I promised myself I would never write about Lisp again after accidentally stumbling into a mob in search of a flame war. But Aaron Swartz's account of an irrational Lisp community sounded too familiar to ignore:

The idea that there is something better than Lisp is apparently inconceivable to some, judging from comments on the reddit blog. The Lispers instead quickly set about trying to find the real reason behind the switch.

One assumed it must have been divine intervention, since "there seems to be no other reason for switching to an inferior language." Another figured something else must be going on: "Could this be...a lie? To throw off competition? It's not as though Paul Graham hasn't hinted at this tactic in his essays..." Another chimed in: "I decided it was a prank." Another suggested the authors simply wanted more "cut corners, hacks, and faked artisanship."

So it's not just me. Turns out Reddit's post followed the same path as my own. It was posted on Lemonodor, without context, and with emphasis that spun it as a vehemently anti-Lisp post, and then it was picked up by Planet Lisp. I take back what I said about the problems with planet sites. It's not the aggregator, it's the writer that removes the context. John Wiseman is the author of Lemonodor. I want to paraphrase Jon Stewart and say to John Wiseman: Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting Lisp.

By provoking unnecessarily emotional defenses of Lisp across the web, John is causing otherwise neutral people like myself to actively avoid the Lisp community, because it comes off as a bunch of irrational trolls. I know there are intelligent people using Lisp, but John's reposts distort people's actual views through half-truths and re-emphasis, and the result makes Lisp look like a language only ridiculous people use, people who say things like When you say that you've never spoken Chinese and have no interest in learning it, you are not being anti-Chinese, but you are being closeminded and parochial or My first reaction was 'say it ain't so'. Then I decided it was a prank.

This type of comment prompts reactions like I have never been on a lisp forum but the way the lispers here are reacting are sure to keep me off it too... True that.


Jon Udell, who basically created the genre of screencasts, once wrote:

Now that it's almost trivial to make and publish short screencasts, can we expose our software-tool-using behavior to one another in ways that provoke imitation, lead to mastery, and spur innovation? It's such a crazy idea that it just might work.

Emphasis added because I just experienced the opposite effect. After watching a screencast demonstrating SLIME, or Superior Lisp Interaction Mode for Emacs, I have a much clearer idea of how much I want to use this technology: not at all.

Granted, I skimmed a lot of the fifty-five minute video on creating a morse code translator (and they say Lisp isn't useful). But when the narrator says, fifty minutes in, "this example is so simple that I can just look at it, and I know exactly what is going on," I think it comes very close to a perfect definition of irony. And then at the end, when he tries to quit and everything goes haywire, it's just pure comedy. I laughed, I cried (almost), but I did not develop any desire whatsoever to imitate what I was watching. Much the opposite.

UPDATE: Please read this post before commenting here. I didn't post myself on Planet Lisp, and I disclaim any implied understanding of or caring about Lisp that goes with showing up there.


Last month I tried to write about the potential problems with making decisions to hedge against the future. Joel Spolsky did this a lot better today in Set Your Priorities:

In fact when I thought about this later, I realized that for a long time, I had been doing dumb shit (that's a technical term) simply because I figured that eventually it would have to get done, so I might as well do it now.

That's exactly what I've been doing, only not so much with software as with life. I'm not saying I've been making a lot of bad decisions, but I think maybe making good decisions for bad reasons.


This morning I did a bit of rubbernecking at a disaster of a post on MetaFilter. The post, since deleted, managed to violate multiple style guidelines in addition to supporting a moral framework that makes me ashamed to be human. The argument goes something like this: 1) poor people are lazy and 2) lazy people deserve to die.

Amidst various suggestions that this may be the worst post to ever disgrace MetaFilter (not without much competition), there was an interesting comment by delmoi, who wrote Anyway, the problem with poor people is that they're not lazy enough. Seriously. They work long hours at shit jobs to provide food for their kids and they're too proud to take advantage of government programs because it's 'un-American'.

So I had laziness in mind as I rode my bike past a couple school kids. I started thinking about the future and how the kids were probably looking at me thinking how odd it is to ride a bike to work, yet I expect it will be much more common for their generation. And that's when I realized that I ride my bike to work because I'm lazy.

It's not the kind of laziness we commonly think of, sitting on the couch watching TV eating potato chips (though I do some of that too). It's a pre-emptive laziness, a programmer's laziness. And it's not just my bike riding that demonstrates this. Nearly everything I do is a hedge against the future.

I expect gas to be prohibitively expensive, so I bought a bike to prepare myself. I don't expect the world can keep up current meat consumption, so I became vegetarian to prepare myself. I think we're moving towards an economy of ideas, and away from agriculture, manufacturing, and service. So I'm a programmer to prepare myself. I expect a future with less wealth for everyone, so I'm frugal to prepare myself. I'm basically living in the future I expect.

Which makes me wonder what good all this preparedness is doing me. I wonder if I wouldn't be better off spending more time thinking about the present and less thinking about the future.


a kindly visitor recently pointed out that the source code viewer could be used to launch XSS attacks. "egads!" i responded "that sounds terrible! wait...what does that mean?"

"they can steal your cookies!" the protector of bakery goodness replied. that's when i knew i had to take action. "NOBODY STEALS MY COOKIES!!" i shouted as i edited a few lines of code to prevent XSS attacks. and thus it was that the great cookie thievery of ought four was prevented.