Yegge: You know John Cage is the composer who pissed everyone off with his 4 minutes and 37 seconds composition which was a dude sitting at a piano for 4 minutes and 37 seconds.
Yegge: And not playing it, was it 33 ?
Yegge: Oh man, I'm 4 seconds out.
Spolsky: You just, well I think you might have your own new composition.
Yegge & Spolsky: <laughs>
Spolsky: Our guest today on the StackOverflow Podcast is Mr Steve Yegge.
Yegge: Howdy howdy.
Spolsky: Formerly of Amazon, and the Navy even before that, currently of Google in Kirkland where Michael and I are visiting. Jeff is on the line from Emeryville.
Atwood: Well actually El Cerrito but close, very close.
Spolsky: El Cerrito?
Spolsky: That's a different Mexican resteraunt outside of Berkeley
Atwood: So how's the Google-plex treating you?
Spolsky: It's pretty nice, this isn't the plex I don't think...
Yegge: It's kind of plexy, I mean it's the plexiest we've got in Kirkland
Spolsky: It's a little ugly plex
Yegge: It's frigidly cold here, but it's beautiful outside
Spolsky: Apparently the weather in Seattle is usually bad, we're having beautiful weather and everybody's saying we're lucky or something?
Yegge: You were, you're using our year's quote of sunlight basically, but yeah we're in Kirkland offices and we had a nice lunch, it's "Earth day" tomorrow I guess, and so the chef came up and started begging us to take asparagus home
Spolsky: Oh yeah, there's a big old table of organic produce up there in the Amazon cafeteria
Yegge: GOOGLE cafeteria
Atwood: Amazon... <laughing>
Yegge: At amazon you <something> pull your wallet out. No, they do but...
Spolsky: So we're in the Google Cafeteria, there's a big old table set out there with like, raw asparagus and 20 kinds of fruits and vegetables
Yegge: Yeah, like a farmers market
Spolsky: All kinds of different apples and stuff
Yegge: And I was trying to explain to Joel that in certain other companies that I've worked at, I'm not naming any names, there was a big discussion about whether you should feel guilty if you're going to take food home, you know, if they're going to feed you because there's some cataclysmic event - and I was about to say, at Google, they've kind of cleared up the ambiguity - and the chef walks up and says PLEASE take ANY of this home you want, and he just starts handing us bags - so yeah there's a little bit of contrast there
Spolsky: Yeah. That's pretty nice, I was going to take some home to my friends at Microsoft because they don't get enough food over there, I don't think
Atwood: But it's a table full of vegetables, that's not very "programmery", it should be like Ding-Dongs and Twinkies and...
Spolsky: They had that too! They have the slightly healthier versions of the Ding-Dongs
Yegge: Yeah we have the much healthier Red bull cola?
Spolsky: Red bull cola and stuff
Atwood: The "organic" red bull <laughs>
Yegge: We did have a brownie, there was a brownie
Spolsky: I'm just noticing that lava lamps seems to have an antenna which seems to be attached by a wire ...
Yegge: Oh yeah! That's our wired internet lava lamp, so you can check its...I'm just making this stuff up
<all 3 laugh>
Spolsky: It's a lava lamp, this little conference room along with a ... floating ... soccer ball
Yegge: It's not very lava lamp-ey either, it's ON but it's not MOVING, so maybe it's actually a, you know a... listening device or...
Spolsky: Optical illusion? It's just CGI that they added after
Yegge: <laughs> Could be!
Spolsky: So Jeff how are you doing?
Atwood: Good! Well I was going to tell you, I think your show was one of the most popular ones we ever did
Yegge: Yeah! One of the most popular
Atwood: Yeah, repeated - REPEATED compliments on that one, people really seemed to enjoy that show
Yegge: I don't remember ANY of it! But I hear it was good
Spolsky: We might have talked about programming languages, everybody likes a good programming language fight
Yegge: Oh yeah, yeah
Atwood: Oh yeah! Speaking of programming languages, I have a little anecdote, you guys probably knew this but me being a dumb ass, I didn't know that APL was ACTUALLY symbols? I thought you were kidding! You brought that up, and you were like, you know, I said well what if there was a programming language or - I think Alex brought it up actually from the Daily WTF, what if there was a programming language which was ENTIRELY symbols? and I was like, "Ha ha ha, that's hilarious!"
Spolsky: And I said "Yeah, APL"
Atwood: No, I was like, that's ridiculous, and then <laughs> in the comments after I put that show up people were like, "yeah, just like APL" and I was: "WHAT?" , I was like, "Joel wasn't just pulling my chain like he usually is?"
Spolsky: When did I ever pull your chain?
Atwood: You're CONSTANTLY yanking my chain
Yegge: Yeah I think they got the idea from terminals that couldn't display Unicode? So you'd see little smiley faces and stuff? and they're like, you know what? This is even MORE succinct than Perl!
Spolsky: It's the line noise language! I don't know why they use symbols it's really a matrix language
Atwood: Well it's a mathematics thing, somebody said this is what happens when you let...mathematics design a programming language
Spolsky: It gets really concise. But then like the whole Fibonacci generator is like 8 characters or something and the, you know, it's a very concise language
Yegge: It's good to be able to save space on your, Fibonacci generators, cause... lot of those...
Yegge: The toy examples always drive me nuts, you know the, c++, you know the Stroustrup examples, you know the c++ toy example he uses AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN, it's the point class , and it's just SO hard in C and now we can have...
Spolsky: Right... which inherits from <something>
Yegge: ... points, complex numbers, that was the one, complex numbers, yeah same thing
Spolsky: You've got a whole programming language designed for complex numbers?
Yegge: Pretty much, and then he kinda bolted everything else on afterwards
Spolsky: and strings, that's the problem, that you couldn't do strings
Yegge: Exactly, and then Perl came along and they could do strings really well but not so much lists or (something) or data structures, and then it all went to hell and then now the Haskell and the Scala people are like “LOOK AT OUR QUICKSORT IT'S ONLY 3 LINES AND IT'S NOT ACTUALLY QUICKSORT BUT IT'S PRETTY CLOSE” and it's provably correct your stuff is sorted and you're just like "Great, that really makes me want to use the language." I don't know, it's just...
Spolsky: It's some other sort. <laughs>
Yegge: Yeah, it is. Medium sort.
<all 3 laugh>
Atwood: So, just to clarify, there is a version of APL that gets rid of the crazy symbols, but it's essentially the same language. I believe it's called, I want to say "J"? I think. A lot of people that use APL have switched to that because it's less insane.
Yegge: Isn't that four out of five people? Because there were only five people I think, actually using APL.
Spolksy: You used to have to get a special terminal for it.
Yegge: Yeah, you couldn't type it in. That was a big one, right? I mean, if your keyboard doesn't work for you, where are ya? The thing is, I hear it was a really elegant, really nice language. I had old geezers telling me they just loved it. It's just a shame it never took off.
Spolsky: I think it did amongst Mathematicians, people that were modelling weather and scientists, and stuff like that, but this was really in the sixties, maybe the seventies. So it wasn't like it was Windows, like you could have a language with all kinds of wacky stuff and they would just put an onscreen keyboard and you could click on the glyph you wanted. No, this was like you had a teletype punch type terminal with...
Yegge: You probably had some horrible horrible setup that looked like the sound equipment on the table in front of us. <laughs> In thirty years we're going to look back and go "Remember that setup you had for the podcasting?"
Spolsky: The only thing funnier than all these wires that I have on the table in front of me for the podcast is trying to get this through airport security.
Yegge: Oh god. I can't imagine. Seriously, it looks just like the Apollo 13 scene where they dumped all the stuff on the floor and said "build a CO2 remover" and Joel did it in record time, I think he did it in under 15 minutes, put it all together this time. It's an impressive piece of work. That's what you need to program APL is what I hear. You just need this really fancy setup.
Spolsky: Well, this setup is nothing. Just the fact that I could fit a whole professional recording studio into a knapsack and the fact that we've got Jeff on Skype coming in remotely.
Yegge: It looks pretty cool now.
Spolsky: Yeah, and you're not even seeing all the cool flashing numbers over here and the blinking lights and the little VU meters that I'm monitoring.
Yegge: It has blinking lights, kind of like the Star Trek panel?
Spolsky: Swing around over here, we got four little VU meters here, so that's me.
Yegge: That looks very expensive.
Spolsky: That's the time, it's an OLED display.
Atwood: Let's not get too meta on podcast stuff. That's a complaint about other podcasts.
Spolsky: That they talk about podcasts the whole time.
Yegge: Who? Oh, they do?
Atwood: It's kind of like programmers talking about programming languages.
Yegge: Yeah, that's annoying, let's not do that.
Spolsky: A minute ago we were about to have an interesting conversation, Steve and I was "Let's save this for the podcast". What the heck was that about? Do you remember Michael? It's lost to...
Yegge: Was it the strippers?
Spolsky: I thought it was hookers. Wait a minute.
Yegge: That was my former employer. Yeah, what was it?
Spolsky: I was asking you what were the worst things about working for you former employer, cause I hear it's not such a great place to work any more.
Yegge: It's not so bad. McDonalds has pros and cons, right? You could make a case for working there.
Spolsky: 1 out of 8 of all US citizens have worked at McDonalds at some point.
Yegge: Yeah, right. I'd say with their turnover, my former employer will probably be... 1 in 8 programmers will be able to say they worked there and their signing bonus kicked in and they ran. I'm thinking that 4 years is an appropriate amount of time to wait. So I've got another 6 months before I can actually start the whistle blowing. Or, what's the word? Expose. Not that people haven't done that before, right? Written books about it and stuff. But that place is just insane.
Spolsky: Mike Daisy? Wait, are we not identifying them by name?
Yegge: No, no, no, we're not identifying them by name. Is this a cell phone? No, 6 months from now you can ask me and I'll be a bit more forthcoming about some of the craziness that went on there.
Spolsky: It was sort of like a dot com company, right? Like dot com craziness?
Yegge: Er... well, I don't know. I've heard a lot of dot com stories, but I haven't heard any stories of managers who like wrote with green felt markers on bald employees heads or prevented... keeping people from going to their mothers funerals, or any number of other... I mean it wasn't just dot com craziness, there was real craziness going on there, moony craziness going on there for a while.
Yegge: But we're talking about it, this company is ancient history, I don't wanna talk about it... but you did ask me "what are you working on?"
Spolsky: Oh yeah, are you allowed to say what you're working on?
Yegge: Yeah... to some extent. You guys asked me last time and I was like "Raaaraaaragh". And this time I'm more like "Rah". A little less <indecipherable>
Yegge: So you know, it's just a little less..
Spolsky: So two barks or one bark. Is it anything to do with like communications in some way. Give me one bark yes.
Yegge: Rah, rah. That's two barks for no.
Spolsky: Not a communications tool.
Yegge: No,no, it's an internal... so I'm obsessed with productivity. And as it happens, so's Google now because the big recession hit, and now nobodies hiring like crazy any more, I think everybody was for a while, but... and so you know, they're taking a look around to see how to get more out of their current engineers. and they're walking round asking people, so what would make you more happier? And people inevitably say "Tools! Tools, tools, tools", right? I mean that's what they want. Well, people come over here from Microsoft and they throw temper tantrums.
Spolsky: That's true. Microsoft really does have a machine of tools, like the...
Yegge: They have all kinds of machines, I was wondering which one you were referring to. The one that keeps your eyelids open?
Spolsky: Well, I was thinking of the fact that when a programmer writes code at Microsoft, it goes into this giant factory, you don't even know about. And millions of copies of it in millions of different languages and you're seeing your code run in Turkish. And somebody's complaining about an error when you capitalise the letter I from English to Turkish it loses or doesn't lose it's dot as appropriate in the Turkish alphabet set and you're like, "What? My code runs in Turkish?"
Yegge: Nice, nice. And also, they have Intellisense, right? And they've had it forever. It's like crack. Or so I hear.
Spolsky: Oh, jeez, the size of APIs today, where you've got like a thousand little member functions...
Yegge: And it's funny. I heard this Googler who, uh, he sent this impassioned rant to our Java list and he said, "you know I've been a C++ programmer for 25 years and I never, ever though I'd be using Java. I've been using C++ since before there was C++" apparently. I don't think I did my math quite right there, but he's been using C++ for along time, right? He says, "I was forced to use Java," because he was on this one project using Java, and he says, "you know, now, like a year later, I can't even begin to express how much cooler it is than C++ and it's not the language. It's got nothing to do with the language. The language isn't really that good, but that's neither here not there. The tools are amazing. The things it can tell you..." and blah blah blah, and he was basically going on saying Java has kinda intellisense now, right?
Spolsky: Right, now this is in Eclipse presumably.
Yegge: Yeah it was Eclipse or maybe IntelliJ or one of those ones. And so Visual Studio has had this forever so people from Microsoft, you know that's the environment they use (except for the ones who use Emacs, which is apparently a larger number than they like to advertise). But they come over here and they're like, "I can't find my way around this code base." 'Cause Google has a lot of code. I mean, so does Microsoft, so does any big company, right? And so like a year ago... so after being on like 3 projects, all of which were cancelled - I think I told you guys this last time...
Spolsky: You have a lot of bad luck with that.
Yegge: Yeah, you know, but it wasn't all bad right? I even got a bonus for one of 'em.
Spolsky: You could have a situation comedy, sort of like Everyone Hates Chris, where something bad happens to you every single day, but you stand up and dust yourself off.
Yegge: I could, I could, but it would be so hard to pull it off, right? Around here it's like, "oh something bad happened today. They didn't have enough asparagus..."
Yegge: ...or whatever, right. I mean it's just like you gotta...
Spolsky <laughing>: You ran out of asparagus on the free vegetable table.
Yegge: You gotta put it all in perspective, right, I mean. Seriously, people got whiny here. We had a reputation in Kirkland for being whiners, among the rest of Google. It's cause people would literally write on the comments board... The one that really got my co-worker was "Please don't put frosting on the chocolate brownies because it gets on my finger," I mean it's like... we've got serious problems at this company.
Spolsky: What's that expression? "How quickly we grow to feel entitled to things that were only invented 15 minutes ago".
Spolsky: There was a woman on the plane when Michael and I were flying out here, who, uh, I guess it was the kind of plane that doesn't have power outlets at every seat, and she was just complaining to the flight attendant. She was like "A six hour flight without power?!? How am I supposed to...
Yegge: Oh, no. It's like being on a desert island. I know, I know. So yeah, the entitlement thing is... you wouldn't think that it was an issue, and at other places at Google it doesn't appear to be. I heard one dude stand up at the company All-Hands and complain that because there was now a cafe in every building bug not a bunch of micro-kitchens, what would happen if he didn't like the chef's food and had to walk to another building.
Spolsky: Oh, no.
Yegge: And he got boo'd off the stage, everyone was laughing at him, jeering at him, and it's like no entitlement down there, right?
Spolsky: I think Google hires a much larger proportion of experienced developer than fresh out of college hires than a lot of other companies.
Yegge: I could see that.
Spolsky: Which means that a lot of them have been other places where they know what the par for the course is
Yegge: I actually made an argument at one pont and I was sort of serious that you shouldn't be allowed to come here right out of college because you have no idea how good you've got it.
Spolsky: Right, just for that reason alone.
Yegge: Or, or if you come here from college we should slap you. Like just once, right, just to say "that's what it's like elsewhere," right? Or like you could... you know, have them go to a little boot camp. I don't know, something like...
Spolsky: Well, here's an idea. What you do is you find some big advertising company in New York or something that's doing some integration project with Google, you know, to feed 8 million ad words to some campaign or something, and you send them out to work in that place for 8 weeks.
Yegge: That's right. We call it the "Salt Mines Project" and they get to be in the salt mines for 8 weeks. And then, and then... and then no food or anything like that. And then they get to come over here and then maybe they'll get it. Because it's often the college hires who were kind of... who had the worst entitlement problem. But anyway, we had kind of a reputation for it, and it was kind of an issue, so...
Yegge: But developers are kind of entitled to good tools, I think. I mean, you know, it'st's foolish to, to, to try to ... I saw this dude, you know, hes not with us anymore and he left voluntarily, he was a good programmer, I mean people can get by with just basic V.I. But I mean the dude had, he was using not Vim, he was using V.I. Like Vi or whatever you call it, the old one. it was like Ed.
Spolsky: Ed. One comma three I <laughs>
Yegge: And I'd watch over his shoulder and i'd be like "Dude, you spelled it fuction again". Right, and he'd be like "yeah, I really oughtta...". And I'd be like...
<Spolsky and Atwood laughing>
Spolsky: Yeah. Sure.
Yegge: And if I'm going to fix it, I'm gonna fix it in sort of a Googly way, and a big scalable way, and a non-stupid way, right. And so I took a look around, and I mean like, basically programming languages are silos. We already know that, they don't interoperate well, right. You know, you can use COM, CORBA, things like that you know, whatever, but there's no like there's very little like call stack sharing, right, going on.
Spolsky: Unless you have... except for the set of .NET languages. But yeah...
Yegge: Uh, yeah they do. Yes. Or, if you want to go through the exceptions list, the Sun's JVM, the Apple LLVM that's probably further along than that.
Spolsky: Right, right. There are litte worlds that aren't quite so "silo."
Yegge: Yeah, and they're working on it, but I mean, I was at Foo Camp a couple years ago where the, basically the leading experts, you know, in the world were working on this. There was a dude, there were a couple guys from Microsoft, a couple guys from Apple, and the Perl Parrot project, and there was the SmallTalk VM guy, and this long list of people. The room was just packed with compiler/VM brain material. And they just got into this explosive argument that lasted for like 2 hours. They literally got up and walked over into the tent and ate dinner and they're still like talking to each other through their mouthful going <muffled>"well, what about this problem?"</muffled>
Spolsky: "How do you throw an exception across 4 frames...?"
Spolsky: "... where you gotta throw it through another language?"
Yegge: Yes! And it was exactly this kind of question. And it was like people were just trivializing it, going like "well, you'll just..." and they're like "there is no just. What about threading semantics, what about object semantics, what about this and that?" You know. And it's a hard, hard problem. Basically my point that languages don't really call each other in their silos is still true today. It'll be great when we get to where it doesn't matter what language you use, it's just surface syntax you know. But that's gonna be a long time, right. And you kinda disenfranchise your users too. Microsoft did this with Visual Basic, right. They were like, "oh, we want it to interoperate with C++, so we're gonna kinda change the way it works..."
Spolsky: Well, with C#, actually, but yeah...
Yegge: Oh, sorry. Or, or, you know, what do they call it?
Spolsky: And they changed the way C++ works
Yegge: ...embedded C++, what do they call it? Managed, managed C++. Yeah.
Spolsky: Well, don't forget that if you do that, you're missing the point, because if you just say, "wouldn't it be awesome if all languages were just skin syntax on top," that skin syntax on top is the thing that the programmers care the least about.
Yegge: And it's the least common denominator too, is what you're gonna wind up with.
Spolsky: You have to have a least common denominator...
Yegge: There's still the "right tool for the right job" thing going on with programming.
Yegge: I guess. I don't know. But anyway, I took a look at the state of the art of tools, and I was like, you know what, I mean, Visual Studio, and say, Eclipse, IntelliJ are the sort of the state of the art for tools. You know, they have auto-completion, they have smart linking and browsing and blah blah blah, but you basically have to like add support for each language for each editor. So there's a NxM sort of matrix problem, right. So in other words, like, emacs has like pretty, kinda OK-ish C++ support but it's Java support's not quite as good, and it kinda diminishes. Emacs kinda has a decent-ish support for a lot of languages; Eclipse has really good support for Java, and kind of OK for C++, and it tails off really fast, it's like lousy for like Perl. And so on. And so like everybody has their favorite editor, and they won't give it up, right.
Yegge: Even if it's vi with no paren matching. They're like, "damn it, I'm gonna use this till I die."
Spolsky: Doesn't—isn't there a problem that ... I know that in the case of IntelliSense, at least, it's very very hard to do good IntelliSense if you don't know the type that something is—that the variable is pointing at.
Yegge: Well, it is hard, but I notice that you didn't say it's impossible, and that's—that's the correct word, because it's not impossible.
Yegge: I don't know if we talk about it or anything. I know we're planning on open sourcing it—we're working on it.
Spolsky: Is it—is it the same as the one in Chrome?
Yegge: I don't know—no, it's not. The one in Chrome is a VM.
Spolsky: Oh, OK.
Yegge: It's a very—You know, it's kind of obfuscated—and it's not obfuscated...
Yegge: So there's classes, and there's methods, and inheritance, and there's even to some extent, you know, parameterized types and things like that.
Spolsky: Do you have to declare the types?
Yegge: You don't have to—there's type inference.
Yegge: So, the more types that you declare, especially at key points where there's a little bit of purchase for the type inference engine...
Spolsky: Yeah. Yeah.
Yegge: ...the better...
Yegge: …and it'll tell you, "Oh gosh, I have no idea what's going on here", right?
Yegge: …maybe it dispatches and does something different, you know?
Yegge: ...because they don't have overloading, right? So what you do is you just look at your arguments and see what you got and then do some dispatch, right?
Yegge: The type inference engine in JSCompiler will actually, like, figure out what all the possible things are that you do pass in, and create a union type for those, right?
Yegge: And none of this is ever surfaced in any sort of an IDE, or anything—it's just warnings or errors at build time, right?
Spolsky: So it can catch things faster.
Yegge: Yeah—but I mean, so it would be very nice if it could catch it as you typed it.
Spolsky: And plus, like, know what the type of that object is, so that... <overtalked>
Yegge: Absolutely. <overtalked> So that you could do—exactly—autocompletion, and things like that, right?
Yegge: ...I'm like, well, yeah. We have to write a Python compiler, you know..
Yegge: ...it's going to be some work. Because, the thing is, it's a very—it's a really sophisticated compiler. It does like 50 passes over the IR, and it does—it builds a, you know, control flow graph, and all that Dragon Book stuff, right?
Yegge: And it's starting—it's starting off with very few types. I mean, it's the types that you give it, right, but I mean, like, you could potentially, I mean, I think, eventually we're going to be able to run it on third-party code, where all—the only types are, like, you know, literals, and functions—you know, there isn't a type system, right? But it can still infer kind of a lot of stuff there, right?
Yegge: So, like, anyways, so, again, it's hard, it's a lot of work, and it could be better, and so on, but I mean it's pretty good. And then with C++, and with Java, and any statically typed language, you have types.
Yegge: So you have a lot of stuff for the IntelliJ...
Yegge: ...IntelliSense stuff to work.
Spolsky: And IntelliSense will almost work, and it'll use all kinds of exhaustive methods...
Spolsky: ...to try to guess what type things are.
Spolsky: Sometimes in ways that are maybe 95% accurate...
Yegge: And you know what?
Spolsky: <simultaneous> but not 100%...
Yegge: That's been my, sort of, core philosophy, is that if it's 95% accurate, then, you know, 5% of the time, you're going to be fixing it, you know...
Yegge: ...probably for C++, right? Every once in a while, it doesn't indent exactly the way you want, but as long as it's helping you...
Yegge: You know, um...
Spolsky: A lot of times, when it's failing, it's cuing you off as to something that you did nonstandard that's...
Yegge: That's true.
Spolsky: Or possibly even wrong.
Yegge: It could—you're right, it's actually kind of an incentive for you to sort of code in a more transparent way.
Yegge: "Your tool won't know what the hell you're doing."
Spolsky: Mm-hmm. <laughs>
Yegge: And that's your choice, right?