Alan, a huge and heartfelt thanks from all of us. The quality and quantity (over 250 posts!) of what you shared with the community surpassed all expectations from the outset and just kept going. What an amazing gift! Thank you for giving us such a rich opportunity to learn.
(All are welcome to continue the discussion as appropriate but the AMA part is officially done now.)
Since then all other HN threads have felt so lightweight, and it is just now that that feeling is starting to wear off..
Many of the same things can happen in sandbox style games. I think there is a tremendous potential for learning in such abstracted environments. What about something like Minecraft, but with abstracted molecules instead of blocks? Problems, like the ones around portraying how molecules inside a cell are constantly jostling against water molecules, could be solved in such environments using design. Many people who play well balanced games at a high level often seem to be learning something about strategy and tactics in particular rule systems. I suspect that there is something educationally valuable in a carefully chosen and implemented rule system.
Also perhaps, it's so much easier to exploit such mechanisms to merely addict people, that overwhelms any value to be gained.
However, all evidence points to him being wrong about this, making the mistake of starting with language as the centrepiece and explaining everything around it. Human music likely predates human speech by hundreds of thousands of years, and is strongly tied to social bonding, emotions and motor systems in ways that have nothing to do with the symbolic aspects of language.
Note that I didn't mean that in a negative way. Also, if you want to consume macro-nutrients, cheesecake is a pretty effective way to get simple carbs and dairy fat.
is strongly tied to social bonding, emotions and motor systems in ways that have nothing to do with the symbolic aspects of language.
I think there is something akin to this that can be found in games, and that there is something particularly positive that can be found in well constructed games.
And I tried to stay neutral towards games on purpose - I have taught game design myself ;). Having said that, a lot of real-world attempts at gamification are pretty banal carrot/stick schemes.
The start of a better way is similar to the entry point of science "The world is not as it seems". Here, it's "As a human being I'm a collection of traits and behaviors, many of which are atavistic and even detrimental to my progress". Getting aware of how useful cravings for salt, fat, sugar, caffeine, etc., turn into a problem when these are abundant and consumer companies can load foods with them....
And, Neil points out -- in books like "Amusing Ourselves To Death" and "The End Of Childhood" -- we have cravings for "news" and "novelty" and "surprise" and even "blinking", etc. which consumer companies have loaded communications channels with ...
Many of these ideas trace back to McLuhan, Innis, Ong, etc.
Bottom line: children need to learn how to use the 21st century, or there's a good chance they will lose the 21st century.
Most children meet entertainment technology as early as before the first birthday, though. Many pre-teens that I see around possess smartphones and/or tablets. Most of the early teenagers possess multiple devices. None of these will be able to judge what's is beneficial to their future and well-being, and opt for it rather than what is immediately fun and pleasing. Just like most of them will live on chocolate bars and crisps if let to do so. The burden falls on the parents, a burden they don't take.
I myself can't think of a future other than one full of device addicts, and a small bunch that managed to liberate themselves from perennial procrastination and pseudo-socialisation only in their twenties. And while my country can prohibit certain products (food, etc.) from import and production within its own borders (e.g. genetically modified, chemically engineered to be consumed greedily), this can't be done with websites, because (a) it's technically impossible and (b) it 'contradicts freedom of speech'. I'll ask the reader to philosophise over (b), because neither the founding fathers of the US nor the pioneers of the french revolution, nor most of the libertarian, freedom-bringing revolutionists had a Facebook to tag their friends' faces.
(edit: I don't want to get into a debate over freedom of speech, and don't support any form of cencuring of it, tho I don't want freedom of speech at the cost of exploitation of generations and generations by some companies that use it as a shelter for themselves.)
> Gkya: I myself can't think of a future other than one full of device addicts, and a small bunch that managed to liberate themselves from perennial procrastination and pseudo-socialisation only in their twenties.
As a infovore this worries me. If we cannot control ourselves and come up with better solutions for self control then the authoritarian minded are likely to do it for us.
The Net is addictive and all those people pretending it ain't so are kidding themselves.
It's easy to imagine anti-Net campaigners in the same way as we see anti-globalization activists today.
I myself have seen the effects of good diet, exercise and meditation on a group of people, and it is quite remarkable how changed for the better people are. So there is hope!
I believe that social change, example: phubbing being widely regarded as taboo, isn't fast enough to keep with the Net's evolution. By the time a moral stance against phubbing is established mobile phones probably won't exist. For this I think we need a technological solution which is as adaptive as an immune system, but also one which people can opt in to. Otherwise eventually people will demand governments do things like turn off the Net at certain times during the day or ban email after 6pm and so on.
> I myself have seen the effects of good diet, exercise and meditation on a group of people, and it is quite remarkable how changed for the better people are. So there is hope!
You're an adult, I am too. We can realize: this is stealing my life. But a kid can't. And stolen days don't return. This is why I'm commenting: we'd rather raise better individuals than letting them do wtf they want and hoping they'll fix themselves later.
Just yesterday before this thread even started (I work as part-time cleaner) I was polishing a window. Through it I saw some children in a sitting room, one of who was literally standing centimeters away from a giant flat screen television. Glued to it.
I thought: "Fuck, they don't have a chance". Their attention spans will be torn to pieces like balls of wool by tiny kittens. Now multiply that effect with the Net + VR and you have an extraordinary psychological effect best compared to a drug.
I didn't have a television in my childhood. I read countless books, and without them, I wouldn't be sitting here, I wouldn't have done any of the things I could reasonably consider inventive or innovative. They might not be world changing things, but they were mine and my life was better for doing so.
I was speaking to a friend who has children a few months ago. He was in the process of uploading photos of his family to Facebook. I asked him whether he considered what he was doing to be a moral act, since he is for practical purposes feeding his children's biometrics into a system that they personally have not, and could not, opt in to. He was poleaxed by the thought. He was about to say something along the lines of 'well everybody's doing this' but I could visibly see the thought struck him that "wow, that's actually a really bad line of reasoning I was about to make". Instead he agreed with me, uncomfortably, but he got it.
I don't know how you get millions of people to have that kind of realization. I do think parental responsibility has a huge role though. My parents got rid of the television in the 80s. It was the right thing to do.
See, my grandparents worried that the new technology that my parents grew up with would somehow make them dumber (growing up with radio, parents getting television); my parents' generation worried that the technology we grew up with would be bad for us (too much computer, too much gaming, too much Internet). The upcoming generation of parents will grow up wondering whether VR and AR is going to ruin their kids' chances.
Yet kids ALWAYS adapt. They don't view smartphones or tablets as anything particularly out of the ordinary. It's just their ordinary. I'm certain their brains will build on top of this foundation. That's the thing - brains are extremely adaptable. All of us adapted.
There's a term for this worry - it's called 'Juvenoia':
Now, I'm not saying that this is a discussion that shouldn't be had - it certainly should. I just think we all need to be mindful about where our concerns might be coming from.
Just like an alcohol drinker and an alcohol addict are different, an internet user and an internet addict are different too. Just because some or most are not addicts, we can't dismiss the addiction altogether.
Recognizing potential dangers is a far cry from saying that there's a risk of "losing the century" because of easy access to technology and entertainment, and it strikes me as rather belittling to the younger generation.
Millennials and their children are still humans, after all, and are just as intelligent, motivated, and adaptable as every generation before them.
What I'm arguing is against an analogue of this in tech. There is a certain period during which the exposure of a minor to technological devices should be governed by parents.
What do you think of adolescents which get recorded nude on chatrooms? Some of them commit suicide. What do you think of children victim to bullying online? What do you think of paedophiles tricking kids online? Isn't a parent responsible of protecting a minor from such abuses?
