Saturday, May 09, 2009

Robert Martin + Ruby = ughhhh

A recent talk by Robert Martin on Smalltalk and Ruby is generating a lot of buzz today. Now, I just gave you the link to the talk, but don't take this to mean that I think you should watch it. I had a whole long writeup-in-progress about all the different kinds of Wrong embodied by this talk and its reception. But there was so much to explain, so many kinds of Wrong, that I just gave up.

Instead, I'll give you an abbreviated summary of a few reactions:

  • Holy shit, Martin is long-winded. A talk of this length with so few ideas* is offensively disrespectful of its audience's time.
  • Estrogen = weak and insipid? Really? Without a hint of irony? And not a raised eyebrow in the room? WTF?
  • The fact that many Ruby hackers seem to think that this was a good talk shows how bad that community's taste is.
  • Twitter's 140 characters are completely inadequate for discussing a subject like this; on the other hand it's a great medium for saying AOL! Which is, I suppose, one reason it has prospered.

I write this post mostly to record how depressed I am that software guruism of such low quality seems to be so popular.

If you want to wash the ugly taste of Martin out of your mouth, I recommend this interview with Leslie Lamport. Ruby hackers have esprit de corps and throw big buzzworthy conferences, whereas Lamport is merely a genius. Guess what the kids end up learning today.

*If you care at all, his entire argument can be summed up in a few sentences as follows:

  • Smalltalk is much more expressive than C++.
  • However, Smalltalk does not "punish you for making a mess"; i.e. you can easily write software that is intricate to the point of being incomprehensible. This is why Smalltalk failed.
  • Test-driven development can provide the discipline which stops the same thing from happening to Ruby.

As I've noted, I think this argument's wrong in so many different ways that it exhausts me mentally even to try to enumerate them all. But just as one angle of attack, note that of the suggested causal factor is false of many failed languages, and true of several popular ones. Forget about correlation not implying causation; I claim that in this case even the correlation is low. Furthermore, long-lasting popularity is so rare for programming languages that it is a fool's game to talk about why unpopular languages never became popular; it's much more fruitful to seek the very rare combination of characteristics common to successful languages.

p.s. UPDATE 8pm: What a relief, lots of other people thought the talk was b.s. too. See J. Robertson of Cincom

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