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Richard Feynman on “Computer Disease”

A quote from Feynman’s book “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!” about how programmers get distracted (“play”) while working on their computers. Thanks to dglenn for posting the quote.

“Well, Mr. Frankel, who started this program, began to suffer from the computer disease that anybody who works with computers now knows about.

It’s a very serious disease and it interferes completely with the work. The trouble with computers is you play with them. They are so wonderful. You have these switches — if it’s an even number you do this, if it’s an odd number you do that — and pretty soon you can do more and more elaborate things if you are clever enough, on one machine.

“After a while the whole system broke down. Frankel wasn’t paying any attention; he wasn’t supervising anybody. The system was going very, very slowly — while he was sitting in a room figuring out how to make one tabulator automatically print arc-tangent X, and then it would start and it would print columns and then bitsi, bitsi, bitsi, and calculate the arc-tangent automatically by integrating as it went along and make a whole table in one operation.

“Absolutely useless. We had tables of arc-tangents. But if you’ve ever worked with computers, you understand the disease — the delight in being able to see how much you can do. But he got the disease for the first time, the poor fellow who invented the thing.”

Read other interesting Adafruit blog posts on Richard Feynman.


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