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I vaguely recall a story between a programmer (or perhaps a computer scientist) Bob and his wife Alice, a professional pianist. Alice has been playing piano for many years, but like others, she still occasionally misses keys, so she just keeps practicing. One day, Bob asks Alice, “why are you still making mistakes after so much practice? Do you need better illumination, larger keys, or a higher seat?”

Could someone please point me to the original story? I couldn’t find a reference online.

I find this quote funny because it reflects programmers’ emphasis on tooling. For example, we don’t practice writing C programs. Instead, we invent code review, static checkers, fuzzers, memory sanitizers, formal verification, and Rust, to name just a few. Not sure how this mindset is developed; maybe writing correct programs is just too hard for human’s error-prone mind. :)


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    Bet you a dollar that professional musicians are even more obsessive about their tooling than we are

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      Eric Clapton’s Magic Wood Block™ is being sold for $21.

      Then you have the whole discussion whether or not it matters which type of wood your electric guitar’s body uses, and if so, which type of wood is the “best”. You think Vim vs. Emacs is a religious war? Hah! Kid’s stuff.

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        Fun aside: for me, it’s €17.91.. plus €8,103.70 shipping.

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          For that price I’d expect Eric Clapton himself to deliver it to me.

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        Professional drivers vary from gearhead to just rolling down the windows.

        Doctors have minor holy wars over details of and entire plans for procedures.

        Builders have strong brand opinions and stronger tool choice. “Young people may use miter saws but I was always faster and cleaner with a circular saw. “

        Seamstresses have very strong ideas, but tend to agree about the stuff that matters more.

        Stock traders. Do you save up for the Bloomberg keyboard or do you rough it?

        Don’t even try to get started on the various fine arts.

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          I definitely know a musician who did a doctoral thesis on the acoustics of the material used in a single part of their instrument of choice.

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          I think every discipline cares about it’s tools. Humans are tool-users, it’s literally what separates us most from other animals. I know that when I practice music, I care deeply that the tools I’m using are allowing me to make the most efficient and dexterous motions possible. I care a lot about the typeset of the sheet music and the quality of the strings on my guitar. So I don’t think it’s unreasonable that programmers spend time looking for good tools to amplify their ability in programming any more than I think it unreasonable when guitarists care about which brand of strings they like (Ernie Ball Aluminum Bronze, 13-56 is the only correct answer, I am not taking comments at this time) or what kind of pick they use.

          It’s true you can overfocus on those things as an excuse for poor practice habits, but they aren’t irrelevant – an uncomfortable pianist is likely to play worse than a comfortable one!

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            I personally feel that practicing writing programs is deflected even more by studying design patterns than by fretting over tooling.

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              How did Bob know that Alice is missing keys while she practices? Is Bob a piano player? Is Alice swearing? Does Bob know how the tune is supposed to go because it’s Happy Birthday?

              How does Bob know that Bob has bugs in his code? How does Bob tell Alice that her Jazz improvisation was wrong when it was something that Alice made up and doesn’t exist in the world except this singular instance?