DigitalFriend Blog

February 2013

What did 'wood' have to do with 'The Soul of a New Machine'?

Sun, 24 Feb 2013 18:34:12 +1000

By: gosh'at' (Steve Goschnick)

I recall reading Tracy Kidder's 'The Soul of a New Machine' some long time ago (a book famous in geek circles in 1981/82, and a Pulitzer Prize winner for Kidder's trouble), which left some significant impression on me regarding project managing innovative products. Tom West and his team were racing to build one of the first minicomputers that helped usher in the post-mainframe era - the Eclipse (a name that keeps on popping up in ICT) - in a skunkworks so formed to possibly "save the company" that was Data General Corp. At the time I was impressed that West was an avid wood-worker at home - with an expansive set of tools and an ordered functional workspace in his domestic retreat - having always been fond of woodworking myself.

It only occurred to me a handful of years ago that every time I was writing a significant piece of software, I also happened to be working on a piece of furniture in wood, simultaneously.

On comtemplation - it is a respite from cutting code; it is also a self-confidence building trick when things are going tough in the code. A bit of "smooth'n'square" on the wood is exactly what is needed to calm the storm and focus the minds-eye. And vice-versa, the glue-drying time on the woodwork happily accommodates plenty of code-cutting, so there's no rushing the glued components. Just, steady-as-she-goes. Its a synergy - (and thanks Bucky for the word).

As it happens, while I was writing the latest (rehashed) version of OctaDial - this time for the Android OS with its various foibles to accommodate mobile computing and the flotilla of devices running upon it - I was building a four-compartment shelf, around a timber-frame salvaged from the innards of an old lounge chair - very appropriate in several ways, as it turns out. The first sanding of the finished artefact appears in the image below. It should come up well with the finishing touches done and some polished varnish.

Fig.1 - Four-compartment shelf salvaged from an old lounge chair.



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