I spent most of my working life in a computer development environment. I know a lot of developers and computer engineers. I have watched software in development, helped in the process. I can read code — probably not well at this point, but I used to be able to read and understand it reasonably well. I could write a little, depending on the language. Some C++. Enough Basic and Basic+ to create little games. Plus a bit of Visual Basic. Who even knows what languages are being used now?

I’ve forgotten more than I remember, but I forget everything, often while I’m in the middle of saying it. Apparently you don’t have to be old to lose your place in the ongoing conversation of life. My son was telling me something and I was opening the prescriptions Garry had brought home from the pharmacy. One prescription was missing. I’d called just yesterday and was assured it would be ready. I got so distracted, I forgot I was listening to Owen. When I tuned back in, I admitted I hadn’t heard him. He said it couldn’t have been important because he couldn’t remember what he was saying. He’s just 54.

What I have never known is why computers work. I’ve written software, written about software, written many volumes of books about computing and software. You write a program and generate it. You run it. You rewrite it until in theory, it works the way you intended. After which you write it again, run it again, and keep trying until maybe it is right.

My bigger question is simple.

Why does software make computers work? Not how. Why.

Why should those numbers — 1s and 0s — with letters and codes make a computer do anything? It’s just text. Why do computers obey code?

British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke formulated three adages known as Clarke’s Three Laws, of which the third law is the best known and most widely cited. They are part of his ideas in his extensive writings about the future.

The laws are:

1 – When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

2 – The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible

3 – Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

I’m voting for number three because computers are magic.

Anyone familiar with computer development knows how code makes computers function, but in the end, why they respond to code is a lot more vague. Did the Great Computer God descend from his Virtual Space in the Universe and tell The Super Computer Who Reigns to understand “code” and be able to do all the stuff they do?

No? If that scenario doesn’t work for you, then what other scenario works? Why should any code, any language take a thing that would otherwise be a paperweight become the magic that runs our world?

It’s a thought worth pondering.

Categories: #Photography, Anecdote, Computers, Computers, Software, Technology

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5 replies

  1. My first computer was a Commodore 64 which is still in the basement. It did not do much so you had to write a code to make it work or buy a large floppy disk with one program. The computer stored just about nothing,
    I wanted to keep batting averages for our softball team so I had to write a program that didn’t work, of course. Then I had to go over it again and again to find the little adjustments to make it work. I guess we thought it was magic when it finally calculated as I had hoped. Then I could print it out on some tractor feed paper with a dot matrix printer – more magic!


    • My first computer was one of those tiny little Apples and IT did nothing too. Eventually, it learned to do a few things and eventually, along came windows, so I had two computers — a mac and a PC. I could do (eventually) all kinds of stuff on them, but WHY? Who do computers respond to code?

      To me, that IS magic. And no explanation has made it less magical 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Marilyn, I was writing a comment and it vanished. If you get a weird half comment you know why. Computers are a marvel, but so are people with the way they think and function. It seems reasonable that humans could perpetuate magic with computers as everything about life is magical and amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

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