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2005-08-01

Common Lisp "style" redux

Yesterday I wrote again about Common Lisp style, commenting on an article I spotted on "Lisp at Light Speed". I assumed the article was written seriously, but now several people have pointed out that it in fact is a satire.

Unfortunately, I have 20+ years of experience of not only writing Common Lisp code but also reading and critiquing other people's Common Lisp code, and I did not understand the joke. You may want to believe that this says something about me, if you wish. Sad fact is, however, that I have seen examples of all of those things discussed in the satire, except they were written very seriously.

So as it is, the article may have been satirical, or not. I can't tell.

Common Lisp is a difficult programming language. Understanding how Common Lisp works, in principle, is not hard, but mastering the "correct" idioms takes a long time to learn. When coding in C (say), it does not so much matter whether you use the correct idiom or not (the language is so simple and "close" to the processor), but with Common Lisp you can do a lot of damage if you are not careful. A consistent use of language idioms helps others read your source code (or, as it is in my case, helps me read my source code since I tend to forget in about 24 hours what I have written) - this is true for most programming languages, but in Common Lisp it is useful to understand what goes on "under the hood" (I have seen code where the novice programmer thought he had written an algorithm of linear complexity but where an analysis revealed polynomial - cubic, in fact - complexity, due to misunderstandings about how the language works).

(I happen to also enjoy Paul Graham's writings...)

Posted by ora at 14:35

Comments

I'd say it's delicate satire -- i.e., it's hard to spot, and perhaps only funny because it's so close to reality.

(I knew for sure when I saw "beautiful aref".)

Posted by: Rich at August 1, 2005 10:32 PM

That's the thing... I don't find it funny. It is not like our language enjoys broad support or popularity, and there are actually many people who write (or would write) code like portrayed in the satire. Promoting that image is dangerous, to say the least.

Posted by: Ora Lassila at August 2, 2005 08:02 AM