[erlang-questions] Style wars: junk comments

Alexandre Santos Aguiar asaguiar@REDACTED
Fri Sep 14 15:05:06 CEST 2012

Richard O'Keefe,

Although my first impulse was simlpy ignore your message, I felt I could 
contribute some Physiology, Rhetorics and a little of IT on the 
discussion you yourself proposed about 'junk comments'. However, I 
noticed with extreme delay that the discussion under 'junk comments' 
really has nothing to do with 'junk comments' as further messages make it 

Em Qua 12 Set 2012 às 20:59, falávamos sobre "Re: [erlang-questions] Style 
wars: junk comments", e você escreveu:
> Ad (1), no, style is not primarily about discipline, it is
> primarily about COMMUNICATION.

Being *about* something is being *related to* something and not being 
something. Your statement does not contradict mine but actually adds that 
communication is related to standards and standards are related to 

> Style is not about aesthetics.

This was incomplete: it shuold read 'style is not *only* about 
aesthetics'. Not a deadly omission, I guess.

> we use STYLE to aid COMPREHENSION.

STANDARDS (ouch, I am yelling too! :-D), as in my *full statement*, for 
communication. Every language, spoken or not, is (and it can't be 
otherwise) a *standard* or it won't be useful for communication if it is 
not a *standard*. Some can be more or less flexible. Spoken languages are 
flexible due to the very nature of our brains that are able to work fine 
in the presence of error or incomplete information.

While computer programming languages are only written (not spoken) and 
computer work applies only to syntax, the portions of source code we 
call 'comments' are useless to the primary purpose (computer processing) 
and can simply be ignored by humans interested only on the syntax. 
Coments are used exclusively for (non verbal?) communication with other 
humans and, above all, in human fashion! As there are no rules for this 
communication through comments, that means there are no *standards*, 
comments may be neither effective nor efficient for communications. But 
as they can be effectively and efficiently ignored, there is no point in 
trying to impose the rigidity of computer language syntax (computers 
can't do their jobs in the presence even of minor errors in syntax) to 
human comments.

Brains have neither the precision nor the consistency of computers. Human 
style won't meet machine standards no matter what you or anybody else may 
think about it. Comments in source code are free (both of freedom *and* 
of costs)! :-D

This seeming uselessness of the topic you proposed might explain why 
nobody else cared about your points on 'junk comments' and went on to 
discuss syntax! I myself thought you had a point and really wanted to 
discuss issues on source code comments as this is unexplored subject and 
thus could result in some discovery provided some knowledge was applied 
to the problem. Sorry for taking you wrong.

> > Note that your case report is perfect to demonstrate that printing
> > should *not* be routine.
> Bad logic.  Yes, printing the *whole* thing should not be routine.
> It does *NOT* follow that you should not print a small number of
> modules.

That, BTW, is *not* what is written in my message (this thing of small 
number of modules). You even agreed with what you called 'bad logic'. :-)

> > At a 100 lines per page, handling a 1,000 pages (probably unindexed)
> > is a hard task.
> 50 to 60 lines per page would be more realistic.

In Rhetoric it is a technique to use parameters against your argument when 
building a scenario. The proof of your point gets more effect. Is this 
explanation enough, sir? This is style, btw. :-) Using your *realistic* 
parameter would double the actual use of printing stuff. The factor 2 may 
not have been picked by chance, sir. :-)

> Why on earth do you say "probably unindexed"?

Because I have never seen an index in a printed listing of source code! 
Function X, page A, function Y, page B, etc. I guess this is not common 
practice and so, as I do not know but have limited (only personal) 
experience, I bayesianly stated 'probably'. My own prejudices are neither 
reality nor can be used to model reality. Is this reasoning ok for you, 

> I've been wishing I had a paper copy.

There is a reason for that: on screens humans read slower and retain less 
in memory. Human physiology sometimes is so limiting... :-)

> > :-) And, of course, a waste.
> Why "of course"?  Printing something is a waste if and only if
> the cost in time, paper, toner, environmental effects, &c
> exceeds the benefits.  If it gets read, especially if it gets
> read more than once,

*If* and only *if* it is read. That is not what happens according to 
studies in the 90's performed after it was learned that office computers 
doubled the consumption of paper.

> But SCREEN space is limited.

And the world should change the way people think because of screen space? 
If this is your point I regret having spent your time and very especially 

However, if instead of yelling and pushing on personal prejudices you want 
to share and build some real knowledge, your messages will no longer be 
filtered out.



Alexandre Aguiar, MD, SCT

People change and forget to tell each other.
-- Lillian Hellman
All messages from my addresses express my own (often obscure) opinions and 
have no relationship to the views of past|current|future places I work, 
their administrations, employees, my wife, my daughters, the nation, the 
world or the universe in general. Enough?
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