

See also:

Don't fall in love with your scaffolding/construction infrastructure and construction medium. They are important -- the skyrise can't rise without it, the chick can't be(come) without the shell. And it is critical to know what they are good for and when to use them and how. But get one's identity so wrapped up in scaffolding rather than the system being built/evolved???


"I'm a recovering validation demander"

Well, Kent Beck has shared his story, and I'm sure it will have a lot of influence....

There are two ways I look for validation:

  • I look for response -- not to buoy my self-worth, which is plenty healthy. I look for return bat pings to confirm that I'm seen/heard by someone, on occasion. And those return pings are few and limited to a small set of people. So I tell the world "hey, you know what, it feels lonely if you never ping back."
  • I probe and test ideas. Because I am very self-critical (of my work), and find many weaknesses, it is very helpful to me to get positive feedback, or validation. Corrosively negative feedback not so much (emotional thrashings hurt just like physical), but different perspectives and suggestions and ideas for alternative approaches or solutions are wonderful -- they make me feel good, accompanied and interacted with, and they improve my work and the contribution I make.

Labeling me a "validation demander" would be suckish and not useful.

But Ruth, you seek compliments to the point of being tiresome!?? Public positive recognition is important for anyone, but more so for women who tend to have an automatic credibility deficit in technology, and it is bad form/judged ill if women self-promote. To survive in the attention glut, I need my work to be mentioned at all, and with enthusiasm even. But I'd been writing this Trace for more than 3 years before it got its first, and for a long time only, blog mention -- I didn't ask, and I didn't receive. The last two years or so, I have more actively reminded people that they have a role to play, and a few more people have generously mentioned my work and this Trace. Does that make me a "validation demander"? If so, them's the breaks folks. Sorry I have to be the one to say "hell, it gets lonely" or "if you like what I do, it would be helpful to make that known." It's the lesson Amanda Palmer teaches, if you don't want to take my word on it -- just, in the attention economy, positive mention is the going currency.


Paying Our Way

And. While we're on the subject of currency. If you like Tom Graves work, do buy his books. Sometimes we can pay for a person's work in goodwill, responding to them with our time and ideas. And sometimes we need to pay our way in the hard cash sense. In the case of Maria Popova/brainpickings, that means making a donation. And in the case of Tom, it means book purchases. And inviting him to do tutorials and paid speaker slots at internal conferences. And so forth. We have to ensure that curators like Maria Popova earn a living in return for the value they bring us. And architecture landscape shaping work such as Tom's needs to be funded with recognition and book sales, and consulting and speaking engagements!

Tom is a hugely valuable #entarch curator on Twitter. We rely on him to bring resources to our attention (including his own wonderful work), and for the collegial camaraderie of his generous positive mentions and reinforcements when he retweets.

We need to pay our way





Looking for a Miyazaki point in my Trace, I reread;

One of the key insights that Howl's Moving Castle magically conveys, is that people are complex bundles of good and evil, strength and weakness. Good people are such bundles, just with more good than bad, and in their internal battles between good and evil, the good generally wins out. The contrary for evil people. And good and evil in the world is the externalization of these internal battles. And the reaching out of good in one person magnifies and assists the forces for good in another, and changes the balance of their internal battle. When looked at that way, there's so much more scope for compassion and empathy! And so much more reason to reach out!

It isn't just that there are these internal battles, but external complexities and interactions can make a locally good or well-intentioned act have adverse consequences we don't anticipate.





The real world is a jolly jester

Stretch golas


HelpMatch... Was a Good Idea

Why it is important that good ideas get built:


What I see, defines me

Impact matters

Image source: Jen Myers

Does what we do help in any way, make life better for others? Illuminate? Tend and provide succor to spirits, minds or bodies? Influence and impact is important! And yet... An Emily Dickinson would still have been Emily Dickinson -- her experience of herself would still have been valid and important, even if the world never had the opportunity to encounter her poetry (very little of which was published in her lifetime). That her poetry did reach us, has to do with people who were awed by it, who saw its beauty and meaningfulness -- and did something! Edited, published, mentioned. So, there is who we are to ourselves, and who we are to others. And who we are to others, depends on many things, including receptivity. And who we are to ourselves, is a good part of what makes it possible for us to be (even beyond -- or, in Dickinson's case, after -- our lives) what we are to others.

"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are" -- (attributed to) Anais Nin (and others)

"What I see, defines me" -- moi

What I perceive, what I choose to see, what I am capable of seeing, is unique to me, and so, in a sense, defines me. But also, I interact with what I see, integrate it into who I am, and in that way too, it defines me.

The expression. And the creation. Not just of ourselves -- but how we encounter others, and how that impacts and shapes them. How we perceive others is a mirror on our own self -- it can show us what we do and don't like in ourselves given what we notice in others. There are higher level of difficulty settings than just that kind of mirror, hard as it can be for us to notice and accept. It can be still more powerful, when we realize that "mirror projections are a project" (mfeathers). They are work we doing in how we encounter another, what we allow in what they project and express to mean to us, what we make of it, how high we allow that person to rise in our estimation. What we make of another person is, in large degree, what we make. We create our image of them. It is not passive. They are not. And we are not. If we are small-minded (in orientation to a person, or group), we will tend to make unkind, envious, small-minded caricatured characterizations of them. And we are ourselves a project, a work-in-progress, a becoming. Mirrors reflecting each other allow such a lovely recursion. Our interactions influence our becoming. Our own, and others.

My imp needs succor too, you know :-)

"Never love anyone who treats you like you're ordinary." -- Oscar Wilde

Important for who we love intimately, but important too, to recognize that each person in our community is such a person -- extraordinary, unique. Each with a quite different contribution to make, a different way of approaching and making sense of things, a different perspective. and different set of wounds that make them the more human, vulnerable and utterly lovely.

