Monday Links 14

In 2013 Mike Hoye wrote a blog post about why most programming languages index arrays starting with 0

I’ve spent far more effort than is sensible this month crawling down a rabbit hole disguised, as they often are, as a straightforward question: why do programmers start counting at zero?

So: the technical reason we started counting arrays at zero is that in the mid-1960’s, you could shave a few cycles off of a program’s compilation time on an IBM 7094. The social reason is that we had to save every cycle we could, because if the job didn’t finish fast it might not finish at all and you never know when you’re getting bumped off the hardware because the President of IBM just called and fuck your thesis, it’s yacht-racing time.

Recently, Hillel Wayne found fault with Hoye’s post, and argued that there might be valid technical reasons as well as the reason Hoye states.

This week Hoye published another post, somewhat rebutting the rebuttal while celebrating contrarianism:

I recognize enough contrarian in myself that I guess I’m obligated to be charitable with anyone pointing their contrarian at me. And charitable can be a job, for sure, but fair’s fair and a job’s a job. But there’s one larger point here, the real point that I wanted to make then and want to make now, that I’m not going to let go:

“Hoye’s core point is it doesn’t matter what the practical benefits are, the historical context is that barely anybody used 0-indexing before BCPL came along and ruined everything. […] I may think that counting 0 as a natural number makes a lot of math more elegant, but clearly I’m just too dumb to rise to the level of wrong.”

My point is not, my point has never been, that “zero indexing is bad”. My point is “believing and repeating uninterrogated stories because they sounded plausible to you” is bad, and I’m saying that because it’s really, really bad.

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About Joe Mahoney

Joe is a software engineering leader, programmer, surf life guard, and runner who writes about and curates links covering links covering software engineering and management, career growth, continuous improvement, creativity, and productivity.

Wellington, New Zealand