Sunday, January 13, 2013

Age and Technology

Owing to a combination of bad judgment and bad luck, last Monday we found ourselves on I-95 north of Baltimore with an obviously failing clutch. By undeserved good fortune, we were directed to Thompson's Towing and Auto Repair Center, which not only employs skilled mechanics, but has an Avis agency.  Within the hour, we were back on the road in a rented car, having left our sedan to have the clutch repaired.

What with parts that had to be ordered, the car was not ready until Friday. I caught the 12:20 MARC train out of Union Station, and called Thompson's from the Aberdeen train station. The mechanic brought the car himself. In the course of the explanation he remarked that he had been doing this work since 1968, which I found reassuring. And to be sure, the clutch feels just right.

It occurred to me later that I would not find the same reassurance if a programmer told me that he had  been programming since 1968--unless perhaps that programmer's name were Guy L. Steele. I would make no adverse judgment of the programmer, but many of the languages and technologies that I use were not devised by 1968. E.F. Codd's paper that projected the relational database was published in 1970, for example. Thompson and Ritchie developed the first version of UNIX in 1969, and that year Ritchie began work on the C programming language. The languages I use most often are a good deal newer, at most 20 years old. Clutches have been around a good deal longer.

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