Tables, Tools, Tasks

Donald Knuth’s Turing Award lecture, “Computer Programming as an Art” (1974)

Well, it’s true, not all programming tasks are going to be fun. Consider the “trapped housewife,,” who has to clean off the same table every day: there’s not room for creativity or artistry in every situation. But even in such cases, there is a way to make a big improvement: it is still a pleasure to do routine jobs if we have beautiful things to work with. For example, a person will really enjoy wiping off the dining room table, day after day, if it is a beautifully designed table made from some fine quality hardwood.

This is a loop. The routine can be beautiful; the beautiful, routine. Well there is the simple but complex category of pleasure to contend with. At some other point in the lecture, Knuth observes about pleasure: “One rather, curious thing I’ve noticed about aesthetic satisfaction is that our pleasure is significantly enhanced when we, accomplish something with limited tools.” The connoisseur as maker via the routine shaper.

And so for day 3010

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