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Perl Programming

Larry Wall On Perl, Religion, and... 1305

Not only did Larry Wall answer your questions, but he said they were excellent questions. You've got to love Larry Wall, not just because he's a nice guy and created Perl, but also because he is the first Slashdot interview guest ever to send his answers preformatted in squeaky-clean HTML. We appreciate this like you wouldn't believe. They're great answers, too -- straightforward, heartfelt, and entertaining. Enjoy!
1) Perl as a "scripting" or a "programming" language
by Marx_Mrvelous

I've been using perl for a very long time, but primarily as a scripting language. I indeed mostly use it for extraction and reporting. With the recent developments in perl, however, there seems to be the trend that perl is able to do much, much more (while retaining compatibility to be "just" a scripting language).

What do you think about how people are using Perl today? Are you satisfied that most people use it for simple tasks like log parsing? Would you like to see more advanced applications being built with Perl verses a compiled language?


I am perfectly happy for Perl to continue parsing logfiles. Perl has always been, and always will be (I hope), a humble language. When I am 80 years old, even if everyone in the whole world puts me on a pedestal and thinks I'm the renaissanciest man that ever lived, I still intend to take out the trash when my wife asks me to. Just because I'm learning Japanese doesn't mean I have to stop speaking English.

But just as people grow (and are stretched), Perl continues to grow (and be stretched). Perl has acquired new skills over the years, and people have been using Perl to do all sorts of things that are arguably at the limits of its capabiliites. The solution to that is not to stop people from doing that, but to increase Perl's dynamic range.

The thing is, people are already building more advanced applications with Perl. But there are some aspects of that process that aren't as easy as they could be. They're hard. In times past we were proud of the fact that the hard things were even possible with Perl5. We often chant the slogan: "Easy things should be easy, and hard things should be possible."

But as with any slogan, there are some qustionable assumptions hidden behind the sentiment. We assume that it's obvious which things should be easy or hard, and that the things that are currently easy are the things that ought to be easy. We assume that making the hard things easy will necessarily cause the easy things to become hard. But sometimes it's not obvious what should be easy or hard. Sometimes the wrong things are easy. And sometimes there are ways to make the hard things easier without making the easy things harder.

Some of the complexity in a Perl5 program is necessary to the solution, and some of it isn't. We can't eliminate the necessary complexity, but we can hope to get rid of some of the needless complexity. That will make everything easier. Well, most everything...

I'm really under no illusions that we can make everything easier at once. There's no such thing as a perfect language. Merely making a more expressive language means it's in some sense more difficult to learn to express yourself responsibly. That's the price of power. Manhattan will always be more difficult to understand than a set of beads.

But in any event, let me assure you that Perl6 will not be as difficult to learn as Japanese. :-)

2) Perl Beginners
by KoopaTroopa

I'm a CS student who's recently become very interested in Perl along with other languages. However, I don't really have too much everyday (or even occasional) need to actually USE much Perl. I am big into learning as much as I can about it for its own sake.

Now, for the question: Given this approach to learning Perl (just for a general working knowledge, maybe light usage,) is it really worth spending a lot of my time learning Perl now, or should I wait for the big Perl6 revision?


I don't think you would be damaged by learning Perl5, though I'm sure there are those who would disagree--or at least choose to be disagreeable.

It really depends on your curiosity level, I think. Some people would learn both Perl5 and Perl6 merely to see how a language design evolves over time. Those folks are pretty hardcore. Count yourself lucky if you're not one of them. But despite appearances, Perl5 isn't a totally horrible language, and we're hoping to save all the good bits of it in Perl6. People moving from Perl5 to Perl6 shouldn't find it too difficult to unlearn the naughty bits, especially since it's the naughty bits that tend to be frustrating. And if you're ever in a situation where you need to use Perl6 for real, it's likely you'll have to deal with legacy Perl5 code anyway. So as usual the answer is: "It depends..."

Gildor was silent for a moment. 'I do not like this news,' he said at last. 'That Gandalf should be late, does not bode well. But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger. The choice is yours: to go or wait.'

