Wednesday, 14 May 2003

Irritated by Paul Graham (w/fruit juice on the side)

Listening to:

Schubert, Overture “in the Italian style”, D590.

My toe is rather an ugly purple colour on top, but my gait is less of a hobble than it was on Monday, so I think things are on the mend.

Here's a marker of cultural difference between the UK and Australia (other than: one can play cricket, and the other can't): in the UK you can buy orange and grapefruit juice blends in cartons. This is typically known as ‘breakfast juice’. In Australia, you can't (I have seen ‘breakfast juices’, but these are typically orange with mango and/or pineapple). But Australia distinguishes itself by providing apple and blackcurrant juice, which I don't remember seeing on the shelves at Sainsbury's. Australia's better because you can mimic the UK by buying the orange and grapefruit juices separately, and mixing them yourself, but you can't buy blackcurrant juice separately in either country. Isn't that fascinating?

There's a guy out there called Paul Graham who is definitely something of a guru. I earlier linked to a piece of his about using Bayesian analyses to detect spams (given samples of non-spam and spam messages). For whatever reason, his proposal hit a nerve, and lots of people rushed to implement this (good) idea. I am using Xavier Leroy's SpamOracle implementation of this idea, and it works wonderfully.

On the other hand, Graham's latest piece is all about hacking and how it's really just like painting, and it gets up my nose in all sorts of ways. Perhaps this is inevitable. He says

I've never liked the term "computer science." The main reason I don't like it is that there's no such thing. Computer science is a grab bag of tenuously related areas thrown together by an accident of history, like Yugoslavia.

and I just don't buy this. Yes, there's a spectrum of interests in a Computer Science department, but this is true of any discipline too. Graham's also got a real hang-up about what he calls static typing, and he proffers Lisp's dynamic typing as a real win over languages where you have to declare the type of every variable (from another essay of his). SML and Haskell are both statically typed languages, and neither requires you to declare the types of variables.

Of course, both of these languages are academic languages (i.e., the product of academic research), and academia is generally getting a bum rap here so perhaps it's not surprising that I should feel so antsy. It's all symptomatic of a typical mentality that says that hacking is cool, and where the real work is done, while stuff done in ivory towers is obviously not useful, or applicable to the practice of real programming. In order to demonstrate that they absolutely don't suffer from maths envy, people of this view find it too easy to lurch to the opposite extreme and dismiss academic stuff out of hand.

Seethe, seethe.

Comments

Blackcurrant juice is not really a viable beverage on its own - it's very strong and acidic. Hence Ribena (Blackcurrant + sugar + water) and Blackcurrant/apple (which is also, frankly, Blackcurrant + sugar + water :)

A quick squizz at http://www.britstore.co.uk/itm00287.htm indicates that diluted Ribena is less than 4% juice. Wow.

Posted by: Amy Gale at May 15, 2003 03:36 AM

Hi Amy!

Yes, I'm sure the percentage of blackcurrant juice in the apple and blackcurrant juice here is very small. Apple juice can be so tasteless itself that you don't need much in the way of other ingredients. The Apple and Pear Board in NZ (ENZA now, right?) know all about this: I think all of the flavours of cans we bought off them for the fridge in the VUW grad lab (1993-1994) had apple juice in them.

Maybe English apples are too expensive to be used as a fruit juice base in this way, or maybe they just need enlightening. (Either seems plausible.)

Posted by: Michael Norrish at May 15, 2003 10:15 AM

"Apple base", yeah.

I have a very clear memory of reading a Listener article when I was in primary school (I think - when Just Juice came out in those cool little boxes that you could jump on and they would go BANG). Apple base is apparently "deionised" apple juice with all the distinguising characteristics removed - so it really is very close to a simple fructose/water solution.

Not that real apple juice is much better. I argue with Americans all the time when they claim I should have "healthy" apple or grape juice at lunch instead of "unhealthy" diet coke which, ok, is rotting my teeth and my brain and giving me cellulite and juicing me on caffeine but at least is not primarily a sugar delivary system.

I would claim that this is a reason that americans kids are obese in such frightening percentages, but all said friends seem healthy enough.

Posted by: Amy Gale at May 16, 2003 01:48 AM