[nSLUG] Lamport on "software culture"

Robin Murray nibor.yarrum at gmail.com
Sun Mar 23 13:28:10 ADT 2014

I think this guy is living in an ivory tower. It's an art as to how much
planning you do vs sitting down and blasting out code straight away, and
you have to be very flexible and dynamic with the balance you strike. The
goal is to write a concise, easily understood solution to a problem, in the
least amount of time possible. Insisting on planning everything out, to
make a "blueprint" first, often doesn't work, it presupposes that you can
gain all the knowledge you need to solve the problem with a piece of paper
and a pencil. While that approach can be useful, often you will learn just
as much or more by blasting out prototypes to explore the solutions via
code. If you follow the blueprint approach exclusively, you may find that
you've got it all worked out nicely on paper only to find huge gaps in your
knowledge as you begin to translate that in to code, gaps that would have
been flushed out with a couple of throw away prototypes. On the other hand,
if you find yourself spinning your wheels writing code, constantly
rewriting things while in a fog, it's time to set aside the keyboard and
break out the paper and pencil for a while. It goes back and forth.

Robin Murray
Hatchet Lake,
Nova Scotia

On Sun, Mar 23, 2014 at 12:07 PM, George N. White III <gnwiii at gmail.com>wrote:

> In view of the recent discussion of shoddy coding practices shown by
> Apple, many commentators mentions the famous "Goto considered harmful".
> Here is another
> "academic" perspective that rings true:
> In an interview, 2013 ACM A.M. Turing Award winner Leslie Lamport was
> asked:
> *More recently, you have worked on ways to improve how software is built.
> What's wrong with how it's done now?*
> People seem to equate programming with coding, and that's a problem.
> Before you code, you should understand what you're doing. If you don't
> write down what you're doing, you don't know whether you understand it, and
> you probably don't if the first thing you write down is code. If you're
> trying to build a bridge or house without a blueprint<http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/people/lamport/pubs/pubs.html#wired>--what
> we call a specification--it's not going to be very pretty or reliable.
> That's how most code is written. Every time you've cursed your computer,
> you're cursing someone who wrote a program without thinking about it in
> advance.
> There's something about the culture of software that has impeded the use
> of specification. We have a wonderful way of describing things precisely
> that's been developed over the last couple of millennia, called
> mathematics. I think that's what we should be using as a way of thinking
> about what we build.
> <
> http://www.technologyreview.com/news/525621/three-questions-for-leslie-lamport-winner-of-computings-top-prize/
> >
> --
> George N. White III <aa056 at chebucto.ns.ca>
> Head of St. Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia
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> nSLUG at nslug.ns.ca
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