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Gaining the first popularity

After being led to the Ada Programming Language Wikipedia entry (and being impressed by what it offers and promises – it is designed for fail-safeness and robustness, and as such is used in satellites, military jets and orbital satellites), I wondered, why isn’t the language more popular, like the less effective and more error-prone C and C++ which are used for coding our operating systems, or Java/PHP/Ruby which power our interwebz?

A few forum posts exist about this, and numerous explanations abound, from petty whining (“everybody who tries it it hates it”) to accusatory (“it’s designed by a committee, and like Esperanto, nobody wants to use that”) through conspiracy theory (“it’s in the interests of repair & diagnostic/IDE vendors to make sure crappy languages persist”) and even via circular reasoning (“it’s not gained popularity because other languages are more in demand”). I kid you not.

In all of that, I only once noted one answer which hit a sensible mark: in a time when there wasn’t a prominent single language, due to the closedness of computer systems, hobbyists could only work with what was lying around, and there was no global applicability in any real sense [citation needed…], C came along and offered what nobody else was: a high-level language for low-level computing, a free compiler, and an operating system to use it on, in an ecosystem that promoted (at the time) code sharing. It was this seed traction that led to C being still the most popular language for system programming today.

Other languages have since risen, but the most popular, with the largest communities, still are application-level and web-oriented – not system level. In the midst of this, Ada still retains (bless or curse) its original image as the brainchild of the US Department of Defense’s brainchild, with little push to make it a business-systems or high-availability systems contender.

The onus then is on the existing Ada community to start building tools and libraries for newcomers to use. Newcomers like to feel invited in by pioneers.

We are the 20%, and we are unashamed

In response to an article on Slashdot, about how too many smart people are chasing too many dumb ideas, a number of commentators digitally posted their shrugs and the hoots they did not give…

We’re not leading the way to change the world, indeed we may not all be able to muster such energy when still trying to sort out our own… it’s another thing altogether to say “why the hell should we try?” Some commentators even went so far as to suggest the “big problems” should not concern smart people.

One that stood out to me was the following:

The smart people don’t really want to help the lower class. Ugh, have you actually met any of them? Shudder. If anything they should be vexed even more than they are already.

What the smart people want is to be seen as helping the lower class. This gives you fantastic social status (among other smart people, naturally) and ensures that you will be invited to all the right parties. The lower class will themselves not be attending these parties. Again, a five minute conversation with any of them is quite enough.

Why the HELL would you go out of your way to broadly sweep a whole section of population under “they don’t deserve our good graces?” Are you actually in the 1% we’ve been squabbling with this past year-or-so?

Oh hang on, wait – there’s also the widening 20-80 divide:

In the United States, wealth is highly concentrated in a relatively few hands. As of 2010, the top 1% of households owned 35.4% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% had 53.5%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 89%, leaving only 11% of the wealth for the bottom 80%

(Prof. G. William Domhoff, Uni California Santa Cruz)

I added my 2 cents to the thread as follows. Now to see if I get that penny for the thought.

I’d expect nothing less from a 1st world culture in general that says “do what YOU want to do,” “find YOUR dream,” “YOU’re the most important to YOU.” Reading the comments on this thread so far, it is evident that we’d rather remain blissfully ignorant and shift the burden elsewhere.

It’s gruelling work to sort out the world’s problems, and with no one-right-answer, fraught with the possibility of failure, as some commenters here can attest: one commenter demonstrates the core attitudinal problem – it takes effort to connect with someone from a different social background, with different concerns, priorities and fears for continued livelihood, to try and understand the problem, and formulate some answer, ANY answer, but at least to give a damn and TRY; some of us just aren’t up to the task (though we can’t necessarily be blamed for that much so long as we’re not in denial). It’s much easier to cater to the quick-wins, the plugged-in smart-phone-wielding, TV-watching, internet-addicted, money-squandering market and keep them happy. Fast money, cheap glory.

The first commenters demonstate the very sentiment under fire, that rather than recognizing that there are much more worthwhile questions to ponder than how to make the next best cheap app on the most expensive phones to date, or how to make their privileged lives even more privileged, they prefer to suggest that Nnaemeka is the whiny my-problems-aren’t-solved person. Thing is, privileged netizen, YOUR problems ARE being solved.

Thankfully I too know the kind of people “O(‘_’)O_Bush” points out, those who are toiling away, and even setting up locally successful ventures, to make communities, environments and the Environment better; though it’s either an uneven distribution, in terms of attention gained vs actual work being done and achievements being made. I suspect we all know some such people. But we’d rather comment on the “celebrities” than focus on the great things happening on our own street.

We’ve riled as the 99% against the 1% and the sheer injustice of it all, but we forget that we’re still part of the upper 20% that are still quite plumply sitting on another lowly 80%. We are the 20%, and we are unashamed.

Elaine “Lainey” Lui tries to big-up gossip

Lainey’s talk at TEDx screams bullshit at its finest. Trying to describe gossip as a so to speak “high-brow” occupation, Lainey tries to make gossip look intellectual by inserting questions about social acceptance of gays, approaching the topic of women’s rights, and pointing out that even the ancient Egyptians were doing it

On the particular point of the Egyptians, she didn’t even give a context for the text she was paraphrasing – it could have been a parable (so a warning tale – maybe even homosexuality was being used as an “evident crime” plot point), a biography (probably gossip then, or defamation), propaganda… who knows? And did the people aside from the scribes really give a damn? Because she then goes on to claim, from this, that gossip reflects the social more of society as a whole. I’d rather not be lumped in with her vision of what society is in its entirety…

The additional questions and discussion Lainey adds otherwsie are of course most welcome – but they are not found in the gossip rags and around the gossip tables. If anything, gossip rags reinforce our prejudices, sensationalize the mundane, and demonize people who we should be trying to understand. Gossip leads to (sometimes false) accusations and witch-hunts. Gossip amongst friends about other friends facilitates the spreading of misconceptions, if not lies. The examples Lainey gives are prime examples of that behaviour.

Below are some of the topics approached

  • Kirsten Stewart cheating on [Edward’s actor] – Lainey claims that in this maelstrom, gossipers are discussing and sharing their morals -but it’s more like gossip is reinforcing the woman-in-her-place ideal. “How dare she? She got the perfect guy.” Good for him, he got a promotion. Shame the slut.
  • Celebrities with babies become massive talking points – taking jubilant celebrities’ talk about being mom as reference points is… sad. This isn’t information, it’s gushing. From the celebrity side it’s plain vanity. From the media side, it’s a marketing opportunity.
  • Forgiving abusive men – again, the talking amongst the fans is reinforcing the prejudices rather than leading the discussion – witnessed again in the promotion of the violent men, shaming of women.
  • Travolta and the male masseuse – are gossipers really saying “let’s reconsider our viewpoints on the meaning of being male?” Lainey clearly states that the discussion is focused on 1) potential loss of fan confidence in the image, 2) damage to profit and marketability. Acceptance of homosexuality? Who said that?

Lainey remains a subject, not an observer. I’m waiting for her sociological study. In the mean time, I call bullshit.

I can’t believe this was a TEDx.

[found via Upworthy]