Art invites us to learn, but without spoon-feeding the lesson to us. We have to engage, to find what it has to yield to us, what discoveries about life it unfurls with our probing-encountering. People may teach us directly, but they also yield and reveal so much to us indirectly, through the work of art they are making of themselves. Pretty awesome, huh?!!

Important to architects? I think so. There is such a tendency to see people as smaller than they are. To cut them down to the size of stereotyped conveniences we project onto them (those Procrustean frames, after the Procrustes myth). But as architects, seeing people as remarkable people with contributions to make to the system, is enabling. It unlimits them from our limits, and lets them contribute their fullest. How can we build complex systems that press up against and bulge the limits of human understanding, if we don't engage and unlimit all of those we're working with?

Ok. I'm going to get off the contemplative soapbox and return to visualization stuff for the next stretch. Don't give up on me just yet. ;-)

But, but. Just one more thing... ;-) Ah yes, as private people go this is an amazing story:

And... hm... if you do want to hear what I really think, ask me to tell you what I think of this:


And, and, and, I can't close the day without saying thanks!



To Paul Harland, Stuart Boardman, Richard West and Peter Bakker -- thank you! You made today sparkle with little bubbles of the joy at being, if only a little, seen on this shared blip of a trip on spaceship Earth!! :-)

My life can feel like this:


To sometimes be met (not by a cold impassive statue) is a joy indeed. Thank you.

PS. That quote was used in this wonderful talk:




The neat thing about following artists on twitter, is seeing their work as it progresses. Like this:

Laying foundation

Image source: J Pradissitto

Which is a wonderful reminder that it is not just in systems development and architecture that there's important grounding work that must be done first, and it is so determining of what comes after. It, you know, colors. Even in something so mutable as a painting, or a software system. Those early decisions shape. Constrain. Inform. Color.

"All the most important mistakes are made on the first day.” – The Art of Systems Architecting (Maier & Rechtin)


Doris Lessing

Oh no, another of my formative shapers has passed away this year!

I will watch Adore with a heavy shade of sadness, but also with deep gratitude that such a person as Doris Lessing lived -- in the time of our lives, even. Doris Lessing pushed at society's boundaries in important ways. It is just as well, in this age of twitter flocking, to bear in mind what we lose, if we succumb to trying to visit our morals on others in punitive ways. History keeps teaching us the lessons of our small-mindedness, but we keep endangering our progress visiting our own self-righteous conceptions of "the line" between good and evil. Art -- literature, movies, more -- explores those "lines." Last night we watched [name withdrawn] another great movie of that genre that explores how the line shifts, depending what side of it we stand on. We find ourselves, and even our "objective science," to be so often wrong, how can we in conscience hold cemented (and punitive) notions of (what is) right and wrong?

"If you're not doing anything wrong, you're not doing it right" -- yolo

We strive to be true to our evolving, broadening-deepening, developing moral sense -- societal and personal. But we're human, and the human condition is frightfully messy. Doris Lessing explored that condition with grace and artistry.

“There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth.” -- Doris Lessing, Under My Skin


Um. And for some raunchy line-testing tweeting this weekend (and always), may I recommend following Alan Cooper?


Birthday Month

Bredemeyer Consulting turned 15 years old this month! Awesome, huh?

And my RuffyanMe creature turned 1 year old on November 8 (at least as measured by first still recorded tweet; smile). One day someone is going to scroll down to November 8 and read her and have their molecules excited enough to loose some words of encouragement and joy -- right? Riiiiiight? Nah? Oh, we could play pretend!

Oh well. I created that twitter creature as a wall of sorts, to give myself another voice and a place to throw itself at, to see itself. But she follows such a different pool of people, there are all kinds of neat serendipities.



From a screenshot of Dana's iphone email last night:

email  status

If you're an inbox zero type, that'd give you heart failure! Apple really ought to be more careful with their bugs. ;-)


Getting Away With It and Other Stories

Dana retold this story over lunch: Act Four. Pre K-O. Lots of signifance to architects in there! Just rephrase from "getting away with it" to "getting things done". ;-)

Dana recommended Lincoln's Prose and I was listening to various snippets. I love them.

And more awesomeness from Grady Booch:

I was expecting so much (having watched Woven on the Loom of Sorrow and I think, Therefore I am, and having seen Grady's slides for Deus Ex Machina), but wow, I was so impressed! So much insight, history, and a courageous, caring, thought-full and thought-provoking reflection on the connection and interplay between computing and spirituality.





Well... Wondering if I should submit a proposal for a tutorial and/or talk... What do you think? Architects and Portland Oregon in early May -- sounds nice, doesn't it?!

Think the world is ready for Something About Boxes yet? ;-) I should send my imp to serious school. Do you know any good finishing schools for imps? But on the serious side of playful, that would be such a cool tutorial -- Conceptual Architecture in and out of the box.

The Netherlands in January 2014

Dana Bredemeyer will be back in The Netherlands on January 20-24 to teach our Software Architecture Workshop at the Embedded Systems Institute. Enroll now -- the last workshop (a couple of weeks ago) filled early so they opened this workshop for enrollment and it is already filling up. (Dana will also be back next month for an in-house workshop -- making it a week a month 4 months in a row. And that's not all the pond hopping -- the UK, France and South Africa have all caused flight miles to rack up recently. Oh yeah. And all the "local" stuff, coast-to-coast USA.)

South Africa in June 2014

In other exciting news, Ovations in Johannesburg, South Africa will offer our workshops (for open enrollment) in June next year -- Dana Bredemeyer will teach our Enterprise Architecture Workshop, and either he or I will teach the Software Architecture Workshop.


Joy Bubble

I received one of quite the nicest compliments on my Trace today, following on the heels of kindness from Ann Whitbrock yesterday.

