June 15, 2006
The Semicolon Wars

smoking monkeys!

If American Scientist is the new Scientific American, Brian Hayes is the new A. K. Dewdney.

His article “The Semicolon Wars: Every programmer knows there is one true programming language. A new one every week” [via LtU] is a good introduction to non-programmers to why programmers end up spending so much time fighting and agonizing over different programming languages.

An International Lisp Conference was held at Stanford a year ago. This was a gathering of the faithful, and naturally there was talk about how to bring enlightenment to the rest of the world. It was also an occasion showing that even advocates of the same language are quite capable of arguing among themselves deep into the night.

At the end of the final session, John McCarthy rose to speak. He looked around at his audience and remarked, "If someone set off a bomb in this room, it would wipe out half of the worldwide Lisp community. That might not be a bad thing for Lisp, because it would have to be reinvented." His meaning, as I understood it, was partly that the Common Lisp standard had stifled innovation. But he went on to say that if he could go all the way back to the beginning, there were things he would do differently. Even the maker of the language did not see it as beyond improvement. I found McCarthy's candor refreshing, but I also had the thought: No, no, don't tamper with it. I like it just the way it is.

Before ILC 2005 I saw that Mr. Hayes had been planning on going, but after so long without his mentioning it I thought maybe he hadn't been able to get there.

Posted by jjwiseman at June 15, 2006 04:33 PM
Post a comment

Email Address:


Unless you answer this question, your comment will be classified as spam and will not be posted.
(I'll give you a hint: the answer is “lisp”.)


Remember info?