[Humanist] 23.114 programming: fears and blocks

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jun 29 08:00:01 CEST 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 114.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>                      (10)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.111 programming: fears and blocks

  [2]   From:    Ms Mary Dee Harris <marydeeh at yahoo.com>                    (8)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.107 programming: the fear of it

        Date: Sat, 27 Jun 2009 10:04:42 -0400
        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.111 programming: fears and blocks
        In-Reply-To: <20090627082447.F0407262FF at woodward.joyent.us>

Elijah -- can you get specific?  What exactly are you talking about,
and why would anyone use this except for personal projects?  And is
this code that someone shy of a professional programmer would
conceivably write?  We're talking about code for dummies (I mean,
humanists): HTML, PHP, XML.

Jim R

> I'm not quite sure what kind of software you guys are describing.
> There's a great deal of code out there that produces highly ambiguous,
> non-goal oriented results with or without user input and not as a
> result of flawed programming or design.

        Date: Sat, 27 Jun 2009 09:33:45 -0700 (PDT)
        From: Ms Mary Dee Harris <marydeeh at yahoo.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.107 programming: the fear of it
        In-Reply-To: <20090627082447.F0407262FF at woodward.joyent.us>

I consider myself a humanist in some ways, despite having spent much of my career teaching Computer Science and now working in the tech industry designing software.  I was trained in both literature and the sciences, however.  I started out my career as an assembly language programming and moved into other languages along the way.  I always found programming to be fascinating, in the sense that I was solving a puzzle.  Much like a jigsaw puzzle requires lots of tiny, seemingly unrelated pieces to finally show the picture, writing a program requires putting together many tiny functional parts to create a working product.  'Boring' is the last word I would use to describe the process.  

Back in the late 1980s, I taught a course at Georgetown University called Literary Theory Using Computers.  I didn't expect the students to learn programming so I gave them assignments to analyze texts with a common collation program of the day.  I gave them lots of examples of how it worked and what to do with the results.  Surprisingly to me, it was largely a disaster for the majority of undergraduate English majors.  They had no concept of thinking through a process or analyzing the data.  I could hardly understand the reports than many of them wrote because they were so disjointed and had so little correlation with the assignment.  

I learned from that experience that the average English major in that class (I will restrict my observation severely) had not learned logical thinking, in the sense that I knew it.  I never had the opportunity to try that experiment again so I'm not sure how I could have led them into a better understanding of the process.  And I must say that there were some in the class who did understand and enjoyed the approach.  

My conclusion is that some people get it and some don't!  I'm sure that it has something to do with one's life experience and general education, as well as one's university courses.  My family talked about science at the dinner table and read books.  I found out at school that talking about science at dinner was not the norm, in my community, but I carried that tradition into my own family.  I guess some of us think with both sides of our brains!  

Mary Dee Harris, Ph.D. 
Chief Language Officer
Catalis, Inc.  
Austin, Texas  

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