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Ephemeral Programming

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Joined: 17 Mar 2006
Posts: 712
Location: Oregon

PostPosted: Fri Feb 12, 2010 7:03 pm    Post subject: Ephemeral Programming Reply with quote

When I started out in the software business, I had a different conception
of what a program was than I do now.

Certainly, it was a kind "useful object", then, and that hasn't changed
for me. But I think I also saw programs as having a long life past the
time that I was involved with them. A program was like a book, or a
power tool, or maybe a poem, one that would keep its value and
liveliness for many years.

Now, though, I think many programmers share the same experience
that I have. Platforms change, software packages change, businesses
change, and the people you wrote that program for, no longer use it, or
maybe even the business is gone, or merged.

It turns out that, in most instances, programs are more like flyers than
books. More like a witty turn of phrase than like a poem. Less like
a garden, and more like today's lunch.

A current project I just finished illustrates the idea even more clearly.
I just compiled over 1600 photographs with 250 different auctions
on eBay. Each auction was for a unique collection of objects that
had some aspect in common.

Since I had so many, I semi-automated the process, as I've done in
the past. On a practical level, this means filling in cells of a spreadsheet,
and using Excel functions to calculate shipping rates, picture locations,
title variations, and so on. Of course, this kind of labor is about as
ephemeral as possible. Auctions last a week, and with any luck, the
information I assembled, manipulated and programmed will have no
utility whatsoever after that. The unique object will be gone, off to a
buyer, and I will have no cause to re-use the information I assembled
about it.

To highlight how ephemeral this all is, today, I translated the information
about these auctions so that I could use Google Adwords to advertise
them. When the auction is over, the advertisement will be ceased,
never again to be seen.

Incidentally, every time I do this, typically 1-3 times a year, I try
to increase the level of automation, but I continually run into a
particular problem. The tools I relied upon to solve problems
(image hosting, uploading and downloading spreadsheets to different
applications) have changed and become incompatible with how I
did it last time. Every time, I am forced to invent new Excel formulas,
create new naming conventions, tap into different tools and translations.

I am programming for something that happens once, and in a week,
it will be as useful as last week's newspaper.

I find it all very strange and disconcerting.
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Joined: 20 Mar 2006
Posts: 1273
Location: Kent (East Hill), WA

PostPosted: Fri Feb 19, 2010 2:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've gone through the same line of thought. Thinking at first of building software like an edifice, designed to be used and having long life.

Now I see myself as a Rock Musician. I come to work. Pick up my axe (workstation or netbook), do some riffs, put it out there.

Tomorrow is another gig...another bar room...another web service...another EJB3.
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