[SIGCIS-Members] Origins of "clean" code

Julie Cohn cohnconnor at gmail.com
Sat Sep 4 07:54:59 PDT 2021


Rachel -

Is your work also intersecting with ideas about electricity as “clean” energy? 

-Julie

Julie Cohn, Ph.D.

Non-Resident Scholar, Center for Energy Studies
Baker Institute for Public Policy, Rice University, and
Research Historian, Center for Public History
University of Houston

email: cohnconnor at gmail.com
cell: 713.516.0849

Author: The Grid: Biography of an American Technology (MIT Press, 2017)
https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/grid


> On Sep 4, 2021, at 5:53 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>
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>> _______________________________________________
>> 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
> _______________________________________________
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