1. Selecting a Programming Language Made Easy (by Daniel Solomon and David Rosenblueth)

    With such a large selection of programming languages it can be difficult to choose one for a particular project. Reading the manuals to evaluate the languages is a time consuming process. On the other hand, most people already have a fairly good idea of how various automobiles compare. So in order to assist those trying to choose a language, we have prepared a chart that matches programming languages with comparable automobiles:

    Assembler = A Formula I race car. Very fast, but difficult to drive and expensive to maintain.

    FORTRAN II = A Model T Ford. Once it was king of the road.

    FORTRAN IV = A Model A Ford.

    FORTRAN 77 = A six-cylinder Ford Fairlane with standard transmission and no seat belts.

    COBOL = A delivery van. It’s bulky and ugly, but it does the work.

    BASIC = A second-hand Rambler with a rebuilt engine and patched upholstery. Your dad bought it for you to learn to drive. You’ll ditch the car as soon as you can afford a new one.

    PL/1 = A Cadillac convertible with automatic transmission, a two- tone paint job, white-wall tires, chrome exhaust pipes, and fuzzy dice hanging in the windshield

    C = A black Firebird, the all-macho car. Comes with optional seat belts (lint) and optional fuzz buster (escape to assembler).

    ALGOL 60 = An Austin Mini. Boy, that’s a small car.

    Pascal = A Volkswagen Beetle. It’s small but sturdy. Was once popular with intellectuals.

    Modula II = A Volkswagen Rabbit with a trailer hitch.

    ALGOL 68 = An Astin Martin. An impressive car, but not just anyone can drive it.

    LISP = An electric car. It’s simple but slow. Seat belts are not available.

    PROLOG/LUCID = Prototype concept-cars.

    Maple/MACSYMA = All-terrain vehicles.

    FORTH = A go-cart.

    LOGO = A kiddie’s replica of a Rolls Royce. Comes with a real engine and a working horn.

    APL = A double-decker bus. Its takes rows and columns of passengers to the same place all at the same time. But, it drives only in reverse gear, and is instrumented in Greek.

    Ada = An army-green Mercedes-Benz staff car. Power steering, power brakes and automatic transmission are all standard. No other colors or options are available. If it’s good enough for the generals, it’s good enough for you. Manufacturing delays due to difficulties reading the design specification are starting to clear up.

    Source: Hewlett-Packard, circa 1985

  2. Kilby: Nice. But they show their bias: it’s “PL/I”, not “PL/1”. Common mistake.

  3. @ PS3 – Oops, that’s not HP’s mistake, that was mine. It happened when I was eliminating tabs (and replacing them with “=”, because I didn’t trust what WordPress would do with the tabs). I’ve never programmed in PL/I, but I had a friend in high school who did, so I knew that the last character was pronounced “one”

  4. FAQ: Which programming language is right for you?

    This summary of the expected results should help you make an informed selection:

    C = You shoot yourself in the foot.

    C++ = You create a dozen instances of yourself and shoot each one in the foot. Emergency medical care is impossible since nobody can tell which are bitwise copies and which are just pointers saying, “that’s him, over there.”

    BASIC (interpreted) = You shoot yourself in the foot with a water pistol until your leg is completely soaked and rots away.

    BASIC (compiled) = You shoot yourself in the foot with a suction cup dart using a SCUD missile launcher.

    Assembler = You crash the system and overwrite the root disk. The system administrator shows up and shoots you in the foot.


    FORTRAN = You shoot yourself sequentially in each toe, until you run out of toes. You shoot the sixth bullet anyway since no exception processing was anticipated.

    dBase = You buy a gun. Bullets are only available from another company, but are guaranteed to work, so you buy them, too. You then find out that the NEXT version of the gun is the one scheduled to actually shoot bullets.

    Modula II = You execute a shot on what might currently be a foot, with what might currently be a bullet, using what might currently be a gun.

