3 jars of our 2018 batch of Glutney

Now that early autumn is here it’s time to make chutney. Actually, a couple of weeks ago was probably the time to make chutney, but we’ve finally got around to it today.

The recipe we use is approximately the same as River Cottage Glutney, but we just use up whatever we’ve got in the garden and the fridge and then balance out the other ingredients accordingly. It’s more of an art than a science.

Chutneys are the perfect way to use up gluts of tomatoes, courgettes and apples. Even green tomatoes can be used in chutneys, so this is the time to completely strip tomato plants of any remaining fruits. If your courgettes have turned into marrows then all the better, for marrows are excellent chutney fodder.

We’ve still got a couple of jars of last year’s chutney left, pictured at the top of this post. At our current rate of consumption we should have a continuous supply of this delicious chutney throughout the year.

Making this batch has got me thinking about the use of vinegar and sugar in chutneys. I’ve been experimenting with fermentation recently, sauerkraut, kimchi and the like, and I wonder if a lacto-fermented chutney could work as an alternative to sugar and vinegar?

Early autumn

Sunflowers in early autumn sunrise with pink sky

I was greeted by this stunning sunrise when I went outside at 7am this morning. Autumn seems to be well and truly underway.

If you live in a temperate climate, one way of looking at the year is as an act of two parts, the hot part and the cold part. But somewhere along the way our culture acknowledged the presence of two more seasons, the transitions between the extremes of summer and winter, making the year an act of four parts. Lots of the beauty and balance in nature can be found between the extremes.

The fleeting appearance of pretty blossoms in spring, with their delicate scents, are neither as stark as the bare tree in winter, or as productive and useful as the tree would be in summer. But nevertheless they enchant us.

And so it is with autumn, the other season of transition. The vibrant browns and reds make every walk a joy. Harvesting the last of the produce from the plants is always a satisfying job after a summer of caring for them.

In nature autumn is when things start to wind down ready for some rest over winter when resources are scarce. Trees prepares for winter by covering the soil in leaves which will keep in moisture and then break down gradually over winter and release nutrients back into the soil.

I’m going to spend some time this autumn reflecting on the past summer and preparing for the winter ahead. But I’m also going to spend some time being present and enjoying this beautiful season.

Have fewer dependencies

Applications that are worked on less frequently should have fewer dependencies.

If you work on the application every day then you can afford to have lots of dependencies, because you can keep on top of updates as they are released and test the application with new dependencies.

If you tend to go months or even years between working on the application then you should reduce the number of dependencies as much as possible.

If you’ve got lots of dependencies and you only try to update them once a year then you invariably find yourself in some level of dependency hell.

Programming language trends

Languages like Rust, Go and Swift have all come onto the programming scene fairly recently, and they’re all compiled and statically typed. What is it about compiled and statically typed languages that’s making them so fashionable at the moment?

At least part of their popularity is due to their provenance. They’ve been created by some of the biggest tech companies today. Mozilla (Rust), Google (Go) and Apple (Swift) are all solving problems that benefit from the extra speed and safety that you get from statically typed compiled languages. The companies realised early on that by releasing these languages as open source they can benefit from the community that builds around them, so they successfully marketed them to programmers. Now there’s a network effect going on where the communities around these languages are growing, so there’s more useful open source code available, so more programmers can solve their problems using these languages.

In the Stack Overflow Developer Survey 20191 the most popular programming language was JavaScript, a dynamically typed interpreted language. But the most loved language was Rust. So why are people wanting to go back to compiled languages, aren’t they really slow to compile? Well it turns out that advances in computer science mean we’ve now got significantly faster compilers, so there’s not as much time spent waiting while code compiles compared to older compiled languages. In fact for small to medium size programs it can often feel like you are running an interpreted language the compilation step is so fast.

The preference for static typing in these languages must be driven at least in part by a desire to reduce the number of bugs encountered in production. In one study the use of static typing was shown to reduce the rate of bugs by 15%2, which is a big saving no matter what scale you operate on. The extra overhead of understanding and using a type system are outweighed by the benefits it provides. We all want fewer bugs in our code, after all.

Another nice benefit that a lot of compiled languages provide is simplified deployment. For languages like Go and Rust that output a single binary you easily deploy that binary to production and store previous versions for rollback etc. Contrast this with interpreted languages like Node.js and Ruby, where you need to have a copy of the whole source tree and the source of all the dependencies arranged appropriately on disk.

Most important of all these languages are fun to create software with. Compared to languages from the previous generation like C++ and Java, these new languages can be a joy to use, in no small part because they leave behind a whole raft of legacy cruft that older languages have to support.

This new generation of languages provide lots of benefits for the big tech companies behind them. By making them open source these companies have benefitted from the network effect as communities have sprung up around these languages creating and sharing useful code libraries. These languages are fun to write, fast to run and have the potential to uncover bugs earlier in the development process.

  1. Stack Overflow Developer Survey Results 2019 

  2. Gao, Zheng, Christian Bird, and Earl T. Barr. “To type or not to type: quantifying detectable bugs in JavaScript.” Proceedings of the 39th International Conference on Software Engineering. IEEE Press, 2017. 

Do things for fun

Artwork by my daughter, 18 months old

A life well lived requires activities that serve no other purpose than the satisfaction that the activity itself generates.

– Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

Not everything you do has to have a reason or purpose behind it. Sometimes it’s fun to do something that serves no practical purpose.

Do some drawing, painting, knitting, woodworking, stargazing, writing, bookbinding or whatever. You don’t always need to share it on Instagram or sell it on Etsy. Do it simply because you enjoy doing it.

Find the underlying principle

Steve Jobs on problem solving1:

When you first look at a problem it seems easy because you don’t know much about it. Then you get into the problem and see it’s really complicated and come up with lots of convoluted solutions.

Most people stop there, but the key is to keep going until you find the underlying principle of the problem and come full circle with a beautiful elegant solution that works.

It’s tempting when solving a problem to use the first solution that works and move on. Indeed with deadlines and external pressures this often feels like the only choice.

But if possible it’s worth taking the time to understand the problem at a deeper level. Understand what the underlying principle is. When you understand this you can understand what a more elegant solution to the problem will look like.

  1. Quote from Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal. 

Sunday morning runs

Dowdeswell Reservoir on a misty Sunday morning in September

I find it incredibly theraputic going for a run early on a Sunday morning. I like to go out just as the sun is rising, around 7am this time of year, but before the roads are filled with cars, noise and pollution.

These runs are about more than just exercise. They’re about finding space and time away from the everyday hustle and bustle to just exist. There’s no pressure to do anything other than put one foot in front of the other.

It’s on these runs in the small hours of Sunday morning where I most often get into a state of flow. I stop noticing the effort required and just enjoy the run. They’re also a great time to enjoy solitude, which helps me process my thoughts and emotions.

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