Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

A Kinder, Gentler Time to Learn CS

I did my CS undergrad work in the early to mid-eighties.  It was truly a kinder, gentler time to learn computer science.  Today, I'm back at school to finish off a CS Masters degree, and I can't swing a dead cat without hitting some zealot in the Windows/*nix war.

Back then, we used whatever computer was available - replete with as many free punch cards as our hearts desired.  Today, choosing an OS and a language to produce an assignment is a political choice, and one fraught with peril.  Make certain to know up front which side your advisor is on!

This isn't fun anymore.  Maybe it was just my youthful exuberance, but it was so much more exciting learning CS with having to avoid the mines set out by the religious warriors. 

(1) Is this feud draining the fun out of CS for anyone else?
(2) Do other professions have analogous feuds?
(3) Will this feud ever end?

Friday, August 29, 2003

Might be time to seriously consider a different advisor.  Changing is a major pain in the posterior, but it can be done (if nothing else, there are other schools....)

The same war exists in the real world though. You'll develop your app using the platform your client/employer uses, or you won't develop it at all.

Clay Dowling
Friday, August 29, 2003

You didn't use punch cards in the early 80's!

When I went to college we had to set each binary digit of each opcode one at a time with eight gigantic knife switches. Then we'd pull a lever like a giant slot machine and there would be a brrrrrrrrrrrrrzap sound, and we'd move on to the next opcode.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Hmmmmm, I might have just dreamed that...I also seem to remember using XWindows (this was mid/late 80's).

Friday, August 29, 2003

Maybe the zealots would act more peacefully towards you if you didn't go around swinging dead cats at them.  I know I wouldn't be very kind or gentle if you hit me with one.  Just a thought.  :)

Phillip J. Eby
Friday, August 29, 2003

We were lucky to have an operating system on our computer when I was your age, sonny.  We had to crank our computers by HAND, replace tubes every 5 minutes, and write to reel-to-reel tape by waving a magnet over the tape.

Flamebait Sr.
Friday, August 29, 2003

Bob, my boy, ignore these johnnies. If you want to do *serious* computing, you need a Babbage Analytical Engine. Don't trifle with the new fangled machine-made ones only suitable for the delicate amongst us; only cast iron will do for the true gentleman computer scientist.

Leave the shiny fripperies such as tape drives to the ungentlemanly types who mix soda water with their whiskey and wear brown shoes mid-week in town.

Friday, August 29, 2003

When I was a lad in ancient Greece, we simply used our imaginations instead of silicon.  None of this empiricism to get in the way.  And actually it wasn't half-bad.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Forget those mechanical computers.  The future is in water computing.

Plus, the SQRT(x) function is always easy and fast. ;)

Flamebait Sr.
Friday, August 29, 2003

On a side note, the expression is "swing a cat", and has nothing to do with felines.  The original expression comes from old sailing ship days.  When a sailor disobeyed orders, he was often flogged w/ a cat'o nine tails.  All hands were ordered on deck to witness the meting of the punishment, and the deck got so crowded that you couldn't swing a cat (o' nine tails, that is).

Just your afternoon trivial BS.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Getting back on track....

Yes, this has sucked the fun out of CS for me.  I get so tired of it.  (Full disclosure: I regularly use Windows, Mac, and Linux, as well as several obscure OSs.)  I find it's very hard to talk to CS people when they get into these holy wars.

A good example of this occurred to me recently:  at a coffee shop recently, I was typing away on my iBook when a young man came over and looked over my shoulder.  He asked if I liked OS X; I replied yes, I loved it.  He asked, "What about RedHat 8?"  I said that Linux just wasn't the sort of thing I liked to run.  He said, "Ah," rather disappointed, and turned and left.  :blink:  As if that's the only thing we had in common to talk about.  I later struck up a conversation with him and we had a good talk about Linux and operating systems in general.  But because we used different operating systems, his initial reaction seemed to be that we were on different sides of the Berlin Wall.

And it's not just operating systems, of course; programming languages can be just as rife with snipers and heavy arms.

Other professions do have analogous feuds; in tech writing, it's tools like RoboHelp, as seen in Philo's recent thread here.

I doubt that the feud will ever end, as people love passion.

The Pedant, Brent P. Newhall
Friday, August 29, 2003

When I was in school in the mid/late 80's it was VMS vs Unix on Vaxes.

Let's say that somehow Windows disappears you'll soon have people debating which Unix is the right one.

It's just human nature, or at least geek nature.

Friday, August 29, 2003

be thankful. He might have alienated you with even more babble about how evil Bill Gates actually is, whether you liked Matrix Reloaded, and if Episode 3 will finally deliver some cool space fights.

Johnny Bravo
Friday, August 29, 2003

I'd be more worried if he didn't care at all WHAT he used or if anything at all!

Mickey Petersen
Friday, August 29, 2003

==>When I was in school in the mid/late 80's it was VMS vs Unix on Vaxes.

90-94 for me. The battle in our uni was VMS -vs- Ultrix (but same difference anyway). I imagine they're fighting the same battles.

