What new programming languages are coming soon and is it worth learning any of them?

Swift, Rust, Go, Kotlin, etc. are several years old now. Heck, Swift is up to version 5, and the original designer has left Apple to my knowledge. So those don’t fit my definition of “new”. I suggest you go to the future programming group on Slack, there is a spreadsheet maintained by that group that tracks the various new languages which are still in the labs but will come out either in 2019 or 2020. The new languages have names like Luna, Dark, Red, Beads, … some of them are specific to a particular task like back-end services, but some are general purpose languages angling to replace JS and Python.

Swift is still an Apple-only language; better than Objective-C but so wedded to the OSX underpinnings that it will likely never be popular elsewhere. Rust is enjoyed by people doing system programming, as its memory ownership mechanism solves some tough problems relating to multi-threading. Kotlin is JetBrains’s (the big Czech software tool house) baby, and is one way Google can still use the JVM and avoid getting sued by Oracle who owns Java. Go is a mild improvement, but I can’t get excited by its rather minor advantages.

The truly revolutionary languages coming have really exciting properties. Some have reversibility built into the system, others have a dual graphical-textual representation, some are working on the issue of interchangeable parts so that bigger projects can be assembled out of standard components, and some have automatic build systems embedded in the language so that you don’t have to learn some horrible “make” tool like Ant, Gradle, etc. A huge simplification is coming, and it will make programming so much easier, the old timers will be grumpy about it, and talk about the hard old days when they walked miles through the snow to go fix a bug, and how young programmers have it so easy.

Uber is about to go public. What a shame.

the Uber corporation is about to go public. They are going for a market cap of more than 90 billion.

This is a failure of government regulation of the highest order. For the past hundred years we have worked out things like business licenses, minimum wages, working conditions, etc.

Uber flaunted every rule, and now their founders instead of facing jail and public shame are about to become some of the richest people on earth. They have impoverished tens of thousands of stupid young men who can’t calculate the cost of the wear and tear on their cars of driving, they destroyed an existing industry which although fossilized, was fossilized partly because of government greed.

Instead of writing their own little app, which i calculate would cost no more than 10 million to build, and less than 1/10th that to operate, the governments and taxi organizations have let this very evil company come in, and employing the most despicable business practices, dirty in the extreme, Uber has acquired massive market share across the globe, creating the world’s largest sweatshop.

That they will be worth more than Mercedes which is 100 year old company that works hard to make a quality product, Uber which has no factories, no inventory, no products for sale, and lives on the stupidity of young men which is boundless,   is now worth more. 

I say lives on the stupidity of young men, because young men want to have a car, and they think that working for below minimum wage while they wear out their car is winning, only to eventually quit after a few years to be replaced by the next sucker.

The credit card companies take anywhere from 3 to 5% of each transaction, which is a scandal in itself, but Uber takes 20% of each transaction for itself, when it has negligible costs. This type of software should be supplied by a public utility and the cost shared across all transportation subsystems. There is no benefit to creating a worldwide organization who cares nothing for their employees.

Uber did really nasty things like when you launch their app, they show fake cars in your area, so it looks like dozens of cars are ready to pick you up. they detected when government officials were hailing rides so as to avoid being fined. they detected if someone was working for another company by peeking at the apps installed on your phone, and if you were a Lyft driver they would try to sabotage the Lyft relationship. They are brilliant, but quite evil.

Object Oriented Programming is bad

In honor of the late great Joe Armstrong, the inventor of the Erlang language (which has been upgraded into Elixir), i present his argument on why OOP is bad. Unfortunately i cannot date this article.

====== from Joe Armstrong:

When I was first introduced to the idea of OOP I was sceptical but didn't know why—it just felt “wrong”. After its introduction OOP became very popular (I will explain why later) and criticising OOP was rather like “swearing in church”. OOness became something that every respectable language just had to have.

As Erlang became popular we were often asked “Is Erlang OO”—well, of course the true answer was “No of course not”—but we didn't care to say this out loud—so we invented a serious of ingenious ways of answering the question that were designed to give the impression that Erlang was (sort of) OO (If you waved your hands a lot) but not really (if you listened to what we actually said, and read the small print carefully).

At this point I am reminded of the keynote speech of the then boss of IBM in France who addressed the audience at the 7th IEEE Logic programming conference in Paris. IBM Prolog had added a lot of OO extensions. When asked why he replied:

Our customers wanted OO Prolog so we made OO Prolog

I remember thinking “How simple, no qualms of conscience, no soul-searching, no asking ‘Is this the right thing to do’ …”

Why OO sucks

My principal objection to OOP goes back to the basic ideas involved, I will outline some of these ideas and my objections to them.

Objection 1.  Data structure and functions should not be bound together

Objects bind functions and data structures together in indivisible units. I think this is a fundamental error since functions and data structures belong in totally different worlds. Why is this?

  • Functions do things. They have inputs and outputs. The inputs and outputs are data structures, which get changed by the functions. In most languages functions are built from sequences of imperatives: “Do this and then that …”. To understand functions you have to understand the order in which things get done. (In lazy FPLs and logical languages this restriction is relaxed.)

  • Data structures just are. They don't do anything. They are intrinsically declarative. “Understanding” a data structure is a lot easier than “understanding” a function.

Functions are understood as black boxes that transform inputs to outputs. If I understand the input and the output then I have understood the function. This does not mean to say that I could have written the function.

Functions are usually “understood” by observing that they are the things in a computational system whose job is to transfer data structures of type T1 into data structure of type T2.

Since functions and data structures are completely different types of animal it is fundamentally incorrect to lock them up in the same cage.

Objection 2.  Everything has to be an object.

Consider “time”. In an OO language a “time” has to be an object. (In Smalltalk, even “3” is an object.) But in a non OO language a “time” is a instance of a data type. For example, in Erlang there are lots of different varieties of time, which can be clearly and unambiguously specified using type declarations, as follows:

-deftype day()     = 1..31.
-deftype month()   = 1..12.
-deftype year()    = int().
-deftype hour()    = 1..24.
-deftype minute()  = 1..60.
-deftype second()  = 1..60.
-deftype abstime() = {abstime,year(),month(),day(),hour(),min(),sec()}.
-deftype hms()     = {hms,hour(),min(),sec()}.

