Back to notes

Engineering Aesthetic

Our two primary principles are aesthetic: harmony and simplicity.

Much of the code written these days is immensely cacophonous and complex — take it from engineers that have seen the inside of megacorps. Cruft accumulates when good creative principles are not exerting constant, conscious pressure on every engineer on a team building something anew. We strive to do better.

Novice engineers typically haven’t formed these higher-level ideas about creating things. College degrees don’t seem to communicate the importance of something like commenting conventions or removing log statements from commits. The codebase must be treated like a garden.

Harmony is the principle that systems ought to work together in tandem.

Much of the so-called 'progress' in modern software is simply the result of more computational power. The physical hardware that powers our computers gets better every year (everyone knows of Moore's Law), but the everyday user's experience with these veritable physical specimens of machines is slower, laggier, buggier, and jankier than it ever has been. Don't believe me? Watch a video of someone using a web browser in the 90s, when they were invented. You'll notice that the load times for websites are eerily similar to what you experience when you go on Facebook or Twitter in the year 2021. The technical infrastructure of the 90s was dial-up modems streaming 20 kilobits per second over wires, 200 megahertz processors, and 8 megabyte sticks of RAM. The technical infrastructure of the 2020s consists of routers streaming a gigabit per second over thin air, 3 gigahertz processors, and 8 gigabyte sticks of ram – notice the many, many orders of magnitude that separate each component? Where are the many, many orders of magnitude that separate your modern computational experience from that of an Amiga 3000?

from Александр Солженицын’s The Gulag Archipelago:

An engineer? I had grown up among engineers, and I could remember the engineers of the twenties very well indeed: their open, shining intellects, their free and gentle humor, their agility and breadth of thought, the ease with which they shifted from one engineering field to another, and, for that matter, from technology to social concerns and art. Then, too, they personified good manners and delicacy of taste; well-bred speech that flowed evenly and was free of uncultured words; one of them might play a musical instrument, another dabble in painting; and their faces always bore a spiritual imprint.

Inspirations

Plan 9, Bell Labs

Urbit, Tlon

UXN, Hundred Rabbits

Suckless

Preventing the Collapse of Civilization, Jonathan Blow

SQLite

SQLite src directory

Project Gemini

The computer built to last 50 years, Ploum

Kaizen of Programming, Martin Sústrik

Low Tech Magazine, Kris De Decker

DIY Custom Pennyboard Suitcase, Casey Neistat

How Warp Works, warp

Bully in the Alley, Kimber’s Men et al