article lisp

Paul Graham wants me to think he is mad.

Paul's book I’ve been reading Paul Graham’s Hackers and Painters. Published in 2004, it only just found its way off of my reading shelf and into my brain. This Amazon reviewer really sums up the book nicely although I mildly disagree with some of the statements.

Most of the book is a long-winded lecture about how great Lisp is, and about how that is the language of the cool, smart people.

There is very little about painting, it is only briefly mentioned in the beginning.

The first chapter is quite good, then it gets more preaching and more dull rapidly.

Mr Graham is obviously a smart guy and a capable writer. The fact that he was part of a dot-com start up that actually succeeded seems to have gone to his head though. Somehow the fact that he was in the right place with the right idea at the right time enables him to declare Lisp as the uber language, and everybody who doesn’t see that is a dullard?

The title suggests a book which is whimisical and fun. This book is a preachy diatribe by a pompous hacker who things he has the proper world-view for everyone.
— Kevin Stokes

But to give Paul his due he covers some excellent topics. One of the most intriguing ones is the third chapter about thinking the un-thinkable. The suggestion is that by thinking the un-thinkable you will enter a new head-space where perhaps you can make a concerted difference to yourself or others. When I read it, I thought: “I like this idea, I might try it out”. A few more chapters passed and he is talking about Lisp (which I will return to shortly) and I’m thinking: “I’m bored. Where’s my unthinkable thought got to?”. I thought really hard and I got one: “Paul Graham is mad”. Plain and simple. As instructed by Mr Graham I started to explore this idea right away to test its validity.

  • If Paul had a mania what would it be?
  • Where should we look for manifestations of this mania?
  • Will trying out Lisp make me as mad as I perceive all the other people that use it to be?
  • Am I mad and if I am would I be able to answer this question?

And I came to the conclusion that Paul Graham is not mad. Sorry folks. It’s just not true. However, the majority of his un-thinkable ideas (at least in this book) all seem to originate from a single perspective point (you get these in art too I understand!) that choosing Lisp allowed him and his colleagues at Viaweb to produce something others could not. Which is in itself a remarkable statement if it is as true as he suggests. So I thought I’d have another try at Lisp. I tried it once before and wasn’t totally turned off by the idea I just never really got going.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’ll not be trying it just yet. This is just a warning you understand, especially since I wouldn’t want Paul to think that he’d succesfully goaded me into it when he said:

… but I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind (about Lisp) over the age of 25 …

I reserve the right to not let Paul Graham into my head and eat my brain. It’s mine and I’m keeping it mine until I decide otherwise.

One of the cricisms of Lisp is that it doesn’t have very good library support. A little investigation into Unit testing frameworks and MySQL wrappers seemed to bear out what the Reddit development team are saying.

What makes Lisp so much greater (it seems) is that data and program are inter-changeable in as much as you can treat pieces of program like they’re data and vice-versa. And it’s difficult to conceive of a programming language that has the two concepts so fully inter-twined. Reflection is a way of achieving it but in my view reflection is evil because it makes compiler optimisations and function call traceability harder. These two arguments don’t apply to Lisp so Lisp wins again. It is partly because Lisp has all those brackets that it is so powerful.

And so we link into another one of Paul’s un-thinkable ideas which is to design the programming language of the future. His belief is that by imagining what we will want we can make this language today. Anyone can do it. And probably either has or will, we just don’t know it yet. He believes that this language will be optionally OO, with very few axioms, and support something like macros. Smells like Lisp to me. Change the meat on the barbecue Paul.

I refuse to believe that Lisp is the future. It would be quite extraordinary and quite exciting if it were to become so, but my crystal ball says no-way padre. But it is one of the languages in the evolution of languages that has played a significant role. And I do believe it has more to offer. Its time will come again and some spark will incorporate the final pieces of high-hanging Lisp fruit into the language of tomorrow.

It’s just that we’ll be able to do it without having a permanant speech impediment. Thhhorry Paul.


Too much information!

So, I was looking for something to listen to whilst I decided what I was going to do today. Would I go and: hunt for a much needed filing cabinet, work a bit more on the tibco/rv project, try working some more on my pet internet project, or have another go at some Rails programming? Couldn’t decide.

