ASM, Clancy & Harvey, and Agile (Re: vintage computers in active use)

Fred Cisin cisin at
Fri May 27 14:25:39 CDT 2016

> > I had words with Clancy and Harvey.  While need may be diminshed, 
> > there is never a complete elimination of the need to pay attention to, 
> > and optimize near, the level of hardware.

[top posted, with Swift's remarks below]

The Clancy and Harvey topic is about curriculum, and teaching of "computer 
science".  Clancy and Harvey were/are two lecturers at UC Berkeley, who 
ended up in charge of lower division under-graduate CS.

First, I'll explain OUR curriculum at the community college, since that is 
what I know.  We had a varied mix of re-entry of dropouts, job training, 
AA degrees, preparation for transfer to 4 year colleges, skills 
enhancement for people employed in related jobs ("I want to take a course 
in C"), and adult enrichment.

We started off with an extremely simple introductory course that did not 
assume that the student had ever seen a computer. (In 1980 or so, that was 
a necessary assumption).  Offered as a 6 week drive-by, but generally a 
full semester for those who intended to go further.  It had just enough 
programming in it that a student would successfully create a program. 
(often done with BASIC)

Then an Introduction To Programming, with basic principles and concepts. 
Illustrated with multiple languages, but concentrating on a language of 
the instructor's choice for some minor projects.

Then choices of courses in multiple languages: COBOL (2 semester levels), 
FORTRAN, BASIC, Pascal, RPG, C, Mainframe Assembly (360/370), 
Microcomputer Assembly (X86), and occasional ones for only a few years 
each including RPG, ADA, etc.  Not all classes offered every semester.
Also work skills classes in using Microsoft Office, etc.

Data Structures And Algorithms, with a prerequisite of at least one 
programming language, and taught in language of instructor's choice (I 
used C, but I let students substitute other languages).  When I taught it, 
I included iterative V recursive tree algorithms.

I also taught "Microcomputer Disk Operating Systems" (heavy on MS-DOS, but 
trying to actually teach the principles applicable to ANY), and "Advanced 
Microcomputer Programming" (prerequisite of C and Assembly) which included 
TSRs, device drivers, walking directory trees, mixed language programming 
and stackframe structure, etc.  One of the assignments was to write a 
program that would display a complete directory of the disk.  I taught 
with C, X86 ASM, and MS-DOS, but students were free to substitute 
other languages and unix, Mac, or whatever, for their assignments.

I tried to implement a basic information science course on access to 
online information resources, but our curriculum committee vetoed it and 
rewrote it into how to surf the web.
We had constant struggles with the administration, who wanted to, and 
eventually succeeded at, removal of all advanced courses and anything with 
a prerequisite.  They REALLY wanted our department to be nothing but 
remedial job training for the digital sweatshop.  They killed EVERYTHING 
that had been worthwhile!
By 2013, when I finally told them to take my 33 year job and shovel it, I 
had still been unable to get them to let me try to do a basic beginning 
Information Science course (DIK/W/E, relevance ranking, economics and 
legalities of IP, recall/precision interaction, social impact of access, 
search engine algorithms, SEO, etc.)

Anyway, back to, . . .
Clancy and Harvey reworked the UC undergraduate lower division (first two 
years) curriculum.  They setup a three course sequence at the core, 
consisting of "Abstraction", "Data Structures", and "Demystification". 
They called a meeting of local CS departments to tell us what we should 
switch over to teaching.

They chose Scheme (a LISP derivative) for the first course.  They thought 
that recursion should be the fundamental basis of computer programming, 
even down to COUNTING from 1 to 10.  I used to usually give an assignment 
of Fibonacci numbers as an exercise in loop controls, etc. - I was a 
little taken aback when somebody from UC thought that it meant that I was 
starting my students off with recursion!  They gave a small example, which 
they declared CAN NOT (not "must not") be done with anything except 
recursion.  While they were putting it on the board, I coded it on my 
notepad as a two dimensional array with a nested loop in C, BASIC, 
Fortran, and got partway through COBOL.  (I take offense at being told 
things are "impossible" to do in other languages - "difficult" or 
"inappropriate" are acceptable).

Their "Data Structures" class was to be taught using C.  I asked about 
their C class.  They didn't have one, and declared that all students are 
assumed to already know C before they arrived there!

Their "Demystification" would be the first time that the students would be 
made aware of existence of anything under the hood.

