Monday, 16 December 2013

A Parameterized Attack on Programming


I will be frank; I don't like the programming language L. If I could stop people from using it directly I would, forcing them to first formulate their problem in a better language.

Practitioners are subtly but profoundly swayed to take shortcuts with correctness because of a lack of simple or idiomatic expression in L -- after which, of course, they are encouraged to compromise performance for some measure of the correctness gained back. Double-of-course -- correctness is everything!

Truthfully, there is little wrong with L, but more the culture surrounding it. By refusing to use anything but L, a mono-culture forms, and L is forced to handle more and more concept mappings that bring L to the very limits of (and, sometimes, off the charts of) its intended cost/benefit trade-off.

The economic viability of programming has given it a very dense and awe-inspiring history -- but correct language is essential -- all industries are doing what will inevitably be called 'early programming'.

Consider the culture of programming as a whole:

Money drives programming hours in a series of chaotic directions. Man-millenia become spent on redundant interfaces to obsolete versions of redundant programs by obsolete and redundant companies. Those observing these practices identify similar but frustratingly hard to generalize flaws over and over. It is discouragingly hard to incrementally improve something for which your system has no intelligence.

And of course, why bother with thinking about a gradual path of improvement when you face costly ad-hoc reformulation, creeping obsolescence, changing requirements, no market demand, et al staring at you. You can almost feel the boulder rolling back as you reach to push it up the hill. Individuals in these situations sometimes find solace in the delusion that since they are avoiding changes they are avoiding the problem of programming -- only to be pulled back in for one last 'hit' by the winds of change. And this describes our dense landscape of opportunity, where history is not only doomed to repeat itself but to synchronize at many points as industries struggle to solve problems in excitingly identical ways.

And that's precisely what's wrong with the programming language L, and it has almost nothing to do with the programming language L.

When our most fundamental set of tools are thought of, therefore spoken of, therefore implemented as constraints not strictly the minimum of our problem domain, we create (at least slightly) divergent paths of progress. As long as we continue to rely on competing ad-hoc imperative logic models to handle conceptually non-imperative tasks we have literally no hope for normalization (viz Halting Problem).

Only when we leave 'early programming' can the very confused non-software-oriented industries return to business as usual. Producing correct software is a minefield compared to ensuring correct manual labour. Once the designer for even a non-technical discipline can manipulate a set of sufficiently expressive symbols that appeal to their intuition without fear of being forced to reason about arbitrarily-imperative behaviour or any other ad-hoc idiosyncrasies, then we can say we are observing modern programming.

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