Random insight of the night: every couple years, someone stands up and bemoans the fact that programming is still primarily done through the medium of text. And surely with all the power of modern graphical systems there must be a better way. But consider:

* the most powerful tool we have as humans for handling abstract concepts is language
* our brains have several hundred millenia of optimizations for processing language
* we have about 5 millenia of experimenting with ways to represent language outside our heads, using media (paper, parchment, clay, cave walls) that don't prejudice any particular form of representation at least in two dimensions
* the most wildly successful and enduring scheme we have stuck with over all that time is linear strings of symbols. Which is text.

So it is no great surprise that text is well adapted to our latest adventure in encoding and manipulating abstract concepts.

@rafial Both accurate and also misses the fact that Excel is REGULARLY misused for scientific calculations and near-programming level things since its GUI is so intuitive for doing math on things.

Like, GUI programming is HERE, we just don't want to admit it due to how embarrassing it is.

@Canageek very good point. Excel is actually the most widely used programming environment by far.

@rafial Now what we need to do is make a cheap, easy to use version of it that is designed for what scientists are using it for it. Column labels, semantic labels, faster calculations, better dealing with mid-sized data (tens of thousands of data point range), etc

@Canageek I'm wondering, given your professional leanings if you can comment on the use of "notebook" style programming systems such as Jupyter and of course Mathematica. Do you have experience with those? And if so how do they address those needs?


@rafial I have not, I've done math and such in Excel (making a molecular weight calculator, sheets to automatically work out student marks by letting me see which step of a calculation they got wrong, etc) and I've done actual programming (A little python, C, C++, heck, QBASIC back in high school and a tiny bit of FORTRAN90 one summer). but not anything in between.

I can't figure out the use of them? They seem like the worst of both worlds. You have to debug python AND you have to deal with a slow loading GUI program

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@Canageek I'm very interested in that space, in so far as it seems to intersect with the ideas of Don Knuth's literate programming. But I also admit to be slightly unclear as to what domains it is best for. I think it's big with the data science crowd?

@rafial Yeah, I'm a chemist who works with very small data, no statistical analysis or anything like that. About the most I have to do is "Adjust this data to account for the lamp response on that day" or "Normalize and scale these two spectra against one another"

@Canageek if I had to guess, I would say if your domain involved exploration of data sets, with visualization as a key component of that, the notebook things might well be a killer app.

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