[SIGCIS-Members] Origins of "clean" code

David Grier grier at email.gwu.edu
Sat Sep 4 09:38:38 PDT 2021


Couple thoughts.  First, the high performance computing community was fixated with the concept of the “Dusty Deck" in the 1970s.  The concept referred to a program, written in Fortran, that was optimized for an architecture, by then obsolete.  (Usually an IBM 7090 or CDC 6400 or in a few rare cases, the Illiac IV). The vendors of the 1970s were intent on showing that their products could take these programs and run them efficiently on the contemporaneous hardware, usually the Cray 1 or XMP.  David Kuck at Illinois. was at the center of this activity, as his compliers were part of this discussion.  He is still around and you might try to contact him.

This would raise the question of the role of compliers in defining the concept of cleanliness.  John Backus wrote extensively about how Fortran succeeded as a language because of the quality of the code it produced.  I don’t have any of his piecers in front of me, but I am suspicious that he used the word “clean” in describing the output code.  It certainly would be worthwhile to check his work.  

Simultaneously, it would be worthwhile to check the Algol discussions at the end of the 50s.  There was a substantial debate over almost every aspect of the language, including the quality of intermediate and output code.  There is a smattering of the discussion in the issues of the CACM.  A better sense of the discussions is found in Naur’s Algol Bulletin.  

