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Garden Hose: Nomadism and Micro Services

updated over 4 years ago; latest suggestion over 4 years ago

Genghis Khan didn't "understand" the phenomenon of the city.

I want to give a talk that encourages building smaller applications with limited concerns and small implementation surfaces by way of the philosophers Deleuze and Guattari's notion of nomadism.

My starting point will be the primacy of movement over "state" in nomadism. To paraphrase D&G, a nomad follows paths, moves from point to point: Water points, dwelling points, assembly points and so on. But in contrast to the sedentary, these points signify no arrival or destination buy are simply relays and exist only as relays:

The water point is reached only in order to be left behind.

What's in between the points, which D&G call the "intermezzo", assumes an autonomy, a direction of its own. Such movement is made possible by nomadic elements reducing themselves to "simple arithmetic units" with no intrinsic properties. Interchangeable, lightweight, close-range, and anonymous, they fulfil situational functions in an open space where there is no single battle line, borders and centres are constantly undone.

I find that this notion of autonomous movement between various local points without a central concern of organising such relationships in a larger hierarchy resonates with various practices I've discovered in programming over the past several years — from the Unix ideal of chaining streams of text through multiple processes and the "highly parallel computing machines" of the Actor Model to the "war zone" of background job queues and Jeff Bezos's "big mandate" to transform everything Amazon into services.

To demonstrate the argument with a concrete example based on my experience: About half a year ago, I extracted some code that downloads the daily and historical foreign exchange reference rates from the European Central Bank into a micro service. Decoupled from the original app it was part of, the code became pure movement: In less than 100 source lines, it moved the data from one point, an XML feed hosted on the ECB server, to another point, its own JSON API, from which it was, in turn, dispersed to multiple other points that query that endpoint. The points were completely decoupled from each other: There was no unity other than the multiple connections across a smooth, "non-striated" space.

This talk is a work-in-progress. My goal is to make a general connection between the theory of D&G and what I identify as "functional" tendencies in application design.

Suggestions

  • The proposal author responds over 4 years ago

    I just folded my comment into the proposal as James suggested.

    Completely unrelated aside: I know it would cost time to implement, but it feels it would be interesting if the proposal body exposed its evolution or changes in some way, perhaps a "diff" view.

  • The proposal author responds over 4 years ago

    Thanks for the feedback. I will merge the comments into the proposal and edit further this weekend.

  • Acd62030df551952268e84c8fff26a5b James Adam suggests over 4 years ago

    I think this could be very interesting, as long as you can get the background/context about D&G solidified very early in the talk. I've no reason to believe that's not possible, although I believe it would require quite a bit of preparation and rehearsal (as all the best presentations do!).

    Proposer - would you mind folding your response to Tom back into your proposal body? It's an excellent step towards clarifying why/how this presentation could be interesting.

    I'd also suggest that you slightly expand your sentence about the twelth chapter of A Thousand Plateaus into a short paragraph to at least indicate what that structure is -- or remove the sentence.

  • The proposal author responds over 4 years ago

    Tom,

    Never mind anthropology, but if you don't know any Deleuze and Guattari and I can make sense to you, I would assume I have a working idea. So let me try (in one or more sentences).

    I'm thinking of taking several key concepts in D&G's discussion and rethinking them liberally in the context of application design. To take one, D&G talk, in different shapes and forms, of the primacy of movement over state in nomadism. To paraphrase, a nomad follows paths, moves from point to point: Water points, dwelling points, assembly points and so on. But in contrast to the sedentary, these points, while determining the paths, are also subordinated to the latter:

    The water point is reached only in order to be left behind; every point is a relay and exists only as a relay.

    What's in between the points, which they call the "intermezzo", assumes an autonomy, a direction of its own.

    This notion of autonomous movement resonates with various practices I've discovered in programming over the past several years — from the Unix ideal of chaining streams of text through multiple processes to Jeff Bezos's big mandate to transform everything Amazon into services.

    To open this up a little with an example from my own backyard: About half a year ago, I extracted some code that downloads the daily and historical foreign exchange reference rates from the European Central Bank into a micro service. Released from the shackles of the original app it was part of, the code became pure movement: In less than 100 source lines, it moves the data from one point, an XML feed hosted on the ECB server, to another point, its own JSON API, from which it is, in turn, dispersed to multiple other points that query that endpoint. The points are completely decoupled from each other: There's no unity other than the multiple, regular connections across a smooth, "non-striated" space.

    This is the type of thought process that I want to engage in. I hope it doesn't come across as too "up in the air"!

  • Be3698f145a80c1230fd667c87d0f0c8 Tom Stuart suggests over 4 years ago

    This is intriguing but I don’t know anything about anthropology so it’s very difficult to know what this talk would actually contain.

    Can you elaborate at all? In a sentence, what’s the connection between nomadism and application design?