Mmm, tar!

Yossi Kreinin calls it Fun at the Turing tar-pit. It's another form of programming candy: the nastier a language, the more fun it is so solve simple problems in it.

I’ll tell you why it happens. When you write code in a full-featured programming language, clearly you can do a lot of useful things. Because, like, everybody can. So the job has to be quite special to give you satisfaction; if the task is prosaic, and most of them are, there’s little pride you’re going to feel. But if the language is crippled, it’s a whole different matter. “Look, a loop using templates!” Trivial stuff becomes an achievement, which feels good. I like feeling good.

It's just like a game - overcoming obstacles is fun! And a perverse language, like a low-level one, is a great source of obstacles. Artificial, unnecessary obstacles, sure, but that's fine - it means you don't have to feel bad about being defeated by them. And when you do overcome them, you have the reward of getting something done, so it's easy to forget the obstacles were of your own creation. Programming makes a great game!

But it's more than a game, or it should be. There's nothing wrong with solving puzzles for puzzles' sake, but programming has the additional reward of doing something useful. The trouble is that there are many puzzles available in any program, and only some of them make progress toward whatever the program is supposed to do. The "real" problems are not necessarily more fun, and are often harder to appreciate, than the obvious ones created by inadequate tools. This tarry candy may taste good, and provide something to chew on, but it's not very filling, not by itself. Here's a puzzle that matters: how can I, and the many other programmers in the same boat, find the pleasure of more interesting problems, rather than that of solving easy ones over and over?

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