Subject: Re: Is LISP dying?
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: 1999/07/21
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* Christopher Browne
| Option c), where *I* buy and learn my own tools, puts the onus on me.
| If it's my money, this can be a potent incentive for me to know what
| I've invested in.
| It seems to me that Erik Naggum's position closely resembles c).  It
| appears that he works as an independent consultant, which means that
| b) and c) get somewhat conflated.

  even for hired labor they are conflated, because people tend to want to
  advance, get higher pay, change to better jobs, etc, and these are not
  usually in the best interest of employers: you will cost more to keep,
  and it is not nearly certain that investing in someone who will turn
  around and cost more to the company will yield a return on investment
  during the rest of his employment, especially considering that there will
  be more competitors for the same, but now better-skilled labor.

  people go to school for an amazingly large fraction of their lives these
  days, and it will only get worse.  employers are paying people a _lot_ of
  money simply to have them pre-educated by the time they hire them, as
  opposed to hire people in kindergarten and cater to their education for
  the next twenty years and then have them work for the same company for
  the rest of their lives.  this is not going to change any time soon,
  which means that you are only as valuable to your employer as the next
  best competitor for your time.  and it behooves an employee to know his
  value in such terms, too.

  I must admit that I have never quite understood the "labor union" view
  that employers are a necessary evil, to be fought and forced to pay for
  all kinds of benefits.  as an employee, you, too, are in a market,
  selling your time and ability to work for others, and employers are
  looking to buy your services at the lowest cost and highest benefits to
  them.  what I really don't understand is why employees don't recognize
  that they are looking for the employer with the lowest costs and highest
  benefits to them, too.  this is an entirely reciprocal deal.  it appears
  to me that because employees are somehow "forced" to be employed (this
  isn't true, either), they don't consider themselves assets, even to the
  point where calling them assets is considered a negative.  rather, it is
  the exact reverse: people who want to make a lot of money are actually
  forced to employ other people and hiring people is incredibly frustrating
  in a market were most of the contenders are full of demands and of little
  insight into the needs of employer.  I regularly help companies screen
  prospective employees and have matched up companies and people for the
  past 20 years.  and it pays much better than employing them myself.  I
  heard recently that some companies in Silicon Valley will pay an employee
  USD 7,000 if they cause another person to come work for them.  if that
  doesn't tell you that employers are forced to employ people, nothing will.

  in my view, therefore, it is in the best interest of an employee to make
  himself better skilled, in order to receive better compensation for his
  time, and the ability to find work he really enjoys.  most educated
  people are willing to go through a period of time that really isn't good
  at all before they start working and earning money and realize that while
  it looked great at the time to be a student, they have to pay for it for
  so long, and people who didn't take an expensive education are frequently
  better off than they are for a really long time.  still, the desire to
  have an interesting job that demands the most from you means you have to
  be well educated.  I really don't see why this has to stop after you find
  some work.  (unless, of course, you begin to realize just how hard it is
  to be a student, again, and therefore want others to pay for that, too.)

  you don't have to be an independent consultant to think and act as if
  your employer is actually a buyer of your services.  you don't have to be
  a big business to think and act as if your city or state or country is
  actually a buyer of your taxes, either.  it even helps to realize that
  those who sell groceries are actually in the market of buying your money
  in exchange for their products.  the surprising part in this picture is
  that most good businesses already think this way, because they know that
  you could take your money elsewhere and have a choice as to who you give
  it to, but if their customers actually start thinking that way, instead
  of thinking in terms of "needs" (which used to be the case a hundred
  years ago, so it's very natural that most people continue to think as if
  they are needy in some sense), they will view advertising differently
  ("the companies who advertise a lot must be _desperate_"), and customer
  service is not something you have to accept, it's what makes you stay or
  leave.  now, most people believe you have to be financially independent
  to think this way, but my experience is that not thinking this way is
  sure way _not_ to become or stop being financially independent.  (note
  that while this is a strong argument against premature loyalty, loyalty
  well deserved is perhaps the best reward you can get in a relationship,
  be it between customer and vendor, employee and employer, or personally.)

| Example: If there were a population of 10,000 people using CLISP or CMU
| Lisp who were serious enough about their use that they were willing to
| pay in a "mere" $100/year to support their improvement, this could
| readily pay for there to be a "core team" of top notch developers to
| maintain them.  (Replace "CLISP" or "CMU Lisp" with the name of any other
| piece of free software that is used to do important things and the same
| applies.)

