Culture, Radio, Software, Technology

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 easy 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

Related: The Digital Human

About Robin Catling

Robin Catling gained degrees in both arts and technology which led to a diverse portfolio of employment. A freelance systems analyst, project manager and business change manager for the likes of American Express, British Airways and IBM, he moved on to web design, journalism and technical authoring. He has also worked in film and television, both behind and in front of the camera, including productions by Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese, Ron Howard and Ridley Scott. A qualified three-weapon coach, he runs West Devon Swords teaching sports fencing to all age groups, and in recent years qualified with the British Federation of Historical Swordplay to teach medieval and renaissance combat in the Historical Western Martial Arts.


One thought on “Review: Codes that Changed the World (BBC R4)

  1. Not bad.

    Posted by Ellen Grasby | May 25, 2015, 9:06 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Twitter Updates

Follow us on Twitter @EverythingExpre

Find Us on Facebook

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.



BBC World News

BBC World News
Opens the BBC World News page.
%d bloggers like this: