[FRIAM] Cargo Cult

Steven A Smith sasmyth at swcp.com
Sun Nov 19 12:23:53 EST 2017

Marcus -
> Cargo cult programming is like the link below, starting at 4:20.
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZAPwfrtAFY&feature=youtu.be
> That is, not just imperfect, but worse than nothing.
An aphorism by a former LANL Colleague:
     "sometimes the most you can do is nothing"

I think that was *his* response to some of the "magical thinking" we 
were often subjected to by upper management...  being told "you have to" 
and "but you can't" all in the same sentence.

Thanks for the link... it lead me to a mini-binge on John Oliver. He 
seems to be the "go to" for comedic news for my Nephew's generation 
(22), and not really that far off from my own's pairing of Stewart and 

As for the style of (uber-naive) programming described by this term, I 
suffered alongside fellow students 40 years ago who all but "shuffled" 
their card decks and resubmitted them to the batch system, hoping that 
miraculously that would make their program start working.   100 Monkeys 
typing would have done as well?   Many years later, as a mentor for 
aspiring Computer Programmers (engineers/scientists usually without 
significant formal education in CS) I found myself noticing that the 
ubiquity of existing and easily accessed code (thank you Internet) lead 
them to do a LOT of cut and paste programming that didn't even begin to 
have a basis in rationality... If I'd only known to call it Cargo Cult 
thinking and offer them Feynman's anecdotes.

This reminds me a *little* too much of my own experience as a toddler 
when my father was trying to help me "make" a birthday or mother's day 
present for my mother and I wanted desperately to make a "vase" out of 
one of those long, narrow balloons by cutting it in half.   To give my 
father credit, he tried to talk me out of it for a while and then 
finally allowed me to "give it a go".   I'm not sure precisely what I 
learned through that exercise, but it stuck with me.   I think that was 
how I dealt with some of my more stubborn students... letting them throw 
their spaghetti against the wall until they got tired enough of the 
(lack of) results to listen to me and to think the problem through...  
none of those students went on to be very successful as I remember.   
Perhaps I should have just put them out of their misery?

This opens the question implied by "we all go through a natural naive 
period", which is "when is it reasonably time to have transcended 
that?"  I have no reason to expect the Donald Trumps (or most 
politicians) to transcend their own naivete...   in many cases it was 
likely their willful ignorance that got them where they are. The 
challenge on the table today (IMO) is how to refactor our system of 
governance (and it's various mechanisms) to NOT select for willful 
ignorance in our representatives (and most of the electorate)?

- Steve

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