Language, Expression and Design



November 2013

Language, hair and popularity

by Chris Zheng, on random

I found some slides on an talk I gave at the Melbourne Clojure Group almost 2 years ago. The entire talk was about clojure... though this was a little bit of a segway.

Traditional cultures love the hair. From the story of Samson and Delilah; to Medusa and her hair of snakes; to the demigods and sadhus of India to fictional characters in the Lord to the Rings, hair is something that has been thought to contain mystical powers and to hold beauty, strength, wisdom all within its locks. Here is a book on its connotations in Eastern Culture.

In these stories, when people give up their hair - such as monks and nuns - it is usually to spread a message in the interest of the greater good. Whilst others - such as Samson and yogis yearning for truth. These spiritial practitioners will never let anybody cut their hair - as the loss of hair results in the loss of shakti, or life force. However, these people usually live alone, absorbed in their practive, and remaining misunderstood until maybe half a century after their deaths. They then become revered posthumorously and are trumpeted as prophets and saviors.

Hair and programming languages

What about the modern era. Does this classical view on hair hold for the world we currenty live in? Well... I did a relatively comprehensive study of popularity of programming languages, and the relative hair craziness of their Beneficial Dictators for Life (BDFL). Here are my findings:

Based on the dataset of my model, I have come to the following conclusions:

  • There is a split between language popularity and how visionary that language is
    • The less crazy the hair, the more mainstream the language and the more economic impact it has.
    • The more crazy the hair, the more impact the ideas in that language will have on future languages, although at a sacrifice of current economic prosperity.
  • No one tops hair craziness like John McCarthy... his talk on the elephant language just 2 years ago was pretty mind-blowing. (It used to on blip but now I can't find it anymore). However, we can predict based on the model that it will remain obscure... until some bald guy takes the idea and make squillions off of it.
  • Java will remain an economic force to be reckoned with... unless James Gosling decides to start wearing a wig.

So what about Clojure?

We can see that our own BDFL is slightly below Alan Kay in the hair craziness respects - which means that clojure is sitting at an interesting junction. Our language is very cutting edge, but it may not be mainstream enough. Due to the current information within this model, It is my recommendation that if Rich wishes to make clojure more mainstream, he should at least get a trim.

Other recommendations based on the model:

  • David Nolen should write a language. Oh wait... he already has.
  • Ambrose BS should shave his head to really get the Typed Clojure campaign off the ground.

Conclusions and Future Work

I believe that the hair craziness of a language's BDFL is potentially a great indicator of where a programming language lies between the popular/visionary spectrum. It has held true for the more popular languages. However, I wish to extend this model to include other languages that are not on this table. The notable ones missing from the current dataset include haskell, javascript, scala.

Hair craziness may potentially also indicate other attributes of the programming language, including ease of use, cost of service, number of competent developers and other economic factors which may in important for CIOs to decide whether to use a language within their organisation.

I am optimistic in finding a corporate sponsor in doing more research in this area. If my hypothesis holds true we can not worry about learning languages anymore, We can stake a language's future just look at its author's hair.

PS. I am very envious of those curls.

comments powered by Disqus