[FoRK] Programming languages, operating systems, despair and anger

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Thu Nov 12 18:27:46 PST 2009

Tom says:

> Neither the prog langs nor the bitching about them has changed all  
> that much since I got into it in the late 70's.

That's true --- and sort of makes the point.  The *nature* of our  
computing environment has changed *a lot* since the late 70s --- but  
with a very few exceptions, *nothing* that we're doing with our  
languages and data today wasn't either already in place or thoroughly  
described and thought out by about that time.

There's still a damn *teletype* in the middle of things in your spiffy  
Mac or Linux notebook, for xsakes.  (And for that matter, the  
operating system underlying both is still essentially the same,  
concerned with the same things, though buried under millions of lines  
of bolt-on cruft that was added in a fashion inconsistent with the  
architectural style of the OS itself, e.g. Berkeley sockets.)

Both languages and operating systems have *obviously* failed to keep  
pace with the increasingly-rich data, forms of interaction, and  
diversity and ubiquity of devices we all swim within these days.  I'm  
not sure old-timer "been there, done that, had that flame war 30 years  
ago about goto" arguments are going to help jar us out of the cul-de- 

Though I'll spot you points...  you are making the point.  And despite  
my focus on integration, there's an even bigger boogeyman looming that  
we've known about all along but mostly completely ignored.  Jim Backus  
called it in his 1977 Turing Award Lecture re:  the dilemma we now  
face doing multi-core.  A fringey few have been seriously concerned  
about what he had to say since that time, but even the language  
designers who took him seriously mostly failed to get the point.  
(Maybe "stay the course" would be a better phrase.)  (I.e., the  
Haskell community's category-theoretic gestalt sent them into the  
weeds of academic la-la land from which they have, and can, never  
return.)  Joe Armstrong's perhaps the only guy that "got" the problem  
and delivered a practical solution;  maybe Gelernter, though his  
solution was more dissimilar to what Backus envisioned than  
Armstrong's.  But they've been been mostly ignored for the last two  
decades, and it's only now that the magnitude of the issue is --- and  
their solutions are --- really appreciated.

Don't get me wrong, Pike et. al. did something about it w/ Limbo a  
decade ago, and now that's resurrected in this "Go" revenant with its  
too-cutesy "goroutines."  But IMHO, the problem still has not been  
thoroughly or adequately solved, and even where there are partial  
solutions they are several years of learning-curve (at least) ahead of  
it being reduced to practice by most everyday programmers.   
(Seriously.  Even Very Smart Folks (tm) still try to do all kinds of  
stupid shit with threads.  Go figure.)



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