Old classic essay on software artistry/craftmanship: “Hackers and Painters”, by Paul Graham

Paul Graham: Hackers and Painters:

When I finished grad school in computer science I went to art school to study painting. A lot of people seemed surprised that someone interested in computers would also be interested in painting. They seemed to think that hacking and painting were very different kinds of work– that hacking was cold, precise, and methodical, and that painting was the frenzied expression of some primal urge.

Both of these images are wrong. Hacking and painting have a lot in common. In fact, of all the different types of people I’ve known, hackers and painters are among the most alike.

What hackers and painters have in common is that they’re both makers. Along with composers, architects, and writers, what hackers and painters are trying to do is make good things. They’re not doing research per se, though if in the course of trying to make good things they discover some new technique, so much the better.

I’ve never liked the term “computer science.” The main reason I don’t like it is that there’s no such thing.

…For a long time I felt bad about this, just as I once felt bad that I didn’t hold my pencil the way they taught me to in elementary school. If I had only looked over at the other makers, the painters or the architects, I would have realized that there was a name for what I was doing: sketching. As far as I can tell, the way they taught me to program in college was all wrong. You should figure out programs as you’re writing them, just as writers and painters and architects do.

Realizing this has real implications for software design. It means that a programming language should, above all, be malleable. A programming language is for thinking of programs, not for expressing programs you’ve already thought of. It should be a pencil, not a pen. Static typing would be a fine idea if people actually did write programs the way they taught me to in college. But that’s not how any of the hackers I know write programs. We need a language that lets us scribble and smudge and smear, not a language where you have to sit with a teacup of types balanced on your knee and make polite conversation with a strict old aunt of a compiler.

Make sure to read the whole thing.

I’ve disagreed with Graham on a number of things over the years. In particular his assertion that “good hackers prefer Python to Java” (note that ‘hacker’ in this context refers to a software artisan, not the caricature you see on TV), but as I get older… well I’m appreciating Python more and more and my realize just how right he probably is.

Python links for October 3rd, 2009

John Kleint: Python Project Howto – describes how to get a Python project up and going, from unit tests to project hosting. Fantastic howto.

Dpeepul Blog: django guys let us understand django guys let us understand python *args and **kwargs – Great for a Python beginner to discern just what those features are. Here’s more in the official documentation (which you’ve read – right?).

Some interesting social science, programming, infographics, overlaps

The New York Observer: In the Battle Between Facebook and MySpace, A Digital ‘White Flight’

FlowingData: Rise of the Data Scientist

Coding Horror: Code: It’s Trivial

Zero Intelligence Agents: How to: Use Python and Social Network Analysis to Find New Twitter Friends

Reading about Graphviz

While gearing up on a content management project, a few developers were wrangling with how to share solution diagrams between Visio and OmniGraffle. While there is a level of compatibility between the two, its not ideal. While researching, I went off into a related tangent, a cross platform tool that I can manipulate from a text editor or programming language, and ended up reading about Graphviz.

Graphviz – command line tool and DSL (dot) to define and render graphs and diagrams.

Doesn’t sounds like much, but check out this magic: Visualizing traceroute output with Ruby and Graphviz or how about Maven based dependency graphing?

I think prefuse (with the unbelievable looking flare) is an excellent related toolkit to look into next (interaction and animations!!!!!) .

O’Reilly: An Introduction to GraphViz and dot

O’Reilly: Graphviz – Why draw when you can code?

Orgmode.org: org-exp-blocks.el: pre-process blocks in org-mode files in Emacs to generate diagrams – rocking!

Bernt Hansen’s fantastic Org Mode – Organize Your Life In Plain Text! is a working example of the above org-mode use case (and a great org-mode tutorial)

Forever for Now: UML Diagrams Using Graphviz Dot

Haven’t read or experimented with yet, but will…

Linux.com: Create relationship diagrams with Graphviz

IBM developerWorks: Visualize function calls with Graphviz

Graphviz Resources – large list of viewers, navigators, language bindings, etc

WikiViz: A large list of related tools and libraries

ZGRViewer: a Java-based desktop GraphViz/DOT Viewer – Adds interactivity to viewing a dot defined graph.

Graphviz Eclipse plug-in




Links for picking up Python FAST

hetland.org: Instant Hacking – very fast introduction to the language and even programming in general.

Dive Into Python – Experienced programmer in other languages should choose this. My favorite introduction to Python.

The Official Python Tutorial – more thorough starter – take a day or so to go thru it and absorb.

Code Like a Pythonista: Idiomatic Python – a must read sooner or later.

Yahoo!’s Python Developer Center – full of info and good links.

PLEAC – Python Cookbook

The ActiveState Python Cookbook