Java is fading as a Web development tool… along with the SUV?

In September 2003, I innocently posted Java is the SUV of programming languages? based on the fact that students in 6.171 who’d chosen to use Java were incapable of getting anything done.  It created quite a stir in the comments and on Slashdot.  This semester is the first time that we’ve taught 6.171 since then.  Despite the fact that all the students are expert Java programmers, having used Java to build a big project in 6.170, none have chosen to use Java this semester.  It is all Ruby on Rails, Microsoft .NET (C#), and a touch of Python.

Is it safe to pronounce Java dead as a programming environment for Web applications?  Who is using Java these days to build great things?

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Why I love teaching flying more than software engineering

Recently, I’ve done three kinds of teaching:

  • how to fly airplanes on instruments and helicopters VFR
  • third grade mathematics (to 11th graders at the local high school)
  • software engineering for Internet applications

I’ve got an S.B. in math from MIT and I’ve built dozens of RDBMS-based Internet applications, so my comparative advantage is largest in teaching math and teaching software engineering.  Yet I enjoy flight instruction the most, even though I can give any of my students a list of 10 better flight instructors.


I figured it out today.  The students at the local high school aren’t interested in math.  They don’t care that an equation corresponds to a set of points in the x-y plane; they just want to graduate and/or pass some sort of test.  Most computer programmers, including a fair number of my students, aren’t that interested in a code review from an expert.  They are satisfied with mediocrity, a warm cubicle, and a steady salary.

Pilots, on the other hand, want to be better.  They understand that being better means staying alive, they recognize that they could do better, and they are eager for feedback and suggestions.  So even if I’m not a great flight instructor, the students’ desire to learn makes it a great experience.

I can understand why high school students don’t care.  Having looked at the curriculum, it is hard to imagine why they would care given that the unionized civil servants (teachers) don’t bother to motivate the material in any way.

Why doesn’t the average CS major or software engineer care, though?  Confronted with an expert such as Jin S. Choi, author of (a one-month part-time project), you’d think they’d say “I will work day and night until I am as good as that guy.”  But they seem to think that they can get by on 1/10th of Jin’s capability, which has historically been true though with offshoring might not be anymore, and they are more resentful than grateful if you try to push them in Jin’s direction.

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Republicans are Happier than Democrats

Harvested the February 27, 2006 issue of TIME magazine at the MIT gym (as nice as you’d expect given that it cost more than $50 million, but with surprising shortcomings such as the lack of soap in the showers).  TIME does a good job covering the happiness news.  Some statistics:

  • 34 percent of Americans report being “very happy”
  • 45 percent of Republican Americans report being “very happy”
  • only 30 percent of Democrats report being “very happy”

This could be explained by the fact that our current rulers are Republican.  People have been told that we have a democracy and expect to have some input, but in a country of 300 million people none of us is likely to be consulted or to have any way to influence the federal government.  When Clinton was in power, Republicans were bitter and angry.  Maybe it is W’s existence that rains on Democrats’ parade?

An alternative theory is income-based.  People become happier as you stuff their pockets with money, though supposedly the effect becomes quite small once people have enough for a basic lifestyle (far below the current American median income).  Typing “median income Republicans versus Democrats” into Google doesn’t yield any conclusive answer.

A theory that gets better support in the psychology literature is faith-based.  People who believe in God are happier.  People who believe in God supposedly tend to vote Republican.

Finally there is the “fat, dumb, and happy” theory.  Republicans don’t notice all the problems that beset us.  They fight global warming by turning up the A/C in their monster SUVs.

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