My general argument on this thread is that we should raise out children as good as we can. Protect them from danger that they cannot be conscious of. We can't certainly place burdens on adults, but we can try to raise adults that are not inept addicts with social deficiencies. And because most of the worlds population is tech-illiterate, it falls on governments to provide education and assistance to parents, just like they do so with health and education.
Most of the counter-arguments here has been strawmans, because while I'm mostly targeting children, I've been countered with arguments about adults.
> I just think we all need to be mindful about where our concerns might be coming from.
Basically we're on the same page.
Here is proposition. I'll steelman the Conservative view and you tell me what you think. I promise not to claim vidya causes violence or D&D is a leading cause of Satanism.
My proposition is that television media has meaningfully worsened our society by making it dumber. This is an artifact of the medium itself, rather than an issue with any specific content on it. To explain what I mean by dumber I must elaborate.
The television is a unidirectional medium. It contains consensus on various intellectual issues of the day and gives a description of the world I'd call received opinion. There exists no meaningful difference between the advertising that tranches people into buying products and the non-advertising that tranches people into buying ideas. Most ideas that are bought are not presented as items to be sold, they are pictured as 'givens', obvious. Most lying is done by omission. Even were all information presented truthfully, we have a faux sense of sophistication about our awareness which is a problem. When you buy prepackaged meals at a store you are not in the makings of becoming a chef, and in that way you are not chewing over the ideas presented to you, you do no mental cognition. Your state is best described as, and feels like, a hypnotic trance.
One of the problems with this is that television creates a false sense of normalcy that has no objective basis. It asks the questions and provides the answers. All debate is rhetorical debate.
It's the cognitive equivalent of 'traffic shaping' that Quality of Service mechanisms do on routers. In a way that is a much bigger lie. This concept is very similar to Moldbug's Cathedral concept. The people who work for the Cathedral don't realize they represent a very narrow range of thought on the spectrum. Their opinions cannot plausibly be of their own manufacture because one arbitrary idea is held in common with another arbitrary idea and they all hold them.
The key to understanding this is very real and not at all abstract, is that millions of people have synchronized opinions on a range of issues without any other discernible cause other than the television (or radio). Why do populations of teenagers become anorexic after the introduction of television where they did not suffer before it? Synchronized opinion is always suspicious. It defies probability theory to think my grandmother and millions of others suddenly came to the conclusions for example, that gay marriage was a positive idea? Why do millions of conservatives think buying gold is a good idea? It is not that there is something wrong with gay marriage or buying gold. It's that there is no genuine thinking going on about about any of this. There many ways to hedge against inflation that don't involve buying gold. Why is gay marriage the morality tale of the age, and not, say, elder abuse in nursing care facilities.
Why do some things become 'issues' and not a myriad of others? How directed this is is up for debate, but what is not is that the selectivity and constraints of the medium have narrowed our perception of the world, and that has led to the thing that made us dumber: it stunted our native creativity and curiosity.
> Yet kids ALWAYS adapt. They don't view smartphones or tablets as anything particularly out of the ordinary. It's just their ordinary. I'm certain their brains will build on top of this foundation. That's the thing - brains are extremely adaptable. All of us adapted.
There does exist a series of schools in Silicon Valley. The software engineers at Google and Facebook and other firms send their children to them, and they strictly contain no computing related devices. Instead it's schooling of the old fashioned sort, from the early 20th century.
It is possible that this is juvenoia as you suggested. But at least take into account those parents may understand something else about electronic media and its affects on brains. After all many of them study seriously human attention for a living.
The other thing I want to ask you is have you ever visited in your country what we call council estates in Europe? These are places which contain the poorer class of people in our society. I've been to many of these gray lifeless places and they all have many characteristics in common. Television is a major part of their lives and their shelves are bare of books. It is ubiquitous. In the past the working classes were much more socially and intellectually mobile. They read. They did things. Little evidence remains of that today, but it was so.
It is possible that television is like a slow poison that affects some classes more than others. You can't just say people you know are unaffected and therefore it does not matter, because it is possible you may be part of an advantaged group for which reasons may exist why they could be more immunized than most e.g. having challenging or interesting work to do. It's worth considering that all the problems I mentioned still exist without television in society but you might say the 'dose' determines whether it's medicine or poison. There is certainly a sense among many people that television has progressively gotten worse and watching old news broadcasts and documentaries it is hard not to see what they mean. I appreciate this isn't objective measurement, but comparing like with like, say James Burke's Connections with Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmos, the difference is obvious and the Cosmos reboot would be considered very good relative to its current competition.
Evidence for my claims could be a reduction in the number of inventions (excluding paper patents) per capita, reduced library visitations with respect to population changes, increasing numbers of younger people unable to read, evidence of decreased adventurousness or increased passiveness in the population, some metric for diminished curiosity/creativity over time. If those were mainly found wanting then I'll concede my error.
I'd be much more concerned about curiosity/creativity, than reduction in IQ or school test scores because creativity is really the key to much of what is good about human endeavor.
I'd also like to point out that you might not be able to spot the 'brain damage' so easily, since it's hard to come up with objective measures without a good control group. If it happened to most people then it's a new normal but that doesn't mean it had no effect.
One thing I will offer is that in my household growing up, television was positive because it was an experience that we shared as a family. We would watch TV shows together, talk about them together, laugh at them together, etc. In that sense, television brought outside viewpoints into our household and spurred conversation. I think that is one of the key factors that may differentiate between TV having good effects and TV having bad effects on different people.
In a sense, I think that although television itself isn't interactive, you could say that our family was 'interactive about' television. So we got the benefits of being able to use television in a positive way.
Thanks for reminding me of how important that was for me :)
By the way, on the limitation of television being a passive medium.... This reminds me of something I read back when I was a kid that was very profound for me. I can't recall exactly now, but I think it was in a Sierra On-Line catalogue where Roberta Williams said something about wanting her children to play adventure games rather than watch television as with adventure games, they had to be actively engaged rather than passive. This really resonated with me at the time, given that I was really getting into the Space Quest & other 'Quest games :)
Thank you. I hope to meet or communicate with Mr Burke at some point soon, I know Dan Carlin had a podcast with him a little while back if you're interested in his new take on the world. Connections remains the high water mark for documentary making and it is worth reading the books. If you want to watch a documentary in a similar style I suggest The Ascent of Man.
> In a sense, I think that although television itself isn't interactive, you could say that our family was 'interactive about' television. So we got the benefits of being able to use television in a positive way.
I believe you, I am mainly thinking of the average 5 hours per day the average American (or European) spends in front of the television. The dose makes the poison!
> This really resonated with me at the time, given that I was really getting into the Space Quest & other 'Quest games
Yes, it is clear that videogaming can provide for a shared community and culture, most obviously the MMORPGS. This is not something television achieves, or if it does, it is rare, like fans of Mythbusters or Connections. In the present we are concerned with developing the foundations of the Net, like commerce or the law. But ultimately I think a Net culture will be the most valued feature we ascribe to the Net.
I know this is bandied about a lot, but is this actually proven? With the exception of drugs, all of those you mention have been within easy reach for me (actually, as a Dutchman, even softdrugs were just one step away if I'd wanted to). Yet I don't consider myself addicted to any of those.
" I can't do much than hoping you either don't have children or no child's responsibility is on you otherwise."
That's a strong statement to make. Implying he's unable to raise children because he'd like to see evidence that the internet actually has a negative influence on children.
Good parents can raise their children correctly even with $bad_stuff present around them, that was the point I was trying to make.
I concur. But the internet exposure of kids is mostly not governed by parents. They either are alone with the connected device in their rooms, away from them, or with a mobile device out of their home. The best the parents can do is to educate the kids, but the public lacks the knowledge to effectively do so. They should be given the formation to be able to educate their children, and furthermore schools should educate minors on the use of tech.
"putting your kid in a room full of $bad_stuff" will mostly lead to addiction if the parent is not there to teach the kid: this is harmful to you; not you think?
And I don't mean that in the sense of "the kids are fine with their heroin syringes", but in the sense "I can leave the cookie jar on the counter and it will still be there when I leave the room".
Provocative but not evidence. I did look up some twin studies but I can't find one with a clear vice/virtue environment study. Gwern is good at ferreting out this kind of information if you ask him.
In "The Power of the Context" (2004) you wrote:
...In programming there is a wide-spread 1st order
theory that one shouldn’t build one’s own tools,
languages, and especially operating systems. This is
true—an incredible amount of time and energy has gone
down these ratholes. On the 2nd hand, if you can build
your own tools, languages and operating systems, then
you absolutely should because the leverage that can be
obtained (and often the time not wasted in trying to
fix other people’s not quite right tools) can be
However, more often than not, I find the sentiment paralyzing. There's so much that one could probably learn to build themselves, but as things become more and more complex, one has to be able to make a rational tradeoff between spending the time and energy in the rathole, or not. I can't spend all day rebuilding everything I can simply because I can.
My question is: how does one decide when to DIY, and when to use what's already been built?
It really helped at Parc to work with real geniuses like Chuck Thacker and Dan Ingalls (and quite a few more). There is a very thin boundary between making the 2nd order work vs getting wiped out by the effort.
Another perspective on this is to think about "not getting caught by dependencies" -- what if there were really good independent module systems -- perhaps aided by hardware -- that allowed both worlds to work together (so one doesn't get buried under "useful patches", etc.)
One of my favorite things to watch at Parc was how well Dan Ingalls was able to bootstrap a new system out of an old one by really using what objects are good for, and especially where the new system was even much better at facilitating the next bootstrap.
I'm not a big Unix fan -- it was too late on the scene for the level of ideas that it had -- but if you take the cultural history it came from, there were several things they tried to do that were admirable -- including really having a tiny kernel and using Unix processes for all systems building (this was a very useful version of "OOP" -- you just couldn't have small objects because of the way processes were implemented). It was quite sad to see how this pretty nice mix and match approach gradually decayed into huge loads and dependencies. Part of this was that the rather good idea of parsing non-command messages in each process -- we used this in the first Smalltalk at Parc -- became much too ad hoc because there was not a strong attempt to intertwine a real language around the message structures (this very same thing happened with http -- just think of what this could have been if anyone had been noticing ...)
What is your preferred technology stack?
I think, usable day-to-day, I'd say you're down to Haiku, MorphOS, Genode, MINIX 3, and/or A2 Bluebottle. Haiku is a BeOS clone. MorphOS is one of last Amiga's that looks pretty awesome. Genode OS is a security-oriented, microkernel architecture that's using UNIX for bootstrapping but doesn't inherently need it. MINIX 3 similarly bootstrapping on NetBSD but adds microkernels, user-mode drivers, and self-healing functions. A2 Bluebottle is most featured version of Oberon OS in safe, GC'd language. Runs fast.
The usability of these and third party software available vary considerably. One recommendation I have across the board is to back up your data with a boot disc onto external media. Do that often. Reason being, any project with few developers + few users + bare metal is going to have issues to resolve that long-term projects will have already knocked out.
BTW, prior to SqueakNOS we implemented this: http://swain.webframe.org/squeak/floppy/ (using Linux and modifying Squeak to work with SVGALib instead of X) in just 900mb inspired in QNX Demo Disk: http://toastytech.com/guis/qnxdemo.html
It's neat that it was the thing that inspired one of your Squeak projects. Is SqueakNOS usable day-to-day in any console desktop or server appliance context? Key stuff reliable yet?
Does that mean the messages should have been part of a coherent protocol or spec? That there should have been some thought behind how messages compose into new messages?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdSD07U5uBs 'Power of simplicity'
That is, if I have a problem that requires a library or program, and I don't know of one, I semi-simultaneously try to find a library/program that exists out there (scanning forums, googling around, reading stack overflow, searching github, going to language repositories for the languages I care about, etc) and also in parallel try to formulate in my mind what the ideal solution would look like for my particular problem.
As time goes by, I get closer to finding a good enough library/program and closer to being able to picture what a solution would look like if I wrote it.
At some point I either find what I need (it's good enough or it's perfect) or I get to the point where I understand enough about the solution I'm envisioning that I write it up myself.
Some people claim you should still use the 3rd party solution because of the cost of supporting the extra code you have written. But bugs can exist in both my code and the 3rd party code and I understand how to fix bugs in my code much more easily.
But you're of course correct that there is, eventually, a point where it no longer makes sense to use the library.
> Some people claim you should still use the 3rd party solution because of the cost of supporting the extra code you have written. But bugs can exist in both my code and the 3rd party code and I understand how to fix bugs in my code much more easily.
The problem is I got so tired of fixing bugs in coworker / former coworker code that I eventually replaced their stuff with off the shelf libraries, just so the bugs would go away. And in practice, they did go away. And it caught several usage bugs because the library had better sanity checks. And to this day, those former coworkers would use the same justifications, in total earnestness.
I've never said "gee, I wish we used some custom bespoke implementation for this". I'll wish a good implementation had been made commonly available as a reusable library, perhaps. But bespoke just means fewer eyes and fewer bugfixes.
If there happens to be a well-tested third party library that does what you want, doesn't increase your attack surface more than necessary, is supported by the community, is easy to get up and running with, and has a compatible license with what you are using it in, then by all means go for it.
For me and my work, I tend to find that something from the above list is lacking enough that it makes more sense to write it in-house. Not always, and not as a rule, but it works out that way quite a bit.
I would also argue that if coworkers couldn't write a library without a prohibitive number of bugs, then they won't be able to write application or glue code either. So maybe your issue wasn't in-house vs third party libraries, but the quality control and/or developer aptitude around you.
The developers around me tend to be inept at time estimation. They completely lack that aptitude. To be fair, so do I. I slap a 5x multiplier onto my worst case estimates for feature work... and I'm proud to end up with a good average estimate, because I'm still doing better than many of my coworkers at that point. Thank goodness we're employed for our programming skills, not our time estimation ones, or we'd all be unemployable.
They think "this will only take a day". If I'm lucky, they're wrong, and they'll spend a week on it. If I'm unlucky, they're right, and they'll spend a day on it - unlucky because that comes with at least a week's worth of technical debt, bugs, and other QC issues to fix at some point. In a high time pressure environment - too many things to do, too little time to do it all in even when you're optimistic - and it's understandable that the latter is frequently chosen. It may even be the right choice in the short term. But this only reinforces poor time estimation skills.
The end result? They vastly underestimate the cost of supporting the extra code they'll write. They make the "right" choice based on their understanding of the tradeoffs, and roll their own library instead of using a 3rd party solution. But as we've just established their understanding was vastly off basis. Something must give as a result, no matter how good a programmer they are otherwise: schedule, or quality. Or both.
My advice is to collaborate with people who are much, much smarter than you and have the expectation that things actually get done because they know they could do it. You learn what productivity looks like first, at the most difficult and complex level you're capable of.
That sets the bar.
