Once upon a time I fancied myself as a coder. In the early 80’s I spent hours in a local computer shop writing an ASCII program to make a bird fly across the screen of an Amstrad computer. I couldn’t afford the computer so I would come into the shop every day and hide down the back looking through the manual and writing a bit more code.  It was a great sense of achievement when the bird finally flew, the shop owner was impressed, in fact I was impressed, which goes to show that neither one of us would ever become hard-core coders.

Many years have passed and I can get by writing code, I use code when I have to join something weird to something weirder. The result is not pretty but usually works, for a time at least. I only have to write code as a last resort when something is broken and all hope is lost, my code philosophy is that if you use enough superglue, its bound to stick together.

I work with people whose brains are wired differently. When I present them with a problem I can see the cogs spinning at astonishing rates as they effortlessly come up with solutions, it is truly amazing. Our main field of work is complex systems and integration. The answer to most of our problems doesn’t appear on the first five pages of Google. I have noticed though that the cleverer the person, and the more simple the problem, the more complicated the solution becomes. For example if I give a simple problem (I need to get from A to B) to a very clever person, I will get a complex solution (They first define gravity so you will stay on the ground while you travel from A to B).

As I reached for the superglue instead of asking a real clever person what they thought, I begin with the typical code line …

while true;

I stopped for a moment and thought about that opening statement of code which tells the system that while something is true, begin xyz. On most systems there is a program called ‘true’ (/bin/true on Unix), there is also one called ‘false’ but it doesn’t get that much attention. The marvel of the program called ‘true’ is that it does absolutely nothing. That’s right nothing, not a sausage, it’s an empty file. It just exists so it can exit with a zero exit status. But here is the thing, back in 1980 AT&T the developers of the first Unix system, decided that it needed to be copyrighted and pushed copyright claims. Amazingly if you open the file called ‘true’ it contains a few comments that it is copyright protected by AT&T and that is all, no code, nothing.

This proves my point that we love to make things complicated, we can even complicate something simple like ‘true’ that serves the simplest of tasks. Things that are true cannot be that complicated.

I had better get back to my superglue….

Categories: Code

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