Saturday, June 21, 2008

In which I think I'm funny

# cheat into_the_code
Gone is the calm, mathematical world. The clear, clean methedrine high is
over. The whole endeavor has become a struggle against disorder. A battle of
wills. A testing of endurance. Requirements muddle up; changes are needed
immediately. Meanwhile, no one has changed the system deadline. The
programmer, who needs clarity, who must talk all day to a machine that demands
declarations, hunkers down into a low-grade annoyance. It is here that the
stereotype of the programmer, sitting in a dim room, growling from behind Coke
cans, has its origins. The disorder of the desk, the floor; the yellow post-it
notes everywhere; the white boards covered with scrawl: all this is the
outward manifestation of the messiness of human thought. The messiness cannot
go into the program; it piles up around the programmer.

Soon the programmer has no choice but to retreat into some private interior
space, closer to the machine, where things can be accomplished. The machine
begins to seem friendlier than the analysts, the users, the managers. The
real-world reflection of the program -- who cares anymore? Guide an X-ray
machine or target a missile; print a budget or a dossier; run a city subway or
a disk-drive read/write arm: it all begins to blur. The system has crossed the
membrane -- the great filter of logic, instruction by instruction -- where it
has been cleansed of its linkages to actual human life.

The goal now is not whatever all the analysts first set out to do; the goal
becomes the creation of the system itself. Any ethics or morals or second
thoughts, any questions or muddles or exceptions, all dissolve into a junky
Nike-mind: Just do it. If I just sit here and code, you think, I can make
something run. When the humans come back to talk changes, I can just run the
program. Show them: Here. Look at this. See? This is not just talk. This runs.
Whatever you might say, whatever the consequences, all you have are words and
what I have is this, this thing I've built, this operational system. Talk all
you want, but this thing here: it works.

From "Close to the Machine" by Ellen Ullman.

Close to the Machine: Technopilia and Its Discontents

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