21.030 coding and composing?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 18 May 2007 06:42:43 +0100

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 30.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Fri, 18 May 2007 06:39:44 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: Coding and Composing

An interesting article, "Code and Composition", zipped by on Humanist
a few days ago in an announcement of the latest Ubiquity
(http://www.acm.org/ubiquity/) -- an online magazine that sometimes
publishes little gems. In this article Luke Fernandez compares the
two modes of expression and finds them convergent: writing, not
entirely spontaneous, involves planning and research; coding, not
entirely planned, involves discovery during the act of composition.
In this attempt at a parallel, the first seems obvious, if a bit
overstated, but the second seems to contradict official stories of
how writing code should proceed. What is the experience of people
here? I understand that nowadays no one or few preaches the doctrine
that a complete specification must be devised beforehand (as I was
told when I learned many years ago). I think the need to come up with
a complete flowchart is what put me off programming eventually, along
with the dreaded "turn-around time" of 2 hrs minimum. In any case, it
would be interesting to know how exploratory programming is known to
be these days.

Some of you here will be familiar with Brian Cantwell Smith's
argument, in "The Limits of Correctness" (1985), later published in
1995 as "The Limits of Correctness in Computers", (Computers, Ethics
& Social Values. Ed. Deborah G. Johnson and Helen Nissenbaum. 456-69.
Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall) that a fundamental problem we
have with computing is the whole idea of correctness in any
algorithmically rigorous description of the world. Fernandez's
argument leads me to the thought that the problem with the problem of
correctness is in the assumption of a final statement -- and that
this applies to writing prose as much as to programming, though with
different consequences. As long as correctness is deferred but still
a goal we're on the right track.



Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
Received on Fri May 18 2007 - 01:49:34 EDT

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