The Problem With Code Reuse and Abstraction

Currently I am neck deep in some multi-layered multi-moduled code that I inherited from some consultants. Younger developers who work with me are also upset with the convolutions, but they are convinced that their way of snapping together Lego blocks is vastly superior and much more maintainable. Just like the consultants though they believe that the more modular, abstract and generic they make their code – the better it is, even if they are building a one-off super specific application. Modularity and code reuse is their number one priority, only then followed by performance, brevity, and lack of bugs.

Development frameworks and code reuse that they promote seem to the the way things are going these days. I was reminded of this trend when I was reading this passage in Ian Bank’s “The Bridge” today:

“”Are there laws against what they did?”
“There’s no law to permit it, Orr, that’s the point. Good grief man, you can’t have people going off and doing things just because they want to, just because they think something up! You have to have a… a framework””

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for code reuse, abstractions and other such fineries. It’s just that I tend to look at certain tasks and think – there’s a piece of custom code needed here! The younger developers always look at me with great disapproval and tell me that I should use module X or Y, or how they are working on a module that will cover all problems of this kind in a generic way.

Today I came upon a perfect metaphor for such thinking. Apparently it originated from an origami forum, but it seems to me I encountered it in Fidonet signature years ago. In any case, the quote goes like this:

“An elephant consists of a trunk, ears, and a hippopotamus”.

When you are building things out of Lego blocks, you must fight the temptation to substitute a hippo for the starting point of an elephant. It looks like Lego did mess up the young minds just the way Sir Harold Kroto said when he delivered a crotch punch to the Lego sales:

“New toys (mainly Lego) have led to the extinction of Meccano and this has been a major disaster as far as the education of our young engineers and scientists is concerned. Lego is a technically trivial plaything and kids love it partly because it is so simple and partly because it is seductively coloured. However it is only a toy, whereas Meccano is a real engineering kit and it teaches one skill which I consider to be the most important that anyone can acquire: This is the sensitive touch needed to thread a nut on a bolt and tighten them with a screwdriver and spanner just enough that they stay locked, but not so tightly that the thread is stripped or they cannot be unscrewed.”

If I knew about some of the things that were lurking in the codebase I’m working with now, I’d work something like this into my hiring contract:

“In April of 2000 while on a business trip I received a near-frantic email from someone with an unusual request. It seems that she represented a fellow with a company in Seattle (no, NOT Microsoft). Turns out that last September this guy was hired, and in his contract of employment it stipulated that he wanted a desk made out of LEGO.”

Sometimes I am also reminded of other classics of early Internet literature.

Pour Your Heart into It : How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

Since 1987, Starbucks’s star has been on the rise, growing from 11 Seattle, WA-based stores to more than 1,000 worldwide. Its goals grew, too, from the more modest, albeit fundamental one of offering high-quality coffee beans roasted to perfection to, more recently, opening a new store somewhere every day. An exemplary success story, Starbucks is identified with innovative marketing strategies, employee-ownership programs, and a product that’s become a subculture. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a manager, a marketer, or a curious Starbucks loyalist, Pour Your Heart into It will let you in on the revolutionary Starbucks venture. CEO Howard Schultz recounts the company’s rise in 24 chapters, each of which illustrates such core values as “Winning at the expense of employees is not victory at all.”

Mark Z Danielewski’s Signing

I am still trying to finish a few book reviews, but my mind is following associative paths a bit too freely these days, so they are coming out too wordy and confusing. Meanwhile, one of the authors that I am writing about, Mark Z Danielewski, came out with a new book, “Only Revolutions“. It has a cryptic flash website. I noticed that the two eyes comprise a stereo pair, if you look at them through a stereo viewer (or simpy coross-eyed) the pictures seem to float around.

I checked Barnes & Noble’s website, and there seems to be indeed a reading and signing on September 25th at 7 PM at the store at 675 6th Avenue (I used to work just around the corner from there). If you want to meet up, shoot me an email or IM.