They declared, "Nobody programs in Assembly language any more, nor ever 
will again."

I asked about timeline for implementation of the new curriculum.  They 
stated that it had been in place for a couple of years.  I pointed out 
that it was not reflected in the current catalog, and asked when they 
expected the catalog to catch up.  They insisted that that must just be a 
glitch in the printing of that years catalog, that it had been updated for 
a few years.  (THAT was a lie.  I went over to Doe Library and xeroxed the 
pages from the last five years of catalogs)

They had a brilliant visionary concept of CS education.
Which I don't agree with.

Grumpy Ol' Fred     		cisin at

On Fri, 27 May 2016, Swift Griggs wrote:
> I'm going to loudly agree here. While I find assembly coding somewhat
> tedious, I wonder what kind of Jedi mind trick "Clancy and Harvey" used to
> make themselves believe that asm was not only dead but also no longer
> useful. *eye roll* Whatever, geniuses. Maybe I'm misunderstanding the
> quote? Are they serious? Is this out of context and I'm just not "getting"
> what they really meant?
> There are all kinds of seemingly instinctual reactions that some folks
> have to questions of programming style and efficiency. My *least*
> favorites are:
> 1. The "GUI programming" or "natural language" folks who think that
> programming really isn't that hard, the problem is that we haven't given
> folks Fischer-Price icons for control structures, or allowed people
> "simply tell the computer what to do."  I simply call BS.
> 2. Languages that are supposed to "enlighten" students to some incredible
> new programming paradigm, or bolt-ons that to older languages with the
> same claims. They almost always start their pitch by telling you how some
> irritating or tedious aspect of coding in other languages can be
> eliminated or minimized. I'm more and more skeptical of this claim all the
> time. It rarely works out and generally making things "safer" or "easier"
> runs a big risk of neutering their usefulness, too.
> Those languages who successfully walk the line between power and ease of
> use are the ones that survive and thrive (and sometimes it's just
> chance/luck as Dennis Ritchie said about C).
> The bottom line is that coding is work. It takes creativity, analytical
> and critical thinking ability, and probably most important of all:
> practice. IMHO, there aren't any shortcuts. You work and you get results.
> As tedious as it is, I can think of several contexts were ASM is downright
> required. Folks who think there is a magic bullet or shortcut seem to fall
> into the same mistakes while calling them something new. Folks who resent
> the work & sweat that others do to get those skills are generally the ones
> who are screaming the loudest about how programming is really easy, but
> it's the geeks who are just overcomplicating things and are making it "so
> hard".
> Then they or folks with the same mindset generally start talking about
> Agile, XP, or some "methodology" that's going to somehow free them from
> the basic fact that good experienced coders write the best code and
> deliver. You can't simply iron on a methodology and turn a team full of
> lazy or careless coders into something else. At best, you can catch more
> of their errors and report on the ones that aren't being productive and
> hope your management pays attention. I've worked under Agile and XP
> regimes and I hate both with a passion. They were both a *huge*
> productivity drag (ever actually tried "pair programming"?) and seemed to
> me to be an effort to make business weasels feel more comfortable that
> their coders were "communicating" and other social crapola they think is
> important since most of what they do is sit around and run their mouths in
> meetings all day. I'm sure some folks will disagree, but I've *actually
> worked* under these schemes. In my experience (and the vast majority of my
> co-workers) they were awful. It also seems to me that all the "greats"
> (incredible coders) and software projects or companies I loved or
> respected weren't "Agile". They simply hired the right people and got out
> of the way. Give me the "wizard in a cave" methodology anyday over "1000
> H1Bs writing Shakespeare using Agile". Results matter more than
> mollycottled business majors and project manager feelings... uhh, IHMO.
> Who would you want helping you finish your project, Dr. Jeff Sutherland or
> John Carmack? Which do you think is going to get you there sooner and with
> better results? I know how I'd answer...
> This mentality I dislike is a bit like saying the only reason you can't
> play violin is, not because you don't practice and are too lazy to work at
> it.... noooo it's because the violin is poorly designed, the wrong brand,
> and because you aren't practicing in the right order with your head turned
> in the proper direction. Yeah. Right.
> I'm not saying the state of the art can't be improved. I only assert that
> there are some strategies for doing so that seem flawed from the start
> because they start with unrealistic (or downright silly) founding
> principles.
> -Swift

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