Everything has to be equal to or beneath that unless your experience tells you you'll be able to do something even greater (possibly) with the right help or inspiration
You'll still be wrong, but perhaps less often.
I've come up with explanation by analogy. You can demonstrate quite easily in mathematics how you can create a system of notation or a function that quickly becomes impossible to compute. A number that is too large, or an algorithm that would take infinity amount of time and resources to solve...
It seems to be in nature that bad ideas are easy. Good ideas are harder, because they tend to be refinements of what already exists and what is already good.
So pursue good ideas. Pursue the thing that you have thought about and decided has the best balance between values and highest chance to succeed. Sometimes it's just a strong gut feeling. Go for it, but set limits, because you don't want to fall prey to a gut feeling originating from strong intuition but an equally strong lack of fundamental understanding.
There's some factors that help shift these spectra.
Configurability helps. If I can change a config to get the behavior I want, that is incredible, thank you.
Open source helps. Getting to see how they did it reduces reverse engineering work immensely if I ever have to dig in.
Modularity helps. If I can just plop in my module instead of doing brain surgery on other modules, that makes it a lot easier.
Good components help. Say I need a webscraper and know python. Imagine there was only selenium and not even urllib, but some low level TCP/IP library. I get a choice between heavy but easy or slim but high maintenance. But there's the sexy requests library, and there is the beautiful beautifulsoup4. I tell requests what to get, tell bs4 what I want from it, and I'm done.
Another great example for this is emacs. python-mode + elpy (almost complete solution), hide-show mode, electric-pair mode, and if anything still bugs me, it is fixable. If it were OOP, I'd inherit a lot of powerful functions, but I can always override anything that is wrong.
Expertise helps. If I have written a kernel module, that's another avenue to solving problems I have.
Expertise is a special case here worth more attention. It's the main thing that changes for any single programmer, and can skew this equation immensely. Expertise grows when you struggle with new things. Preferably just outside what you know and are comfortable with.
Considering that, DIY whenever you can afford to DIY (eg. pay the upfront cost of acquiring expertise), DIY whenever it is just outside what you can do, or DIY when it makes a lot of sense (eg. squarely in your domain of expertise, and there's a benefit to be had).
In concrete examples, that means don't DIY when you're on a tight deadline, don't attempt to write your own kernel after learning about variables, don't write your own parser generator when say, YACC, solves your problem just fine.
I have three questions -
1. If you were to design a new programming paradigm today using what we have learnt about OOP what would it be?
2. With VR and AR (Hololens) becoming a reality (heh) how do you see user interfaces changing to work better with these systems? What new things need to be invented or rethought?
3. I also worked at Xerox for a number of years although not at PARC. I was always frustrated by their attitude to new ideas and lack of interest in new technologies until everyone else was doing it. Obviously businesses change over time and it has been a long time since Xerox were a technology leader. If you could pick your best and worst memories from Xerox what would they be?
Cheers for your time and all your amazing work over the years :)
Edit: Not sure why I am getting down voted for making a suggestion. Oh well.
HN is an excellent venue, but is necessarily text oriented, which is an OK tradeoff I think.
My next project after Stack Overflow, Discourse, is an 100% open source, flexible multimedia-friendly discussion system. It's GPL V2 on the code side, but we also tried to codify Creative Commons as the default license in every install, so discussion replies belong to the greater community: https://discourse.org
(Surprisingly, the default content licenses for most discussion software tend to be rather restrictive.)
I think Google Glass should've been held back until VR/Augmented Reality gets established. Many Croquet style roving "viewports" projected from Google Glass feeds in an abstracted 3D model of a real world location would be a great way to do reporting on events.
2. What are your opinions on Worse Is Better (https://www.dreamsongs.com/RiseOfWorseIsBetter.html)? It seems to me like you pursue the diamond-like jewel, but maybe that's not how you see it. (Just noticed you answered this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11940276)
3. I've found the Situated Learning perspective interesting (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situated_learning). At least I think about it when I feel grumpy about all the young kids and Node.js, and I genuinely like that they are excited about what they are doing, but it seems like they are on a mission to rediscover EVERYTHING, one technology and one long discussion at a time. But they are a community of learning, and maybe everyone (or every community) does have to do that if they are to apply creativity and take ownership over the next step. Is there a better way?
The flat tires come from the reinventors often not being in the same league as the original inventors. This is a symptom of a "pop culture" where identity and participation are much more important than progress...
What steps can a person take to get out of pop culture and try to get into the same league as the inventors? Incredibly stupid question to have to ask but I feel really lost sometimes.
The second, is to realize that the biggest problems are imbalance. Developed arts have always needed pop arts for raw "id" and blind pushes of rebellion. This is a good ingredient -- like salt -- but you can't make a cake just from salt.
I got a lot of insight about this from reading McLuhan for very different reasons -- those of media and how they form an environment -- and from delving into Anthropology in the 60s (before it got really politicized). Nowadays, books by "Behavioral Economists" like Kahneman, Thaler, Ariely, etc. can be very helpful, because they are studying what people actually do in their environments.
Another way to look at it is that finding ways to get "authentically educated" will turn local into global, tribal into species, dogma into multiple perspectives, and improvisation into crafting, etc. Each of the starting places stays useful, but they are no longer dominant.
Self-awareness of what we are ("from Mars") is the essential step, and it's what real education needs to be about.
1. what do you think about the hardware we are using as foundation of computing today? I remember you mentioning about how cool was the architecture of the Burroughs B5000  being prepared to run on the metal the higher level programming languages. What do hardware vendors should do to make hardware that is more friendly to higher level programming? Would that help us to be less depending on VM's while still enjoying silicon kind of performance?
2. What software technologies do you feel we're missing?
Part of working your way back to reality can often require new hardware to be made or -- in the case of the days of microcode -- to shape the hardware.
There are lots of things vendors could do. For example: Intel could make its first level caches large enough to make real HLL emulators (and they could look at what else would help). Right now a plug-in or available FPGA could be of great use in many areas. From another direction, one could think of much better ways to organize memory architectures, especially for multi-core chips where they are quite starved.
And so on. We've gone very far down the road of "not very good" matchups, and of vendors getting programmers to make their CPUs useful rather than the exact opposite approach. This is too large a subject for today's AMA.
We need to find ways to free ourselves from the cage of "vendors getting programmers to make their CPUs useful rather than the exact opposite approach" <- meditate on this we all should
If you make the L1 cache larger, it will become slower and will be renamed to "L2 cache". There are physical reasons why the L1 cache is not larger, even though programs written in non-highlevel languages would profit from larger caches (maybe even moreso than HLL programs).
> Right now a plug-in or available FPGA could be of great use in many areas.
FPGAs are very, very HLL-unfriendly, despite lots of effort from industry and academia.
It seems like it's been growing and several FPGA's are near that PnP status. In particular the notion of developing compile time proved RTS using continuation passing would be sweet.
Even with newer hardware it seems we're still stuck in either dynamic mutable languages or functional static ones. Any thoughts on how we could design systems incorporating the best of both using modern hardware capacities? Like... Say reconfigurable hierarchical element system where each node was an object/actor? Going out on a bit of a limb with that last one!
I don't think the "stuckness" in languages is other than like other kinds of human "stuckness" that come from being so close that it's hard to think of any other kinds of things.
A good example for me has been virtual memory pattern, where from a processes point-of-view you model memory as an ideal unlimited virtual space. Then you let the kernel implementation (and hardware) deal with the practical (and difficult details). Microsoft's Orleans implementation of the actor model has a similar approach that they call "virtual actors" that is interesting as well.