In about the second year of tracing, an architect in a workshop in Germany said my Trace was "philosophical." I was utterly crushed! I strove to stay much closer to the metal then, than I do now. But I came to figure that if I wasnt going to have an audience (in the sense of writing for broader reach), I may as well have fun just letting words fall where they lead me (and a few friends). So people use poetry in reference to my Trace, and I'm thrilled. I've come a long way. :-)

Anyway, if I'm overly obnoxious over the next few days, do take me to task.

In other news, it turns out I'm terrible at accepting compliments. Like. Who knew?




Airliners Anyone?

yeah, so... late, ovrebudget, issues and yet?

But but. How does anything complex get done? Come together in some way that makes sense?

How many small scale projects fail? Gobs. Gobs and gobs and gobs. So many just fly under the radar. But consider startups. How many fail? Right. Ok. So. Shoot. Lots of false starts. Lots of experiments. Some make it through the brutal culling of the evolutionary process.

But Ruuuuuth. Those were small, so they failed without as much spend and damage was contained.

Let's put that aside for the moment. And take a different tack.

As for on time and on budget. Nice way to deflect a thorny failure stat? Don't schedule or budget. Accept that uncertainty will make you look bad and don't collect evidence....

But Ruuuuuth.


Just having fun here. Keep your seat belt on. ;-)

Ready for another tack?

I could be persuaded that we ought really to follow the lead of the Amish. Our ambitious complex projects are messing up the ecology of this beautiful planet. But. Oh right. Too many people on the planet. Cities. Aspirations. Hm. So. I'm all for being more careful about which complex projects we take on. For those we do, can we make them small and stretch them out in time, or is that just asking for them to be irrelevant by the time they're done? Hello. Competition?

Companies creating complex (and safety critical) hw/sw systems and systems-of-systems (like airliners and cars and MRI scanners and and and) will generally (in the realms of my encounter, at any rate) use some form of stage-gate or waterfall or v-model. In part [addressing market and technical risk], this is to identify design approaches to critical areas before the larger scale effort (and associated investment) is underway. That is, to identify and resolve risk and address novel/challenging areas of the system design. And in part [addressing organizational risk inherent in large-scale efforts and all the communication and co-ordination implications thereof], it is to figure out and cope with multiple teams focused on different parts of the system. And given that these have, often enough that our world is full of complex systems, met with moderate and sometimes even immoderate success, I don't expect this will just submissively go away...

But, in savvy cases, anyway, waterfall doesn't just begin with a novel domain, huge unknowns, and create specifications (requirements and architecture). Build. And hope it all comes together and works. A lot goes into figuring out and prototyping before decisions are made about capabilities and user experiences and architecture and critical design details. In other words, waterfall has prestages (which may be thought of/conducted in agile terms), and waterfall may be run (behind the formal check-off points of stage-gates) in a highly concurrent+iterative manner (where teams use organic/dynamic teaming agile approaches for their contribution to the system). I should point out that concurrent engineering arose (long before "Agile" in software) to rub down the boundaries (between disciplines and stages) and be proactive about design (and design for integration/manufacture/operation/use), but these are often "and" not one-or-the-other kinds of approaches. Visual Architecting's roots owed much to concurrent engineering in product development, and EVO (Gilb) in software development.

messy iterations behind waterfallSo waterfall. Ish. (In these complex cases.) But adapted, more organic, dynamic, yet still allowing for design of the system, some (sometimes more) upfront, more along the way. "Requirements" design (system-in-context design, including the capabilities and user experiences) and architectural design of the system internals (components/surfaces and interactions and mechanisms and suchness) are feedback intensive agile iterations, but "construction" in early cycles is in terms of the cheapest medium that will do to test out the design ideas, focusing on "architectural moments" of (market or technical) risk (and vulnerabilities and threats) and challenge (addressing/resolving forces that impinge on and arise from the system as we strive to create a system with qualities that fall within the design envelope of tolerances and desired outcomes). If the system or some significant capability is novel and critical, the design phase may be extended with more prototypes and proofs of concept to suss out approaches and reach a sufficient design confidence. So "design" (with an emphasis on requirements and architecture) is itself iterative, and feedback intensive. And construction is incremental, with design elaboration and construction. And "testing" happens all along the way (including during upfront design, though the meaning of testing shifts over the lifecycle), but there is also concerted system level testing before the release (I hope, if it is an airplane I'm going to fly in, anyway!!).

Fractal (multiple system(-of-system) scopes, and scopes within scopes), and intentional and emergent are embraced. As is agility and integrity (structural, design, organizational) and sustainability (in various senses including economic, technical, organizational, environmental, etc.).

Yeah. As an agile gal, I prefer that both agile and waterfall be called to an accounting when a large scale complex project fails. But let's not use criteria like "on budget" and "on time" unfairly against waterfall projects while we wiggle out of using them on agile projects, saying that estimates are always wrong. That's just treating agile as a favorite child that doesn't have to play by the rules you're holding everyone else to!

We use budget and schedule as a tool to help cope. We say manage.. Maybe we should call managers help-us-copers? No, that doesn't sound so good. Managers then. Who help us cope. With complexity in the human scale while architects help us cope with complexity in the technical scale -- and the human. One of the things they help us cope with is choice. They place constraints. Make us make choices. Good stuff, no? Bringing the inevitable to the table. Ok. So. We're fallible. And uncertainty is. So we choreograph what we can, and improvize, and falter, and reconvene and. Adjust. Cope. More better (wink), if we are intentional and reflective and proactive and responsive and...

I know. I know. It's a matter of expectations and trust. Losing it. The hard way, by breaking it. So. Manage expectations. Not manipulatively and disingenuously. Plan, because it helps to get the time and resource considerations on the table, as constraints that will help shape and prioritize. Uncover and better understand the criteria for choices and priorities and preferences. Become more clear that choices have to be made; make tough choices. And be forthright about the degrees of uncertainty and how they're being resolved. And be alert to and open about surprises. And replan. And such.

Co-creating, but manageably. Co-ordinating. Teams. Of teams. Conway's Law.... Makes me think.... I'd like to see mfeathers Symbiotic Design talk...

