[TUHS] Happy birthday, Niklaus Wirth!

Larry McVoy lm at mcvoy.com
Fri Feb 16 11:18:15 AEST 2018


On Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 07:51:14PM -0500, Dan Cross wrote:
> >> Worth mentioning one significant exception: the Lisp family.
> 
> So anyway...some of you who were there, was there cross-pollination? Was
> Franz Lisp a thing Unix people at Berkeley played with, or was it mostly
> Lisp people who just happened to be using Unix because VAXen were expensive?

This is just my opinion so there is a grain of salt.  Or a salt shaker.

I think there are two (at least) sorts of programmers, the systems people
and the lisp people.  Sometimes you get both kinds in the same person
but that tends to be rare (and awesome, I've employeed several of those,
they were magic).

I'm a systems guy.  I've played with lisp, even wrote a tiny lisp (haven't
we all?), tried to get to like it and utterly failed.  All sorts of smart
people I knew in my career loved lisp, sneered at any other language,
tended to think in ASTs, etc, etc.  I definitely felt inferior and tried
to like lisp but just never got what was so neat about it.

For good reason, I think.  Nobody has written a serious operating system,
or a serious $BIG_PROJECT in Lisp.  Not one that has been commercially
successful, so far as I know.  I know there were attempts but all those
attempts failed.  Why?  Performance I think.  C performs far better even
though it is, in the eyes of lisp people, far more awkward to do things.

I can't tell you the number of times I've heard "If we were using Lisp
we'd be done by now".  100's, 1000's.  What I have never heard is "I
recoded this pile of C in lisp and it's 10x faster".

I think the thing is that lisp programmers were optimizing for speed
of coding and C programmers were optimizing for speed of execution.

So I suspect that Franz Lisp was mostly lisp people who happened to be
using Unix.  But I wasn't at Berkeley so what do I know?

--lm


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