Review: Codes that Changed the World (BBC R4)

Codes that Changes the World - BBC R4Aleks Krotoski explores the history of programming languages. The history of computing is dominated by the hardware; the race for speed and power has overshadowed how we've devised ways to instruct these machines to do useful tasks.

All this week on BBC Radio 4, Aleks Krotoski tells the story of the languages that have been used to talk to machines.

Krotoski, journalist and presenter of the Guardian Tech Weekly Podcast and soon the seventh series of The Digital Human, looks at computer programming languages in five 15-minute shows. Presented in the style of BBC-Popular-Science-Lite, these are whistle-stop tours for the mildly interested lunchtime listener.
Moderated by Krotoski's laid-back American narration, this abbreviated potted-history of programming will leave geeks cold and everyone else still slightly mystified. Computer programming on the radio joins several other audio-challenged topics such as flower arranging (Womans Hour, 1998) in the list of not-all-that-illuminating shows.

Available both on BBC iPlayer and as five 15-minute downloadable podcasts, Codes that Changed the World is an esay listen. The episode guide outlines:
  1. Fortran: Aleks Krotoski explores the language that helped put men on the moon and harness the atom.
  2. Cobol: Deeply unpopular, but 80 per cent of the world's business software was written in it. Why?
  3. Basic: As language of choice for home computing in the 1980s, Basic became iconic.
  4. Java: The language that people probably interact with on a daily basis more than any other.
  5. The Tower of Babel: Aleks Krotoski explores how today's digital world is a reverse Tower of Babel.
Don't expect to be re-programming Facebook by the end of this, but if you want to impress your geek friends by name-dropping languages and coders' names, just be sure to change the subject before you're asked the advantages of object-oriented over procedural languages and you should be fine. RC