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Abstractions with Procedures

Our reference book “Structure and Interpretetion of Computer Programs”, on the chapter ”1 Building Abstractions with Procédures.

We are about to study the idea of a computational process. Computational processes are abstract beings that inhabit computers. As they evolve, processes manipulate other abstract things called data. The evolution of a process is directed by a pattern of rules called a program. People create programs to direct processes1). In effect, we conjure the spirits of the computer with our spells.

A computational process is indeed much like a sorcerer's idea of a spirit. It cannot be seen or touched. It is not composed of matter at all. However, it is very real. It can perform intellectual work. It can answer questions. It can affect the world by disbursing money at a bank or by controlling a robot arm in a factory. The programs we use to conjure processes are like a sorcerer's spells. They are carefully composed from symbolic expressions in arcane and esoteric programming languages that prescribe the tasks we want our processes to perform.

A computational process, in a correctly working computer, executes programs precisely and accurately. Thus, like the sorcerer's apprentice, novice programmers must learn to understand and to anticipate the consequences of their conjuring. Even small errors (usually called bugs or glitches) in programs can have complex and unanticipated consequences2).

Fortunately, learning to program is considerably less dangerous than learning sorcery, because the spirits we deal with are conveniently contained in a secure way. Real-world programming, however, requires care, expertise, and wisdom. A small bug in a computer-aided design program, for example, can lead to the catastrophic collapse of an airplane or a dam or the self-destruction of an industrial robot.

Master software engineers have the ability to organize programs so that they can be reasonably sure that the resulting processes will perform the tasks intended. They can visualize the behavior of their systems in advance. They know how to structure programs so that unanticipated problems do not lead to catastrophic consequences, and when problems do arise, they can debug their programs. Well-designed computational systems, like well-designed automobiles or nuclear reactors, are designed in a modular manner, so that the parts can be constructed, replaced, and debugged separately3).

The Elements of Programming

Our reference book “Structure and Interpretetion of Computer Programs”, on the chapter “1.1 Elements of programming define very well, the elements for the “Abstractions of Procedures”.

A powerful programming language is more than just a means for instructing a computer to perform tasks. The language also serves as a framework within which we organize our ideas about processes. Thus, when we describe a language, we should pay particular attention to the means that the language provides for combining simple ideas to form more complex ideas. Every powerful language has three mechanisms for accomplishing this:

  • primitive expressions, which represent the simplest entities the language is concerned with,
  • means of combination, by which compound elements are built from simpler ones, and
  • means of abstraction, by which compound elements can be named and manipulated as units.

In programming, we deal with two kinds of elements: procedures and data. (Later we will discover that they are really not so distinct.) Informally, data is ``stuff'' that we want to manipulate, and procedures are descriptions of the rules for manipulating the data. Thus, any powerful programming language should be able to describe primitive data and primitive procedures and should have methods for combining and abstracting procedures and data.

In this chapter we will deal only with simple numerical data so that we can focus on the rules for building procedures.4 In later chapters we will see that these same rules allow us to build procedures to manipulate compound data as well.

Vs Evenja

If you want to see the differences between Evenja and “Abstractions with procedure” read Software ?, Principles, Structure and Breakthrough.

Next page of Evenja's theory, Dataflow.

One of the big difference with Evenja, check Breakthrough
Today's programs have unanticipated consequences, check why at Software ?
principles/procedure.txt · Last modified: 2014/04/24 14:42 by fjp