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tilted abstractions

Abstractions are nice when they help us gloss over seemingly unimportant details, but they also shape our perception of the underlying reality. Learning to work without abstractions can make it easier to switch between abstractions.

Consider the analogy of a photographer who takes pictures and an observer who views the results. Normally, they would both be standing upright. Everything lines up. Either the photographer may tilt their camera askew or the observer may tilt their head. If the picture is tilted, the upright viewer can probably make sense of it. Even tilt their own head to compensate. Or if the picture is straight, an observer with a neck cramp can still view it. But what happens if the camera is tilted left and the observer is tilted right? It doesn’t make any sense. Now the trees are growing upside down!

One can imagine writing code on a tilted monitor. It’s a little annoying at first, but eventually one learns to tilt their head to compensate and now their own code looks perfectly normal. Using a friend’s properly oriented monitor is a little cumbersome, but adequate. Using a monitor tilted in the opposite direction? Terrible! Horrendous! How can you call this code? All the loops are backwards and the control structures are inside out!

Having spent a few days learning a low level API that’s conveniently wrapped by a library, I wondered, what’s the point? I’m probably going to switch to a different library, er framework, in the future. Will this knowledge transfer? Yes, I think so. These are the API functions that all libraries use as well. They just apply their own slant. It can’t hurt to know what’s happening underneath. Is the knowledge of one framework directly transferable to another? That depends greatly on the compatibility of their tilt. If all I know is a left tilted world, those expectations may actually be a hindrance in a right tilted world.

Posted 05 Oct 2016 14:39 by tedu Updated: 05 Oct 2016 14:39
Tagged: programming