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      A small knock on an otherwise great article: turns out there is explicit knowledge in chicken sexing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chick_sexing

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      This could be one of those hard cases that I talked about recently. This is mostly critiquing his programming, but then there’s notes about his business work that he’s now more famous for, and the business stuff is off-topic here. I’m not removing this because it’s mostly programming. Please help maintain the topicality of the site by not diving into his business and politics. (And reminder: anyone is welcome to help work through the above cases to figure out where to draw the line and how to express it. Those comments I just linked are my current thinking as I slowly work towards getting more of this more explicitly into /about.)

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        I enjoy bashing PG and startupcanistan as much as anyone, but this critique was heavy on “PG is an ossified hasbeen reactionary” and light on good critiques of Arc.

        An article about why Arc has deficiencies and what we can learn from it is one thing; character attacks in the guise of technical critique are another.

        I am as sure the real damages and harm PG has done are nontechnical as I am sure this is offtopic.

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          More succinctly: we wouldn’t celebrate an article attacking Larry Wall or Richatd Stallman instead of Perl or Emacs.

          0r at least, I would hope we wouldn’t.

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            I don’t have as much faith in the ability of the lobsters commentariat (and moderation team) to fairly judge what content is too political to be on-topic as you do. I would say that merely using the word “reactionary” in a pejorative way makes this article far more political than, say, anything I’ve ever posted here about Urbit that was flagged as off topic or trolling.

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            Just to note that the bar for discussing an article here shouldn’t be that it’s worthy of celebration. What’s being discussed is whether this is on-topic at all.

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              Consider the case of an article about, I don’t know, old IBM punchcards. Perfectly good information. Additionally, the author goes into Holocaust ramblings. How much other stuff are you willing to put up with?

              The exploit being used in this article is “mix nontechnical political content, e.g. character assasination, in with sufficient technical content, e.g. language design”.

              The article itself could’ve been written purely as a critique of Arc, with a passing reference to its designer, but that clearly isn’t why it was written.

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                This isn’t even close to character assassination. It gives due praise but delves into a serious critique of character or maybe more accurately of method and intent. That was the point of the article. The technical content isn’t an excuse for the political content, it’s an illustrative example. The fact that the article isn’t a good fit for Lobsters shouldn’t matter to the author one bit.

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                  It gives due praise but delves into a serious critique of character or maybe more accurately of method and intent. That was the point of the article. The technical content isn’t an excuse for the political content, it’s an illustrative example.

                  Thank you for making my point!

                  Lobsters isn’t a site for character critiques and other drama gussied up with supporting technical details.

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                    Well, in theory a lot of people take technical advice from his essays on programming languages, language design, etc. If someone believes that’s a bad idea, it is 100% fair game and technical content to make that argument. Not long ago there was a piece that critiqued taking technical advice from Bob Martin by pointing out problems with Clean Code, for example.

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            More succinctly: (make-my-point)

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          I disagree, it is fairly technical and on point with Arc.

          Speaking as someone who actually wrote a program in Arc when it was released.

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        Is this a reasonable summary of the article?

        • PG’s writing has taken a reactionary turn
        • Brevity in language design is a flawed and unrigorous notion. He’s using his intuition, which has not held up to reality
        • This is evidence that he uses his intuition everywhere; his opinions about politics shouldn’t be taken seriously.

        It’s a fair enough set of observations, although I’m not sure the argument is air tight. It’s also a very roundabout way of refuting political arguments… I’d rather just read a direct refutation of the politics (on a different site)

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          Yes, the politics mentioned in the introduction felt out of place. The rest of the article was well-written and dispassionately argued, but I couldn’t help feeling the whole piece was motivated by political disagreements with Graham (epitomized by the coinbase tweet), and that diminished its impact for me.

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          I don’t think it’s as clear as it could be, but I read the article as starting from the assumption that Graham’s recent political and social writing is poor, and then asking whether the earlier more technical writing is similarly flawed.

          If the argument went the way you said, it would be pretty bad. This is why I think talking about logical fallacies is less valuable than many people think. It’s usually pretty easy to tell if a precisely stated argument is fallacious. What’s harder is reconstructing arguments in the wild and making them precise.

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            Yeah, if you want PG criticism, just go straight for Dabblers and Blowhards. It’s funny and honest about what it’s doing.


