Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?
Programming Government Politics IT Technology

A Congressman Who Can Code Assembly 421

christo writes "In what appears to be a first, the US House of Representatives now has a Congressman with coding skills. Democratic Representative Bill Foster won a special election this past Saturday in the 14th Congressional District of Illinois. Foster is a physicist who worked at Fermilab for 22 years designing data analysis software for the lab's high energy particle collision detector. In an interview with CNET today, Foster's campaign manager confirmed that the Congressman can write assembly, Fortran and Visual Basic. Will having a tech-savvy congressman change the game at all? Can we expect more rational tech-policy? Already on his first day, Foster provided a tie-breaking vote to pass a major ethics reform bill."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

A Congressman Who Can Code Assembly

Comments Filter:
  • by Harmonious Botch ( 921977 ) * on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:21PM (#22743990) Homepage Journal
    ...workers at the Illinois Voter's Department are investigating the results of the election. "We didn't know that a Diebold machine could register 68% for one candidate and 100% for another," said their spokesman.
  • by pak9rabid ( 1011935 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:24PM (#22744014)
    But I'd rather see a Congressman who can write sensible legislature.
  • by Foobar of Borg ( 690622 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:24PM (#22744018)
    Now maybe he can hack into the C-Span system so that, when he gives a speech before the House, it shows him as "Bill Foster (D-1337)".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:25PM (#22744024)
    8086? MIPS? ARM? Would be nice to know.
  • by rucs_hack ( 784150 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:25PM (#22744026)
    What kind of half breed freak is this guy?
    • by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:28PM (#22744074)
      Probably the kind that learned coding as a tool to use to pursue other ends, and learned the languages he needed to to get his job done. I'm inclined to think that's a good sign -- he's demonstrated a willingness to learn about the things he needs to learn about to get his job done. I think that bodes well for his career as a congressman, and a potential willingness to learn about more modern technologies as relevant to his job.
      • by rucs_hack ( 784150 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:47PM (#22744308)
        Interesting. Most scientists I know learn one language and stick with it exclusively, even to the point of making the language do things that others might do in a fraction of the time.

        I'm currently having to build an entire experimentation framework in a language which doesn't even slightly suit the task, simply because the primary researcher has no interest in using anything but the language they know. And yes, I did try to change their mind.

        All the same VB? At my university that language was barred from use in assignments, because it was considered to be without merit.
      • by Atario ( 673917 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:56PM (#22744404) Homepage
        I can also do assembly and VB (among others...), and I learned them purely as a programmer. Guess I grew up too interested in programming to get hung up on what language (or level of language) was "cooler".
    • by NeoSkink ( 737843 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:30PM (#22744096)
      A physicist. We normally end up coding in a new language with each new collobaration as you're brought into a culture where some language has already been established. On top of that, other groups will put out librarys and programs written in some other language, and you'll have to start using that to make use of their work.
    • by Himring ( 646324 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:56PM (#22744408) Homepage Journal
      What kind of half breed freak is this guy?

      Nazgul, once Kings of assembly, they now serve the dark lord....

  • Not any time soon (Score:5, Insightful)

    by faloi ( 738831 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:27PM (#22744042)
    We won't see sensible tech legislation until the people that have some sensible ideas are donating more money to politicians than the people who don't.
  • So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:27PM (#22744044) Homepage Journal
    We have had Presidents that could make a suit, run a nuclear reactor, fly off an aircraft carrier, and fly jet fighters. I am more interest in that he seems to have a good background in science than his coding skills.
  • That vote was for the House to approve an outside panel to investigate its ethics. One that the Senate rejected as unnecessary. [] (Because everyone knows the Senate members ethics are beyond reproach)

    I'm not sure that was linked to the new congressman's ability with coding skills, but I think I like him already.

  • by mnmn ( 145599 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:27PM (#22744050) Homepage
    ... he's a Visual Basic guy.
    • by Goblez ( 928516 )

      ... he's a Visual Basic guy.
      I read the teaser, thought "Wow, that's pretty cool". Clicked in an saw VB in the list and thought "Yup, and now he's a politician. Makes perfect sense /sigh"
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jgrahn ( 181062 )

      ... he's a Visual Basic guy.

      Worse -- he knows Visual Basic and admits it. He could just have listed Fortran and assembly, and we'd have worshipped him as an Old School physics geek.

      This is almost as bad as watching "Sound of Music" and realizing that Fräulein Maria probably has sex with Von Trapp halfway through the movie.

  • All your congress are belong to him.
  • I'm not impressed! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rholland356 ( 466635 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:27PM (#22744058)
    Senator Bill Frist could do heart surgery, and look how well that turned out. The moron made a diagnosis based on edited videotape!

