dimension change/code review

Assumed audience: Practitioners of various crafts, but mostly software.

Sara Hendren:

Last night I re-read a big magazine piece I’m working on, but this time I read it on my phone. (Normally I print it out and read it aloud, the better to hear its cadences, etc.) I meant to just skim it, keep my head in the game, but the screen size change helped me see the ideas better. And I know it’s frowned upon to read your phone before bed, but this time it was to my advantage: I started getting sleepy, entered that twilight state where my mind was relaxed, not judging, and then ended up sitting up half a dozen times in a row as I thought of changes. A short night’s rest, but a happier countenance facing down the page again today.

My film editor husband does this too  —  sometimes watches his cuts-in-process on the exercise bike screen at night, just to shake up his vantage. He told me that he heard one of the editors on the Titanic film say that near the end of the project, when he just couldn’t see it anymore, he’d watch it in a mirror. All the images are reversed, which was just strange enough to alert him to jarring transitions or whatever. I’ll remember this: a dimension change to energize the process.

I do this for writing that I want to elevate from blog post” to essay”, printing out the hard copy and marking it up with pen and paper. I also do it for software development! Very often, when working on some change to a piece of software, I will review” my own code: push a branch up to GitHub, open a pull request, and work through it there instead of in my text editor. The dimension change” is sufficient to make me see things about the code that are invisible to me when working in my text editor: just exactly the same way that printing out the pages of an essay and going at it with a pen does.

I find this so valuable that I employ it for nearly any reasonably complicated code I write — and reasonably complicated” means more than a handful of lines of code changed” — whether that code is for work, for open source, or just working on my own personal projects.

P.S. You should be reading Sara Hendren! Her newsletter and her blog are both excellent.