learning Lisp (was: Contributing)

Kyle Lahnakoski kyle@arcavia.com
Fri Feb 21 21:38:01 2003

Jecel Assumpcao Jr wrote:

>On Thursday 20 February 2003 18:07, Brian T Rice wrote:
>>If it matters, people like Eric Raymond and Richard Stallman (by no
>>means necessarily the greatest examples) will both tell you that
>>learning Lisp will make you a better programmer even if you never use
>>it (ESR wrote an essay with this as its thesis, actually). If you
>>reject that kind of advice, you're not being flexible, and not
>>reflecting well enough yourself. ;)
>Your advice is great and I'll say more about it below. But you must see 
>that you have been expressing yourself in such an agressive tone that 
>makes it very likely that your advice will be rejected. Now I 
>understand the frustration of dealing with people who are starting out, 
>but see how they are treated in the Squeak list and what the result is.

I disagree with Brian's proposed change to the membership policy, but 
this is part of a bigger problem.

A living project has to have a lot of members. These members must be of 
varying skill, for each brings advantages to the project as a whole. The 
veterans obviously bring design and research to the Tunes' body of 
knowledge. But veterans are hard to find; they are most likely already 
veterans in an area that interests them and are not about to change 
projects. Furthermore, veterans are likely employed and have little time 
to devote to a free project.

The intermediate members help the newbies get up to speed, and document 
the many complex ideas to make that task easier. Essentially, 
intermediates help maintain a healthy population for the project. 
Intermediates may be even harder to find than veterans, mostly because 
intermediates require a lot of project-specific knowledge.

Newbies are plentiful and bring motivation, conversation and population. 
Motivation should not be underestimated, for it breeds motivation. Even 
in the absence of any veterans, or even intermediates, the project 
website can still teach. The newbies can learn from each other faster 
than if they are on their own. Newbies converse, mostly in the quest to 
acquire knowledge, but also can provide a source for diversity in ideas, 
skills and likes; making it more likely the project has the people 
necessary to do all the different tasks it might need done. Newbie 
populations plentiful, and are an excellent source for contingency: In 
the event that an intermediate or veteran member is lost, there will be 
a good chance that the replacement will be someone that was a newbie. 
More newbies means more intermediate and more veteran members in the 
long run.

Fare's writings have the ability to inspire people. I have found his 
ability to tie politics into almost every discussion important for 
understanding why Tunes is good for society. His writings portray Tunes 
as more than a nifty computing environment, but rather an agent of 
positive social change. Tunes' grand plan goes beyond the cold 
calculating world of computer science, and suggests humane computing is 
possible. Fare's inspirational writings attract many newbies to the 
Tunes project. Yet this newbie source is not is not being transformed 
into productive members.

In the couple of years I have been lurking, I have noticed Brian's 
aggressive tone has shut down many newbies. A review of the mailing list 
before his appearance seems to suggest that Tunes was a much more active 
site, and much more friendly too. Tunes attracted members back then, and 
we see some are still around as veterans. Since Brian’s join, the only 
people that could persevere though the intolerable newbie stage have 
become contributors. Cutting off the newbie source has killed the Tunes 
project, leaving only Brian’s sanctioned programming project, Slate.

So should the membership be clamped down and the newbie flames continue? 
Will admission be granted to the rare few with the prerequisite skills? 
This will certainly keep conversation to a minimum, and free the veteran 
members to pursue their goals. But what will happen when Brian is 
working full time or has other life events that take him away from Tunes 
for extended periods of time? This has happened to every other long time 
member, and has happened to everyone over the age of 30, so it should be 
reasonable to have Tunes plan for this contingency.

Personally I am dismayed at the current state of Tunes. It is the only 
place (I have found) on the net that strives for such lofty goals, and 
is the only potential meeting place for all those that have the same 
dream. The recent website conversion, though beautiful and better 
organized, adds little in terms of new information; lots of references, 
but those references are not being distilled down to their essential 
Tunes’ ideas. The website is going though a cleansing process, Fare’s 
political references are disappearing and Tunes is starting to look like 
just another lisp. Finally a search of the IRC channel logs shows few 
newbies are surviving the near daily “booting” delivered by water.

Kyle Lahnakoski                                       kyle@arcavia.com
(416) 892-7784                                    Arcavia Software Ltd