The simplest thing

Minimum viable whatever, worse is better, PC-losering, Burkean engineering

I frequently find it complicated to discern what the simplest thing is. This is a hard problem, e.g. when designing software, experiments, or research questions. It is a notable weakness of mine, and why I am comfortable asserting I would never have invented Deep Learning, which is all about applying an asinine solution to a problem in a stupid way, which turns out to be just good enough to get billions of dollars funding to do it better. That is the right kind of simplicity.

How about I collect some notes about the fraught question of deciding as early as possible, what the minimum viable product is? Which cruft is structural? And which is yak shaving?

This is related to Worse is Better Richard Gabriel, The Rise of “Worse is Better”

I and just about every designer of Common Lisp and CLOS has had extreme exposure to the MIT/Stanford style of design. The essence of this style can be captured by the phrase “the right thing.” I will call the use of this philosophy of design the “MIT approach.” Common Lisp (with CLOS) and Scheme represent the MIT approach to design and implementation.

The worse-is-better philosophy is only slightly different: the design must be simple, both in implementation and interface. It is more important for the implementation to be simple than the interface. Simplicity is the most important consideration in a design.

Early Unix and C are examples of the use of this school of design, and I will call the use of this design strategy the “New Jersey approach.” I have intentionally caricatured the worse-is-better philosophy to convince you that it is obviously a bad philosophy and that the New Jersey approach is a bad approach.

However, I believe that worse-is-better, even in its strawman form, has better survival characteristics than the-right-thing, and that the New Jersey approach when used for software is a better approach than the MIT approach.

More generally this connects to a question I face of what way of doing things is in fact simple. What is hubristic Not Invented Here-type high modernism and what is the clarity of starting over? This perhaps connects to metis and friends via Chesterton’s fence.