Watching the Language Wars

Today, at least in the US, it is Programmer’s Day.

Maybe it should be called “International Programming Language Peace Day“. The level of advocacy for various programming languages reaches rhetorical heights last seen during the one of the not-so-successful 18th century revolutions.

When not speaking to humans, other programmers to reading the latest advocacy on their language of choice: programmers stitch together the wild thoughts of others to munge data into information.

Programmers are the people who use computer languages, in their various forms, to get computers to do cool things. From blikenlights to cool online maps: there are a pyramid of programmers responsible for your computer experience. A programmer is behind the “ding” in the lift you used this morning; and the software that validated your ticket on the bus ride to work.

The beauty of computer languages is that they never seem to stagnate: like modern, spoken languages: they evolve as the world changes. Except those that are abandonware.

Microsoft has recently released my current favourite programming language, Python, as a CLR/.net language: IronPython. This implements Python as a dynamic language on the CLR engine.

C# is the language of implementation for CLR, as is Sun’s Java is for the JVM. A# (Ada), B#, D# F# (OCaml), G# (Generative language), J# (Jsharp), P# (Prolog), L#. More sharps than Beethoven.

The language wars has returned to an old field: dynamic languages. The grand-daddy of dynamic languages, LISP, has received some recent positive PR. One person, Paul Graham, is the poster millionaire for LISP. Lazarus of LISP.

This week, Sun Microsystems parried Microsoft’s IronPython by hiring the team behind JRuby. The aim here is to implement the Ruby dynamic language on the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). Some months ago, this team was able to get a Ruby on Rails working on the JVM.

Whilst the big language guys battle it out, is Erlang the next Ruby, or is it just a viking proto-language with the best non-pun name? The Erlang community is starting to come out of their telephone exchanges.

No language has deemed to have arrived in the 21st Century until there is a web framework written around it. C# is ASP.NET, Python has Dyango, Ruby has Rails, Erlang has Jaws, Scheme has Magic… and so it goes on.

This broken thing called Javascript that has been reborn with AJAX, and is receiving daily blood transfusions of new features.

All of these languages just remind me of my personal alltime favourite language love of my life: Hypercard’s HyperTalk. As Hypercard is no longer sold, and “Classic MacOS” is a battle to get going on my MacBook Pro – sadly it is a language as useful as Cornish.

So, for a short period of time it is back to one of HyperTalk’s children: Applescript. Basketweaving for the mind.

Mike Seyfang Logs Off

Chairman Bill and CEO Steve have lost a valuable member of staff in Uncle Mike. I have a distinct feeling that product teams in Seattle will miss him more, if history tells us anything. Nearly 9 years at Microsoft is an achievement in these high velocity career times.

Times like these trigger throughts and feelings requiring articulation:

  • According to Beth Worrall, Mike’s turn of phrase and gift of alliteration hasn’t left him. “process is the colostomy bag of innovation” illustrates both his off-centre (slightly black) but stark and illustrative phrase making skills. The Munge Brothers is distinctly an Uncle Mike term, borrowed by mungenet. These phrases have the ability to perfectly describe a situation and circumstance that defies alternate characterisation. Naming your clapped-out, 1970’s era and rusted surf-boarding carrier Holden station wagon DOSBOX replete with the personalised number plates sums up his sly sense of humour.
  • Ad-hocery, or the lack of over-formalism and a fear of too-much process and methodology is an anathema to Mike. Throwing “stuff” together to solve a difficult problem is one of his strengths. “End user computing” and putting power into the hands of end users was his mantra before he joined the small band at Random Access. Strict methodologists, or god-forbid, those how invent methodologies and Mike probably wouldn’t get along that well. Watch out if you are in IT and don’t have a deep passion for IT.
  • Over ten years ago as a consultant, Mike’s phrase “a laptop and a mobile phone” clearly foretold of today. One can work and be in touch virtually anywhere, and with a laptop be productive. There was a famous piece of video made by the Munge Brothers that captures this Fellini-like mood.
  • A clear vision of what is important and what works. Some of the original “turning data into information” work the Munge Brothers presented in 1991/2 and ad-hoc data retrieval metamorphed into data-warehousing. This is an industry technology that I use daily in my current, non-highly-technical management job. I have no idea how I could do my job without this level of information.
  • A love of art: be it music, video or still; that is off-kilter. It is difficult to describe the imagery I’ve seen; and I think that Mike’s blog has a splattering of these images. Sadly, it seems that its genetic as his son is now playing guitar at school.
  • Friendship and loyalty that spans many careers. Uncle Mike was my referee for the job that lifted me from Adelaidian obscurity to Apple incubus. His loyalty to his family in the midst of a turbulent work environment is legendary – and he strike a harmony that is unmatchable. I’ve personally only seen this in one other person in my worklife; his name is also Michael.

Where next for the Fang? We might find him in the recording studio as the micro-music media mogul of Adelaide or a gadget heavy jackaroo in outback Australia. The further away he gets from this increasingly fractured IT industry the better. For those of us stuck on the inside, we are deadly envious.