The Language Adoption Debate and “Three Stooges Syndrome”

Tim “Ongoing” Bray’s Take

Tim Bray posted a blog entry on what drives adoption of a language in which he included some tables such as the only below:

Procedural FORTRAN, COBOL, PL/1 C
Object-Oriented C++ Java
Higher-Level Perl, TCL Python, Ruby

This table of his should inspire a monkey knife fight on a number of blogs:

Web-Centric WebObjects, ColdFusion, ASP.Net, Struts, etc.,
etc., etc., PHP

Here’s an interesting one. What will JavaScript’s successor be? My guess for the short-term (by that, I mean “the next half-dozen or so years”) is “the next version of JavaScript”.

Mobile-Code JavaScript ?

The one about concurrent programming is a little more up in the air. Although there are other languages designed with concurrent programming in mind (either from the ground up or with concurrency retrofitted onto an existing language) and there have been for a while (I used Concurrent C in a course back at Crazy Go Nuts University in the early ’90s), Erlang is getting a lot of the attention these days since it has both a success story at Ericsson under its belt as well the clout of a Pragmatic Programmers book behind it. There is a feeling among some programmers (Bray included) that it isn’t going to be the language to turn concurrent programming from arcane art into mainstream practice:

Concurrent Erlang ?

Shelley “BurningBird” Powers’ Take

Shelley Powers disagreed with Tim’s assessments in her posts Flaws are in the Eye of the Beholder:

I find it fascinating when a person marks as ‘flawed’ the languages that have, literally, defined not only the web but application development of all forms. Perhaps the metric shouldn’t be on syntax, form, or function, but on usability.

Here’s her own table on languages:

'Perfect', but barely used 'Flawed', but simple, approachable, powerful, popular
Higher-Level *Ruby (every time I see 'Ruby' I mentally add, Mama's precious little…)

*I’m giving Python a slide because Python has fairly widespread use today.

Client side code (The to-be-created scripting language that will take a nice, clean, easy to use language and morph it until it satisfies the purists, while breaking faith with the millions of users just trying to do a job) JavaScript
Object Oriented Java (bloated beyond recognition with senseless additions and overly complex infrastructures) C++ (which can kick Java's ass performance and resource wise)
Web-Centric Rails (you know that thing they used for the one application?) Cold Fusion, ASP and ASP.NET, PHP

Those of you who recall Bjarne “C++” Stroustrup’s line “There are just two kinds of languages: the ones everybody complains about and the ones nobody uses” or the essay Worse is Better (or the essay that led to it or Jamie Zawinski’s commentary on it) should be feeling deja vu now.

As for Shelley’s table, I’d probably have put “PHP” where “Perl” is right now.

My Own Take

I think that right now, the “scripting languages” are stuck in something akin to “Three Stooges Syndrome”. That’s the disease where Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, being so old and frail, has so many diseases trying to get at him at the same time that they’re all “stuck in the door”. The doctors illustrated the syndrome with a model, shown below:

“Three stooges syndrome” from “The Simpsons”: All the germs and viruses are stuck in the door because they tried to get in all at once.

And since Tim and Shelley have their tables, I thought I’d make one too:

Scripting Stooge What’s Driving It
Perl Legacy: it was the original “duct tape of the internet”.
PHP Widespread adoption, drives a lot of apps, easy to program, easy to deploy.
Python Very readable, one of the 4 languages approved for use at Google (the others being C++, Java and JavaScript, according to Steve Yegge).
Ruby Ruby on Rails, which is a very nice framework from the web app developer’s point of view. That and maybe the fact that DHH is rather photogenic (although PHPer-turned-Pythoner Leah Culver could give him some competition).

Cross-posted to the Tucows Developer Blog.


