Happy Towel Day!

Happy Towel Day to all the hoopy froods out there!

Any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

So what do Towel Day and the amazing works of the inestimable Douglas Adams have to do with programming languages? Quite a bit actually—most importantly, a love of language and words.

The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.

Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The phrase above and the words that tumbled afterwards were like a supernova going off in my 12-year-old brain. I remember reading the first four books of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (now a six part trilogy) from cover to cover in pretty much one sitting. It completely changed my way of looking at the world for the better, and I’ve never been the same since.

Programmers, coders and software engineers—or whatever they style themselves as—bring new creative works into existence by invoking the power of words. They are every bit true wizards, creating incantations that must be uttered just so, in the correct sequence, or all their toil comes to nothing—or something terrible happens.

I… am rarely happier than when spending an entire day programming my computer to perform automatically a task that would otherwise take me a good ten seconds to do by hand.

Every coder I’ve known that is worth their salt is also a collector and cherisher of words. Does this word best convey the command that is being performed or concept that is being brought into existence—is it too long, too confusing, too esoteric or filled with conflicting or negative connotations? There aren’t too many professions where a co-worker will run up to you and exclaim with glee that they’ve come up with the perfect word that solves a problem they’ve been agonizing over for hours or even days.

If you really want to understand something, the best way is to try and explain it to someone else. That forces you to sort it out in your own mind. And the more slow and dim-witted your pupil, the more you have to break things down into more and more simple ideas. And that’s really the essence of programming. By the time you’ve sorted out a complicated idea into little steps that even a stupid machine can deal with, you’ve certainly learned something about it yourself.

So let Towel Day and all it stands for tank up your creative juices. Go forth and cherish the words and how they mesh together, build cool stuff and bang the proverbial rocks together. Be smart, add to the fun and silly of the world, and change it for the better.

Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable, let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.

Douglas Adams Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

May 25 is also known as Geek Pride Day, though in my nerd heart it will always be Towel Day.