Because much as I know, (most importantly) I know I still have a lot to learn. We all do!!!

Because... this didn't just start happening:

"It's been 14 years since Kent Beck published 'Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change' (1999) and 12 years since Ken Schwaber published 'Agile Software Development with Scrum' (2001). I remember the era. The excitement of getting things done, challenging the status quo and building cross-functional teams that regularly delivered working software to people that actually cared. Those halcyon days of agile adoption seem a long time ago. Today we're faced with integrations between people and systems that present complexities that we've never seen before and are little equipped to deal with." -- Gus Power 

Those who were dealing with massively complex large scale systems 14 years ago, deal with even more complex systems today (if they survived...). Sure, systems as "simple" as a coffee machine get ever more complex, and draw on ever more disciplines... Oh look, coffee machines marching into internet-of-things ... Next? Bunging them into big data ... Yadda. Much of this future that threads through today, was there decades ago, just not evenly distributed (nods to William Gibson, you know, back then -- when? 1993, reportedly). We know lots of useful stuff to apply -- from 1993 even (witness Mr. Evo, Forefather of Agile, Tom Gilb). We're figuring out how to do so better.

Oh yeah (italics in quote below are mine):

'More than 42 years after that original 747 first flew, the chief engineer on the first jumbo jet in the world was sitting near the stage at the unveiling of the Intercontinental on Sunday. Joe Sutter is 89 years old now and is commonly referred to as the "Father of the 747."

Under a flood of red lights as the crowds of people were inspecting the new 747 up close, Sutter says he never would have predicted that more than 40 years later it would once again be Boeing's newest airplane. But he's happy that his predictions weren't as good as his engineering. Sutter believes making the right decisions in the beginning more than pays off in the long run.'

-- Jason Paur, Looking Inside Boeing’s New 747, 02.14.11

Evolution. Check. Early decisions made right? Check. All or nothing? Great galloping jabberwocks man. NO! No! Just no. ;-)

Early decisions made right? Check? Not so fast. But we can try. And we should. At least in so far as we reasonably can. Reasonably? Talent. Experience. Heuristics, methods (including experiments), tools. All we can throw at it (in an organic flexible variety sense, as far as that will take us), to do just enough, to figure out which decisions we need to make early, and make them right(er).

Messy world this. But oh my. What we have accomplished despite our foibles, follies, and fallibilities!

PS. I know Ron Jeffries' style is to colorfully call our bluffs to attention. I riffed off his tweet, not because I took or want to give offense, but just to playfully do the jazz thing, because that may be a useful metaphor... Seen big band jazz? A hybrid. Yeah.

Hm. Think Ron would count "colorfully calls our bluffs to attention" a compliment? Oh. I really don't want to draw attention to my Trace. With few exceptions. The exceptions? Architects. Really tolerant architects. Um. Make that really, really, really tolerant architects. ;-) And exceptionally smart. But with a sense of wonder and whimsy and fun. And generous. With very resilient positive expectations of me. Uh. Think we hit the limits on that already? Maybe.

Poetry. And words. Ever so many words. Yeah. That'll do it.


Ohhh. You wanted the link to that McKinsey Report on problems with Healthcare.gov? While that has your attention, you might also want to take a look at Gene Hughson's blog post -- "While there’s plenty of evidence of really poor code across the various parts, the integration of those parts is where the project fell down."


7/19/13: Here's a great read:

Of course, under the covers, there tend to be influence networks and power structures even if they aren't called out in a formal hierarchy. I need to dig up the story about Valve... That said, the spectrum of hybridized forms will likely grow, as forms diversify still further, as we figure out different balances between more formal structures and more dynamic, organic forming and reforming "podular" structures. Etc,

And this is interesting, given that the architect of HP's ORBlite back in the day said it took 7 tries to get the architecture right (and that team of 3 was among the sharpest I've encountered):

"They’re cheating themselves. First drafts are for learning what your novel or story is about. Revision is working with that knowledge to enlarge and enhance an idea, to re-form it. D. H. Lawrence, for instance, did seven or eight drafts of The Rainbow. The first draft of a book is the most uncertain—where you need guts, the ability to accept the imperfect until it is better. Revision is one of the true pleasures of writing. “The men and things of today are wont to lie fairer and truer in tomorrow’s memory,” Thoreau said." -- Bernard Malamud

11/21/13: This is a good read:

The old archetypes hurt us, especially if we bung people into stereotypes that are unfair to them, and confining to us and our organizations. A lot of the anti-management energy around today is itself toxic, and wouldn't let a good manager thrive doing what a good manager does, namely enable ...and constrain in the sense that resources are not infinite and choices do have to be made and we do need to strive and be disciplined where we need to be disciplined because much depends on it.

This, of course, is very much in line with how we think of architects (and more broad scopes):

There are humans who thrive in the Lead of Leads role. They have this stunning ability to gather and maintain a tremendous amount of state about a great many people and projects in their heads and they do this seemingly effortlessly. There are engineers who blossom as they step into a Lead position. Yes, we lost a full time coder, but he’s suddenly doing what he did as a coder with seven engineers. He’s a force multiplier as a Lead. It’s his goddamned mission in life.

-- Michael Lopp, Tear It Down, 11/21/13

11/22/13: We need to allow that "agile" projects cover a spectrum and "waterfall" projects cover a spectrum. That is, not all agile projects do no requirements and architecture upfront. And not all "waterfall" projects" plan everything in detail upfront; built that; test after it is all built." Our stereotyped (mis)conceptions are just baggage we carry around -- too bad when we use our baggage to beat others up, rather than trying to understand more. Many projects (using that as a convenience to mean teams, possibly of teams) do rather sensible things behind the terms "agile" and "waterfall." Ignore NDUF and YAGNI where they need to, understand that judgment factors, and factors and refactors. ;-)

The R in aRchitect? It stands to reason. Judgment factors, and factors and refactors.

