I have friends who code. Some of my most favorite friends code. We talk about coding, and since I don’t really do it (not yet, anyway) I let them talk at me and over years I’ve started to develop some understanding of the experience.
One thing that has regularly popped out at me in these conversations is when they talk about power and things in coding-land that are powerful. I think, “What does powerful mean? Code can’t move itself, can’t move at all. It doesn’t generate or expend energy. It can’t punch me out. What is power in computer science?” So I started asking these questions out loud and got what I can only describe as fuzzy answers (which indicated I was on to something). And I think I’ve finally developed a working definition of what power means in the coding/computer science context.
My hypothesis: when something is described as powerful, it means that that thing realizes some higher objectives particularly well. For instance, if one objective is expressivity (apparently this is a word only in biology), something is powerful if it allows for a high degree of expressivity. But there are I think two issues here: 1) power is only really used when multiple objectives are realized with minimal mutual sacrifice, and 2) to some extent, people disagree on which objectives are important.
I look forward to teasing this out, particularly that last issue, in my own informal grounded theory way.
(And seriously, are linguists looking at the extent and degree of metaphor used in computer science terminology? They really ought to be.)
And my random research idea stems from this post over at The Shifted Librarian, which is a reference to another post altogether regarding using tag cloud mechanisms for “pattern recognition.” I want to call it text analysis, or coding as it is often done in qualitative research studies. In any case, my idea is to conduct some kind of study on qualitative research(ers), with a control group doing traditional coding of interviews, and an experimental group using this automation hack, and see if conclusions differ. I wonder if there’s any way to test the influence of the display, since that’s what many find so evocative of tag clouds.
Yet another thing I will do in my copious spare time with my massive resources. Indeed.