Yesterday I made a passing reference to coder jargon when I said that “the bug is beginning to feel like a feature”. (See “Yesteryear or Yesterday?“) I’m not a coder. Never was. Never will be. But I like the way coders think (and sometimes the way they talk.) You may be familiar with the acronym INABIAF or the phrase, “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature“. Its use long ago jumped the software programming border, and today you’ll hear it bandied about in all sorts of curious contexts. Yesterday’s post, for example…
An adage too often deployed, too often stretched and distorted, tends to become overly generic. Tends to lose its oomph. I’m guilty, of course. But unrepentant. Chalk it up to poetic license. Or digital graffiti. Or wanton disregard for the sanctity of jargon?!
Today I’m doubling down. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.
What, you ask, is not a bug? Certainly some of the spunky snapshots I’ve included in this post are bugs. And insects, though I forget what delineates the two.
When a Bug is Not a Bug
So many transfixing bugs at Rosslyn, and so little call for for their vibrant mugs. Today I change that.
But what does these fetching flyers have to do with wonky tech talk? I’m working on that. First let’s detour a moment for more versed expertise on the aforementioned phrase.
WE’LL NEVER KNOW who said it first, nor whether the coiner spoke sheepishly or proudly, angrily or slyly. As is often the case with offhand remarks that turn into maxims, the origin of It’s not a bug, it’s a feature is murky. What we do know is that the expression has been popular among programmers for a long time… (Source:WIRED)
A standard joke is that a bug can be turned into a feature simply by documenting it (then theoretically no one can complain about it because it’s in the manual), or even by simply declaring it to be good. “That’s not a bug, that’s a feature!” is a common catchphrase. (Source:The Jargon File)
More insightful, I think, is the embrace (or at least tolerance of) ambiguity.
It’s not a bug, it’s a feature is an acknowledgment, half comic, half tragic, of the ambiguity that has always haunted computer programming. (Source:WIRED)
Of course this flies in the face of the stereotypical assertion and aspiration of most coders who express a quasi cultish obsession with purity and absolutes and confidence in the incorruptible virtue of science.
In the popular imagination, apps and other programs are “algorithms,” sequences of clear-cut instructions that march forward with the precision of a drill sergeant. But while software may be logical, it’s rarely pristine. A program is a social artifact. It emerges through negotiation and compromise, a product of subjective judgments and shifting assumptions… (Source:WIRED)
This. From ambiguity to social artifact. Indeed. Pristine aspirations achieve by people-powered processes and resulting in people-powered products. The blurring of reality and circumstance, the possible filtered through the inevitable. Subjectivity and uncertainty and inexactness.
Of Bugs & Ambiguity
Yesterday’s bug reference was a lightheartedly dismissive counter to concerns (anticipated but not advanced) about the ambiguity of unreliable, shapeshifting time in my Rosslyn deep dig. While pouring over a decade and a half of detritus that has accrued during our custodianship of this beguiling property I’ve witnessed time’s tendency to blur and become elastic. Memories and even events themselves can become unmoored from their chronological anchors.
And I was subtly resurfacing an even larger consideration of time and timelessness across the span of Rosslyn’s two centuries. In the case of the capriciously altered boathouse images — a blurred, patinated, age and wear accelerated photograph of relatively contemporaneous provenance — one’s first impression might be to judge the artifact as a time capsule. A voyeuristic glimpse into an earlier time on Rosslyn’s waterfront. Scrolling down through the three images might dissolve the ambiguity despite the absence of dates.
While grappling with our Rosslyn adventure, I’m struck not only by the ambiguity of time but also of memories and perspectives and opinions. On the one hand, there’s disagreement among the cognoscenti about Rosslyn’s architectural lineage. Colonial, Greek Revival, Federal, Georgian, or an amalgam of two of more architectural periods or styles? ￼￼On the other hand, Susan and my memories about notable chapters in our own Rosslyn record frequently diverge. Countless conflicting recollections surface in our conversations. When certain things happened. Why they happened. If they happened at all!
It’s Not a Bug, It’s a Feature
I’ve meditated on wavy glass window panes provoking perspective shifts and even paradigm adjustments. I see these flowing lenses as inviting insight as well as intoxication, delivering discernment as often as distortion. And what to make of the potent clarity of art and poetry that can sometimes better translate what facts and artifacts, expertise and authority overlook? Watercolors, for example, can reveal truth more lucidly than photographs. Hand renderings can articulate architecture’s poignance and prowess better than AutoCAD.
Carr’s conclusion invites us to wonder wider about the possible merits of buggy artifacts.
The programmer’s “common catchphrase” has itself become a bug, so trite that it cheapens everything it touches. But scrub away the tarnish of overuse and you’ll discover a truth that’s been there the whole time. What is evolution but a process by which glitches in genetic code come to be revealed as prized biological functions? Each of us is an accumulation of bugs that turned out to be features, a walking embodiment of INABIAF. (Source:WIRED)
And that, friend, is a piece of the puzzle that’s been captivating me for months. My information gathering and analysis and synthesis are rigorous but glitchy. For a long time I aspired to purity, to algorithmic precision. But often yesteryear and yesterday have bled into one another. Often juxtaposed memories mingle and morph, contradictions converge, and dissonance dithers then dissolves. Fragments reveal what we may have missed in the moment. Curiosity and creativity have emerged from the years of quiescence. I’m less and less called to chronicle the past, to husband our history, Rosslyn’s history into some sort of encyclopedic epic. I find myself more and more compelled to reassemble the fragments with an eye to where I am headed rather than where I’ve been. I’m reveling in the playful possibility of reimagining and repurposing these ingredients into a sculptural collage; no, a three-dimensional poem; no, a montage-mobile almost imperceptibly gyrating in the rhythmic breathing of a slowly awakening breeze; no, a lakeside sanctuary braided out of found fragments, aromatic melodies, spring starts, and autumn harvest; no,… A buffet of indecision!
Back to bugs. I offer you three flying features: a luna moth (Actias luna), a rosy maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda), and a bumblebee. Perhaps, for now, these will suffice.