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a defense of arc
17 points by ambition 5986 days ago | 12 comments
Are you feeling down about arc? Disappointed? Skeptical?

What were you expecting? (This isn't rhetorical. )

From a technical point of view, I happen to think arc encourages a certain elegance. But it doesn't matter. The release of Arc is bigger than functions and syntax.

Let me propose an alternative perspective. With a different set of expectations, perhaps the disappointed folks can find something to be happy about.

All programming languages are bigger than functions and syntax. "Languages" aren't really about APIs or interpreters or compilers or libraries. These things are important, but in some ways they are shadows on the wall.

If not technology, what is a language about?

In reality, languages are computerized manifestations of philosophies. They are about communities. They are about 'marketing' and they are about style.

Sure, PG and co. only released a few thousand lines of code, a tutorial, and a website. But in doing so, they established the foundations of a community.

Arc's philosophies are clear, they are different, and they are good. Arc is for exploratory programming; for fun; for concise, elegant programs; in short, for hacking. This is good.

The community is open. Arc has flaws. Some people see these flaws as a reason to spend a part of their lives writing criticisms online. Others see them as low-hanging fruit. Each problem is an opportunity to get involved.

Consider a thought experiment. What if Arc had been polished and smooth at release?

People would release applications built on Arc and pressure the developers to maintain backward compatibility. There would be massive attention/publicity/hype before it was ready, which would go wasted. Would-be hackers and contributors would have nowhere to start. Any flaw would be 'serious' and memories of that flaw would persist for years. Pop quiz: Is Java slow?

Arc's release is as it had to be. Anything larger would have been disastrous.

Arc has potential to create a large, friendly community around Lisp. It alone can make Lisp mainstream again.

As someone else posted on this forum, "Stop whining and start hacking."

5 points by abstractbill 5986 days ago | link

Paul should be glad to have users who are complaining - if he judiciously follows up on them, the complaints will help him Make Something Programmers Want ;-)


6 points by ambition 5986 days ago | link

Granted, negative feedback reveals targets for improvement.


With all things considered in the current context, it's unlikely that it will achieve any results.

Criticisms make their authors feel good and superior. But they do nothing to make the world better. They probably won't even rearrange the priority list for Arc features, as PG, RM and crew are very busy. Since there is no spare time, criticisms are made useless. PG didn't put out Arc and say "Hey, I'm bored, what should I do next?"

If we-the-users want change, we-the-users need to be prepared to create it. A ten-minute blog post attacking Arc is ten minutes wasted.

So, criticisms do no good. They may do harm, however. Criticisms without contributions will make the Arc authors feel resentful. It's an awful feeling to give something away and have people attack it.

Imagine you gave someone a gift. If they didn't like it, you would expect an awkward pause, a mumbled thank-you, and then the gift would be ignored. How would you react if someone didn't like your gift, and started belittling it and swearing at you?


1 point by hilbertastro 5986 days ago | link

Actually, Java isn't terribly slow. Plus the JVM is a handy platform on which to build higher-level languages (e.g., Scala and Clojure). Not that I'm a fan of course ;-)


4 points by etal 5986 days ago | link

Exactly. These days Java can be used for high-performance computing, but in the '90s -- coincidentally, the peak of its hype -- it was enough of a CPU and memory hog to make C++ programmers spit. I saw a paper from around 2000 discussing it, and it unfavorably compared the JVM to Python's relatively lightweight runtime. These days Java actually gets pretty close to C++ in speed, but we still think of it as "not terribly slow."


2 points by Forrest 5986 days ago | link

"It alone can make Lisp mainstream again."

Nonsense, the community is already here:


7 points by cje 5986 days ago | link

That's your community. Given how much you've been proselytizing, I assume you're involved with that project.

But Arc is not newLISP, and isn't trying to be. If you prefer to use newLISP, please do so -- and stop trying to get people to ignore Arc in favor of it.

And by the way, newLISP is by no means "mainstream".


2 points by ambition 5986 days ago | link

I suppose part of my point is that anything new has a window of opportunity. Imagine the difference between a fire that burns hot but short and a fire that burns long and slow. Which would you prefer to keep you warm for a night?

To be successful, a programming language community must hit critical mass during its window of opportunity.

Arc has a new window of opportunity. Thanks to years of pg's community-building, it has momentum. I'm not sure that newLisp has that same chance.

Had arc been released in a form which appeared polished, its window would have been short. This way, Arc has a chance to build.

When Steve Yegge and Peter Norvig and others come along to take a look, Arc needs to be ready.


1 point by Forrest 5986 days ago | link

Well if ever a language burned long and slow newLISP is it. As such it has already achieved most of the goals set for Arc. It puts the fun back into programming.


5 points by icemaze 5986 days ago | link

Look, I understand you like newLISP a lot. I don't think that's a good reason for downplaying this project.

You have a language you like? Good, stick to it. You don't need to paint other peoples' bikeshed, do you?

I don't really know newLISP very much, but I know it uses hygienic macros and my brain is just not wired for them. So forgive me if I prefer Arc.

You seem to know about the "goals set for Arc". What they would be? To "put fun back into programming"? Every new language and its dog claims to do that, nowadays. I'm having a lot of fun using LISP already, thankyouverymuch. (I mean any LISP.) And I'm interested in everything that has to do with LISP. If you want to bring in technical merits of newLISP or discuss technical points about Arc, you are welcome, I'm all ears. Otherwise, you are better off doing something different with your time than starting religious flame wars. Personally, I really have had enough of that.

You really think that Arc can't do better than newLISP? Good. There's nothing to talk about. Time will tell, and you'll even get to laugh as Arc implodes. You'll have lots of fun. Let us have ours. Thanks.


1 point by jfm3 5985 days ago | link

You're both wrong, there are plenty of people working on CL and Scheme, and to every experienced Lisper I've spoken to, newLISP is a gigantic disappointment.

Since we're now all throwing out unsubstantiated claims, I would like to add the following ad hominem attack: You're both ugly too.

I love you Internet.


2 points by tjr 5985 days ago | link

I had never even heard of newLISP until a couple days ago when Arc was released...


2 points by zhyla 5985 days ago | link

I disagree with the notion that languages are about philosophies and communities. Where is the C community? What philosophical property of javascript makes it so widespread? Language success is about being a good tool (or the only tool available).

My only complaint so far is the documentation. I haven't been able to find any except for the tutorial. Either I'm looking the wrong way or "someone" was too lazy to document his new toy.