So I hunted my music collection for inspiration.

Bizarrely, I chose Duran Duran‘s Wedding Album which I always kind-a linked even though I’m not a huge fan of Duran Duran or Weddings (apart from my own of, course).

I played it and I was immediately taken back to 1992/1993 when I drove around Tadley in a car not too dissimilar to this one.

Ford Sierra

It was sadly, not a Cosworth (like the one above) so was similar but not quite as good. Savour the scene. A 20 year old youth, with patchy stubble and DMs and driving around a nowhere-town in a 8 year old knackered family saloon playing Duran Duran. I probably thought I was cool. I was most definitely wrong.

There’s a few misty-eyed memories from that time, most of which I’m not going to share. But the thing I was doing at the time was working on a program called the “Fragment Data System” for a forensic research company. So I duly typed those words into the internet and discovered a link to something about it.

From the link I figured that it was from a table of contents from a book published in 2000 called “Forensic Interpretation of Glass Evidence”. One of the co-authors of which is an ex-colleague of mine (John Buckleton).

Forensic Interpretation of Glass 

Now let’s get one thing straight, the Fragment Data System, was not a great product. It was probably the best I could have done in 1992/93 as an intern and it definitely worked. So, to have it mentioned in a book is kind-of surprising. But that’s not the most surprising thing. The most surprising thing is that I can find echoes of my 15 year old past on this damn internet. It probably has more things about me hidden in its dusty corners.

It gets you thinking. In 1992/93 the public internet was a new thing, it was starting to gain popular ground and dial-up was king. The youth of today have the internet available as soon as they want and it seems that disaffected youffs everywhere need to write about their deepest feelings on a myspace somewhere. Well fast forward 15 years and you’ll find most of your adult life documented in a publicly viewable place. Kind of scary. But not maybe for the reason you might think. If everything you do and everything you are is on the other end of a TCP/IP socket, and those boys are everywhere, you don’t need to remember anything. It’s all there. You just have to know how to find it.

This is great news! I just attach myself to a computer and I no longer need to know what I’m doing or who I am because the internet has all this information. A little like Memento but without the need for body defacement. Now if I could only remember what happened to my wife it would be really helpful …

.NET article patterns programming windows

MVP (a.k.a MVC) in VB.NET

Model-view-controller is an old, old, old but very good idea. It encourages the separation of model, presentation and control from each other. It’s used in so many places I can’t name them but frameworks like: Struts and Ruby-On-Rails actually enforce it.

For a long time it seems to me that Microsoft has lagged behind in allowing us to use this idea. Their once flagship product, Visual Basic 6, makes it almost impossible to write good MVC code. First of all, in VB6 there is no real inheritance which makes writing good models difficult. Secondly, if those models should contain any items that generate events then those items can not be defined in a class module and must be made public. Sure you can simulate and work-around these things by various means but in the end you will just be fighting the language. And that is never good.

So it’s good to see VB.NET, or .NET 2.0 to be precise, not only has excellent object support but a mechanism that can be used for MVC is actually built into the language.

article hardware

iriver clix

iriver clix 4gbSo I ripped 30% of my music as OGG-Vorbis a while ago. I don’t think that necessarily makes me a bad person.

So then you’re faced with the dilemma of how you listen to it. Yeah you want to support non-patented software but it’s really hard to find a player that is still for sale and can be easily purchased that also plays OGG.

article finance

refused by my own credit scoring system!

My wife and I recently purchased a new car. After much looking around on the market and test driving and the like we decided to purchase a vehicle through a company that I had previously worked for.

I agreed to purchasing the car on 0% finance and was promptly taken to a private room to go through their credit searching system. No one was as surprised as me to discover that the credit searching system I had worked on 10 years previously, at the finance arm of the company, was still functioning and was about to credit check me!

There was a brief moment when I had to cast my mind back to make sure that I hadn’t left any ‘testing’ back doors in the application that I might trigger if I was to apply but then I remembered that I had not because I had a feeling that one day it might come back to haunt me. Relieved about this I settled down to the long drawn out question and answer process that is credit scoring in the UK. But then something strange happened (room spins)