Enter the maze

Tut, Tut! Look at your labels dear!

by Jane Waite, Queen Mary University of London

Coloured Labels: copyright www.istockphoto.com 13540080

Ada Lovelace demanded good naming standards from the students she tutored! She apparently scolded them if the labels of their diagrams were not distinct, i.e. sensible and unique.

Computer scientists like this too. When objects or variables are named in programs or the description of algorithms, developers make sure the names are unique and easy to understand, so they do not get muddled up. In very large projects, there might be entire departments whose job it is to make sure names of things are ‘just right’ with a standardised format, memorable wording and distinct terms. This job of looking after data can be called a data analyst or data architect, so Ada could do that too!

Imagine a diagram of the London Underground with each station given a nonsensical name such as azey6, Peter, 8710 with no colour coding and all the lines with the same name: ‘Line’. You might get the idea travelling on the Moscow Metro! Station names are just strings of random squiggles if you don’t speak Russian and don’t know the alphabet. Trying to spot if each station name matches the squiggles of your destination at each stop is really, really hard. Speakers of other languages that use different alphabets might have the same problem in London.