Monday, August 10, 2009

Code Artistry: The Negative Space

So I've been reading The Merb Way this week. I like it so far -- Foy Savas does a pretty good job of making his discussion of the technical internals interesting to read, and generally elevates the material above today's standard grind-it-out, dress-up-the-man-page-or-the-public-API-docs, tech book farce. Fare. I meant "fare".

One of the standout features of this book, though, that I'm finding myself drawn to is a marked lack of comparison between Merb and Rails. I can't tell if Savas intended this, but I find reading about, say, Merb's routing architecture easier to follow than if it were interrupted every other paragraph by an "as compared to Rails, which does this..." interlude. I'm not sure many other authors would have avoided that trap as neatly.

If you think about it, it's a sensible approach to take, although maybe not the most obvious one. If I'm reading a book on Merb, what I want to read about is ... you know ... Merb. I may already know some of the internals of Rails. I may not. If I do, chances are that I will make those comparisons myself. If I don't, chances are a constant barrage of interruptions would just turn me off of Merb, and possibly Rails too. Either way, interleaving a discussion of Rails within a discussion of Merb would be counterproductive.

Reading this book makes me wish more of us technologists would learn the value of the artistic concept of the negative space -- the bizarre and intriguing shapes formed *between* the familiar ones that are the nominal focus of the picture. That what the artist leaves out can contribute as much to the picture as what he puts in. Sometimes more.

I was going to write out a list of how this concept applies to and enhances other artistic and quasi-artistic disciplines like architecture, music, literature, and film-making.

But now I'm not. :-)

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