Reflections on Programming, and the Good Old Days

Somebody asked me recently how my background relates to programming computers, and software. That’s hard to explain, given that I majored in Literature as an undergrad, then got an MA in Journalism, then an MBA. None of that says programming.

In my case it was like falling in love. I first used word processing when I was still with United Press International (UPI) in Mexico City, back in the 1970s (it was an early Atex system). Then, when I got accepted to business school they gave me a teach-yourself-BASIC programming book, and told me to learn it before the school year started.

Flickr cc by Jana_aka_BADGRL
Flickr cc by Jana_aka_BADGRL

Programming, making the computer do things, was fascinating to me. It was like making real things, but with a touch of magic. Do the code, press run, and when it did what I wanted, filling the screen with my results, I loved it. I ended up with a part-time job helping fellow students with the computer in the business school basement, and building my own computer from parts (for you really old-time computer geeks, that was a CP/M computer and an S-100 bus).

What reminded me of these good old days was yesterday my daughter Megan sent me this: Someone At Apple Has A Sense Of Humor. The MobileCrunch report cites this piece of code deep in the iPhone, where you’d only find it by trying to hack around the main stuff:

00009 @interface UIViewController (UIViewControllerClassDumpWarning)

00010 – (void)attentionClassDumpUser:(id)fp8 yesItsUsAgain:(id)fp12 althoughSwizzlingAndOverridingPrivateMethodsIsFun:(id)fp16 itWasntMuchFunWhenYourAppStoppedWorking:(id)fp20 pleaseRefrainFromDoingSoInTheFutureOkayThanksBye:(id)fp24; 00011 @end

What that says there is “Although swizzling and overriding private methods is fun, it wasn’t much fun when your app stopped working. Please refrain from doing so in the future. Okay thanks bye.”

My actual programming was mainly in the 1980s, when “hacking” was a good thing, and those of us who worked with personal computers could feel like we were some kind of an in crowd at times. I did do some real code for Business Plan Pro’s first version, and, before that, I wrote code for the early Business Plan Toolkit using spreadsheet macros. Error messages could be kind of fun.

I’d like to brag about some of the more amusing error messages I left, but, sorry, I’d play with them during testing but I always chickened out and cleaned them up to look more professional (and, sadly, dull).

And that also reminds me, as well, of how programming was so often a one-person job back in the 1980s. I’d do it for myself, first, use it, and then productize later. That’s a lot different from the teams of programmers everybody uses today. But things, including the computer programs, were a lot simpler. Not as good, either — not by a long shot — but simpler.

But I searched Google for funny error messages, and a lot come up. You can click the link to see for yourself, or maybe just use this one, which seems like one of the best.

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