Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pastels and Pascals

photo by Gaeten Lee

For many years I've watched religious computer language wars in which programmers passionately hail the alleged superiority of one language over another. While some paleolithic languages are obviously lacking, this is largely a perspective to which I've always had trouble relating.

To me it seems analogous to one artist proclaiming the superiority of pastels over pencils or the superiority oils over acrylics. I don't doubt such debates among artists, but they simply can't be as common as as programming language wars.

For artists, the media is merely a means to the transcendent end of the art. A particular type of marble is not a significant factor in David being what David is. Nor is the paint used the determiner of the greatness of the Mona Lisa. As I see it, so it is with great code.

Syntax doesn't determine great code. Each language has its strengths and weaknesses, but Turing completeness is Turing completeness. A language merely provides a medium. This medium offers possibility of both the most hideous software graffiti and the most magnificent logical masterpieces.

Knuth: Computer Programming as Art (1974)


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