Magic

Friday, May 18, 2012, 09:40 (updated Thursday, May 31, 2012, 02:31)

The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible, so easy to polish and rework, so readily capable of realizing grand conceptual structures. […]

Yet the program construct, unlike the poet’s words, is real in the sense that it moves and works, producing visible outputs separate from the construct itself. It prints results, draws pictures, produces sounds, moves arms. The magic of myth and legend has come true in our time. One types the correct incantation on a keyboard, and a display screen comes to life, showing things that never were nor could be.

[…]

Not all is delight, however […] One must perform perfectly. The computer resembles the magic of legend in this respect, too. If one character, one pause, of the incantation is not strictly in proper form, the magic doesn’t work. Human beings are not accustomed to being perfect, and few areas of human activity demand it.

Fred Brooks, The Mythical Man-Month

There I am, tattered-robed old man standing alone, beard whipping in the wind, with a distant stare (slightly mad), intently murmuring an unintelligible ramble under his breath… until something happens. To read this passage the first time was an arresting moment of revelation of a truth I had known without knowing, all along.