new years resolutions

Cliff Wells clifford.wells at
Sat Jan 4 19:45:23 CET 2003

On Sat, 2003-01-04 at 03:44, Pieter Nagel wrote:
> Peter Hansen wrote:
> > True.  I'm hoping to help a few people break free of the bonds of their
> > experience to date and consider that many different things are actually
> > just "programming", and perhaps thereby discover interesting ways to 
> > transfer the useful patterns they have learned into new areas.
> You are must likely right that people with a Computer Science background 
>   tend to insist on limiting the term "programming language" to mean 
> Turing Completeness, and only that.
> But I don't thing it is due to an "ivory tower" attitude. In science, 
> one tends to have rigorous definitions of concepts and try to stick to 
> them, so everyone can understand what the are talking about.

If I might channel Peter for a moment ;)  I think you miss his point. 
He was contrasting the computer scientist (and let's not get into what
that means ;) with the engineer.  By ivory tower he was referring to the
fact that CS tends toward theory and ideal situations whereas for
someone with an engineering background it's all nuts and bolts.  To an
engineer, ASCII might certainly qualify as a "programming language"
(especially when sent to something like a video chipset, which acts
directly upon, and in a sense, is controlled by the ASCII codes).  A CS
major would probably disagree, but it's a matter of perspective.

> For example, maybe there is a "experience broadening" benefit for 
> doctors to call "dispensing prescriptions" and "surgery" one and the 
> same thing - both involve curing conditions by getting substances 
> (chemicals or steel) into the body.

But you take the analogy in the wrong direction.  The person with the CS
background is the one making the broad abstractions, ignoring things
such as physical memory, register sizes, number of registers, etc. 
Computing at a low level is very different that a HLL will tell you.  

In short, to a CS major, computing is described in terms of programming
languages and data structures, so these distinctions are important.  To
an engineer computing is described in terms of how hardware responds to
data being run through it (whether it's considered code or data is

> But I doubt you'd get anybody with a medical background to concur. Else, 
> you'd end up in the situation of picking a book about "Surgery" off the 
> library shelf and not knowing whether it is about diet or cutting people up.

Ah, but you are equating "computer background" with "CS background"
which ignores a large segment of knowledgeable people.  There is a guy
at my work who built a serial IO card using nothing but a pen plotter to
etch the circuit board, a small processor (and a couple of support
chips) and his own custom firmware.  I doubt many CS majors could do the
same, yet they would somehow exclude his POV in favor of their own,
despite the fact that their entire world ceases to exist without people
like him.  Ask yourself, is computing about software, or about
hardware?  Obviously both, but I can assure you that hardware without
software is far more useful than the reverse <wink>.

Cliff Wells <clifford.wells at>

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