Is beautiful software bad? What does it mean to program for extreme conditions? What’s the role of engineering in science? Is software development as creation over? Is scientific incommensurability real? Do we need reality-based runtimes? This talk doesn’t have a single theme but is instead a collection of ideas I’ve had or have heard over the years, sometimes from conversations in obscure taverns in rainy European cities; sometimes while driving in an SUV across the Sonoran Desert. It reflects the disquiet I’ve felt as I’ve tested my ideas of programming against others’; the mainstream’s. What I hope is that after this talk one of you will explain clearly why I’m wrong—really really wrong—so I might move on to my obsessions.
Richard P. “Dick” Gabriel overcame a hardscrabble, working-class upbringing in the dreadfully industrialized and famously polluted Merrimack Valley of eastern Massachusetts to become one of the few genuine Renaissance men to emerge from the OO milieu: scholar, scientist, poet, performance artist, entrepreneur, musician, essayist, and yes, hacker….
Though somewhat less well-endowed of the effortless intellectual incandescence, easy charisma, and raw animal magnetism of so many of his generation of future object-oriented luminaries, he was able, with discipline, determination, and hard work, to survive the grueling demands of elite, first-tier academic institutions such as MIT, UIUC, and Stanford to earn his PhD and become a leader among the burgeoning legions of Lisp-dom during the early nineties.
However, after a series of the inevitable, endemic startup setbacks that the Internet boom all too often left in its wake, Gabriel grew weary of the cold, cloistered, celibate tedium of engineering culture, and fell willing prey to the lure of the exotic social and intellectual stimulation and blandishments that only the Liberal Arts could offer.
And they, in turn, embraced this gruff emissary from the exotic, intimidating, but newly chic world of technology. Gabriel’s dissonant, desiccated, plainchant blank verse was dark, disturbing, distant, candid, calculating, and desperate, at once florid yet monochromatic. It could “cons-up” a soul in a single haunting, searing stanza and remand it remorselessly, insouciantly to the heap in the next. It was like nothing that could be heard on the stale, staid, inbred Writers’ Workshop circuits of those times.
But then, as always, poetry alone seldom pays the bills, so the prodigal poet, like a salmon to spawn, returned to his object-oriented roots, proselytizing a newfound artistic sensibility to an aesthetically impoverished community.
His technological audiences, who had subsisted on bland, austere stylistic pabulum born of their collective status as a poor stepchild of mathematics, physics, and engineering, embraced his audacious set-piece guerilla performances and this novel aesthetic dimension in a manner akin to that in which Medieval European palates had embraced the infusion of spices from the East Indies.
His considerable successes in synthesizing the “Two Cultures” in this software setting will likely stand as his enduring legacy.
Gabriel lives in Redwood City, CA, and works for International Business Machines Corporation as an
itinerant enforcer. He unwinds by writing a poem every evening.