Note that these definitions do not belong to any particular object. they are ubiquitous and data structures representing times can be manipulated by any function in the system.

There are no associated methods.

Objection 3.  In an OOPL data type definitions are spread out all over the place.

In an OOPL data type definitions belong to objects. So I can't find all the data type definition in one place. In Erlang or C I can define all my data types in a single include file or data dictionary. In an OOPL I can't—the data type definitions are spread out all over the place.

Let me give an example of this. Suppose I want to define a ubiquitous data structure. A ubiquitous data type is a data type that occurs “all over the place” in a system.

As Lisp programmers have know for a long time it is better to have a smallish number of ubiquitous data types and a large number of small functions that work on them, than to have a large number of data types and a small number of functions that work on them.

A ubiquitous data structure is something like a linked list, or an array or a hash table or a more advanced object like a time or date or filename.

In an OOPL I have to choose some base object in which I will define the ubiquitous data structure. All other objects that want to use this data structure must inherit this object. Suppose now I want to create some “time” object, where does this belong and in which object…

Objection 4.  Objects have private state.

State is the root of all evil. In particular functions with side effects should be avoided.

While state in programming languages is undesirable, in the real world state abounds. I am highly interested in the state of my bank account, and when I deposit or withdraw money from my bank I expect the state of my bank account to be correctly updated.

Given that state exists in the real world what facilities should programming language provide for dealing with state?

  • OOPLs say “hide the state from the programmer”. The state is hidden and visible only through access functions.

  • Conventional programming languages (C, Pascal) say that the visibility of state variables is controlled by the scope rules of the language.

  • Pure declarative languages say that there is no state. The global state of the system is carried into all functions and comes out from all functions. Mechanisms like monads (for FPLs) and DCGs (logic languages) are used to hide state from the programmer so they can program “as if state didn't matter” but have full access to the state of the system should this be necessary.

The “hide the state from the programmer” option chosen by OOPLs is the worst possible choice. Instead of revealing the state and trying to find ways to minimise the nuisance of state, they hide it away.

Why was OO popular?

  • Reason 1. It was thought to be easy to learn.

  • Reason 2. It was thought to make code reuse easier.

  • Reason 3. It was hyped.

  • Reason 4. It created a new software industry.

I see no evidence of 1 and 2. Reasons 3 and 4 seem to be the driving force behind the technology. If a language technology is so bad that it creates a new industry to solve problems of its own making then it must be a good idea for the guys who want to make money.

This is is the real driving force behind OOPs.

How did we lose the technology to go to the Moon? What exactly is the problem?

I grew up a space fanatic and fully expected to visit the moon and work in the space industry. Unfortunately for me, they ended the Apollo program as i entered college, so that dream didn’t happen.

We did not lose the technology to go to the moon. That is nonsense. America merely lost interest in going to the moon. I bought and read the books that a company put together on each Apollo mission, that includes all the photographs, debriefing info, transcripts, etc., and you can see by the last few missions that people were losing interest rapidly. The first moon landing was mind blowing, but like any stimulus if it doesn’t change, the brain starts to make that normal (and boring). The moon has so little variety to it, with the complete absence of life, it is such a dull place that nobody will care much if we ever go back. There are more wonders to be discovered in the oceans than on the moon, so i reluctantly agree with the man in the streets who thinks that it would be a waste of money to send people there again. The Chinese are hell-bent on going there just so they can show they are as good as anyone technologically.

We are far better off exploring aquaculture, floating cities, and all the other futuristic things that really matter to the human race. After all the oceans cover the majority of the earth’s surface, and we have done a piss-poor job of managing the oceans. Our inability to be a good steward of the fish is resulting in population crashes for a variety of species. Let JPL send their unmanned probes to through the solar system; it is far cheaper, and very effective. The moon has little to offer us. It might make an exotic vacation resort, but considering how dangerous it is in space it might never be that popular. Instead, let’s fix up the planet to a much nicer state before we go off blowing wads of money pushing around people in aluminum boxes. There are no other habitable places in our solar system, and we are more than 1000 years away from another habitable place, so until Warp Drive, we better bite the bullet and fix up our blue pearl!

Functional Programming

There are many buzzwords in the programming profession. These terms are bandied about with great regularity, and mean almost nothing. Terms like Object Oriented Programming (OOP), Functional Programming (FP), Top Down Design (TDD), etc.

Fundamentally, we only have one kind of computer with two variations: the Intel and ARM instruction sets which drive 99.9% of all computers used today. Everything on top of these two hardware platforms is software, and since the hardware's only commonly used instructions are arithmetic, copy, load/store, compare, branch and call/return, the most powerful instruction is the function call and return, and every language from Assembler onward has striven to wring as much utility out of the call/return instruction.

Functional programming is where you try to give functions more weight, as opposed to the move instruction which was COBOL's stock in trade. So one cannot be against functions, it is one of the only power tools we have. Every good program uses the same principles that are espoused in FP, and Every Functional Program has to store some mutable state somewhere, because the underlying hardware only operates with mutable state, so it is pretty self-defeating to create very hard abstractions like Monads and Monoids. Sometimes the priesthood of programmers tries to create obscurity where none need exist.

What i am against is waving these banners around, like OOP, Functional Programming, Top Down Design, etc., when what we really want is reliable software that is easy to understand. We are evolving towards better notations, but unless you change the hardware (and adding more cores does very little to help) you are pretending these terms actually mean something.

Computers are very simple at the core, and programming needn’t be that hard or frustrating. it will always be exacting, as there is no human experience where something is done over a million times in one second! The speed and accuracy of machines has always impressed humans, and computers are over a million times cheaper than when they were invented, that is incredible progress!

The crime wave of the 2000's

In US history, everyone learns about Al Capone, Chicago gangs around the time of Prohibition of alcohol, which was a failed experiment. From todays WSJ headlines:

The FCC Has Fined Robocallers $208 Million. It’s Collected $6,790.

