Monthly Curations: November 2019

What the Apollo Guidance Computer looked like

Monthly Curations: August 2019

It makes perfect sense to say that the target demographic of English is English speakers—or more precisely, the target demographic of Modern English is Middle English speakers who wanted a few simpler rules, some continental vocabulary, following other contemporaneous European languages in not having þ and distinguishing i and j, etc. It was a relatively small change and very intentionally served a community of people who already spoke Middle English well. It was the Python 2-to-3 of English.

The target demographic of Esperanto, meanwhile, was the whole world: people who already had a language, people who already had a workable lingua franca in international contexts (French, later English), and in particular people who weren’t familiar with the European language patterns that Esperanto was largely based on. So it had limited success. A Japanese or Indonesian or Persian or Swahili diplomat not familiar with any European language would be better served learning French or English than Esperanto, because those languages are roughly equally foreign, there are many more resources for learning French or English, there is a larger community and more people to speak to, there is a larger corpus of works, etc. And an Anglophone or Francophone diplomat has very little incentive to learn Esperanto, either.

Modern Hebrew, on the other hand, had a well-identified target demographic: Jews from around the world migrating to the reestablished state of Israel who lacked a shared everyday language. Some liturgical Hebrew was already familiar to most of this population, and there was a strong cultural willingness to see a reestablished Hebrew language. So while it is in many senses a conlang, it was far more successful than Esperanto and now has a large community of native speakers.

So the question of whether a programming language—especially one that is so much like a conlang, not an incremental evolution based on use in practice (like the C standards committee accepting compiler-specific dialectal changes)—has a target demographic is a fair one.

Monthly Curations – July 2019

(yep, not a lot this month …)

The shrew-like networked GUI equipped microcomputers of Apple were released as products only two years after this central planning dinosaur was postulated. Eventually, decades later, someone built a mechanical golem made of microcomputers which achieves a lot of the goals of fifth generation computing, with independent GUI front ends. I’m sure the Japanese researchers of the time would have been shocked to know it came from ordinary commodity microcomputers running C and using sorts and hash tables rather than non-Von-Neumann Prolog supercomputers. That’s how most progress in engineering happens though: incrementally. Leave the moon shots to actual scientists (as opposed to “computer scientists”) who know what they’re talking about.

Monthly Curations – Jun 2019