[Haskell-cafe] Channel9 Interview: Software Composability and t heFu ture of Languages

Steve Schafer steve at fenestra.com
Sat Jan 27 14:04:32 EST 2007

On Fri, 26 Jan 2007 22:01:09 -0600, you wrote:

>You have a PhD in computer science from Princeton, so your measure of
>what's "hard" and what isn't in this regard is nearly worthless.
>I find it incredibly insulting for you to assert that people who
>complain about Haskell's difficulty are too lazy and aren't really
>interested in a better solution. Maybe they just don't want to have to
>take graduate-level classes in category theory to get their job done.
>Maybe they want a solution that meets them half-way, one that doesn't
>require that they understand how to build their own resistors and
>capacitors in order to make their TV work again (to use your analogy).
>That's what Meijer means when he says that Haskell is too hard.

I never said that people are lazy, only that they're not
interested--they'd rather devote their time to other pursuits. That's
not meant to be a criticism at all, it's an observation of The Way
Things Work. And I certainly wasn't referring to the people who actually
_complain_ about Haskell being too hard. After all, they're the ones who
are in fact trying to learn, not the ones who simply don't care to. My
comment was directed specifically at the notion that we can make Haskell
more popular by somehow making it easier. _That's_ the argument that I
believe is flawed, because the things that give value to Haskell are
precisely the things that require effort to understand. To paraphrase
Albert Einstein: make it as simple as possible, but no simpler.

This is not just a progrmaming issue; I encounter the same phenomenon
pretty much everywhere: I'm currently trying to build a house, and I've
found that most of the people who are in the business of building houses
don't want to try anything new, even if it might be a better way that
has the potential to save them money and/or result in a better end
product. They want to continue building houses the way they've always
built houses. The fraction of house builders who do want to learn new
and possibly better ways of building is, and always will be, a small
one. Again, it's not a criticism, just an observation, something that
one needs to be aware of when embarking on a house-building project.

I'm reminded of when Java first appeared on the scene a little over ten
years ago. There was a huge upswell in interest; all of the web
developers out there were going to add Java applets to their web sites.
Then the awful truth came out: Oops, you had to learn how to _program_
to create applets. Never mind; not worth it. And applets quickly and
quietly faded away.

By the way, to set the record straight, while I do have a Ph.D. from
Princeton, it's in semiconductor physics, not computer science. And lest
anyone were to misunderstand when I say Haskell is hard, while I do mean
that it's hard for _me_, I think the evidence is pretty strong that I'm
far from alone in my assessment. Whether or not it's hard for any
particular person is up to that individual to judge, of course. I stick
with Haskell because (a) I think it just might be worth it, and (b) I
can't help myself--I have an insatiable craving for new knowledge.

Steve Schafer
Fenestra Technologies Corp.

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