My own stuckness has been an idea of implementing processes using hierarchical state machines, especially for programming systems of IoT type devices. But I haven't been able to figure out how to incorporate type check theorems into it.
* Graphical programming environment (they run the queries
from pgadmin, or Postico, or some app like that)
* Instant feedback - run the query get useful results
* Compilation step with some type safety - will complain
if their query is malformed
* Are tables a "natural" way to think about data for humans?
* Job relevance
for user in table_users:
SELECT first_name FROM users_table
SQL is written goal-oriented.
You start with what you want (the goal). Then you specify from where (which can also be read as "what", since each table generally describes a thing) and finally you constrain it to the specific instances you care about.
SELECT the information I want FROM the thing that I care about WHERE condition constrains results to the few I want
Having said that, I would personally still prefer it in reverse like you say. I can see the value of how SQL does it, though, especially for non-programmers who think less about the process of getting the results and more about the results they want (because they haven't been trained to think of the process, like programmers have).
It makes sense for someone who isn't thaaaaat technical to start with "well, I want the name and salary of the employee but only those that are managers": SELECT name, salary FROM employee WHERE position = 'manager'
Admittedly even that isn't perfect and I assume that it wouldn't take much for someone to learn the reverse.
Procedural vs. functional phrasing in no way changes the basic fact that if you ask a computer the wrong question it'll give you the wrong result.
"go through the list of all users and add the ones which are active to a new list"
"the list I want contains all active users from the list of all users"
As long as the instructions are longer than the question (and they often are, even in your example ;)), you are bound to make more errors here.
Plus, it requires some understanding of how this damn machine works in the first place.
When turning questions into instruction is decidable it pays off to automate it.
A feature like this may help your programmers who are used to thinking in terms of filter -> select -> order.
[user.first_name for user in table_users if user.is_active]
For instance, the SQL query can be parallelized, but not so with the Python list comprehension. If you wanted to create a version that could be run in parallel in Python, you'd have to do it with a map()/filter() construct. Ignoring readability for a sec (pretend it's nice and elegant, like it would be in e.g. Clojure), you are still specifying how the machine should accomplish the goal, not the goal itself.
filter(lambda x: x is not None, map(lambda u: u.first_name if u.is_active else None, table_users))
My main reason for teaching it was that it was a skill that helped me immensely as a journalist, in terms of being able to do data analysis. Because I learned it relatively late in my career, I thought it'd be hard for the students but most of them are able to get it.
Even though I use relatively little SQL in my day to day work, it's my favorite thing to teach to novices. First, it has a similar data model to spreadsheets, so it feels like a natural progression. Secondly, for many students, this is the first time that they'll have done "real" programming and the first time that they learn how to tell a computer to do something rather than learn how to use a computer. In Excel, for example, you double click a file and the entire thing opens. With SQL, you're required to not just specify the database and table, but also each and every column...it's annoying at first, but then you realize that there is power in being explicit.
The main advantage of teaching SQL over, say R, as a first language is that SQL's declarative syntax is easy to follow AND you can do most of what you need with a limited subset of the language...for instance, I don't have to teach variables and loops and functions...which is good because I don't even know how to really do those in SQL (just haven't had the need when I can work from R or Pandas).
When a beginner student fucks up a basic Python script, there are any number of reasons for the failure that is beyond the student's expected knowledge. When a novice student fucks up a SQL query...it's easier to blame the mistake on the student (e.g. Misspelling of names/syntax)
We provide low code platform (SQL) to organize data and build custom applications as per specific workflow requirements. We are assuming that teaching/educating/training combined with lots of sample SQL code with real world examples are helpful to non-programmers for using SQL.
Sample SQL is available at https://mydataorganizer.com/MyDataOrganizer/QuarterDatesCalc...
Thats barely programming. Even by the most lenient definition what they do isn't programming.
Firstly SQL's are a little like Excel Macros, they lower the barrier to entry to basic twiddling. Got a SQL client(Toad etc?)? you can throw a snippet or two quickly. Anything beyond that gets difficult. Tricky joins, sub queries, troubleshooting big queries, optimization problems etc etc. Beyond this writing re usable code, test discipline and a range of other tasks that make code run for years is what is your everyday work as a programmer.
Sure you could saw a log of wood once a while, but don't confuse that for being a full time carpenter.
Who do you think are the people doing the most interesting work in user interface design today?
He is certainly one of the most interesting and best thinkers of today.
Previously you've mentioned the "Oxbridge approach" to reading, whereby--if my recollection is correct--you take four topics and delve into them as much as possible. Could you elaborate on this approach (I've searched the internet, couldn't find anything)? And do you think this structured approach has more benefits than, say, a non-structured approach of reading whatever of interest?
Thanks for your time and generosity, Alan!
So I think we have to put something more than randomness and following links to use here. (You can spend a lot of time learning about a big system like Linux without hitting many of the most important ideas in computing -- so we have to heed the "Art is long and Life is short" idea.
Part of the "Oxbridge" process is to have a "reader" (a person who helps you choose what to look at), and these people are worth their weight in gold ...
If I finish a book a week, I will read only a few thousand
books in my lifetime, about a tenth of a percent of the
contents of the greatest libraries of our time. The trick
is to know which books to read.
> read 23,000 books in a lifetime
As a very conservative lower bound, a person who lives to the age of 80 would have to read 0.79 books per day, from the day they were born, to reach this figure.
Or, to put it another way, who has read 288+ books in the last year?
I'm quite sceptical about this figure. Any thoughts as to how this might be possible? Are the people Alan mentions speed-reading? Anyone else know similarly prolific readers?
Doing a lot of it is one of the keys! Doing it in a way that various short and long-term memories are involved is another key (rapid reading with comprehension of both text and music is partly a kind of memorization and buffering, etc.)
I don't think I've read 23,000 books in 76 years, but very likely somewhere between 16,000 and 20,000 (I haven't been counting). Bertrand Russell easily read 23,000 books in his lifetime, etc.
I agree with the practice, as for some periods I've noticed an increase in speed when I've been consistently reading every day.
Regarding the second point - short and long-term memory - do you have a link or other suggestion for where to learn more, please?
You reach a storage and money problem fast (Ebook are a savior nowadays). And you tend to have multiple books open at the same time.
How does it work? There are several strategy. First i read fast. Experience and training make you read really fast. Secondly, you get a grasp of how things works and what the wirter has to say. In a fiction book, it is not unusual for me to not read a chapter or two because i know what will happen inside.
Finally... Good writers helps. Good writers make reading a breeze and are faster to read. They present ides in concise and efficient way, that follow the flow of thinking.
I will take more question gladly if you have some :)
This is ridiculous. It doesn't count as reading if you skip whole chapters.
Secondly, it is the only way i can absorb information in a way that works. Talks, video, podcast, etc are too slow for me. It lacks a good throughput of information and meaning. Which means i tend to just drop or complete what the speaker is telling.
About applying knowledge : yes everyday, in my life. Once you hit a good amount of knowledge and have a nice way to filter it, think about it and deal with it, thngs become nice. Understanding a problem come faster. You can draw link between different situations or use ideas from other field into yours.
Knowledge is rarely lost.
I'm not keen on skipping chapters! Do you do the same with non-fiction?
Another question - how do you keep track of what you've read? (would be happy to hear from others esp. Alan on the same topic)
For non fiction, yes it happens. Lot of book sjust repeat the same thing over and over again. When you begin to read a chapter and can complete what will be said in the next 20 pages just from your understanding of the whole situation, reading it is a loss of time. And it would make me be bored and get down from "The Zone".
