(This is a snapshot of my old weblog. New posts and selected republished essays can be found at raganwald.com.)

Monday, February 12, 2007
  Programming Language Stories


A fellow needs a dog house, so he hires a contractor. This guy is a C programmer who’s between jobs at the moment, and he says forget those wimpy “agile” wooden dog houses, he can build the dog house out of bricks, it will last forever and is stronger than any wood structure.

The client is doubtful, but that sounds very impressive, and the contractor says this is how all the real-world dog houses are made, so he agrees. Well, it takes forever: it seems every time the contractor thinks it’s finished, they discover there’s a chink between the bricks and there’s a leak. With wood you just trim to fit, but with bricks you have to plan everything in advance so that the bricks line up just right.

But Spring turns to Summer turns to Autumn, and the job is done. The client pays up, and the contractor’s about to leave when he stops and thinks for a moment before speaking.

“Hey,” the contractor says, “You paid for a pallet of bricks, and I used all but one. It’s a shame if it goes to waste. Why don’t I see if I can use it somewhere?” The client asks like what, and before you know it the contractor has scored a contract to build a brick path for the dog from the back door to the dog house. He orders some more bricks, gets to work right away, and this time things go a little better.

The contractor is now doing C++ on the side. And he uses some new bricklaying techniques he learned from Effective C++: there are these funny angle braces everywhere thanks to his path building templates. Soon that job is done and the contractor collects his fee. He’s about to leave, but he reaches into his tool chest and pulls out a brick.

“Hey,” the contractor says, “You paid for another pallet of bricks, and I used all but one on the path. It’s a shame if it goes to waste. Why don’t I see if I can use it somewhere?” The client is happy with the path, asks like what, and before you know it the contractor has scored another contract, this time to build a brick wall enclosing the yard. He orders some more bricks, and gets to work right away.

Meanwhile, the contractor has become a Visual C++ programmer and reads MSDN magazine religiously. He applies his new skills to building the wall: he has all these fancy tools that can put up sections of scaffolding when you push a button. of course, there are huge holes you have to fill in yourself, and the scaffolding has all these crazy joins and angles, it’s hard to change anything or understand how the entire wall fits together, but it feels like you’re getting a lot done because the system seems to move a lot of bricks for you.

Well, the wall takes forever, and it doesn’t look that good when it’s finally done. But the client pays up and the contractor is ready to leave. But he stops for a moment and pulls a brick out of his tool chest.

“Hey,” the contractor says, “You paid for two more pallets of bricks for the wall, and I used all but one. It’s a shame if it goes to waste. Why don’t I see if I can use it somewhere?”

The client has had enough of this, and he decides he’s going to show the contractor how he feels. “Give me that brick,” he orders. The surprised contractor hands it over. “I don’t give a rat’s ass about this brick” the client huffs, and he throws the brick clear out of his yard.

“I need to get work done, not talk to contractors all day about bricks. And besides, I’ve talked to the big landscape contracting companies, and they all say nobody is using bricks, everyone has switched to sharp tools and netting. Now get out.”

Ruby on Rails

Just inside the gates of heaven, St. Peter sits at a desk checking people in.

Peter: “Welcome to heaven. Programming language?”

The man at the front of the line says, “Smalltalk.”

Glancing at his clipboard, Peter says, “Room 33. Be very quiet as you pass Room Six.”

The process repeats itself with the next person in line:

Peter: “Welcome to heaven. Programming language?”

Person #2: “Common Lisp.”

Peter: “Room 17. Be very quiet as you pass Room Six.”

The next person moves to the front of the line with a look of curiosity on her face.

Peter: “Welcome to heaven. Programming language?”

Person #3: “Python.”

Peter: “Room 54. Be very quiet as you pass Room Six.”

Person #3: “Why do you keep telling us to be quiet as we pass Room Six?”

Peter: “Because the Ruby on Rails People are in Room Six, and they think they’re the only ones here.”

—Snarfed from Eric Sink’s Baptists and Boundaries


A mother was preparing the pot-roast for Sunday’s big family dinner. Before searing it and placing it in the pan, she carefully sliced the ends off. Her three year-old daughter asked “Mommy, why do you cut the ends off the roast?”

She answered, “My mom taught me to do it that way, and it’s delicious, so it must be a good idea. Maybe the juices from the meat mix with the vegetables?”

Everyone sits down for dinner, and when Father is serving the roast, the daughter remembers her question. She turns to Grandma and asks, “Grandma, why did you teach Mommy to cut the ends off the roast?”

Grandma thinks for a moment and says, “What a delightful question! I always used to cut the ends off the roast, it’s how my mother taught me. I don’t know why she did that, there must have been a good reason.” Grandma sits for a moment, remembering her mother. “Well,” she continues, ” there must have been a good reason. Now eat your dinner before it gets cold!”

