Blueprints

Neither Watt’s steam engine nor Whitney’s standardized parts really started the Industrial Revolution, although each has been awarded that claim, in the past. The real start was the awakening of scientific and technological thoughts during the Renaissance, with the idea that the lawful behavior of nature can be understood, analyzed, and manipulated to accomplish useful ends. That idea itself, alone, was not enough, however, for not until the creation and evolution of blueprints was it possible to express exactly how power and parts were to be combined for each specific task at hand.

Mechanical drawings and blueprints are not mere pictures, but a complete and rich language. In blueprint language, scientific, mathematical, and geometric formulations, notations, mensurations, and naming do not merely describe an object or process, they actually model it. Because of broad differences in subject, purpose, roles, and the needs of the people who use them, many forms of blueprint have evolved, but all rigorously present well structured information in understandable form.

Failure to develop such a communication capability for data processing is due not merely to the diversity and complexity of the problems we tackle, but to the newness of our field. It has naturally taken time for us to escape from naive “programming by priesthood” to the more mature approaches, such as structured programming, language and database design, and software production methods. Still missing from this expanding repertoire of evidence of maturity, however, is the common thread that will allow all of the pieces to be tied together into a predictable and dependable approach.

The introduction of the 1977 paper “Structured Analysis (SA): A Language for Communicating Ideas” by Douglas Ross.

He just may be overstating the role of blueprints in the explosion of the industrial revolution, but for one, I think he was right with regard to software. Plus, it’s a hell of an introduction for a paper. Note how he easily relates to concepts outside the field of software, making the text readable for “laymen”. Most importantly, note how his scope is much broader than that of a hyper-specialized lab-monk.

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