America’s telecommunications regulators have levied hefty financial penalties against illegal robocallers and demanded that bad actors repay millions to their victims. But years later, little money has been collected.

We are now in a new age of crime, where most of the crime is perpetrated via the internet, and the criminals are rarely caught or punished.

The criminals operating in Robodialing and telephone fraud pretending to be the IRS, etc., are annoying 100x their actual defrauded customers in possibly one of the most destructive industries that has ever existed. If someone robs your house, he doesn’t ransack 100 neighbors that night while robbing 1, but in the telephone fraud industry they annoy 1000s of people before finding a sucker to steal from.
Unfortunately, we just spent 80 million investigating if a hotel tycoon was conspiring with a foreign country. That 80 million could have been spent on wiping out the robodialling industry, and saved the world possibly the lost time of 40 billion calls times 1/6th of a minute to hang up on the assholes that ruin many a tender moment (at minimum wage of $12/hour they are wasting 80 billion dollars of peoples’ time per year in the USA alone). And where is homeland security in all this? We spend billions on those slackers to ride around in black Escadades, always on the prowl for nearly non-existent terrorists, and training park rangers on weekends with automatic weapons for that squirrel invasion that never happens.

The government’s super powerful criminal justice system apparatus, which has most of its employees at the city and county level, is now mostly occupied with cycling through their expensive system the mentally ill near-or-at homeless. they make the homeless more miserable, and because we have no agreement as a society which school of psychology has any theraputive effectiveness, punishment therapy produces poor results, and it just gets worse.

I work in an industry, which is responsible for a big chunk of the crime. Robodialling not only annoys people, but much of the calling is direct fraud. Lets assume that the criminal is buying their phone service for 0.7 cent a minute. And if you have someone on the phone an hour that means $4.20/hour for the cost of the calling, and perhaps $5.80/hour for the criminals’ employee. Thus for $10/hour, less than the minimum wage, you can keep someone working in a criminal business, safely operating 8000 miles away.

Once you make more than $10/hour stealing from people, which evidently is not that hard, your business will naturally grow, and you will hire more staff. So what we are seeing is the positive feedback loop intrinsic to capitalism, and the exponential growth of a successful industry doing various criminal things, breaking laws left and right.

They can stop this crap immediately if they wanted to. If you had to put a $100 deposit on hold for any phone number you wanted, and lost the deposit should you be found to be robodialling, that would stop it cold. You have only 4 companies handling 90% of all the phone calls in the country (ATT, Verizon, T-mobile, Sprint), and they know damn well who is doing this crap. 

Unfortunately our government leaders are so out of touch with regular life they haven’t noticed this crime wave, and so it continues on.

Poor quality software is killing people

We have recently seen one of the largest killings by bad programming in the case of the Boeing 737 Max

The Boeing company has a black eye from their recent screw-up with two of their newest jets crashing.

Simply put, this error was caused by poor quality programming, and not following standard aircraft safety software principles. It was exacerbated by their greed in trying to sell what is an essential safety feature as a downloadable paid option, which the low-cost airlines like Lion and Ethiopian airlines didn’t buy.  

This is a powerful jet, and it can if you pull the stick up go into a stall pretty easily. That is not a defect, that is an inherent risk when you have a plane with really potent engines which are much safer in other scenarios, so nothing wrong with having powerful engines. But the input to the stall detector software was a single sensor, even though there are 2 sensors on the plane, it only read one of them. And so when the single sensor malfunctioned, the plane thinks that it is heading up when it isn’t. The second mistake, even more stupid, is that the computer code that said:

  IF sensor > 34 degrees then push nose down 1 degrees/sec  

(my formula is approximate), didn’t have a loop counter, so that if this had been done more than a few times it would stop for a while, as clearly the pilot is trying to override the program. In the Lion Air case, the pilot tried over and over to pull up from impending doom, and lost the battle, killing all aboard. Boeing has just updated the software, and added a few lines of code to this little program. This error will costs them billions when all the lawsuits are settled.

I was trained in programming at JPL as a youth, and when they are making space probes that will travel for 10 years  without the possibility of any repair, they always put in an odd number of sensors for each critical measurement, and have the sensors vote on the measurement, and if it is 2 to 1 they pick the majority, and eventually turn off the bad sensor because there is no point in listening to it. To have only one sensor, which is unfortunately all too common in automotive safety systems, is a bad practice, because that single cheap sensor can cause a serious accident. This is the thing that worries me about all these fancy car safety systems, is that they are put in by cheap companies that don’t have any redundancy on the critical systems.  

I remember a friend sued Porsche when they got one of the high end Cayenne Turbo models and it changed lanes abruptly almost killing them. This is all due to bad programming, and instead of letting car companies keep their code secret, i believe all safety systems for any device (car, bus, train, plane, nuclear power plant) should have their code openly published, so that outside programmers can inspect it and find weaknesses. There are a lot of retired and under-employed programmers who should receive a bounty for finding errors and dangers in code that is critical to the safety of the public.

Anyone with experience in military or space software systems, would have raised red flags on the Boeing code, which was clearly done by rookie programmers and it indicates that Boeing has a serious internal malfunction that they would try to monetize a critical safety system. They are spending more money on lobbying now to fix it, when what they need is better engineering management, not more lobbyists.

What should a future general purpose programming language look like?

The dominant language of the future should tackle the central problem of writing software, which is that small numbers of human errors consume the vast majority of the total time and effort spent. Many programmers estimate that over 80% of their time is not spent designing and coding, but in that process euphemistically called “debugging”, where a small number of errors consume a disproportionate amount of time. Thus the main feature should be eliminating this largest section of time, and the other features should support the use of interchangeable parts. In Prof. Wirth’s Modula-2 he reached a high water mark for interchangeable parts, offering separate compilation of modules, and protection against a module changing and a client of the module not realizing that the interfaces had changed. No subsequent language to my knowledge has this feature, except for Beads, a language in the “next-gen” race, along with Elm, Red, and others.

