Re: [stella] OT: Programming

Subject: Re: [stella] OT: Programming
From: "Roger Williams" <mer02@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 24 Oct 2001 19:03:29 -0700
>> It is distressing to see how many so-called programmers
> don't have the first clue how a computer actually works.
> "That's the compiler's job."  Funny, if I thought the compiler
> was smarter than me, I'd look for another line of work.
> <<
> It's depressing, yes, but one needs to also realize the much more
> role programming has in our society today vs. the late seventies.
> There is a need for more things to be programmed than there ever were, and
> over a wider range of devices.  The ultimate goals of the programming are
> getting more and more complicated too.  Too complicated to be solved by
> assembly language alone.

This is true, but there are limits.  I don't expect the guy who fixes
my car A/C to be able to rebuild the engine, but if he demonstrated
a complete ignorance of pistons, carburetors, and electricity, I'd
wonder how good a job he could do on something that depends
ultimately on them.

> So it all depends on what kind of modern programming you are doing and why
> before you can criticize it all as being 'inferior'.

There are certain things you need to know no matter WHAT kind
of programming you are doing.  For example, no computer has
ever been built that can represent a real number.  Computers
represent approximations, which have limits.  Different programming
environments use different compromises to deal with this; some will
kill your performance, some will deliver inaccurate results, some will
magically do both.  Yet very few "programmers" know anything
about floating point math even though they use it all the time.

The most common result of this is the bonehead "just to be safe"
move to put everything in double precision, ignorant that the double
precision libraries don't do rounding by default, so you get fractions
of .99999 instead of 1.0 because you don't know that 1/10 is an
infinitely repeating "binal" much as 1/3 is an infinitely repeating
decimal. This is *really* common in niche market and custom
accounting systems, and I've even seen it in a scale which somehow
passed NTEP certification with this bug in place.

> Cold Fusion is a very limited language, but it's perfectly suited for
> development of web-based applications, moreso than making compiled DLLs in
> C++, that's for sure.  So what may seem as lightweight programming to one
> person is the right tool for the job to another.

Hey, I do a lot of work in Visual Basic.  I'm better at it because I know
which variable types to use and how to optimize my own storage schemes
instead of blindly relying on the database engine.


> What the industry must realize is that we must always have some people at
> the core who can write assembly, no matter how crazy and messed up the
> become, in order to facilitate the higher levels to continue.  If we lost
> all our assembly programmers, we'd probably be in really deep trouble.
> like if we all relied on calculators and there were no people who knew how
> to do math by hand, we'd be in trouble if all the calculators broke.
> It's depressing because as far as popular culture goes, C++ or Java is the
> _only_ real programming environment, so I don't see a lot of interest in
> newer generation of coders to learn assembly.

The level of skill I miss doesn't even involve knowing how to write
an application in assembly.  The machine has limitations because of
how it works; this is true no matter how high or low a level at which
you program.  And too many "programmers" don't know those

My girlfriend, who thinks of the space forward of the steering wheel
of a car as a container full of homogeneous potato-like stuff that makes
the car go if you feed it gasoline, once destroyed her Geo Prizm by
driving it after it overheated.  She didn't know and didn't care that
it was a different thing from the 1966 Cadillac fleetwood she'd done
the same thing to once before, without bad consequences.  When I
tried to explain why it happened she just kept saying "well they
should fix it!  It didn't hurt the Cadillac!"  To this day she thinks the
car is a piece of junk because she couldn't drive it without coolant.
The fact that this made the difference between 13 MPG and 33 MPG
is lost on her.

People who don't know how the computer works will make similar

--Roger Williams

Archives (includes files) at
Unsub & more at

Current Thread