Bill and Alistair and me

Recent postings here have had rather a lot to do with teaching and computers. To redress the balance, here are somethings that make me **feel**.

As you now know, I have put mosquito nets up over the two fire-places in my house; to keep out mosquitos, of course, but also bats. Turns out bats and mosquitos were not the only creatures using the chimney as an entrance hall.

I stuck the net up in the living room with thick, strong duct-tape; white to match the painted bricks of the fire-place. Its almost invisible up there above the hearth. Invisible that is, until the tape-reinforced corner of the net square started to hang down into the grate. I have stuck it back up several times now, I even added extra tape on that particular corner that becaomes detached, though the tape that is there is still sticky and seems to make a good bond with the painted bricks. The glue is good; its hard to imagine it coming undone by itself.

But last night, as I was sitting quietly in the room listening to some beautiful jazz courtesy of Jungle Kid (thanks m8!), I jumped at a sudden sound from the chimney. I bent and looked up at the net. There in the middle of the net sat a fat geko!

Now gekos are welcome: together with spiders, they help keep the insects at bay. I have one particularly large one living in the box where the electricity metre is kept. I disturbed him the other day turning the power off before I interfeered with the wiring of a lamp in my kitchen and he scurried away up into the eaves somewhere. As I have seen him around the electricity metre cupboard before, and since Katie wants me to give names to all my visitors, I decided I he should be called (electricity) ‘Bill’.

I don’t know if it was Bill who was using my mosquito net as a trampoline, but it was a big fat geko with a white tummy that was sitting in the middle of the net. As I moved closer he scurried away to the edge and up the wall, but later in the evening I could hear him continuing his adrenaline sport of jumping
down the chimney and bouncing on the net!

On sunday afternoon I listened to an archive broadcast of Letter From America by Alastair Cooke. He talked of his friendship with one of my heroes: Groucho Marx. Its probably the third time in my entire life I have listened to the longest running radio programme in the world presented by the same man. Then, this morning, I heard that he had died. I hardly know the man, but I felt very sad. And even more so when they read out some african people’s tributes to him.

I had a programming binge yesterday. After writing the next CAT (continuous assessment test) for my Javascript class, I decided to indulge myself and spent the rest of the day hacking Perl: the programming language in which the software that runs this blog is written. The important word in that sentense, however, is hacking.

I know alot of my good friends who read this blog are dancers and know me as a dancer. But that is only part of my life. We’re always supprised when we discover that our dance partners have interesting and exciting lives working for TV and radio companies, acting, making prosthetics for movies and so on. And they, in turn, are supprised that we think their lives so interesting because to them its just normal. (Except acting). I, for my sins, have been blessed with an enthusiasm for and, also, no shortage of skill in computer programming. Narh, its not that exciting, is it? (That’s why I also like to teach!)

Throughout my professional career I have been drawn toward beautiful and elegant programming languages rich in metaphors and powerful abstraction mechanisms whilst economical in syntactic clutter. Those who know me in this capacity will know that my paradigms are Eiffel and Haskell. These are languages whose expressive power is almost like poetry (though not so, in some very important ways that I won’t go into here).

And then there is Perl. What can I say? It’s a mess. Either you love it or you hate it. Its a personality thing. It is, in fact, so much of a personality thing that I read in one of the on-line books we have here on the subject:

In fact, a big part of learning Perl is actually learning how Larry thinks. Therefore, once you can think like Larry does, you know what Perl should do. But while you’re learning, you’ll probably need to look into the documentation

. The Larry in question being the Larry Wall, who created the language. I think Larry wouldn’t be offended that I don’t like Perl; he didn’t create it for me, he created it for people who want a language that gets the job done, whereas I am essentially an academic who likes to dream of engineering beautiful programs in powerful poetic languages… but who ends up hacking Perl.

So it took me all day to create the basics of a modification to my blog software that will — I hope — allow me to keep track of the most entries that have had comments added to them recently. It took all day and I missed lunch. It ook all day not because I’m a slow programmer, but because I had to keep searching the on-line books for how to do things in Perl. Rather than a few powerful metaphors and abstractions, Perl has gazillions of idioms and inconsistencies. I missed lunch because I was on a bender, I was in the flow. Despite how I loathe Perl, I love programming.

Today however, Im marking so don’t hold your breath waiting for the most-recent-comment hack to appear ont this site!.

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