As for other language features, it should try to be a simpler language, breaking free from the mistakes of the past like OOP, and avoiding inventing some new complex, hyper-abstract set of concepts like functors and monads as are in vogue today. Simplicity is a feature everyone can enjoy.

Inertia, the most powerful force in the universe

The great Elbert Hubbard wrote around 1912 the following:

“The reason men oppose progress is not that they hate progress, but that they love inertia.”

We are in the decade of a major change in computer programming languages. The prior ones served their purposes, but the massive need for programming has reached such a degree that continuing cumbersome, labor intensive, frustrating processes has to give way to a simpler, easier, more productive toolchain. The foundation stone of a new toolchain is a new language.

The order of the day is A) simplicity, B) clarity, and C) reusable parts

Simplicity is never easy to achieve; you have to know the balance between a small group of powerful primitives and a larger set of more powerful, but less general, primitives.

Clarity is often the subject of great debates, because people who are well trained in a language, find it easy to read. I occasionally get into heated, almost religious in fervor debates with proponents of extremely unclear languages like Lisp and Haskell. Their adherents simply can’t remember a time when they didn’t understand, and assume that their prodigious memories are common. Try testing your tool on a 70+ year old, and then tell me how it went! A 70 year old learning to program for the first time is about the same as a 12 year old. Both will struggle with the current toolchains.

GM kills the Volt, in the process of self-destructing

GM killing the Volt car is a bad idea.

But then they have resisted all advancement from their internal brains which are considerable.

GM was always far ahead of Ford from a technical and reliability aspect, but then i am referring to their peak in 1959. After that time the founding genius, Alfred P. Sloan’s energies were starting to dissipate. GM invented the Neodymium magnet but didn’t ever build motors.

Their solar powered car they did with McCready of CalTech was 20 years ahead of any other vehicle, and later when they built the EV1 they ended up crushing the few cars they made out of spite basically. People loved those cars, there would be no need for Tesla had GM just allowed a money losing division to build the future. You have to invest in the beginning to build a new business. No new technology besides rare things like Genentech’s insulin is immediately profitable
And let’s not talk about Saturn, which had many innovative practices, but because it made less profit than their bad practices they continued to strip mine their customer goodwill, using the accumulated trust and confidence in their brand to ship crappy cars.

Only the recent editions of the corvette are any good, the rest of the GM lineup is not attractive to me, and i would pick a Japanese or German or Swedish car over anything but a corvette

GM is basically downsizing, admitting defeat in passenger cars (like ford). The tragedy is that there are cars from europe, little tiny ones, that could succeed in urban environments in smaller numbers, but GM just won’t allow them in the country. Which leaves the overpriced and impossible to work on BMW owned Mini Cooper to own that city hipster market

Cars are about emotion. Whether you are looking for a land yacht, a tiny sports car, or a soccer mom people mover, you have to identify the emotion and deliver a purity of design. The central problem is not their propulsion units, their manufacturing practices, but their unwillingness to allow a single vision to control a car from start to finish like the greatest designer of them all Ferdinand Porsche. They continue to have committees design and agree on things, and the result is a craptastic watered down aspect to every car (except the Corvette, which after decades of mechanical imcompetence finally bought a ferrari and studied how it could go around curves).  

GM is another classic american tragedy where designers are mere stylists. Great design is behind all the winning products, and brilliant design can outlive technical changes far longer than you would imagine. The Porsche 911 is the one of longest running models in auto history. 

If they had any brains, they would realize that producing smaller quantities of nicer cars at a higher price would be achievable now with 3D printing, and all the robotic advances. The days of having to make every car out of the same parts is over; you can 3D print final quality metal and plastic parts, and with their engineering prowess they could make replica cars of great designs, and instead of making drool-worthy concept cars that never ship, they could actually make the ones that the customers indicated they really want. 

Look at the money people are paying for old Jaguars and replicas of Steve McQueen’s Bullitt era mustang. People want futuristic stuff, or they want tiny, or they want fast, or they want big, not some compromise of all of those characteristics. They need to give car loving designers a cost constraint, but then give them the freedom to make it great. A few years back they went to Pebble Beach, which is the #1 confab of car nuts, and showed the Escala


people loved it. And said right there they would buy one in a second. It was huge (17.5 feet), sleek, very luxurious. Then some numbskull goes “it will be too expensive”.  They are morons. They will promise something like it in a few years, but when it comes out it won’t be 17.5 ft and the temptation to use tons of previously generated parts will just be too great, and they will have lost all their credibility again. Meanwhile pickup trucks are getting close to 80k in some cases, defying all common sense.  The interior was incredibly elegant on that concept car, cashmere. It was gorgeous and luxurious. You know they won’t put cashmere on the production car.

People would buy this car. They showed it to the target audience, they said hell yes!, and then they ignore the feedback. This is the doom of a spineless organization that can’t build a product their own staff love. Meanwhile, as we speak, the same clean design is now shipping in the Volvo XC40, which they are renting for something like 600/month.  

When america uses good design, we are unbeatable. America has had the greatest industrial designers in the history of the world like Thomas Edison and Henry Dreyfus. But by designer i don’t mean some stylist who adds pin striping,  i mean the product’s total vision from inside out. 

McLaren, Koniggsegg, and doing such a great job making supercars, selling all they can make. The writing is on the wall. play with passion or leave the game. 

Medicare for all is a dumb idea

I normally write only about technology, but Ocasio Cortez’ comments about medicare for all, which many people have echoed must be rebutted.

No one is entitled to the free labor of another. So the idea that we should get unlimited free medical care doesn't pencil out. Even if we had such a thing tomorrow, it wouldn't work because the supply of trained medical personnel is insufficient to handle the current load, much less an increased load. Insurance companies stall like hell so that they can stretch their resources.

