19 Oct 2002 jameson   » (Master)

Studying in the US is... different from Germany. Then again, part of what confuses me could be a particular property of this university; I haven't had classes that lasted only 50 minutes but were scheduled three times a week since, well, the rough equivalent to high school (although, from what I've been told, high school doesn't quite cover the German Oberstufe, but that's only slightly related).

In many ways it could be argued that the United States are weird. Then again, I'm pretty sure that many people from here think the same of Europe, so let's change that to 'different' (think "bread", "butter", "coffee", "washing machines" and "stoves"; then again, they do have things like peanut butter and bottomless cups, so there are upsides as well as downsides). Getting used to people running around with weapons and the government being entitled to kill people is a bit strange, too, but at least they have recycling, bike lanes and a working bus system here (which doesn't really make up for that strange feeling, as I'll admit, but turns out to be more relevant to everyday life).

I'm still not sure what I'll do next, though. There are a couple of Ph.D. positions open here, and students from Darmstadt are rumored to have a pretty good chance at getting them. There are also one or two places I could go to back at home to do a similar program-- although what I'd really like to do would be to go to Edinburgh (to the semantics department), but I guess my chances there would be too close to zero to even deserve logarithmizing. Still, one can try...

pizza did some more work on the sound system recently; unfortunately, my laptop doesn't really do much in the way of sound (except for beeping... hmm... is there an ALSA driver for the PC beeper or something like that?), so I cannot comment on how much the situation has improved.
Meanwhile, I got two projects approved at university-- one to document and bugfix the FreeSCI parser, and one to get extended VM support up and running, for SCI01/SCI1/SCI1.1 and perhaps even SCI32 support (thanks to Prof. Gary Nutt). This should be fun-- working on my favorite FS project and getting graded for it...

People have argued that the academic world is a major contributor to the Free Software world, which I believe there is little doubt about. It's good to experience this first-hand.

Sister's 40th birthday today, and I can't be there (one ocean away). I guess I'll miss a lot of birthdays while I'm here, though.

Programming Languages
A course in programming languages reminded me of how horrible the favorite languages of choice of our oh-so-advanced Free Software community are. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that C, Perl, Python, and perhaps also C++ (and, to a lesser extent, Java) are the most popular picks out there; I've recommended some of them in the past and have come to the conclusion that the quality of these recommendations is debatable.

Sure, it can be (reasonably) argued that the size of the set of modules/libraries/classes available for a particular language (and the maturity of its elements) gives some indication regarding its practical usefulness, but ignoring key weaknesses in a language (such as a lack of type parameters aka parametric polymorphism (which is closely related to "generics" and "templates), static typing, limitation of side effects ("pure" programming style), data hiding or modularity) means that, even though lots of libraries may be available, they may be of poor inherent quality-- a great example for this is Java's lack of type parameters, which means that using container classes requires typecasts (most of the languages given above don't even have static typechecking), or the limited amount of optimizations possible in impure programming languages (since side effects can rarely be estimated in their entirety). Now I'm well aware that many of these things are difficult problems, and that (which is probably a much worse problem) UNIX and Linux are based around C, a C core set of libraries, a C-style dynamic linking mechanism etc., requiring other languages either to scale down (and thus raise the question of whether they do anything but add overhead in the first place) or to re-implement major parts of the library (which people will, in general, be even less enthusiastic about, since it would add even more overhead, unless these other people stop using C programs, which won't happen).

I guess the only alternative would be to make C the language using the wrappers. Although it would be preferrable to have a decent language to build on top of first...

Sorry for the rant, but maybe someone will consider this to be interesting in some way.

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