Thursday, August 26, 2010

Computer Programming

  • On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" In one case a member of the Upper, and in the other a member of the Lower House put this question. I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.
    • Charles Babbage, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864), ch. 5: "Difference Engine No. 1"
  • Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the universe trying to build bigger and better idiots. So far, the universe is winning.
  • Computers are man's attempt at designing a cat: it does whatever it wants, whenever it wants, and rarely ever at the right time.
  • There is no programming language, no matter how structured, that will prevent programmers from making bad programs.
  • No matter how slick the demo is in rehearsal, when you do it in front of a live audience, the probability of a flawless presentation is inversely proportional to the number of people watching, raised to the power of the amount of money involved.
  • [This] reminds me of a quotation from somebody that, whenever he tried to explain the logical structure of a programming language to a programmer, it was like a cat trying to explain to a fish what it feels like to be wet.
  • To me programming is more than an important practical art. It is also a gigantic undertaking in the foundations of knowledge.
    • Grace Hopper, quoted in Management and the Computer of the Future (1962) by Sloan School of Management, p. 277
  • Programming: when the ideas turn into the real things.
  • Most software today is very much like an Egyptian pyramid with millions of bricks piled on top of each other, with no structural integrity, but just done by brute force and thousands of slaves.
  • Premature optimization is the root of all evil.
    • Donald Knuth, "Structured Programming with Goto Statements". Computing Surveys 6:4 (December 1974), pp. 261–301, §1.
    • Premature optimization is the root of all evil (or at least most of it) in programming.
    • Knuth refers to this as "Hoare's Dictum" 15 years later in "The Errors of Tex", Software—Practice & Experience 19:7 (July 1989), pp. 607–685. However, the attribution to C. A. R. Hoare is doubtful.[2]
      • All three of these papers are reprinted in Knuth, Literate Programming, 1992, Center for the Study of Language and Information ISBN 0937073806
  • The most important thing in a programming language is the name. A language will not succeed without a good name. I have recently invented a very good name, and now I am looking for a suitable language.
  • Computers are good at following instructions, but not at reading your mind.
  • One in a million is next Tuesday.
  • He who hasn't hacked assembly language as a youth has no heart. He who does as an adult has no brain.
    • John Moore [citation needed], playing on the French saying that "He who is not a Socialist at 20 has no heart. He who at 40 is a Socialist has no brain."
  • Languages shape the way we think, or don't.
    • Erik Naggum [3]
  • Computer programming is tremendous fun. Like music, it is a skill that derives from an unknown blend of innate talent and constant practice. Like drawing, it can be shaped to a variety of ends – commercial, artistic, and pure entertainment. Programmers have a well-deserved reputation for working long hours, but are rarely credited with being driven by creative fevers. Programmers talk about software development on weekends, vacations, and over meals not because they lack imagination, but because their imagination reveals worlds that others cannot see.
  • The best book on programming for the layman is Alice in Wonderland, but that's because it's the best book on anything for the layman.
  • Computer Science is embarrassed by the computer.
    • Alan Perlis, "Epigrams on Programming"
  • Prolonged contact with the computer turns mathematicians into clerks and vice versa.
    • Alan Perlis, "Epigrams on Programming"
  • Structured Programming supports the law of the excluded muddle.
    • Alan Perlis, "Epigrams on Programming"
  • There are two ways to write error-free programs; only the third one works.
    • Alan Perlis, "Epigrams on Programming"
  • Software and cathedrals are much the same – first we build them, then we pray.
    • Sam Redwine [Proceedings of the 4th International Software Process Workshop, Moretonhampstead, Devon, U.K., 11–13 May 1988, IEEE Computer Society]
  • Why bother with subroutines when you can type fast?
  • A Netscape engineer who shan't be named once passed a pointer to JavaScript, stored it as a string and later passed it back to C, killing 30.
  • The three chief virtues of a programmer are: Laziness, Impatience and Hubris.
  • One day my daughter came in, looked over my shoulder at some Perl 4 code, and said, "What is that, swearing?"
    • Larry Wall [4]
  • Zawinski's Law: Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.
    • Jamie Zawinski (who called it the "Law of Software Envelopment") [citation needed]

