Steam Lisp

How many of your waking hours have you wasted in babysitting machine processes which ought to be entirely hidden and automatic?  In the use of "job-creating" technologies?

Next time you find yourself doing so, consider this:

"Improvements come in many ways, sometimes after much thought and after many experimental failures. Sometimes they flash upon clever inventors, but let us remember this is only after they have spent long years studying the problem. In the case of the steam engine, however, a quite important improvement came very curiously. Humphrey Potter was a lad employed to turn off and on the stop cocks of a Newcomen engine, a monotonous task, for, at every stroke one had to be turned to let steam into the boiler and another for injecting the cold water to condense it, and this had to be done at the right instant or the engine could not move. How to relieve himself from the drudgery became the question. He wished time to play with the other boys whose merriment was often heard at no great distance, and this set him thinking. Humphrey saw that the beam in its movements might serve to open and shut these stop cocks and he promptly began to attach cords to the cocks and then tied them at the proper points to the beam, so that ascending it pulled one cord and descending the other. Thus came to us perhaps not the first automatic device, but no doubt the first of its kind that was ever seen there. The steam engine henceforth was self-attending, providing itself for its own supply of steam and for its condensation with perfect regularity. It had become in this feature automatic."

"James Watt" by Andrew Carnegie, Ch. 7.

Legend has it that Potter was promptly fired, never to be heard from again.

And so, modern laborers -- especially programmers -- know better than to repeat the boy's "mistake."

Imagine if the Newcomen engine were introduced to a world like today's.  Book stores would be littered with hefty tomes on valve-turning best-practices.  Bloggers would passionately debate the merits of competing brands of valve handle, arguing about which ones might help young, eager valve professionals in breaking yesterday's twists-per-minute records.  Start-up gurus would hold exclusive seminars on the design of sure-to-be-best-selling valve-turner's gloves.

In dark corners, crackpots would speak of cords and self-turning valves.

Naturally, no respectable person would take an interest in such things!

This entry was written by Stanislav , posted on Wednesday April 13 2011 , filed under Hot Air, Lisp, ModestProposal, NonLoper, SoftwareSucks . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

5 Responses to “Steam Lisp”

  • Jeff says:

    Beautiful, hilarious, depressing metaphor.

  • another says:

    eh. you can't really compare programming to valve turning.

    • Stanislav says:

      Dear another,

      The unfortunate part is that yes, I can. In its present state of the art, programming is quite comparable to valve-turning and many other menial chores which burned away a great many lives.


      • another says:

        well you can, but you can't. it's more like...companies want to treat programmers like menial labourers despite the fact that it requires some degree of creativity and that has larger effects how people treat programming, but there's a mismatch between the treatment of it and how it actually is. Doesn't stop it being treated like uncreative manual labour.

  • Legend has it that Potter was promptly fired, never to be heard from again.

    I automated a task my coworkers couldn't and suddenly, "Hey lets make him automate all the things!" Very much like teh comoonitee stating, "Hey lets decentralize all the things".

    I have no idea how insane people end up in management for so long. I yearn for sane leadership, but I guess that is asking for too much.

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