Programmers Stone

A blog related to this seems to be at while one copy of the text is at ( mentioned below seems to be defunct, as of Dec 2012)

I copied the buildfreedom content to ... -- SteveSparks
Formerly at, the primary source is now (and ProgrammersStone forms part of a much larger - and significantly more speculative - endeavour), but the colours on that site mess my brain. [Please don't link to the beautified version because I am too lazy to get it up to date.] -- James Crowson

This ref takes you into it with readable colours:

Two guys from the UK - Alan Carter and Colston Sanger - have put together an eight-day course in what it is, and what it means, to program. To quote from their introduction:

The basic purpose of this site is to recapture, explore and celebrate the Art of Computer Programming. By so doing we hope to help the reader either become a better programmer, or understand what less experienced programmers are struggling with.

We know from work with individuals that by doing this we put the fun back into the work and greatly extend the boundaries of the possible, so building much smarter and stronger systems.

The discussion of the QualityPlateau is accompanied by a compelling demonstration of refactoring.

ColstonSanger? can be reached at

-- DavidHarvey

AlanCarter is now (Jun 2005) believed to be in Belgium, and is once more active on the ProgstoneList. Contact him there or through me, as I don't want to post his (new) address publicly in these spam rich times.

-- SteveDodd

See also: ReciprocalityTheory TheThirdAge
Very enjoyable reading. -- DaveSmith
Very neat stuff! They do a good job of explaining things I never have words for. -- MichaelFeathers
Some of this mapper/packer stuff sounds like the dichotomy presented in an essay Robert Glass has in his book SoftwareCreativity, which talks about Romans versus Greeks.
''Philip, Can you say anything at all about ReciprocalityTheory, or do we have to sit on our hands for the next year or so?" -- AlistairCockburn
Interesting stuff. This really jumped out at me:

...what we usually refer to as `Newtonian' physics is nearly always in fact the Heavyside rendition of Newton's physics. Richard Feynman was a physicist of modern times, who attempted to summarize what was known as elegantly as he could for undergraduates in the Red Books.

[we then see an outline of Newton's Principia, Feynman and Leighton's Lectures (the "Red Books"), and Nelkon and Parker's Advanced Level Physics, a uk textbook]

What seems to be distinctive about Advanced Level Physics is that its mechanics builds up the complexity of the equations of Heavyside's system, whereas the two other works are motivated by different intents.

Newton starts with his Three Laws, while Feynman gets energy into the picture really early and leaves the Three Laws until later. But once they have defined some terms to work with, both geniuses start by telling us of a universe where everything is always in motion about everything else, and then fill in that picture. They do this long before they discuss pendulums, which are arithmetically much easier, but are a special case compared to the unfettered planets in their orbits.

Advanced Level Physics puts pendulums before gravitation, indeed deals with the hydrostatic stuff both geniuses leave until very late, before it even mentions gravitation, by which time, we suggest, the student has learned to perform calculations in exams as efficiently as possible, but has possibly built a mental model of a universe of largely static reference frames with oddities moving relative to them.

[...] Might it be possible to learn even physics the wrong way, and end up able to do sums concerning the goings on within the universe, but still with a warped and confused view of it?

Now, this is interesting in a number of ways.

Feynman and Leighton's Lectures are famously lucid expositions, once you understand what they are telling you: physics lecturers always recommend them, few physics students can cope. The lecture course the books are based on was not repeated, as many of the students attending found it too difficult.

Newton's Principia is meant to be exposition, and not a tutorial at all.

The purpose of Nelkon and Parker is to let students pass exams, not to enlighten them to eternal truths. Take that defect up with the Department for Education.

Anyway, what really resonated with me was my experience with programming text books, especially FunctionalProgramming texts. I wanted to gain some FP experience, and a Lisper friend recommended Winston and Horn's book (a standard CommonLisp text). It was a horror story. The text starts with a discussion of atoms, and cons cells and builds up to lists and you're well into the body of the thing before coming across any functions. So one could, say, answer an exam question on how a Lisp system works, but not write any Lisp programs.

