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No Silver Bullet by Fred Brooks

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Future of Coding

Playful explorations of the rich past and exciting future that we're all building with our silly little computers. Hosted by Jimmy Miller and Ivan Ree 
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Jimmy and I have each read this paper a handful of times, and each time our impressions have flip-flopped between "hate it so much" and "damn that's good". There really are two sides to this one. Two reads, both fair, both worth discussing: one of them within "the frame", and one of them outside "the frame". So given that larger-than-normal surface for discursive traversal, it's no surprise that this episode is, just, like, intimidatingly long. This one is so, so long, friends. See these withered muscles and pale skin? That's how much time I spent in Ableton Live this month. I just want to see my family.

No matter how you feel about Brooks, our thorough deconstruction down to the nuts and bolts of this seminal classic will leave you holding a ziplock bag full of cool air and wondering to yourself, "Wait, this is philosophy? And this is the future we were promised? Well, I guess I'd better go program a computer now before it's too late and I never exist."

For the next episode, we're reading a fish wearing a bathrobe.

Sorry, it's late and I'm sick, and I have to write something, you know?


  • Fred Brooks also wrote the Mythical Man-Month, which we considered also discussing on this episode but thank goodness we didn't.

  • Also, Fred Brooks passed away recently. We didn't mention it on the show, but it's worth remarking upon. RIP, and thanks for fighting the good fight, Fred. I still think you're wrong about spatial programming, but Jimmy agrees with you, so you can probably rest easy since between the two of us he's definitely the more in touch with the meaning of life.

  • The Oxide and Friends podcast recorded an episode of predictions.

  • Jimmy’s Aphantasia motivates some of his desire for FoC tools.

  • Don’t miss the previous episode on Peter Naur’s Programming as Theory Building, since Ivan references it whilst digging his own grave.

  • Jimmy uses Muse for his notes, so he can highlight important things in two colors — yes, two colors at the same time. Living in the future.

  • For the Shadow of the Colossus link, here’s an incredible speedrun of the game. Skip to 10:20-ish for a great programming is like standing on the shoulders of a trembling giant moment.

  • Mu is a project by Kartik Agaram, in which he strips computing down to the studs and rebuilds it with a more intentional design. “Running the code you want to run, and nothing else.”

  • “Is it a good-bad movie, a bad-bad movie, or a movie you kinda liked?”

  • Ivan did some research. Really wish Marco and Casey didn't let him.

  • Jimmy did an attack action so as to be rid of Brook’s awful invisibility nonsense. Awful.

  • As promised, here’s a link in the show notes to something something Brian Cantrill, Moore’s Law, Bryan Adams, something something.

  • Dynamicland, baby!

  • Here’s just one example of the racist, sexist results that current AI tools produce when you train them on the internet. Garbage in, garbage out — a real tar pit. AI tools aren’t for deciding what to say; at best, they’ll help with how to say it.

  • Gray Crawford is one of the first people I saw posting ML prompts what feels like an eternity ago, back when the results all looked like blurry goop but like… blurry goop with potential.

  • Not sure of a good link for Jimmy’s reference that Age of Empires II used expert systems for the AI, but here’s a video that talks about the AI in the game and even shows some Lisp code.

  • Idris is a language that has a bit of an “automatic programming” feel.

  • The visual programming that shall not be named.

  • When people started putting massive numbers of transistors into a single chip (eg: CPU, RAM, etc) they called that process Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI). Also, remember that scene in the first episode of Halt and Catch Fire when the hunky Steve Jobs-looking guy said "VLSI" to impress the girl from the only good episode of Black Mirror? I'm still cringing.

  • Sally Haslanger is a modern day philosopher and feminist who works with accident and essence despite their problematic past.

Music featured in this episode:

  • Never, a song I wrote and recorded on Tuesday after finally cleaning my disgusting wind organ. It was like Hollow Knight in there.

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Playful explorations of the rich past and exciting future that we're all building with our silly lit 
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