A better solution instead of trying to do price controls (or robbing peter to pay paul via some transfer payment scheme), is to realize that the curriculum of our public schools hasn't been updated in 100 years, and that perhaps 1/2 of all the time in school should be devoted to bringing every high school graduate up to the level of 2nd year nursing school, and that instead of continuing with the ridiculous 8 year and more medical school process which costs hundreds of thousands per doctor, create super narrow medical education tracks that finish in 2 years, but only qualify you for specific procedures.

Hospital procedures are broken down very precisely now, and by changing how many, and how, we train medical professionals, the costs could come down by a factor of 5. Why aren't we teaching this very valuable information to all students in our public schools? Why are we letting junior high and high school students regurgitate obsolete subjects when what we all need to know nowadays, is how to take care of the human body, especially our own!

It is time that we stopped leaving things to expensive professionals, and shared this knowledge with a vastly wider pool of people, which will not only lower costs, but when people get more medical education they don't eat as poorly, nor are they so likely to get so fat, which is a big contributing factor in American's slightly declining health statistics. Also, a more informed customer base makes for better doctors, as the bad ones would be flushed out more quickly.

JetBrains MPS, and thoughts on the next big language

1) Games are very much going to determine the outcome of the "next gen language". Game programming is arguably the majority of all graphical interactive coding today. Not only is this borne out by the statistics from the App Stores, which shows that games are more than 2x larger than any other category of product:


but also, when you look at all the dashboard companies popping up, the gamification of business products is well under way, and what was a stodgy dull statistical program is now singing and dancing. Get into your brand new car, and dashboard does a song and dance. I don't care where you turn, customers are suckers for flashing lights and motion, and if your language can't draw well, it is going to be a hard sell. A language doesn't have to full-tilt into 3D complexity, but if you can't drastically simplify the pain of laying out screens in the quirky and frustrating HTML/CSS abomination, why did you bother making your tool in the first place? This by the way is why i consider terminal-based languages like LISP and FORTH to be near useless in this era. There is ample evidence that drawing needs to be integrated into the language.

2) This is why MPS is non-starter for me; I don't see a drawing system. The majority of all my code in every graphical interactive product i have made has been related to drawing. From a word-count perspective, drawing consumes an awful lot of program code. Numbers are easy. They have a value. Period. But a piece of text, it has a font list, a size, optional bold and italic, justification, indenting, stroke color, background color, and on and on. So naturally text is going to dominate the code. If you are building a billing system, generating a nice looking PDF bill for the customer, is a ton of work to drawing nicely, with pagination that works well. I spent decades in word processing/desktop publishing/graphic design product space, and there is just a lot of tricky stuff relating to languages. And don't get me started on the complexities of making your product read well in Asian languages. That was my specialty. 

And since it isn't just about drawing, but interacting, that is why HTML/CSS/JS is such a nightmare, and why there are so many frameworks, because the designers of the web did a rather poor job at anticipating interactivity, and their approach of laying out pages not with function calls but with a textual description basically calls forth a very complex framework system to compensate for this mistake. complex domain specific languages aren't a computable readable model; imagine if the web had an internal model that was not textual, that would have made it so much easier to build interactive graphics. A next gen language to succeed will at least need to allow people to not have to wrestle with webkit, which has a nasty habit of scrambling your layout when a tiny error is made. 

Apple has done a lot of work in their storyboard system in XCODE to make laying out things easier, although it is still evolving and i wouldn't call it settled. I don't know the android studio well, i imagine it has tools for this as well. But i would like to see a cross-platform layout system that makes it easy for a single code base to nicely fit into whatever device you are on. Making layouts fluid should be part of the language, and anyone who thinks they can just live on top of HTML/CSS they are doomed IMHO.

3) As for correctness by construction, there is ample evidence that completely untyped languages that can mutate the type of a variable accidentally from number to string, are very dangerous. The mistake of imitating ActionScript2's overloading of the + operator to mean both addition and string concatenation has caused countless errors in JS. If they had used PHP's & operator, or some other punctuation, millions of man-hours would have been saved. TypeScript and other transpilers/preprocessors are clearly a great win because JS by itself is a minefield. A successful next gen language will eliminate a lot of errors. Eve was very much inspired by SQL, which is a very declarative style of language, with little instruction given as to how do it; you just tell it what to do. However, it isn't that easy to recast a chess program into that style. there is a lot of sequential processing to do, so some compromise has to be reached, where you eliminate as many sequence related errors as you can at compile time by letting the compiler do more work, but still retaining the ability to specify the proper sequence for things to be done in, unambiguously of course else you have obscured the product, which is counter-productive. I believe that sequence related errors constitute half of all debugging time, so eliminating mistakes of sequence should yield a 2x improvement. 

4) there are many additional syntactical features one can add to a language, like runtime physical units, that allow the product do more integrity checking and catch subtle errors quickly. The Wirth family of languages emphasized compile time checks, and Modula-2 for example had overflow, underflow, range, array bounds, nil pointers, undefined variables, checks all of which could be disabled. In my Discus product, we leave the checks on until we ship the product, and it shrinks by 30% because the overhead of checking is substantial. Nowadays, with computers idle 98% of the time, one can argue that leaving the checks on in production products is now feasible, and probably a good idea. All that Microsoft C code, with no runtime checks, is a security hazard, and Microsoft has been endlessly patching their Windows monstrosity for decades now with no end in sight. When you pass an array to a Modula-2 function, the array bounds are sent in a hidden parameter, which allows the called function to not go over the limit. This doesn't exist in C, which means that any large C program is forever doomed to be unreliable. I cannot understand why the executives chose such flabby languages to standardize on. Surely they must have known early that the cost of all these tiny errors in the sum total represented a maintenance nightmare. Java has plenty of problems of its own, and don't get me started on the flaws of OOP.  Thank goodness few of the next gen projects even consider building atop OOP paradigms.

R.I.P. Stan Lee, the most creative writer since Jules Verne

Stan Lee died the other day.

He was one of the most creative americans that ever lived.

We all know that George Lucas is a very creative fellow, having created a few dozen major characters, like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and villains like Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett.  Stan Lee created at least 5 to 10 times more characters than Lucas. I think he was the most imaginative writer since Jules Verne. 