Discouraged, I turned to the SmlLanguage. There was insufficient publicly available tool support; so then on to the SchemeLanguage. And The StructureAndInterpretationOfComputerPrograms. A Glorious book. First up: functions! Why of course! and so on. In fact, I think lists are introduced via the functions that manipulate them, not vice versa as in W+H.

(agreed - candidate for my top software book of all time - DavidHarvey)

Well, this has me thinking now, since I do quite a bit of coaching and write "tutorial" materials at work. I'm going to have to work out again, and more carefully this time, exactly what I'm trying to achieve with these activities, and how to reach that goal. -- KeithBraithwaite

The best calculus book around for really talented readers, by TomApostol, covers integration before differentiation, the reverse of every other book in the universe. This lets him discuss limits in a more concrete way from the start. HardyAndWright?'s number theory book launches into the distribution of primes without fifty pages on congruences. Could there be a general principle here: The best authors go right for the meat of the subject, not what tradition requires/suggests. -- RobertField

I can tell nobody has yet got so far as to read the stuff on GhostNot?. The MappersVsPackers stuff is bang on, but the GhostNot? stuff is ... <ahem> ... a little nutty. I wouldn't take the authors of the ProgrammersStone too seriously. I participated in their mailing list for a little while until, having only read the MappersVsPackers stuff, I decided to delve into the GhostNot? stuff. When I confronted the mailing list members as to the absurdity of their claims, I got the old "Well if you don't agree with us, bugger off!" Frankly the whole thing is frighteningly cultish. -- RobHarwood

A certain irony in that, given the supposed MappersVsPackers distinction that Mappers are able to think independently and see things as they are, hmm? Then again, consider the average apparent intelligence of users of Usenet groups/IRC channels named after MENSA... -- KarlKnechtel

Agreed wrt much of the Reciprocality project, but it would be a pity if some of Alan Carter's later adventures put people off the ProgrammersStone itself. Also (for the sake of accuracy) please note that ColstonSanger? has nothing to do with this later stuff -- DavidHarvey

Fascinating read, though rather disorganized. I couldn't find explanations of various terms in a logical place, but conjectured that the concepts were very far forward-linked. For example, section 1 about EmZero? refers to abbreviations 'C2' (not this site!) etc. which I imagine are explained in section 4 about "consciousness", but couldn't be sure without checking (and I wasn't about to take another few hours to read the whole site and then try to understand it all - though I may feel a compulsion to later).

Anyway. The MappersVsPackers stuff does seem to be spot-on, as well as the notion of EmZero? (and EmZeroImmunity?). Sure does explain a lot - and as I read, I started to gain new appreciation of a variety of recent sensory experiences (editing this wiki being one of them, actually). I say "sensory" because I feel I now better understand the perception of having experienced things, rather than their causes.

Another very interesting comment was about NeuroLinguisticProgramming; there was a link to, which I followed precisely because it was about the last thing I was expecting to see referenced, and yet it made perfect sense in context. That page was actually a very interesting read for me because:

Some supplementary material that I highly recommend - one of my "sensory experiences" I recalled - is the Japanese anime series "EarthGirlArjuna". One episode in particular - by some arithmetic, I suppose that it was episode 7, or perhaps 6 - is a definite must-see. The context of the Reciprocality ideas is enough to understand it - but see the rest of the series if you can. (You'll recognize the episode by Arjuna's pleading with her professor Sakurai, "I want to hear your true voice". Unless of course you get a different translation of it, or - if you can understand it - the original JapaneseLanguage version. In which case, lucky you. :) )

-- KarlKnechtel now points at a domain squatter (Feb 2011).

Whole site as PDF file:
PDF files index:
Links to references from the Reciprocality papers:

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