The ARC in ARChitect? Connecting the dots, working across (divides, time), balancing and resolving tension.

A little bit of humor helps the opinions go down, the opinions go down. ;-)

11/22/13: Thanks to Charlie Alfred for (indirectly) pressing me to explain more clearly how we approach this in Visual Architecting.

11/23/13: Had some thought-provoking email chats with Gene Hughson and Charlie Alfred related to this. They're awesome. Just saying.

For 5 years or so, Charlie has served as a much valued mentor and instigator and challenger to my thinking. I hope you follow him on twitter and read his blog. Gene's too! And while I'm tallking awesome -- have you stopped by Peter Bakker's tumblr? Peter is such a wonderful scout/explorer/investigator and his present questing is around visual expression and storyboards.

11/24/13: This post, and the Dilbert it links to, succinctly make a point I was nudging at:

See also:

12/2/13: It is interesting to consider how the changing relationship substrate (technology that supports communication, for example, but also cultural changes like increasing education level and expectations around social equity) is creating different mechanisms for co-ordination and collaboration. So we have more distributed teams, in part because this enables us to leverage geographically distributed expertise (at potentially lower cost) and in part because we can. We have more interactive, evolutionary design and development processes because we can support them with richer tools (for continuous deployment, various levels of testing, source control, on and on). We can simulate designs, we can 3D print and test prototypes more cheaply, and so on. All these changes affect the process, but there is still the matter of design that delights and has to be, well, designed -- inventively, imaginatively, empathetically, ... with design experiments that range from thought experiments to putting products to the market test that is the ultimate determinant.

See also (on collaboration):


Button upMeta-Hipster

Stickers are the new bacon? I need archman stickers!

No really. And buttons. Next workshop, there'll be "Archman as The Thinker" buttons. Sorry @tenderlove. This cats gotta have buttons too.



Hey Hey

Have you stopped by Peter Bakker's Tumblr? Very nice!



Things of Interest

It occurred to me that mfeathers special power (genius, really) is creating a "thing of interest" in just a matter of words -- two (if you allow neologism) even:

The man is genius at creating "things of interest" in just a few words. Two, even.

Oh. And. Don't you just love Janus words?

Thing of interest? You know, invites and yields much to contemplative encounter, like other art. [Yes, that's a wink. Another wink? Sure. I characterized art and the wink is a playful way to give notice that I -- what audacity! -- did that, but don't take it too seriously.]

To give you an idea, here's mfeathers on ideas:

  • "I make it a point not to hold ideas responsible for the people who express them", 7/28/13
  • "Someday, we will see ideas as the drugs they are. They change us and our perception. They have half-lives and side effects." 3/27/13
  • "You appear to have very definite ideas about things." #buddhistinsults 4/10/12
  • "Always talk to unlikeable people. Often they have good ideas, and if they have good ideas, no one else knows." 6/5/08
  • "Life is way better than our ideas about it." 3/6/14

He's even good when quoting:

  • “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If they’re any good, you’ll have to ram them down their throats!” - Howard Aiken

Oscar Wilde would have been great at tweeting -- these, from Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young (1894):

  • "Nothing that actually occurs is of the smallest importance."
  • "Only the shallow know themselves."
  • "Any preoccupation with ideas of what is right and wrong in conduct shows an arrested intellectual development."
  • "If one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out."

Aw. Do I fangirl indelicately? Hey. It'd be cool to make David Troupes blush. ;-) Because. Noodles.

12/9/13: I was thinking about Picasso and Cubism and thinking that what Picasso was doing so innovatively in art, was showing up in other areas of human cognitive endeavor -- namely abstraction. And that abstraction is what we needed to push and push at, to forge ever more complex products of human creation. So art led and was led by abstraction in other areas, speeding along modernism not just in literature and art, but science and engineering. So I think it is mighty fine that Michael is pushing our thinking about software design, and making a new (derived but new) artform, rendering in the medium so tiny as a tweet, a sophisticately complex abstraction that -- like a dewdrop -- yields different insight depending on what angle we take as we consider it.


"If only there was a way to transfer knowledge from one person to another." mfeathers, 12/8/13

Isn't that exquisite? So many different reflections in that compact dew of insight. Michael has this way of taking the assumption-ground we stand on, and shaking it up, so we see how tenuous it is. We assume conversations, documents, books, school, ... even traces... pass knowledge. But how fragile that assumption is, as soon as we revisit it! How blinkered and blinded we are. How bandwidth constrained. How willfully we ignore and circumvent another's attempt to share their wisdom. Their hard wrung insights, distilled from the knowledge web of living and learning.

Each of these instances is remarkable. That Michael does this again and again, sets him apart.

And, in software, isn't abstraction, the ability to create abstractions that work and work for us, the frontier we keep pushing at? Languages that do more of the heavy lifting for us, because we work with more powerful abstractions.

Why did I seize on 'If you say "consistenly deterministic" you're missing something' to illustratively launch my reflection on what it is that mfeathers does, that strikes me so? Sure, it has that powerful Janus construction -- there is what we mean by deterministic, and there's what "spooky action at a distance" kinds of effects and unintended consequences and knock on effects and so forth gives rise to, that can result in surprises in (the execution of) a deterministic algorithm. But the phrase is also autological or homological or something like that, in that it illustrates itself. The very qualification of deterministic signifies that deterministic is iffy enough to need qualification? And so forth. I'm not trying to be complete (to drag every nugget of understanding and perspective out of the tweet) here, but only to give a sense of the power of what Michael does.

12/28/13: Art provides us with an encounter that prompts and stimulates us to discover, to explore, to interpret. In it, we find more ourselves, our view on life and our interpretive reality. What we incline and even fall to, what we desire and even yearn for. Art tempts and tantalizes us to play in our mind's eye, to find a greater truth about ourselves or life's mysteries. Before we even necessarily know that we have been reaching for and trying to see, an insight (or arena of insights) is nudged or even jolted into clear form in our conception. What Michael does, when he's in his zone of excellence, is craft such tuning forks for our understanding -- and he does so in our field! In our field! It is a wonderful way of inviting inspired insights without spoon-feeding nibbles of knowledge.




