Programmers In Love

Coders write haikus in an attempt to sum up their strong emotions for the Web-scripting language Perl.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

February 13, 2004

2 Min Read

Programmers are often pictured as an unsociable, machine-oriented lot. But when a group of them was invited to submit tributes to the object of their affections, they waxed poetic.

The programmers in question are users of Perl. And in the hours preceding Valentine's Day, they proved fully committed to the Web-scripting language. Ninety-nine percent of respondents to an online request for their heartfelt feelings about Perl were male, and they composed their praise in haiku--since Perl itself sometimes returns error messages in haiku.

Perl started out as a system administrator's language that offered greater ease of administrative control. Initially, it was used on Unix systems and ran in what's known as a Unix shell, such as the Bourne shell or the C shell.

"The shell surrounds the more delicate parts of the operating system," says Eric Promislow, senior developer at ActiveState, who initiated the verse-writing effort. The shell prohibits users from meddling with the operating system's functions without first submitting commands.

Programmers, surprisingly, find this story of origin irresistible. Ed Snoeck of Bergschenhoek, the Netherlands, seemed to have a real gem in mind as he composed the winning haiku:

"ugliness that grows
into beauty inside of
your favorite shell"

A second winner was James Tilley, a Dallas programmer, who succeeded at composing his haiku completely in Perl-language expressions. He wrote:

"no less can I say;
require strict, close attention
while you ... write haiku."

Tilley's verse uses outmoded expressions, such as "less" and "strict," that wouldn't be used by Perl programmers today. Nevertheless, the Perl compiler recognizes "less" as a command to use less of something, such as memory. The term "strict" is a directive to the Perl compiler to detect any variables in the program that have not been declared by the programmer and call them to his or her attention.

"Close" in Perl means to close something, such as a file named "attention." The word "while" in Perl is used by the compiler to tell the computer to continue to do something, over and over again, as in a loop, while a certain condition exists.

A Perl compiler can process all the lines of Tilley's haiku, but like many other programmer efforts in the realm of romance, the program itself returns no results. Even though the compiler recognizes the Perl statements, they won't add up to any sense and it will shrug them off and wait for a new line to come along. Such is love.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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