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 Friday, January 25, 2008
So I Don't Like Perl. Sue Me.

A number of folks commented on the last post about my "ignorant and apparently unsupported swipes against Parrot and Perl". Responses:

  1. I took exactly one swipe at Perl, and there was a smiley at the end of it. Apparently, based on the heavily-slanted pro-Perl/anti-Perl-bigotry comments I've received, Perl programmers don't understand smileys. So I will translate: "It means I am smiling as I say this, which is intended as a way of conveying light-heartedness or humor."
  2. I didn't take any swipes at Parrot. I said, "Parrot may change that in time, but right now it sits at a 0.5 release and doesn't seem to be making huge inroads into reaching a 1.0 release that will be attractive to anyone outside of the "bleeding-edge" crowd." It is sitting at a 0.5 release (up from a 0.4 release at this time last year), and it doesn't seem to be making huge inroads into reaching a 1.0 release, which I have had several CxO types tell me is the major reason they won't even consider looking at it. That's not a "swipe", that's a practical reality. The same CxO types stay the hell away from Microsoft .NET betas and haven't upgraded to JDK 1.6 yet, either, and they're perfectly justified in doing so: it's called the bleeding edge for a reason.
  3. Fact: I don't like Perl. Therefore, on my blog, which is a voice for my opinion and statements, Perl sucks. I don't like a language that has as many side effects and (to my mind) strange symbolic syntax as Perl uses. The side effects I think are a bad programming language design artifact; the strange symbolic syntax is purely an aesthetic preference.
  4. Fact: I don't pretend that everybody should agree with me. If you like Perl, cool. I also happen to be Lutheran. If you're Catholic, that's cool, too. Doesn't mean we can't get along, so long as you respect my aesthetic preferences so I can respect yours.
  5. I don't have to agree with you to learn from you, and vice versa. In fact, I like it better when people argue, because I learn more that way.
  6. I also don't have to like your favorite language, and you don't have to like mine (if I had one).
  7. I'm not ignorant, and please don't try to assert your supposed superiority by taking that unsupported swipe at me, either. I've tried Perl. I've tried Python, too, and I find its use of significant whitespace to be awkward and ill-considered, and a major drawback to what otherwise feels like an acceptable language. Simply because I disagree with your love of the language doesn't make me ignorant any more than you are if you dislike Java or C# or C++ or any of the languages I like.
  8. Fact: I admit to a deep ignorance of the Perl community. I've never claimed anything of the sort. I also admit to a deep ignorance of the Scientology community, yet that doesn't stop me from passing personal judgment on the Scientologists' beliefs, particularly as expressed by Tom Cruise, or Republicans' beliefs, as expressed by Pat Robertson. And honestly, I don't think I need a deep understanding of the Perl community to judge the language, just as I don't need a deep understanding of Tom Cruise to judge Scientology, or just as you don't need a deep understanding of me to judge my opinions.
  9. If by "homework", by the way, you mean "Spend years writing Perl until you come to love it as I do", then yes, I admit, by your definition of "homework", I've not done my homework. If by "homework" you mean "Learn Perl until you become reasonably proficient in it", then yes, I have done my homework. I had to maintain some Perl scripts once upon an eon ago, not to mention the periodic deciphering of the Perl scripts that come with the various Linux/Solaris/Mac OS images I work with, and my dislike and familiarity with the language stemmed from that experience. I have a similar dislike of 65C02 assembler.
  10. I've met you, chromatic, though you may not remember it: At the second FOO Camp, you and I and Larry Wall and Brad Merrill and Dave Thomas and Peter Drayton had an impromptu discussion about Parrot, virtual machines, the experiences Microsoft learned while building the Common Type System for the CLR, some of the lessons I'd learned from playing with multiple languages on top of the JVM, and some of the difficulties in trying to support multiple languages on top of a single VM platform. I trust that you don't consider Dave Thomas to be ignorant; he and I had a long conversation after that impromptu round table and we came to the conclusion that Parrot was going to be in for a very rough ride without some kind of common type definitions across the various languages built for it. (He was a little stunned at the idea that there wasn't some kind of common hash type across the languages, if that helps to recall the discussion.) This in no way impugns the effort you're putting into Parrot, by the way, nor should you take this criticism to suggest that you should stop your work. Frankly, I'd love to see how Parrot ends up, since it takes a radically different approach to a virtual execution engine than other environments do, and stark contrast is always a good learning experience. The fact that Parrot has advanced all of a minor build number in the last year seems to me, an outsider who periodically grabs the code, builds it and pokes around, to be indicative of the idea that Parrot is taking a while.