For those of you in Ka-lee-fornia, Texachussets and other cromulent places, here’s the entire Only Revolutions tour:

Sep 16 06 Skylight Books Los Angeles 7:30PM
Sep 17 06 West Hollywood Book Fair multi-author panel, West Hollywood Park, West Hollywood 2:15PM
Sep 18 06 University Book Store Seattle (University District store) 7PM
Sep 19 06 Powell’s City of Books Portland (Burnside store) 7:30PM
Sep 21 06 Bookshop Santa Cruz Santa Cruz 7:30PM
Sep 22 06 M Is For Mystery San Mateo 2PM **signing only**
Sep 22 06 Booksmith San Francisco 7PM
Sep 24 06 KGB Bar New York 7PM with Ken Kalfus
Sep 25 06 Barnes & Noble New York (6th Ave) 7PM
Sep 26 06 Brookline Booksmith Brookline 7PM
Sep 27 06 Books & Books Coral Gables 8PM
Sep 29 06 Master’s Tea/Yale University 4PM

Oct 10 06 Boulder Book Store Boulder 12PM (noon)
Oct 10 06 Tattered Cover Bookstore Denver 7:30PM
Oct 11 06 Bookslut Reading Series Hopleaf Bar, Chicago
Oct 12 06 Borders Books Madison 7PM
Oct 14 06 Twin Cities Book Festival Minneapolis
Oct 15 06 Prairie Lights Books Iowa City 1PM **check for webcast details**
Oct 17 06 Borders Books Los Angeles (Westwood) 7PM
Oct 18 06 Book Soup Los Angeles (Sunset) 7PM
Oct 20 06 International Festival of Authors Harbourfront Centre Toronto
Oct 22 06 Strand Bookstore New York 5PM
Oct 23 06 New Haven Public Library New Haven 6:30PM
Oct 24 06 Collegiate School Book Festival New York 6PM
Oct 25 06 Vroman’s | store link Pasadena 7PM
Oct 26 06 KDGE interview with DJ Jessie Jessup Dallas 2PM-6PM
Oct 28 06 Texas Book Festival Continental Club Gallery Austin 9PM

How the Starbucks Siren Became Less Naughty

[update] Starbucks logo changes again.

You are probably here because you looked closely at the Starbucks logo and were a little confused about what is depicted on it. Is it a mermaid? What are those things that she is holding up with her hands? Wasn’t the logo different before? What’s the history of it?

I asked those questions myself and did a little bit of digging. My research started with a book that I had, called A Dictionary of Symbols by J.E. Cirlot. In it there was a chapter about Sirens.

Basically, from what I gathered from different sources, including that book, there is a lot of confusion between the different mythological half-women. Typically they are called Sirens – both the half-bird/half-woman and the half-fish/half-woman varieties. The fish type are usually called Mermaids. Both types according to the ancient Greeks were in the business of seducing mariners with songs and promises of sex and then killing them, but Hans Christian Andersen and Disney mostly made everybody forget that.

The whole sex-symbol status of mermaids hinges on the question which part is “woman” – upper or lower. “The other type of mermaid” that hapless Fry was referring to would have problems attracting suitors, of course. And how do you do it with the normal type?

Wise mythologists came up with the answer, of course. And the answer is a two-tailed mermaid sometimes called a Melusine.

The book had an old engraving of a two-tailed mermaid. It reminded me of the Starbucks Siren, but back then I did not realize that the original Starbucks logo had a slightly altered version of that engraving in the original brown cigar band-shaped logo.

Notice that the graphic designer removed the belly button, the unattractive shading around the bulging tummy of the 15th century siren and merged the tail-legs to remove the suggestion of naughty bits. The logo Siren also smiles a little while its 15th century doppelganger is looking rather grim. Other than that it’s clear that this is exactly the image that he or she was using.

According to uspto.gov “[Starbucks] mark consists of the wording “Starbucks Coffee” in a circular seal with two stars, and the design of a siren (a two-tailed mermaid) wearing a crown”.

Here’s the “cigar band” logo from which I took the image above. The original hippie Starbucks owners did not sell espresso drinks, but mostly sold coffee beans, tea and spices. Today Starbucks sells liquor and ice cream, but no spices if you don’t count the cinnamon gum and the stuff on the condiment table.

The next, more familiar green iteration of the logo has a more attractive stylized siren. The chest is hidden, but the belly button is still there.

