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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

Inelegance-Sensing-Man Isn’t Very Catchy

I remember a daft discussion at university about superheroes’ powers. One person drunkenly reckoned everyone has some kind of superpower, no matter how trivial. The best I could think of was that I could hear the high-pitched whine of TVs and monitors from quite some distance away (something that’s gradually fading with age). Someone else said they knew the numeric product codes for Iceland’s entire range, which was far more impressive (although of limited use outside the realm of retail frozen goods).

Over the past few weeks I’ve been working on a Flash game for someone, and towards the end had a niggling feeling about part of the code. It seemed to work, passed all testing, and I couldn’t consciously think of anything that might be incorrect, but I was bothered by an almost physical discomfort, a sense that something in that area was weak or even outright faulty. I was uneasy, even while busily trying to get the rest of the project completed on time.

A couple of days later I was doing the washing-up and it occurred to me that part of the game was structured so that a particular if statement wasn’t covering all possibilities, meaning in some cases it could misbehave. I’d found the bug that was making me itch.

I’ve realised that I often get that same stubborn unease about designs, systems and programs that seem inelegant or ‘fragile’ in some way. It means I can be a bit of a pain, fretting about remote possibilities and nebulous what-ifs, but, although I’m wrong about a lot of things, my intuitive sense that something isn’t quite solid is rarely off-target.

So, as the frequency range of my hearing has narrowed and LCDs have replaced CRTs, I reckon my new not-so-super-power has to be the ability to occasionally sense flaws in systems. I’ll see if I can find a cape and some brightly-coloured pants to wear outside of my trousers while coding.


Hehehe. You have sharp writing skills. I guess it goes with the perfectionist territory.

— Mrie, 5th Mar, 4:35am

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