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by on June 13, 2014 at 12:30 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1 dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 1:02 pm


1) All but one of the failures mentioned are government projects. But does that stop anyone from thinking insufficient government involvement is the problem? Of course not.

2) IT projects generally fail because of problems with design and the development process, not because of low-level coding incompetence.

3) The heart surgeon analogy is dumb. There are already strict government requirements governing software that, say, performs heart surgery–or does other dangerous things, like flying a plane.

4) The author must own a lot of brooms, since he needs a closet 1/4 the size of a semi truck to store them.

2 improbable June 13, 2014 at 1:08 pm

#7.4 I think the number you’re looking for isn’t 4, but 2^(64-16) =3e14…. make that one really small broom! But otherwise 100%.

3 dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 1:12 pm

How many 16 bit registers would it take to hold a 64 bit value? 4.

Sorry, I know this is a really dumb argument, but I had to bite.

4 Dan Weber June 13, 2014 at 1:28 pm

16 years ago I had Serious People tell me that programmer licenses were coming in the wake of Y2K.

You might have some state requiring licensing for certain functions within the next 15 years. But this:

Laplante said he expects all 50 states to require software engineering licenses within the next decade, and possibly much sooner.

is total and complete bullshit.

5 dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 1:32 pm

“Thirty states currently require licensure for software engineers working on systems that affect the health, safety, and welfare of the public as well as those offering their services directly to the public.”

This was linked from the article. I wish you were right.

6 Z June 13, 2014 at 1:57 pm

I’ve done work all over North America and no one has ever asked for my coding license. I suspect this is limited to government where no little work gets done anyway. That’s where rackets like IEEE get their juice.

7 dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Yeah, but apparently it also covers “those offering their services directly to the public”. The fact that it isn’t much enforced right now is not hugely reassuring.

8 Dan Weber June 13, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Who wants to buy my ruby implementation of Quicksort?

It’s only three lines but I’ll selling direct to the public.

9 Roy June 13, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Just because you have a licensing scheme doesn’t mean anyone will use it.

I’m a geologist, every state in the union has a geology license, almost no geologists have one and those that do are hydrologists who dig wells and those basically working as geological engineers. The exam is basically a hydology test with some soil engineering thrown in, very few working geologist could pass it without serious studying because it has absolutely nothing to do with what they do.

10 The Engineer June 13, 2014 at 4:18 pm

The professional engineering license can cover many disciplines of engineering, but few engineers obtain it. Really, only civil engineers commonly get licensed. I predict that the % of “software engineers” (what’s that, anyway?) that will become licensed will be about the same as electrical engineers, which is very few.

Of course, The Engineer is a licensed professional engineer.

11 dan1111 June 14, 2014 at 3:59 am

@Roy, presumably, then there is no legal requirement for most geologists to be licensed. As noted, apparently 30 states already have legal licensing requirements for programmers engaged in many kinds of work. It is all too easy to expand these licensing requirements into other areas, and one could easily imagine that happening. It is in the interests of government (increased revenue and power) and existing programmers (job protection), while the public mostly doesn’t understand software development and can be swayed by misleading fear-mongering, such as in the article.

12 buddyglass June 13, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Re: YA fiction: In my experience some Y.A. fiction is written at about the same level (both in terms of language and plot complexity) as adult fiction. Often what earns it the Y.A. label is just the absence of sex and profanity and a main character who happens to be a young adult.

13 bob June 13, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Absence of sex? You haven’t read any YA in the last couple decades.

14 buddyglass June 14, 2014 at 12:55 pm

I’ve read a few of the more popular series. Harry Potter, Hunger Games, the Eragon books, Garth Nix’s “Old Kingdom” trilogy, Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series (which has sex, but only very vaguely referenced). But yeah- most of the Y.A. stuff I read has some crossover appeal to adults. A huge swath of Y.A. has virtually no appeal to adults.

15 Urso June 13, 2014 at 5:25 pm

Let’s not forget that the (vast?) majority of fiction purchased and read by adults is a paint-by-numbers paperback in one of the following genres: (1) romance (2) mystery or (3) thriller [think Dan Brown , except somehow even worse]. Not everybody is reading Knausgard.

16 a Michael June 13, 2014 at 7:48 pm

Had their been licensing requirements prior to all of the coding failures he cites, the only difference would have been that the people creating the big coding mistakes would have been licensed.

