It looks like Joel Spolsky has just written my next article for me. I’m currently working through Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, and now understand what Alan Perlis meant when he said:
Pascal is for building pyramids — imposing, breathtaking, static structures built by armies pushing heavy blocks into place. Lisp is for building organisms — imposing, breathtaking, dynamic structures built by squads fitting fluctuating myriads of simpler organisms into place. The organizing principles used are the same in both cases, except for one extraordinarily important difference: The discretionary exportable functionality entrusted to the individual Lisp programmer is more than an order of magnitude greater than that to be found within Pascal enterprises. Lisp programs inflate libraries with functions whose utility transcends the application that produced them. The list, Lisp’s native data structure, is largely responsible for such growth of utility. The simple structure and natural applicability of lists are reflected in functions that are amazingly nonidiosyncratic. In Pascal the plethora of declarable data structures induces a specialization within functions that inhibits and penalizes casual cooperation. It is better to have 100 functions operate on one data structure than to have 10 functions operate on 10 data structures. As a result the pyramid must stand unchanged for a millennium; the organism must evolve or perish.
For “Pascal”, think “C++”, “Java” or similar.
as Joel says:
> Can Your Programming Language Do This?”