10 December 2008

Facilitating the Conversation

I was prompted by something Andrew Shafer of Reductive Labs said (on the FooCampers list, so I won't reproduce it here, since it was forwarded to me) about the quality of communication among software developers. He was talking about how communicating the overall design and intentions of the project is vital, so the developers are not left guessing about how the application will be used and what its architects think it should do. What is important is the existence of a conversation between the leaders of a project and the developers writing the code. This hits very close to home, because our farmfoody.org project is essentially there to improve the flow of information between producers and consumers of food, to enable a conversation.

It occurred to me the solution is to throw away the flash cards and bulleted design specifications and just facilitate the conversation. Why not use social networking tools for developers to communicate? (You can get a sense of another approach from his post Working Together… with Techology). This sounds like an amazing experience using software much like the "multiplayer" networked text editors (SubEthaEdit) that have cropped up in recent years that let a group of connected people edit a text document .

An equivalent of Twitter for programmers would be interesting. A social activity and message feed to keep everyone in the loop. Why not post messages about activity into a feed. This already happens with users signed up to version control services (like Assembla or Sourceforge), but through email. It needs to be through a unified social feed or "wall" some call them, where notifications about code commits, coding activities, etc. can be distributed to a group of "friends" or "followers" of the thread of development. Instead of each project posting a feed, each developer would post a feed. Or perhaps both, with users being able to "follow" a project and also keep up with "friend" developers, which could cut across projects. The latter would be useful because it would help developers keep an eye on allied projects or perhaps a mainstream of code their project fits into, merely by adding that project or an individual developer from the project to their friends (or perhaps they would be "fans" of the project to keep personal friends separate...the terminology doesn't matter).

It should be very possible to build a social "stack" on top of existing "pastebin" applications to achieve this.

09 December 2008

Use of Detail in Novel, Haiku and Photograph

I was thinking about the difference between novel writing and haiku poetry. In a novel, detail is included, in a haiku, detail is omitted, except for those exquisite details that distill from the experience to represent it.

The advice to writers is to write what you know. A novel or haiku starts with a preexisting experience, something from the life of the writer or from an intense experience ("haiku moment," which is distinct from just having an idea or taking one from memory), which is like a photograph. The haiku may be more photographic than the novel, since the novel requires the author generate much more of the picture. In haiku, the reader supplies half of the picture. This is like painting compared to photography, where each begins with the scene, but the camera captures the scene and the painter generates the scene. Each process may be equivalent, since the photographer manipulates the scene through the camera in much the same way the painter manipulates the scene naturally through the process of constructing the image. One just requires more skill at capture time than the other, the camera instantaneous and automatic, the painter lengthy and detailed.

Setting out to write a novel, the author must collect experiences in the smallest detail for inclusion in the story. A novel would be painfully brief if it were not for rich detail filling the pages. The novelist must pay attention to how people speak, the language they use in conversation, the detail in the world around them, like a reporter, recording detail for use in the novel. It is said Steinbeck used reports from a government official detailing the conditions of people living in camps as source material for his novel.

The haiku writer needs to cut down the details, from the uncounted numbers filling the poet's surroundings, to just those expressing the experience. Many details are left for the reader to fill in, which can make haiku from another time or place opaque.

In photography, interestingly, detail is an artistic problem. The camera records the scene with an unblinking eye, including things running counter to our photographic idea. It records with greater detail than the eye, in some sense "possessing" the subjects. Detail that comments on or is contrary to the subject or intention of the photographer is called "subversive detail" and is sometimes the bane of photographers or may be beneficial. Think of taking a picture of a magnificent cathedral with a line of garbage trucks on the street in front. This is a classic example. The lowly trucks create a cognitive dissonance with the soaring cathedral. Whether they should be included or not, is a question. Should the photograph remind us of the connection between the gritty realities of life or should it lift our emotions up to the heavens? Both are possible intentions. Street photographers frequently use subversive detail to enhance their photographs, the classic example being persons on the street appearing to interact with or be watched by persons on posters or advertisements (as well as the irony of the subject of one photograph interacting with the subject of another). Subversive detail gives rich layers to photographs and can be exploited to make comments on the subject.

It is fascinating how questions of detail emerge in three art forms, prose, poetry and photography.

06 December 2008


I am trying out MuseScore (http://musescore.org), an open source, free software for music composition and notation printing. It is the most robust and full featured of the open source music editors. It has a few bugs and some way to go before its features threaten the commercial competition, but it looks promising.

I like the way it displays the score as a big page you can move around by dragging. I am still using an older version of Cakewalk, and it drives me crazy scrolling horizontally to read a song lyric. With MuseScore I can read music as if it were printed on a sheet of paper without scrolling. In Cakewalk, I get lost scrolling through the score, but in MuseScore I can immediately see where I am.

Using Cakewalk's linear display it is difficult to compare measure to measure in a song. If I want to compare the melody in the fourth measure of the second verse to the melody in the fourth measure of the first verse, I must furiously scroll back and forth. Or print the score out for easy comparison.

03 December 2008

Connecting Farms to Eaters

I've discovered local food and connecting producers to consumers came up at the WhereCamp earlier this year. I thought with the growing interest in theorizing about local food and connecting eaters to the people who grow their food, I'd gather up some links here.

You can download a PDF filled with some of my early theorizing (I'm revising my "manifesto" but have not finished, for release at next year's season). It is available as a PDF Farm Foody: A Social Network Connecting Independent Farms to People presenting my rationale for how the social network benefits the family farm and society. My vision of "leveraging the network" as a way of helping small farms compete in a big agriculture economy falls not far from the idea of "How do we create an incentive system stronger than the federal incentive system?" asked by the WhereCampers. You can read about their ideas in a wiki summarizing the discussion.

Food Talk at Wherecamp 2008

When we started brainstorming and developing farmfoody.org two years ago, we understood it had to be easy for farmers to use, not take up a lot of their time, and had to offer utility. I am currently in the middle of a development cycle ready to release what I call a "social feed" and other sites refer variously to as a "wall" (Tom likes to think of it as a "barn wall") enabling and encouraging members of our social network to interact with each other in small, ad hoc social groups.

There are some other sites out there beginning to combine mapping, farms and food. We wish them good luck in their endeavor.