Computer Science vs. Programmers

I have a gripe.

Computer science is a branch of mathematics. It’s a powerful, amazing tool based on logic and reasoning and the work of giants. And it seems to get no respect from the programmers who blithely don’t realize they’re using it every day.

In the business world, programming problems are solved by either gluing preexisting stuff together or “just hack it until it works.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a colleague say, “Well, what if we just try this,” or “I know this trick,” or “I don’t know why that broke, maybe sunspots.” There seems to be little recognition of the value that computer science brings to the table: Everything is just tips and tricks and technologies, not reasoning and technique.

And if (like me) you’re one of the rare ones who uses computer science to solve a problem, it’s not attributed to all those proofs and techniques and hard science you learned: You’re just a “programming wizard.” It’s as if everybody around you is building houses out of pine, and they see you build a house out of stone and think you found really hard, strong pine somewhere. And worse, they then ask you to point out which trees you got it from.

I don’t understand this disconnect.

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Thoughts on CorelDRAW X6

I love CorelDRAW*. It’s one of my favorite go-to tools for just about everything graphics-related. I’ve been using it since a friend gave me a bootleg copy of CorelDRAW 3, all the way back in 1994. Four years later, I had scraped and saved enough to buy a legitimate copy of CorelDRAW 5 (see! piracy really can lead to sales sometimes!), and I’ve been upgrading ever since. Boxed copies of everything from version 5 to version X5 are sitting on the shelf behind me as I type this.

* Lest there be any doubt, I’ve tried Adobe Illustrator. I gave it a fair shot, I really did. But it drives me crazy trying to use it. I spend a lot of my time bending and tweaking nodes, and I use the heck out of CorelDRAW’s PowerClip and Blend for everything from simple clipping to really complicated shading effects. Illustrator was pretty weak in all those categories the last time I used it. I tried InkScape, too, and stopped using it right about the point where their coders asked on their forum, “Why would you ever want PowerClip?”

That said, as much as I love CorelDRAW, there are a few things I’d really like to see either changed or fixed. Some of them are downright bugs that they keep not fixing. Some are existing functionality that just doesn’t work well. And one’s a “please steal this technique from your competitors already.” So here’s my list:

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Snowed In

I’ve watched with great interest the chase of Edward Snowden. And it’s resulted in a change in my attitude toward government.

Once upon a time, I distrusted government, but I generally assumed that they were simply too incompetent to do anything truly malicious. These are the same people that can’t decide what color to paint a wall, my reasoning went, so there’s no way they could possibly be capable enough to be able to apply the level of evil so many of their detractors accuse them of. That, and there are so many bureaucratic checks and balances that they’re at best handicapped; I envisioned NSA spying on a level only slightly less primitive than tying an extra string to a tin-can telephone.

And then Snowden. Good news, crackpots, you’re not paranoid. Instead of the government being a well-paid collection of Mr. Magoo’s closest relatives, they suddenly morphed into the worst Orwellian nightmare Hollywood can depict. Even as I write this, I’m not at all sure that these very words aren’t placing me on a watch list — if I’m not on one already for having a brain in my head and a tendency to ask probing and awkward questions.

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