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Why is programming so hard?

I have been reflecting recently on what it was like to learn to program. The problem is, I don’t clearly remember: I do remember that there was a time when I was no good at it. When I could type a program in from INPUT or wherever, and if it ran correctly I was golden. […]

Programming, maths and the other things

Sarah Mei argues that programming is not math, arguing instead that programming is language. I don’t think it’s hard to see the truth in the first part, though due to geopolitical influences on my personality I’d make the incrementally longer statement that programming is not maths. But there’s maths in programming Let’s agree to leave […]

Intellectual property and software: the nuclear option

There are many problems that arise from thinking about the ownership of software and its design. Organisations like the Free Software Foundation and Open Source Initiative take advantage of the protections of copyright of source code – presumed to be a creative work analogous to a written poem or a painting on canvas – to […]

On Mental Health

This post has been a while in the writing, I suppose waiting for the perfect time to publish it. The two things that happened today to make me finally commit it to electrons were the news about Robin Williams, and reading Robert Bloch’s That Hell-Bound Train. Explaining the story’s relevance would spoil it, but it’s […]

Contractually-obligated testing

About a billion years ago, Bertrand Meyer (he of Open-Closed Principle fame) introduced a programming language called Eiffel. It had a feature called Design by Contract, that let you define constraints that your program had to adhere to in execution. Like you can convince C compilers to emit checks for rules like integer underflow everywhere […]

The Wealth of Applications

Adam Smith’s Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations opens by discussing the division of labour. How people are able to get more done when they each pick a small part of the work to be done and focus on that, trading their results with others to gain access to the […]

One decade in

The first working week of August 2014 comes ten years after the first working week of August 2004. You knew that. The first working week of August 2004 was the first week since completing my degree that I worked for a living: the start of a sequence of (paid) events that led me to here. […]

PADDs, not the iPad

Alan Kay says that Xerox PARC bought its way into the future by paying lots of money for each computer. Today, you can (almost) buy your way into the future of mobile computers by paying small amounts of money for lots of computers. This is the story of the other things that need to happen […]

The reasonable effectiveness of developer tools

In goals upon goals upon goals, I suggested that a fixation on developer tools is misplaced. This is not to say that developer tools are unhelpful, nor that they can’t have a significant impact on our work. Consider the following, over-restricted, definition of what a programmer does: A programmer’s responsibility is to turn a computer […]

Goals upon goals upon goals

As I read Ed Finkler’s piece on losing excitement in technology, I found myself recognising pieces of my own story. The prospect of a new language or framework no longer seems like a new toy, an excuse to stay up all night studying it, using it and learning its secrets as I would have done […]