Looking Out To Sea

The unreasonable effectiveness of programming to Get Stuff Done™

I’m not going to try convincing you of anything here, but instead to lay out the facts of what just happened.

I have a list of “readers’ favourite books” that was the result of a popular vote a few years ago (in the Guardian I think, though that doesn’t matter at this point).

I was also given a list of books for Kindle that someone at work had access to, by means which we shall not explore in detail. wink

I thought, I wonder how many of the favourite books are available? One list looked like this:

1 Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee

and the other looked like this:

Abagnale, Frank W. - Catch Me If You Can.mobi
Abbot, Edwin - Flatland.mobi
Abercrombie, Joe - First Law 01 - The Blade Itself.mobi
Abercrombie, Joe - First Law 02 - Before They Are Hanged.mobi
Abercrombie, Joe - First Law 03 - Last Argument of Kings.mobi

A few minutes later I had a good answer on my screen. I won’t go into the details because they’re neither interesting or relevant. (I took the last word from the first list, which was the author’s surname, and searched for it in the other list. Any book which produced no candidates was dropped entirely. The rest were printed.) The point is that I had the means and the ability to very quickly answer the following question:

Out of this list of 100 books and this list of 1400 books, which ones match up?

The results were by no means perfect (this sample below shows the fuzzy nature of the output) but they were good enough to eyeball and say “yep, the book is there” or not.

5 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
   Child, Lee - Jack Reacher 01 - Killing Floor.mobi
   Child, Lee - Jack Reacher 02 - Die Trying.mobi
   Child, Lee - Jack Reacher 03 - Tripwire.mobi
   Child, Lee - Jack Reacher 04 - Running Blind.mobi
   Child, Lee - Jack Reacher 05 - Echo Burning.mobi
   Child, Lee - Jack Reacher 06 - Without Fail.mobi
   Child, Lee - Jack Reacher 07 - Persuader.mobi
   Child, Lee - Jack Reacher 08 - The Enemy.mobi
   Child, Lee - Jack Reacher 09 - One Shot.mobi
   Child, Lee - Jack Reacher 10 - The Hard Way.mobi
   Child, Lee - Jack Reacher 11 - Bad Luck and Trouble.mobi
   Child, Lee - Jack Reacher 12 - Nothing to Lose.mobi
   Child, Lee - Jack Reacher 13 - Gone Tomorrow.mobi
   Child, Lee - Jack Reacher 14 - 61 Hours.mobi
   Child, Lee - Jack Reacher 15 - Worth Dying For.azw
   Hunter, Stephen - Bob Lee Swagger 01 - Point Of Impact.mobi
   Lee, Harper - To Kill a Mockingbird.mobi
6 The Bible
   Kingsolver, Barbara - The Poisonwood Bible.mobi
7 Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte
   Bronte, Charlotte - Jane Eyre.mobi
=8 Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell
   Orwell, George - 1984.mobi
   Orwell, George - Animal Farm.mobi
=8 His Dark Materials Philip Pullman
   Pullman, Philip - His Dark Materials 01 - The Golden Compass.mobi
   Pullman, Philip - His Dark Materials 02 - The Subtle Knife.mobi
   Pullman, Philip - His Dark Materials 03 - The Amber Spyglass.mobi

This is why programming ability will one day become an important skill for living in a technological society. It may not be as fundamental as reading and writing, but few things are. Driving a car, wiring a plug, painting a fence — all things further down the scale but still considered by many as “life skills”. Unless there is a powerful change in the way computers can be made to understand our desires in the next few years then I think “simple scripting” will also fall into that category.