On Notes and Quotes: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn

Many of my posts contain notes, some contain quotes, and some contain both.

I write this post to share why that it is so.

By a quote I mean text which is taken, in part or in whole, from another article or blog post, and thus from someone else’s writing.

The usual way to show such quotes is within “blockquote” tags. For example, one of my recent posts begins as follows:

Tikkun Olam: Give Where Giving Is Due

The ethos of open-source can be expressed in a single sentence:

Give credit where credit is due.

Blockquote is a standard HTML tag which just serves to indent the quoted text. However, WordPress goes beyond this by enclosing the quoted text in italics. I disagree with this practice, as they are doing something that I, for one, wouldn’t have expected, but I guess
that is their call.

[Postscript: I wrote the above while composing a draft form of this post, yet recent posts suggest that WP has mended its ways.]

Having the quoted text in italics is acceptable for short quotes. When I find it unpleasing to the eye, or wish to add my own emphasis, say by putting selected parts in italic or bold, then I enclose the quoted text in horizontal rules, using the “hr” command. “Hr” is unusual in
that it has only a single form, just “hr … hr” and not “hr … /hr.”

I try to avoid excessive quoting, but I also try to include enough quoted text so you, the reader, can read my post on its own without having to read the completed text of the cited post. I often call out the parts of the text that caused me to write the post, or the parts I wish to comment about, by enclosing them in italic or bold tags, putting the cautionary note “(emphasis added)” before the quoted text when I do so.

By a note I mean text that takes the form of footnotes. I number the notes by enclosing the note number in brackets, as in “[1],” placing this after the sentence that is the subject of the note.

I first observed such notes in the posts of Redmonk’s Steve O’Grady. Then and now he adds the occasional note, though he does so in a much more nuanced way than you will find in my notes, as he is a much better writer.

I don’t mind that. Steve’s a great writer, and an ongoing exemplar of how to write a great blog.

I have found great personal satisfaction in composing notes.

First, they provide me a way to add an extra spice to a blog post without interrupting the main flow of the argument.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I view the notes as a personal adjunct to the post, one in which I can sally forth with trivial observations and needless digressions, not really giving a damn if the notes distract from the meat of the argument I am trying to make in the body of the post.

That is because, in my view, to a first approximation, open-source is all about fun.

Open-source is not about money.

Though it remains an open question what open-source is “all about” — as witness my frequent citation of the cautionary suggestion “What if the hokey-pokey is what it’s all about?” — I tend to take the “fun” view as the best single-word summary.

I also write my notes for a very special audience, the one closest to my heart, that of my family members.

I have three children as I write this, and two grandchildren, neither of whom can yet read.

Those in my family who can read are well aware that I have a life as “blogger Dave,” though I suspect they tolerate my hobby and don’t closely follow my postings and musings.

That’s fine with me, as I hope in part that these words will, in years to come and in the years after I am gone, offer some insight into what I valued, what I believed, and what I found to be fun.

And, if truth be told, in the words of Rhett Butler:

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

I write these words for my family and myself, not for you.

Then again, as I viewed this post in draft form, I realized that I am also writing for those who are not of my family, yet they are of my family, because their interest in open-source has led them to my writings, and I hope by reading my writings they have shared my love of matters open-source.

I also write these posts — whether or not they contain quotes or notes — because one of my goals in writing this blog is to share with you what has been the core of my professional life for over four decades now, programming.

I am a programmer at heart. It is what I most enjoy doing aside from my family life.

Indeed, when I fill out my tax return I enter my occupation as “programmer.” [1]

I’ve been involved in open-source for almost a decade now; first as a programmer, then as a project leader, then as a corporate staff member helping my employer manage its open-source activities, and lately as a blogger on my own time.

Simply put, I believe that open-source is programming at the highest level. Moreover, I believe, as does one of my former professors — Donald Knuth — that:

Programming is an art, not just a discipline.

Towards that end, I have attempted for well over a year now to write about programming in as artful a prose as I can muster, doing so to give, as I have often said, credit where credit is due.

For if programming is indeed an art, then the writing about it should itself be an art. This writing should not confine itself to “business models” or debates about “free versus open-source,” or “Microsoft is the arch villain, the devil incarnate,” or declarations that “this is the year of the Linux desktop.”

Yet, as I believe the above examples show, most of the writing about open-source is much less artful than the act of programming itself.

I believe this is wrong.

Open-source deserves better, much better.

And so, as an experiment, I have tried to explore the boundaries, to push myself as hard as I can at times, so see if I can write in a new way about open-source. That is why in my writings you will find mention of “tikkun olam” and “kaddish” and “pirates of the caribbean,” to give just a few examples. Each was written to make some point about open-source, or at least express admiration for its beauty.

I also had great fun writing them, as fun is so central to open-source.

For, after all is said and done, we are measured not by our work, but by our play: what we do on our own — as volunteers — to a cause we believe in, deciding what to do with the time that remains once we have put food on the table, tucked the children into bed, and — as we fall asleep — what to make of the day when the sun next arises: for both our families and our friends.

Your friend and family member,
dave shields


1. I read once that Ken Thompson wrote “programmer” as his occupation on his 1040. I then decided that if that was good enough for him it was good enough for me,and I have done so ever since.

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