Who does he thinks get hired to write technical code for a rocket? Sure whoever they are meet the requirements of what licensing scheme would be created.

17 johnnyz June 13, 2014 at 1:09 pm

How about certification instead of licensing?

18 dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 1:18 pm

#8 – nice, interesting post. Even if his admission of mistakes does seem to lead up to the grand finale that he was not really wrong about Britain. But I can’t fault him for that, because he is right that Britain didn’t really implement austerity.

19 Dan Weber June 13, 2014 at 1:30 pm

My respect for him went up with that.

20 Ray Lopez June 14, 2014 at 1:47 am

+1 – Krugman admits he makes mistakes, and even points some of them out, wow! My respect for him went up +1.

21 andrew' June 14, 2014 at 3:48 am

You guys are easy.

22 andrew' June 14, 2014 at 6:46 am

All my mistakes are of the right kind except when I don’t listen to my own geniusness too.

I won’t however give my opponents anything because ALL their stuff is wrong for the worst possible reason!

23 JWatts June 13, 2014 at 2:22 pm

But where was the admission that his supporting the VA as a better model for healthcare seems seriously flawed at this point?

Still, kudos to Krugman for finally admitting to himself and his loyal readers that he (like very other human) is routinely wrong.

24 T. Shaw June 13, 2014 at 4:33 pm

I ate my brocolli. I don’t have to read Krugs swill.

25 Al June 13, 2014 at 1:19 pm

#7: oh hell yes, certify and license every programmer you can find … but not software project managers and company executives. i can’t imagine those professionals attaining a higher level of skill and organization than they currently have. i am convinced they know exactly what they’re doing because every time a software company or project runs into trouble, they inform us that America lacks a sufficient quantity of highly skilled programmers…

26 Nick_L June 13, 2014 at 1:20 pm

In the future, AI will probably result in laws that make it illegal to use human written code, within critical applications. Human coding will become a hobby or such, similar to blacksmithying.

27 dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Who will write the code for that AI?

Oh, right, those robots who are going to enslave us.

28 Urso June 13, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Hold on, let me ask my iPhone how I should respond to this post.

29 dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Is that what it told you to say?

30 Urso June 13, 2014 at 3:24 pm

It said there’s nothing to worry about.

31 Chris S June 13, 2014 at 5:41 pm

The next lower turtle, of course.

32 Silas Barta June 13, 2014 at 6:01 pm

We’re already in an analogous situation: most programmers don’t write machine code directly: they write (moderately) understandable high-level code, and a compiler converts it into a machine code. [For interpreted code, an analogous situation exists.]

You can ask the same question about regression: who writes the code for the compiler? Well, it’s not magic. The first compilers had to be written directly in machine code, and they did little more than abbreviate some of the repetitive code patterns. Then those compilers were used to make better compilers, and so on.

Likewise with “Automated coding” improvements. Some simplistic “code generator/verifier” will be written by a human, which will be used to write broader generators, until the point were you specify what you want in a very high level language.

33 dan1111 June 14, 2014 at 2:25 am

I don’t consider this analogous. Converting high level language code to machine code is a relatively mechanistic process, not involving artificial intelligence. The computer simply converts one format to another; it doesn’t decide how to implement things (except in a quite narrow sense when there is compiler optimization, but again, this is quite mechanistic). When you save a Word document as HTML, you don’t claim that the computer was the author of the document.

34 Finch June 14, 2014 at 11:54 am


In some respects, compilers are similar to people’s AI imaginings. “-o3” is certainly as close as we’ve gotten to Kurzweil’s self-improving intelligence.

35 Scout June 13, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Yes, and they should be embarassed to watch superhero movies.

36 Scout June 13, 2014 at 1:36 pm


37 dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Who has time to worry that other people might be reading insufficiently emotionally complex books? Good grief.

38 Dan Weber June 13, 2014 at 1:36 pm

I thought #2 was going to be

39 Ray Lopez June 14, 2014 at 1:44 am

@#2 – it’s almost as ridiculous, albeit by Sunstein: From the Abstract : “It also notes that the Benevolent Hiding Hand has an evil sibling, the Malevolent Hiding Hand.” – sounds like AlexT and TC talking about their imaginary friend Tyron or something. Economics = social sciences = mush.