Willing Suspension

Remind me to write this trace. It's important ;-)


Self-Righteous Rage and Moral Outrage

mfeathers doesn't read here. Most people don't. Very, very, very few could stand to. He is very definitely not one. (The topics I explore and my style appeal to only the most piqued taste ;-). So I fangirl without fear for his ego or his outrage at my misuse. ;-)

It's outrageous!

Dana is -- yay! -- back from Texas and we watched Adore last night. It is a wonderful movie (based on a Doris Lessing short story) that works so much through negative space, through what is hinted at in telling moments -- moments that indirectly convey what led up to the moment, all the huge wellings of passion, of moral tensions at the fraught intersections of social mores, individual integrity and morals, and individuals caught up in the human dramas of love and its entanglements that they try to resist, and so on. By putting so much into negative space, we are asked to contrive empathetically to understand more, to broaden our compass to accommodate more the humanity of others.

Stealing from an email I wrote a while ago:

.... it might be a stretch, but... do we idolize our self-righteousness more than any other false god. Hey,  I’m a rationalizer. Call me human. Match that Watson. ;-)

11/30/13: Caught in the return swing of the public shaming pendulum:

"Tweeting the conversations of complete strangers has become a tool by which to shame people and regulate their behavior when we disagree with them. Elan’s actions were amusing, but his goal was to teach Diane a lesson via public shaming." -- Nisha Chittal, Please stop live tweeting people’s private conversations: Public shaming has gone too far.

We have to have this conversation, and many others that are about probing, exploring, navigating our way to becoming kinder to others. The whole gender thing, for example. We need to be able to say "this is how these things feel to me" and have it simply be about becoming more aware, so that when we are our best selves, with our resources (meaning empathy not hurting rage, etc.) at our disposal, we can take others feelings and perceptions more into account. Instead, we have these self-righteous flocking shaming things, and it makes people fearful and reticent about sharing anything.

Trial by the masses. Punishment: loss of dignity, family trauma, loss of job and livelihood, on and on.

Digital mobs see only slivers of context and responsibility is thinned out across the crowd... I think we need to go back to classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and write new ones to explore the digital amplification of such tricksy plights and plagues of humanity... Of course, that mfeathers tweet is art indeed -- in less than 140 characters putting to us a whole play's worth of food for social thought.

Betrayal of public trust has serious consequences to society, and we need to have mechanisms that provide checks and balances on the abuse of power. But betrayal of private trust by providing grist for the rumor and shame mill..?? Social platforms provide unprecedented access to people's conversations as it is, without putting private conversations on display. Sure, we can use public shaming to coerce people to "behave" themselves -- behave? According to whose model of "right" and "wrong." We have great tolerance for our own (self-)righteous rage, our own mistakes, our own cognitive baises and the oopses they get us into. The "right" line shifts, depending on which side we stand.

Ride a bike, to better understand not just the concerns of, but the road view and dangers faced by a cyclist. It makes sense to hug the curb, so to speak -- until the road is jagged and pitted out to the sides. You have to be on a bike to see quite how bad country roads are, and how much it is like that, because cars are less vulnerable, go faster so the driver sees less detail especially out to the side -- for the cyclist it can be life threatening to hit a hole that a bicycle wheel will sink in and throw the cyclist. We have to become better at understanding we just don't generally see what other people are seeing, even if we think we are empathetic, and try to be.

What? I shouldn't "quote" tweets and directed tweet-versations in my Trace? Hm. I'm going to have to think more carefully about that. My orientation is to respectful and playful (extended) conversation... If anyone ever objects to what I paste up in my Trace, please let me know... by DM or email. :-)

[People are great in many different ways, and I try to share what I see. Grady Booch explores these issues at the intersection of technology and the human experience in a very Grady sort of way, that combines a gentle tenor with deep wrestling with challenging issues and speaking truth to powers. As he rolls out talks in the Computing the Human Experience series, I get all the more excited about what he'll do, bringing these topics and insights to a wider audience.]

12/9/13: I playfully suggested that Postel's Law ought to be applied to human interactions: be liberal in what we accept from others, conservative in what we send/do/expect/accept from ourselves -- at least, a play nice principle variant of Postel's Law...



The Social Life of Architecture

Architecture lives in people (too)


The Social Life of Meaning

it starts

don't be mean to meaning ;-)


Thought children? Indeed


Please remind me who I should be listing there! There's Marshall McLuhan and "the medium is the message" and work along those lines. So? Tell me. If you please.

And, while not directly on topic, this has a bearing (in that the understandings of others influence ours):




Nice post by Philippe Kruchten:

Filled with insight and good points, exploring how/where social friction inhibits.

There's technical and organizational inertia that thwarts responsive adaptation to changing contexts.

To move something against friction, can take a lot of energy.

I was reminded of:

"Low trust creates friction... Low trust creates hidden agendas, politics, interpersonal conflict, interdepartmental rivalries, win-lose thinking, defensive and protective communication... Low trust slows everything--every decision, every communication, and every relationship." -- Stephen R. Covey, Foreword to The Speed Of Trust

Interesting to wonder the counter -- when/where is it that too much (or too little) of something is what causes the sticking points, but not enough provides no traction? [The question was triggered by Sara's Zero Gravity song... "There's nothing to hold me back//But there's no friction//So I'm just going nowhere at all"...]

