Ignoring warnings is a bad idea. At some level, we all know this. If we see a sign that says “Warning: Dangerous Undertow” at the beach, we pause (I hope!) and think twice before we get in the water.
Ignore warnings at your peril. :-) Image credit: xkcd.com
Yet we sometimes get cavalier about warnings in software. Specifially, I have heard programmers describe compiler warnings as being less severe than errors–as if worrying about them is optional.
This is simply not true.
I’m told that in Czech, the word “prozvonit” means “to call a mobile phone and let it ring once so that the other person will call back, saving the first caller money.”
Image credit: AstridWestvang (Flickr)
How would you translate this word to someone in New Guinea who has never experienced electricity, let alone a telephone or a bill from Verizon? You wouldn’t. This is an example of a “lacuna“–a translation problem caused by semantic gaps in a target language. Lacunas occur in programming languages. You might know a few; maybe you wish C++ had python-style generators–or that Java had Haskell’s notion of pure functions–or that C supported PHP-style string interpolation. But what if I told you that semantic misalignment between any pair of programming languages is just minor details? What if I claimed that all programming languages I’ve used have numerous, pernicious, and expensive semantic gaps? That we don’t see these gaps for the same reasons that a stone-age hunter-gatherer fails to notice his inability to discuss patterns of cell phone usage? Would you think I’m crazy? Continue reading