40 Urstoff June 13, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Step 1: stop reading YA fiction and only read fiction for adults
Step 2: stop reading adult genre fiction and only read adult literary fiction
Step 3: stop reading adult literary fiction that isn’t serious enough (see: The Goldfinch hullabaloo)

Congratulations, you are now a “serious reader” that no one wants to talk to because you are an incredible stick in the mud.

41 dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 2:16 pm

I only read fiction that is carefully designed not to be enjoyable.

42 Dan Weber June 13, 2014 at 2:24 pm

and only eat Unhappy Meals: wheat germ, carrots, whey, lentils, spirulina, oats, and raw, uncooked hay.

43 FE June 13, 2014 at 3:18 pm

Lynda Barry covered this quite nicely with her 20 stages of reading. Spoiler: the last stage is reading whatever you want.

44 Cliff Styles June 13, 2014 at 3:12 pm

#7: There is a bug in human software (coded by whom?) which manufactures an unshakable belief in the efficacy of coercion to better the human mind.

45 Tom Noir June 13, 2014 at 3:23 pm

Others have already chimed in on this, but it bears repeating: programming project failures are as likely to be due to problematic design or project management as they are to coding.

Programmers are far from perfect, but bugs are relatively easy to fix as opposed to, say, a fundamental misunderstanding of the customer’s requirements. Or a project that is unrealistically budgeted. Software development is certainly hard and fraught with the possibility of failure, but the difficulties go far beyond coder skill. If you lose a war, you blame the generals, not the soldiers.

“Life-critical” software already tends to be subject to stringent requirements. Licensing programmers will add nothing of value to development efforts. If anything it will slow the flow of new coders into the field and cause shortages and delays.

Lastly, I once had a manager who had this inscribed on his white board:

“Your project can be
– On time
– Accurate
– Inexpensive

Pick two.”

46 Andrew' June 13, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Can I get it faster and cheaper if I just pick one?

47 dan1111 June 14, 2014 at 2:25 am

No, you can get it faster or cheaper.

48 Adrian Ratnapala June 13, 2014 at 3:42 pm

#7. The stupid regulatory mentality just assumes that if things aren’t perfect then more restrictions must be the solution. In fact computers have added untold value over the past 50 years precisely because they are a free-for-all.

In the real world, regulations are demanded, or at least permitted by the incumbents. So this will not come to anything until programmers grow the culture or the institutions for protectionism. That will happen eventually, starting in individual domains. I hope it doesn’t happen during my lifetime.

49 Harbottle June 13, 2014 at 6:11 pm

Many programmers support licensing regimes in hopes of making it harder for folks like Zuckerman to replace them with Indian immigrants. I doubt it would work; the immigrants would all be given licenses regardless of competence (they get jobs now without regard to competence) and the license exams, taxes, and disciplinary procedures would only be enforced against white citizen coders because it would be “racist” to enforce them against immigrants. However, the prominent examples of accountants, lawyers, P.E.’s, doctors, nurses, X-ray techs, undertakers, dieticians, barbers, and so-on and so-forth do suggest that restricting entry to your firld is good for your earnings, however bad it may be for other people’s earnings or the overall economy.

50 dan1111 June 14, 2014 at 3:55 am

Please give an example of where people were given a pass on professional licensing exams because they were immigrants.

51 andrew' June 14, 2014 at 7:53 am

Foreign trained doctors is a version of this. Doctors, nurses and engineers are also examples of the education and ojt being far more rigorous than any certification can be. The pe exam having a high failure rate actually proves the point because it is hard because it is non-practical.

It is like certifying professors. You can look for correlations, but the market test and signaling are the ultimate arbiters.

52 Ted Craig June 13, 2014 at 6:52 pm

3. To me, the biggest problem with adults reading YA isn’t the adults. It’s the effect it’s having on what’s being published for kids.

53 Dave June 13, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Let me rewrite part of Krugman’s mea culpa to better reflect the truth:

“Second, in 2003 I warned about a US financial crisis driven by fiscal irresponsibility, somehow comparable to the crises in Asia a few years earlier. This was, I now believe, because I’m a political hack who roots for the home team. QED.”

54 Steve June 13, 2014 at 11:39 pm

Spooky ‘Honey’ Moon Casts Glow on Friday the 13th – Video

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