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A Theory of Programming
Wednesday, December 15, 2004

One thing missing when we talk about programming and programming languages is what we mean by the whole affair. What is programming? Who is it for? Who is doing the programming and why? It is an end or a means? The answers to these questions always exist in the sub-text (cf. Phil Agre's deconstructionist work and also the C2 wiki). They define the audience, the standards, and the conflicts. Are static types a good thing? Should as much as possible be dynamic? Are the best languages formal? The right answer is "well, it depends".

I've taken programming language courses that felt like we were the taxonomies of some bizarre family of arthropods. I've read papers that treated programming as the careful deduction of formal properties via mathematical proof. I've used environments that held my hand so tightly, I couldn't even think, let alone accomplish my tasks. My biases are obvious but what is less clear is the rational behind them. Reading Kay's history helped me expose a little of that and I'm hopeful that further excavation is possible.

(By the way, I'd be happy to have my first paragraph disproved. If you know of good discussions of meta-programming (and I don't mean macros <smile>), please let me know.)


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