[edit] Anonymous/Unattributed

  • 43rd Law of Computing: Anything that can go wr Seek Error reading Drive C: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?
  • Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from a rigged demonstration.
    • Restatement of Murphy's reformulation of Clarke's Third Law
  • The attention span of a computer is only as long as its electrical cord.
  • Beware of programmers that carry screwdrivers.
  • Computer programmers never die, they just become lost in the processing.
  • Computers can never replace human stupidity.
  • Computers Unite! You have nothing to lose but your operators.
  • Documentation is the castor oil of programming. Managers know it must be good because the programmers hate it so much.
  • Eagleson's Law of Programming: Any code of your own that you haven't looked at for six or more months, might as well have been written by someone else.
  • Gilb's First Law of Unreliability: Computers are unreliable but humans are even more unreliable.
  • Good programming is 99% sweat and 1% coffee.
  • If God had intended man to have computers, he would have given him 16 fingers.
  • In computing, turning the obvious into the useful is a living definition of the word "frustration".
  • Is a computer language with goto's totally Wirth-less?
  • Laws of Computer Programming:
    1. Any given program, when running, is obsolete.
    2. Any given program costs more and takes longer.
    3. If a program is useful, it will have to be changed.
    4. If a program is useless, it will have to be documented.
    5. Any given program will expand to fill all available memory.
    6. The value of a program is proportional to the weight of its output.
    7. Program complexity grows until it exceeds the capability of the programmer who must maintain it.
  • On a clear disk you can seek forever.
  • Programmer (n): An organism that can turn caffeine into code.
  • Programmers get overlaid.
  • Programming Department: Mistakes made while you wait.
  • Programming is an art form that fights back.
  • Programming would be so much easier without all the users.
  • The problem about all graphical programming languages is that when your project becomes complex, not only will you have spaghetti code, but it will actually look like spaghetti too.
  • Small programs are for small minds.
  • Software and cathedrals are much the same – first we build them, then we pray. Sam Redwine (This is a quote from Samuel T. Redwine, Jr. made at 4th International Software Process Workshop and published in Proceedings of the 4th International Software Process Workshop, Moretonhampstead, Devon, U.K., 11–13 May 1988, IEEE Computer Society.)
  • There are 10 types of people in this world, those who understand binary and those who do not.
  • To err is human. To blame it on a computer is even more so.
  • Troutman's First Programming Postulate: If a test installation functions perfectly, all subsequent systems will malfunction.
  • Troutman's Second Programming Postulate: The most harmful error will not be discovered until a program has been in production for at least six months.
  • Troutman's Third Programming Postulate: Job control cards that positively cannot be arranged in improper order will be.
  • Troutman's Fourth Programming Postulate: Interchangeable tapes won't.
  • Troutman's Fifth Programming Postulate: If the input editor has been designed to reject all bad input, an ingenious idiot will discover a method to get bad data past it.
  • Troutman's Sixth Programming Postulate: Profanity is the one language all programmers know best.
  • We don't really understand it, so we'll give it to the programmers.
  • Weinberg's Second Law: If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.
  • Whom computers would destroy, they must first drive insane.
  • Writing it is easy, understanding it is hard.
  • Your program is sick! Shoot it and put it out of its memory.
  • Your Zip file is open.

[edit] Debugging

  • Even perfect program verification can only establish that a program meets its specification. […] Much of the essence of building a program is in fact the debugging of the specification.
    • Fred Brooks (1986), "No Silver Bullet", Information Processing 1986, the Proceedings of the IFIP Tenth World Computing Conference, H. K. Kugler, ed., Elsevier Science, 1986, p. 1069 ff.
    • Reprinted in the IEEE magazine Computer 20 (4), (April 1987), p. 43 ff.; and in The Mythical Man-Month Anniversary Edition (1995), ISBN 0-201-83595-9
  • Much to the surprise of the builders of the first digital computers, programs written for them usually did not work.
    • Rodney Brooks, Programming in Common Lisp, Wiley, 1985, p. 94
  • bug, n: An elusive creature living in a program that makes it incorrect. The activity of "debugging", or removing bugs from a program, ends when people get tired of doing it, not when the bugs are removed.
  • silver bullet (SIL-vuhr BOOL-it) noun: A quick solution to a thorny problem. [From the belief that werewolves could be killed when shot with silver bullets.] "Writing code, he (Stuart Feldman) explains, is like writing poetry: every word, each placement counts. Except that software is harder, because digital poems can have millions of lines which are all somehow interconnected. Try fixing programming errors, known as bugs, and you often introduce new ones. So far, he laments, nobody has found a silver bullet to kill the beast of complexity."
    • Survey: The Beast of Complexity; The Economist (London, UK); Apr 14, 2001.
  • From then on, when anything went wrong with a computer, we said it had bugs in it.
    • RADM Grace Hopper, on the removal of a 2-inch-long moth from the Harvard Mark I experimental computer at Harvard in August 1945, as quoted in Time (16 April 1984)
  • The most effective debugging tool is still careful thought, coupled with judiciously placed print statements.
  • Everyone knows that debugging is twice as hard as writing a program in the first place. So if you're as clever as you can be when you write it, how will you ever debug it?
    • Brian Kernighan, "The Elements of Programming Style", 2nd edition, chapter 2
  • Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it.
  • A documented bug is not a bug; it is a feature.
  • As soon as we started programming, we found to our surprise that it wasn't as easy to get programs right as we had thought. Debugging had to be discovered. I can remember the exact instant when I realized that a large part of my life from then on was going to be spent in finding mistakes in my own programs.

[edit] Anonymous/Unattributed

  • Law 1: Every program can be optimised to be smaller. Law 2: There's always one more bug. Corollary: Every program can be reduced to a one-line bug.
  • Lubarsky's Law of Cybernetic Entomology: There's always one more bug.
  • The paradox of software testing: In theory, testing software for correctness is impossible. In practice, it is given to freshmen because it's the least demanding task available.
  • The cheapest, fastest and most reliable components of a computer system are those that aren't there.
  • Gilder's Law: Bandwidth grows at least three times faster than computer power.
    • George F. Gilder, Telecosm: How Infinite Bandwidth Will Revolutionize Our World, The Free Press, NY, 2000 [specific citation needed]
  • The best way to predict the future is to implement it.
  • As the trials of life continue to take their toll, remember that there is always a future in Computer Maintenance.


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