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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Why I'm a C programmer

I am a C programmer, and hopefully a rather good one. I've seen numerous other languages come and go, and have gleaned ideas from them that I've used in my coding - and in languages I've developed - but haven't seen other languages that I've liked better than C for the sort of programming I prefer: small, high-performance database kernels.

A colleague described the C language as a the "shark" of programming languages, perfectly evolved for what it does, and - despite its extreme age in computer terms - unlikely to evolve in major ways. C isn't a good language for mega-projects - OO languages and higher-level scripting languages are better at that level - but for constrained-environment projects or projects made up of integrated software components where performance actually matters, C still can't be beat.

What about C++?

C++ is ugly: because it got its start by bolting preprocessing front-ends "on top of" C compilers, a culture developed where the language was extended by adding syntax. Now, there's so much syntax that C++ reference manuals look like the NYC white pages. With so much syntax, it is hard to simply look at C++ code and know what it's doing without knowing the coding standards used; C doesn't have this problem. Java is a better OO language, since it adapted the C approach of adding libraries instead of syntax to extend the language.

Fear of Models

One fear that is everywhere in the modern world is "fear of (National) Models". This isn't fear of Ms. Venezuela, although the fear that Hugo Chavez's populist "Bolivarian Revolution" will be taken up by Latin America is an example of this fear.

In the US and other countries, a "Chinese model" is feared: a model of a seemingly advanced, high-tech economy ruled by a dictatorship whose rulers maintain power under conditions often thought to bring about revolution. In other countries, like Iran, some parts of the leadership was particularly keen on the Chinese model. The Chinese model causes both fear and fascination: can a rather loosely governed democracy compete with a Strong Government? Despite extensive historical evidence of failed Strong Government models of the 20th century, many Americans wonder, deep down, whether our system, with its hugely visible warts and flaws, can compete with yet another Strong Government model. My bet is on loose capitalist democracy, but I can see why these models cause both awe and fear.

In Europe, it's the "Anglo-Saxon Model" that causes fear. Europe's own "social market economy" model, with foreign policy rooted in transnational organizations and a general "get-along, go-along" attitude toward dictators, is showing strain under competition from the US, India, and China. Since the Anglo-Saxon model is the model followed by the countries Old Europe feels it knows best, it is the most likely model to replace the social-market economy, and is thus the most feared by those who benefit from - or run - the social market economy.

National models are proxies for complex debates for change involving the future of nations, so it is understandable that they can cause fear and anxiety. The danger is when "fear of models" becomes "hatred of the country behind the model" that it causes problems.

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