When i was young, we had a comic rack at the local drug store in town, and they cost 12 cents each. At the time we were reading them, in the early days of Marvel Comics, the print run of each issue was around 10,000 copies. So if you imagine the retailer got half, the total revenue to marvel per issue was about $600. They were printed on the cheapest newsprint paper, with just a few colors, and were banged out at an incredible pace. I had several first editions, and like every other mother, mine were thrown out when i went to college… they are so valuable now because so few people kept them away from their mothers! hah. Nobody took them seriously and it took a while for their science-fiction style to catch on.

These original Marvel comics are masterpieces of the genre. They can be purchased under the “marvel masterworks” series at Amazon in both hardcover and paperback. They make a wonderful gift for a young kid who doesn’t realize the source material behind the many successful films is so good. They were so far ahead of other comics of the time, it isn’t funny. Batman and Superman, the two big characters of the entrenched competitor DC comics were crude in comparison, with stupid villains who were typically bank robbers or thugs. Marvel comics on the other hand created a roster of villains really worth fighting, with names like Magneto who could control metal, Doctor Doom, who wanted to take over the planet, or Kang the Conqueror who comes from the future to take over the universe, or Galactus who would like to consume all the life force in our solar system for breakfast. Marvel heroes had personal problems; they didn’t have much money, or their girlfriends were mad at them, they might even regret their superpowers. From any dimension you look at, the output of Marvels’ first decade is fantastic stuff; it is like Ian Fleming’s James Bond series, a highly original body of work that will still be enjoyable for a long time to come, and imitated without attribution constantly. 

The secret to Stan Lee’s incredible output - and it is amazing how much stuff he cranked out - was that he worked in an unprecedented way with the artists who helped invent the characters and drew the comics. He would write a very short summary of what happens in the 16 page story and then let the artists draw whatever they wanted, and then he would add the words in later. In this way the stories progressed nicely, and the artists loved the freedom, and they did wonderful work. 

Lee did not profit much from his work at Marvel. He was outmaneuvered in the board room many times, and when Marvel was finally sold to disney for billions he got nothing. Frankly the comic book business is a pathetic business compared to movies, and the technology to do his films justice did not come into existence until recently.  But he did pretty well overall, and was beloved by the many millions of people who have come to know his characters like Spider man, etc., mostly from movies.

His appearance in the films always makes me cry, because i loved his work so much. He was so clever and funny. 

Every time the films have departed from the original material, it has been to the movie’s detriment. When Marvel films have failed, it was because they didn’t trust the super genius of the creators, and think people can’t handle it. One of marvel’s best comics was the Fantastic Four, yet they have bungled Dr. Doom and in the last film made him into a corporate weasel pursuing money instead of a megalomaniac who is so smart he thinks the world should grovel at his feet.

The best films Captain America (#1), Dr. Strange, and Ant Man. Those show the wild range of Stan Lee’s imagination, and how he would move between patriotic world war 2 era, to eastern mysticism, and then biotechnology.

With his passing, and with George Lucas’ retirement, one has to wonder, where is the next great set of characters and stories to come from? The answer is that Overwatch (a video game from Blizzard) is the crucible of animated/superhero characters for the youngest generation, and mark my words, Overwatch will be bigger than marvel, because it includes characters across the globe, and thus will be relatable to everyone. 

How much is programming going to change in the next few years?

Programming is going to change dramatically, probably by 2020, which is not that far away. New languages and techniques are in the lab now that will trim the fat out of the development process. Currently programmers think they spend most of their time designing and typing, and estimate that debugging is perhaps 20–25% of the total effort. In reality, design, typing, and compiling are very straightforward, and 85% or more of the total effort is spent debugging and refining the software. The debugging process, which to be completely honest is the programmer fixing their own problems - is a huge area of waste, and finally techniques and tools are in the pipeline to shortcut that process. The net result will be about a 3:1 overall improvement in productivity (because debugging will cease to be difficult), but more importantly a 10:1 reduction in the frustration level one must endure to tolerate being a programmer.

The world of programming is currently populated by people with incredible, far out on the tail levels of patience; the kind of people who can do a 7000 piece jigsaw puzzle and enjoy it, while the ordinary person would give up. The lowering of this “frustration barrier” will allow millions of ordinary people to enjoy programming. Let’s face it, the computer is mankind’s most powerful and interesting invention, and everyone should have some fun with it. It is intensely satisfying to see a robot follow your instructions exactly, tirelessly, with no whining like your kids ;->

As for where this improvement is going to originate from, it isn’t going to come from academia, which refuses for the most part to build practical, useful tools, and will come from small entrepreneurial teams funded by themselves, angel investors, or crowdfunding. I can’t tell you how many academics flat out refuse to talk to industry people, as they live inside a bubble which is based on the status from publishing into journals that they only read among themselves. The academic world couldn’t be more corrupt and dysfunctional than it is in 2018. The cost-effectiveness of conventional colleges is abysmal, and if you look at graphs like:

College Tuition and Fees vs Overall Inflation

you will see the unsustainable trajectory that they are on. Another area where improvements won’t be coming from are large companies like Apple and Facebook, which profit mightily from things staying exactly as they are, and also in large companies, a disruptive technology like this would invalidate and seriously depreciate their multi-billion-dollar codebases, so even if it was invented there, it would not see the light of day.

Blockchain and Patent Medicines

In the 1800’s patent medicines were the rage, and people drove around selling magical cures.
Today, blockchain is the magical cure. Everyone including a friend starting an insurance company includes blockchain on their website, as it makes everything better… 

The de medici family invented the double entry bookkeeping system, which kept two simultaneous books one using debits and the other credits, so that they could keep banking honest and detect embezzling/sloppy bookkeepers. That invention powered the family to a huge advantage in banking. The blockchain concept, of distributing the ledger into not just 2 sets of books but 1000 sets of books makes it virtually impossible to cheat, so it is an improvement to be sure.

