Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

26 Nov 2001, 7:34 a.m.

Leonard and I conversed a great deal yesterday and we…

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2001 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Leonard and I conversed a great deal yesterday and we probably had around five "arguments," if you could call them that. We weren't angry at each other, so it's not right to use "argument" in the informal sense, but we didn't have any rules set up regarding how long each person could speak, so my high-school-forensics self rebels at calling them "debates."

We talked about some pro-life argument, and what would be different if humans laid eggs instead of giving live birth, and I don't know what all else -- we generally grumble about -- and something Steve said about reluctance to see "a movie made to sell toys." And I really admire Leonard's excellent talent in making strong arguments, and in finding the strengths and weaknesses in his and others' arguments.

The thing is -- and in a way this is just a restatement in personal terms of something Randy Waterhouse says in Cryptonomicon -- nitpickiness is a two-way street. I don't like to whine about the quality of a meal or the imprecision of a friend's speech. Just this weekend my parents said to me that finding fault is easy, but looking for the good things makes life better. And yet, if I were to try to write code that a computer could understand, or cogently criticize and argument, I would have to be nitpicky. Trying to be laid-back is all well and good in direct interactions with other people, but actual criticism requires judgment and intense focus and unabashed nitpickness. Which is tough for me.

I'm not sure whether a person is nitpicky or can perform a function of nitpickiness. Can a person turn it on and off? Perhaps a person sort of has an underlying tendency against or towards nitpickiness, and can try to fight it. I sure hope it's like that.