Monday, September 6, 2010

Programmer feel-good quote

From a bit to a few hundred megabytes, from a microsecond to a half an hour of computing confronts us with completely baffling ratio of 109! The programmer is in the unique position that his is the only discipline and profession in which such a gigantic ratio, which totally baffles our imagination, has to be bridged by a single technology. He has to be able to think in terms of conceptual hierarchies that are much deeper than a single mind ever needed to face before.E.W. Dijkstra

5 comments:

Yousuf said...

O Yeah!
Hear Hear

Sebastian said...

I don't understand, what about physics? From the nucleus to the galaxy

Manuel J. Simoni said...

I think the point is that in physics (apart from very small scales) you use the same formulas on the vastly different scales - e.g. whether two masses are 10 cm or 10 lightyears apart, the laws of gravity are the same.

In computing you have what he calls hierarchies of concepts, where the "laws" change with scale, and you have to think about all of them - e.g. an operating system developer has to work with low-level stuff like the physics of RAM access to high-level stuff like proving properties, with a single technology - programming languages.

Tero Tilus said...

For what I understand, there's this slight difference between physics and programming. Physicists don't need to design the laws of nature and the universe to match some obscure requirements.

Universe is already there. Software needs to be written.

(No offence. Physics is awsome stuff! Definitely not easy. Just different.)

Harrison Ainsworth said...

You posted this notion on your other blog too! So I will post my response again too:

Does software not also give us the very medium and power with which to meet that challenge? That range of scales is not an externally imposed obstacle, it is an expression of software's *capability*. Software naturally possesses the means to produce and control that range, in simple ways.

Dijkstra seems to be looking at the dark side not the light side. It is like saying a telescope presents the eye with gigantic distance which baffles it capabilities -- no, the telescope offers a new power, not so much a new problem.