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I am an Iterator

Saturday,  03/15/03  02:13 PM

I am an iterator.  When I make something, I don't just make it and go on.  I make it, then I remake it, then I remake it again, and iteratively improve it until I'm happy.  Later I might come back to it and iterate again.  I annoy myself sometimes, I am so unwilling or unable to leave something as it is...

This is a great mode for a software engineer.  As long as I can remember, it has been possible to update software.  It used to be hard - snail mailing diskettes and tapes into the field - but it was always possible.  Now it is easy - virtually all desktop software has some mechanism for auto-updating.  And working on websites is easiest of all.  When I'm working on a website, I am constantly tweaking and diddling.

An iterator is kind of like a perfectionist, but not exactly.  The perfectionist wants everything to be "perfect" on the first pass.  The iterator knows the first pass will not be perfect, or the next, or the next, but feels secure knowing that perfection is getting closer, and that it may be reached on the nth pass, off in the future.  An iterator is a pragmatic perfectionist.

Being an iterator is great for programming, not so great for writing a book.  When a book is published, it is what it is - there is no update mechanism.  Authors sometimes get a chance to publish a new edition of a successful book, but this is rare and editions are often years apart.  Some authors publish errata and notes on their websites - this is increasingly common - but it is far different from actually updating the book.

I've thought about this a lot lately, and I've decided this is why I started this blog, even though I wasn't aware of it at the time.  I wanted a way to write my book incrementally.  I can publish a chapter online and iterate.  Then I publish another chapter, and iterate on that.  I can go back to the first chapter and change it.  Everything is fungible.

Which brings me to the Unnatural Selection outline.  I have been iterating on it relentlessly, but I've been strangely reluctant to post it.  I guess I felt like it wasn't "done".  But of course it can never be done - it will probably be in flux until the day far into the future when the book itself is "done".  (And even then it may not be done!)  I have to post it "undone", and then iterate.  This is good practice for me, the whole book is going to be like this.

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