In the trust case, high cohesion and trust within a team can mean outsiders are more out, and trust across team boundaries is thinned by the very thickness of the trust and cohesion/alignment within the team. I'm not saying this is always the case, but communication (the rails that trust tends to run on) is attentionally limited, so high organic communication within the team can lower communication bandwidth to others. And no, we can't command trust, or demand it because it is "clearly good for us"... I'm not saying unachievable. Just that piling something (like a quality or attribute we want) up in one place, can mean less of it in another place. Yes, yes. We strive for more "and" solutions. I read The Opposable MInd too. ;-) [jk]

Anyway, very useful way to think about it, and provocative insights, in that post.

11/30/13: It's all connected:



Forces and tension are useful analogies.

Speaking of which, thanks to Charlie and Gene for making tweet-versation on analogies today. :-)

I get frustrated when people frump at an analogy for not being perfectly like the thing of interest they are using the analogy to lend insight and ideas to, and explore or communicate. Analogies are not the thing, so why expect a perfect match? The limits of the analogy are also opportunities for discovery -- and instead of being uptight when the analogy falls short, might we not be excited? That is the point where innovations from combining insights, making connections, blending analogies into hybrids, transferring insights from another analogy or direct experience, etc., are invited.

"The most productive thing about trying to define a poem through comparison—to an animal, a machine, or whatever else—is not in the comparison itself but in the arguing over it." -- Mark Yakich

The argument -- or exploration of limits and hybrids -- is valuable. Dumping the analogy in consternation without appreciating what useful insight it lends (assuming it does), and where it challenges us to find another object of interest to further push our understanding, seems to press overly rigid expectations onto analogies.

I was also delighted that the long arm of coincidence served this up, right on the tail of the analogy conversation:

And no, Ian doesn't follow me, so that was a lovely serving of Serendipity -- and me drawing a parallel to drawing parallels... ;-)

Life has such a delicious sense of humor. (Among other things. Like pathos.)

This use of analogy so works for me:

oh oh oh, love this!

Way to make a point about who hackathons really serve... :-)



Escher's Eye

I find Escher speaks so well to architecture, I'd love to use Escher images all kinds of places. But alas. Still, the "Robo-Escher" by "afac86" is perhaps even better in this case, for it references Escher and projects it into the complex of excitement and concerns du jour around the future we're inventing today. Anyway, I saw this quote on Peter Bakker's tmblr, so it jumped out at me going through this slideset today:

Do it!

Image source:  Robo-Escher , by ~afac86,

I know, slide design nazis would impound me for the logo and suchness on the slide, but I think "architects architecting architecture" all connected up 'n everything is just fine, thank you. ;-) [aka: Inertia rules. :-)]

(The trace is titled for Escher's eye -- meaning what he saw. Including Escher's Eye.)


Digitally Enhanced

This is a great snapshot of the pace of technology change:

"this year’s Global Electronics Forum in Shanghai featured 22,000 new products. They have to make decisions at a faster pace: roughly 60% of Apple’s revenues are generated by products that are less than four years old" -- It’s complicated

It's Complicated is also the title of Danah Boyd's book, due out soon, on teens and tech.

Technology has the potential to amplify our humanity. Sure, there’s potential to alienate and make us superficial and lossy. But there’s also all we gain. I wonder sometimes, if teens are substituting texts in interaction for a reason – thoughts poured into words that hang for more than a moment in memory. The written word is more intimate and close to what goes on in our minds – the part we are most aware of, anyway. I see the pleasure of these teens at the wit and sparkle of their text chats, and I know they are honing a skill that is very fine and important. It is spontaneous dialog, yet it is more full of reference, of over and underlay, of light and dark. It seems like the medium is making these kids only the more unique and sparkly brilliant.

The other day, Bernie Michalik tweeted a link to:

In the ensuing conversationlet, Bernie said "We are here to live out loud" and that struck me with force (and I enjoyed his "Your life is epic" essaylet the more in that light).

If you check in on my ruffyanMe tweet stream ever, you might have noticed that indifference and the digital shallows is a theme I probe there, through little (perhaps) poems and (attempts at) epigram-ish thingnesses. I use Twitter as a "wall" of sorts, to throw ideas at, and see what sticks:

face of today

So there are little happenings like this:


and my reference to ee cummings' poem (that reminds us that identity and love and being seen are themes independent of technology, but perhaps, as with anything else, amplified by technology):

anyone lived in a pretty how town

It is a rather delicious irony, don't you think, that I explore loneliness and the thinning of social responsiveness on a social platform with a voice that is almost entirely ignored? ;-) [That ruffyanMe creature for the most part is followed by artists whose art she hangs in her "favorites gallery" serving as point of inspiration and wonder. In other words, she is not followed by people who are interested in her, but by people who she has shown an interest in.]

Oh, I know, I know. There is so much muchness. Vying for attention.

"What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it". -- Herbert Simon

Who has the time... to be interested:

Digital wash

Though... it does spike defiance, and instigates us to flame the brighter:


So, of course the digital wash of social responsibility is not unlike the IRL version:

too mcuh, toomuch

Is abundance -- the crowded digital hallways of all these people all putting out their unique sparkle-bright contribution -- creating a poverty of attention of the kind that makes humans feel wanted, seen, appreciated?

Anyway, I read this interview today, and need to read the book:

"It’s called The Group, and it’s about eight Vassar girls. It starts with the inauguration of Roosevelt, and—well, at first it was going to carry them up to the present time, but then I decided to stop at the inauguration of Eisenhower. It was conceived as a kind of mock-chronicle novel. It’s a novel about the idea of progress, really. The idea of progress seen in the female sphere, the feminine sphere. You know, home economics, architecture, domestic technology, contraception, childbearing; the study of technology in the home, in the playpen, in the bed. It’s supposed to be the history of the loss of faith in progress, in the idea of progress, during that twenty-year period." -- Mary McCarthy

The play mentioned here also looks very provocative:

Will technology come to serve that need to be met, listened to, interacted with, affirmed?

