Do I Still Want To Be A Programmer?

by James Wallace Harris, 10/28/21

For most of my work life, I worked with computers. I thought of myself as a programmer, it was part of my identity. After I retired in 2013 I still thought of myself as a programmer, but I haven’t done any real programming since I stopped working. I keep thinking I want to get back into programming, but so far I haven’t. I think I need to either start programming or stop thinking I’m a programmer.

The obvious reason why I haven’t done any programming is I don’t have any tasks I want automated. Without a programming problem, I have little incentive to program. I’ve done some piddly stuff with HTML but that hardly counts. No, I need something that requires computer processing power to accomplish.

This morning I watched several YouTube videos about fun programming projects. None really appealed to me. Making my own Sudoku solver or password manager might be fun, but the idea of putting hours of work into something that creates a tool I don’t care to use seems pointless, especially when others have already created superior tools that do the same thing.

I’ve thought about programming a book manager since I’m always frustrated with Goodreads but just entering in all my books in a potentially finished project depresses me. I just don’t want that tool bad enough.

I’m trying to imagine creating a tool that would be a joy to create and use. One thing I’ve always wanted to make is an abstract art generator. Something I could use mathematical equations to produce trippy light shows. This is a super-advanced example of what I’m talking about. I picture myself developing very simple things, to begin with.

This Pinterest page shows works closer to what I might be capable of programming. I’d like to start with recreating the animated sequence in the credits to On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, then expanding on that, making it more interesting, adding user controls, so people can alter what’s happening in real-time.

I keep wanting to create an auxiliary memory system but why recreate what Evernote is already doing. I’ve had one idea but it would be very challenging, and probably way beyond my skill level. I collect scans of old magazines, and sometimes the scans are poor, or the original printing of the magazine was poor. I thought it would be neat to create a program that sharpens the text of these old magazines scans. I fantasize about restoring scans of old magazines to look beautiful.

Notice the I in the word Image at the top of the page. It has white bites out of it. I wonder if it’s possible to write a program that could examine all the letters and come up with perfect replacements that are uniformly sharp and dark. I’d also like to be able to create a background for the text that looks like the paper the magazine used when it was new. Also, notice the L in Likeness, it has a smudgy spot in it. I’d want to program out such artifacts.

I also wonder if it’s possible to create a program that could return faded worn covers so they look like they did when they were new. To brighten up colors, remove wrinkles, smudges, and markings. I want it to work in batch mode since I have thousands of digital magazines.

I have one other idea, but this is super-super advanced. I’d like to write an AI program that could input all my old digital SF magazines and read them. I’d want the program to decipher what the stories are about and build a theme database. Then I could ask it for things like “List all stories that are about colonizing Mars” or “List all stories about generation ships,” or “Create a list of all the major themes you find.”

There are three hard questions I have to ask myself:

  • Do I really want to dedicate the time to these projects?
  • Are these goals beyond my skill level?
  • Am I too old and tired?

I don’t have much discipline left, but I might have enough to apply myself for one hour a day. That doesn’t sound like much, but I’d be damned impressed with myself if I did. I never feel good anymore, and most of the time I’m just tired. I might have the skill to create simple light shows. It would be really fun to write a program to take bitmap images and improve the type, but I’d have to push myself harder than I’ve ever pushed myself before. That would be a miracle. Creating an AI to read magazines is a fantasy.

I believe what I need to do is try creating the light show in Python. If I can’t, I should stop thinking about programming. If I succeed it might give me the psychic energy to go further. If I fail, I can free my mind of some old desires, and clean out programming books and magazines from my bookshelves.

This really is about coming to grips with aging. There are already many physical activities I’ve had to give up. I’m starting to think I might have to give up mental ones as well.


13 thoughts on “Do I Still Want To Be A Programmer?”

  1. We are rough contemporaries. I retired in July at age 71. All I ever wanted to be was a programmer. Now, like you, I really don’t have nay projects that interest me.

    1. Doug, do you wish you did have a project to work on? A couple years ago my friend Mike and I created a new version of The Classics of Science Fiction list. Mike did all the programming. Piet and I did the data entry. It kept us busy for several months and was a lot of fun.

      I wish I had something like that again that really interested me.

  2. You said: “I have one other idea, but this is super-super advanced. I’d like to write an AI program that could input all my old digital SF magazines and read them.”

    Is that something like an “automated indexer” for the contents of bibliographies? Or would you want the computer to give you ideas involved in the books? The first is just a word search with some defined parameters but the second requires a bit of comprehension – maybe that’s been done now,, too.

    Travel indexing:

    I know that this is NOT the level you’re dreaming up – my ideas are pretty basic.

    1. Thanks, Becky, I’ll study that article about indexing. I want something that could look for words and phrases that would identify themes. Not sure how to go about it. If Mars + colony were in the story, that might be a good indicator it was about colonizing Mars. But I’d have to scale things up dramatically for what I want. I’d probably have to build a table of keywords to look for. But I’d also want to look at parsing sentences to see if I could determine their subjects.

      There’s a book by Richard Powers called Galatea 2.2 about a writer working with a computer science department to develop a program that could pass the Master’s comp in literature. I’m thinking along those lines, but for science fiction.

  3. i think i’ve got it! why don’t you teach programming? i don’t know your cv but at minimum i would think you could do an adult education type class; maybe even community college. then you can have your students do all the heavy lifting writing your programs.

    1. Actually, that’s a good idea. I used to think about teaching computers as a volunteer thing when I was younger. I did a little bit at work. However, until I can get some things fixed, my health won’t let me. I’ve been trying to talk my wife into moving to a retirement community. Programming would be a great group activity for old folks.

      1. Teaching and managing a classroom with adults is a totally different skill and mindset than programming. I had to learn that the hard way! But acquiring that skill was an interesting experience.
        Just don’t do it only by „training on the job“, that can be frustrating.

  4. One hour a day is a lot! I did the same as you, in that I wanted to apply myself for an hour a day—I started with exercise—and that quickly snowballed to two. Now I have writing, exercise, and meditation, and you’ll be surprised how much things can snowball over the course of a year. Wishing you all the best with your plans, James!

  5. Good luck with finding your manageable programming project!
    I didn’t touch programming since nearly ten years. I came to be a PowerPoint software architect. Now, I look with envy on all those fancy Cloud/Container/AI applications. Maybe, one day again?

  6. James, you have the most active mind of anyone I have ever witnessed in this modern age. You have so many interests and indefatigable energy. Your lists of ideas and things would seem prolix to most people, I would imagine. You are totally rational, but your treatises resemble those of some schizophrenic disorders in my college psychology textbooks.
    The expanse of your interests and expertise suggest genius. Do you know your IQ?

    I would say forget programming unless you just enjoy doing it. You are old and not as sharp as so many young genius programmers today. It’s like when someone asks me for advice in business. I was a very keen businessman in my time, but times have changed so much, especially with the Internet, that what I might remember would hardly apply.

  7. Oh James, I sympathise with you I’m a retired Systems Analyst. I seem to spend my days hmmphing (new word) whenever I see double handling, the proliferation of incompatible devices and software….I’m even cursing our government over the rollout of vaccination certificates. I reckon if you and I had been given the chance we would have had the world smoothly vaccinated and certified by now….I wonder if a chip in the forehead would solve the problem of those who try to avoid logging into stores with the QR code, perhaps a scanner over the door of each store to catch them as they sneak past the hand sanitiser……geez James I’ll be working on this all day now. 😉 thanks for the inspiration.

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