However, if you have an honest person running things, you can do just fine with one set of books, and i personally would derive no benefit whatsoever from having my bookkeeping spread onto 1000 computers. The only people who need blockchain are people doing illegal, off the book transactions where they don’t want anyone to know how much and with whom they are doing business. So all this crypto stuff is helping tyrants move their money around the world without resorting to couriers, bearer bonds, gold bullion, diamonds, etc.

But for ordinary people such as myself blockchain is a minor change to how things are stored on computers, and mean absolutely zero. The fact that 150 billion was invested last year into cryptocurrencies, half of that will disappear, as the organizers cash out their “pet rock” gains, and will be remembered in the distant future as another mass mania like the Tulip Mania.

How I fought Amazon....to a draw

Jeff Bezos is well on his way to be the richest man in history, and by a wide margin. His final fortune will make Bill Gates, the former long-running richest man in the world look like just another billionaire. Bezos is extremely skilled with computers, and fighting his Amazon company is a formidable challenge, but one that any company selling similar products in the marketplace has to face. Amazon has terrific customer service, a fabulous logistics team, and a great reputation. But is their pricing advantage that built the company.

In my case I was helping out a friend who had a packaged software company, who sold products on his website, but also had an affiliate store in Amazon. He had a few hundred shrink-wrap kids educational computer games. These products sold from $10 to $40 each, and the problem he faced was that although he ran a tight ship with family doing the work, Amazon was undercutting his pricing slightly, and when you did a search, Amazon was one cent cheaper than his pricing and given the two vendors are selling exactly the same thing, the consumers in a very rational behavior pattern, selected the cheapest product, and Amazon was getting most of the business.

After some quick analysis, i realized that he was competing against a computer algorithm, not a human strategist who varies his attack pattern. I wrote a program that scanned the pricing on Amazon’s store, and then automatically in a little Python script adjusted his prices so that they were 1 cent lower than Amazon. He runs this every day, and at night Amazon adjusts their prices one cent lower again. So he runs the program every day, and thus it alternates who has the lower price, but he is beating them because Amazon is only adjusting once per day at a fixed time. The price battle continues, with Amazon and him dropping a penny at a time, until it reaches some magical threshold below the wholesale cost of the item, in the Amazon computer whereby amazon doesn’t want to lose any more money, and Amazon sets the price back $39.95. At which case my little program set his price to $39.94 and the battle starts over again.

Most of the time the product is above wholesale pricing, and he is beating amazon, but always on a treadmill of running the script so that he stays ahead of them. Amazon is a fairly simple system, and the concept of holding 100% markup retail pricing for ordinary products is a vanished thing. Sure, in luxury goods like those sold by LVMH (owned by the richest man in France) they can control the retailers and prevent any discounting, but for the vast majority of products, every retailer is going to have to do battle with Amazon.

Amazon is a tough competitor, and its computer is not afraid to go below cost for a spell in order to get you to quit, but its internal algorithm is more attuned to making a profit than crushing all the other retailers, so it is possible to fight them to a draw. Amazon destroyed book retailers through a scheme where they discounted the bestsellers, because their statistical analysis showed that the heavy readers (the 20%) were the people who kept bookstores alive. So he wiped out the bookstores’ air supply by eliminating that crucial income component, which he could subsidize with higher prices on lower selling books. The other thing he did which the government should never have allowed was he bought the main book distribution company in the USA, Baker and Taylor, and once he had control of the wholesaler he put the squeeze on the stores by lowering their basic profit margin. That should never have been allowed by the government. The destruction of bookstores was quite an evil for the USA, because book culture is what built up the USA in the first place.

I hope this inspires more script writers to help the independent merchants who have to deal with this tough algorithmic selling system of Amazon. Since Amazon sells millions of products, unless you are in an area targeted for destruction (like computer hosting, Bezos’ second multi-billion dollar business), you don’t have fight an opponent who has any imagination. The Amazon computer does the same thing all the time, and it has been shown with chess computers that if you repeat yourself too regularly it is a weakness.

Wisdom from the past in Software Development

There are many classic books about software development that have been published in the last 50 years. Some of these like "The Mythical Man-Month" are almost completly applicable to today; others are a bit more dated. In the older knowledge, like that of Robert Glass, and Capers Jones, there are aspects of eternal truth in their books; for example the Capers Jones idea was that languages had an intrinsic measurable power to them, measured by means of brevity. the shorter the program, the more powerful the language. Elm, Red and several other new languages by this measure are examples of extremely powerful languages. However, Robert Glass points out in his book that 40 to 80% of all cost of software is in maintenance of existing code. And in this area, these very brief languages may not excel. The higher the power level of a language, the more difficult it can be to read, because more is happening under the hood. All evidence shows that the industry selected for highest number of billable hours, which steered them towards COBOL, then Java, its successor language. I think that we in the new language community should acknowledge that inertia is the most powerful force in the universe, and that the mainstream programmers will never adopt an efficient, compact notation to replace Java because it would mean the loss of too many billable hours. It would be like asking lawyers to adopt standardized forms for court cases, and end the practice of making custom documents for routine items. In the legal world, the bulk of costs of a lawsuit are done during discovery phase, and in actuality most cases are settled very near the court date, which means discovery costs were wasted. If lawyers stopped doing this their incomes would plummet.

The next generation powerful, but simple languages, will forever be a relatively small proportion of the usage space. It doesn't mean it isn't worth building these tools; definitely it is worth doing, but let's not be overly optimistic that programmers industry-wide are willing to see their incomes drop. Just as in law, there is a relatively fixed number of disputes happening per year, and there is also a relatively fixed amount of software to be built. It isn't infinite. Once one company builds a great self-driving car software suite, there won't be need for 100 others. Once you have built a bug-free stack for 5G cellular radio, it will last 10 to 20 years. There is a lot of inertia out there, and inferior technologies like object oriented programming, which is one of the greatest boondoggles ever foisted upon the business community has only been admitted as a boondoggle by a minority of programmers such as myself. Now that there is a mainstream alternative to OOP, in the name of Functional programming, finally people can admit OOP is crap. But until they had a replacement they didn't want to get in trouble for continuing to use such a failing technology. 