Sgt. Sausage
Friday, August 29, 2003

We get nostalgic about the strangest things.  I was waiting in line at the bakery a while back while the clerk told a customer what a wonderful time World War II was--the comraderie, the sense of common purpose.  Wanting to have my danish served and not flung at me, I kept my mouth shut, and didn't point out that 300,000 Americans died in that war, and that any one of them would rather have lived in a time when they could stand in line at the bakery without getting shot at.

In 30 years, people will be waxing nostalgic (and what's the best wax to use on a  nostalgic?) about what a wonderful time this was to learn computer science/get involved in politics/invest in the stock market, etc.  As Carly Simon sang, *these* are the good old days.

Hardware Guy
Friday, August 29, 2003

Everything was great until "Microsoft" became a household word.

Then all the greedy people came.

tick tock
Friday, August 29, 2003

You also forgot people's nostalga for the 50s.  Which, as somebody who was not a child of the 50s, is a pretty ugly time.

You had wonderful things like people who were different in any way being stuffed in the closet, red scares, Senator McCarthy, our scientists (Teller vs. Oppenheimer) denouncing each other in pretty much the same fashion as german scientists did in WWII and quite a few russian scientists worked.

Oh yeah, and there's our "internment camps" for the Japanese in WWII.

I once saw a book that was a bunch of old Weekly Readers that were passed out to kids.  And damn, you are talking about some real good brainwashing there.

Flamebait sr.
Friday, August 29, 2003

Flamebait Sr:

I know it's off-topic, but if you have a chance, go to:

It's a collection of ephemeral films, including some of the "educational" movies shown to American school kids in the 50's and 60's.  Absolutely fascinating stuff, and a surefire cure for nostalgia.

Hardware Guy
Saturday, August 30, 2003

It would be interesting to experience the University culture again. Without question things have changed since I was there. (early 80's....the IBM pc had just got going). The punched card machines where just being removed and hauled away when I got there. (in fact, we *could* use them, and often when short of crt terminals, a few of us would actually use punched cards to submit batch jobs (our code was on the mainframe, but we just used punched cards to logon, and exec some files). Most students did not know how to use those punched card machines, and thus they were always available. I also could work from home, as I was one the VERY FEW students with a modem (appleII + with a Hades 300 baud).

However, as for those “wars”, I think a few other posters said it very well.

Why bother with those wars?  It is not like you are walking around with a sign on your head?

You can choose to make this is issue, or not! I would just not bother with it.

I remember for many years in school a had a bit of a penchant to disagree with some teachers. The really smart students figured out long a ago that you are to figure out what the teacher wants...and give that teacher what they want. 

You are not there to waste your time arguing with people.

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada

Albert D. Kallal
Saturday, August 30, 2003

"(appleII + with a Hades 300 baud)"

I agree, 300 baud was Hell! :-p

Brad Wilson (
Saturday, August 30, 2003

1) I've encountered it whenever talking face-to-face with some academics, but there's always politics in college.  Theoretical people vs. applied, etc.  One big problem is when companies aggravate tensions between academics and administrators, by flashing money at the administrators.  So the profs had to justify turning down all that cash.  IIRC, Edsger Dijkstra once ranted about corporate attempts to dumb down UTexas' CS curriculum.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

As a developer who works for Microsoft I'm in the thick of it, whether I want to be or not.  Even at very inappropriate times such as weddings and other family gatherings I get confronted by anti-MS folks.

I agree that this feud is annoying, and perhaps driving people out of CS, but the good news is that it's usually possible to avoid if you want to.  When I am confronted it's usually easy to find common ground and start chipping at the wall.  My approach:

1) Don't start off insulting their platform of choice unless you really want to get into a debate.

2) I tell them the truth: That I'm interested in and passionate about (a) advancing the state of the art of technology, and (b) bringing those advances to consumers at an affordable price.

3) I talk a little about what I'm working on, and how that makes me one of the "good guys".  (This works for everybody at MS because the mythical "break the competition" job doesn't exist.)

This doesn't work online (nothing does) but it usually does in real life.

Based on my experience, if you don't like the feud follow #1 and then redirect the conversation toward what you or they are interested in other than OS/language/editor of choice.

ms guy
Saturday, August 30, 2003

One more thing -

Speaking of the feud, one good aspect is that it shows people are still remarkably passionate about what they do and the tools they use.  This can be taken overboard, but it isn't entirely a bad thing.

I see two main approaches in these types of debates: the first is the "this is cool!" crowd, the second is the "suchandsuch sucks!" crowd.  If you surround yourself with the former you'll almost never have to worry about the feuds draining the fun out of CS.  Accept the latter for what they are and just smile, nod, and move on.

ms guy
Saturday, August 30, 2003

" I remember for many years in school a had a bit of a penchant to disagree with some teachers. The really smart students figured out long a ago that you are to figure out what the teacher wants...and give that teacher what they want."

If you're only there to give the teacher what he wants to hear, there's probably no point in going to a university (besides the slip of paper).

In at least a few occasions, arguing with the professors resulted in much more interesting classes.  And I never found it to harm my grades, as long as you gave serious thought to what you were saying.

Jim Rankin
Sunday, August 31, 2003

---If you're only there to give the teacher what he wants to hear, there's probably no point in going to a university (besides the slip of paper).--

there IS no point in going to a university, besides the slip of paper!  or perhaps if you have a sports scholarship...that might be a good reason to go.

devil's advocate
Monday, September 1, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home