I keep track in my brain. I have the advantage of being able to always remember if i have read something by just looking at the backcover and the first lines. I still have to forget a book i read. I can not remmeber all the technicalities of course but far enough to know if i read it before or not.
I reread the books i really like or need when needed anyway. Mainly during vacations.
I've been reading a book called,
I kid you not, "How to Read a Book:
The Classic Guide to Intelligent
Adler and Doren identify four levels
1. Elementary: "What does the sentence say?"
This is where speed can be gained
2. Inspectional: "What is the book about?"
Best and most complete reading given a limited time.
Not necessarily reading a book from front to back.
Essentially systematic skimming.
Best and most complete reading given unlimited time.
For the sake of understanding.
Reading many books of the same subject at once,
placing them in relation to one another, and
constructing an analysis that may not be found
in any of the books.
Amazon link for those interested:
I don't mean to contradict Alan; no doubt he's a fast reader. But if you're actually reading an entire book every day or two, you're spending a lot of every day reading.
In a very different approach, most music and sports learning only has contact with a one on one expert once or twice a week, lots of individual practice, group experiences where “playing” is done, and many years of effort. This works because most learners really have difficulty absorb ing hours of expert instruction every week that may or may not fit their capacities, styles, or rhythms. They are generally much better off spending a few hours every day learning on their own and seeing the expert for assessment and advice and play a few times a week.
A few universities use a process like this for academics—sometimes called the “tutorial system”, they include Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the UK.
- Is there a project that is the continuation of the STEPS project?
- What is your opinion of the Elm language?
- How do you envision all the good research from the STEPS model could be used for building practical systems?
- STEPS focused on personal computing, do you have a vision on how something similar could be done for server-side programming?
- Where can I find all the source code for the Frank system and the DSLs described in the STEPS report?
The VPRI reports, and before that some of the papers on Croquet (especially the idea of "teatime" which might be described as event-driven, log-based, relative time with eventual data/world-consistency) are fascinating, and I'm grateful for them being published. Also the Ometa-stuff[o] is fascinating (if anything, I think it's gotten too little mind-share).
It seems to me, that we've evolved a bit, in the sense that some things that used to be considered programming (display a text string on screen), no longer is (type it into notepad.exe) -- it's considered "using a computer". At the same time some things that were considered somewhat esoteric is becoming mainstream: perhaps most importantly the growing (resurging?) trend that programming really is meta-programming and language creation.
In your time with VPRI - did you find other new patterns or principles for meta-programming and (micro) language design that you think could/should be put to use right now?
Other than the web-developers tendency to reinvent m4 at every turn, in order to program html, css and js at a "higher" level, and the before-mentioned ORM-trends -- the only somewhat mainstream system I am aware of that has a good toolkit for building "real" DSLs, is Racket Scheme (Which shows if one contrasts something like Sphinx, which is a fine system, with Racket's scribble).
Do you think we'll continue to see a rise of meta-programming and language design as more and more tools become available, and it becomes more and more natural to do "real" parsing rather than ad-hoc munging of plain text?
What advice would you give to those who don't have a HARC to call their own? what would you do to get set up/a community/funding for your adventure if you were starting out today? What advice do you have for those who are currently in an industrial/academic institution who seek the true intellectual freedom you have found? Is it just luck?!
Part of the deal is being really stubborn about what you want to do -- for example, I've never tried to make money from my ideas (because then you are in a very different kind of process -- and this process is not at all good for the kinds of things I try to do).
Every once in a while one runs into "large minded people" like Sam Altman and Vishal Sikka, who do have access to funding that is unfettered enough to lead to really new ideas.
Do you have any advice about community building, especially around fostering new and big ideas?
On the "worse is better" divide I've always considered you as someone standing near the "better" (MIT) approach, but with an understanding of the pragmatics inherent in the "worse is better" (New Jersey) approach too.
What is your actual position on the "worse is better" dichotomy?
Do you believe it is real, and if so, can there be a third alternative that combines elements from both sides?
And if not, are we always doomed (due to market forces, programming as "popular culture" etc) to have sub-par tools from what can be theoretically achieved?
The real question is "does a hack reset 'normal'?" For most people it tends to, and this makes it very difficult for them to think about the actual issues.
A quote I made up some years ago is "Better and Perfect are the enemies of What-Is-Actually-Needed". The big sin so many people commit in computing is not really paying attention to "What-Is-Actually-Needed"! And not going below that.
Who are "humanistic technologists" you admire? Critics, artists, experimenters, even trolls... Which especially creative technologists inspire you?
I imagine people like Jonathan Harris, Ze Frank, Jaron Lanier, Ben Huh, danah boyd, Sherry Turkle, Douglas Engelbart, Douglas Rushkoff, etc....
Of course, the 90's style is pretty hacker-hipster as well...can't deny that.
Most things around here are not how they should seem.
As a high school teacher, I often find that discussions of technology in education diminish 'education' to curricular and assessment documentation and planning; however, these artifacts are only a small element of what is, fundamentally, a social process of discussion and progressive knowledge building.
If the real work and progress with my students comes from our intellectual both-and-forth (rather than static documentation of pre-exhibiting knowledge), are there tools I can look to that have been/will be created to empower and enrich this kind of in situ interaction?
Let me just say that it's worth trying to understand what might be a "really good" balance between traditional oral culture learning and thinking, what literacy brings to the party, especially via mass media, and what the computer and pervasive networking should bring as real positive additions.
One way to assess what is going on now is partly a retreat from real literacy back to oral modes of communication and oral modes of thought (i.e. "texting" is really a transliteration of an oral utterance, not a literary form).
This is a disaster.
However, even autodidacts really need some oral discussions, and this is one reason to have a "school experience".
The question is balance. Fluent readers can read many times faster than oral transmissions, and there are many more resources at hand. This means in the 21st century that most people should be doing a lot of reading -- especially students (much much more reading than talking). Responsible adults, especially teachers and parents, should be making all out efforts to help this to happen.
For the last point, I'd recommend perusing Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking: Fast and Slow", and this will be a good basis for thinking about tradeoffs between actual interactions (whether with people or computers) and "pondering".
I think most people grow up missing their actual potential as thinkers because the environment they grow up in does not understand these issues and their tradeoffs....
This is the meta-thing that’s been bugging me: how do we help people realize they’re “missing their actual potential as thinkers”?
The world seems so content to be an oral culture again, how do we convince / change / equip people to be skeptical of these media?
Joe Edelman’s Centre for Livable Media (http://livable.media) seems like a step in the right direction. How else can we convince people?
I stopped assuming I knew everything, and a childlike sense of wonder returned to my life. I began looking beyond what was directly in front of me and sought out more comprehensive generalizations. What do atoms have in common with humans? What does it mean to communicate? Do we communicate with ecosystems? Do individuals communicate with society? What is consciousness and intelligence? Is my mind a collection of multiple conscious processes? How do the disparate pieces of my brain integrate into one conscious entity, how do they shape my subjective reality?
I found information, individuals, and networks to be fundamental to my understanding of the world. I was always interested in them before, but not enough to seek them out or apply them through creative works. I discovered for myself the language of systems. I found a deep appreciation of mathematics and a growth path to set my life on.
I was able to do this exploration at a time when my work was slow and steady. It came along a couple years ago when I was 25, which I've heard is when the brain's development levels off. I feel lucky to have experienced it when I did because I was totally unsatisfied with my life before then.
