Well on Thursday morning I had my first ever lesson in programming. Weirdly, it was given in a disused chapel with stained glass windows. My course being multidisciplinary in nature, it’s taught in the business, the engineering and the arts faculties; the chapel is part of an old seminary the college bought and built into its school of business and economics. Where masses were once said, people are now taught advanced capitalism. I like to see that kind of continuity.
Surrounded by more impressive buildings constructed during the now almost legendary Age of Money, the chapel looks like it’s preserved in a museum. There are other curiosities kept here too. Do you see the wooden thing to the left of the picture? That’s a sculpture called Logos 1 by Michael Warren, transposed here when the prominent position it was actually commissioned for got built over. It was never exactly impressive I suppose, but it was at least dignified when it could be seen against the sky.
Though of course we made fun of it anyway. It was always a mystery how this timber was supposed to represent the concept of logos. Or indeed, how anything could. To quote Wikipedia:
The sophists used the term to mean discourse, and Aristotle applied the term to refer to “reasoned discourse” or “the argument” in the field of rhetoric. The Stoic philosophers identified the term with the divine animating principle pervading the Universe. After Judaism came under Hellenistic influence, Philo (ca. 20 BC–AD 50) adopted the term into Jewish philosophy. The Gospel of John identifies the Logos, through which all things are made, as divine (theos), and further identifies Jesus as the incarnation of the Logos. Although the term “Logos” is widely used in this Christian sense, in academic circles it often refers to the various ancient Greek uses, or to post-Christian uses within contemporary philosophy, Sufism, and the analytical psychology of Carl Jung.
Jesus Christ. One word can mean anything from an argument to… well, Jesus Christ. No wonder I’ve given up humanities for science.
So back to that first lesson – Business Applications Programming. Adding to the disorienting effect of the stained glass, the lecturer had close-cut steel grey hair, a tan and an American accent, lending the strange impression that I was being taught Visual Basic by a Marine sergeant. Well, I could use the discipline.
Somehow the lecture seemed simultaneously too slow and boring and too fast and unintelligible. Perhaps it was both, in rapid alternation. Not at all a gentle theoretical introduction, we got straight into the business of writing a program. But with a tool designed to be as simple to use as Visual Basic, that was little more than a matter of pushing buttons in the right order.
Yet at the same time there were a couple of tricky concepts introduced. In particular, the elusive one of Object Orientated Programming. I’m not really qualified to explain this to someone else yet, but I think in a nutshell programs used to be written with their functionality as the first priority, leaving the user interface as a bit of an afterthought. As they got more complex though, the interface would get more and more convoluted until it became practically unusable. So nowadays, you design the interface first and build everything around that.
Presumably the functionality goes to hell instead, but I guess that doesn’t show so much.