'And it is also said,' answered Frodo: 'Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.'

'Is it indeed?' laughed Gildor. 'Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. But what would you? You have not told me all concerning yourself; and how then shall I choose better than you? But if you demand advice, I will for friendship's sake give it. I think you should now go at once, without delay; and if Gandalf does not come before you set out, then I also advise this: do not go alone. Take such friends as are trusty and willing. Now you should be grateful, for I do not give this counsel gladly.'

3) Structured programming and perl
by slashnot007

The reason I like perl is it is not a structured programming language. In my work I find it is 50% a get the job done parsing language and 25% sequencer of programs and deamons and 25% major ojbect oriented programming effort often a cgi.

Thus I worry that perl has Python-envy. I've tried to use python several times but always go back to perl. The reason is my daily need for a parser dominates my choice of language and maintains my fluency, since I dont want to have to be fluent in both, perl becomes my language of choice for advanced tasks too, even though python might be better for strcutrued programming.

So my question is, is perl6 making make perl a structued language like python? Would it be a good idea if perl did not develop any further for fear of becoming too complicated and thus disorganized? (witness the evolution of java from clean slate to giant mess with intricate redundant libraries half of which are deprecated).


Er, what do you mean by "structured"? 25 years ago all of these languages would have been considered "structured", in the sense that a block generally has only one entrance point. (There were also people who thought that a block should only have one exit. Thankfully these folks did not prevail, since functions representing decision trees often have one entry but multiple exit points.)

But you obviously mean "structured" in a different sense, or perhaps several different senses. Syntax is structure, and different languages have different syntax, but I don't think that's what you mean.

I'll assume you mean "structured" the way a grade school teacher means it, as in "structured play time", as opposed to "free play time". Python's slogan is "There's only one obvious way to do it." That's fine from the computer's viewpoint, but kinda sucks from the human viewpoint. "You can play any game you like, as long as it was organized by the teacher."

Java was, in that sense, much less structured than Python, I think. That's part of the reason for Java's success, but it came at a price. One of the problems with Java is that they swept a bit too much of the innate complexity of life under the carpet of the libraries. And so now they've had to replace the carpets several times.

So, yes, Java started with a "clean slate", but it was a rather undersized slate, methinks. But as for "structured play time" in Java, the structure has been imposed more by cultural norms than by the language itself.

As for Perl, it has never been "structured" in that sense, though it has always been structured in the sense that you can create as much structure as you like. The whole point is that the structure is optional, not imposed externally. If you're playing with your schoolmates at recess, you can always choose to organize a football game, but the teacher isn't making you do that.

Playing football is like programming in the large. You have to agree on a lot of rules to do it with other people. Perl5 doesn't make it terribly easy to agree on a set of rules, and we hope to make that easier in Perl6. You have to have discipline to do programming in the large, but you'll choose the discipline by turning up the big discipline knob yourself, not by having someone else turn it up for you. Perl6 will give you the big knob.

I am philosophically opposed to turning up the knob for you, because I don't know how fast you want it turned up. (Perl6 will turn it up for you a little by default--if you write a module or class, it'll automatically default to a stricter mode than it uses for your main program.) But the reason I don't like doing it for you is that you know how fast you want to learn, and I don't. As Gildor says, you haven't told me enough about yourself for me to give you advice. If I don't know how hard you can paddle, I can't tell you how big of a wave to try to catch. We all have to start with the small waves.

We find the same problem in teaching reading to kids. Some people shout "Whole language!" while others shout "Phonics!" Well, guess what, they're both oversimplifying. You have to learn some phonics, and then you learn some larger bits based on that, and some larger bits based on that, and eventually you find that you're intuiting whole language. The whole language folks fall into what I call the "Expert Fallacy". You look at how experts do something, and assume that's how everyone should do it. There are some people who are natural readers. They naturally figure out the bits and pieces themselves. But if you try and teach everyone that way, half your kids never figure out the phonics.

Programming is the same way. Language designers tend to look at how experts program and then think that everyone ought to learn to program that way from the start. That's a bit like expecting a new surfer to do well on 40 foot waves. Some will make it, but most will wipe out.

