Piet

by on October 3, 2006 · 12 comments

This image is a computer program:

Seriously. It’s written in a language called Piet, and if you run it with a Piet interpreter such as npiet, its output is the text “Piet.” The language is named after artist Piet Mondrian, whose paintings tended to resemble Piet programs.

Here’s another Piet program. In addition to looking pretty, this program prints the text “Hello, World.” More information about how the Piet programming language works is here, and a gallery of other Piet programs is here.

I’m mostly posting this because I thought it was cool and thought TLF could use more pretty pictures. But here’s a vaguely plausible policy angle: non programmers tend to see computer programs as devices–as inscrutable black boxes that perform a particular task, somewhat like a toaster or a VCR. But to a programmer, a software is fundamentally a form of expression. It’s an extremely precise description of a process for performing a particular task.

This is what motivated geeks to mount the argument that the DMCA violates the First Amendment by limiting the right of computer programmers to engage in the expressive activity called computer programming. This undoubtedly struck non-programmers as a goofy argument, but from our perspective, a computer program is just a particularly precise form of expression. And in the case of Piet, it’s both extremely precise and very colorful.

Here’s a Piet program that prints out the letters of the alphabet:

Hat tip: Patri.

  • http://www.withoutbound.net/blog/ Amanda

    If you’re interested in unusual programming languages, you should read Good Math, Bad Math, where a “pathological” programming language is featured every Friday. He hasn’t done Piet, though!

  • http://www.withoutbound.net/blog/ Amanda

    If you’re interested in unusual programming languages, you should read Good Math, Bad Math, where a “pathological” programming language is featured every Friday. He hasn’t done Piet, though!

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    ***…to a programmer, a software is fundamentally a form of expression. It’s an extremely precise description of a process for performing a particular task. …This is what motivated geeks to mount the argument that the DMCA violates the First Amendment…***

    Tim, there are everyday limits to the First Amendment. Certainly, you don’t think you have the right to come into my living room to recite your favorite poems, hop into my car and write stuff on my dashboard do you or grab my computer and fiddle with it. And most certainly, you don’t think I should be obligated to make it easier for you to do any of these things by keeping my doors open or my computer sitting on my front porch.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    ***…to a programmer, a software is fundamentally a form of expression. It’s an extremely precise description of a process for performing a particular task. …This is what motivated geeks to mount the argument that the DMCA violates the First Amendment…***

    Tim, there are everyday limits to the First Amendment. Certainly, you don’t think you have the right to come into my living room to recite your favorite poems, hop into my car and write stuff on my dashboard do you or grab my computer and fiddle with it. And most certainly, you don’t think I should be obligated to make it easier for you to do any of these things by keeping my doors open or my computer sitting on my front porch.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Noel, this is the “paracopyright” argument. We start with copyright, which says certain word-patterns are *property*. They’re *owned*. Nobody else can use those word-patterns(with some minor exceptions). The usual way of resolving the conflict is to say it’s an “expression”, not an “idea”, and there’s multiple ways of expressing the idea.

    Now we get to the DMCA, which is copyright to a whole new level. Not only are the word-patterns *owned*, but the technical means are pre-emptively declared a kind of corporate version of a state secret. If you tell anyone how it works (too precisely), even if you find out just by looking at it, that’s arguably a tort or even a crime. That’s really quite an extreme legal enforcement of business models.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Noel, this is the “paracopyright” argument. We start with copyright, which says certain word-patterns are *property*. They’re *owned*. Nobody else can use those word-patterns(with some minor exceptions). The usual way of resolving the conflict is to say it’s an “expression”, not an “idea”, and there’s multiple ways of expressing the idea.

    Now we get to the DMCA, which is copyright to a whole new level. Not only are the word-patterns *owned*, but the technical means are pre-emptively declared a kind of corporate version of a state secret. If you tell anyone how it works (too precisely), even if you find out just by looking at it, that’s arguably a tort or even a crime. That’s really quite an extreme legal enforcement of business models.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    Tim, there are everyday limits to the First Amendment. Certainly, you don’t think you have the right to come into my living room to recite your favorite poems, hop into my car and write stuff on my dashboard do you or grab my computer and fiddle with it. And most certainly, you don’t think I should be obligated to make it easier for you to do any of these things by keeping my doors open or my computer sitting on my front porch.

    Noel, you know very well that those examples are not analogies for what Tim is describing. The DMCA is simply an affront to the First Amendment, as if some says you are not allowed to say certain things, ever.

    It sounds to my like a theocracy, where certain speech, i.e., blasphemy is entirely dis-allowed.

    (Of course if I am in Aretha Franklin’s diner, I can be asked to leave without my four fried chickens, and without my dry white toast, but that would be a different story)

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Tim, there are everyday limits to the First Amendment. Certainly, you don’t think you have the right to come into my living room to recite your favorite poems, hop into my car and write stuff on my dashboard do you or grab my computer and fiddle with it. And most certainly, you don’t think I should be obligated to make it easier for you to do any of these things by keeping my doors open or my computer sitting on my front porch.

    Noel, you know very well that those examples are not analogies for what Tim is describing. The DMCA is simply an affront to the First Amendment, as if some says you are not allowed to say certain things, ever.

    It sounds to my like a theocracy, where certain speech, i.e., blasphemy is entirely dis-allowed.

    (Of course if I am in Aretha Franklin’s diner, I can be asked to leave without my four fried chickens, and without my dry white toast, but that would be a different story)

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