Subject: Re: To Paul Graham: Please put your books online.
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 16:17:24 GMT
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* Thaddeus L Olczyk
> Should this continue, then employers who get wind may be hesitant to use
> Lisp on projects for fear that new developers may not be able to get
> materials needed to learn Lisp.

  This is a veiled threat, not a plea.  It is patently false that people
  who wish to learn Lisp are unable to get teaching material if Paul Graham
  does not provide his books to those who want to learn.  Obviously, Paul
  Graham learned Lisp enough to write those books before they existed.
  Many other Lisp programmers have learned Lisp without the aid of his
  books.  Paul Graham's books are _not_ the sine qua non they are touted to
  be.  My opinion is that his books "ANSI Common Lisp" is of very limited
  value to real programmers, perhaps even a disservice.  I doubt its
  tutorial value, too, as it does not in any way go into the "advanced"
  topics of exception handling and making an application failure resitant,
  which is hard work in all languages, but that, too, it easier in Common
  Lisp and better thought out.

  What happens to the people who "learn" Common Lisp?  Do they leave the
  language after a while?  Do they ever build real applications with it?
  do they ever have to deal with the traumatic real world in Common Lisp,
  or do they only deal with simple stuff in a protected environment?

  Common Lisp (environments) offer incredibly powerful means of dealing
  with unexpected situations, including jumping into the debugger,
  exception handling par excellence, dynamic updating of code and classes.
  Not all people appreciate this.  Some people appreciate the availablity
  of non-trivial algorithms and data types, and would enjoy the vast array
  of pre-written code in languages such as C++, Java, and Perl.  Common
  Lisp is a way of thinking, not "just a tool", which is how many see any
  programming language, preferring to think in some way they may believe is
  unrelated to their specific language.  Paul Graham's books did not offer
  much, if anything, in this vein.  While On Lisp was clever, it offered
  only one man's view and ended there.  Did anyone write any clever code on
  their own after reading that book, which they proceeded to share with
  others (in any way: for-profit, non-profit, give-away)?  Or did they only
  read it?

  The uncomfortable question is: Did you _learn_ anything from his books?
  If so, why can you not write it down on your web pages and talk about it
  in the newsgroup instead of clamoring for copies of the book you learned
  from as if the knowledge and understanding you have gained is unable to
  reproduce itself?

  An uncomfortable answer is that the Common Lisp community is hostile to
  creativity.  People argue that Lisp is dead, but it is the Lispers who
  are dead.  With a few exceptions, people who use Lisp have given up, and
  they only require, they do not provide.  Many Lisp programmers demand
  that sockets and multiprocessing should be _standardized_ before they
  want to use it, which penalizes creativity like nothing else.  Many Lisp
  programmers think it sucks to interface with other (inferior) languages,
  some in general, some because it isn't standardized, some because they
  fail to understand how software is organized and want a perfect world.

  Who among the avid readers of Paul Graham's books are prepared to exceed
  their teacher?  I would claim that a teacher who does not produce at
  least one student who excel way beyond the teacher's level is a failure.
  This is why it is so hard to write good textbooks in a language that is
  _already_ the result of many students excelling beyond their teachers and
  why it is so easy to write good textbooks in a language that beyond which
  almost anyone can go, such as Scheme.  The Lisp world does not need more
  Scheme texts, even if they cover Common Lisp.  It needs more Common Lisp
  texts that show how Common Lisp is _still_ way ahead of the pack, that it
  rises tall like a sequoia in an underbrush of weeds competing for the
  attention of people who fail to look up when they bump into the huge tree
  and instead walk around it, not believing those who told them had just
  missed something.  Like the sequoia, Common Lisp survives the brush fires
  and has built-in means of coming out on top.  _That_ is what should be
  taught in Lisp texts, not "how to disguise a sequoia among the weeds".

  Travel is a meat thing.