Subject: Re: Why lisp failed in the marketplace
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: 1997/02/17
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp,comp.lang.scheme
Message-ID: <>

* Cyber Surfer
| The problem is that most people _are_ novices, and if you only write 
| software for the experts, then your market will be very small.

_all_ professional markets are small.  I expect every professional to be an
expert in his field.  novices should go to school.  experts have graduated
and passed the equivalent of bar exams and review boards.

| Of course, a few of us will be fortunate enough to never have to use 
| consumer products.

what are you talking about?  are you a professional in every field of your
life?  I only have time for one profession and dabbling in a few others.

I'm positively _delighted_ that I can buy consumer products so cheaply and
so conveniently, but -- get this -- I'm not in the business of making
microwave ovens or wine glasses or books or speakers, but I _do_ expect
those who _are_ to have professional tools, so I can buy consumer goods
inexpensively with moderately high quality.  I don't _want_ Joe Blows'
Homemade Microwave Oven, OK?

I want "programmer" to be a professional title, with all the expectations
that come with it.

| I just don't believe that Lisp should be denied to anyone based on their
| _existing_ (lack of) skills.

to ask a rhetorical question first: why not?  I'm moderately skilled in the
legal, medical, and veterinary professions, and I can discuss any issue I
might want to understand more fully with professionals and students in
these fields, but I hope I would be prosecuted if were to sell any such
services to the general public.  in contrast, any goddamn idiot can call
himself a programmer.

I believe in professions.  I really _like_ being able to trust my lawyer,
my doctor, and my cat's vet.  for that matter, I really _like_ to trust
whoever approves the quality of the food I buy, too.  but can I _trust_
somebody who calls himself a "programmer"?

I don't want to deny Lisp to anybody.  you can buy a pack of scalpel blades
and lots of medical equipment at well-stocked drugstores if not directly
from the importer or vendor, but you don't become a doctor because you can
buy his tools!  neither does a surgeon get his tools from K-Mart.

| Of course, if you think that Lisp shouldn't be used to write consumer 
| software, then just say so. There's no need to slag off such people 
| for being what they are. We'll understand you without the politics.

christ!  please try to listen to what I say, will you?  I want quality
languages to be used to write software _everywhere_, I just don't buy your
bogus argument that if the consumer can't use those languages himself, then
nobody else should be allowed to write in them, either.  (at least that's
the message I'm getting from you, and you have been repeating it for many
months, now.)

tell you what.  I receive some cast-away meat from dissections at my nearby
veterinary school, and I have absolutely no problem with filling my fridge
with dead animal parts.  I enjoy studying the interior design of animals
while I feed my cat with the meat.  if you wade through my garbage, you'd
find whole ribs, an assortment of bones, lots of animal skin, an occasional
hoof, and a large number of used scalpel blades.  I really hope you
wouldn't come to me with a sick dog because of it, but that's the way many
people approach programmers.

the fact that I can buy scalpel blades wholesale and that I can buy a whole
lot of medical equipment and chemical compounds that could be used to kill
people and leave very little trace of it if I were so inclined, suggests to
me that I'm not in any way _denied_ access to the tools of the medical
profession.  this is how I want things to be for programming, too, but I
want people who build our future society to be skilled at their work.

what makes me nervous about the future is that unskilled people who are as
likely to kill or maim information as to heal it are entrusted with our
past (i.e., accurate records), with critical information for decisions that
affect lives and careers, and with all kinds of other information too
difficult or too voluminous to let people handle directly.  our society is
totally dependent on the accuracy of its information.  we entrust that
accuracy to unskilled labor and household-grade tools.  that would be like
doing open heart surgery on your living-room table with only kitches
utensils.  (I use the proper medical equipment on the dead animals I get,
because kitchen utensils aren't fit for the job at all.)

I'm considering having my cat sterilized.  I have almost all the equipment
I need to do the procedure at home, I know vaguely what to do, and I'm sure
I could have her sterilized safely and painlessly given some other cats to
experiment on first.  however, I have only one cat, I don't think killing a
lot of cats just to let me learn something somebody else already knows is a
good idea, and I love this little animal, so I'm going to let a vet handle
it.  I think companies should think about their information with equal
care, and leave the job to real professionals.  unfortunately, Microsoft is
trying to tell us that we should all sterilize our pets (or fix the heart
problems of our parents) at home, with Microsoft kitchen utensils, which we
know break at any inkling of pressure.  I happen to think that _many_ more
lives would depend on accurate information and fully operational and
functional software systems than could ever be lost if we let quacks loose
on the world, because people who wanted to live would have the brains to
_demand_ the necessary means to ascertain the quality of those who could
mess with their health, but they obviously _don't_ have the brains to even
accept that programmers need to be accredited professionals.

my other car is a cdr