Code Trinkets are a Bad Idea

Often when engaged in the construction of some piece of software, be it a web application or a native computer game, we get the Feature Fever. Our brains are trained by years of computer use to judge software by its polish. The tendency is misguided at best, and we try to think past it when fairly evaluating a prototype. But the fact of the matter is that even one or two polished aspects of a website makes it look better.


When you imbed a YouTube video or add rounded corners to your buttons, you are deceiving yourself. When you look at the screen, your eye is drawn to these familiar, visually impressive elements. Consequently, you subconsciously ignore or undervalue the unfinished parts of your project.

This leads to two things. First, you think you are farther along than you are. But more importantly, it makes you hungry for more features. Since one or two polished aspects look good, why not add more? Now you are on the hunt for short-term fixes that give big rewards in terms of visual polish, rather than working on the code that actually makes your program work.

If you start polishing before your core functionality is complete, you can get pigeonholed. When an interface element is polished, or some other unique feature looks amazing, you reflexively want to protect it. Even if the rational decision is to get rid of it and integrate the functionality somewhere else, you will keep the feature there. Letting form overpower function is a deadly trap.

The easiest way to add a polished feature is to search on the internet for code trinkets. Code trinkets are little snippets or blocks of code that you stick into your programs. Code trinkets are encapsulated, so all you have to do is paste and reload. Suddenly a beautiful new feature is completely finished.

Unfortunately, code trinkets have two downsides: they restrict your feature to exactly what is written, and they don’t leave you any smarter. Unless you take the time to figure out what ever line of the trinket does, and would be able to write it yourself (at which point it stops being a trinket), don’t use it!


Writing Sprints

Sometimes I like to write tiny excerpts in small amounts of time. I don’t try to link them to any other piece of writing. These stand-alone prose pieces can be any size from a couple sentences to a few pages. The only requirement is that you write them in one sitting and that you just let it flow. The point of the exercise is to skim off the thoughts bouncing around on the top of your brain. Here are examples of some of mine:

A provolone melt on white bread with tomatoes and slow-roasted ham. Buffalo burgers with avocado slices on a toasted bun with a side of mashed potatoes.

“The Creators were vast spirits. They spread their harmonizing energies across the lands. But the lands didn’t want harmony. So the lands refused. In the end, the Creators left behind little as they slipped slowly into the ether. Their only legacy… was us.

We are the timeless. We are the created. We are the protectors.

We are the god-spawn of the land, able to do what the Creators could not. We shall bring order to the land. We are the final homage to the lands, to the Creators. The marks we leave shall be forever.”

The Created carried a legacy of glass. The great hellpits, formed when the Creators departed to the Ether, filled with lava, were the home of the Created glass forges.

“So we’re supposed to restore order to a whole star system?”
“Only one of the worlds is settled. The others are in preliminary terraforming stages.”
“So whats the situation on the capital world?”
“Capital world is an over-statement. The government that bought up the system has control over only a quart of the land mass, although most of the rest is uninhabitable.”
“Yikes. What do we have? Rebels?”
“Probably. there have been a running of terrorist attacks. Could be connected, but general unrest is high. The government is colonial, wit ha ruling singularity. Population mostly works int he mining industries.”
“Incomplete tectonic formation. Rich oceans and air.”
“The terrorists could be trying to dominate the market.”
“Unlikely. Its probably political.”
“We’ll go investigate tomorrow.”

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