Well. The thesis I'm toying with is that technology amplifies -- deepens what is deep and good and vibrant and quality-of-life enhancing, and dilutes and shallows what is fickle and shallow. We can have rich relationships on technology substrate, but we have to work at it, value it, invest in those relationships -- care! Technology can amplify us, make us more informed, capable, interesting, insightful, more rewarding to interact with. But richer relationships don't just come free because technology enables connections even with others who share our interests. They still take mutual investment.

PS. If you want to do something that helps IRL, please look at what enterprise architect Sarina Viljoen is doing and consider supporting her in helping abandoned babies.

whatevr ;-)

PPS. My ruffyanMe creature is part fiction, part autobiographical, part now, part bits and pieces from traces and notebooks scattered over time, so no-one should read too much into my exploration of this indifference theme. It's not meant to be personal -- at least, it's not meant to suggest I feel fractured and pathetic. Or anything. I'm a very happy, joyful person who is able to explore tough material, in good part because I have you, my so dear friends and family.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gratitude and respect!

11/29/13: This, via Stuart Boardman, explores the same territory in an even-handed way:



<cough cough> "Poems": A mild defense ;-)

"There is at least one kind of utility that a poem can embody: ambiguity. Ambiguity is not what school or society wants to instill. You don’t want an ambiguous answer as to which side of the road you should drive on, or whether or not pilots should put down the flaps before take-off. That said, day-to-day living—unlike sentence-to-sentence reading—is filled with ambiguity: Does she love me enough to marry?" -- What Is a Poem?

I know, I often write "poems" that might impugn their own credibility for I strive for accessability -- at least, I don't strive for obscurity. ;-) But I do strive for a very cyrstalline distilled gem that yields a little glow of pleasure at words that light flurries of insight about something significant, something worth striving to have insights around. Like the paradox of loneliness in a web of social connections. Like navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of a world of need, and the rends that result. We have to throw something of ourselves into a poem, to fire insights that we need another element to spark for us. The poem may be accessable, but (in the case of mine, anyway) should hopefully not be superficial or trivial -- though it may use the device of trvial to highlight something more deep. Recursion, over and underlays of meaning, humor, all these and more should be fair game. No? ;-)



Happy Thanksgiving

I am ever so thankful that Dana is Thanksgiving feast chef. And it tickles me so -- he's graphing the turkey temperature as it cooks, so he can see how it's doing. He's so cool!

And I am thankful for friends who are kind about my work. We use our "social capital" when we mention another's work, and so many people in our field are very chary with their social capital; much comes their way, but they give very little. Meritocracy. We know. We know. Riiight. But it serves to highlight the awesome that is the alternative, where people treat each other with respect and high expectations, knowing that each of us has something special, something unique and wonderful, to contribute.

Several people are extraordinarily good to me, foremost Peter Bakker and Stuart Boardman -- generously giving their time into conversation, sharing interesting pointers and, important because I get so little, their enthusiasm and positive words mean untellably much to me. Gene Hughson and Charlie Alfred are also very generous with their time and input, and collegial conversation that stimulates, informs and stretches my thinking. Richard West has been an inspiration too, for he is a weaver of networks, putting people in touch over twitter. Others are nice behind the scenes, and I am very grateful for their kindness too. The people who are willing to playfully push ideas around with us, are so important emotionally, as well as for the content and stimulation of ideas and sharing of experiences.


 11/29/13Too many words and too much "poetry"... I think I'm going to put myself on time out.

Too Much, Or Not Enough?

Nearly the end of November... Too many words!!!

It is courageous to place one's work at the mercy of judgment. When the work is ...um... different...

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. -- 4/29/13

I suppose, if one is to write outside the lines, one ought not expect too much encouragement...

Still. "Silence sure has a way with words."

I'm so self-critical, when I offer a tentative vulnerable piece of myself, silence speaks of negative judgment not uttered, or indifference that cannot raise itself to kindness. Neither the kindness of finding the perspective from which a work shines. Nor the kindness of being the one person to get around to expressing a kindred sensibility to the tentative vulnerable spirit that ventured to be so exposed.

This month a couple of people were nice about the poetic voice that seeps -- uh, floods -- into my Trace. I owe a moment of bliss to them. :-) Of course, my inner critics don't let that go on very long. Poetry isn't something one can be comfortable about, even on border(line) territory of the architecture field. ;-) Though obviously I think that social fracture is an important issue for the enterprise, especially as we reshape organizations, and our expectations of them, on the digital substrate for connectedness -- or disconnectedness.

For a sense of how important, here are two quite different takes that will hopefully reinforce the salience of my explorations:

  • Design Away (draft)
  • How Software Companies Die, Orson Scott Card [I'm not so sure who wrote it, really -- it is on the joke page at CS.CMU. But... that says a lot about where we are at, too.]

A tsunami of cynicism seems to be washing through our times, and we need to look in hard places that take courage to investigate, see the positive, do positive things, and create a more meaningful world.

So, anyway, I'm at that neat sort of juncture where I am ever so grateful for the kindnesses that come my way, but my ego is in no danger of being coddled by kindness and (doubtless unwarranted) enthusiasm for what I do and how. :-)



Tech Debt

Technical debt is not feeding [technical] design learning back into system as design improvements. I read this from a trace in May, and thought it worth pulling out:

The problem with [too much] technical debt is entanglement and rigidity, inflexibility, being tied to outdated or misinformed assumptions, brittleness and fragility. That is, technical debt thwarts the very goal it was incurred to address -- [market [responsiveness and] market learning. The system becomes canalized into an early vector of assumptions, and the matter of changing that vector becomes increasingly intractable.

The tar baby image that I leveraged in Fractal and Emergent comes again to mind. Oh, we're inventive and we try to adapt, to come up with contrivances to make it work out. Tending to yield more entropy. And decreasing responsiveness.


Technology and Evolution

This paper, by way of Peter Bakker, presents an interesting perspective:


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I also write at:


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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

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Copyright 2013 by Ruth Malan
Page Created:July 1, 2013
Last Modified: March 5, 2020