The Future of Programming

Marc Andreessen discussed the history of programming in a recent podcast, noting the shift from machine-targeted languages to human-targeted languages. Although he seems to think that the change was fairly sudden (for him, it was started with Java in 1995), and he spends a surprising amount of time discussing PHP, which seems to be his favourite example of an easy-to-use language, his general point is still well founded.

It’s certainly interesting to see how languages like C and C++ are fading, their place being taken by Java. This is simply due to economic incentives: why spend expensive programmer time solving problems than can be solved by a cheap machine? Java is in danger of becoming overly feature-laden, but it still has a single important strength over its predecessors - simple dynamic memory management - no more explicit object creation/destruction. This does for memory what filesystems have done for disk. It’s hard to see just how much this has done for development speed and robustness until you compare it to what went before. PHP, Python, and so on, have the potential to do more, particularly for the new breed of web-based applications.

Andreessen also briefly discusses Web Services. He certainly seems to believe in Web Services - as he notes, the majority of major languages have good bindings for them now. I can see good things ahead for Web Services as the annoying details are sorted out by the market: see the doc/literal discussion from Andre Tost’s article I linked to a few days ago for an example. I look forward to seeing how this pans out.

Travel Pain

  • Quiet zones on trains:

    • Only make sense if the train company itself makes minimal noise. Waffling away on the PA, as on the Heathrow Express this morning, does not a quiet journey make.

    • Allow talking, and modern mobile phone microphones are sophisticated enough to pick up normal voice volume audibly, so why are mobiles not permitted? Shouting into the phone is a different matter. Having said that, landline phones normally feed back a small amount of your voice into the loudspeaker to encourage you to be quieter - why don’t mobiles do the same? Perhaps an audio engineer could explain.

  • As I was forced to learn from Heathrow Express TV, there is a taxi-sharing scheme in place at Paddington. I would imagine that most people getting the Heathrow Express are not strapped for cash (the tube is much cheaper, and the Heathrow Express is the most expensive train in the UK by distance travelled), so is this cab penny-pinching scheme really successful?

  • Heathrow is becoming increasingly unpleasant to travel through. This is my first time there since the new security restrictions, and they’d obviously driven a girl behind me in the queue to hysterical tears - she’d had to check in some prized possession. I heard her dad vow that they wouldn’t transit through Heathrow again. If BAA don’t lobby the government to get the worst of this removed, I guess they’ll soon be in real trouble.

  • Because Terminal 4 is so tedious, and because the only coach I could find got me to Heathrow a painful five hours early this morning, I’m currently sitting in the paid-for Holodeck lounge. I don’t normally get lounge access (not a frequent enough traveller), but it’s pleasant enough even if I can’t get wireless working (put simply, Access Connections is getting confused again). The provided Windows PCs I’m using are set up for lock-down mode (please let me right-click, I promise I won’t break anything). Free refreshments, comfy chairs, and quiet are just about worth the somewhat pricey £18 I spent on them, though.

End of Free Banking?

It appears that there are increasing numbers of customers revolting against bank charges which they deem as ‘unfair’. It appears that the law states that these charges are indeed illegal, because they cover more than just the costs the banks incur. In other words, banks are not allowed to make a profit on these charges. This is awkward because it artifically distorts the marketplace. It would be useful for banks to put in place high charges to discourage customers from using unauthorised overdrafts, keeping too small a balance for regular transactions, etc. There are already regulations in place ensuring that charges have to be clearly laid out in account terms and conditions, so this isn’t ‘unfair’.

There is also the potential that this may hurt those with the self-discipline to keep our accounts in order. Inside Money hypothesizes that this may result in banks imposing general charges for banking, essentially meaning that those who don’t keep their accounts in order will subsidise those who do. Perhaps it isn’t an area in which it’s healthy for government regulation to intervene. Unfortunately, the law in question here is not specific to banking, but seems to cover contracts in general. I would guess it might be some time before this will change.

Fix for Popularity Contest Page Views on Wordpress >2.0.0

I installed the popularity contest plugin some time ago to count the popularity of posts on this blog. Unfortunately, up till now it hadn’t been counting page views, which significantly skewed the statistics. I recently discovered, however, that there was a bug in the WP-ShortStat plugin which caused it not to register hits (due to a regression in Wordpress). I applied a similar fix to popularity-contest.php version 1.1 and it now works. It looks like a different fix has already been applied to the version in Trac to fix the problem.


Amadeus, which could have been more lengthily titled ‘The Rise and Fall of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’, is an outstanding film from the Academy Awards’ back-catalogue. Winners of eight Oscars, it deserved them all, despite its many historical inaccuracies and liberties. An extremely watchable film, it never drags despite its length, and each scene tells.

Amadeus is a film of contrasts. It depicts Mozart as a fun-loving wally, reminiscent of Yahoo Serious in Young Einstein (or at least his hair). His music, always sublime, provides the soundtrack to the film and makes clear the disparity between it and his outward personality (at least here). It’s possible the film libels Mozart with this playful presentation, but if it does, it does it in a charming way. The distinction is reinforced by the assertions of Salieri, the narrator, that Mozart was a vulgar man, but his music was not. The narration is sometimes presented with visuals, and intercuts with the visuals of Mozart’s life. Richard Frank is superb as the priest of few words: the confessional foil for Salieri’s tales of immorality and blasphemy: his head is often in his hands, unbelieving.

Amadeus is sadly notorious for its use of American language and phraseology throughout, despite being set mostly in Vienna. Although cultural ignorance is Hollywood is wide-spread, in this case, amazingly, it doesn’t seem to matter. The culture is well presented, and besides, it isn’t the main thrust of the film: the relationships between Mozart, his wife, and Salieri are. So this isn’t just excusable, it’s almost justifiable: in fact, with two high-quality leads such as Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham, it’s easy to see why director Miloš Forman decided to keep the language as he did.

This film is a classic, and is a fantastic introduction to, and reproduction of, Mozart and the world of classical opera.

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