“Cascading Style Sheets are a cryptic language developed by the Freemasons to obscure the visual nature of reality”

Via Cynthia, here is a column by James Mickens about how horrible the web is right now:

Computer scientists often look at Web pages in the same way that my friend looked at farms. People think that Web browsers are elegant computation platforms, and Web pages are light, fluffy things that you can edit in Notepad as you trade ironic comments with your friends in the coffee shop. Nothing could be further from the truth. A modern Web page is a catastrophe. It’s like a scene from one of those apocalyptic medieval paintings that depicts what would happen if Galactus arrived: people are tumbling into fiery crevasses and lamenting various lamentable things and hanging from playground equipment that would not pass OSHA safety checks.

It’s a fun read, but also a sentiment that may echo with those who truly believe in “clean slate networking.” I remember going to a tutorial on LTE and having a vision of what 6G systems will look like. One thing that is not present, though, is the sense that the system is unstable, and that the introduction of another feature in communication systems will cause the house of cards to collapse. Mickens seems to think the web is nearly there. The reason I thought of this is the recent fracas over the US ceding control of ICANN, and the sort of doomsdaying around that. From my perspective, network operators are sufficiently conservative that they can’t/won’t willy-nilly introduce new features that are only half-supported, like the in Web. The result is a (relatively) stable networking world that appears to detractors as somewhat Jurassic.

I’d argue (with less hyperbole) that some of our curriculum ideas also suffer from the accretion of old ideas. When I took DSP oh-so-long ago (13 years, really?) we learned all of this Direct Form Transposed II blah blah which I’m sure was useful for DSP engineers at TI to know at some point, but has no place in a curriculum now. And yet I imagine there are many places that still teaching it. If anyone reads this still, what are the dinosaurs in your curriculum?

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4 thoughts on ““Cascading Style Sheets are a cryptic language developed by the Freemasons to obscure the visual nature of reality”

  1. Would you consider PID controllers in undergraduate controls/systems theory classes a dinosaur? I asked a friend who studies control for her PhD about PID control (Proportional, Integral, and Derivative) and she laughed, saying it was very outdated. Yet much of industry (probably including TI) still uses this basic theory for linear systems because engineers are familiar with it and understand how to analyze the stability of a system.

    • I don’t just being outdated for research is enough to label something a dinosaur. If the topic is useful on the job then it’s important, no? The question really is whether you could pick it up on the job or not.

  2. So we should teach stuff that is important but is hard to pick up on the job? As for LTE, Moore’s Law is an enabler of complexity. It’s no big deal for a modern phone to support many protocols and standards. Just because people have a hard time keeping these protocols straight i doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad design.

    • I don’t know what we should teach, really. What’s the point of a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering vs. some sort of nonexistent trade-school training? It seems like teaching people how to think about engineering systems is nice and lofty and ideal, but when we get to the nitty-gritty of what topics to cover it seems a bit hard to decide, I think.

      I think the point with LTE is that they have to make sure it actually works, whereas with the Web they don’t *really*. So for a phone design to be fantastically complex and have too many details for one person to keep in their head is ok because you can sort of trust that it actually all works and it won’t be that your phone somehow accidentally melts because they tweaked the power control algorithm at the base station.

      It seems to me that the allure of clean slate anything is that “we can do it over in a more organized way now.” It’s attractive, no doubt.

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