The Official Segway of the Midlife Crisis

Ferrari-branded Segway

According to the Sybarites site, there’s a Ferrari-branded Segway:

Segway have teamed up with Ferrari to release a special limited edition version of their i2 Personal Transporter. Ferrari have used Segway’s as a transportation method around their Maranello factory for sometime now, the Segway PT i2 Ferrari Limited Edition comes in Ferrari’s signature color, red and features the Scuderia Ferrari logo at the base. It has a range of almost forty kilometers off one battery charge and can be easily stowed in the trunk of a car for longer journeys. It comes with a handlebar bag made of leather.


Windows Startup Screens and Sounds, from 1.0 to Vista

Here’s a YouTube video that shows all the startup screens and sounds for Windows, from version 1.0 up to the present. If they ever make a geek version of Koyanisqatsi or Baraka, they should include something like this:

Can’t see the video? Click here.


Google Tidbits

Google logoFor your lazy (or perhaps not-so-lazy…maybe you’re hitting that Erlang book — and good for you if you are!) Sunday reading, here are some Google stories for your enjoyment.

  • The Google Way: Give Engineers Room – A New York Times article in which Google software engineer Bharat Mediratta talks about the “Google 20%” — the portion of their working time in which they are encouraged to work on something company-related that interests them personally.

    For another Googler’s notes on the 20%, see Joe Beda’s oft-cited blog entry, Google 20% Time.

  • Google Execs Really Do Hate Evil: It’s a tiny part of a roundup of the last day of O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 Summit that took place in San Francisco this past week, but it’s interesting:

    During a panel of former Google employees, they confirmed to moderator and conference chair John Battelle that, yes, Larry Page and Sergey Brin do factor heavily into business and technology decisions whether they will have evil consequences.

  • Google. Who’s looking at you? – The Sunday Times has an editorial piece on Google…

    Google likes to think of itself as “crunchy” – wholesome and worthy – and, walking into the Googleplex, it looks, at first sight, a pretty crunchy kind of place. There’s free coffee and muesli in the No Name breakfast cafe. Everyone gets around the campus on free bicycles. In the car park, the canopies that protect the neat ranks of hybrid Toyota Priuses from the sun are made from solar panels that power each building in the 1.5-million-sq-ft complex. There are swimming pools, massage chairs and free medical checkups. A model of Sir Richard Branson’s SpaceShipTwo prototype commercial spacecraft hangs from the rafters in the lobby. This is rocket science, after all.

    But as it prepares to celebrate its 10th birthday, Google has developed serious engine trouble. A series of missteps have left it facing claims that it has gone from a benign project – creating the first free, open-all-hours global library – to the information society’s most determined Big Brother. It stands accused of plotting some sinister link between its computers and us: that it wants, somehow, to plug us into its giant mainframe – as imagined in The Matrix or Terminator.

  • Google Turns Out the Lights: Google turned their home page’s background black in support of the event Lights Out San Francisco, an event in which people in the city by the bay were encouraged to turn out their lights between 8 and 9 p.m. last night.

    It’s a good symbolic gesture, but there still seems to be some debate over whether a black Google screen uses less energy than a white one. I think the assertion was first made in the blog ecoIron, and Google has stated that black pages don’t necessarily use less energy than white ones. Can anyone point me to more info about the debate?


Geekery Meets Pop Culture

A Different Kind of “Code Smell”

First, let’s look at a new ad for Axe body spray…

Axe body spray ad featuring fake code
Image courtesy of Miss Fipi Lele.

I think the suggestion in the ad goes double if you start pointing out what’s wrong with the code (“you == understand.this? get as an object name? Couldn’t they have hired a real programmer to write the ad copy?”).

359 is the new 555

Fictitious phone numbers on many TV shows and movies begin with the number 555, which I presume is to avoid the legal hassles that arise when people try to call those numbers (I remember that a number of people whose phone numbers were actually 867-5309 had their phones ringing day and night when Tommy Tutone’s song Jenny became a hit).

The people behind the TV show CSI: Miami probably wanted to avoid similar legal trouble in an episode where an IP address was shown onscreen. I don’t think I’d go to the trouble of portscanning some IP address I’d seen on a fiction TV show, but somewhere, out there, someone just might. Hence their invention of an IP address whose first “octet” is 359. It’s IPv4.5!

