[erlang-questions] The Beauty of Erlang Syntax

Michael T. Richter ttmrichter@REDACTED
Thu Feb 26 05:49:21 CET 2009

On Thu, 2009-02-26 at 13:59 +1300, Richard O'Keefe wrote:

> On 25 Feb 2009, at 11:22 pm, Michael T. Richter wrote:
> > You're begging the question, Joe.  WHY did it gain this temporary  
> > victory?

> Surely it's incredibly simple?

Yes, actually, it is.  It is also incredible that people are weighing in
with opinions that boil down to "they're too stupid to get it" or
"marketing won the day" when the real answer is staring us in the face.

The reason imperative languages won the day (temporarily) in computing
is that they had decided advantages over the functional (which you
enumerate so nicely in the portion I snipped).  In many cases they still
do, not least of which is the case that there is a huge number of
imperative programmers available as a resource and a not-so-huge number
of functional programmers.

If functional programming is to take root in any serious way, its
advocates have to face up to those advantages and show either that they
no longer exist (memory and CPU requirements, say) or that the other
advantages of functional languages outweigh the disadvantages
(productivity and correctness, say).  Consoling ourselves (and I again
stress that I am in favour of the functional, not opposed!) with
platitudes concerning superiority or victim mentality won't win us the

> The machine I happily used as an undergraduate was a *mainframe*
> with a cycle time of 2.4 microseconds and a theoretical maximum
> of 6MB of ferrite core memory.  

<python type="monty">You had it good.  When I was ...</python>


> It's that simple.  Nobody objected to automatic memory management
> in the shell, or in AWK, or in REXX.  They were "scripting"
> languages, not real programming languages.  Nobody expected them
> to be efficient.  But for *real* programming, oh no, garbage
> collection was too slow, too space hungry, too hard, don't want
> to go there.

The irony of this is that automated memory management is frequently
faster as well as more correct than manual.  A lot of the opposition to
garbage collection comes from people whose information comes from, like,
the '50s or '60s.  There were advances in the ensuing decades....

> By the time Java came along, computers were fast enough and had
> enough memory that the cost of garbage collection didn't bother
> a new generation of programmers.  And there had been a lot more
> work on garbage collection algorithms.

I submit that even at the time of C++ garbage collection algorithms were
more than suited to the task.  It was the old guard of programmers
switching over to C++ from C that were the hurdle, not the technology.

Michael T. Richter <ttmrichter@REDACTED> (GoogleTalk:
The most exciting phrase to hear in science - the one that heralds new
discoveries - is not "Eureka!" but "That's funny..." (Isaac Asimov)
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