Monday, September 05, 2005

Woodpeckers, civilization, and programming!

According to Eric Raymond , Gerald Weinberg , is the one who made the observation (in 1971 - Boy! Were I born then?) that "If architects built houses the way programmers built programmers, the first woodpecker to come along would destroy civilization". So, bugs, reproducibility, and reliability are issues, probably, as old as programming itself.

The January, 2005 issue of Physics Today carries an article (by Post and Votta) on the need of verifying and validating complex codes. After noting that
The existing peer review process for computational science is not effective. Seldom can a referee reproduce a paper's result.
Post and Votta go on to say
One has to validate the entire calculational system-- including user, computer system, problem setup, running, and results analysis.
As we noted earlier , the measures suggested here would help in making sure that not just the referee but every reader can reproduce the computations. Not surprisingly, the article of Post and Votta received lots of feedback, which are published in the August, 2005 issue of Physics Today : however, I have to wait at least for three months before they would be available online. Till then, you can take a look at the September/October, 2004 issue (Volume 6, Issue 5) of IEEE Computing in Science and Engineering which is a special issue on validation and verification (and also has a provocative editorial about the predictive powers of computers).

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