Jay Hoffmann

Books, movies, and code

#30: Folding a Project

One of the reasons that Japanese katana’s are such strong blades is the technique used to make them called folding. A swordsmith will forge and hammer out a long blade, and then fold the steel onto itself, repeating the process dozens of time, if not more. This technique has an advantage. Each time the blade is folded some of the oxygen and impurities are removed, making it harder and stronger. It produces a sword that is durable and resistant to wear, and the folded blade has become the stuff of legends.

Sometimes, working on a website can feel like that. Sometimes it’s unclear what a project is going to look like. You want to build something resilient and versatile, but you don’t quite know what it’s all going to look like.

So you build out the project and cover as much ground as you can. You give it a broad, rough pass that takes into account as many of the requirements you have, and the corners you’re able to see around.

And then, you fold it. Once you have the site all laid out, you can see where some of the impurities are. Where there are rough edges to the experience, and places where information is not immediately apparent, or the design starts to fall apart.

And so you can go over it again, from the start, with new assumptions and fresh ideas. You’ll find the holes you missed the first time, and fill them. You’ll add details to pages you hadn’t even anticipated. You’ll add animations and transitions and see what it’s like when a design meets real content.

Then, as a team, you’ll fold it again. And each time you rebuild you’ll get something more durable and more precise.

Rebecca West (echoing Einstein’s temples of science quote) reflects on the need for those that inquire about the universe.

If during the next million generations there is but one human being born in every generation who will not cease to inquire into the nature of his fate, even while it strips and bludgeons him, some day we shall read the riddle of our universe.

May 17, 2024

From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974).

A classical understanding sees the world primarily as underlying form itself.

A romantic understanding sees it primarily in terms of immediate appearance.

If you were to show an engine or a mechanical drawing or electronic schematic to a romantic it is unlikely he would see much of interest in it. It has no appeal because the reality he sees is its surface. Dull, complex lists of names, lines and numbers. Nothing interesting. But if you were to show the same blueprint or schematic or give the same description to a classical person he might look at it and then become fascinated by it because he sees that within the lines and shapes and symbols is a tremendous richness of underlying form.

I think that for much of my life, I thought that I had a classical understanding of the world. I am able to see through systems fairly well for instance. But I think that more belongs to my wife, and in truth I have a romantic understanding. And it blinds me to some things.

Hustle (2023)

May 14, 2024

As far as sports movies go, this one plays the hits. Never back down. Training montage. Viral moment. Family. And on and on.

At times, it maybe tips a bit too far in the direction of unadulterated NBA propaganda, but hey, I like the sport so why not over-indulge a little. There’s not a ton that stands out, but it hits all the right moments at all the right times, and for a movie like this, that’s enough.

12 Years a Slave (2013)

May 13, 2024

When I first saw Steve McQueen’s Hunger it almost immediately became on of my favorite films of all time. A debut feature that reckons with such an immensely important and fraught period of history. That comes right up against it, cracks it open, and shows you a full view of the historical moment through the lens of a single person. It beautifully uses camera movement, intimate visuals, and didactic sound that draws you in and makes you pay attention to each tragic and gut-wrenching turn.

And somehow, 12 Years a Slave never made it to the top of my list for too many years. But here he is, McQueen doing exactly the same thing at another period of time that is illogical and brutal and almost beyond comprehension. It is an intimate, profound and uniquely horrifying portrait of a single man’s struggle to survive. This is not slavery glossed over with historical romanticism (there is only one man, really, who stands against it, in fleeting moments at the end of the film). This is the full moment of history, expressed through one man, cracked open for us to see set against the majestic landscapes that only serve to starkly contrast against the brutality of slavery. It’s a tough watch, no doubt about it. But it is incredible.

Stray Observations

  • Brilliant use of sound and silence, especially when the camera hangs there and really lets you feel it
  • The use of closeups to show the anger and hatred of man and the wide to show tragedy 
  • There’s something really disturbing about juxtaposing the beauty of the southern landscape against the horror of slavery