TITLE: You Have to Write the Program AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: December 29, 2005 5:35 AM DESC: A Happy New Year! wish that reminds us why we write programs. ----- BODY: As we close out 2005, an article in MSU Today reminds us why scientists have to run experiments, not just sit in their easy chairs theorizing. A group of physicists was working on a new mix of quarks and gluons. Their theory predicted that they were creating a plasma with few or no interactions between the particles. When they ran their experiments, they instead "created a new state of matter, a nearly perfect fluid in which the quarks and gluons interact strongly." Gary Westfall, the lead MSU researcher on the project, said,
What is so incredibly exciting about this discovery is that what we found turned out to be totally different from what we thought we would find. ... But it shows that you cannot just rely on making theories alone. In the end, you have to build the machine and do the experiment. What you learn is often more beautiful than the most vivid imagination.
Folks who don't write computer programs often say that computers only do what we tell them to do, implying somehow that their mechanistic nature makes them uninteresting. Anyone who writes programs, though, has had the sort of experience that Gary Westfall describes. What we learn by writing a program and watching it is often more beautiful than anything we could ever have imagined. I love this game. Best wishes to you all for a 2006 full of vivid imagination and beautiful programs. -----