Perl is designed to help people learn the bits of programming they need right now without forcing them to learn the techniques they aren't ready for. But when they are ready for them, Perl tries to be there too. We just don't tell the beginners that the speedometer on their golf cart wraps around several times.

4) What will you *not* put into Perl 6?
by TreyHarris

What would you say has been the number one requested feature that you will not put into Perl6, and why not?


That depends on what you call a feature, and what you call a request. If you look at all the RFCs at, you'll find that most of the feature requests are bogus on some level or other because they tend to suggest bandaid solutions. Nevertheless, I think it's best to treat them all as a "cry for help". With computer languages, about 75% of the bandaids have a bullet hole underneath.

So, for instance, I officially rejected the RFC asking for multiline comments, while actually accepting the underlying premise that it was too difficult to do block comments. But the better solution is not to introduce more syntax, but to fix the POD syntax to do what people want.

But this is Perl, after all, so there has to be more than one solution. The other solution is to make the Perl grammar malleable enough that the user can install their own multiline comment mechanism anyway via a pragma, so there! That's fine by me, as long as the syntactic warpage is lexically scoped. "All is fair if you predeclare."

Another often-requested feature that's not going into Perl6 is implicit lexical declarations. That's one of those features that seems like a good idea when you're looking at small snippets of code, but it breaks down when the scopes get larger than you can see in a glance. Scoping by indentation has the same problem, but nobody has seriously requested that for Perl6, for some strange reason...

Now you might think that getting rid of the $, @, and % sigils would be the number one requested feature, but typically that is suggested only by people who don't know Perl and probably wouldn't use Perl even if we did get rid of them. The folks who know Perl tend to like the sigils.

5) perl vs other languages
by larry bagina

Whenever perl pops up in slashdot, there are plenty of language zealots claiming perl is obsolete and you should really be using php or ruby or python instead.

What are your thoughts on these other scripting languages? What do you like about them, what do you dislike?


Well, in general, the thing I don't like about other computer languages is that they're not Perl. :-)

Seriously, Perl matches the way I think pretty well, because what I mostly want in a computer language is a wide dynamic range. I want a language in which you can say both dirty, low-level stuff and fancy, high-level stuff. I want a language where both baby-talk and fluency are acceptable. Other computer languages tend to try to level those distinctions.

As for specifics, I must say that the example of Ruby is the main reason I decided against implicit lexical scoping for Perl6. We'll be sticking with explicit my declarations. But I have to like the majority of Ruby simply because that's the part that was borrowed straight out of Perl. :-)

I also liked Ruby's unary splat operator, so I borrowed it for Perl6.

The main problem I see with Ruby is that the Principle of Least Surprise can lead you astray, as it did with implicit lexical scoping. The question is, whose surprise are you pessimizing? Experts are surprised by different things than beginners. People who are trying to grow small programs into large programs are surprised by different things than people who design their programs large to begin with.

For instance, I think it's a violation of the Beginner's Principle of Least Surprise to make everything an object. To a beginner, a number is just a number. A string is a string. They may well be objects as far as the computer is concerned, and it's even fine for experts to treat them as objects. But premature OO is a speed bump in the novice's onramp.

I confess, I have a soft spot in my heart for inside-out languages like PHP. The first real compiler I ever wrote was for a sort of text-processing macro language in which the commands were embedded in the data. This is part of a more general class of programming languages in which a peculiar form of processing is assumed by default, such as the pattern/action syntax of awk that assumes an invisible outer loop.

Perl can do that, but it's not the default. I think languages like awk and PHP hobble themselves in the long run by attaching themselves to a particular ecological niche, particularly when a generalist like Perl can effectively occupy the same niche. So I've never felt tempted to even try PHP. I'd only be speaking second-hand if I said that PHP has some serious namespace and extension mechanism issues. So I won't say that. :-)

Python is cool to look at small bits of, but I think the "outline" syntax breaks down with larger chunks of code. I'm with Aristotle on the structure of discourse--a story should have a beginning, and middle, and an end. So should blocks.

