Month: May 2014

Demotivational Poster

Yesterday my old friend Jimmy Playfield found a motivational poster on the wall beside his desk. Usually it is quite hard to find a motivational poster that is not lame or, worse, demotivational. And the motto on the wall was quite belonging to the latter. An ancient Chinese proverb quoted: “The person who says that it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it”. The intent, possibly, was to celebrate those who, despite of the adverse situation and the common sense, heroically work against all odds to achieve what is normally considered impossible.
Unfortunately reality is quite different. As that famous singer optimistically sang – One among thousand makes it. That sounds like a more accurate estimation for those trying to attain the impossible. And likely, I would add, that one is the person who benefits from advice and help from friends and co-workers.
Human kind didn’t reach the moon just because someone was kept away from those who said it wasn’t possible. To achieve the impossible you need a great team fully informed on why and how your goal is considered impossible. Usually great management and plenty of resource is helpful, too.
Just reminding a lesson at the University. The teacher, made this example: “Microsoft, in the search for new features to add to their compilers line may find that adding non termination detection would be great. Imagine, you write the code and the compiler tells you that no way, under these condition, your code will hang forever in some hidden loop. Wouldn’t it be really helpful? But this is not possible and it has been proved by Turing”. But… According to the motivational post, no one would be expected to tell the marketing and the poor programmer that volunteered for implementing the feature, that no matter how hard he tries, that feature is simply not possible (at least on Turing machine equivalents).
So that motivational sentence is basically against team work, informed decisions, information sharing, risk management.
A witty saying doesn’t prove anything [Voltaire], but sometimes it is just detrimental.
Well, I was about to close here, but I just read another quote by Voltaire: “Anything too stupid to be said is sung.” Well… that makes a good confrontation between Morandi and Voltaire.


Happy Birthday! BASIC just turned 50. It should have been 1981 or ’82 when I first saw a BASIC listing. The magazine was named Nuova Elettronica (New Electronics) and featured a series of columns about building a computer. I remember the writer was very proud they managed to license an Italian version of BASIC. For sure it was weird (even more in hindsight), something was even understandable (LET a=3, in Italian “SIA a=3”), something else was pretty obscure (FOR i=1 TO 10, “PER i=1 A 10”). I had no computer and the Internet wasn’t even in my wildest sci-fi dreams, so I wondered how those lines could produce 10 high-resolution (!) concentric rectangles. One rather puzzling statement was LET a=a+1. I understood equations (I was in my first year of high school), but that couldn’t possibly be an equation as I knew. So I tried to ask an even more puzzled math teacher, who stared at the line for a while, then muttered something about simulations and universe-changing semantics.

Luckily shortly later another magazine “Elettronica 2000” (“Electronics 2000”) started a BASIC tutorial. I read those pages until I consumed them and learned Basic. For some years programming and BASIC were quite synonyms. The first thing you saw when you switched a Zx or a Commodore on, was the BASIC prompt. The machine was ready to be programmed.

The BASIC era, for me, ended with the Amiga, years later (at that age, years are eons indeed). Microsoft BASIC for Amiga was pretty unstable, also real performances can be achieved with C. Maybe the tombstone was in the second year of University, in the first lesson of Computer Science, when the professor wrote “BASIC” on the blackboard and then stroked it out saying: “This is the last time I want to hear about BASIC”.

Talking about anniversaries, I think it is noteworthy that the first message I wrote on my blog was posted 10 years ago. I would have liked to celebrate this with a new look for my website. I have been working on this for a while, but it is still not ready. I hope to have it online before my website becomes of age.