Monday, July 11, 2011

Analog Analogies

At work there has been a recent interest in explaining tech things in terms non-tech people can understand. Not just because it helps explain tech things to non-tech people but because it also clarifies to tech people what the purpose of the thing is.

We hit on the term "analog analogies" because one of my coworkers kept saying "analog" instead of "analogy" and I didn't think of the two terms as synonymous. I thought of "analog" as opposite "digital", but not for a second did I think "analogue" was synonymous with "analog" (it is). Hence the redundancy. So "analog analogies" became the phrase meaning "explaining a digital thing by analogy."

By way of for example[1] I'll be leading off my five minutes at the Q3 kickoff with one of my favorite analog analogies: the high and low laundry equilibriums. There are only two stable equalibriums in laundry: you can keep all your clothes clean and do laundry every time you have a basket of dirty, or you can have a full clothes hamper and only do a load when you need something to wear.

It is a not terrible analogy for technical debt. But the analogy falls down because even in a medium sized project you might have several different laundry equilibriums across different aspects: are we keeping a lid on our code bottlenecks? backend queries? can we rent/buy faster machines? And the worst part is you might not know which is lacking. I think the Germans have a word for how you know: messerschitz. You gotta do that too.

[1] I like to pretend to be all Dutchy on occasion.


Michael said...


Are you sure there is such a word? Google only knows about aircraft?

Anonymous said...

no the plane was a messerschmitt,
the mentioned word is not for the ears or eyes of foreigners so you will not find any written account of it

Jack Diederich said...

It was a half assed attempt at a homonym joke along the lines of "das blinkenlights".

If you want to know what to optimize you have to have metrics, and if you need metrics what do you have to do? MesserSchitz.

Jack Diederich said...

The pun caused a pilot in my office to tell a related apocryphal story. As the story has it an allied WWII pilot is recounting his war days to a group of school children...

Pilot: So as we got near the coast a Fokker appeared on my left and another Fokker appeared behind me.

Teacher: Students, you should know that a Fokker was the name of a German fighter plane.

Pilot: Sure, sure. So there's a fokker on my left and a fokker behind me and both the fokkers were flying Messerschmitts.

Will Ware said...

As an ex-EE, I feel compelled to clarify the connection between "analog" (as opposed to "digital") and "analogy". Way way back around the 1960s or so, the very active competition for the digital computer was the analog computer, usually an arrangement of op amps, integrators, potentiometers, and patch cords that looked like an old-fashioned telephone switchboard or an old-school Moog synthesizer (actually a very direct descendant). Check "analog computer" on wikipedia.

Analog computers got their start in weapons targeting computation (just as did digital computers) but became more general-purpose over time. The "analogy" piece is that physical quantities (altitude, speed, friction force etc) were directly analogous to voltages or currents at various points in the circuit, and the progress of the circuit over time mirrored the behavior of the physical system.

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