There's something to be said for forcing everyone to code in the same style, but that's not the Perl Way. At least, it's not the default Perl Way. But all is fair if you predeclare. It's perfectly fine for you to import a pragmatic module that enforces a certain style policy. It's even fine if your company forces you to import that pragma. Of course, if you want real programming discipline, I'd suggest you use Damian's Klingon module...

6) Perl and .NET
by prostoalex

What is your opinion of .NET in general and Perl's role in it? Given that .NET supports Perl as one of the languages would you recommend actually using it for any projects? Do you see good future for this tandem?


As far as I'm concerned, .NET is just another architecture that we need to port Perl to run on natively. The current approach to .NET interoperability is a bit of a hack, I think. That is partly Perl's fault for not having a sufficiently powerful type declaration system, but it's also a problem that .NET doesn't really support dynamically typed languages very well. I foresee that we'll have something like a Parrot interface that functions as a (hopefully thin) layer of glue over other VMs such as .NET or Java machines. The less impedence mismatch there is, the thinner the layer can be.

I recommend that you use Perl where it makes sense to use Perl, and avoid using it where it doesn't make sense. I am not the judge of whether it makes sense to use Perl on .NET, simply because I'm way too ignorant and stupid to be making those kinds of decisions for you. Sorry.

As for the future, I really don't know. Long, long ago (when our galaxy was far away) I shoehorned Perl and Java into the same process, and it never aroused much excitement. Certainly the Java folks tend to turn up their noses at non-100% Java solutions, but it got a pretty chilly reception from the other end as well. By and large, Perl programmers don't seem to have much appreciation for Java. I think the language architects who aren't living in reality tend to like multi-language solutions a lot more than ordinary folks do.

Which is, of course, why we're doing exactly the same thing with Parrot. Go figure. :-)

6.5) From a project managers prospective
by mustangdavis

What are your thoughts on the comments made by people that Perl is not designed for projects that require more than one programmer? Many people have stated over and over again that Perl code can not be managed by more than one person ... what are your thoughts on that statement? How would you manage a large Perl project? Do you think Perl should be used for large projects? (or should it be used strictly as a "quick and dirty" programming language?) BTW: I love your work (someone had to say it)


I do not manage any large projects, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. I haven't an executive bone in my body. All my managerial skills are delegated. Ask anyone I've delegated to...

However, those who claim that Perl code cannot be managed by more than one person are obviously smoking something worse than crack. They're simply ignoring the many examples of people who have done just that. But you wouldn't expect to hire random people off the street to come in and collaborate on writing a novel. You can do it by hiring a few good novelists who already know how to figure out how to work together, or at least how to fight with each other productively. In the absence of that level of expertise, you can also do it by setting up policies under which random people can work, rather like the rules for writing about the world of Liavek, in which, for instance, every story has to mention a camel.

That being said, there are things we can do to make Perl6 better at helping managers and architects set up such policies for programming in the large. Having a standardized opaque object type will help there as well. Nobody is going to claim that Perl6's OO is "bolted on". Well, except maybe for certain Slashdotters who don't know the difference between rational discussion and cheerleading...

7) Role of Religion?
by Anonymous Cowdog

I remember reading at some point that you are a Christian, and there have been suggestions that some of your early missionary impulses (a desire to do good, help others) are perhaps part of the zeal you have put into Perl over the years.

Preferring a scientific view, I am not religious, and have no desire to be. Perhaps there is a God, but if there is, I think he/she has no opposable thumbs; in other words, has no power to change anything; reality is just playing out according to the laws of physics (whatever those are).

Please tell us how in the world a scientific or at least technical mind can believe in God, and what role religion has played in your work on Perl.


Well, hmm, that's a topic for an entire essay, or a book, or a life. But I'll try to keep it short.

When you say "how in the world", I take it to mean that you find it more or less inconceivable that someone with a scientific mind (or at least technical mind, hah!) could chooose to believe in God. I'd like to at least get you to the point where you find it conceivable. I expect a good deal of the problem is that you are busy disbelieving a different God than the one I am busy believing in. In theological discussions more than any other kind, it's easy to talk at right angles and never even realize it.

So let me try to clarify what I mean, and reduce it to as few information bits as possible. A lot of people have a vested interest in making this a lot tougher to swallow than it needs to be, but it's supposed to be simple enough that a child can understand it. It doesn't take great energetic gobs of faith on your part--after all, Jesus said you only have to have faith the size of a mustard seed. So just how big is that, in information theory terms? I think it's just two bits big. Please allow me to qoute a couple "bits" from Hebrews, slightly paraphrased:

You can't please God the way Enoch did without some faith, because those who come to God must (minimally) believe that:
A) God exists, and
B) God is good to people who really look for him.

That's it. The "good news" is so simple that a child can understand it, and so deep that a philosopher can't.

Now, it appears that you're willing to admit the possibility of bit A being a 1, so you're almost halfway there. Or maybe you're a quarter way there on average, if it's a qubit that's still flopping around like Shoedinger's Cat. You're the observer there, not me--unless of course you're dead. :-)

A lot of folks get hung up at point B for various reasons, some logical and some moral, but mostly because of Shroedinger again. People are almost afraid to observe the B qubit because they don't want the wave function to collapse either to a 0 or a 1, since both choices are deemed unpalatable. A lot of people who claim to be agnostics don't take the position so much because they don't know, but because they don't want to know, sometimes desperately so.

Because if it turns out to be a 0, then we really are the slaves of our selfish genes, and there's no basis for morality other than various forms of tribalism.

And because if it turns out to be a 1, then you have swallow a whole bunch of flim-flam that goes with it. Or do you?

Let me admit to you that I came at this from the opposite direction. I grew up in a religious culture, and I had to learn to "unswallow" an awful lot of stuff in order to strip my faith down to these two bits.

I tried to strip it down further, but I couldn't, because God told me: "That's far enough. I already flipped your faith bits to 1, because I'm a better Observer than you are. You are Shroedinger's cat in reverse--you were dead spiritually, but I've already examined the qubits for you, and I think they're both 1. Who are you to disagree with me?"

So, who am I to disagree with God? :-) If he really is the Author of the universe, he's allowed to observe the qubits, and he's probably even allowed to cheat occasionally and force a few bit flips to make it a better story. That's how Authors work. Whether or not they have thumbs...

Once you see the universe from that point of view, many arguments fade into unimportance, such as Hawking's argument that the universe fuzzed into existence at the beginning, and therefore there was no creator. But it's also true that the Lord of the Rings fuzzed into existence, and that doesn't mean it doesn't have a creator. It just means that the creator doesn't create on the same schedule as the creature's.

If God is creating the universe sideways like an Author, then the proper place to look for the effects of that is not at the fuzzy edges, but at the heart of the story. And I am personally convinced that Jesus stands at the heart of the story. The evidence is there if you care to look, and if you don't get distracted by the claims of various people who have various agendas to lead you in every possible direction, and if you don't fall into the trap of looking for a formula rather than looking for God as a person. All human institutions are fallible, and will create a formula for you to determine whether you belong to the tribe or not. Very often these formulas are called doctrines and traditions and such, and there is some value in them, as there is some value in any human culture. But they all kind of miss the point.

"Systematic theology" is an oxymoron. God is not a system. Christians are fond of asking: "What would Jesus do in this situation?" Unfortunately, they very rarely come up with the correct answer, which is: "Something unexpected!" If the Creator really did write himself into his own story, that's what we ought to expect to see. Creative solutions.

And this creativity is intended to be transitive. We are expected to be creative. And we're expected to help others be creative.

And that leads us back (finally) to the last part of your question, how all this relates to Perl.

Perl is obviously my attempt to help other people be creative. In my little way, I'm sneakily helping people understand a bit more about the sort of people God likes.

Going further, we have the notion that a narrative should be defined by its heart and not by its borders. That ties in with my linguistic notions that things ought to be defined by prototype rather than by formula. It ties in to my refusal to define who is or is not a "good" Perl programmer, or who exactly is or isn't a member of the "Perl community". These things are all defined by their centers, not by their peripheries.

