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Samstag, 9. Februar 2008 link aYago

Paul Graham: "My first priority with Arc right now is the core language -- those operators that are neither primitives like car and cdr, nor special-purpose library functions. [..] I've taken a lot of heat for focusing on this, but I think it's both an important problem and a difficult one."

I said it in private before and here you have it on record: I personally think that's one of the most sensible things to do. The core language has such a profound impact on all other things built on top of it, that this special attention is merited. I won't justify that claim regarding Lisp but rather meander to a less emotionally laden language.

I've seen Arthur Whitney's K evolve through several iterations, and it appeared as if Arthur focused on seemingly trivial changes in the primitives. You have to know that K's primitives are all single ASCII characters, which means there are about three dozens of characters used. All of them are heavily polymorphic, so a ? with a single argument is something different than a ? with two arguments. Further, it makes a difference whether the arguments are atomic values or vectors of values (or even matrices of values). Now while this may sound horribly unusable that's not really the point here: this constrained set of core language constructs is radically fine-tuned to fit together. Leading to results, that are often nothing but enlightening. Such a coherent set of primitives does not come for free. In K's case it's the result of the designer's tremendous experience as user and designer in the language's family (APL and its descendants) and the will to radically question everything, be it the most deeply-rooted assumption or a seemingly superficial detail.

While K is definitely focused on different goals than Arc, I think every language deserves careful concentration on its very core. Think a second about the marvels of libraries and infrastructure built around Java and Python. Then imagine what could have been, if only ...


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