By failing technology i mean, chronic project overruns, and horribly buggy software. We can, and will, do better.

Boy am I getting fed up with academia

Boy am I getting fed up with academics who claim they are working in the area of advanced computer languages, and don’t have the time of day to even peek at any one of a dozen great new programming language projects underway. They are all busy proving that 2+2 is 4 or some such trivial task, and their vaunted proving systems which they have been working on for 20 years can’t even prove a tic-tac-toe game correct, because a program that draws on the screen is beyond their start of the art. Just because you can't prove graphical interactive software is correct isn't stopping billions of people from using their cellphones every day. At some point practicality has to be considered. There is nothing settled or wonderful about the current state of software development techniques, and when i went to college the universities were doing research that moved the industry forward. The universities are the natural origin place for new languages and techniques, and instead they are becoming so conservative and hostile to new ideas that they are part of the problem. Sorry, but with the billions being poured into higher education, and computer science departments in hundreds of universities around the world, we should see more progress! The educational system in computer science is burning a lot of money with negligible contributions being made in many areas.





Javascript vs. Actionscript 3

A lot of people disparage Actionscript 3 as a dying or dead language, and heap scorn upon it. However, this is really just a smear campaign started by the sometimes mean-spirited Steve Jobs. Javascript is almost a perfect copy of Actionscript 2, and one by one the JS team has been adding in the missing features that Actionscript 3 added.  One of the most important features added in ES2015 is the module system, and now you can import from different modules, and keep your namespaces separate. Interchangeable parts is one of the two super important features of the next generation of software technology, and modules are essential.

However, I just found an unbelievable JS bug that is on Safari and Chrome. If you are writing some JS, so look out for this one:

lets say you have a standard library module and it defines some functions and constants. But FOOBAR isn’t one of them.

import * as std from './stdlib.js’; 
let z1 = FOOBAR; // compiler finds this error, FOOBAR the local name is not defined yet 
let z2 = std.FOOBAR; // this is a valid module name, but not a known symbol inside the module std, compiler lets it slide 
let z3 = stx.FOOBAR; // compiler catches this error, module name was misspelled.

If you make a typographical error and import a symbol that doesn’t exist, perhaps because you made a small spelling error, the compiler doesn’t catch the undefined name, and treats it like a property that doesn’t exist, which it is not. They forgot that a module name prefix is not an object, and that all imported symbols must be found.

This is a massive error in both Chrome and Safari, i can’t believe they didn’t catch this. It is most unfortunate that the folks at Google and Apple didn’t spend more time with Ada or Modula-2, which not only had modules but separately compilable modules, something that JS doesn’t have. Frankly you cannot have interchangeable parts without separate compilation. I wonder how progressive web apps are going to work completely without addressing some of these issues.

This makes modules incredibly dangerous compared to one big glob of code. The whole point of modules is to split namespaces so you don’t accidentally use a variable that isn’t part of your region of code, so this is tantamount to sabotage of the module system.

This is yet another reason why Javascript is such a piece of crap. The fact that they have't figured this out in 3 years since 2015 goes to show how poorly thought out and implement JS is, and i an many others can't wait for the day when we bury that language!

Writing in Actionscript 3 you get a very solid compiler and toolchain, and AS3 and JS are so close now, you can convert one to the other with mostly just a series of find/replace operations in a text editor. Instead of using TypeScript, i suggest you try Actionscript 3 which retains the type information at runtime, and use AS3 for your mobile and desktop targets, and then convert to JS using a simple script to run in the web. This way you get good protection. TypeScript can't carry the checks into runtime.

Scale of sophistication of languages

There are many aspects to a programming language. One way to evaluate the sophistication is to make a radar graph. Here we present the following scales, where in each category we list the scale of sophistication, where 1 is primitive, and 5 is deluxe.

Type protection

  1. easy to make a mistake; turn a number into a string accidentally

  2. silent incorrect conversion

  3. some type checks

  4. strong implicit types

  5. Modula-2 type airtight range checks, etc.

Arithmetic safety

  1. + operator overloaded, can't tell what operator is actually being used

  2. overflows undetected

  3. selective control of overflow/underflow detection (Modula-2)

  4. improved DEC64 arithmetic 0.1 + 0.2 does equal 0.3

  5. infinite precision (Mathematica)

Primitive data types supported

  1. numbers, strings, Boolean

  2. includes one dimensional arrays

  3. includes multi-dimensional arrays

  4. includes structured types, dates, records, sounds, etc.

  5. includes the SuperTree

Graphical model sophistication

  1. none, all drawing is done via library routines

  2. console drawing built into language

  3. 2D primitives, weak structuring

  4. 2D primitives, strong structuring

  5. 3D drawing (unity)

Database sophistication

  1. external to language

  2. indexed sequential or hierarchical model

  3. relational database built in or merged into language (PHP)

  4. entity-relation database built in

  5. graph database built-in (Neo4J)

Automatic dependency calculation (also called lazy evaluation)

  1. none (C, JavaScript)

  2. evaluation when needed of quantities

  3. automatic derivation of proper order to evaluate (Excel)

  4. automatic derived virtual quantities

  5. automatic calculation of code to execute, with backtracking (PROLOG)

Automatic dependency drawing (also called auto refresh)

  1. none (C, JavaScript)

  2. simple redraw support (Win32)

  3. automatic redraw using framework (React)

  4. automatic redraw without having to use framework

  5. automatic redraw of code that references changed quantities

The area enclosed by the shape is a good approximation of the relative power of the language. As you can see from the diagram above, JavaScript is a fairly weak language, and Swift is more powerful. The Beads design is much more advanced than Swift. Fans of Dart, Go, Red, etc., are invited to send me their numbers for each of the categories and I will add them in.

The area enclosed by the shape is a good approximation of the relative power of the language. As you can see from the diagram above, JavaScript is a fairly weak language, and Swift is more powerful. The Beads design is much more advanced than Swift. Fans of Dart, Go, Red, etc., are invited to send me their numbers for each of the categories and I will add them in.