Notes Information Apocalypse

The Landscape of Computing

People think that it is strange that someone like me who knows so much about programming languages chooses to program in PHP so frequently. They're probably right, and I appreciate where they're coming from. However, I do have a different vision. PHP is a means to an end, not an end in itself. That end is chopping the ends off HTTP requests and bursting them out into HTML strings. A stupefying and messy thing to begin with. PHP is just one deviant concoction, not as elegant as Ruby or as precise as Python, but basically the same thing. An evaluator with a little pool of memory and IO access to everything on a system. It has a crude parser and a horribly twisted grammar hacked by two Israeli students that instantly turns off type theory nerds and purists. PHP is the ultimate product of the web, a series of C macros for an HTML template language that got so out of control that it exploded horribly into a general purpose programming language, proving once again that all sufficiently powerful template engines will eventually become Turing complete. That must be some kind of law of string processing, a universal (and egotistical) principle of accidental emergence.

Ruby, Python, Perl, PHP, are really just cauldrons, bubbling hot bulbs of memory fed by pipes attached to tankers with weird names like Apache, Mysql, and their friends like Memcached, Postgres, and now with the recent ubiquity of RESTful architecture, the entire HTTP embedded internet. C is the furnace, the forge, and the fire that drives all of this.

Syntax is an illusion, the only reality is the protocol. Passing patterns of bits and bytes is really just an evolution of chiseled stone, calligraphic ink, and hot metal glyphs into electrical signals. Software is the idea that these systems can be modeled in the language of thought, rather than the language of electricity, but it remains that all programming languages are really just extensions of our own language — it's the electricity itself that skips and dances across the wire. All that is just to say that I see PHP as a stop-gap. I've invested in it, but I'm not deeply interested in it.

If you’re wondering what I'm really interested in, I did once try to explain. Lisp has been described as being to computer science, what Maxwell's equations were to physics. I don't disagree with that. I dream that Lisp machines will eventually be reconstructed as tiny biomechanisms powered by the same energy sources that fuel and sustain living cells. That day would be the dawn of a new era of computing — beautiful and terrible.