Thoughts on the role of computing

August 15, 2009 at 9:52 pm
filed under Technology

A had one of those moments that makes me glad I have some basic competence with the various GNU tools.

Every once in a while, you’ll see someone attempt to archive an old website. Usually they appear to be doing it really badly. They might miss all of the images, they won’t rejigger links to make them work, and they’ll completely miss the CSS. What you end up with is kind of a mess.

On the one hand, it’s annoying because, to someone like me, who works with Linux on a regular basis, this stuff is fairly basic. With my meager skills, it turned out to be faster to use curl, grep, and wget to pull down these images, but nevertheless, I geeked out a little that I was even able to do this. Chalk this up to only recently having learned the amazing power behind GNU tools.

Now, I don’t expect people to know about things like wget. I don’t think it’s fair to expect people to, either. The people that care about their car’s internals are probably a relatively small subset of car owners and operators, let alone people that tinker with their cars. They’re enthusiasts, obviously.

(Have you noticed that there’s no real point here? Sorry about that.)

Maybe what it comes down to is that there are some really fascinating things you can do with computers, with programming or shell scripting or whatever, that I wish more people could use.

I have a friend, for example, whose job is sufficiently complicated that a custom app would greatly help him out. The barriers to creating a database-driven webapp, especially one for personal use, are really only your own knowledge— if you want to run it on your own machine, Django, Pylons, Ruby on Rails, and any number of other frameworks make it so easy it feels like cheating.

Of course this comes easily to me because I’ve been immersed in this stuff for (*gulp*) years. But, Christ, man, it’s so frustrating to see how much easier things could be for a lot of people with some basic scripting or programming skills.

I think maybe what hurts the most is when I see people doing work that could easily be done by a machine. In software development and testing, you let machines do what machines are good at— repetitive, mechanical, relatively mindless work. This frees humans to do what they’re good at, which is stuff that requires judgment and complex reasoning.

Right, so I’m running out of thoughts on this, which is just as well. Let’s see if I can salvage this.

The endpoint I’m reaching here is a desire to do some kind of programming work for charity. There are risks involved— you’d end up owning whatever it is that you wrote, which means you’re tech support until your tool outlives its usefulness one way or another. But it sure is tempting to bring to people things like automation, resource management systems, or anything like that.

%d bloggers like this: