develooper Front page | perl.perl6.language | Postings from July 2006

just laugh your heart out

July 19, 2006 09:22
just laugh your heart out
Message ID:
As sometimes Perl6 to Perl5 is explained as C++ to C:

Newsgroups: rec.arts.humor
Subject: The truth about 'C++' revealed
Date: Tuesday, December 31, 2002 5:20 AM

On the 1st of January, 1998, Bjarne Stroustrup gave an interview to the
IEEE's 'Computer' magazine.

Naturally, the editors thought he would be giving a retrospective view
of seven years of object-oriented design, using the language he created.

By the end of the interview, the interviewer got more than he had
bargained for and, subsequently, the editor decided to suppress its
contents, 'for the good of the industry' but, as with many of these
things, there was a leak.

Here is a complete transcript of what was was said, unedited, and
unrehearsed, so it isn't as neat as planned interviews.


Interviewer: Well, it's been a few years since you changed the world of
software design, how does it feel, looking back?

Stroustrup: Actually, I was thinking about those days, just before you
arrived. Do you remember? Everyone was writing 'C' and, the trouble was,
they were pretty damn good at it. Universities got pretty good at
teaching it, too. They were turning out competent - I stress the word
'competent' - graduates at a phenomenal rate. That's what caused the

Interviewer: problem?

Stroustrup: Yes, problem. Remember when everyone wrote Cobol?

Interviewer: Of course, I did too

Stroustrup: Well, in the beginning, these guys were like demi-gods.
Their salaries were high, and they were treated like royalty.

Interviewer: Those were the days, eh?

Stroustrup: Right. So what happened? IBM got sick of it, and invested
millions in training programmers, till they were a dime a dozen.

Interviewer: That's why I got out. Salaries dropped within a year, to
the point where being a journalist actually paid better.

Stroustrup: Exactly. Well, the same happened with 'C' programmers.

Interviewer: I see, but what's the point?

Stroustrup: Well, one day, when I was sitting in my office, I thought of
this little scheme, which would redress the balance a little. I thought
'I wonder what would happen, if there were a language so complicated, so
difficult to learn, that nobody would ever be able to swamp the market
with programmers? Actually, I got some of the ideas from X10, you know,
X windows. That was such a bitch of a graphics system, that it only just
ran on those Sun 3/60 things. They had all the ingredients for what I
wanted. A really ridiculously complex syntax, obscure functions, and
pseudo-OO structure. Even now, nobody writes raw X-windows code. Motif
is the only way to go if you want to retain your sanity.

[NJW Comment: That explains everything. Most of my thesis work was in
raw X-windows. :)]

Interviewer: You're kidding...?

Stroustrup: Not a bit of it. In fact, there was another problem. Unix
was written in 'C', which meant that any 'C' programmer could very
easily become a systems programmer. Remember what a mainframe systems
programmer used to earn?

Interviewer: You bet I do, that's what I used to do.

Stroustrup: OK, so this new language had to divorce itself from Unix, by
hiding all the system calls that bound the two together so nicely. This
would enable guys who only knew about DOS to earn a decent living too.

Interviewer: I don't believe you said that...

Stroustrup: Well, it's been long enough, now, and I believe most people
have figured out for themselves that C++ is a waste of time but, I must
say, it's taken them a lot longer than I thought it would.

Interviewer: So how exactly did you do it?

Stroustrup: It was only supposed to be a joke, I never thought people
would take the book seriously. Anyone with half a brain can see that
object-oriented programming is counter-intuitive, illogical and

Interviewer: What?

Stroustrup: And as for 're-useable code' - when did you ever hear of a
company re-using its code?

Interviewer: Well, never, actually, but...

Stroustrup: There you are then. Mind you, a few tried, in the early
days. There was this Oregon company - Mentor Graphics, I think they were
called - really caught a cold trying to rewrite everything in C++ in
about '90 or '91. I felt sorry for them really, but I thought people
would learn from their mistakes.

Interviewer: Obviously, they didn't?

Stroustrup: Not in the slightest. Trouble is, most companies hush-up all
their major blunders, and explaining a $30 million loss to the
shareholders would have been difficult. Give them their due, though,
they made it work in the end.

Interviewer: They did? Well, there you are then, it proves O-O works.

Stroustrup: Well, almost. The executable was so huge, it took five
minutes to load, on an HP workstation, with 128MB of RAM. Then it ran
like treacle. Actually, I thought this would be a major stumbling-block,
and I'd get found out within a week, but nobody cared. Sun and HP were
only too glad to sell enormously powerful boxes, with huge resources
just to run trivial programs. You know, when we had our first C++
compiler, at AT&T, I compiled 'Hello World', and couldn't believe the
size of the executable. 2.1MB

Interviewer: What? Well, compilers have come a long way, since then.

Stroustrup: They have? Try it on the latest version of g++ - you won't
get much change out of half a megabyte. Also, there are several quite
recent examples for you, from all over the world. British Telecom had a
major disaster on their hands but, luckily, managed to scrap the whole
thing and start again. They were luckier than Australian Telecom. Now I
hear that Siemens is building a dinosaur, and getting more and more
worried as the size of the hardware gets bigger, to accommodate the
executables. Isn't multiple inheritance a joy?

Interviewer: Yes, but C++ is basically a sound language.

Stroustrup: You really believe that, don't you? Have you ever sat down
and worked on a C++ project? Here's what happens: First, I've put in
enough pitfalls to make sure that only the most trivial projects will
work first time. Take operator overloading. At the end of the project,
almost every module has it, usually, because guys feel they really
should do it, as it was in their training course. The same operator then
means something totally different in every module. Try pulling that lot
together, when you have a hundred or so modules. And as for data hiding.
God, I sometimes can't help laughing when I hear about the problems
companies have making their modules talk to each other. I think the word
'synergistic' was specially invented to twist the knife in a project
manager's ribs.

Interviewer: I have to say, I'm beginning to be quite appalled at all
this. You say you did it to raise programmers' salaries? That's obscene.

Stroustrup: Not really. Everyone has a choice. I didn't expect the thing
to get so much out of hand. Anyway, I basically succeeded. C++ is dying
off now, but programmers still get high salaries - especially those poor
devils who have to maintain all this crap. You do realise, it's
impossible to maintain a large C++ software module if you didn't
actually write it?

Interviewer: How come?

Stroustrup: You are out of touch, aren't you? Remember the typedef?

Interviewer: Yes, of course.

Stroustrup: Remember how long it took to grope through the header files
only to find that 'RoofRaised' was a double precision number? Well,
imagine how long it takes to find all the implicit typedefs in all the
Classes in a major project.

Interviewer: So how do you reckon you've succeeded?

Stroustrup: Remember the length of the average-sized 'C' project? About
6 months. Not nearly long enough for a guy with a wife and kids to earn
enough to have a decent standard of living. Take the same project,
design it in C++ and what do you get? I'll tell you. One to two years.
Isn't that great? All that job security, just through one mistake of
judgement. And another thing. The universities haven't been teaching 'C'
for such a long time, there's now a shortage of decent 'C' programmers.
Especially those who know anything about Unix systems programming. How
many guys would know what to do with 'malloc', when they've used 'new'
all these years - and never bothered to check the return code. In fact,
most C++ programmers throw away their return codes. Whatever happened to
good ol' '-1'? At least you knew you had an error, without bogging the
thing down in all that 'throw' 'catch' 'try' stuff.

Interviewer: But, surely, inheritance does save a lot of time?

Stroustrup: does it? Have you ever noticed the difference between a 'C'
project plan, and a C++ project plan? The planning stage for a C++
project is three times as long. Precisely to make sure that everything
which should be inherited is, and what shouldn't isn't. Then, they still
get it wrong. Whoever heard of memory leaks in a 'C' program? Now
finding them is a major industry. Most companies give up, and send the
product out, knowing it leaks like a sieve, simply to avoid the expense
of tracking them all down.

Interviewer: There are tools...

Stroustrup: Most of which were written in C++.

Interviewer: If we publish this, you'll probably get lynched, you do
realise that?

Stroustrup: I doubt it. As I said, C++ is way past its peak now, and no
company in its right mind would start a C++ project without a pilot
trial. That should convince them that it's the road to disaster. If not,
they deserve all they get. You know, I tried to convince Dennis Ritchie
to rewrite Unix in C++.

Interviewer: Oh my God. What did he say?

Stroustrup: Well, luckily, he has a good sense of humor. I think both he
and Brian figured out what I was doing, in the early days, but never let
on. He said he'd help me write a C++ version of DOS, if I was

Interviewer: Were you?

Stroustrup: Actually, I did write DOS in C++, I'll give you a demo when
we're through. I have it running on a Sparc 20 in the computer room.
Goes like a rocket on 4 CPU's, and only takes up 70 megs of disk.

Interviewer: What's it like on a PC?

Stroustrup: Now you're kidding. Haven't you ever seen Windows '95? I
think of that as my biggest success. Nearly blew the game before I was
ready, though.

Interviewer: You know, that idea of a Unix++ has really got me thinking.
Somewhere out there, there's a guy going to try it.

Stroustrup: Not after they read this interview.

Interviewer: I'm sorry, but I don't see us being able to publish any of

Stroustrup: But it's the story of the century. I only want to be
remembered by my fellow programmers, for what I've done for them. You
know how much a C++ guy can get these days?

Interviewer: Last I heard, a really top guy is worth $70 - $80 an hour.

Stroustrup: See? And I bet he earns it. Keeping track of all the gotchas
I put into C++ is no easy job. And, as I said before, every C++
programmer feels bound by some mystic promise to use every damn element
of the language on every project. Actually, that really annoys me
sometimes, even though it serves my original purpose. I almost like the
language after all this time.

Interviewer: You mean you didn't before?

Stroustrup: Hated it. It even looks clumsy, don't you agree? But when
the book royalties started to come in... well, you get the picture.

Interviewer: Just a minute. What about references? You must admit, you
improved on 'C' pointers.

Stroustrup: Hmm. I've always wondered about that. Originally, I thought
I had. Then, one day I was discussing this with a guy who'd written C++
from the beginning. He said he could never remember whether his
variables were referenced or dereferenced, so he always used pointers.
He said the little asterisk always reminded him.

Interviewer: Well, at this point, I usually say 'thank you very much'
but it hardly seems adequate.

Stroustrup: Promise me you'll publish this. My conscience is getting the
better of me these days.

Interviewer: I'll let you know, but I think I know what my editor will

Stroustrup: Who'd believe it anyway? Although, can you send me a copy of
that tape?

Interviewer: I can do that.

[Note - for the humor-impaired, not a true story.]

Affijn, Ruud

"Gewoon is een tijger." Perl Programming lists via nntp and http.
Comments to Ask Bjørn Hansen at | Group listing | About