The Walls of Troy, Documentation and Log Files

September 18, 2006 at 10:02 pm 3 comments

Walls of Troy Lecture
This evening, I went to see Dr. Sarah Morris of the University of California at Los Angeles speak at Virginia Tech.  Her topic was “Apollo, Poseidon, and the Walls of Troy: Homer and Archaeology”.  She covered a large array of talking points– the excavation history of Troy/Ilium, the new technologies and practices that accompany modern archaeology, how the Trojan Horse may have stemmed from Greek memories of a seize machine, etc.

One note I found particularly interesting was her observation that Troy was the 24th city that was seized by the Greeks.  She mentioned there was even a city that was much bigger than Troy (sounded like “Pegalon”– but not sure of the spelling). 

So she asked, “Why Troy?  Why did this site become more important than the others?”

To answer that, Dr. Morris cited that there were six Epic Cycle poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey all written around Trojan War events/aftermath.  However, it seemed what she felt really solidified Troy’s importance was the continued prominence of the city/site afterwards.  She talked about pilgrims visiting it and she also shared a story about how a city cursed by Ajax the Lessor (aka Ajax of Locris) sent noble young women to Troy for years to serve as prietesses in the Temple of Athena.  Their gesture was an effort to redeem themselves from Ajax’s brutal rape of Temple of Athena priestess, Cassandra, during the war.

Granted, I’m just a layperson, but my biases from years of journal writing and work in document control have me feel without the documentation (even fictional accounts), the ongoing visits to Troy would not been enough alone to sustain its appeal.  In fact, common phrases throughout the lecture were “Homeric Troy” and “Homer’s Troy.”  We did not hear the phrase “Ajax the Lessor’s Troy.” 

Importance of Documentation – Monticello and Ashlawn Highland
I have a relatively contemporary example of the importance of documentation with historical sites– right from my home state of Virginia!  During the Fall of 2001, Sean and I visited the homes of Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe.  An excerpt of my November 18, 2001 journal entry:

The two homes were quite different. Jefferson’s had tall ceilings, unique architecture and filled with expansive book collections and interesting inventions. Monroe’s was a modest farmhouse, more functional and less showy.

The tours were a little different too. There was a lot of certainty regarding Monticello and its happenings. With Monroe there was a lot of speculation. A lot of “We don’t know [for sure]”s and “We think”s.

These two men lived in the same time, only 2 1/2 miles apart. They were friends. They died exactly five years apart.

So why the discrepancy in knowledge?

Jefferson wrote things down.

They gave an overwhelming statistic of just the letters he wrote. Perhaps 20,000 letters?

He documented daily life. He recorded his thoughts and opinions as well as the mundane.

We know so much because he wrote. We, 200 years later, still benefit.

The moral– write things down even little things about dry cleaning and toilets, even about the placement of nails. Write it down so the future won’t have doubt.

Back to Troy– remember those young ladies that were sent to be priestesses to redeem Ajax’s offense to Athena?  I’m told there was a lot of doubt and speculation about that transaction.  There were thoughts the ladies had to run a gauntlet when they first arrived at Troy and no one really knew how long they served as priestesses or how it worked.  The picture became more clear within the past few decades– when an inscription describing the legalities of the ladies was found in a completely different city.  The picture became more clear…. because of documentation.  🙂

Log Files
Maybe that is why I’m big in log files and audit trails in my software work.  I recently described the new QualTrax Error Handling, including our usage of low exceptions for logging purposes.  QualTrax has historically had a number of different log files that could be toggled on or off as needed.  Each service had its own log.  We had database connection logging, file access logging and of course, general error logging in the event log.  At the same time, every action to a document, workflow, user, group and test is recorded in an audit trail.  In my Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) work with QualLinc, the importance on logging persists.  The three features that have the most potential for problems (PDF Generation, Processing Incoming Emails and Attachments, Distributing Batch Emails with Attachments) are logged heavily– allowing the system to record each key step for traceability.

In both applications, the availability of this extra documentation proves to be an invaluable tool and is usually instrumental in diagnosing an issue.  And when one is troubleshooting an issue with a software application…. one is trying to answer the some of the exact same questions archaelogists are struggling with:

“What happened?”

“When?”

“Who did it?”

“What went wrong?”

🙂

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Entry filed under: Homer, QualTrax, Troy, Web Development.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Clint  |  September 19, 2006 at 8:35 am

    Not LIMS…. Ugh. We have something named that here.

    Reply
  • […] Irwin  A couple of months ago, buried in musings about Troy and Log Files, I talked about the importance of documentation.  An example I cited was the knowledge we know about Monticello and Ashlawn.  Both were residents […]

    Reply
  • 3. Sheer  |  October 29, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    It’s interesting.. as I get older, or perhaps more pessimistic, my programming style re: logging has changed.

    Originally, I would write code to do whatever it did.. next to no logging.. then add logging as I debugged it.

    Then, for a while, i was logging truly excessive amounts of information, and in expensive ways (i.e. logging to database tables)

    These days, I write the logging first, and then the rest of the code around it, and I use fairly simple logging – to flat files, with bitmasks to control what gets logged. My logging has become one with my psuedocode.

    I have *finally* learned never to let anything go out the door either with too much audit trail or too little. I generally like to have the ability to have the user crank the logging level, usually from some fairly user-friendly dialog box or from a configuration file somewhere. But, I never feel quite as dumb as when I ship something and then discover it’s leaving a log file a mile wide in the default settings.

    Reply

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