An old idea in a new context is new.

“Ideas don’t spring fully formed from the mind of an individual. Ideas emerge between people.”

Avdi Grimm, in his closing keynote at Southeast Ruby, told how when he sets out to write a talk, he wants to go out on his deck and walk back and forth until he squeezes the ideas out of his brain. “That works a little, but it’s a slow trickle. Then I phone a friend, and the ideas gush out.”

People think together. Through direct conversations, and through what we write and what we make.

Also at Southeast Ruby, Brandon Weaver talked about how programming languages like Ruby evolve by incorporating ideas from other languages (with a magic book! and 62 original drawings! of lemurs!). When people write horrifying gems to make Ruby to look like Scala, that’s a step in the evolution. Why do it? because we can. To let people see something new. That’s art, man.

And in the opening keynote, I talked about how ideas don’t belong to one canonical source. If some idea has been around (published) since the 70s, and someone recently made it useful in a new library, that is new work! If you find an idea in an article and apply it in your context, that is new work! If you explain a concept to someone who didn’t understand it before, new work! Heck, if you send a link to someone that gives them the explanation that they needed in this situation, that contributes to the idea. It draws a line between the idea and a person, in a context where it is useful.

But what about attribution, about credit?

If you find use in work published by someone in academia, please go to lengths to give them credit, and link to their work publicly. Attribution is currency in academia; it’s scarce and necessary to careers.

My favorite part about naming people who carried an idea to me is that it shows that nothing springs fully formed out of my brain. Everything is a synthesis, a reapplication in a new situation, a restatement — all these are new work.

For me personally, attribution is not scarce. Spreading ideas has intrinsic value. That value also appears between people, in conversation. The reward is who I get to talk with.

In his keynote, Avdi quoted Abeba Birhane‘s work, on “A person is a person through other persons.” None of this is worth anything, alone.

IntelliJ IDEA 11

The new version of IntelliJ IDEA is out, and I’m liking it.

Gradle integration: creating a new project from a build.gradle was smooth and easy. Then when dependencies were added to the gradle file, the gradle plugin came in handy. One line added to build.gradle

apply plugin: 'idea'

and then one execution of

gradle idea

updated the dependencies without losing my other settings.

Git integration: it’s built-in, but I haven’t tried it yet. I’m still making friends with git at the command line. in the meantime, I added .idea, *.ipr and *.iws to the .gitignore list.

Android integration: this is smooth. It was a little rough in the last version. In 11, it’s slick so far. Clicking on an R.id.viewName takes me directly to the definition of that layout element in the XML. The IDE also has a GUI editor for creating layouts — priceless. (I do have an issue with the resources not being regenerated and packaged correctly on changes to layouts. I haven’t yet narrowed it down closely enough to report a bug. Rebuilding the project fixes it.)

Final variables: Type an expression, then press ctrl-alt-v for “create a local variable to store the results of this expression.” A little thought bubble appears containing a checkbox for “Declare final.” Having checked that once, my created variables are now final by default. Hurray!

JetBrains supports the local user group community by giving free licenses to attendees (one random giveaway at each meeting of the St. Louis JUG when at least thirty people show up, which is most of the time). JetBrains also supplies licenses to leaders of the JUG. This is a great reason to be active in the local user group community!

Setting up an Android project in IntelliJ Idea

And there was pain…

I imported an existing Android project into IntelliJ Idea Community Edition 10.5.1. Some things started complaining “Please select Android SDK.”

The help pages are out of date; they say to do this in the Android facet settings. It isn’t there.

Here is the secret do-things-right button: Module settings (ctrl-alt-shift-S), then pick Project, and then you need to change the Project SDK (1). To teach Idea where your Android SDK is, click New, and lo! There it is! The Android SDK option!

Choose Android SDK, and then select the home directory of your Android SDK installation. It will then ask you to choose a target API level. Now, the Android SDK is set.

The code still didn’t compile and the Run task still complained “Please select Android SDK.” Strangely, it seemed to have lost the SDK selection. I restarted Idea, opened the project structure options, and chose the Android SDK again. This time in “Edit Run Configurations”, I was able to select the virtual device to run on.

If you know a better way to accomplish this setup, please comment.

(1) You could follow these steps at the module level, too.