Skip to content

Quotes on JavaScript

Derek Jones, from the PL advent calendar ‘J’ entry:

Javascript would not have existed without the Internet and its ‘design’ must be a contender for the most costly software mistake [ever] made.

Me, 14 months ago:

Fundamentally I fear a world in which programmers think JavaScript is acceptable. Partly because JavaScript, but mostly because when a language is introduced and people avoid it for ages, then just because some CEO says all future websites must use it they start using it, that’s not healthy. Objective-C was introduced and people avoided it for ages, then just because some CEO said all future apps must use it they started using it.

Clearly JavaScript is good enough for a broad set of uses. But then we should ask whether ‘good enough’ means unfurling the Mission Accomplished flag and calling it done. Apparently some people have similar feelings, but also the skill and inclination to do something about it.

Object-Oriented Programming in 1714

Here are some excerpts from Leibniz’s La Monadologie (specifically from Daniel Garber and Roger Arlew’s English translation in Discourse on Metaphysics and Other Essays).

THE MONAD, which we shall discuss here, is nothing but a simple substance that enters into composites – simple, that is, without parts.

Thus, one can say that monads can only begin or end all at once, that is, they can only begin by creation and end by annihilation, whereas composites begin or end through their parts.

The monads have no windows through which something can enter or leave. […] Thus, neither substance nor accident can enter a monad from without.

From this we see that if, in our perceptions, we had nothing distinct or, so to speak, in relief and stronger in flavour, we would always be in a stupor. And this is the state of bare monads.

Thus we attribute action to a monad insofar as it has distinct perceptions, and passion, insofar as it has confused perceptions.

But in simple substances the influence of one monad over another can only be ideal, and can only produce its effect through God’s intervention, when in the ideas of God a monad rightly demands that God take it into account in regulating the others from the beginning of things. For, since a created monad cannot have an internal physical influence upon another, this is the only way in which one can depend on another.

But natural machines, that is, living bodies, are still machines in their least parts, to infinity.

And the author of nature has been able to practice this divine and infinitely marvellous art, because each portion of matter is not only divisible to infinity, as the ancients have recognized, but is also actually subdivided without end, each part divided into parts having some motion of their own;

This we see that each living body has a dominant entelechy, which in the animal is the soul; but the limbs of this living body are full of other living beings, plants, animals, each of which also has its entelechy, or its dominant soul.

That’s a small fraction of the complete essay but it’s clear from these extracts that Leibniz saw both the benefit and the drawback to Object-Oriented Programming, and that they were one and the same.

Objects are indivisible atoms, which cannot mess with each other’s insides nor have their own insides messed with. Rather, they have independent existences, unless one of them sends a message to another via the universal actor willing the two into some correlation.

Something appears to be an object in the first instance, because it is an indivisible thing with its own whole definition and purpose. It is actually both a composite, that can be subdivided into other objects with their own definitions and purposes; and it is a component that contributes toward a larger object that has its own definition and purpose.

Scale-variant analogies can get us out of the problem with the object-as-monad. One that has previously been well-explored is Brad Cox’s Software IC, which sees the object take up a position at only one level of abstraction:

  • Component => C instruction.
  • Integrated Circuit => Objective-C Object.
  • Circuit Board => Package or architectural layer.
  • Electronic System => Application.

One that I haven’t yet investigated is the cellular biology analogy introduced by Alan Kay (who also introduced the object-as-monad analogy). He talked about the object as a cell (particularly as a small component of a larger system that has a well-defined boundary across which limited communication occurs), but we can also think about the implications of larger scale order:

  • Cell => Object.
  • Organ => Object.
  • Organism => Object.
  • Society => Object.
  • Population => Object.
  • Biome => Object.

And, as Leibniz said, it’s objects all the way in the other direction: organelles are monads too.

An odd thought

An odd thought: I have written software for a computer whose CPU was used as an I/O controller for a computer that I have programmed, whose CPU was used as an I/O controller for a computer that I have programmed. So far, I’m not aware of the i7 being used as an I/O controller.

Programming language advent

The first article, containing languages beginning with ‘A’, is linked above. I can tell this is going to be a month of reading.

That can’t possibly work.

A while back I was at a Facebook developer event, talking about techniques for analysing Objective-C. My summary of the problem was something like “it’s one of those things that works pretty well in the ivory towers of practice but completely falls apart when you try to use it in theory.”

That’s true of many things in building software, but as people who get paid for removing bugs from things we’re all too good at the situations where the theory doesn’t pan out. Problems arise when we report the overly general conclusion: “that doesn’t work” rather than “there exists a condition in which that doesn’t work”.

Often, the appropriate thing to do is to build the thing anyway and extract value from it in the cases where it does work. Most Ruby code is just Java with different punctuation: if you build a thing that can’t possibly work because of monkey patching then build it anyway and 100% (give or take) of Ruby you actually encounter will work with it.

If it were up to programmers we wouldn’t have paper money. You can’t promise to back 10× as much money as you’ve actually got gold to make good on, in case everyone asks for it back. Ah, but what if they don’t?

And even if you find that the edge situations arise too frequently to make the thing you built worthwhile, you’ll have learned something about the problem. You may find a different approach, or even that solving a slightly (or greatly) different problem is what you really want to do.

When someone tells you the thing you want to build can’t work, build it and work with it. If only for the look on their face.

Détournement and Recuperation

Letterists International probably invented the ideas behind free software and creative commons. They created the idea of détournement, in which existing mainstream logos and slogans were subverted for anarchist, satirical and other radical political purposes, like the picture of the Queen defaced in the cover of the Sex Pistols single.

The counterpart to détournement is recuperation, in which radical ideas are appropriated by the cultural mainstream to be re-used in safe contexts, like the use of Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the air” to advertise an airline.

Free Software enables both of these: mainstream software made available under free software licences like the GPL can be put to radical new uses because of the terms of the GPL. But it also enables software built to political ends, and shared under those terms, to be put to mainstream uses.

If anything, open source software is a bigger enabler of recuperation. By relieving receivers of the pay-it-forward obligation, open source licences make it easier for incumbent organisations using traditional software model to make use of ideologically-motivated software publication.

Today’s surprisingly short workflow-improving win

When I have a TODO comment (or a #error in code, which is how I frequently do TODOs), I switched to writing the commit message I want to be able to use when I’ve fixed the TODO. Then I write the thing that’s missing, kill the TODO and yank it into the commit command.

Tech’s Meritocracy Problem

Meritocracy is a myth. And our belief in it is holding back the tech industry from getting better.

The intent to be meritocratic is not a myth, but we know what road is paved with good intentions.

—from Tech’s Meritocracy Problem.

Why nerd culture must die


There’s No Such Thing as a General-purpose Processor

There’s no such thing as a General-purpose processor, and belief in such a device is harmful.