Since then I've found work I love at a seed stage startup where I've been able to apply my ideas in various ways. I have become much more active as a creator, including exploring latent artistic sensibilities through writing poetry and taking oil painting classes with a very talented teacher. I've found myself becoming an artist in my work - I've become the director and lead engineer at the startup and am exploring ways to determine and distribute truth in the products we sell, and further to make a statement on what art is in a capitalistic society (even if I'm the only one who will ever recognize it). I've also become more empathic and found a wonderful woman and two pups to share my life with, despite previously being extremely solitary. Between work and family I have less time for introspection now, but I expect I'll learn just as much through these efforts.
Ultimatey, I've learned to trust my subconscious. I was always anxious and nervous about being wrong in any situation before, but now I trust that even if I am wrong in the moment my brain can figure out good answers over longer stretches of time.
I don't know how far cannabis led me down this path but it definitely gave me a good strong push.
When I started, it was at a job that I absolutely hated (rewriting mantis to be a help desk system), and it helped me get out of it by opening up better understanding of low level systems. That eventually led to high frequency trading systems tuning and some pretty deep civics using Foia.
Not that it was a direct contributor, but I do consider it a seed towards better understanding of the things around me. I don't necessarily feel happier, but I feel much more content.
Thank you for your thoughts. I feel similarly about the cultural regression of literacy.
(a) Intel and Motorola, etc. getting really interested in the Parc HW architectures that allowed Very High Level Languages to be efficiently implemented. Not having this in the 80s brought "not very good ideas from the 50s and 60s" back into programming, and was one of the big factors in:
(b) the huge propensity of "we know how to program" etc., that was the other big factor preventing the best software practices from the 70s from being the start of much better programming, operating systems, etc. in the 1980s, rather the reversion to weak methods (from which we really haven't recovered).
(c) The use of "best ideas about destiny of computing" e.g. in the ARPA community, rather than weak gestures e.g. the really poorly conceived WWW vs the really important and needed ideas of Engelbart.
Or shall we reboot good ideas with IoT?
X11 was not the best designed GUI framework, from what I understand. I'd heard some complaints about it over the years, but at least it was designed to work over a network, which no other GUI framework of the time I knew about could. It could have been improved upon to create a safer network standard, if some effort had been put into it.
As Alan Kay said elsewhere on this thread, it's difficult to predict what will become popular next, even if something is improved to a point where it could reasonably be used as a substitute for something of lower quality. So, I don't know how to "bring X11 back." As he also said, the better ideas which ultimately became popularly adopted were ones that didn't have competitors already in the marketplace. So, in essence, the concept seemed new and interesting enough to enough people that the only way to get access to it was to adopt the better idea. In the case of X11, by the time the internet was privatized, and had become popular, there were already other competing GUIs, and web browsers became the de facto way people experienced the internet in a way that they felt was simple enough for them to use. I remember one technologist describing the browser as being like a consumer "radio" for the internet. That's a pretty good analogy.
Leaving that aside, it's been interesting to me to see that thick clients have actually made a comeback, taking a huge chunk out of the web. What was done with them is what I just suggested should've been done with X11: The protocol was (partly) improved. In typical fashion, the industry didn't quite get what should happen. They deliberately broke aspects of the OS that once allowed more user control, and they made using software a curated service, to make existing thick client technology safer to use. The thinking was, not without some rationale, that allowing user control led to lots and lots of customer support calls, because people are curious, and usually don't know what they're doing. The thing was, the industry didn't try to help people understand what was possible. Back when X11 was an interesting and productive way you could use Unix, the industry hadn't figured out how to make computers appealing to most consumers, and so in order to attract any buyers, they were forced into providing some help in understanding what they could do with the operating system, and/or the programming language that came with it. The learning curve was a bit steeper, but that also had the effect of limiting the size of the market. As the market has discovered, the path of least resistance is to make the interface simple, and low-hassle, and utterly powerless from a computational standpoint, essentially turning a computer into a device, like a Swiss Army knife.
I think a better answer than IoT is education, helping people to understand that there is something to be had with this new idea. It doesn't just involve learning to use the technology. As Alan Kay has said, in a phrase that I think deserves to be explored deeply, "The music is not in the piano."
It's not an easy thing to do, but it's worth doing, and even educators like Alan continue to explore how to do this.
This is just my opinion, as it comes out of my own personal experience, but I think it's borne out in the experience of many of the people who have participated in this AMA: I think an important place to start in all of this is helping people to even hear that "music," and an important thing to realize is you don't even need a computer to teach people how to hear it. It's just that the computer is the best thing that's been invented so far for expressing it.
That is why now I am very interested in containers and microservices in both local and network senses.
Hope I can help more people to "hear the music" and _make_ and _share_ their own.
Maybe the trick is something close to this: we need an Internet where it's very easy to do not only WYSIWYG document composition and publishing (which is what the web originally was, minus the WYSIWYG), but really deliver any kind of user experience we want (like VR, for example). It should be based on a network OS (an abstract, extensible microkernel on steroids) where user experiences of the network are actually programs with their own microkernel systems (sort of like an updated take on postscript). The network OS can security check the interpreters and quota and deal out resources and the microkernels that deliver user experiences like documents can be updated as what we want to do changes over time. I think we'd have something more in this direction (although I'm sure I missed any number of obvious problems) if we were to actually pass Alan Kay's OS-101 class as an industry.
We actually sort of very briefly started heading in this direction with Marimba's "Castanet" back at the beginning of Java and I was WILDLY excited to see us trying something less dumb than the browser. Unfortunately, it would seem that economic pressures pushed Marimba into becoming a software deployment provider, which is really not what I think they were originally trying to do. Castanet should have become the OS of the web. I think Java still has the potential to create something much better than the web because a ubiquitous and very mature virtual machine is a very powerful thing, but I don't see anyone trying go there. There's this mentality of "nobody would install something better." And yet we installed Netscape and even IE...
BTW, I do think the security problems of running untrusted code are potentially solvable (at least so much as any network security problems are) using a proper messaging microkernel architecture with the trusted resource-accessing code running in one process and the untrusted code running in another. The problem with the Java sandbox (so far as I understand all that) is that it's in-process. The scary code runs with the trusted code. In theory, Java is controlled enough to protect us from the scary code, but in practice, people are really smart and one tiny screw-up in the JVM or the JDK and bad code gets permissions it shouldn't have. A lot of these errors could be controlled or eliminated by separating the trusted code from the untrusted code as in Windows NT (even if only by making the protocol for resource permissions really clear).
Like many here, I'm a big fan of what you've accomplished in life, and we all owe you a great debt for the great designs and features of technologies we use everyday!
The majority of us have not accomplished as much in technology, and many of us, though a minority, are in the top end of the age bell curve. I'm in that top end.
I've found over the years that I've gone from being frustrated with the churn of software/web development, to completely apathetic about it, to wanting something else- something more meaningful, and then to somewhat of an acceptance that I'm lucky just to be employed and making what I do as an older developer.
I don't get excited anymore, don't have the motivation, ability, or time to keep up with things like the younger folk. Also, I've even gotten tired of mentoring them, especially as I become less able and therefore less respected.
Have you ever had or known someone that had similar feelings of futility or a serious slowdown in their career? If so, what worked/what didn't and what advice could you provide?
Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to everyone you have here. It definitely is much appreciated!
Maybe they did. I was too busy being frustrated with the churn of software development. All my time and energy was focused on new technologies that came out all the time. My young plastic brain spent it's flexibility absorbing the latest framework, etc.
Now that I have lost the motivation, ability and time to keep up with things like the younger folk, I can finally listen to the older folk (hopefully while there are still folk older than me to listen to).