  11. Oh, and by the way, chromatic, since I've got your attention, while there, you argued that the Parrot register-based approach was superior to the CLR or JVM approach because "passing things in registers is much faster than passing them on the stack". (I may be misquoting what you said, but this is what Peter, Brad, Dave and I all heard.) I wanted to probe that statement further, but Brad jumped in to explain to you (and the subject got changed fairly quickly, so I don't know if you picked up on it) that the execution stack in the CLR (and the JVM) is an abstraction--both virtual machines make use of registers where and when possible, and can do so fairly easily. Numerous stack-based VMs have done this over the years as a performance enhancement. I assume you know this, so I'm curious to know if I misunderstood the rationale behind a register-based VM.
  12. Fact: Perl 6 recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of its announcement. Not its ship date, but the announcement. Fact: Perl 6 has not yet shipped.
  13. Opinion: I hate to say this if you're a Perl lover, but based on the above, Perl 6 is quickly vying for the Biggest Vaporware Ever award. The only language that rivals this in terms of incubation length is the official C++ standard, which took close to or more than a decade. And it (rightly) was crucified in the popular press for taking that long, too. (And there was a long time where we--a large group of other C++ programmers I worked with--weren't sure it would ship at all, much less before the language was completely dead, because there was no visible progress taking place: no new features, no new libraries, no new changes, nothing.)
  14. Fact: I would love for Parrot to ship, because I would love to be able to start experimenting with building languages that emit PIR. I would love to embed Parrot as an execution engine inside of a larger application, using said language as the glue around the core parts of the application. I would love to do all of this in a paid project. When Parrot reaches a 1.0 release, I'll consider it, just as I had to wait until the CLR and C# reached a 1.0 release when I started playing with them in July of 2001.
  15. Fact: The JVM and CLR are not nearly as good for heavily-recursive languages (such as what we see in functional languages like Haskell and ML and F# and Erlang and Scala) because neither one, as of this writing, supports tail-call recursion optimization; the CLR pretends to, via the "tail" opcode that is essentially ignored as of CLR v2.0 (the CLR that ships with .NET 2, 3 and 3.5), but the JVM doesn't even go that far. JIT compilers can do a few things to help optimize here, but realistically both environments need this if they're to become reasonable dynamic language platforms.
  16. Fact: Lots of large systems have been built in COBOL, too, and scale even better than systems built in Perl, or C#, or Java, or C++. That doesn't mean I like them, want to program in them, or that the COBOL community should be any less proud of them. Again, just because I don't care for abstract art doesn't undermine the brilliance of an artist like Mark Rothko.
  17. And I find the statement, "If you need X, don't look at other languages" to be incredibly short-sighted. Even if I were only paid to write Java, I would look at other languages, because I learn more about programming in general by doing so, thus improving my Java code. I would heartily suggest the same thing for the C# programmer, the C++ programmer, the VB programmer, the Ruby programmer, the Perl programmer, ad infinitum.

At the end of the day, the fact that I don't like Perl doesn't undermine its efficacy amongst those who use it. The fact that Perl scale(1)s and scale(2)s doesn't take away from the fact that I don't like its syntax, semantics, or idioms. The fact that the Perl community can't take a ribbing over the large numbers of incomprehensible Perl scripts out there only reinforces the idea that Perl developers like incomprehensible syntax. (If you want a kind of dirty revenge, ask the Java developers about generics.)

Besides, if you listen to Paul Graham, all these languages are just footnotes on Lisp, anyway, so let's all quit yer bitchin' and start REPLing with lots of intuitively selected (or, if you prefer, irritatingly silly) parentheses.

But, in the interests of making peace with the Perl community....

65C02 assembler sucks way worse than Perl. (And no smiley; that's a statement delivered in straight-faced monotone.)


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Friday, January 25, 2008 3:53:25 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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