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New languages

2004-10-15 00:00:51.134296+00 by Dan Lyke 17 comments

Over at Brainwagon, MarkV's latest audio blog entry asks some questions about functional programming. Python[Wiki] is the only new language I've set myself to recently (C# doesn't count becuse it didn't really cause any shifts in my thinking patterns), and I'm really enjoying how I'm approaching problems differently now because of what it does differently from Perl[Wiki] and C++. I need more of that.

[ related topics: Perl Open Source Invention and Design Software Engineering Python ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-15 14:58:50.451931+00 by: jeff [edit history]

"Say goodbye to the American software programmer. Once the symbols of hope as the nation shifted from manufacturing to service jobs, programmers today are an endangered species. They face a challenge similar to that which shrank the ranks of steelworkers and autoworkers a quarter century ago: competition from foreigners."


There is a lot of truth to this article. I'm considering learning another language, and it's not related to programming. America is quickly losing its identity as a sovereign nation, and tangible "real wealth" is being diluted and outsourced every single minute. Sad, but true. Of course, much of the fault lies with large trans-national corporations, but also with our government, and the short-sighted policies it invokes largely for the benefit of the ruling elite.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-15 16:00:37.777952+00 by: Diane Reese

Some of my older son's amazingly-talented friends are considering not studying computer science in college next year, in part because of the commoditization of programming and the likelihood that their preferred field won't have any real jobs for them in four (or six, or eight) more years. We're trying to remind them that there is much more to the science of computing than merely programming. I hope we're not leading them astray.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-15 16:17:28.466644+00 by: jeff

The short-term "pain" is fewer jobs and lower wages for both entrants and experienced professionals. The long-term effects are fewer Americans entering the field, increased reliance on foreign nationals, decreased national security, and a further squeezing of the American middle class. Unfortunately, none of these trends are very positive.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-15 16:30:19.366248+00 by: jeff

Follow-up. It's one thing to "outsource" textiles or certain commodity industries. However, it's an entirely different dynamic to outsource the "intellectual capital" of a nation. Put simply, it's the ultimate method of "dumbing down" America.

If we continue this course, what tangible skills will American kids (and our future society) be able to bring to the world stage? With REAL and tangible "wealth building skills" leaving the country, the national debt will only continue to grow. And our HUGE balance of trade deficit can't continue to grow alongside that debt--economic collapse is an eventual result, since interest rates can't be held artificially low forever. Sobering to think about.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-15 21:33:24.258198+00 by: dexev


Lots of rhetoric -- do you have any evidence?

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-16 13:48:02.823834+00 by: jeff

Sorry, I don't know your name (dexev). Please ask me a specific question, and I'll either respond directly, or with references (sources) from the Internet, or both.

By the way, what is your view of this topic?

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-16 21:03:42.855715+00 by: dexev [edit history]

Sorry, Jeff,I was feeling snarky the other day.

My view is that we're the wealthiest nation in the world, but that means our workers are the most expensive. As products become commodities and transportation becomes less expensive, it makes more sense to move production to cheaper, less skilled areas. This has been going on since the Industrial Revolution, and it's starting to happen now in the computer field.

(We're also seeing another trend: the work force as percentage of population is growing, and the average hours/week is decreasing -- the '40 hour work week' is closer to 30 hours now.)

The short-term problem is obvious: people who work in the recently-commoditized fields are screwed and need to either take a pay cut, get trained in a new field, or both.

But my question is: why to you think this is a long-term problem? Education levels have been increasing at a steady rate for a half-century (1). Employment levels (2) have more than kept pace with population growth(3) over (at least) the past thirty years. Hourly wages are lower than their 1972 peak, but higher than they were in 1964 (2).


(1) http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/educ-attn.html

(2) http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/surveymost?ce

(3) http://www.census.gov/population/www/

[edit to add footnote]

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-17 19:18:31.309526+00 by: Dan Lyke

I fear that with the manufacturing going overseas the engineering will follow, and after that the research. Shortly the economy will just be a bunch of marketers selling brands to each other.

But before that I fear we'll see an economic malaise such as Japan has been struggling under for the past decade or so, with a government spending itself hugely into debt to try to stimulate something, anything, and a populace that's paying outrageous amounts for services because that's the only thing they've got left.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-17 20:19:18.240367+00 by: Larry Burton

I really don't see US manufacturing in the trouble everyone keeps talking about. Right now my company has all the work we can handle and I was just informed this past week that I was scheduled on jobs through 2006. Yes, some industries are seeing a downturn in US manufacturing but there are other industries seeing a dramatic rise in demand.

The biggest change I'm seeing, though, is that factory workers are more and more working for employment agencies rather than directly for the manufacturer. This is especially true in the distribution portion of the manufacturer but it is becoming more and more common on the fatory floor.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-18 16:37:32.94348+00 by: jeff

Thanks for the links, Mike. I'll have to spend some time to review them. I'm not offended by anyone expressing their opinion.

I agree that we are the wealthiest nation in the world, but I also see that prosperity becoming diluted and trending negatively over time. I am not a complete supporter of NAFTA, and while I think think the global economy is here to stay, I now understand why highly educated and otherwise peaceful people riot in the streets of Seattle whenever the G8 is in town.

RE: Points you make. I'd like to better understand how the workforce as a percentage of population is increasing? More baby boomers are retiring. More illegal aliens (Mexicans) are entering the country. Jobs are being "outsourced" to other countries. How do these three large components affect the ratio? "Double counting" should not be a factor because a single person works two jobs to survive.

Another negative trend is one that you cite: average hours per week decreasing. Isn't this a manifestion of under-employment? That fewer Americans are finding fulltime work, and the health benefits, etc., which come with fulltime employment? Combine that with the decreasing hourly wages, and I think you begin to see part of the larger picture (loss of real "prosperity"). Please explain how employment levels have more than kept pace with population growth. What specific metrics are you using for this assertion.

Education is great as long as jobs are available for graduates in those fields. If there are fewer jobs (and at less pay), fewer people will decide to enter those fields (i.e. engineering, computer science, et al). If we don't produce engineers, scientists, and computer skilled people, what WILL this country be able to produce to bring to the world stage--let alone for its own internal needs?

Rather than a normal distribution, I see the long-term trend as a bi-modal distribution of wealth in this country, and I definitely view that as a long-term economic AND political problem.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-18 18:54:30.676125+00 by: jeff

More bad employment news, hot off the press:


#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-18 20:19:42.361656+00 by: markd

Just anecdotally, out here in the Pittsburgh area many of my friends who have left the tech field after getting laid off are going into other industries (a number have been going into insurance sales, usually as an independent contractor so they don't have any benefits, outside of what they get when joining NASE). They lost their jobs primarily due to offshoring, or outsourcing that will eventually lead to offshoring, or just due to company closings or downsizing. It'll be interesting to see what happens to the region when US Air folds. I have seen lots of "help wanted" signs on the Dollar General stores and the local stop-n-robs, so I guess in that sense jobs are being created in this area.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-19 06:12:19.485087+00 by: dexev

The workforce/population number was a pretty lazy calculation on my part -- total employment is 165% of 1974 levels, but population is only 135%. I suspect the main contributor is the influx of women into the workforce. (I'm using US census population numbers and BLS 'total nonfarm employment' numbers)

It's not true that hourly wages are decreasing -- they've actually been increasing for eight years, and are higher now than they have been any time since 1980. Looking at the graph, the 1970s seem anomalous -- a very fast increase in the 60s, and an equally fast decline in the late 70s -- it's been up and down since then, but we've been at $8 +- $0.50 for a long time. (all numbers in 1982 dollars).

There are two ways to look at a shorter workweek -- as underemployment or as increased leisure time. One thing we can take into account is the unemployment rate -- we're just coming of an unemployment peak right now, and that peak(6.2%) wasn't nearly as bad as the one before it (1992,7.8%), or the one before that (1982, 10.8%).

In short: Life was probably a bit better when I was born (1976), but things went downhill quickly shortly after that, and the 80s were a horrible decade. Things started to pick up after 1992, and this latest recession has leveled things off -- at a higher level than at any other time in the past 25 years.

None of this, though, really addresses what I think is your main point: that this isn't just another cycle, that it's a fundamental shift in the way the world works. I agree with you, somewhat. The US has been spoiled for 60+ years -- all of the other rich countries were small, and all of the other large countries were poor. We've gotten to call the shots. The rise of Asia, with China and India at the forefront, is going to challenge that. How that plays out, I don't think you can predict.


#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-19 13:55:13.426029+00 by: jeff [edit history]

Once I get some leisure time I'll cull through the data in the government links you have provided and do some empirical analysis. However, I trust your numbers Mike, and I think that using 1974 as a basis for normalized baseline data is fine.

You are very correct with your assertion that cyclical analysis and historical data may not be completely relevant as we look to future trends in certain areas. And that is a major premise of my assertions.

I'd also like to take some time and produce a "real wealth" index (RWI), based on a number of metrics including, among other things, the real cost of health care (or the lack of healthcare), etc. The data and information which you have presented above only represents a part of the total picture, in my opinion.

One also needs to take a look at "family" wealth/health index, versus that of single people. It's a very clouded picture, with all sorts of potential analysis and conclusions to be made, to be sure.

In addition, most of the government numbers are simple averages, which show nothing about the distribution of "wealth." It is my contention that the traditional middle-class of America is becoming depleted, and that a bi-modal distribution of wealth is STARTING to emerge. And that is my primary concern. There are record numbers of people living in poverty, and the wealthy continue to get even richer still. I'd be more interested to see some analysis about the "distribution of wealth," not simple numbers which have no real societal context.


#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-19 14:34:57.948196+00 by: jeff

As an aside, what do you do for a living, Mike? Are you a supporter of NAFTA and the global economy? In what geographic region of the US do you live? Are you married? Do you have children?

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-20 10:13:00.994972+00 by: dexev

I write custom software in Portland, OR, living in sin, one kid of my own and two from her previous relationship. I'll answer your 'global economy' question below.

But first, here are some more data points:

So, yes, the rich are getting richer, but everyone else is getting richer too, just more slowly. I look at it this way: even the poorest 1% of today's population owns more televisions and cell phones than the richest 1% of the population 100 years ago. They live longer and eat better food.

I think that the 'global economy' has been progressing for four hundred years, and I beleive it will continue to progress until it has counteracted the forces that are pushing it along. Primarily, the increasing ease of moving people and products thoughout the world. Second, the wealth concentration in the West. We could counteract the first by setting up artificial barriers (tarriffs or subsidies). We can fix the second by letting the global economy do its thing.

I'm a free-marketer: I beleive that tarriffs and subsidies only serve to make everybody poorer in the long run. I recognize, though, that there are individuals whose jobs depend on those tarriffs and subsidies, and when you change the rules in a way that costs someone their job (for the benefit of the entire country and world), you need to take care of that person. I don't know how best to do that, though.

We are at the beginning of major shift in the way the world's economy works. I'm almost certain that we will see a lot of worker displacement as the the new ways of doing things take hold -- I think we're already seeing that. And yes, if things go too far, too fast, the entire financial system is going to come down on our heads and we're well and truly screwed. I don't see a real middle ground: either we return to equilibrium and everyone is happy and richer than ever before, or we lose equilibrium and the US likely ceases to exist with it's current borders.

Most of this data from: (1) http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/p60-226.pdf

Data on GINI and income inequality: (3) http://www.census.gov/prod/2000pubs/p60-204.pdf

#Comment Re: made: 2004-10-20 17:45:32.80312+00 by: jeff

Excellent sources of information, Mike. I need to make some time to look at the data in the first link, since it is more current. The second link, while very interesting, does not provide enough recent data for me; it covers the period (1947-1998). Much of what I see happening is post-1998. The rise of E-Commerce and the Internet as enabling technologies for a global economy have changed the playing field dramatically, and especially the "rate of change" in many areas.

When time allows, I'll take a much closer look at the GINI index, and determine what it really means. The topic of quality of life is both and art and a science; it's somewhat subjective.