Watching Paint Dry

The last few days I’ve been running a data pump to automate creating several thousand users I can use to run a load test. Unfortunately, no matter how carefully I organize it, I have no choice but to interact with the website through a script which acts as though it’s a user doing things, just faster than a user actually can work.

Which means that while that part is running, I can’t do anything else, lest my keyboard or mouse make something unexpected happen.

Not to mention, even with the best effort, when you’ve got something in the vicinity of 16 to 20 hours runtime (without interruption or problems), things go wrong. The timing gets a bit off and the next thing you know you’ve got the wrong data in the field and the system barfs.

So I have to nurse it and intervene because for something I do once in a blue moon if that it’s not worth the effort to completely debug the thing so it works every single time.

Mind you, watching some five thousand or so fake people register themselves in your application isn’t exactly the most exciting thing ever. It’s kind of like what Douglas Adams parodied in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when he riffed about how writers don’t describe everything – by describing Arthur Dent going down all thirteen steps. Thump. Thump. And so on.

It’s the balance of the familiar and unfamiliar. The familiar: you’re not going to have many readers who don’t know how stairs work, so you can safely skip describing the process of going up – or down – them. Unless of course there’s a reason they can’t do so the normal way (they’re daleks?) so you describe the non-normal way with enough detail to give a picture of what’s happening without leaving your readers wondering if watching a new coat of paint dry would be more exciting.

The trick with this kind of thing isn’t the description itself. It’s figuring out what to describe, and how. I’m not ashamed to admit I read a lot of fanfiction, and one of the common mistakes I see is the fanfic writer describing everything more or less like they’re following a sales brochure.

That – if the story is good enough – usually has me skipping paragraphs to get back to the good bits.

Of course, how much and what you describe varies depending on where you are in the plot. Scene-setting description works better in quieter parts of the story, and by all you hold sacred, please do not break your action scene to describe your character’s clothing or hairstyle. Unless you’re doing it satirically of course – but be warned that satire is bloody difficult to get right.

Yeah. There are no hard rules. Even this one probably has exceptions.

You could, for instance, get away with slipping in bits of information about your character’s clothing or hair in the middle of an action scene, as long as they were relevant. The character’s long hair coming loose from a braid and falling into their face, for instance, or the really nasty squelchy feeling of trying to walk or run when your shoes and socks are soaking wet. Or the way that dirt or sand blown against bare legs stings like hell and you wish you’d worn trousers (in these situations you’re not likely to be thinking about the brand name of the clothes, unless your character is one heck of a clothes-horse, in which case the whining is likely to be adding a good deal of comic relief).

I should probably just say this is where what passes for my mind goes when I’m watching paint dry and leave it at that.


20 thoughts on “Watching Paint Dry

  1. And then there’s the action sequence at the start of Friday by RA Heinlein (PBUH). Details of background interspersed with fast paced action and events

  2. Leviathan rose up, poised to obliterate the village.

    The sky was very blue, that day… ~:D

      1. The sky was very blue that day… and clashed horribly with the chartreuse-and-orange striped curtains…

        1. Ah, so the curtains symbolize the clash of the Proletariat against their hegemonic Late Capitalist oppressors. *nods*

    1. So the sky took an upper and is white as a sheet! Well, a white sheet. Not one of those other colors. or tiger stripes, or paisley…

  3. Been there, done that. Short of more processors/RAM and UNIX (which clients sometimes provided, at home it’s UNIX but fairly ordinary horsepower) my favorite solution has been a cheap (about $200 US) but surprisingly durable and capable Chromebook. Now that I’m retired and idle on that front, the Chromebook is still useful. My version of a tablet to use in my recliner, since touch screens and pretend keyboards give this old fart a rash.

  4. Rex Stout played with that once, iirc. He had.Nero Wolfe describe why you don’t include everything, in much the same way Adams did. I think he was lecturing on the nateure of authorial style, in the middle of a plagiarism case.

    Great minds, etc.

  5. I encountered one fantasy writer (with 5 or 6 deadtree, major-mainstream-published books in this series!) who wrote detail upon detail upon detail all the way down to the origin of the materials in someone’s totally irrelevant buttons… in EVERY sentence. It interrupted EVERYTHING. It probably comprised 2/3rds of each book (well, I only made it to about the middle of the 2nd book, cuz much as I liked the male lead, if not much anyone else… reading this shit was WORK. Even after I started skimming over the surplus details.)

    But apparently enough people enjoy it that like everything else, it has a market.

    And if you think we’re kidding…

    1. I can only speculate you’re talking about Robert Jordan.
      Oh goody, another three pages informing me that the girls are wearing different clothes.

      1. I’ve never read any Robert Jordan… is this a warning to others??

        Grrr, can’t remember the author’s name, one of the newer crowd… in fact, I couldn’t remember her name _while_ I was reading the durn thing, which I suppose should have served as a broad hint!

  6. “I should probably just say this is where what passes for my mind goes when I’m watching paint dry and leave it at that.”

    Mine often has me calmly walking away as a ridiculously cinematic explosion happens behind me.
    Sunglasses optional.

  7. > Which means that while that part is running, I can’t do anything else,
    > lest my keyboard or mouse make something unexpected happen.

    Kate… that’s the sort of thing VMs are for, if your company is too cheap to provide an extra machine for you. Start the process, minimize the VM window, and your process monitor will tell you when the task is done.

    You can clone multiple copies of an installed OS, let your experimental application software trash them, and delete them when you’re done. Or save the VM as a snapshot of “the software is doing *this*, here, run it in real time”, and someone else can mount the VM from the server and run it for themself.

    1. ^^^ This ^^^. Start your Selenium script (it is Selenium, right?) in your VirtualBox machine and then, if you’re afraid to minimize it because that might screw something up, switch to another virtual desktop to get work done. Virtual desktops have been standard in Linux for a long time (Ctrl+Alt+Left or right arrow to switch between them) and they’ve become standard in Windows 10 as well: Ctrl+Win+Left or right arrow to switch between them, though I think you have to create one first. See for the details of that one.

      Heck, with a virtual desktop, you don’t even necessarily need to run a VM: just create a virtual desktop to keep your browser window open on virtual desktop #2, then switch back to virtual desktop #1 to do your work. No possibility of a keystroke or mouse click going wrong, and you don’t have to be watching paint dry. Just occasionally switch over to the virtual desktop with Ctrl+Win+Right arrow, and then once you’ve verified that it’s still working, do Ctrl+Win+Left arrow to go back to your main desktop.

      1. Aaaaand, VMs still take cores and RAM. Smoke ’em if you got ’em, but you gotta be able to spare ’em. Especially with a load test, since you can keep spinning up new VMs (or desktops or whatever), but at some point (and usually sooner than you think) they aaallll staaarttt ttooo slowwww dddooown. Which kinda messes with the validity of the loading.

        “Yep, we’re good – handled the 3000 consecutive users just fine.” “Oh, did I mention that they were pounding on the servers as if they were on 56 baud dial-ups?”

  8. Kind of funny scene where what you were writing about, breaking the action for description, is found in WEB Griffin’s book Semper FI. Start of WWII in the Philippines, characters are on a beach being shelled by the invading Japanese, and and the younger one suddenly bursts out, “These pants are going to be ruined! Do you know how much I paid for them at Brooks Brothers?”

  9. I just started reading Changling’s Island and I’m so impressed with how the setting just seeps into becoming a character. The last book I read that tried that was so annoying – mostly the driving directions for every car trip. I’m not going to be driving in Sorrow Falls; I don’t need to know this.

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