            This article spends a lot of words saying something that could be said a lot more directly. I’m not really a fan of the faux somber/thoughtful tones.

            (FWIW I think PG’s latest articles have huge holes, with an effect that’s possibly indistinguishable of that of willfully creating confusion. But it’s also good to apply the principle of charity, and avoid personal attacks.)

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          You’ve removed an implication that libraries matter as much as the base language, some negative remarks on Paul Graham’s work as a language designer, and some positive remarks on Paul Graham’s overall effectiveness as a developer, technical writer, and marketer.

          But yes, the article seems fairly well summarized by its “This is all to say that Paul Graham is an effective marketer and practitioner, but a profoundly unserious public intellectual (…)”.

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        I’m not removing this because it’s mostly programming.

        The programming that is mentioned is there to make a case against a person and extend it to a broader point about people. I would’ve made the call the other way.

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          There’s a lot of interesting insight here into how to do language design (and how not to do it). I’m glad it stayed up.

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        This is is a tricky one, yeah. It feels like there’s really three things going on in this article:

        • The writer is bashing Paul Graham
        • The writer is making it about Paul Graham’s political/social writings
        • The writer is supporting those by talking about Paul Graham’s history in the technology field

        When looked at that way, I’d lean slightly towards it being offtopic. If one wanted to write something about the design of Arc and the history and origin of design mistakes and the personality of the person that resulted in those mistakes, one could re-use the same arguments in this article and do so. I think one would come up with a very different article if so. So it’s not about the tech or the intersection of humanity and their artifacts, it’s about Paul Graham and their opinions.

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        I’m glad this article about PG made it to lobsters, otherwise I wouldn’t have seen it. I’ve had a similar journey with PG’s writings as the author, going so far as to purchase Hackers and Painters when I was younger and thought programming made me special. I enjoyed learning a bit more about arc than I would have had this article been moderated off the site.

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        Thanks for your hard work @pushcx! Moderation of topics is what makes lobsters great!

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        My impression on this meta-topic of to what extent lobste.rs should have posts that touch to some extent on non-technical questions: We’ve arrived at a point where there’s a group of readers who will indiscriminately flag anything off-topic that falls into this category, and another group of readers who will indiscriminately upvote anything of this category that makes it through.

        I’d suggest that it might be better for the health of the community to be a bit more permissive in terms of what political/social/cultural tech-adjacent stories are allowed, and to rather aim to let those that don’t want to see those posts here filter them using the tagging system. (But I’m sure that’s been suggested before.)

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      I will gladly provide the first technical comment on this article. Both Arc and Bel are clearly vanity projects, but we can still learn from their language design. There is something of a fractal-of-bad-design situation, where there is no clear worst place to start; perhaps we should start at the end.

      Arc and Bel are roughly as deployed as they will ever be. There’s one flagship instance of Arc, it shows off most of the failures of the language, and it offers no opportunities for extensibility. It will slowly feature-creep until it collapses under its own weight. The Arc language has already been forked into Racket Anarki, a usable and maintained dialect with a community, taking it out of the original author’s control. This doesn’t just speak to a failure of community, but a failure of Arc and Bel to solve problems in the real world. Lisps are general-purpose and can be applied anywhere, but a language needs to be able to do especially well in its niche. Arc’s niche, Web sites with forms and wizards, is not one in which it has done well, or in which it has at all impacted the state of the art. To quote:

      Server-based deployment of software was a central theme in Graham’s essays, and his continuation-based web framework was an interesting and fairly novel way to create continuity across multiple requests in a single session. But since each link on the page was a continuation, and each continuation was stored in-memory in a single process, this created a single, memory-hungry point of failure. For years, Hacker News would simply display “unknown or expired link” if you waited too long to click a link.

      They put it better than I could. A study of modern Web site authentication schemes will show that, at scale, this is not a workable way to do backends. Literally one Web site in the world works this way at scale, Twitter, and even then I hear that they’ve recently (sometime in the past decade) figured out how to not do it.