    Pascal = Same as Modula II, except that the bullet is not the right type for the gun and your hand is blown off.

    Smalltalk = After you play with graphics for three weeks the programming manager shoots you in the foot.

    Snobol = You grab your foot with your hand and rewrite your thumb to be a bullet.

    APL = You hear a gunshot, and there’s a hole in your foot, but you don’t remember enough linear algebra to understand what happened.

    PL/I = After consuming all mainframe resources including memory, diskspace, and bullets, the data processing department doubles its size, purchases two new mainframes, and drops the original one on your foot.

    Ada = The Department of Defence stands you up in front of a firing squad, offers you a blindfold and a last cigarette, and then orders the soldiers to “shoot at his feet.”

  5. Haskell = We’re terribly sorry, but we can’t update your foot in place. Instead, we’ll take it off, create a new one with a bullet hole, and reattach it, all while insisting that this is the only rational approach to the situation.

  6. Well I start working with computers with learning to program in Fortran IV I think (may have been Fortran II – both stick in my head) back in high school. (When I cleaned out my bedroom at my parents house when we sold it a couple of years ago I found the original manuals we used and have kept them.)

    At some point much later I went to a computer store (Electronics boutique? it is the one which I think still exists as computer store and was in the big shopping malls) to buy the first James Bond computer game for Robert for Christmas. He preferred it for his IBM 286 compatible computer. I went in and was looking for it – being a young woman it was presumed I was either lost or an idiot. I asked for the game. They did not have it. So I asked if they had it for Commodore 128. The salesman gave me the lecture for idiot women on how the games for the Commodore could not be used on the IBM for about 10 minutes. When he was finished I looked him square in the eye and told him that I well knew the difference and that software for one could not be used in the other and that I had been programming main frame computers before he was born – and that we have both computers as well as an Atari 800 and I would be going to another store to make the purchase. (His attitude was REALLY that deprecating and sexist.)

  7. “games for the Commodore could not be used on the IBM for about 10 minutes”

    For how long could they be used?

  8. “They didn’t know it is for real” Part 2.

    But there is a product called Remarkable which is named for sort of the same reason. It isn’t a dry-erase board, but an e-ink based tablet that accepts freehand stylus input.


  9. Mike P – Oops – was rushing to finish for the night – the salesman went on for 10 minutes telling me that I could use not use games for the Commodore on IBM.

  10. Wow, there’s been a lot of drift on this thread!
    I’m reviving it to post further documentation that the meaning of first generation, second generation, in terms of immigration, has indeed shifted from what it meant when I learned them, where “first generation” was the first generation born in the new country, and the zero generation were the people who actually immigrated. James S. A. Corey, in the author’s note to the short story “Strange Dogs” write: “We know a lot of second-generation immigrant families that suffer this break between an old world that the parents know and the culture their kids belong to.” From my understanding that I grew up with, that “second-generation” in the quote should clearly be “first-generation”, but apparently the meaning has shifted…

    I remember a similar thing happening with “Third World” and “First World”: the term “First World” didn’t exist, the counting went from the West, the developed world — us — and then went to the Communist Bloc, the other “developed” part of the world, but clearly not us — them! — that we competed with; then there was the rest of the world, the undeveloped world that wasn’t in the communist bloc. It was called the “Third World”. Sometimes, if you were clever, you might ironically refer to the West as “the First World”, but it sounded weird, and was clearly an affectation, like saying “Tar-jzay” for “Target”, like it was French (though that came much later), or saying “virii” for “viruses”, or “boxen” for boxes”; you might even force the joke by referring to the Communist Bloc as “the Second World”. Then the Second World collapsed and went away as such. Most parts of it became part of the “First” world, sort of, because they clearly weren’t the Third World (well, some parts were), and so we were left with the Third World, and everything else. And then using “the First World” to describe the non-Third World part became non-ironic. I think I noticed it especially, because I was in a “Third World” country (Brazil) when it became more and more imperative not to talk so much about “the Third World”, partly because Brazil was developing rapidly, partly because of the stigma that attached to it (I knew someone from Mexico who around that time used to make the point that the Earth was the third world from the Sun, thus we were all “Third Worlders”), but it was still important to talk about how the developed countries were different from the rapidly developing countries, what their goal was, and so talk of this First World, non-ironic, and less and less as a sequence ending in the Third World (especially because what was the Second World then?), but just as a thing in itself: the end goal was for everyone to become First World. There was now First World, and developing world (and maybe an ironical “Fourth World”, to describe the really sh!t-hole places still left, like Newark Airport or Detroit…)
    (And just the other day I had to inform my neighbors that no, Target was not a French chain, it’s from Minnesota…)