The holidays roll around, and they’re having dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. “Hey!” Grandma says to the little girl, “You know what, I was going through your great-grandmother’s things, and I found the old roast pan. We sure made some good pot roast in it. Let’s make pot roast with it tonight in her honour!”

They get out the pan and wash it up. It’s old, and well-seasoned. Grandma looks it over. “It’s smaller than I remember. I was a little girl, and everything looks bigger when you’re small!”

They put the roast on the counter before searing it. Just then, Grandpa walks by. “Do you want me to cut the ends off the roast?” he asks. “It’s the only way you’ll get it to fit in that small pan.”

Grandma and the little girl look at each other. And they smile.


A fellow is on vacation, and he decides to ride one of those “scenic” double-decker buses that drive around from attraction to attraction. The upper level is open-air, and he’s the only one up there. He looks around, and decides that instead of re-reading his copy of The Little Schemer, he’s going to really enjoy himself: he lights a cigar.

No sooner has he lit the cigar when a woman comes huffing and puffing upstairs, carrying one of those sub-miniature dogs people use as fashion accessories. She takes one look at our man and demands he put the cigar out: it is offensive to the dog.

“Madam,” our man asserts, “this cigar is not offensive. Let me tell you its secrets.”

“Eschewing inferior mass-market tobacco, I order whole, functional leaves—at great expense and with difficulty—from a small collective in Cuba that still grow cigar tobacco the old-fashioned, original way.”

“Unsullied by automatic rolling machines or other push button devices, I roll each cigar, myself, by hand. Using secret tobacco-macro techniques that are impenetrable to the typical ignorant cigarette smoker, I am able to pack as much smoking pleasure into a single cigar as would take a carton of cigarettes—nay, it is impossible to enjoy a smoke from regular cigarettes as much as I enjoy the elite, exclusive flavour of my cigars.”

The woman is not impressed. “If your cigars are so good, how come nobody smokes them?” she asks. “If your cigars are so good, how come so many clubs and restaurants permit cigarettes but forbid cigars?”

Our fellow is so irate he begins to splutter. “If you or your dog are unable to understand that the purity, the perfection achieved long ago on a remote island far from consumerism and mass productio—” But he is unable to finish, for the woman imperiously sweeps the cigar from his mouth and flings it over the side of the bus.

“That’s what I think of your pompous cigar.” She tells him.

He glares at her for a moment, then years of oppression, of being forced to live with the hated cigarettes against his will, bring him to a boil and he commits an unthinkable act. With a wrench, he seizes the dog and flings it after his cigar. There is a moment of uncomprehending shock, and then the woman begins to howl.

Well, the bus driver hears all this and slams on the brakes. For a moment everything is higgledy-piggledy, and just as the woman’s wails return to their full volume, everyone is shocked to see the dog come trotting up, unharmed.

And what do you know: the dog has—nestled gently in its mouth—the most unexpected thing:

Gur Oevpx.

If you enjoyed these stories, you may also like Why You Need a Degree to Work For BigCo and more recently, A Venture Capitalist passes away peacefully, and....

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Comments on “Programming Language Stories:
Huh? What does "Gur Oevpx" mean?
Start with a Google on ROT-13 and work from there ;)
Half of this post would be better without the other half, but they're mixed together.
That is one great comment.

otherwise nice post, but as he said...
I know that half my advertising works, I just don't know which half

--David Ogilvy

My dear young man, don't take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It's quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that's all

--Emperor Joseph II, Amadeus

If you tell me which half of the post is wasted, I can learn from that for the next time.
I very much expected that final, tossed-away brick to hit some of the C/Brick structures and take them all down - in the spirit of "if programs were built like houses, one woodpecker could take down civilization"
I very much expected that final, tossed-away brick to hit some of the C/Brick structures and take them all down


But of course, that could apply to any of the languages I can think of.

Actually, the C story really is half about the nature of consulting and half about how it is a moving standard. Just as the Java story is about legacy systems... ten years ago that story would have been about COBOL.
These stories are slightly amusing, but don't have about any correlation to dynamics of real world of programming languages!
These stories are slightly amusing, but don't have about any correlation to dynamics of real world of programming languages

Have you spent any time at programming.reddit.com or at The Joel on Software Discussion Group?
I came across this the other day (can't remember where):

A project manager, hardware engineer and software engineer were in a car heading down a hill when the brakes failed. The driver managed to get it stopped by using the gears and a convenient dirt track.

All three jumped out and after peering under the car the hardware engineer said, "I see what the problem is and with this handy roll of duct tape I think I can fix it good enough to get us to the next town". The project manager quickly interrupted, "No, no, no. Before we do anything we need to decide on a vision for our future, figure out a plan and assign individual deliverables". At which point the software engineer said, "You know what, I think we should push the car back up to the top of the hill and see if it happens again".

Thanks for the linkage the other day by the way :)

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