Here is the current logo. They cropped the siren image so that only a hint of the tails is visible. I asked hourly partners at Starbucks and friends, and none of them could figure out what those things to the side of Siren’s head were.

Lately I’ve stopped seeing pictures of the Siren on Starbucks mugs – they seem to favor just the word “Starbucks”. I also started seeing the new type of the siren as part of store decoration and on coffee packaging. She only has one tail. I guess the family-unfriendly image of a fish-woman spreading her tails is on its way out.

[update] Here’s a picture of the new siren:

The brown Siren logo can still be found on merchandize sold at the original Pike Place Market Starbucks in Seattle. The logo is altered though – instead of a “cigar band” design it uses just a circle logo. Cigar band logo mugs and coffee jars can still be found on eBay for upwards of $50 per mug and $200 per coffee jar. I am still looking for anything bearing an “Il Giornale” (a company founded byHoward Schultz that later ended up buying out Starbucks with the help of none other than Bill Gates Sr.) logo.

[Update]
Dear Boing Boing readers – you might enjoy other sections of this blog such as Gastronomic Adventures and 100 Views of the Empire State Building.

[Update]
I was alerted to another article that explores the Siren’s symbolism. I haven’t used it in my research, but it is very thorough.

[Update] The whole logo history is described pretty well in Pour Your Heart into It : How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time. The book is full of other Starbucks trivia: if I remember correctly, it states that Howard Schultz is a close friend of Yanni.

[Update]

I received some information from Doug Fast, the designer behind the green logo. He also graciously sent me some rare examples of the logo, for which I am extremely thankful.

“I am the guy who designed the green SBUX logo. The original brown SBUX logo was designed in 1971 by my employer before I started working for him in January 1974. ( I still work there as a designer) The design company was then called Heckler/ Bowker, here in Seattle. Bowker (the company copy writer) was one of the three original founders of SBUX and left Heckler/ Bowker in 1984 to take on SBUX full time. (there were 5-6 stores at that time) The other two founders were; Jerry Baldwin and Zev Siegal. Heckler/Bowker came up with the Starbucks name and Heckler came up with the first (brown) logo. The other name strongly suggested was Pequod, but lost out to Starbucks.

The original SBUX store was NOT in the Public Market or in the Arcade as people think. It was at the corner of Western Avenue & Virginia, just north, across the street from the Public Market at the foot of the steep hill going up to 1st Avenue, and opened it’s doors in March 1971. I have a photo of it and also a drawing of it that was on an SBUX Christmas card from 1977.

The first retail Starbucks coffee drink concept store was originally called Il Giornale, and located on 4th Avenue in downtown Seattle. There was only one of these stores ever. I designed the logo for that in 1985-86, plus the coffee bag packaging, and still have the stationary, bags, and cup designs in my sample file. Howard Schultz was still an employee of SBUX at that time, not the owner, as I’ve seen said in previous blog info. here.

The reason only ONE Il Giornale store ever existed was because of the purchase of SBUX by Howard and his investers, and because the SBUX name and logo had so much capital already, they changed Il Giornale back to SBUX and wanted a more reproducable SBUX design, to go national.

I did the green “full siren” logo with a stronger, simpler, read for reproduction. The SBUX type was HAND DRAWN and based on the typeface, Franklin Gothic (this was pre-computer, folks) and had to be drawn so it bent well, around the circle. We submitted the logo to Howard, one with a red color and one in a green color. He picked the green color option.

In 1992 we had to blow up the siren to eliminate the spread, so called suggestive tails, so that’s the version you see today.

I still have most of the original concept work for the creation of this logo in one of my big sketchbooks. To me at the time, it was just another logo job to do. Who would have thought I’d be sick of seeing it all over the place. It isn’t one of my best logos.”

Original stores from the old coffee bag:

The original “cigar band” logo:

Il Giornale logo:

Green “bellybutton” logo

One of the newer coffee bags that reimagines the siren:

New “cigar band” logo with covered up nipples and cleaner lines:

New plastic stirrer / plug in the shape of the siren:

Old logo at one of the first (from what I hear it’s not the “original” location) stores at the Pike Market in Seattle

original-starbucs-logo

starbucks-pike-market

Did reading this article inspire you to write a poem about Starbucks? You can use Rhymebuster, the algorithmic rap generator. Turns out a lot of things rhyme with Starbucks (other than sucks).


