Sunday, April 3

Computers in the old days...

Interesting BBC article about computers in schools and colleges in the 1970s.

Although I agree with the general picture the article creates, it does not reflect my experience.

Quote Kevin Murrell, co-founder of The National Museum of Computing :
"We write in languages that are akin to English which are converted into binary by the machine. For 99.9% of programmers, maths isn't an issue at all because modern computers do so much more."
That is just rubbish. A good understanding of logic and mathematics is essential for producing good quality 'code' of any sort, whether it is some simple script in an application or some complex computer application. If you don't have good knowledge of these subjects then you will produce products that are difficult and expensive to maintain. On top of that, poorly structured scripts and programs will cause problems at a later date.
"Today's programmers can afford to be less precise as "the sheer brute force of modern computers gets you through"."

I have had to educate my young and inexperienced colleagues in the importance of boundary testing of software. Why? Because a lack of accuracy and precision results in serious errors such as a worker paying to much tax, a student getting the wrong mark in an exam or a jet airliner falling out of the sky. The idea that precsion is not important is a fallacy.

What was my experience?

I and two student friends programmed a Star Wars game in Basic on the local FE college mini computer at about the same time the first Star Ears film was released.
Later at university we all had to write programs in Fortran using punch cards, then later at university I used a computer similar to 'Research Machines' to write a program in Zilog Z80 assembler language and it was designed to control a sputtering machine at the university.
Then from 1982 onwards I worked with assember and high level languages. Contrary to the article, assember language (which is a slightly higher level than machine code/binary/hexidecimal) was used throughout the 1980s because it allowed low cost electronic systems to be developed. High level languages at the time required to much memory and processors were still to slow to run them.
It wasn't until the late 1980s that high level languages could replace assembler completely and this was becuase of faster processors, better electronics and cheaper memory.

No comments: