What "Ivory Tower"?

Strange rumblings on the Ruby front.

I recall walking through the grounds at Imperial, heading for the first XpDay in the company of Ivan Moore. As we passed by he noted that there was an ivory tower for me to move into. Now, I am prone to a little bit too much theoretical musing on things, it's true, but I though this comment was a bit rich coming from someone with a degree, MSc and PhD in Computer Science.

Anyway, this "ivory tower" notion is an curious one and seems to be very much a Yes Minister sort of thing: I pragmatically balance theory and practice, you pay too much attention to unnecessary detail, he lives in an Ivory Tower. The phrase has strong overtones of academic detachment. Strange, then, that this posting should suggest that Smalltalk was ever in one. Smalltalk was developed in an industrial research lab paid for by a photocopier company. An early (maybe the earliest) adopter of Smalltalk, where some of the folks responsible for spreading certain ideas from the Smalltalk world more widely worked, was an electronic engineering firm.

Currently (mid 2007) Smalltalk is (still) being used commercially in the design of gearboxes, it's being used in the pricing of hairy financial instruments, it's being used to do hard stuff for money. I've even earned money for writing Smalltalk myself, within the last 5 years.

Lisp, now, Lisp did have to escape from an ivory tower. And that didn't work out too well, so it tried to get back in. But the door had been closed behind it. Ouch.

Well, if, as is suggested, "Ruby is a unix dialect of Smalltalk" then it would seem that being unixified is not such a completely good thing. Really, spelling blocks with {}s instead of []'s is neither here nor there (although having that invisible magic parameter for them is really bad). the theory is that being being now outside the "VM" (I think that Giles probably means "image") then Ruby-is-Smalltalk plays much better with others. That's true enough. Like certain other refugee systems taking shelter in the unix world, Smalltalk really wants to be your whole world. But we kind-of know, and certainly the unix way is, that that's not a great model.

What's a shame, though, is that if Ruby is Smalltalk then it is Smalltalk with the most important thing taken out: life. And life comes with the image, and not from objects (or worse yet, merely the instructions for buliding the objects) being trapped in files. Sorry, but that's the way it is. So, until there's a ruby environment as lively as a Smalltalk image, with all its browsers and such, I can't see the ruby-is-smalltalk metaphor doing anything but spreading confusion and disappointment.