    No, I'm afraid once a highly skilled individual gives himself or herself over to the dark side of politics, they promptly become yet another meat puppet to be toyed with by lobbyists and wealthy patrons.
  • Why would it? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by susano_otter ( 123650 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:27PM (#22744060) Homepage

    Will having a tech-savvy congressman change the game at all?

    Why would a tech-savvy human being be any more useful or valid as a politician than an education-savvy human being? Or a law-savvy human being? Or an entertainment-industry human being? Or a war-savvy human being? Or a bureaucracy-savvy human being? Or a classical literature-savvy human being? Or a propaganda-savvy human being? Or a violent revolution-savvy human being?

    Is there something special about technology, that sets tech-savvy humans apart from all the other kinds of humans when it comes to politics?

    Was his vote on this ethics-reform bill somehow informed by his tech-savvyness in some kind of game-changing way?
    • by GodInHell ( 258915 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @05:07PM (#22744526) Homepage
      Congress likes to talk to professionals, lawyers, doctors, PhDs.

      Congress rarely invites someone who writes code for a living to talk to them about technology. More often then not you wind up with a room full of lawyers talking to a panel of lawyers about how technology works. That is, when they don't just invite Billy G in to tell them what the H1-B Visa program should look like. (I know.. Billy used to be a coder, sort of, once, maybe.. but now he's repping as a buisiness man.)

      Anyway -- if we did have a genunine coder in congress, than this community would have a real representative of those interests common to programs -- like say H1-B visas and net neutrality.

  • by Alzheimers ( 467217 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:27PM (#22744062)
    Just remember how great it was to have a Doctor [] in Congress.
  • by Irvu ( 248207 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:28PM (#22744064)
    This guy seems like a nice candidate for an Ask Slashdot. I would ask two:

    (1) How do you feel about large-scale datamining projects such as the Total Information Awareness project? While the project itself is gone it is not the first of its type. Do such projects strike you as technically feasible or even usable?

    (2) As someone who has written software how do you feel about software patents?
  • Nice but... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:28PM (#22744078)
    being able to write assembly protects you from corruption how? We're all self important techies if we think being technical means you naturally have a higher ethical standard. He has to prove his ethics outside of this one bill before it matters.
    • being able to write assembly protects you from corruption how?

      It doesn't, but that's not why people here are excited. People here are excited that there might be a voice in congress, albeit small, that can can stand up and say "um, that new tech law isn't feasible" or "the telco lobbyists aren't telling you the whole story because of X, Y, and Z".

      we _HOPE_ he's not corrupt, but we at least know he can see a line of tech BS from a special interest when he hears it, then if he does vote in favor of a bad

  • by nebaz ( 453974 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:29PM (#22744082)
    Not only can he code assembly, he has his own private store of antimatter.
  • by gambolt ( 1146363 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:29PM (#22744090)
    that never happened. []

    The fact that they are associates is definitely reassuring.
  • Everyone Codes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:30PM (#22744100)
    Coding skills doesn't really affect ones ethical/political views...

    Spyware, Viruses, Addware, Internet Adds, ways around popup blockers, DRM, Military Software, and even Closed Source Software were all were done with people who can code. They are republicans who can code, there are democrats who can code, they even have moderates who can code. Religious People can code, as well as atheists, heck I knew someone who can code who is a Jehovah Witness. Some of the Terrorist can code, so do the good guys.
    This is not really a big deal. Will it effect rational tech-policy probably not. Besides what you think it is less about not knowing the issues on a technical level it is about politics on who back you need to scratch. Yea we all laugh at the internet is made of tubes... But for most ISP if you get a huge amount of traffic you will slow down, like (a slimily word, not a direct comparison) having a lot of water going threw small amounts of pipes. It all boils down to do you want to support the new emerging internet technologies to make life easer for the old TelCos.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gambolt ( 1146363 )
      If he can help stop bills that would make sysadmins criminals for doing their jobs, I'll be happy. Between the media content industry and the "think of the children" crowd, there's a lot of legislation floating around that mandates the equivalent of building concrete pontoon votes.
  • Though now I'd like to see a legislator who can design a web server chip in CMOS.
  • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:30PM (#22744114)
    This guy is from my state and is realy a godsend for Illinois. He took the place of Dennis Hastert who is pretty much George Bush jr. Bill is a democrat which means that the more rural parts of illinois are also fed up with what passes for conservtism today. I hope we see more democrats from my state and continue to produce politicians like Abe Lincoln, Barak Obama and Bill Foster. I cant say how happy this makes me. After pretty much writing off this part of illinois to the republicans for decades its good to see some change. His campaign was a crazy longshot too.

    A few scientists on our science committees will be nice. I think even blue-collar America is seeing the problem with theocratic elements. I dont think his geek cred is the big story here, the big story is that we're getting some more moderates in office as opposed to loud-mouth far-right idealogues. Thats a win-win for all, well, except the ultra-right.
  • oOoOo (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vajaradakini ( 1209944 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:31PM (#22744126)
    I wonder if this will mean that he'll be able to get better funding for the sciences?

    I mean, it's generally sad the way funding for science programs in the US is decided by congress, who generally know nothing about science, but perhaps an actual scientists in congress will be able to fix this.
  • Hey, I did that! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by apsmith ( 17989 ) * on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:32PM (#22744132) Homepage
    My one experience "coding assembly" was 20 years ago as an undergrad visiting one of the experiments at Fermilab. They had electronic detectors triggered various ways sending data to an old Digital PHP system that was supposed to analyze each event as quickly as possible, decide whether it was interesting enough to save to magnetic tape, and then go on to the next event a few microseconds later. The data acquisition code was, naturally, in assembly - and boy they had that pared down to the absolute essentials, not a wasted instruction. My job was to try to, instead of recording to tape, to send the data over a wire to a new VAX machine that had just arrived.

    Not sure I ever ran into Foster though - I wonder what experiments he was on? Actually, I have met him since then, but that's another story...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      They had electronic detectors triggered various ways sending data to an old Digital PHP system that was supposed to analyze each event as quickly as possible, decide whether it was interesting enough to save to magnetic tape, and then go on to the next event a few microseconds later.

      Unfortunately they were using the built-in PHP functions for accessing magnetic tape, and had magic_quotes disabled, so a hacker was able to use an injection exploit and write 5MB of 'PWNT!!!1" to the tapes.
  • by Toonol ( 1057698 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:32PM (#22744138)
    Almost all of you guys can code... and some of you have frightening opinions.

    Especially you assembly hackers!
  • Source code control (Score:3, Interesting)

    by taniwha ( 70410 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:32PM (#22744144) Homepage Journal
    time to get a good source management management system applied to laws - so we can look back in the history and see where the changes come from as they are developed ("ooh look this seems to have been changed by someone working for the oil/drug/gun/etc lobby")
  • Couldn't it be said that EVERY person who voted for it provided the tie-breaking vote? I mean, was he the last person to cast a vote, and the vote was exactly 50-50 before he cast his? I believe that if you wanted to be literal, then the last person to cast a vote would be the only person who could be considered to have 'cast the tie-breaking vote'; which would require that a tie existed before he cast it. i.e. if the 'Yes'es were ahead 51-39 with 10 votes to cast, and the last ten were all 'no', there w
  • by MSTCrow5429 ( 642744 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:34PM (#22744172)

    Can we expect more rational tech-policy?

    Your copy of the US Constitution must be different than mine.

  • Say what? (Score:3, Funny)

    by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:40PM (#22744250) Journal
    I know that not everyone is Einstein smart, but it does not take a rocket scientist to know that mixing assembler in the house will cause divide by zero errors.

    He'll have to learn the difference between NOP and Abstain

    Nowhere in the "xxx programming for dummies" books does it talk about kissing babies.

    Impeaching a president is nothing like getting funding for your pet project, though the process might seem familiar.

  • by A beautiful mind ( 821714 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:53PM (#22744374)

    Foster's positions in the following 14th congressional district election included ending involvement in the War in Iraq, increasing the amount of money used to fund alternative energy research, and enforcing existing immigration laws while allowing for immigration reform to take place. He also supports universal health care. Fiscally, Foster publically stated that he would align himself with other Blue Dog Democrats in Congress. The Blue Dog Coalition focuses on fiscal responsibility and reducing the national debt.
    So wikipedia says he's not an idiot on important issues and he has a science background? I'm sold!
  • by ClickOnThis ( 137803 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:55PM (#22744398) Journal
    vi or emacs?
  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:58PM (#22744424)
    Can we expect more rational tech-policy?

    You can expect the new congressman from the 14th District [] to vote the interests of the 14th District.

    The first term congressman does not make policy. He will be two years learning the job and lucky to get a committee assignment that is remotely relevant to anything more significant than the coastal defense of Wyoming.

    • by EricTheGreen ( 223110 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @05:12PM (#22744604) Homepage

      The first term congressman does not make policy. He will be two years learning the job and lucky to get a committee assignment that is remotely relevant to anything more significant than the coastal defense of Wyoming.

      What everyone is missing is that this election seats him only until the next election this fall (he's filling the seat vacated by Dennis Hastert.) He and Jim Oberweis (his Republican opposition) do it all over again for the November election.

      Given that legislative activity pretty much drops off the map by summer of an election year, he'll probably be able to nominate a few deserving kids to West Point, march in a few parades, send a few letters out and not much more of consequence.

      I do hope he gets elected to the full 2-year term this fall; Oberweis is a perpetual candidate with seemingly very little to offer his electorate beyond regular screeds bashing "tax and spend Democrats" and braying how immigration is slowly dissolving the moral fiber of the Republic...
  • I can't help but wonder if he chose to go into politics after the recent Fermilab budget cuts []. Considering the way that the current US congress has butchered science spending (at least relative to operating costs), it would be no surprise if he decided he had to fight the machine from within.

  • So can Bill Gates (Score:4, Insightful)

    by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @05:04PM (#22744492)
    But i certainly wouldn't want him in congess. shudder
  • Not the only one (Score:4, Interesting)

    by EriDay ( 679359 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @05:09PM (#22744540)
    My former congressman Vern Ehlers [] (one of the less bad repulicants):

    After three years of studying at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Ehlers transferred and received his undergraduate degree in physics and his Ph.D. in nuclear physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1960. After six years teaching and research at Berkeley, he moved back to Grand Rapids to Calvin College in 1966 where he taught physics for 16 years and later served as chairman of the Physics Department.
    He serves on the Science and Technology Committee. One of his greater achievements is not related to science/technology: He's the guy who got FRENCH fries back on the menu.
  • by cbart387 ( 1192883 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @05:13PM (#22744622)

    What this actually means to tech policy remains unclear. Computer programming skills do not automatically lead to sound logic or wise positions on important issues. A quick read through Slashdot user comments easily demonstrates this.
    That's got to be the best quote in the whole article.
  • CVS (Score:3, Funny)

    by HungWeiLo ( 250320 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @05:57PM (#22745200)
    Maybe it's the perfect opportunity to get all legislation into CVS.

    I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to make the obvious humor examples.
  • by cybereal ( 621599 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @05:59PM (#22745234) Homepage
    My grandfather introduced me to programming. He worked with similar set of languages though not VB. He went with Delphi around that time period. It was awesome, he has tons of computers (mostly apple) and also HAM radio equipment. Very tech savvy, for 1992. That was 16 years ago. He doesn't know crap about modern technology, and barely recognizes the internet at this point.

    There's nothing wrong with my gramps but the point is, just because someone has technical exposure during a time doesn't mean they maintain awareness and the important detailed knowledge necessary to fathom points about issues like net neutrality. No less criticism should be given to this person's influence than is given to any other random corrupt politician.

  • Difference? (Score:3, Funny)

    by ozbird ( 127571 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @07:14PM (#22746154)
    Assembler coding? About the only difference in Congress that would make over your average Congress critter is when the lobbyists click their fingers and tell him to jump, he'll ask "how far", not "how high."
  • No (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @08:22PM (#22746722)

    Can we expect more rational tech-policy?

    Of course not. He's one guy out of 432. And a freshman Representative at that. He'll have no more effect than any other freshman Congressman does, which is to say, none at all.

  • by NetSettler ( 460623 ) * <> on Thursday March 13, 2008 @08:44PM (#22746936) Homepage Journal

    The real benefit of having tech-savvy people in office isn't that they could help program computers, it's that their knowledge of programming could help straighten out the poor programming of the many computational systems that are the world itself.

    Politicians deal routinely with simple issues of reliably specified process (due process), proper abstraction (policies that are neutral as to whom they apply to), process control (time slicing, fairness, scheduling), data hiding (privacy), security matters (credentials, privilege), algorithmic complexity and resource management (budgets), forward and backward chaining (proactive investment vs reactive budgeting), side effect, storage management and garbage collection (literally), APIs and network services (government databases and services), automation (minimizing overhead and streamlining budgets), modularity (responsibility and accountability), etc. Modern politicians deal with these issues in a kind of haphazard way that is both scary and sad to watch.

    I'm not saying a Congress of nerds is the way to go, though I'd say it was worth giving a shot for a while just to see what they could do by applying some actual schooling. For a programmer watching Congress tinker at some kinds of systematic processes is like an Astrophysicist watch an Astrologer explain the heavens.

    So forget how a programmer can benefit the programming community while in office. That's small potatoes. If he really understands programming, the place to apply it is away from the keyboard, directly focusing on the real substance of what Congress does (and doesn't).

  • a representative (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sentientbrendan ( 316150 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @04:45AM (#22749176)
    let's keep in mind that this guy is a representative, and not a senator. There are 435 representatives, and freshman representative has about as much voice in national policy as the guy down at the DMV. Don't expect him to be authoring any bills.

    The more significant news related to his election, if you follow the news, is that he replaced Dennis Hastert in a long time republican district. His election makes the democratic majority in the house that much more cemented, and generally is a signal of the upswing of the democratic party nationally.
  • by Tangential ( 266113 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @06:32AM (#22749488) Homepage
    Max Burns was the congresscritter from south georgia for a term or two. Before that he was a professor of information systems at Ga Southern University. He definitely was a coder too.

It is contrary to reasoning to say that there is a vacuum or space in which there is absolutely nothing. -- Descartes