How To Program (Computers)


The only hard part of programming computers is you’re expected to make a computer program. And even that wouldn’t be so bad except for the expectation the program will work. There’s where programming falls down. Economists say this is from purely rational market motivations, because economists think it’s very important things result from purely rational market motivations and they’d feel awful if they ever found something that didn’t. In just the past month economists have identified purely rational market considerations behind how buses never run from anywhere anyone is to anywhere anyone wants to go, potato chips which resemble celebrities, the way that nobody has correctly identified sarcasm since 1986, the Balmer spectrum of Hafnium, and certain highly educated pebbles.

In this case, the economists have a point, and don’t think they aren’t all smug about it. Imagine you were a computer program that worked. You’d be put to work, likely at impossible times such as 5:15 am, instead of doing what you’d like. What you’d like would be trying to remember old cartoons you’re pretty sure you didn’t make up. To get to do what you want instead, you have to do the stuff you’re expected to do wrong.

And so programs have bugs. For example a program to alphabetize the boroughs of New York City lists “Queens” and then drives the computer off a cliff, causing a steam locomotive in 1908 to explode. This gives the program hours to establish that yes, Gary Coleman was an angel this one cartoon, and is he dead or was that somebody else? It also gives physicists something to argue over, and helps historians. These days the Haymarket Square Riot is understood to have been triggered by beta-testing of Microsoft Access 2016, with the real tragedy being that the upgrades could have been handled in a Service Pack. Also all the death.

Now to practical examples. Begin with a good software development environment. There are none. But there are neat packages which turn words different colors and send code flying all over tab stops. This is soothing to the eye. These development environments adapt their color schemes to the seasons. They’ll show more words in red and green around Christmas, purple and green around Easter, green and green around June, and so on. This way you can easily tell what time of year it is. It is too late in the year.

Let us use as demonstration the famous “Hello world” program, because that never demonstrates anything useful. This can be as simple as a line to the effect of:

System.out.writeln("Hello world");

As your development environment puts “System” in blinking blue and white, celebrating Greece’s Independence Day, you can compile and try running it. If it were to run, the program would justly fear being put to work by economists, therefore, we get a series of errors like:

  • Package ‘System’ cannot be found.
  • Thingy ‘out’ does not exist.
  • File cannot be found.
  • Function ‘writeln’ not defined in this context.
  • ‘System’ is a little fishy too.
  • We changed that ‘l’ to a lowercase ‘one’ to look better.
  • File cannot be written.
  • Not in that context either.
  • File cannot be read.
  • We’re none too sure about this ‘world’ thing either.
  • We’re pretty sure it’s nowhere near Greece’s Independence Day.
  • File cannot be.
  • Don’t think of bringing up that context either, that’s right out.
  • We want to punch an economist.
  • Does Greece even celebrate an Independence Day?
  • “Being” is an Aristotelean property inappropriate to the complex post-Alfred-Korzybski world.
  • “Hello” still feels slangy.
  • Put that context down, you’re getting fingerprints on it.
  • Development environment wants a hug.
  • Not from you.

More advanced environments may also be a little snarky about the alleged grammar of “Hello world”. Just try diagramming that sentence, see where you get. Turn off the prescriptivist settings, which could be found under Edit/Tools/Preferences/Checking/Grammar/Advanced, if you were using a different version of the environment from what you are, and from what every person offering advice on StackOverflow.com has.

Your environment might list what lines raise the objections. If you’ve programmed well enough, these numbers will have nothing to do with where the problems actually are, or with the number system. Go to any line you like, for example number square-root-of-seventy-A, which is blank. Comment out all the blank lines, then the non-blank lines, and soon you will trigger Wat Tyler’s Rebellion. Now step away and sulk until the office closes and that’s your work accomplished. And if you look in your hand you’ll see your card is the six of clubs. Am I not correct?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Investor confidence was badly shaken by a 6:30 am work e-mail reporting that the water was perfectly safe to drink, bringing up previously unsuspected fears of the safety of the water and its drinkability, which is what they get for not leaving the e-mail until the middle of the day or something.