IP address displayed on a screen on the TV show “CSI”: 359.33.9.234

And finally, here’s a graphic that I whipped up for an article with links to recent articles on version control on the Tucows Developer Blog:



Shipping Container Geekery

Enterprise Computing in a Shipping Container

The idea of setting up a computing center in a shipping container isn’t new. Sun has Project Blackbox, “a prototype of the world’s first virtualized datacenter–built into a shipping container and optimized to deliver extreme energy, space, and performance efficiencies”. The idea is create a computing center that you could move anywhere in the world with relative ease:

A “Project Blackbox” container with its doors open, revealing the computing center inside.

If you’ve ever watch ships loading and unloading, you’ll know that nobody handles cargo containers gingerly. A shipping container full of computer equipment would have to be able to withstand a fair bit of abuse, and it looks as though the Blackbox container can take it — here’s a video of one in a simulated earthquake of a 6.7 magnitude on the Richter scale:

Sun’s not the only company working the the concept. Google have patented a similar idea. One major difference is that while Sun’s container-based datacenter would be a self-contained computing cluster, Google would treat their containers as very large rackmounts, where a container could operate on its own or as part of a cluster of other computing containers. Robert Cringely has some interesting speculation on the way Google might use these datacenters.

1337 H4X0RZ in a Shipping Container

Invisigoth from the “X-Files” episode “Kill Switch” — a skinny pale blonde woman, dressed in black, wearing way too much makeup.
“Invisigoth” from the X-Files episode Kill Switch

The idea of setting up a non-enterprise computing center in a shipping container isn’t new, either. Kill Switch, one of the X-Files episodes written by William Gibson, featured a hacker who went by the handle “Invisigoth” who lived and did her work in a shipping container.

The episode also featured a down-market version of a computing cluster in a shipping container: an old trailer, packed with computers, sitting in a remote field and connected to the internet through a T1 line, which was an even bigger deal back in 1998.

A Cafe in a Shipping Container

Where there are computer programmers, there must also be caffeine. Consider the fact that the nerd store ThinkGeek has a whole section devoted to the substance. One of my favorite sayings was adapted from a line in mathematician Paul Erdos’ biography, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: “A programmer is a machine for converting caffeine into software.”

It logically follows that if there are computing centers in shipping containers, there should also be some kind of caffeine dispensers in shipping containers as well. Here come artist Adam Kalkin and fancy-pants coffee vendor Illy to the rescue:

Shipping container that converts into an Illy Cafe.

Here’s an excerpt from Illy’s news release:

For the 52nd International Art Exhibition in Venice illycaffè is partnering with the Fondazione La Biennale di Venezia for the fourth time.

At the Biennale illy will provide art-lovers and coffee connoisseurs a beautiful space to relax, reflect and enjoy a perfect cup of espresso. Visitors to illymind, the rest and refreshment area founded by illy in 2003, will be introduced to the Push Button House which opens like a flower and transforms from a compact container into a fully furnished and functional space with the push of a button. View video.

After the preview at Art Basel Miami Beach, the Push Button House, a work designed by American artist-architect Adam Kalkin and redesigned for the presence of illycaffè at the 52nd International Art Exhibition, arrives for the first time in Europe.

Kalkin is known for designing comfortable spaces and placing them in unusual contexts. Visitors to the Push Button House will experience the artist’s ability to transform industrial materials into a domestic masterpiece, beautifully contrasting between the indoor and outdoor worlds, while enjoying complimentary illy espresso for a complete authentic Italian experience. The entire work was created from recyclable materials.

If I had the money, I’d take one of these things wherever I went.


“God Mode’s” Comic on the Wiimote Sleeve

Perhaps you’ve heard of the updated protective grip sleeve that Nintendo is offering to all Wii owners:

Nintendo’s new Wiimote sleeve

Here’s the webcomic God Mode’s take on it:

“God Mode’s” comic on the Wiimote Sleeve (from October 12, 2007)
Click the comic to see it on its original page at full size.