13 Sep 2000 thull   » (Journeyer)

Working on resume. Last one I wrote (approx. 3 years ago) was something like 10 pages long, mostly because I felt some need to explain the context in which I did all of those strange things. I figured that the more people could read and know, the fewer dumb questions I'd have to fend, the fewer pointless interviews, etc. Of course, no more than 3-5 people actually read the thing, but they were entertained, and I did get a job (albeit not the one I was looking for). So this time the plan is to hypertext it: short summary with links to juicy details. Maybe I'll get it out today; or maybe I'll get my new basketball goal set up.

I was reading Andrew Leonard's Salon piece on how IBM wised up to open source, and saw a link to an old essay by Richard Gabriel, called "The Rise of Worse-Is-Better". Gabriel talks about two approaches:

  • The MIT Approach, characterized by the phrase "the right thing", which aspires to be correct, consistent, and complete.
  • The NJ Approach, which favors simplicity over consistency and completeness. (A better name for this might be "Simple uber Alles", or even KISS.)
The core argument is that simple systems are more accessible, more adaptable, have better survival characteristics, and therefore proliferate widely, whereas "right thing" systems are harder to build and maintain, are more expensive, etc. This much is pretty straightforward, and plenty of examples pop to mind. However, the interesting point is the assertion that people willingly adapt to the simpler systems rather than waiting for the "right thing" systems to adapt to them.

We see evidence of this all the time, but it's hard to shake the conviction that "better" must really be better. I used to work in the typesetting industry, and one of the things I worked on there was trying to automate the aesthetic rules of fine advertising typography -- kerning, hung punctuation, river avoidance, staggered rags, etc. -- but in the long run such concerns turned out to be irrelevant. It turned out that desktop publishers were so happy just to get their pages instantly, saving them trekking to the type shop and paying out a small fortune, that they were willing to forego a lot of finery.

But the arguments persist, ad infinitum, and they're hard to settle -- partly because nobody really argues for worse, the winners of "worse-is-better" just do it.

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