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Robert Benchley: Movie Boners


I tend to think of picking out continuity errors in movies as a modern practice. It feels like the habit of nerdly-minded individuals who love knowing how movies are made, and love catching movie-makers in the process of getting something wrong. But in this classic piece, from My Ten Years In A Quandary And How They Grew, Robert Benchley teaches the uniformly unsettling rule of history: the ancients were not so different from us. Besides being a magnificent piece, this essay would lead to another wonderful follow-up.

Movie Boners

One of the most popular pastimes among movie fans is picking out mistakes in the details of a picture. It is a good game, because it takes your mind off the picture.

For example (Fr. par example) in the picture called One Night Alone — for a Change, the Prince enters the door of the poolroom in the full regalia of an officer in the Hussars. As we pick him up coming in the door, in the next shot, he has on chaps and a sombrero. Somewhere on the threshold he must have changed. This is just sheer carelessness on the part of the director.


In We Need a New Title for This, we have seen Jim, when he came to the farm, fall in love with Elsie, although what Elsie does not know is that Jim is really a character from another picture. The old Squire, however, knows all about it and is holding it over Jim, threatening to expose him and have him sent back to the other picture, which is an independent, costing only a hundred thousand dollars.

Now, when Jim tells Elsie that he loves her (and, before this, we have already been told that Elsie has been in New York, working as secretary to a chorus girl who was just about to get the star’s part on the opening night) he says that he is a full-blooded Indian, because he knows that Elsie likes Indians. So far, so good.

But in a later sequence, when they strike oil in Elsie’s father (in a previous shot we have seen Elsie’s father and have learned that he has given an option on himself to a big oil company which is competing with the old Squire, but what the old Squire does not know is that his house is afire) and when Elsie comes to Jim to tell him that she can’t marry him, the clock in the sitting room says ten-thirty. When she leaves it says ten-twenty. That would make her interview minus ten minutes long.


In Throw Me Away! the street car conductor is seen haggling with the Morelli gang over the disposition of the body of Artie (“Muskrat”) Weeler. In the next shot we see Artie haggling with the street-car conductor over the disposition of the bodies of the Morelli gang. This is sloppy cutting.

In Dr. Tanner Can’t Eat there is a scene laid in Budapest. There is no such place as Budapest.

What the general public does not know is that these mistakes in detail come from the practice of “block-booking” in the moving picture industry. In “block-booking” a girl, known as the “script-girl,” holds the book of the picture and is supposed to check up, at the beginning of each “take”` (or “baby-broad”), to see that the actors are the same ones as those in the previous “take.”

The confusion comes when the “script-girl” goes out to lunch and goes back to the wrong “set.” Thus, we might have one scene in The Little Minister where everybody was dressed in the costumes of The Scarlet Empress, only The Little Minister and The Scarlet Empress were made on different “lots” and at different times.

It might happen, even at that.

So, In Short, We’re All Doomed (Corporate Capitalism Edition)


The offering comes in the mail from a corporation, one of those big ones that I suspect is a multinational although I can’t work up quite enough interest to look it up. It had the odd size of the smaller greeting cards, and a brown envelope, and that lettering that looks like handwriting if you haven’t looked a lot at handwriting. Clearly, the company, which my Love has been a customer for for years, possibly a decade now, wanted to make sure we had the experience of something with the flavor of a personal connection, so as to convince us to buy something we didn’t want.

The letter got our name wrong in no less than two prominent ways.

Mind you, that’s partly our fault, since the name used to be wrong in only the one way, and getting it fixed resulted in introducing the second glitch. Extremely boring conversations about this have allowed us to determine that the easiest way to get the glitches fixed is to wait for the company to go bankrupt and be liquidated, to be replaced with another company providing similar services which aren’t quite as good but which cost more, at which point we’ll get a chance to have fake handwritten greeting-card type advertisements with even more parts of our names wrong.

I’m just not completely sure that we’re any good at things anymore.