Demos: Are you making college chili?

When I was in college I would, after swim meets (H2Okies) make up a batch of chili. It had all the right ingredients (1) and got the job done(2) but it was tuned for a very narrow audience. It wasn’t until I started cooking for and with my wife Deborah that I really learned what it means to create a meal (3) for a wide group of people (4).

Michaels Chili Recipe (College and Adult version)

College (Demo)Adult (Production)
1-lb ground beef
32-ounces canned kidney beens
32-ounces canned tomatoes
1 onion
garlic powder
red pepper (a lot of it)
cayenne pepper (a lot of it)(5)
Brown sugar (2 tbl)

Brown ground beef in pot,
“cook” diced onions in beef fat
Throw in the rest, cover with water.
Stir it every once in a while.
Add water to keep from scalding
1-lb ground beef 96% fat
1-lb dry kidney beans, sorted and soaked
16-ounces canned tomatoes
3 ~ 4 fresh tomatoes
4 ounces tomato paste
1 onion (red)
4 stalks celery
Spices: To taste and freshness
fresh garlic, pepper, salt, paprika, cumin

Saute onions, garlic and celery in olive oil
Brown beef with onions and garlic and celery
drain excess fat
On low heat add fresh diced tomatoes let sweat for 5 minutes
Add in spices
Add in kidney beans and canned tomatoes
Add water to cover beans
Simmer at low heat for 2 hours
An underspecified recipe

Demo versus production: What is the difference?

There are three things, first the dish is no longer dominated by single note, heat(6). Second, time, the college recipe was great for someone who needed something fast, e.g. throw it in and walk away; the adult version requires an investment for a greater return. Finally, reliability; hidden in the simple phrase “spice: to taste and freshness” is a decade of lessons learned.

Should you (I) make a demo? Or a prototype?

When these winter months roll around and the desire for a good hearty soup rolls around I can generalize my knowledge to a new soup. I don’t need to demo because I learned from past experiences. When I am creating a new software item I first look to see is there something I can reuse (or this), is it a known domain. If there is I don’t create a demo. If I need to learn something or I need to prove to a group that it can be done then I create a demo.

If the “demo” is something that I think I will be able use in the future then it becomes a “prototype”. If I am prototyping I put more time into the demos architecture, creation of test cases, creation of supporting infrastructure. It may not be the final product but it will be drawn upon.

The false lessons of demos

One last comment on demos; they can teach you false lessons. When you are doing things “fast and dirty” you have problems that you do not have when you follow a mature processes. When I was in college my chili was in constant state “it could burn”; it could burn because I was using a bad pot and a cheep stove with poor heat control; I havn’t burned a chili in 20+ years.

The same issues can happen with software development. When you are in rapid prototyping mode it is easy to have spaghetti code(7). This should be viewed as an failure of the development process, not of software in general.


  1. It’s hard to mess up beans, but, in all honesty the ground beef could have been of higher quality
  2. The job, in this case being twofold; first feeding very hungry college age athletes and second burning the roof of your mouth out.
  3. In college the meal was chili and corn bread; byob. I know I made salads but I don’t think I ever served one.
  4. Of course when it is just Deborah and me then the meal is perfectly tuned to us; which is another sort of perfected meal.
  5. It is a good thing that I did not know about ghost peppers back then, I would have used them, I would have used way to many of them
  6. Heat in chili is, now, an after market feature. If you want it hot you can add many different condiments to add heat. I would recommend this compote.
  7. Mushroom code and spaghetti code are similar that they develop due to a lack of planning. Spaghetti code is characterized with convoluted calling structures; mushroom code is accumulation of code on top of code.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.