Monday, November 27, 2006

Europe, November 2006

I'm here in Barcelona, where I will stay for a few more days until the end of my trip. I've had a great time, but I can't wait to get back home. It feels like it's time to go back to regular life.

I started in Stockholm, then I went to Copenhagen, Paris, Lyon, Granada, Seville and Barcelona. I spent a few days in most of these cities, where I mostly did a lot of walking around and sight-seeing. I visited a few museums, but I didn't want to spend too much time in museums because I tend to enjoy more wandering around the streets of a new city, soaking in their sights, smells, and sounds.

Seeing a number of artistic creations that are generally regarded as masterpieces has led me to think about where great software stands in the realm of creative endeavors. As in most fields, some software is great and some isn't, but how come most people don't value great software in the same way that they value great music, paintings or architecture? This question can be discussed in great lengths, but I think the answer boils down to the following points: software can only be understood by programmers -- to non-programmers, all code looks like the same gibberish (much code looks like gibberish to coders as well :) ); software is always utilitarian -- practically all software is written as a means to an end, not an an end in itself; software stimulates the left brain exclusively -- it doesn't trigger a gut reaction like other art forms because its appreciation always requires analytical thinking; most people don't care about how an application or a software library is written -- they just want it to work.

So, maybe great software will never be regarded as art, but I think most people would agree that software development is a craft that requires skill and creativity. In addition, all programmers would agree that some code is beautiful and some isn't. I think the field that resembles software the most in the way we regard its creations isn't sculpture, painting, or music, but math. Like software, math is arcane, complex, logical, and most of it is boring, but many mathematical proofs are among the greatest achievements of our civilization.

Ok, enough philosophising -- let's get back to my travels :)

I went on this trip because I had a strong itch to see more of Europe. It's safe to say that this desire is now quite satisfied. By the last week or so of my trip, I had actually gotten pretty tired of traveling. Although the cities I've visited have plenty of unique charm, visiting a sequence of cities for a few days each ends up feeling repetitive. It would probably be more rewarding to stay in one place for a longer time period, where I would get a richer exposure to the local language and culture. But then again, 3.5 weeks probably isn't enough time for a profound cultural experience, anyway. I would have to stay in a foreign country for at least a few months in order to learn the local language and feel a stronger connection to the place and its people.

(It may even require a longer period to make proper Cultural Learnings of Europe for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of U, S and A : ) )

I actually think I've had my fix of city traveling for a while. Looking back at my trips, I have enjoyed nature vacations more than anything, and there are plenty of natural treasures nearby, including many of the US national parks, that I haven't yet visited. Next time, I will try to plan a nice nature adventure.

When I get back home, I will have to plan the next phase of my career. I have a number of ideas for cool Erlang apps, and also a few offers for different kinds of gigs, but I haven't picked a concrete direction yet. I will certainly keep working on ErlyWeb (there are a number of small improvements I will make as soon as I get home), but I think ErlyWeb is quite good as it is and I don't want it to make it bloated by adding too many features to it. (One aspect of ErlyWeb that could definitely use some work is support for additional database drivers in ErlyDB, but I will probably let other developers lead this effort because I don't have a strong need for other drivers right now.) I will also try to build at least one of the apps I have thought up and see how far I can take it. If all goes well, it will become the next YouTube. If not, I hope it will at least merit a line or two on my resume :)

Boston, get ready to make room for one more person :)


Dennis said...

If you haven't read it, you'd probably like the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Persig, which isn't really about zen, but talks a lot about technology as art...he says the early greeks didn't see these as two separate fields at all. Reading it made me a better programmer.

Yariv said...

Funny you mentioned it, because I actually did read it, but it was a very long time ago (when I was a teenager), so I don't remember it very well. Maybe I should read it again, but first I have to finish Lord of the Rings, which I started reading in Barcelona of all places :) I'm already half way through the first book, and it's a great read so far.

Dennis said...

Yep, LotR trumps it for sure :) ...yeah I first read ZAMM about twenty years ago, re-read it a few months ago...reading it after working in technology for eight years gave me a whole different perspective on it.

Don't let it get in the way of your cool Erlang projects though :)