  11. Since you mention your experience with Brazil, let me ask if you encountered the idea of a BRIC group of countries, sort of second world or up-and-coming? That was Brasil, Russia, India, and China. I think today that looks wildly wrong, but maybe there are still some who have good reason to look at it that way.

    Only recently have I noticed the Tarzhay pronunciation; but I thought it must still be like 95% jocular. But going back to the 1980s I knew people who said garbage as gar-bàzh; probably under the influence of Jonathan Winters. (I was going to say the pronunciation is like that of garage [with an added b], forgetting that that would not be completely helpful as there are two very common American pronunciations of garage.)

  12. So I was already gone from Brazil when BRIC was coined (or at least when I first heard the term); I was in Brazil during hyper-inflation, and was there for the successful transition out of that after more than a decade of failed attempts. There was finally hope that they might actually be getting somewhere. I left Brazil while it was still hopeful. But Brazil is ever destined to be the country of the future, and only the future, never the now. In my cautious optimism, I actually invested in Petrobras, saying the only way this investment could go wrong is if they actively, consciously, worked to screw things up, and that is exactly what they did, government level corruption, all the way up, in what became known as the Lava Jato (car-wash) scandal. On one of the more recent trips back during the previous Olympics, we found out that Walmart had pulled out of Brazil, even they couldn’t run their stores there in a profitable manner, and while I’m no fan of Walmart and usually don’t see the coming of one as progress or something to be celebrated, in Brazil it was, it really was, but it couldn’t survive, Brazil beat them down.
    Ah, Brazil, the only reliable thing about you is how you endlessly disappoint…
    As to Russia… let me just say there was a family in-joke that my father passed on to our generation from his, which was saying of any consumable item, “it has to go, before the Russians come”, ie: no point saving those potatoes for later, eat them now, while you can, before the imminent arrival of the advancing Russians. This was at a specific time a very literally true thing for my father growing up in Berlin during the War, and I am almost glad that he didn’t quite live long enough to see it become a real thing again….

  13. Once again reviving a thread:
    I’m reading Bear Braumoeller’s 2019 Only the Dead (the best response to Steven Pinker I have yet read, and I’m a Pinker fan), and in talking about the post WWII Cold War era, I came across this sentence (remember, he’s writing in 2019, so this is not in any way proof that the terms were used this way at the time):
    “Although the superpowers mostly went out of their way to avoid direct conflict, members of the so-called First World–the industrial, capitalist countries that were aligned with the United States against the Communist bloc–and those of the Communist Second World clashed around the globe, sometimes directly, bust mostly in proxy wars in the third world.”
    Things I found interesting: First World and Second World are capitalized, but third world isn’t, and Second World is used at all.

  14. A few pages later:
    “These decisions best captured the “first world–second world” distinction that was often used to sort countries into one camp or the other during the Cold War.”
    I dispute that those exact terms were used at the time, though they certainly were imputed, and thus the use of “third world” for all those that didn’t lump into the first two, however they were designated. (Note in this instance there is no capitalization.)

    (PS: I should clarify, this is the best response to Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature…)

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