Programming language failings [was Re: strangest systems I've sent email from]

Ian S. King isking at
Fri Apr 29 13:59:42 CDT 2016

On Fri, Apr 29, 2016 at 11:22 AM, Mouse <mouse at> wrote:

> > My gripe with C is essentially the same as my grumbles with APL--it's
> > far too easy to write obscure code and not document it.
> "There is not now, nor will there ever be, a language in which it's the
> least bit difficult to write bad code."  Not quite true, of course;
> there are languages in which it's remarkably difficult to write _any_
> code.  But it _is_ true that there is not, nor (I believe) will there
> ever be, any language in which it's substantially more difficult to
> write bad code than good code.  (Of course, some languages make
> _certain kinds_ of bad code more difficult....)
> > Why it appeals to this particular foible of human nature has always
> > been a mystery to me.
> I doubt it's C that appeals particularly.  I've done my share of
> writing obscure code and not documenting it (I like to think I've
> learnt better, at least somewhat, by now), and C is relevant only in
> that it happens to be the language I most commonly work in.  I find the
> same tendency showing up in other languages, anything from sh to DSLs.
> I have an end-cut saw that I've told my Spousal Unit she should not use.
It's not a bad or defective tool - in fact, it's a very useful and powerful
tool.  But IMHO she lacks the 'situational awareness' to safely deal with
an unprotected blade going back and forth several thousand times a minute.

C is a lot like that saw - it doesn't have a lot of guards on it, and you
can do stupid things.  But you can do very powerful things that are
difficult or impossible in, say, Python, which is also a very good and
useful tool.

Don't blame the tools - blame an educational system that doesn't teach
software engineering practice, but just teaches tools.  "Hey, hold my beer
and watch this!"  -- Ian

Ian S. King, MSIS, MSCS, Ph.D. Candidate
The Information School <>
Dissertation: "Why the Conversation Mattered: Constructing a Sociotechnical
Narrative Through a Design Lens

Archivist, Voices From the Rwanda Tribunal <>
Value Sensitive Design Research Lab <>

University of Washington

There is an old Vulcan saying: "Only Nixon could go to China."

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