These days I'm trying just to write code. All those young people have soared past the wisdom of their elders looking for the point. It's still there. Don't look at the new frameworks, look at what people were doing 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years ago. How does it inform what you are doing?
I hope that helps! It's a struggle for me too.
The way I look at it is just take in how fortunate you are to have your realizations when you have them (I've had my regrets, too, that I didn't "get" them sooner), and take advantage of them as much as you can. That's what I've tried to do.
I'm not Mr. Kay, but great question!
I think we need a system, website, TV show, etc. in which experiences could be posted and rated. The best ideas and past experiences would rise to the top. You could vote and push things into view.
For example, your years of experience have realized that "yet another framework" is not the answer. We need a slower churn. But if the goal is to sell books ... well, now we are fighting capitalism.
A lot of the VPRI work involved inventing new languages (DSLs). The results were extremely impressive but there were some extremely impressive people inventing the languages. Do you think this is a practical approach for everyday programmers? You have also recommended before that there should be clear separation between meta model and model. Should there be something similar to discipline a codebase where people are inventing their own languages? Or should just e.g. OS writers invent the languages and everyone else use a lingua franca?
To me it seems like "computer science" lumps together too many different goals. It's like if we had a field called "word science" that covered story-writing, linguistics, scientific publication, typesetting, etc.
But certainly we have to take back the term "computer science" and try to give it real meaning as to what might constitute an actual science here. As Herb Simon pointed out, it's a "science of the artificial", meaning that it is a study of what can be made and what has been made.
Science tries to understand phenomena by making models and assessing their powers. Nature provides phenomena, but so do engineers e.g. by making a bridge in any way they can. Like most things in early engineering, bridge-lore was put in "cookbooks of practice". After science got invented, scientist-engineers could use existing bridges as phenomena to be studied, and now develop models/theories of bridges. This got very powerful rather recently (the Tacoma Narrows bridge went down just a few months after I was born!).
When the first Turing Award winner -- Al Perlis -- was asked in the 60s "What is Computer Science?", he said "It is the science of processes!". He meant all processes including those on computers, but also in Biology, society, etc.
His idea was that computing formed a wonderful facility for making better models of pretty much everything, especially dynamic things (which everything actually is), and that it was also the kind of thing that could really be understood much better by using it to make models of itself.
Today, we could still take this as a starting place for "getting 'Computer Science' back from where it was banished".
In any case, this point of view is very different from engineering. A fun thing in any "science of the artificial" is that you have to make artifacts for both phenomena and models.
(And just to confuse things here, note how much engineering practice is really required to make a good theory in a science!)
Today's "computer science" is much more like "library science" than it should be on the one hand, and too much coincident with engineering on the other (and usually not great engineering at that).
It's way past time for our not-quite-a-field to grow up more in important ways.
So, given I don't study it or read on it, I'm actually curious if you or anyone else has references on where information theory impacts real software development over the years. I study lots of formal methods & synthesis research but never even see the phrase mentioned. I've been imagining it's in its own little field working at a strongly theoretical level making abstract or concrete observations about computers. Just don't see them outside some cryptography stuff I've read.
EDIT to add example below where Bertrand Meyer presents a Theory of Programs that ties it all to basic, set theory.
I'm preparing a presentation on how to build a mental model of computing by learning different computer languages. It would be great to include some of your feedback.
* What programming language maps most closely to the way that you think?
* What concept would you reify into a popular language such
that it would more closely fit that mapping?
* What one existing reified language feature do you find impacts the way you write code the most, especially even in languages where it is not available?
Certainly, in this day and age, the lack of safe meta-definition is pretty much shocking.
Type-safe metaprogramming Sheard
Type-safe, reflective metaprogramming Microsoft
Rascal - Metaprogramming language and platform
So, given work like that, what remaining tough problems are there before you would find a metaprogramming system safe and acceptable? Or do we have the fundemantals available but you just don't like the lack of deployment in mainstream or pragmatic languages and IDE's?
Note: Just dawned on me that you might mean abstract programming in the sense of specifying, analyzing, and coding up abstract requirements closer to human language. Still interested in what gripes or goals you have on that end if so.
(Note that "assignment" to a variable is "meta" in a functional language (and you might want to use a "roll back 'worlds' mechanism" (like transactions) for safety when this is needed.)
This is a parallel to various kinds of optimization (many of which violate module boundaries in some way) -- there are ways to make this a lot safer (most languages don't help much)
A lot of interesting things tend to happen when you introduce invariants, including "everything-is-a" invariants. Everything is a file, everything is an object, everything is a function, everything is a relation, etc.
For example in Lisp, code is data and data is code (aka homoiconicity). This makes it very convenient to write macros (i.e. functions that accept and return executable code).
Unsafe meta-programming would be like the C pre-processor whose aptness for abuse make it a leading feature of IOCCC entries.
Why do you think there is always a difference between:
A. the people who know best how something should be done, and
B. the people who end up doing it in a practical and economically-successful or popular way?
And should we educate our children or develop our businesses in ways that could encourage both practicality and invention? (do you think it's possible?). Or would the two tendencies cancel each other out and you'll end up with mediocre children and underperforming businesses, so the right thing to do is to pick one side and develop it at the expense of the other?
(The "two camps" are clearly obvious in the space of programming language design and UI design (imho it's the same thing: programming languages are just "UIs between programmers and machines"), as you well know and said, with one group of people (you among them) having the right ideas of what OOP and UIs should be like, and one people inventing the technologies with success in industry like C++ and Java. But the pattern is happening at all levels, even business: the people with the best business ideas are almost never the ones who end up doing things and so things get done in a "partially wrong" way most of the time, although we have the information to "do it right".)
The question you are asking is really a societal one -- and about operations that are like strip mining and waste dumping. "Hunters and gatherers" (our genetic heritage) find fertile valleys, strip them dry and move on (this only works on a very small scale). "Civilization" is partly about learning how to overcome our dangerous atavistic tendencies through education and planning. It's what we should be about generally (and the CS part of it is just a symptom of a much larger much more dire situation we are in).
This ends up as a pretty strong critique of capitalism's main idea that market forces drive the progress of science and technology.
Your thinking would lead to the conclusion that we'd have to find a way to totally reshape/re-engineer the current world economy to stop it from being hugely biased in favor of "hunter gatherers that strip the fertile valley dry" ..right?
I hope that people like you are working on this :)
Do you hold much hope for our development environments helping us think?
Development environments should help programmers think (but what if most programmers don't want to think?)
I don't know what the solution is. Perhaps a language with a fundamentally different view of objects, maybe as an ancestry of deltas of state/behavior pairings, somewhat like prototypes but inheriting by versioning and incrementally changing so that state and behavior always match up but still allowing you to revert to a working version. Likely Alan has some better ideas on what sort of language we need.
Maybe there's something about the style I've adopted that lends itself more to hot-editing but it's definitely a tool I'd hate to be without.
It's pretty poor quality listening but you should get the point. You can send me an email (see my profile) if you wanted to go through it in more detail.
Visual Studio has let you do hot code editing for over a decade now, they call it "Edit and Continue". Only works for some languages (C#, Visual Basic/C++). It also lets you modify the program state while stopped on a break-point with code of your devising.
Most browsers also let you adhoc compose and run code without modifying the underlying programs.
Thanks to hardware performance counters, profilers are now able to profile code with much less impact on performance (eg: no more adjusting timeouts due to profiler overhead). Network debuggers are getting better at decoding traffic and displaying it in a more human readable format (eg: automatic gzip decompression, stream reassembly, etc).