May 13, 2003

Paths, Perl and God Way more about paths at UC Berkeley than you'd ever want to read. The title says it all and maybe too much, its just about the right amount I wanted to read.

Larry Wall the creator of the Perl programming "glue" speaks of a more enlightened approach at another UC School:

I am told that when they built the University of California at Irvine, they did not put in any sidewalks the first year. Next year they came back and looked at where all the cow trails were in the grass and put the sidewalks there.

Perhaps its apocryphal, but its a damn good story. Its from a fascinating interview of Wall by the one and only Erik Davis. Makes me want to learn Perl really badly. Actually makes me do a 180 in my thoughts on the language, used to see it as messy in the wrong way, now its sounds like the best sort of mess around. And given how much hackers like the language it probably is messy in the right way.

I was trying to encourage what I call diagonal thinking. Traditionally computer languages try to be as orthogonal as possible, meaning their features are at all at right angles to each other, metaphorically speaking. The problem with that is that people don't solve problems that way. If I'm in one corner of a park and the restrooms are in the opposite corner of the park, I don't walk due east and then due north. I go northeast -- unless there's a pond in the way or something.


But that's merely a form of tribalism. What we also try to encourage are the kind of joiners who join many things. These people are like the intersection in a Venn diagram, who like to be at the intersection of two different tribes. In an actual tribal situation, these are the merchants, who go back and forth between tribes and actually produce an economy. In theological terms we call them peacemakers.

In terms of Perl language, these are the people who will not just sit there and write everything in Perl, but the people who will say: Perl is good for this part of the problem, and this other tool is good for that part of the problem, so let's hook 'em together. They see Perl both from the inside and from the outside, just like a missionary. That takes a kind of humility, not only on the part of the person, but on the language. Perl does not want to make more of itself than it is. It's willing to be the servant of other things.

Damn why aren't there more interviews like this?

Posted by William Blaze at May 13, 2003 02:28 AM | TrackBack
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