  as any business owner will tell you if you ask, it costs a lot of money
  to accept money.  in some cases, it even pays to give something out for
  free instead of charging for it.  in some cases, the vast majority of
  what your customers are paying is swallowed up in the process of paying
  for it.  e.g., local telephone calls.  in Norway in 1988, 95% of the cost
  of a local telephone call paid for metering and otherwise collecting
  accounting data, invoicing, and collecting the money.  the single biggest
  reason the price of local calls in Norway has fallen dramatically over
  the past few years is in the computer systems used to collect data and
  bill people, combined with better credit management and payment services
  from the banks.  the reason this has been so important is that human
  labor in Norway is _incredibly_ expensive, so automation makes a lot more
  business sense here than many other places in the world (Norway is also
  the most automated society according to some Economist report).  and then
  there's taxation.  I would be very much surprised if you would get more
  than USD 200,000 in spendable money out of a million dollars of gross
  revenue from 10,000 people, especially if you have to advertise, accept
  credit card payments, bill people, etc, which I think you would have to.
  that's not even enough to rent office space and hire one qualified expert.

| The problem is that there are a whole lot of "free riders."  The recent
| popularization of "open source" provides an extra model to accomplish
| sponsorship of code production; if there are is a sufficient group of
| people that have sufficient interest in the code base, the availability
| of source code may allow some of the users to do maintenance as part of
| their job, thereby adding more people into that "core team" without the
| formality of hiring them by a new employer.

  the Open Source model requires this expenditure of time to pay off to
  whoever is doing it.  one good way to pay people is to save them money
  instead of giving them money.  if everything is free to begin with, you
  don't have that option.  another important point is that money is the
  universal means of exchange of values in our society -- it simply means
  that if you can't get what you want from somebody, at least you can get
  money so you can buy it someplace else.  if everything is free to begin
  with, you have to accept whatever you get directly.  the model will work
  as long as people are satifised with "internal rewards".  the Open Source
  model will work as long as people have a surplus of time, accept whatever
  rewards they get in return for giving it to somebody else, and don't get
  the impression they are being taken advantage of by those who don't give
  anything but reap exactly the same rewards.  at some point, the benefits
  gained by those who do not give will outweigh the benefits gained by
  those who do give, and that typically happens before 90% of the work has
  been done.  therefore, Open Source products will largely remain in what I
  call "the laboratory quality stage" -- acceptable to engineers, but not
  to regular users.  Frederick P. Brooks wrote in his seminal work, The
  Mythical Man-month, that if to make a product useful to its creator took
  one unit of time, making it useful to others would take three units of
  time, and integrating it into a system that others could build from would
  take nine units of time.  in this model, most Open Source code is still
  shy of the "useful to others" stage, and a surprisingly small fraction of
  the Linux software, for instance, is well integrated (almost only the GNU
  tools, in my view).

  I think Open Source is a reaction to the sluggishness of development of
  real software tools.  it is no surprise to me that mostly tools to build
  new software are free, instead of real applications, nor that they are of
  dubious quality.  the (extended) Lisp world is in somewhat of a peculiar
  situation in this regard, with almost as many Scheme implementations as
  there are users, and people wanting to build their own Lisps instead of
  realizing what a bargain it is to buy a commercial system and move on,
  and I think Open Source will not work actually for the Lisp world.  (it
  is not likely to continue to work for Emacs, for instance, or much more
  of the GNU repertoire of tools, both of which are so good that only
  really stupid new features are easy enough to add that people do it for
  free.  it probably will continue to work for Linux for half a decade
  more, because the chance of actually making money on it is non-zero, but
  attempts to move applications into the Open Source space will fail just
  as miserably as the Mozilla attempt: the investment necessary to make a
  useful change will be too high for almost all the people who could get
  their hands on the sources.  incidentally, Common Lisp is also so good
  that it takes real hard work to conjure up something worth-while adding
  to the language.  in other words: Open Source works well for immature,
  low-quality products, just as DOS excited teenagers because it was
  obviously broken yet obviously useful enough that minor rewards could be
  had by fixing a small problem, and so lacking in useful applications that
  even silly stuff like Norton Utilities could make loads of money.)

  ironically, most programmers want to hack on programming tools, but don't
  generally want to use advanced programming tools created by others,
  unless it's really good or somehow manages to occupy a unique position.
  I see this as the core reason why free software tools will continue to
  lag behind commercial offerings, because in contrast to free software
  where every addition has to be rewarding in itself, people who get paid
  well for the entire system's performance and quality will tend to boring
  details and also do the hard work.  I also think this will be a lesson it
  will take most other programmers a decade or so of their lives to learn,
  just like it took me _way_ too long, in retrospect, of course.

@1999-07-22T00:37:33Z -- pi billion seconds since the turn of the century