      Programming languages need motivations. For example, I could imagine E with auditors, ML with objects, C with objects, or C with objects. Arc and Bel clearly are Lisps, but with something extra. What exactly is that extra thing? For Arc, it is the aforementioned Web integration. Bel doesn’t have any extra things. Bel’s introduction states:

      My hypothesis is that, though an accident of history, it was a good thing for Lisp that its development happened in two phases — that the initial exercise of defining the language by writing an interpreter for it in itself is responsible for a lot of Lisp’s best qualities. And if so, why not do more of it?

      That is, Bel is simply a desire to write another Lisp. Lisps usually can interpret themselves, and some Lispers insist that metacircular interpreters are Lisp’s defining feature, so I don’t see this as something new in the Lisp world. But also:

      Bel is an attempt to answer the question: what happens if, instead of switching from the formal to the implementation phase as soon as possible, you try to delay that switch for as long as possible? If you keep using the axiomatic approach till you have something close to a complete programming language, what axioms do you need, and what does the resulting language look like?

      That is, Bel is a desire to think for a long time about Lisp before implementing a Lisp. This is also not new in the Lisp world, with Scheme being designed first in the Lambda Papers, and also Clojure being designed slowly over several years. But also:

      Why do this? Why prolong the formal phase? One answer is that it’s an interesting exercise in itself to see where the axiomatic approach leads. If computers were as powerful as we wanted, what would languages look like?

      Ignoring that the formal approach is the axiomatic approach (the author is famously bad with words), this is not new in the Lisp world either! The most important one to mention, in my opinion, is Kernel, a Lisp which takes f-expressions seriously and, as a result, originally had no clear implementation path on computers. Indeed, Shutt contributes with Kernel a working vision for f-exprs, above and beyond anything in Bel.

      So, indeed, Bel has nothing new about it; it is in vain. Arc and Bel are not for anybody but their author. This is a big problem, because programs are for both their authors and their users, and programming languages are used by everybody who expresses themselves through the programs that they write. Bel is not usable for this purpose, but Arc theoretically was. By limiting the expressive abilities of programmers, however, Arc doomed itself.

      In conclusion, it’s not bad to be a vanity programmer. President Obama coded a square and I applaud rich powerful men for practicing their programming skills. But vanity projects are not suitable for production work. I know that I’ll be taking as many lessons as I can here; I want my vanity programming languages to succeed!

      Wait, what were those lessons again?

      • Don’t design a new programming language in vanity. Have a clear problem that you intend to tackle, a niche in which you intend to excel, a way for users to extend the language, a path towards machine implementation, and a compelling connection to existing programming traditions.
      • Be prepared to have a community. If people like your language enough, then they will want to express themselves in it, and if you don’t give them the power, then at worst your language will wither and die, and at best it will be forked by a rueful community.
      • Implement the basics. There are universal paradigms for computation, there are basic test programs, and there are basic experiments in expressivity and functionality. It is fine to introduce new ways of thinking about the computer, but they need to be connected to classical ways of thinking about the computer, because classical patterns of programming the computer do not go away.
      • Don’t ignore implementation details. On a computer, only the details matter.
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      Paul Graham knows he’s smarter than most people (that’s not hard, most of us in here are, statistically), and he still thinks this fact makes him right all the time. He’s rich and has a big audience, so this is unlikely to change.

      Not sure why this post needs to exist, but definitely can’t see why it needs to be here.

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        PG reminds me of a pattern I’ve seen in other people. That is, a person experienced in one particular area develops the idea they are experienced in many other areas. They then proceed to share their wisdom of these areas, when in reality they know jack shit. The way these people write or speak can make it difficult to distil bullshit from facts.

        When encountering such people, especially if they develop a cult following like PG, I think it’s entirely reasonable to call such people out. The article posted may beat around the bush a bit too much, but it provides many good examples. As such, I think it’s existence is entirely valid.

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          Engineer’s disease? The amusing part to me, is that it reminds me of that trope in movies “oh, you’re a scientist? clearly you’re a polymath” - except it’s real.

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          Yeah, I agree - when i was younger and finding my footing in tech i was quite taken with PG (and i certainly do feel like spending some time learning lisp has made the functional programming paradigm more intuitive to me) but it has been valuable to me to see critiques of his work as well, especially in trying to apply the things he actually was expert at to unrelated fields. He certainly was personally successful - more so than most people criticizing him, I’m sure (but things aren’t necessarily fair), but it can be helpful to point out that at some point he just stopped being very relevant.

