Re: [stella] OT: Programming

Subject: Re: [stella] OT: Programming
From: Julian Squires <tek@xxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 25 Oct 2001 14:27:46 -0230
On Wed, Oct 24, 2001 at 09:29:09PM -0500, Clay Halliwell wrote:
> Ummm... are we confusing "represent" for "calculate"? It's easy for a
> computer to represent, say, one-third: "1/3". There. Now, if you want to
> calculate the decimal equivalent, well that's a whole separate matter. Maybe
> computers can't calculate things to infinite precision, but neither can
> humans, so who are we to complain?

It's impossible to represent the expansion correctly. Representing the
symbol is what computer algebra systems like maple do. ``sqrt(2)'' is
not the same as 1.4142...

There are slews of examples of why programmers who don't know how
computers or the underlying OS/libraries work will do a worse job,
though. The dreaded buffer overflows and string format security flaws
are an example of that (of course, sometimes it's an honest mistake --
one of the good things about abstraction and HLLs is that you don't
always have to think about what's happening below -- but this doesn't
mean you shouldn't know about it). Tons of errors and hours, perhaps
years, of debugging have been caused by not understanding how memory
works, or paging, or the call stack, or caching (at dozens of levels).
These things even happen in java.

Just recently on the GBA I saw an example of someone getting burned
due to not understanding a number of the low-level elements in the
system, which they had told me they ``didn't need to think about''
because they were working in a higher-level language.

I'm also constantly amazed at how many people, especially those with
CS degrees, know nothing about data structures, algorithms, or their
effective application. (lots of hobbyist programmers tend to ignore
the importance of CS theory, too...)

Sad state of affairs, indeed.

 |/|  Julian Squires <tek@xxxxxxx>

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