The merits of a fresh start

It’s hard to start over. Make a clean break. Go back to the very beginning and build things from the ground up. I experience it all the time in web development. Most of the time, starting over from scratch in this field is seen in a negative light. “Reinventing the wheel” is the standard metaphor. Why do something you’ve (or someone else has) already done all over again? Better to take what you’ve already built once or twice or a hundred times before and just reuse what you can, tweak as needed, give it a fresh coat of paint (so to speak) and call it a day — to keep the clichés coming, fast and furious. Check.

But… on the other hand… did you really do it the best you could on the very first try? Is it another coat of paint on a sturdy, reliable structure that’s stood the test of time, or just another layer of lipstick on the pig? Well, for better or worse that’s what I do, most of the time. It’s what most of us do. Because even if we have the chance, starting over from the beginning means a lot more work, and isn’t what we’ve already got, good enough?

Maybe. But is “good enough” really good enough? Really?

Today my 5-year-old son was bored. BOOOOORED. And he asked me what he could do. I spotted on the shelf above my desk the bulk Legos I had purchased several months ago to keep on my desk at my old job. They’ve pretty much just been sitting in their containers since I’ve been working from home, and I decided it was time to break them out.

So we sat at the table and started building. I had packed them somewhat hastily back when I left that job, and they were still mostly clumped together into the odd, improbable configurations I always liked to build when I was sitting at my desk mulling over a coding problem.

As we began putting the Legos together, I mostly kept these proto-creations and just added on to them or made slight modifications. It seemed too time-consuming and counterproductive to take them all apart and start over again. But then I stepped away for a few minutes, and when I returned, I discovered he had completely disassembled them all. Everything. Nothing but individual pieces, and we had to start over.

I grabbed a few pieces and began to imagine the configuration of whatever it might be that I was about to build. And then the ideas began to flow. I started seeing arrangements I never would have imagined — or, more precisely, bothered to imagine — otherwise. The end result was probably one of the most interesting and (dare I say it) whimsical Lego creations I’ve ever come up with. (And I don’t use the word “whimsical” lightly. Or at all.)

And it never would have happened if I hadn’t gone back to square one and started over.

Thanks, kid. Those of you who are registered users can see more pictures from our Lego project here.

My two RPM projects are both now available on CD

Unnatural Disasters (front cover)Technetium (front cover)In a rare bout of overabundant creativity (or inadequate self-restraint), I have finished not one but two CDs for the RPM Challenge. They’re available now on CD from Kunaki.

The first project, Unnatural Disasters, is a more traditional album of 9 tracks in styles running from straight-ahead rock to prog rock to Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis electric jazz to electronica, and running a little over 36 minutes. The music could serve as a soundtrack for a world tour of the strange places I’ve written about in my blog.

Also unnatural but less of a disaster, the second project, a single 38-minute track, is a piece of minimalist electronica with a structure based on the composition of a technetium atom. It is, appropriately enough, entitled Technetium. Up close, the music is ever-changing, yet on a large scale it is completely static; it doesn’t really go anywhere, but it also never precisely repeats in its entire 936 measures. It went from concept to completed album in about 6 hours, which is the half-life of technetium’s least-stable isotope.

You can learn more about the two projects, and listen to streaming versions of all tracks from the albums, by clicking on their respective covers to the right.