~ Archive for August 12, 2003 ~

What do they do at the Lisp Conference?


At dim sum on Sunday Arthur was wearing a Lisp Conference T-shirt.  Kleanthes asked “What do they do at the Lisp Conference?”  I chimed in “it is a bunch of old guys talking about how a 20-year-old version of Lisp is so much better than all the language tools being hyped right now.”  My position was that this isn’t a credible stance.  Though it is probably true that you can be more productive in Common Lisp (1982) than in C# (2002), nobody will believe that the industrial software world has stagnated for 20+ years.  I said that nobody will take Lisp seriously until it at least adds the truly state-of-the-art language features such as type-inferencing (from ML) and preconditions, postconditions, and invariants (from Eiffel).  Bill came up with a novel objection to this idea:  “My style of programming is exploratory and anything that gets in the way of that slows me down.”

Could he be right?  Is old-style Common Lisp or Scheme actually the best that we can do?

——————– a quote from a problem set that I wrote a few years ago

“Another issue is a perennial side-show in the world-wide computer programming circus: the spectacle of nerds arguing over programming tools. The data model can’t represent the information that the users need, the application doesn’t do what what the users need it to do, and instead of writing code, the “engineers” are arguing about Java versus Lisp versus Perl versus Tcl. If you want to know why computer programmers get paid less than medical doctors, consider the situation of two trauma surgeons arriving at an accident scene. The patient is bleeding profusely. If surgeons were like programmers, they’d leave the patient to bleed out in order to have a really satisfying argument over the merits of two different kinds of tourniquet.

“If you’re programming one Web page at a time, you can switch to the Language du Jour in search of higher productivity. But you won’t achieve significant gains unless you switch from writing code for one page. You need to think about ways to write down a machine-readable description of the application and user experience, then let the computer generate the application automatically. “

Cannibalize a Toyota Prius for a boat powerplant?


Powerboats are noisy.  Electric boats have limited speed and range.  Why not a hybrid boat?  The Toyota Prius can pull itself along at low speeds with only its electric motor.  Why not find a wrecked Prius and remove its vital organs to form the basis of a fantastic power boat:  silent when poking along the shore but capable of cruising at 20-30 knots at the cost of a big increase in noise.


Coming up on the 100th anniversary of political violence and oil


A visit to a used bookstore in Omaha has caused a detour in the planned summer reading list:  The Prize.  This is a landmark history of the oil industry.  It seems that we’re coming up on the 100th anniversary of political and religious violence sending shock waves through the oil markets:

“[Russian] government officials, fearful of revolution, provided arms to the Moslem Tatars, who rose up to massacre and mutilate Christian Armenians, including the leaders of the oil industry [in Baku].  … Strikes and open rebellion spread again throughout the empire in September and October 1905.  In the Caucasus, it was race and ethnic conflict, and not socialism, that drove events.  Tatars rose up once more in an attack on the oil industry throughout Baku and its environs, intent on killing every Armenian they could find, setting fire to buildings where Armenians had taken refuge, pillaging every piece of property on which they could lay their lands. …

“The news from Baku had a profound effect on the outside world.  Here, for the first time, a violent upheavel had interrupted the flow of oil, threatening to make a vast investment worthless. … As for the Russian industry itself, the tally was dismaying: Two-thirds of all oil wells had been destroyed and exports had collapsed.”

That’s page 131 out of 900.  We’ll see what happens next…

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