[TUHS] Future Languages

Noel Hunt noel.hunt at gmail.com
Tue Sep 5 12:21:05 AEST 2017

Some little while ago, I mentioned the example of Doug McIlroy's
solution to the problem of finding words in a dictionary with vowels
in vowel order, and in an access of gushing enthusiasm said it
showed 'genius'. Doug McIlroy disabused me of this idea, claiming
it was simply 'experience' and that other people at the labs at
the time would have come up with similar solutions. But he
cannot deny the level of 'creativity' or 'innovativity' involved
in the solution he provided, and I daresay the people employed at
the labs were chosen because they were similarly creative or

I believe this is exactly what Norman Wilson was talking about:
'Programming well takes discipline and skill and experience' to
which I would add 'creativity'. The first three can be learned to
a great extent. Thus, 'There is no royal language to good programs'.

On Tue, Sep 5, 2017 at 7:28 AM, Steve Johnson <scj at yaccman.com> wrote:

> "From:
> "Norman Wilson" <norman at oclsc.org>
> I'm (still) with Larry Flon on this one:
> There does not now, nor will there ever, exist a programming language
> in which it is the least bit hard to write bad programs."
> Well, there's bad and there's bad.   Programs that are the result of
> flawed thinking or a misunderstanding of the language or the environment
> can't be helped by a programming language.  Programs with a well
> thought-out and appropriate set of concepts and structures can be hard to
> write if the language doesn't support these concepts and structures.  That
> was the point of Brian's note.  If the language doesn't support what you
> want to, danger may lie ahead.
> A particularly vivid example for me is string handling -- I mean real
> strings, with concatenation and the ability to add characters onto the
> beginning, middle or end of the string .  At one point in the past, Bell
> Labs and Xerox Parc were two groups that had produced some impressive
> programs.  I spent some time at Parc, and ended up envious about the
> ability of LISP programmers to dynamically add on to almost anything with a
> high degree of safety.  This really changed the way one thought about some
> programs.  Doing strings in C usually involves pointers pointing at small
> things, which, given how easy it is to index past the end, was like playing
> with razor blades.   C++ allowed you to surround such things with safety
> nets, but sometimes the performance impact was unfortunate.   A similar
> example  is the ability to grow an array.  This plays very badly with C's
> pointers -- if you move the array, then anybody pointing to it (and, often,
> there are many such) has a stale pointer-bomb that could go off at any time
> without warning.  If you don't move the array, but add on additional
> pieces, then it is no longer contiguous, so some operations (like scanning
> all the elements) get very complicated as well.
> I don't think there would be much argument that writing a garbage
> collector from scratch in plain C is hard and dangerous.  Using a language
> that has garbage collection built in makes sense, assuming you can afford
> the performance penalty.  Using a better algorithm is a better bet, but may
> be impossible.
> The C/C++ model of a single large common address space has caused problems
> for parallel programs for decades, first with message passing and later
> with multicore.  In multicore, the "solution" is increasingly sophisticated
> caches and cache coherency circuits that can end up thrashing and making
> things slower if not well understood.  And the best solution may well be
> dependent of the particular chip.
> These are, for the most part, examples of how powerful and useful models
> don't fit into C's world view very comfortably.  A lot of C's power, and
> Pascal's deficiencies, come because C doesn't prevent you from doing things
> that are outside of its model, and Pascal does.
> Maybe it would be more precise to say that some languages strictly enforce
> their world view, making programs that accord with that world view easy and
> others difficult.  And other languages loosely enforce their world view,
> making it possible to do more than the former languages, often with
> performance advantages, but with more danger that bugs will not be detected.
> I guess I like Demer's wording better...
> Steve
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://minnie.tuhs.org/pipermail/tuhs/attachments/20170905/96cd1568/attachment.html>

More information about the TUHS mailing list