Re: [unrev-II] Open Source

From: Henry van Eyken (
Date: Wed Aug 01 2001 - 17:48:54 PDT

  • Next message: Eric Armstrong: "[unrev-II] More on Lee's Nodal system"

    Eric Armstrong wrote:

    > ...Morgan Stanley is saving money -- so
    > much money that they're able to hire open-source
    > developers on a contract basis to add features
    > to their systems
    > from

    Interesting, isn't it? And not only for business, Eric! I have felt for many,
    many years that it is important that programming ought be taught in schools.
    Allow me to quote from my Fleabyte course I conducted for college teachers
    (1988 version):

    One major inequity of incomputency must be helplessness felt by those not
    able to assess and protect themselves against the influence of those in
    control of machine computation. They may accomodate themselves to this
    circumstance in the short run, but this does not necessarily eliminate
    stronger shocks in the long term as the computer's influence gradually pushes
    them off to the side or intrudes on them in some other manner and with
    increasing force.

    Another aspect of incomputency will be the utter dependence on programs
    written by others, programs that are not understood by their users. This will
    be increasingly strongly felt if and when personal computing becomes a more
    valued part of our daily lives as reading and writing are now. With an eye to
    making personal choices I once wrote that "a close electronic assistant for
    our neural brain can help us quickly sift chaff from wheat and do so any time
    we want it to. However, to employ such help we must know how to use it. And
    that includes knowing how to program, believe it or not.

    "Those not skilled in reading and writing are more likely to be n the
    control of others. Unless we know how to make and READ programs, we shall
    perforce depend on programs made by others - experts, presumably, at writing
    programs - and, if we are lucky, experts also at solving exactly those
    problems we happen to encounter. THEIR algorithms will solve OUR problems
    the way THEY see them - or, and here is a mean rub, WISH TO SEE THEM. There
    will be no opportunity to amend a computer program to suit one's very own
    personal needs, to solve problems in one's own way. Future-God shall be the
    Programmer. And insofar we have not been brainwashed yet, we shall be soon.

    "Programmer, Thy Will Be Done." [I wrote this for "Literacy Across The
    Curriculum," Dawson College, Nov. 1, 1987.]

    Like personal writing, personal computing is likely to bring a variety of
    benefits. Most obvious, one might expect, are those bearing on personal
    education. Then there are potential social benefits. Imagine how more
    comfortable Canadians might have felt if they had been able to make personal
    computer-aided assessments of the pros and cons of the proposal for free
    trade between Canada and the United States during the 1988 election
    campaign. One may well regard that election an early example of the need for
    making better choices faster and from palettes that offer in-creasingly
    complex assortments of facts to scrutinize.

    It is heartening to observe that the need for individual adaptation of
    programs is felt by others as well. "Software," I recently read, "can be
    made so simple that computer owners can modify programs to their taste
    without knowing anything about bits and bytes. 'Our whole interest,' says
    Apple's Kay, 'is letting ordinary people make tools for themselves. In the
    future you'll get an application out of the box and, after a couple of
    weeks, you'll have some ideas and change it.'" [Newsweek, Oct. 24, 1988]

    But did you notice that ominous word!? The word "ordinary"? That would not
    by any chance be akin to "functionally incomputent," [cf "functionally
    illiterate"] now would it?


    P.S. I wonder how Alan Kay followed through on what he said in 1988.

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