Ravi Mohan's Blog

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"Concentration is the Enemy"

A fragment from a (chat) conversation with my friend Abey.Context == Talking about programming,

me: Hey did you know about this " I think maybe concentration is the enemy. Seriously. If you're working on something that is so complex that you actually need to concentrate, there's too much chance that it's too hard. - Ron Jeffries"

Abey: yeah that makes sense[/sarcasm]

me: I guess one could always pair to avoid the "danger" of concentration. Hard to focus if someone is yammering in your ear all the time.

Abey: Yup! Pairing always helps. Instead of one person fretting and strumming the guitar and singing (takes too much "concentration"), you should have one doing the fretting and one doing the strumming

me: Let's "turn the dial up to 10". How about two pairs, one pair on the frets and another on the plectrum. Lots of redundancy and no need to concentrate!

Abey: yeah Extreme Guitar .. perhaps we could write a book?


Anonymous said...


I understand the sarcasm in your post. But why did you even try to compare software development to music? Software development made a mistake of borrowing processes from civil engg and consruction and let to waterfall. Why bother comparing?

Many music directors (at least in the Indian movie context) work in pairs or more. Some of them do come out with decent compositions (maybe not the Mozart calibre, nevertheless pleasant to hear). What are your thoughts on that? And duets are always sung in pairs. So are jugalbandis.

p.s I don't care one way or the other about pairing, agile or whatever else. Different things work for different people and I restrict myself to keeping an open mind about that.

-Manoj Bharadwaj

Ravi said...

First, there was no comparison. It is a a direct quotation of a conversation between friends which happened in a certain context. There is no "comparison" or "judgement" in the post, at least explicitly. People are free to read whatever they want into it.

Secondly I was not speaking about music direction. Music direction and music performance are two different activities and would map differently to various sub activities of software development if one were to attempt to do so.

Again I am not making any analogy. If you want a distilled point from an essentially random snippet of conversation, here it is.

'Some of the so called agile "gurus" make incredibly stupid statements about the nature of programming'

Nothing more or less is intended :-)

KD said...

Here is the context of the quote:


Does it change in anyway you put your point across?

-- KD

Manoj Govindan said...

IMHO there is more stupidity in that context. Here is some more:

"If you're not pairing, the noise may be a problem, I suppose. If it is ... take it as a sign that you need a partner, not a private room."

This is singularly ridiculous. This is starting to sound like "doublethink" from 1984.

Ravi said...


I don't know why you thought I was ignorant of the context :-). **Every time** I quote something I take great care to "read the original sources" (an activity someone I know is very keen on recently ;-)) You think I am dumb enough to quote without knowing the context? Shame on you KD you should know me better.

Anyways onto the content.

The context **reinforces** my point. I am sure that is exactly what you intended ;-)

The context is, Steve Freeman worries about how nearby loud pairs affect his ability to concentrate and wonders how to fix it. This is a perfectly legitimate question and our Agile Moron .. errr.. Guru responds with "concentration is the enemy".

I have (seriously) never heard something so utterly ridiculous in my life. As per Mr jeffries, concentration is BAD, an ENEMY to be despatched of by avoiding activities that need the practitioners to concentrate. This gets rid of music, mathematics, scientific activity, the performing arts , art in general, and if I may say so programming.

The only kind of programming you can do without concentrating is if you are repeating umpteen variations of a simple theme (churning out jsp pages that are all similair, say). There are thousands of studies which prove the need for concentration to get creative work of a high calibre done. I'll leave you to look them up ;-)

The idea that concentration is bad and that the need to concentrate implies things are "too hard" is a notion that flies in the face of all human progress from the time man started thinking for himself. Concentration is the enemy my a**.

Now , since you are in the "look up the sources" stage of discovery, here is something for you to "look up" and "find teh original context" for.

Mr Jeffries claims (look it up ;-) ) "XP is a set of practices that can help you get into flow, and enjoy the experience of programming, more than ever before."

I assume Mr J includes "pairing" in "XP practices" (need I say, look it up ;-)).

Now Flow depends on *sustained concentration WITHOUT interruptions* (Look it... :-D)

Hmm so XP helps flow == XP helps sustained concentration but concentration is the Enemy! omg!! XP is internally incoherent. Damn!

Ron Jeffries is (totally imo) an intellectually incoherent dodderer who makes grandiose and self contradictory claims on things he has no expertise in - he cant' program for nuts (see my earlier entry). Trapping him in the contradictions of his foolish blatherings is too easy. So I'll stop.

Some people (I mention no names but we all have seen them) can't quite get out of the habit of worshipping whoever happens to adorn certain pedestals.
That is a bit of a bore but not my problem really. I expect comments on *this* blog to have a solid logical underpinning that stands up to rigorous analysis. But hey that's just me :-)

Next. ;-)


"DoubleThink" is extremely accurate but a bit too subtle an argument for some folks. let's see if people can figure it out :-D . Why am I not optimistic? ;-)

Anonymous said...


I think you are being too harsh on poor KD ! - though I did enjoy your response!

I think maybe KD assumed you hadn't done your research before you posted and was just checking up. But as you rightly point out, the context adds to your argument so it doesn't make a difference (in this case).

Maybe KD was thrown off by your unusually (for you) mild tone (in the blog post). Maybe he thought you'd breathe fire if you saw the actual context! (I agree Mr Jeffries' stupidity is on full display in the wiki page KD pointed to).

Speaking for myself, I prefer to assume that good writers do their research. And you are definitely a good writer.

As I was saying, the stupidity of Mr Jeffries is astounding! I can't believe this chap is a leading light in the "agile movement". I've been trawling his posts and he seems to be a great talker and not a particularly bright coder. he seems more interested in ideological argumentation than developing technical chops. All of his publicly available code is of the "simple code doing utterly stupid things without any practical use" variety and his design sense makes me shudder.

In my field (Physics) we don't tolerate charlatans and have a very strong antipathy to incoherent arguments. Mr Jeffries wouldn't last two hours! I guess that's one of the advantages of hard sciences - you can't hide incompetence - not for very long anyway.

As a part time programmer, I've "flipped the bit" (hopefully that's the right phrasing) on Mr Jeffries in particular and on Agile in general. When they get some good programmers as their spokesmen, perhaps they will have more credibility?

KD said...


Thanks for the support. BTW, if this is mild tone, what is Ravi breathing fire like ;-).


I don't want this to become another XPR that quoted heavily without context. And I thought that the context is more illuminating ;-).

- KD

Ravi said...

Oh I was just pulling KD's leg a bit. He is a very good friend of mine and we have these endless debates on tech stuff when we meet.


Yeah yeah illuminating :-P

Cristache said...

*** Market research ***
If I make T-shirts that read "Agile: for developers with Small Unit Testes" how many are you willing to buy? What if on the back it said ... and it applies to women, too?