EppsNet Archive: Cell Phones

What Does a Programmer Do?

8 Oct 2017 /

I was asked to give a talk last week to a high school computer science class on “What Does a Programmer Do?” (I’m indebted to Jim McCarthy for the “lords and ladies of logic” section.)


Programming is problem solving.


At the highest level, the problem that programmers solve is that people want to be able to do things with computers that they can’t do. And by computers, I don’t mean just the kind of computers you have on the desks here, I mean phones, watches, cars . . . more and more different kinds of devices are running software.

So one good thing about being a programmer is that pretty much every field of endeavor now uses software and data.

You can work at a tech company like Microsoft or Google or Twitter or Facebook, but you can also work in healthcare, finance, education, sports . . . you can work on cancer research, you can write video games . . . everybody uses software and everybody hires programmers.

Programming is a good job if you want to be learning new things all the time, if you don’t want to do the same things over and over.

The dark side of this is that it can be daunting trying to keep up with the pace of technological change. It can be overwhelming.

I was asked once in an interview, “What’s the coolest thing you’ve learned in the last week?” If you haven’t learned anything in the last week, it’s hard to answer that question, let alone if you haven’t learned anything in a month or a year. It’s easy to let your career slip away from you.

Programming has been a good job for me because I’ve been able to make a living doing things I like and things that I’m good at. I’ve always liked solving problems and building things.

To me that’s a good job: you do things you like and things that you’re good at. I don’t think most people can say that. Most people seem to be like “I hate Mondays,” “Thank god it’s Friday,” “Thank god it’s Thursday because it’s almost Friday.” If you spend a lot of time doing things you don’t like and you’re not good at, that’s a bad job.

As a programmer, you’re given problems to solve and a set of tools with which to solve them. You need to be able to figure out “what do i need to do, what do I need to learn, to be able to solve these problems with these tools?”

Self-reliance is good. Persistence is good. Floundering is bad. Know when to ask for help.

Asking for help is a no-lose strategy. Worst case, you ask for help and someone can’t help you or won’t help you, but you’re not any worse off than you were in the first place.

The demand for programmers exceeds the supply and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon.

Nearly 30 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 cannot locate the Pacific Ocean on a map, and 25 percent of Americans think the sun goes around the earth. Those people are not going to be programmers.

In a time of ubiquitous software and intellectual lethargy, programmers are like the priests in the Middle Ages. We are the lords and ladies of logic. We’re in charge of rationality for our era. We’re bringing common sense and sound judgment and aggregated wisdom and glory to everyone.

That’s our job.

If the Titanic Sank Today

22 Jun 2016 /

Titanic today

Nobody Reads Books Anymore

11 Oct 2014 /

Me and Mark Twain

I wish more people staring at cell phones while walking would fall into holes . . .

Posted by on 1 Jun 2013

NTSB Recommends Ban on Driver Cell Phone Use

14 Dec 2011 /
Car crashing into delivery truck

States should ban all driver use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices, except in emergencies, the National Transportation Board said Tuesday.

The recommendation, unanimously agreed to by the five-member board, applies to both hands-free and hand-held phones and significantly exceeds any existing state laws restricting texting and cellphone use behind the wheel.


Busy, productive people need to talk and text while driving in order to jumpstart this economy!

Yes, some of them will die, but it’s a net win because the benefits outweigh the costs.

Just Like the Pros

27 Jul 2011 /
Above the rim

The boy comes home from somewhere this afternoon . . .

“Where have you been?” I ask him.

“Playing basketball,” he says, as he heads into the kitchen for a beverage.

“I’ve been trying to call you. Why didn’t you pick up your phone?”

“Does Kobe pick up his phone during a game? Neither do I.”

I’m All About Safety

20 Mar 2010 /
Everyday Life 135

The woman in the car next to me was talking on a cell phone while driving. I was so incensed, I ran her off the highway. Her car flew into a barranca and exploded in a giant fireball.

I’m a stickler when it comes to traffic safety.

Notes From Interstate 5

18 Jan 2010 /

It poured rain all the way from San Jose to Los Angeles . . .

fields and traffic along Interstate 5, between Westley and Tracy, September 4, 2006

“It’s a good day for cows,” I say to my son, as we drive by a field of happy-looking bovines.

“It’s raining,” he points out.

“I don’t think cows mind a little rain. They get to eat lush, moist grass. Instead of dry grass. Do you like to eat a dry salad with no dressing? You don’t, right?” No answer. “I’m trying to think like a cow here.”


“My phone would go out right in the middle of a text message,” the boy says.

“That’s awful,” I say in mock sympathy.

“It is,” he says. “It was a thoughtful, heartfelt text message.”

“How thoughtful and heartfelt can a text message be? Aren’t you limited to 160 characters?”

“Not to Verizon numbers.”

“Oh. Well, that is disappointing then.”


We’re driving past an agricultural area with nothing but four- to five-foot sticks in the ground as far as the eye can see.

“What are they growing here?” he asks.

“Sticks,” I say. “It’s a stick farm.”


When I pass trucks on the highway, I always signal before pulling back in front of them.

Most people treat truck drivers and their vehicles just as obstacles to be bypassed. I treat them as real people with real feelings.

I think it makes life better for everyone . . .

Lost or Not Found

3 Jul 2009 /

My son can’t find his cell phone . . .

“You should glue it to your hand,” I say, “since you lose it at least once a day.”

“No, I don’t,” he says.

“Once a week, then.”

“Okay, but I never lose it. I just can’t find it at the time I need it.”

Mankind Is No Island

23 Dec 2008 /

Below is a short film shot entirely on a cell phone. It uses an unusual technique — a very simple technique — to present a narrative without the use of an actual voiceover narration . . .

California Enacts a Cell Phone Law

9 Apr 2008 /

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed legislation that prohibits the use of handheld mobile phones while driving in the state.

Effective July 1, 2008, the legislation prohibits drivers from using a wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle unless the driver uses a hands-free device. Drivers who violate the law will face a base fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense.

I can’t talk on my cell phone while I’m driving?

What a dopey law!

Can I still eat a chili dog while I’m driving? Can I drink a beverage? Can I try to find my favorite song on the CD player? Can I perform any number of activities that require the use of at least one hand and are at least as distracting as a phone call?

Has anyone else noticed that we have too many laws? And that every new one takes away one more precious freedom or one more hard-earned dollar, usually for no good reason?

Aren’t Cell Phones Great?

17 Jan 2008 /

Now not only can I call home and get no answer, I can call my wife’s cell phone and get no answer and call my kid’s cell phone and get no answer . . .

The World of Make-Believe

26 Apr 2006 /

I take my cell phone out of my pocket and notice that the battery’s gone dead.

“Way to plan ahead,” my son says, without looking up from his GameBoy.

Continue reading The World of Make-Believe