Looking Out To Sea

Write code to write posts to write code

There is a belief among certain programmers that if you’re having a problem with your code you should sit someone down and talk them through it — and that during the explanation your problem will become apparent to you. The very act of organising your thoughts enough to verbalise them will bring the issue to light.

Some people take this to an extreme and believe that since the listener doesn’t need to be an active participant (they don’t need to prompt you or seek clarification, just listen) they don’t even need to be there at all. Or at least, they don’t need to be an actual person. And so was born rubber ducking — the process of solving your problems by explaining them to a rubber duck. Now don’t anyone ever tell me that programmers have a problem talking to others!

I mention this because writing about programming is a similarly intense way of making you really think through the code. But instead of making you solve your problems it brings you face to face with the ugliness of your code. In the past if I’ve been blogging about code I end up making little “cosmetic edits” after I’ve pasted code snippets into my document. As the edits get bolder the chance of introducing an inconsistency or a flaw into the code becomes higher. Before you know it you’re writing about beautiful but buggy code.

The only way to stop this from happening is by making sure that the changes made to the code are compiled after every edit. For my last post about using QuickCheck with C and C++ I spent a fair amount of time writing an extra bit of function for the blogging software to include the source into post “by reference”:

```{.cpp include="path/to/file"}

Hakyll doesn’t do this as standard but luckily PanDoc (which is used for format conversion under the hood) is programmable and even includes this very example in the tutorial.

This left me with another problem, which is that I needed to “compile” the page in order to preview it at all. So I ended up making more changes to compile draft documents and keep them separate from real blog posts. Basically I ended up doing a lot of faffing to write that last post.

And after all that I still feel the urge to paste in the code that I used to do it. But then I’d inevitably want to fiddle, and so we end up where we started.