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re:Clojure Conference 2021 - Day 1

London Clojurians · Youtube · 81 HN points · 1 HN comments
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Stephen Wolfram gave the keynote at re:Clojure a few days ago, with an amazing demonstration of the Wolfram language. It's incredible how much data and functionality they've made available with it, and with Stephen's mastery it is bordering on wizardry.

Dec 05, 2021 · 81 points, 77 comments · submitted by tosh
I do understand the pushback on Wolfram's egotism and self-branding stuff, but he is absolutely wonderful to listen to and still comes across as a bit of a genius. I think history will be kind to him.
What's absolutely admirable is that he managed to start a successful business in scientific computing. That's no easy feat.
I beg to differ. I think that in the current era, where there is a lot of live footage of people and uncurated writings like twitter, the stature of 'the genius' will inevitably be reduced. Consider someone like Newton where everything we know is very filtered, and compare to say Richard Dawkins' twitter feed where he says random stuff that is sometimes ill-considered and posts pictures of his broken windscreen. Elon Musk is probably another example.

This is probably a good thing overall, seeing this juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane.

Musk and the word genius have absolutely nothing to do with each other. He got rich from daddy’s bloody emerald mine, sells himself as a self-made billionaire and pays for his image (buying the title CEO of tesla, etc), without putting anything behind, other than his true self, a whiny scammer.
The internet would have not reduced the stature of Ramanujan and Von Neumann in any way. See Terry Tao for an example.
I really don't get it, there are lots of company owners that aren't any different from him, yet some communities have an axe to grid regarding him, and not other businesses.
He has done what many of us want to achieve. Billion dollar SW company that is privately owned, that now enables him to pursue his intellectual interests.
I learned a lot watching the demo. Twice in the last three years I have signed up for Wolfram Desktop (about $30/month) and experimented with it. They even added some semantic web and SPARQL support. Watching his demo was good documentation.

Both times I signed up for the service, I canceled after a few months because I didn’t have a real use case.

Ten years ago, I experimented with my own Clojure to Wolfram Language bindings

This has been my experience too. I think it would be more empowering if I were not a dev.
I often go to wolframalpha if I want an answer to something fast and easy. Half the time I don't express the right question or the results go somewhere else. In those times, I need to write some code. Still, it is nice when the answer pops up.
I met Mr. Wolfram once, chatted with him for quite a while.

He was super down to earth and kind, even though it was obvious to both of us that he was completely out of my league.

I saw him give a talk at SXSW and deal very patiently with idiots in the crowd that were using the q & a session to score cheap political points.

Overall, I was pretty impressed with the man. Much smarter than I'll ever be.

Oh, if I had to talk to him, I would bring up something exotic like rock skipping on water and how he would beat the record. Watch how his brain works.
This thread gives me an idea: a browser extension to gray out content using sentiment analysis [1]. I suspect some people may have even seen the video and found some useful stuff to share/comment about it, but it is just annoying/time consuming to find such comments in here in between all the Wolfram hate :-p

What's the state of the art on sentiment analysis? Is it more or less reliable these days? :-)


The precursor to peril sensitive sunglasses?
>gray >annoying >time consuming >hate

Sorry, I couldn't read your comment because it was grayed out :)

It starts interesting but it then kinda becomes a Mathematica/Wolfram marketing stunt ?
Thanks, I came over here to see whether it goes anywhere worthwhile.
It’s his standard Mathematica introduction talk.
Every utterance from Wolfram is Mathematica marketing, even when he writes (amazing) eulogies for his late friends.
I can't figure out if Wolfram is a brilliant scientist or a brilliant carney.
Why not both?
There's a certain type of "success trap" where one's first success is so significant that they don't ever need to figure out how to work with other people (or at least people who are peers and not underlings), and I think that's where the "carney" element comes from, where you're sort of drunk on your own hubris (regardless of actual merit)
Exactly. It's like he assumes that everything he does is brilliant, when in reality most people think Mathematica kind of sucks and cellular automata are flat out useless. Probably related to being a child prodigy and always being told how smart he is.
Can you expound a bit on "Mathematica kind of sucks"?
That reminds me of a quote about arrogance/confidence/self-respect..

> I am persuaded that no one ever achieves anything worth-while in this world unless he has so great a respect for his work that he compels all other men to respect it.

Apparently this comes from an article published in 1922 by an anonymous author.

Classic Wolfram then?

edit: watching it.. SMP, Wolfram, computational language, he did all of that for past 40 years of course, he even managed to put himself in the same sentence as John McCarthy, they invented notebooks and then he's showcasing Mathematica/notebook.. I actually quite like Wolfram, but sometimes he's just a tad too much.

I'm normally sensitive to people being full of themselves and I've no such sensation with Wolfram. I'm fascinated by what he has to say; I find his perspective on computational and programming languages, him being a specialist outsider, insightful and valuable.
The problem with such accomplished and genius people is that when they talk about what they did, it feels too much.

Guess what: it is much.

He forgot about Clojure after a minute or so. Never forget your audience.
Mathematica uses a functional language at its core. As a functional language enthusiast (including Clojure, although I haven't used it for anything professionally) I find discussions about any functional language interesting.

In other words, I doubt the only thing Clojure folks care about is Clojure.

I agree, but I had seen videos of him describing Mathematica before, and it's the exact same script. One usually tailors the delivery for the audience.
I'm inclined to see Mathematica as a term rewriting language - and those languages go way back. I remember when Mathematica was first released and thinking, "hmm, a commercial Macsyma"[0]. Well, technically, by the time Wolfram had SMP[1] Macsyma had gone "strictly from commercial"[2]




He had a live Clojure demo going near the end.
neat overview of mathematica, or wolfram desktop or whatever.. angle being language design.. but yeah, clojure disappeared as soon as the camera turned on.
I think the audience would appreciate Mathematica because the two languages are both Lisp.

Perhaps he should have accentuated the Lispyness of it though.

I don't think that's the first time a talk shows non Clojure material. That crowd also like different worlds.
I had never heard of Mathematica before.

I'm pretty sure I'd never use it for anything but one thing that caught my eye is how easy it is to generate mock data. E.g. WordList

It’s one of the best pieces of software in the world, with things like Microsoft Excel and Google Maps. It is run by an absolutely insufferable guy but he does a good job with it.
Jupyter notebook was inspired by Mathematica (as stated by it's author).
And Mathematica was inspired by REPL-style languages (LISP, APL) that go back to the dawn of computing.
Disclosure: I am logrolling a bit here.

If you’re interested in what Mathematica, or Wolfram Language as it is branded nowadays, can do, Wolfram has a pretty thorough elementary introduction, which starts with the basics like arrays, and moves all the way through into data science and neural networks.

Can I ask you how old are you? Or who do you work?

Most of people in tech do not use Mathematica but I would put a lot of chips on a bet that most heard of it. That's why I'm courious

I would bet most techy people my age (mid 20's) are aware of Wolfram Alpha, but maybe not Mathematica.
Wolfram is on from -2:15:40
+9:40:10 seems a useful timestamp reference to me if your YouTube client references from the start of video.

At +10:06:00, he starts talking a bit about clojure. 26 minutes into his presentation at a clojure conference and he talks about clojure for well under 2 minutes, most of which was analyzing the text on the wikipedia page for clojure...

At +10:16, he then very briefly demos a linkage from the clojure repl into the Wolfram Engine, which is arguably the only part that's specifically interesting to most conference watchers.

If this were a keynote at a Wolfram conference, it would have been a better fit than as a keynote at a Clojure conference.

Where does he even get money from? A quick Google suggests Mathematica is used by approximately no one. Some kinda sweetheart university licensing deal?
Mathematica has been pervasive in the scientific and engineering community for about 30 years (although becoming less so as more people use Jupyter, R, and other solutions).
also, on Linkedin: 1500 postings for mathematica, 150,000 postings for MATLAB? Don't get me wrong I use a lot of dead software too, it gets things done. Just saying, Mathematica might be a bit less Apple, and a bit more Amiga, at this point.
Not buying into this evangelical war but as a user of both, I can say that Mathematica's symbolic programming is miles ahead MATLAB's. The same in the case of plotting. It is mostly used in our medical and genetics lab. And we have a long history of scientific computing since the 70s. Our packages are based on Fortran, C(mpi), Common Lisp, MATLAB aside from modern ones like Python, Java, even Julia which some students experiment with today. After all these years, we are still going back to Wolfram for hard mathematical problems that require symbolic solvers. Also, Mathematica has huge user base in the mathematics departments or with people involved in the Romanian Mathematical Gazette editing (huge audicence from Eastern European countries and China) [1]. Searching for jobs on Linkedin is useless as only the creme de la creme ends up to work with it, even the licences are scarce and only a few computers in our labs feature the software. If I would borrow Wolfram's ego, mere mortals that build web services to serve ads will not be concerned with the capabilities of his software.


For context, picking on Clojure because it too is a nice, niche language,

But in fact the long term decline Google Trends gives for Mathematica and Clojure also shows for plenty of other languages, including mainstream ones such as JavaScript and Java.

I'm not sure what the explanation is, but I'd be wary of relying on Google Trends to make predictions about the life expectancy of any particular language.

Wolfram Alpha feeds into Siri.
No, it's just that some people are not as good at quick Google searches as they think.
Wolfram's ego has always been the most off putting thing about him and his project. I was quite disappointed by the lack of Clojure relevant material in this Keynote and the unabashed emphasis on himself and his product.
I've had this comment in my bookmarks for a while. Always good for a laugh -
That's hilarious. I can't deny that he is incredibly intelligent, but it always makes me think what he could accomplish if he had humility and could get along well with other highly intelligent technologists
The wolfram language is at its core is M-expressions (what John McCarthy originally was going to use to program lisp ) . Also, he saw that symbolic programming languages were something you could productize and he beat out all the lisp machines and kept it as software. He seized the opportunity of making a product that is useful to Mathematicians and basically has a huge vendor lock in from universities. Sage is very far behind as an open source solution.

With the wolfram language he wants to make a larger and larger libraries and try to make it more of a general purpose language but it has similar problems that lisp has but also that it’s really only targeting academia. I tried to use the cloud version but it never was really useful.

With wolfram alpha it was interesting to use but now Google can perform most of what that does now

The biggest problem with the language is that it’s extremely hard to learn and mathematicians are moving off of the platform.

Yeah, Mathematica is basically MACSYMA on steroids. Wolfram is indubitably a genius, and he took it far past what the general research community and even the Lisp research community did. But I can't blame him for choosing to become a billionaire rather than a vulnerable and derided eccentric like RMS. I hope he chooses to share his work after his death.
I totally agree . Mathematica is not just macsyma on steroids its like the Java of symbolic computation. He is literally putting every kind of scientific and or mathematic concept and adding it to the language.
I don't know if his narcissism rises to the level of a disorder, but I do think it limits him in some important ways.
> I don't know if his narcissism rises to the level of a disorder

I don’t really know much about him except for his ego, which seems to overshadow all of his achievements.

Once as a new grad I asked (after he gave a talk on the virtues of oss) why the newly released Wolfram language wasn’t open source.

He called me naïve, said that my question was childish, then asked for the next question.

If dunking on a 23 year old makes him feel good about himself, so be it. I couldn’t imagine working anywhere near him.

I wonder what he does behind closed doors.

Maybe I'm misinterpreting, but this reads to me like you were trying to get a rise out of him and succeeded... it's posing a question that includes the assertion that he's hypocrite (talk on oss virtues -> own software not oss) live in front of an audience.
insults aren't an argument, if Wolfram doesn't want to get called out for being a hypocrite a good solution is to not be a hypocrite. The fact Wolfram had no actual answer beyond an insult and dodging the question is pretty telling
Sure, it may say something about his (in)ability to be diplomatic or emotionally controlled, but someone can rightly feel unobligated to respond to an accusation of hypocrisy in the middle of a q/a
Or maybe the answer wasn’t what what was 1) wanted to be heard, 2) in the manner that was wanted.

As you grow older, you look back and maybe there’s something to be learned from an exchange. And it usually doesn’t favor oneself.

Insults are justified if some dick is asking a question trying to get a rise out of him. There is ZERO need to answer questions of that nature.

As self absorbed as wolfrsam is it's obvious what's going on. There is NOTHING hypocritical about it. He wants to profit off of his own wolfram language. But at the same time he appreciates the ideals, benefits and other great things that come out of OSS.

It's like the video game industry. Let me put it this way, if Closed source didn't exist video games at the triple A level likely wouldn't exist. If open source didn't exist, linux likely wouldn't exist either. Both are good.

But I don't have to explain this to you. We all are aware of this on some level. Everyone and I mean everyone literally knows what I just said.

Wolfram talking about the good parts of OSS doesn't justify some ass hole from the audience subtly trying to call him a hypocrite with a targeted question like that because BOTH closed source and open source are good. Wolframs response was justified there was no need for him to spend extra time explaining something that's totally obvious to someone who not only already knows the answer but is only asking the question for nefarious reasons.

Well he could answer with whatever his reasoning is that may or may not align with the things you suggest. People take that seriously, including me.

Or he could be rude and all I hear is "because I'm a hypocrite and not a great guy."

You can answer to justify your decisions without being a jerk. Even if it's a jerk trying to get a rise out of you who does it. If you're the honored guest speaker with everyone competing to kiss your wealthy, famous backside your jerkdom isn't really equivalent to a student asking what appears to be a stunningly obvious question that we don't even know how it was phrased.

But maybe I'm so naieve to have seen people respond in a reasonable way to aggressive questions from the floor often enough makes me think it's the right way to go.

> Well he could answer with whatever his reasoning is that may or may not align with the things you suggest. People take that seriously, including me.

He could've but the GP knew he was starting shit by asking that question. Don't expect people to take the high path when you're trying to mess with them. Seriously, if a cop is about to arrest you and you spit in his face don't be surprised when the cop knocks your teeth out when nobody is looking.

>You can answer to justify your decisions without being a jerk

Definitely. The problem here was GP was being a jerk and trying to make wolfram look bad by inciting a reaction. He succeeded but who really is the true ass hole here?

>But maybe I'm so naieve to have seen people respond in a reasonable way

Sure those people who respond that way are socially savvy. They know how to manipulate the situation to make themselves look good. Wolfram CLEARLY is not that type of person. But does that make him an ass? Nah. Shutting down a jerk who asks a insidious question like that is not the best response but it's an appropriate one. An eye for an eye.

Two points:

1)Stephen Wolfram is not a police officer and has not been spat at in the face.

2) You don't know the tone of the question and neither do I. The question is obvious and expected and deserves an answer in such a context.

Two counter points:

>1)Stephen Wolfram is not a police officer and has not been spat at in the face.

That's right I hold stephen to less of a standard than police officers. Police officers should uphold a law and stay neutral. If you're not a police officer and someone insults you, there's no need to stay neutral. A retort in return to an insult is 100% viable.

>2) You don't know the tone of the question and neither do I. The question is obvious and expected and deserves an answer in such a context.

The true intent of the question can be deduced from the content of the question itself. The tone is irrelevant in that case. The answer to the question as I repeatedly said is obvious so the question was asked not for an answer... the question was asked as a deliberate attack. That is the only logical explanation given that the answer to the question is 100% known by the asker.

An attack DOES NOT DESERVE an answer.

In fact any additional tonality that went along with the question would be manipulative. The asker can use deceptive tonality to disguise the question as innocent but we know clearly from the content of the question that it is an attack despite the tonality.

Everyone and I mean everyone knows why mathematica and windows is closed source. There is ZERO need to ask such a question; that is unless your intentions are insidious.

>Everyone and I mean everyone knows why mathematica and windows is closed source.

Nope. Neither you, nor I, nor anyone knows why any other person has made a complex decision unless they say, and even then we're assuming they're being honest and sometimes people lie for PR! [1]

I'm of the opinion that anyone turning up to speak at a licensing conference and refusing to talk about the licensing of their own stuff is heroically silly. I mean just wow. Anyone not anticipating being questioned about their licensing in an open question time or who can't handle an "attack" at a percieved disconnect between words and actions about licensing at a licensing conference probably shouldn't be there or indeed out in public. Responding with no substance and a personal slur (which is what is reported here, but I haven't confirmed) is really, really, weak and poor at best.

[1] For example Wolfram's company isn't listed and he can't spend the money he has made, making a very different decision framework for him from the CEO of microsoft, beholdent to the board representing the shareholders. Which was also the framework that made Solaris into OpenSolaris, arguably far too late to preserve SUN wealth. These are difficult and complex decisions that people are very sure of and frequently get very wrong even from a pure wealth-maximisation standpoint.

The question seems very reasonable. It's certainly not comfortable, but in this context I would expect an answer definitely (the question was not childish or foolish as far as I can tell)

Indeed the overall project seems quite fine, but I think it has no chance of getting near Wolfram's aspirations due to its closed nature. It's just a really big proposition that couldn't fit a project like this. (If I recall correctly Wolfram described it himself as the equivalent of Google but storing all structured data of the world within). Google can do it because they don't make many promises on their data. But clearly they seem to want to make promises (i.e. structure) the data, so data collection and data cleaning might need manual curation (even with deep learning advances) which is just fit for a communitarian effort. A single company can't have experts in all fields curating datasets of everything, can it? (and if it can, should it?)

Asking about a perceived inconsistency isn't always "trying to get a rise out of someone". It's absolutely wild to me that people are saying that posing this question is implicitly bad faith, or trying to "humiliate" Wolfram or whatever.

And like, while I generally think OSS == good, there's lots of software that I think doesn't need to be (or even shouldn't be) OSS, but I have coherent reasons for that.

I had the same impression; however, after seeing a few livestreams with his employees discussing development, bugs, and design ideas, he does seem respectful and does constructive criticism quite well. I know that's not "closed door" behavior, but seems genuine.
Wolfram definitely has a big ego. It makes him less likeable but none of it justifies what you did.

Knowing what you did... trying to humiliate him in front of a crowd I'm glad he dunked on you. I can't imagine working with some young person who thinks he's smart trying to humiliate and overshadow someone for no reason.

Call you niave? Yeah, you were niave.

Why do you think the GP was "trying to humiliate" Wolfram?

It's possible to both like OSS, and not want to open-source a particular work for legitimate reasons.

Mr. Wolfram could have responded with those reasons. Bizarrely, he, like you, took it as an attack and responded unnecessarily rudely.

There is nothing Bizarre here. That term is offensive and it's used insidiously in place of calling someone strange or weird. It's a term used to circumvent the rules here at HN, because by calling someone bizarre you avoided a direct insult, but the intent is 100% evident. I hate this political shit. Be straight. Don't play games. I have a different opinion than you. There is NOTHING "bizarre" about it.

I assume that you, like the GP, is human and of average human intelligence. So you can deduce several facts from this scenario. First of all... ALL of the REASONS for why someone would develop closed source software ARE COMPLETELY OBVIOUS. I know about the reasons, you know about those reasons, the audience knows about those reasons and the question asker 100% knows about those reasons. NOTHING needs to be explained. Why does microsoft keep windows closed source? Is the concept really that foreign to you? Why don't you ask that question to the CEO of microsoft? Send him an email because it's something you truly wonder about!

It's so Bizarre that you're not aware of the why windows or mathematica is closed source! See what I did there? Nothing is truly bizarre here it's just me imitating your manipulative language.

No what's really going on is you're taking a side and you're arguing for your team OSS despite the fact that you're aware of the insidiousness of asking this question to wolfram himself. Don't take sides, don't call people bizarre. Stay logical and argue for the situation at hand is my advice to you.

Anyway, From all of this, logically, you can derive the fact that the GP didn't ask that question to ascertain an answer BECAUSE the answer is obvious and HE ALREADY KNOWS THE ANSWER. The only other reason why he would ask a question like that is to start drama. He got drama, but likely didn't expect for the tables to be turned and get his own ass humiliated.

Mr. Wolfram 100% could have responded with the reasons I mentioned and those reasons would have been the better answer it would have made him look more mature and not ignite the wrath of the man who asked the question. But obviously Mr. Wolfram isn't a person I would consider socially savy so he took offense to an insult that was disguised as a question and responded in kind... which is not the best/smartest answer, but an appropriate one.

That is a quite naive question to be honest. You might as well had asked Zuckerberg why Facebook isn’t open source.
> I wonder what he does behind closed doors

I agree, but the fact he's attracted a brilliant team to him and kept his company stable and productive for decades means he's doing something right.

He's a mystery I've been wondering about since forever.

On the contrary I wonder what he would have been capable of if he was not such a doucherocket. Man’s clearly a genius but how much? Could he have taken a real crack at AGI instead of homework helper pro?
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