          …but I personallly still don’t like java, and prefer lispy FP to heavy handed OOP.

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        because for sure in this audience there are people that would take his expertise in programming as a source of authority on other topics (pretty much like most people do with celebrities advocating for a cause) and maybe it’s useful to remind them, with terms they can understand, that this is magical thinking a few rich people use to steer the whole sector.

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        They will not rest until they cancel https://timecube.2enp.com/

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      It seems that author assumed that PG’s political points are mistaken the moment he realised that PG was “reactionary” — which is very close to the very same logical mistake he’s accusing PG of making.

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      I really enjoyed this article.

      If I was PG I would be flattered that someone took so long to go through my old writings and look for patterns and insights. I find the bits about PG talking about libraries and brevity great, and made me think even more highly of his skill as a programmer (maybe the opposite of what this poster was going for).

      As for the personal attacks, I think they are laughably off base. I haven’t seen him in maybe a decade, but I know PG since ~2007 and don’t think him not focusing on Arc or Bel as much as the author demands has little to do with the value of those projects and more to do with PG cares more about his kids and his wife and friends than he does about his programming languages and the 400 other projects he has going (many of which have changed the world). Even with that, Arc is within the top 10% of programming languages which makes it a pretty big success.

      So interesting article, and a nice rhetorical device to take a contrarian stance and run with it (and good things to think about about programming languages in there) but the conclusions the author reaches miss the mark by a lot.

      I think it’s fine to say the essay form is a bit antique, and Wolfram’s visual, data heavy essays are the way of the future, but PG is at the top of the game, and this author is okay, but not in the same league.

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      “Anything less is just rentier pedagogy; maxims stripped of any context, whose true meaning within a given situation can only be judged by a single person”

      Pretty much everything good comes from the judgement of a single person or a small teams intuition, not from externalised axioms.

      If expert intuition is the only real method of doing something as trivial as sexing chickens, why am I supposed to think like building a good programming language is going to be something we’re ready to derive rigorously?

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        I think the point of the topic is that Paul Graham has this mindset and applies it both to language design and other topics in which, instead, there are strong theoretical elements that he completely disregards in favor of conspiracy theories and other reactionary mumbo jumbo.

    8. 7

      This is the worst article I’ve ever seen on the front page of Lobsters. The author decides that he doesn’t like some of the more political assertions in some of Paul Graham’s writings on his blog (since, of course, any critique of the American left is “reactionary”):

      Recently, however, his writing has taken a reactionary turn which is hard to ignore. He’s written about the need to defend “moderates” from bullies on the “extreme left”, asserted that “the truth is to the right of the median” because “the left is culturally dominant,” and justified Coinbase’s policy to ban discussion of anything deemed “political” by saying that it “will push away some talent, yes, but not very talented talent.”

      …and decides to go fisk through everything Graham has ever written in order to find incorrect opinions on programming languages of all things as a way to discredit him and to prove some nebulous point about why Graham isn’t such a great figure to look towards. The author spends a handful of paragraphs basically bullying Graham because his pet project, a programming language called Arc, didn’t take off (except it sort of did: Hacker News is written in Arc, and that’s all beside the point: Paul Graham is a venture capitalist, not a programming language designer!)

      The article then concludes:

      This is all to say that Paul Graham is an effective marketer and practitioner, but a profoundly unserious public intellectual. His attempts to grapple with the major issues of the present, especially as they intersect with his personal legacy, are so mired in intuition and incuriosity that they’re at best a distraction, and worst a real obstacle to understanding our paths forward.

      Like, what are we supposed to get from this? Some kind of self-congratulatory gratification at how big of a smackdown the author gave Paul Graham by setting him straight on programming languages? It’s hard to find a more obvious case of motivated reasoning. I thought people on Lobsters were smarter than to fall for this nonsense.

      I’m not sure how this arrived at the front page of Lobsters. This is really torrid stuff. This is some guy who feels threatened or offended by some of Paul Graham’s political takes and decided that it’s time to discredit him through thinly disguised bullying. There’s no other substance to this poison-soaked article.

      Get this off the front page. Honestly.

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        Yeah, I’m not entirely sure why it’s on here. The number of upvotes is also interesting, and a little frightening.

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