Hand Chewed

I just learned from co-worker that I missed a reading by Douglas Coupland over at B&N in Union Square. He signed books and everything! Dang. How I wish Barnes and Noble had an rss feed of all the Meet the Writers events in Manhattan stores.

Anyway, heads up – Coupland is on his way to Atlanta, SF, Berkley, Portland, Seattle, etc.

I am surprised Kurt Vonnegut did not think of this first: “hand chewed” book sculptures. I wonder what inspired Coupland – the Spanish Inquisition that forced heretics to eat their books?

“Generation X”
Paper and magnolia branch
First edition English language version of Generation X
hand chewed by the artist and then formed into a nest
2004

Jeff-O

Jeff Bezos from Greznte, Slovakia has a scary Amazon wishlist featuring “Special Forces Guerrilla Warfare Manual”, “Total Resistance”, “150 Questions For A Guerrilla”, “On Guerrilla Warfare” and “Everyman’s Talmud”. Please don’t buy him anything. He’s probably up to no good.

Jeff Bezos from Seattle, WA who works at Amazon.com, is known for his laugh and Austin Powers costume likes Aunt Lizzie’s Zero Carb Cheese Straw Bites so much that “[his] mouth is watering as [he writes] this”. I bought a box of them too, and Jeff did not lie. They are pretty damn good. I wonder, if I’ll buy him something from his wishlist, will he send me a “thank you” email? Then again, he must have a better discount than I do…

Also sometimes he time-travels.

Dead Programmer On Coffee

often tells me that I should move to Seattle. But there is one reason why I would actually want to move there. And that reason is Espresso Vivace.

You see, this dude Schomer served in the Army as a metrologist. No, not a meteorologist. A metrologist, a person who measures stuff for a living. When he became a civilian again he decided to apply some of his skills to making espresso.

Good espresso is very hard to make. It’s no secret, really. And it’s rather well known what you need to do to make good espresso. To oversimplify things you need:

a) very fresh, properly roasted high quality coffee beans
b) pure water with a certain degree of hardness
c) a good quality burr grinder with very fine grind adjustment
d) a La Marzocco espresso maker with perfectly adjusted for water temperature and pressure
e) a perfectly fitted espresso tamper (such as one made by Reg Barber)
f) a thick walled ceramic cup
and
g) a barrista who knows what he or she is doing.

Now, the barrista must be able to do the following things:
a) correctly adjust the grinder and grind enough beans for one shot. This is a tricky trial and error process – the grinder must be adjusted depending on ambient temperature and humidity.
b) fill the portafilter very evenly with the correct amount of coffee grinds and tamp them down with enough force
d) make sure that the group doesn’t have enough time to cool down
e) place the group into the machine and press the brew button, shutting it off after a correct period of time
f) judge the quality of the resulting espresso shot and throw it out and make a new one if it’s no good
g) keep the machine in immaculate state of cleanliness

All of these steps are important. David Schomer came up with a way to measure and reduce already small temperature fluctuations in La Marzocco machines. He also added extra cooling fans to his grinders to prevent coffee from heating up when ground. He custom made ergonomic perfectly fitted tampers. He measured, modified hardware and technique and then measured again, sharing his secrets with the world.

Right now I am between espresso machines. When my last machine gave up the ghost (word to the wise, don’t buy any consumer grade Nuova Simonelli machines. If they die, you won’t be able to get any service for them) I decided to get nothing other than a used single group La Marzocco. I can’t afford a new one as it costs around 6 grand, but used ones can be had for as little as $1000. One of the problems is of course that it uses 220V electricity, but I’d be willing to pay an electrician to install a 220V outlet for me. Of course some lucky bustard got an experimental 110V machine, but no such luck for me. Besides, I want the real thing. I am horribly tempted to get an ECM Giotto machine that comes recommended by Schomer himself though…

Nah, I don’t want to leave New York just because there no good espresso places here. It’s cheaper just to make my own. Or even one day I might open the real Dead Programmer’s Cafe here. Maybe if I find a partner..

This all kind of reminds me – I am all out of coffee beens. Time to order some more.