Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Of programmatic thinking in low-tech situations

These days it's been fashionable to insist that everybody should learn to program. Some argue it's the next kind of literacy (a federal judge who learned how to code could correctly estimate how long it would take to implement a certain function), others say the importance of programming in an ordinary person's life is overblown. There is a vast difference between basic programming knowledge and being a professional software developer. The question is, can this basic literacy have applications in everyday life? Can it improve the life of a non-programmer? I liked this article that demonstrates how knowing how to program benefits even the people who are not programmers. When you have developed a mentality that lets you see many life problems from an engineering perspective, you see how software could help you improve even those life processes that you previously didn't think a computer could solve. It's a matter of thinking algorithmically, of seeing what could be automated. I have a similar problem as the one described in the article. I take lots of pictures of people at conventions and conferences, and there isn't a good way to "connect" photos of strangers with their names (which I forget instantly). However, unlike the casting directors in the article, I have neither assistants with spreadsheets, nor do people parade in front of me one by one like models. I also think that it would be awkward to ask them, after introducing myself, to write their names on a piece of paper, and to pose with it. :-) The best I can do is take pictures of their name tags, but sometimes those are missing, or flipped over to the blank side, or flash bounces off of them in a way that makes them illegible. On the other hand, my tablet allows me to add notes to any picture I take. (Well, I can't add notes to a picture directly, but I can save it to Evernote with a note attached.) So perhaps I'll just have to take two pictures of everyone -- one with the real camera, for quality, and the other with the tablet, for documentation. If a situation is not structured, there isn't much room for a programmatic solution to a problem.

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