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Topic: A War Story (from the Math Wars series)
Replies: 4   Last Post: Aug 10, 2005 12:35 PM

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Kirby Urner

Posts: 4,713
Registered: 12/6/04
Re: A War Story (from the Math Wars series)
Posted: Jul 26, 2005 12:40 PM
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NEXT DAY, AFTER NASA SHUTTLE LAUNCH...

From the real time control of hardware, by means of code,
with origins in algebraical, logical, and to some extent
musical notations, resulted a bewildering variety of
languages, but with many design concepts in common.

One of the biggest innovations came with structured
programming, which forced coders to untangle their
spaghetti-balls of GOTOs and do something more cleanly
organized around a backbone or main call sequence -- a
more team-centric approach, more debuggable.

Then came the Object Oriented Paradigm, wherein code and
relevant data formed islands, in networks and
confederations, all passing messages to one another.

The procedural paradigm was absorbed (the objects needed
methods after all), and this whole new data structure,
called a Class Hierarchy, started guiding collaboration
at another level.

Of course the second you say Class Hierarchy, ears prick,
sensitive to possible cultural metaphors. What will OO
programmers think of their fellow humans, if they're so
class conscious by trade.

But in OO, the meaning of class is a different one, closer
to type, or species. These too come in hierarchies, but
not with humans at the top so much as in a promising part
of the fan. At the roots are more primitive organisms,
complex in their own way, but very distant from human.

In OO, that's more the picture: the "higher" you go, the
more "toward the root" you go, and the classes become less
and less specific, more and more in need of descendents
to get any real work done. The tip of the class hierarchy
is buried somewhere in prehistory (to extend the metaphor
fully).

SmallTalk really put the OO model out there, where people
could work with it, study it. Other languages saw the
advantages and changed. C morphed into C++, its struct
syntax begetting a more polymorphous class syntax. My own
language, Xbase (dbase II, III, IV, Clipper, Fox...),
morphed into VFP (Visual FoxPro), under Microsoft
management (which made sure Access wouldn't feel too
threatened). Coders comfortable with C wanted to keep a
lot of that syntax (unlike in the LISP or APL traditions),
which is what Java and C# bring about.

.NET is in part a strategy to bring the huge army of
Visual Basic programmers into a fully equipped Visual
Studio, where other tools work harmoniously -- including
Python (the one that works on the Nokia 60 series cell
phones).

At our first meeting, yesterday at Powell's, when talk
turned to sports, someone (not Derek) remarked about some
vital college football quarterback getting mono, a
non-fatal disease that leaves one bedridden or at least
not able to play football. In a marketing sense, this
dogged a new open source project: Mono. Except Mono
means Monkey in its native namespace, and the monkey
theme was already well-developed in Ximian, so the whole
animal and jungle motif was making plenty of sense. So
what if the connotations were more unfortunate in the
English-speaking realm? Sometimes that couldn't be
helped. Anyway, we pronounce Mono differently, with the
"o" like in "owe." We don't say "mah-no" -- which sounds
a lot like the word for "hand." Mono is an implementation
of .NET for Linux.

So that pretty much brings the language picture up to
date from the point of view of an OSCON attender. There's
a lot more that could and should be said in an academic
vein, e.g. about Haskell and lambda calculus. But the
point here is more to trace "math notation" from its paper
and pencil beginnings, into the device control and
infrastructure support matrix. That's where it rejoins
mathematical modeling, in the sense of needing to control
pressures, sense rates of change, confirm safety
thresholds and so on. To launch, or not to launch? The
code helps you decide intelligently, but human judgment
remains at the switch.



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