Subject: Re: Is LISP dying?
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: 1999/07/18
Newsgroups: comp.lang.misc,comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* Johan Kullstam <>
| I've tried CMUCL, clisp and ACL5.  I find that they are all awkward at
| producing a "hello world" application.

  of course they are.  however, have you ever seen how much work it takes
  to boot a modern Unix machine and run a C program just to have it print
  "hello world" in an xterm running under MOTIF?  man, it sucks.  and it's
  even more work if it tries to run NT.  the machine should be doing a very
  limited amount of work for this very simple task, but instead it spends
  minutes booting and preparing itself to be useful, not to mention all the
  crap necessary to get a program in C able to produce that output.  yea,
  verily, it sucks.

  unfair comparison?  not at all.  why do you think they chose that phrase?
  because they were developing Unix and the C compiler.  it's appropriate
  to make a machine print "hello world" to verify that everything works
  after all the mind-boggling nonsense has interfered with the real purpose
  of a computer, and you never know which part of booting up will fail due
  to a minor bug.  the delight in a C programmer's eyes when his machine
  thus booted typed "hello world" back at him would probably parallel that
  of a Common Lisp programmer when the satellite communications subsystem
  he designed beams back "hello world" after an almost-aborted launch, a
  navigation jet which misfired, and the solar panels sustained some damage
  by space debris.  normally, it's unnecessary to have confirmations of
  basic operations, but it makes perfect sense under C.

  there are other simple tasks that require a tremendous infrastructure to
  make a trivial task come back with a positive result.  e.g., you need DNS
  to be set up right, routers and firewalls must to do their job, the local
  network and telecommunications links must let stuff through, etc, before
  you can type "ping elvis" and have the system type "elvis is alive" back
  at you.  this is actually so delighting that there is a disproportionate
  number of machines called "elvis" for this particular reason.  (I think
  it would be much more fun to have machines called "thelma" and "louise".)

  who, these days, would pick up a telephone and consider "hello" to be a
  landmark event in human history?  while there's nothing wrong with a
  strong sense of fascination with "all that which just _works_ around us",
  getting excited about "hello world" programs appears to me to be a sure
  sign of insanity, or at least a fairly constant case of missing the boat.

| it's just that unix and windows are set up to support C and C++.  e.g., C
| has a largish libc these days.

  these two statements are pretty much contradictory.  the problem is that
  neither Unix nor Windows _actually_ support either C or C++, but they
  manage to make them work, with downright incredible effort.  if you look
  inside the libraries and see how a system call actually works and how
  much it differs from the C calling convention and usage, you'd be a fool
  not to revise your opinion.  and _does_ an operating system that forces
  the programmer to check to see whether the operating system did what it
  was asked to do every damn time you ask it to do anything actually give
  any relevant form of support to anyone?

  in my view, Unix and Windows support Common Lisp better than they support
  C because C is designed for a 70's style machine and operating system,
  which modern machines and operating systems have to mimic with all their
  flaws and misdesigns, while Common Lisp is a modern language that is well
  suited to be hosted on modern systems, and it just happens to be, too.

  the irony here is that Common Lisp has been what these machines and
  operating systems have aspired to support for all these years and now
  that they have finally grown to the task, people have so many problems
  with the software written while they were growing up that day-to-day
  survival has obscured everything to the point where people who are too
  young to know that computers were designed to help people think better,
  not just do the same old menial labor faster, believe there is nothing
  more to it than luring lots and lots of people to perform menial tasks by
  mouse instead of by lever.

  anyone remember how the fear that machines would take over the world
  quieted down as Bill Gates started to peddle his limpware?  the computers
  sure did take over the world, but whoever is afraid of toothless little
  poodles who all wag their tails when they expected monsters?  imagine a
  little icon that said "My Scary Monster" or "My Scary Neighborhood" and
  a browser that said "abandon all hope ye who click here".  wouldn't sell
  much, would it?  and that's why they are called "confidence games".

  I remember someone saying that if it hadn't been for automatic switches
  in the telephone network, the entire population of planet earth would
  have had to be telephone operators to handle the load of telephone usage
  in 1993 or thereabout.  I get the eerie feeling that because modern
  computer systems are so incredibly braindamaged in their design and in
  the tools used to program them, the entire population of planet earth
  will be programming these idiotic boxes pretty soon if managers don't
  wise up to the fact that the equivalent of automatic switches already
  exist and have done so for at least 20 years.  yet if Y2K doesn't light
  up most manager's view of the world of programming, there isn't hope for
  mankind at all.

  so, yeah, Lisp is dying because we all have to program in C++ to Bill
  Gates' tune, so we don't have time to think about making a better world
  with better languages and less menial nonsense in programming computers.
  the same thing happened in the last revolution, but fears in those times
  caused labor unions and a strong sentiment against all business in some
  quarters.  user unions these days can't even stop the U.S. Congress from
  enacting more laws to protect the software companies from Y2K lawsuits.

  but of course, Lisp isn't dying -- it's just that if you think in terms
  of the imminent end of the world, _everything_ is soon food for the great
  garbage collector in the sky and whoever is not scrambling in panic looks
  like they aren't moving and have been passed by or are dying.

  the problem I see is not that Bill Gates has shaped the world of useless
  trinkets in software, but has also managed to spread his competitiveness
  and his personal fear of losing to imaginary competitors to businesses
  and homes everywhere, so now everybody is _afraid_ of losing some battle
  which isn't happening, instead of getting about their own lives.  like,
  if you aren't using today's fad language in the very latest version of
  the IDE, you'll be left behind.  aaaugh!  but it's good that some people
  run like they are scared out of their wits.  if they suddenly disappear
  over the edge of a cliff, a good number of people will notice in time and
  _not_ follow them.  those are the ones that matter.

  you can scare most people most of the time, but you can't scare all of
  the people all of the time -- some will always use Common Lisp.

#:Erik, who'll stop cross-posting to comp.lang.misc now
@1999-07-22T00:37:33Z -- pi billion seconds since the turn of the century