Now replying.

On Sunday 08 August 2010 21:06:23 Shlomi Fish wrote:
> Sending to the list as the sender declared it to be his intention.
> ----------  Forwarded Message  ----------
> Subject: Re: [Slightly OT] "NASA Uses COBOL"
> Date: Sunday 08 August 2010, 20:41:50
> From: Joel Limardo <>
> To: Shlomi Fish <>
> This is my first post to this list. I apologize in advance for its length.
> Shlomi got me thinking about COBOL and other languages like it in general
> so I wrote the following:
>                                 perl-advocacy-1
>                                 ===============
> Author:  <Joel lima...@...>
> Date: 2010/08/08 12:32:26 PM
> Table of Contents
> =================
>     1 Why do you want more people to use Perl?
>         1.1 Advocacy in Question
>         1.2 Shouldn't we just use math puzzles?
>         1.3 Was this what Dijkstra was talking about?
> 1 Why do you want more people to use Perl?
> ==========================================
> 1.1 Advocacy in Question
> ------------------------
> I liked this [
> particularly the question, "...why do you advocate Perl?"

Quoting from that page: "Selfless reason: Perl saves companies money and we 
hate to see waste." - I disagree with calling this reason "selfless". Selfless 
means having a complete disregard for one own's self, which is not healthy. 
While this may be a "compassionate", "caring", or "altruistic" reason - it is 
not selfless. For more information see:
selfishness ( ).

> Here's my answer: I'd like to see more people use Perl because it
> forces you to think creatively and, in effect, makes you smarter.

I'm all for things that make people smarter. 

> 1.2 Shouldn't we just use math puzzles?
> ---------------------------------------
> I like the comparison between Perl and math puzzles because, to me, they
> represent the two opposite poles of the programming universe. Creativity
> and expressiveness on the one end and so-called correctness,
> conformity, and universality on the other.

With many maths puzzles, there is more than one way to solve them (like in 
Perl). See for example, 85 proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem:

In fact, Larry Wall told this story about his daughter here:

Heidi said, ``You wanna know something really funny. In my IMP class, our 
class slogan is, 'There's more than one way to do it.'''

``You're kidding,'' I said. [I should also say that that IMP stands for 
Interactive Math Program, which is a math curriculum in which you sort of 
learn everything at once. In sort of a postmodern way.] Anyway, I said, 
``You're kidding.''

``No,'' she said, ``That's why IMP is better for math students like me--we 
learn better when we can see the big picture, and how everything fits in. The 
old way of learning math never gave you any context''.

While I was digesting this, and thinking about how it applied to computer 
science, she went on, ``Well, it's like, you know, we have this saying at 
school, when somebody gets uptight about something, we say: 'Tsall good. If 
someone is depressed, we say: 'Tsall good.'''

``But you don't actually think everything is good, do you?''

``No, of course not.''

``Are you saying that everything has good elements in it?''

``No, Dad, I think when we say that, we're saying that, overall, things are 
good. Like, look at the big picture, don't just focus in on the two or three 
bad things that are happening to you right now.''

I report this conversation to you not just because I think my kids are cute 
and smart, but also because I think it's important that we know where our 
culture is going, and because it's our kids that will shape our culture in the 
future. I don't think I could have defined postmodernism better than Heidi. 
Look at the big picture. Don't focus in on two or three things to the 
exclusion of other things. Keep everything in context. Don't go out of your 
way to justify stuff that's obviously cool. Don't ridicule ideas merely 
because they're not the latest and greatest. Pick your own fashions. Don't let 
someone else tell you what you should like. 'Tsall good. 

I would not like maths if I didn't have some flexibility in reaching a 
solution (despite the fact that I naturally need some rigour and to play by 
the mathematical and logical rules.)

> So why should we use Perl rather than simply do mathematical puzzles if
> we want to become smarter?
> I think mathematical puzzles build up a different set of mental muscles
> -- particularly ones that see problems as targets and programs as missles
> to be loaded, armed, and fired in the most efficient manner possible.
> The Perl credo 'there is more than one way to do it'
> implies at least two things: a) open-mindedness to other methods of
> achieving the
> same or similar result b) inquisitiveness to seek out other ways to achieve
> a result yourself from a different perspective.


> Let's face it, as programmers we are in the business or producing results;
> unless we would no longer like to be employed those results must be
> correct. But with Perl we get something intangible from the exercise of
> programming that we would not get from the lock-and-load,
> shortest-path-possible methods.
> I call that thing creativity.


> 1.3 Was this what Dijkstra was talking about?
> ---------------------------------------------
> I think Dijkstra was talking about this elusive quality I call creativity
> when he bashed COBOL, BASIC, and a ton of other languages as well as
> some approaches to computer languages in 1975 (see
> []).
> Consider Dijkstra's statement: "The use of COBOL cripples the mind;
> its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offence...."
> Here I think that Dijkstra is generally talking about the loss of
> creativity that he felt that the use COBOL produces in the average person.
> We find more statements in this vein when he describes BASIC:
> "It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that
> have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are
> mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration."

One thing I hate is that such quotes by Dijkstra are often misapplied to more 
recent and more evolved dialects of BASIC, including those that both Larry 
Wall (see ) and I and many 
people of past (and present?) generations started with. Furthermore, I studied 
BASIC from booklets that taught it with Structured Programming in mind, so 
later on the transition to C, what was then C/C++ and other languages was 
mostly painless. 

> If it is possible to cripple or mutilate one's mind with certain
> programming languages is it possible to make people smarter with others? 
> I think the answer,
> again, can be derived (or deduced) from Dijkstra's own statements:
> "The tools we use have a profound (and devios!) influence on our thinking
> habits, and, therefore, on our thinking abilities."
> In advocating Perl I am promoting a tool that encourages better
> thinking habits.  Better thinking can have
> broad-reaching effects on business, government, and other areas
> where computing languages and other technical knowledge are employed.
> Therefore, more people should use Perl.


BTW, I think Dijkstra hated all the languages of his day except for ALGOL to 
whose design he had contributed, including I think the earlier versions of 


        Shlomi Fish

Shlomi Fish
List of Portability Libraries -

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