Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

10 Jan 2011, 10:17 a.m.

What's Obsolete & What's Still True?

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2011 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

In India the number of institutions and organizations installing computers is growing at a rapid rate. This is a welcome sign. More and more of our workers in factories and offices will now turn the monotonous and routine jobs over to the computer, and thus will be cured of the nervous tension which they suffer unconsciously day in and day out. These workers, thus rendered healthy, will be an asset to the country and will devote themselves to more challenging tasks which need the ingenuity of a human brain.

From Essentials of Computer Programming in FORTRAN IV, Nripendra Nath Biswas (Indian Institute of Science), Radiant Books, Bangalore, India, 1975. Page vii; second paragraph of the preface.

My mother knew FORTRAN; she used it, she tells me, in a night job doing data entry at a nuclear power plant. Her FORTRAN teacher said she was awesome and encouraged her to go into programming fulltime; she declined because she didn't want full-time daytime work, or already had a day job. I wonder how my life would be different if I'd grown up with punchcards.

...Where do we write these statements and how does the computer read them? It is quite obvious that writing these statements on a piece of paper and holding it in front of the computer will not solve the problem. (At least not right now. The computers of future generations will surely acquire this capability.)... -p. 33

Considerable research is under progress to improve the capability of a programming language, so that it can itself correct certain types of errors. Even then it is obvious that a programmer will need a more rigorous knowledge of the language to write a computer program than the knowledge of French that an English speaking tourist needs when shopping in Paris... p. 52

Je voudrais un silver bullet!


13 Jan 2011, 12:50 p.m.

I was about to say "That's the world needs! OCR software built into webcams and attached to a compiler, so the programmer can write code on paper and then just hold it up to the camera!"

But then I remembered that a recent Big Bang Theory episode involved writing equations on a whiteboard and having a cell phone camera recognize them, so maybe this isn't so far-fetched after all.

13 Jan 2011, 12:54 p.m.

PS: Neat that your mother used FORTRAN!

Someone I know from high school recently told me that her mother was one of the first programmers for some big computer company (I forget which); she was recruited out of the secretarial pool. It makes me wonder if anyone's done a history of non-famous women in computing, and it makes me wonder if there were more of them than I tend to assume there were.