Recognition by eponym, and maths on the meter

Eponyms are normally assigned in recognition of exceptional contributions to a field, usually posthumously. There are at least seven programming languages which have been named eponymously, including:

  • occam – after William of Ockham, 1285-1347 and “Ockham’s Razor”;
  • Pascal – Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662;
  • Ada – Ada Lovelace (Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace), 1815-1852;
  • Erlang – Agner Krarup Erlang, 1878-1929;
  • Haskell – Haskell Brooks Curry, 1900-1982;
  • Goedel/Gödel – Kurt Gödel, 1906-1978;
  • Turing – Alan Mathison Turing, 1912-1954.

I was taken aback to be invited to try out a newly-released high-level programming language, the brainchild of Stephen Wolfram (1959-), marketed by his eponymous corporation, Wolfram Research, and already named Wolfram after him. Developed from the language used in Mathematica, another commercial product of Wolfram Research, it is now being offered in a range of packages, as priced here and here.

Disappointingly, it is being offered only under an ‘Adobe Tax’ model, in which you have to pay rent to the vendor in order to be able to use their product. It is not cheap either: the non-commercial ‘Wolfram Programming Lab’, designed to teach programming, has a free cloud-only version, but otherwise starts with a Standard edition costing £15 per month, billed annually (that’s £180 per year, plus taxes), and brings you a maximum of 1,000 Wolfram/API calls per month.

If you want to undertake commercial development, then you will need one of the Development Platform packages, such as the Developer at £20 per month billed annually (£240 per year, plus taxes) with 1,000 Wolfram/API calls per month, or the recommended Producer package for £70 per month (£840 per year, plus taxes) with 2,000 Wolfram/API calls per month.

The restriction on Wolfram/API calls is particularly odd, and harks back to time-sharing computer systems, when jobs were billed by CPU time. The gist is that this is the first programming language that, the more you use it, the more you must pay. The number of calls offered by the developer packages seem paltry compared with various editions of Mathematica, for which the standard monthly allowance is 6,000 Wolfram/API calls.

While I wish Stephen Wolfram every success with these products, and his continuing self-promotion, I shan’t be taking up his offer, nor signing up to pay his implementation of Adobe Tax. Perhaps that really does deserve its own eponym of Wolfram Tax.