On Programming. Linus: stick to coding, Patrick is at the helm

If you note the date of this post and search the web for strings of the form “Torvalds pirate” you will see the effect of an email sent by Linus announcing the latest kernel release. It has some “pirate language,” which I think has been conjectured by various press sources to have something to do with a “pirate day” coming up.

Well, we all know Linus is a damn good coder, though it’s hard to compare programming skills. But without a doubt he is the best software project manager in history.

But I suggest he leave the “matey” talk in /dev/null, and let us enjoy the real master at the helm in the realm of nautical language, Patrick O’Brian. author of the best series of historical novels yet written in the English language.

Just to prove a point, I just picked up one of the 19 or so copies of his novels on a nearby helf, flipped a page or two and came across the following, from H.M.S. Surprise, page 289:

The minutes passed: the juice ran down his chin. The French frigates stood on the north-north-west, growing smaller. First the Semillante and then the Belle Poule crossed the wake of the Surprise, gaining the weather-gauge: there was no changing his mind now. The Marengo, her two tiers of guns clearly to be seen, lay on the starboard beam, sailing a parallel course. There was no sound but the high steady note of the wind in the rigging and the beat of the sea on the frigate’s larboard bow. The far-spaced ships scarcely seem edto move in relation to one another from one minute to the next — there seemed to be all the peaceful room in the world.

There is a useful companion to the novels in the form of “A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion for Patrick O’Brian’s Seafaring Tales”, Dean Kean et. al., Henry Holt and Co., New York. For example, “bare poles” on page 89:

with no sail set, the furled sails, as in “with or under (bare) poles.” Said of a ship in a storm that has taken in all her sails because of violent winds.

I don’t think we fully appreciate the influence that all the sea and the ships that sail her have had on our language. There is a wonderful chapter in a memior by Robin McNeal (or MacNeal/Lehrer) about this (his father was a naval officer).

Actually, the example above was the second I found. The first was not that nautical, but was very appropriate to our project. See Post Captain, Page 207:

Captain Aubrey has prevailed upon to accept a few more Hands. Only exceptionally, wide-awake, intelligent men will be entertained, capable of listing a Winchester bushel of Gold; but PERHAPS YOU ARE THE LUCKY MAN! Hurry, there is no time to be lost. Hurry to the Rendezvous at the — YOU MAY BE THE LUCKY MAN WHO IS ACCEPTED!

No troublesome formalities. The best of provisions at 16 oz. to the pound, 4lb of tobacco a month. Free beer, wine and grog! Dancing and fiddling aboard. A health-giving, wealth-giving cruise. Be healthy and wealthy and wise, and bless the day you came aboard the Polychrest!

Patrick’s eloquent prose is what today we call a “pitch”: a word that has many uses, including the motion to and fro in the waves. A pitch offers the promise of rewards and fun to those who join a voyage.

The pitch worked for “Lucky Jack” Aubrey, so I’ll keep on pitching and perhaps it will work for this project.

As we say, “time and tide wait for no man.” Which is another way of saying “Release Early, Release Often,” a topic I will discuss in future notes. [1]

Notes:

1. I did. See The Software Development Model BLOAT: Bug Limitation through Optimised Audience Targeting

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