> On Sep 4, 2021, at 8:53 AM, Rachel Plotnick <rachelplotnick2012 at u.northwestern.edu> wrote:
> 
> Hi all,
> 
> I've been working on the question of cleanliness in computing for the past couple of years - and am now contextualizing it in a larger project on cleanliness and media technologies. I don't have a specific answer on the origin of "clean code," but my initial thought is that it fits into a much broader discourse about the ways that we talk about things being "clean" or "dirty" as a metaphor or skeuomorph in so many technological contexts. In the running list I've been keeping specifically for computing, I've documented:
> 
> Clean install
> Clean design
> Clean copy
> Clean room (physical and coding)
> Clean code
> Clean images
> Clean interface
> Clean the registry
> Disk Clean Up
> Dirty data
> Dirty PC (not vetted to be virus-free)
> Dirty download/dirty files
> Digital janitors
> Trash and recycling bin icons
> Computer virus
> Clean desktop/clutter
> Zero inbox
> 
> And there are likely many more examples. I'm also looking at how questions of physical cleaning - of monitors, mouse, keyboard, desk, hard drive, disks - also take on great importance in computing. Some of my recent interest has been in the ways that clean room language came into conflict with computer rooms and then multi-purpose offices by challenging what human-machine hygiene meant. I've published a chapter in an edited volume, Computer Architectures, that provides some preliminary thoughts: https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapters/edit/10.4324/9780429264306-7/unclean-human-machine-interface-rachel-plotnick <https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapters/edit/10.4324/9780429264306-7/unclean-human-machine-interface-rachel-plotnick> 
> 
> This is a great question and I'm always happy to talk more about it and hear others' thoughts!
> 
> Regards,
> Rachel Plotnick
> Assistant Professor, Cinema and Media Studies
> Indiana University Bloomington
> raplotni at iu.edu <mailto:raplotni at iu.edu> 
> 
> On Sat, Sep 4, 2021 at 12:16 AM Ben Peters <bjpeters at gmail.com <mailto:bjpeters at gmail.com>> wrote:
> The excellent media historian Rachel Plotnick has done at least a talk touching on “clean”: 
> 
> https://www.blog.shanedenson.com/?p=5027 <https://www.blog.shanedenson.com/?p=5027>
> 
> No doubt there are other resources as well, 
> 
> Ben
> 
> Benjaminpeters.org
> 
> Sent from my iPhone
> 
>> On Sep 3, 2021, at 19:24, MikeWillegal <mike at willegal.net <mailto:mike at willegal.net>> wrote:
>> 
>> I would suggest you review the many meanings of clean in a dictionary.  Among them included in Merriam-Webster.com <http://merriam-webster.com/> are …
>> 
>> 1 b. free from contamination or disease
>> 6 a. relatively free from error or blemish
>> 7 a. characterized by clarity and precision
>> 
>> So I would suggest that regardless of the origin of usage of the word clean in computer science, this adjective is, in fact, quite useful and appropriate.  Of course, there are probably more cases than not where it could be argued whether a particular piece of code is clean or not.  If there is a disagreement between observers, the substitution of a different adjective is not likely to change anybody’s opinion.
>> 
>> regards,
>> Mike Willegal
>> 
>>> On Sep 3, 2021, at 3:19 PM, Azhar Desai <mail at azh-r.com <mailto:mail at azh-r.com>> wrote:
>>> 
>>> Hi SIGCIS,
>>> 
>>> I'm a software engineer,  who reads & relies some of your work, to help make sense of working in the astonishingly ahistorical tech sector - so thank you!
>>> 
>>> I'm interested in the origins of the word "clean" in software design. In conversations about software, people might often prefer some code over another, arguing that it's "cleaner". An example from a 2020 paper on the implementation of a VPN in Linux:
>>> 
>>>> While the Linux kernel’s crypto API has a large collection of primitives... ultimately, using raw primitives with direct, non-abstracted APIs proved to be far cleaner [1] 
>>> 
>>> The most famous example is the eponymously titled book "Clean Code" (2008) which proposes snippets of code that are ostensibly always preferred.
>>> 
>>> Does anyone know where I might find out how the word "clean" came to be used like this in software? My reasons for asking are somewhat impure: I'm trying to discourage this not very meaningful word in favour of more precise language.
>>> 
>>> One of the earliest uses I've seen of "clean" is in one of Djikstra's notes from 1974 [2] on a design for arrays in response to how ALGOL 60 had it. [2] But I have no idea if it was in common use then, or had always been in the development of programming languages at least. I'd love to hear any thoughts.
>>> 
>>> Best,
>>> Az
>>> 
>>> [1] https://www.wireguard.com/papers/wireguard.pdf <https://www.wireguard.com/papers/wireguard.pdf>
>>> [2] https://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/EWD/ewd04xx/EWD417.PDF <https://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/EWD/ewd04xx/EWD417.PDF>
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org <http://sigcis.org/>, the email discussion list of SHOT SIGCIS. Opinions expressed here are those of the member posting and are not reviewed, edited, or endorsed by SIGCIS. The list archives are at http://lists.sigcis.org/pipermail/members-sigcis.org/ <http://lists.sigcis.org/pipermail/members-sigcis.org/> and you can change your subscription options at http://lists.sigcis.org/listinfo.cgi/members-sigcis.org <http://lists.sigcis.org/listinfo.cgi/members-sigcis.org>
>> _______________________________________________
>> This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org <http://sigcis.org/>, the email discussion list of SHOT SIGCIS. Opinions expressed here are those of the member posting and are not reviewed, edited, or endorsed by SIGCIS. The list archives are at http://lists.sigcis.org/pipermail/members-sigcis.org/ <http://lists.sigcis.org/pipermail/members-sigcis.org/> and you can change your subscription options at http://lists.sigcis.org/listinfo.cgi/members-sigcis.org <http://lists.sigcis.org/listinfo.cgi/members-sigcis.org>_______________________________________________
> This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org <http://sigcis.org/>, the email discussion list of SHOT SIGCIS. Opinions expressed here are those of the member posting and are not reviewed, edited, or endorsed by SIGCIS. The list archives are at http://lists.sigcis.org/pipermail/members-sigcis.org/ <http://lists.sigcis.org/pipermail/members-sigcis.org/> and you can change your subscription options at http://lists.sigcis.org/listinfo.cgi/members-sigcis.org <http://lists.sigcis.org/listinfo.cgi/members-sigcis.org>
> 
> -- 
> Rachel Plotnick, PhD
> Media, Technology and Society Program
> Northwestern University
> _______________________________________________
> This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org, the email discussion list of SHOT SIGCIS. Opinions expressed here are those of the member posting and are not reviewed, edited, or endorsed by SIGCIS. The list archives are at http://lists.sigcis.org/pipermail/members-sigcis.org/ and you can change your subscription options at http://lists.sigcis.org/listinfo.cgi/members-sigcis.org

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.sigcis.org/pipermail/members-sigcis.org/attachments/20210904/262fd7e8/attachment.html>


More information about the Members mailing list