The philosophy of TMTOWTDI ("There's more than one way to do it.") is a direct result of observing that the Author of the universe is humble, and chooses to exercise control in subtle rather than in heavy-handed ways. The universe doesn't come with enforced style guidelines. Creative people will develop style on their own. Those are the sort of people that will make heaven a nice place.

And finally, there is the underlying conviction that, if you define both science and religion from their true centers, they cannot be in confict. So despite all the "religiosity" of Perl culture, we also believe in the benefits of computer science. I didn't put lexicals and closures into Perl5 just because I thought people would start jumping up and down and shouting "Hallelujah!" (Which happens, but that's not why I did it.)

And now let's all sing hymn #42...

8) Thanks Larry
by wdr1

Like many others, I love Perl. I use it both professionally and personally. You've not only helped make my career, but also given me a very pleasent past-time. I was wondering what I can do to say thank-you? Can we give you money? Dontate something to someone, etc.?

When the new Programming Perl came out, I didn't really need anymoe (viva perldoc!), but wanted to make sure I was putting a few bucks in the pockets of those who made Perl great. What else can I do to say thanks?


Hmm, what timing! You must be from one of those churches where they pass the offering plate right after the sermon... :-)

Even just saying thanks is much appreciated. But if you want to help out more, there are lots of places to donate time or money. Unfortunately, it takes time to figure out how to donate time, since you have to hang out with various interest groups until you get, er, interested in one of them. But it's part of Perl culture to value contributions to Perl culture, so don't hold back just because your contribution is not somehow technical. That's not how we work.

Donating money is easy (except, of course, for the money part). Tax-deductible contributions can be made to the Perl Foundation. Much of my support for this year has come through the Perl Foundation--my full-time work on the Apocalypses would have been impossible without it. If you can persuade the companies you work for to make donations or to match your donations, that's also a worthwhile investment of time (and in some cases, agony). Please allow me to express my sincere gratitude here for everyone who has contributed already. This program is made possible by viewers like you.

9) perl 6 niche
by maraist

perl 1-5 have been great UNIX configuration/management languages. This includes small-scale webserver platforms. It's very difficult to find any other language that is as versitile in this respect where it reigns in it's niche. It is the perfect combination of speed, power, simplicity and huffman encoding (especially given the co-UNIX-tools look-and-feel).

Perl6 on the other hand, changes this formula around; favoring a more general solution that potentially reduces performance (due to abstractions), and deviates substantially from the UNIX-family-syntax - Namely: c-ish-syntax ( colon, question mark, select, exception-handling, etc), awk/sedish reg-ex's, raw c-libray-wrappers, etc. It was these very similarities that made learning and accepting perl so trivial since learning CIS and UNIX administration was sufficient to master perl in 2 days.

My question is: does perl6 have a niche in mind? Or is it spreading itself too thinly; competing more and more against Java/python/C# and thus losing it's identifiable niche?


Excellent question. I love the evolutionary biologists' way of talking about organisms as if they're evolving on purpose: "I think I'll develop feathers now and become a bird...", though in Perl's case, of course, there is some amount of purpose in my head (some would say "not enough"), not to mention the heads of other Perl developers (some would say "too much" (or is it the other way around?)), but it's still great fun to talk about Perl as if it were its own beastie, or as if it were a character in a novel that runs away with the plot despite the intentions of the author, kinda like this sentence has.

Anyway, from the start, Perl has never really been satisfied with staying in any one particular ecological niche. That's not terribly healthy approach in evolutionary terms, especially when your niche goes away. Perl's been pretty lucky so far to land in stable niches, but if some of its current niches dry up someday, that's really only to be expected, and indeed almost hoped for. It's probably the fault of closing ecological niches that we aren't all still swinging from trees, after all. (Of course, some of us still are, but that portion of us isn't heavily represented on Slashdot. Er...appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.)

Perl started out as just a text processing language--a better awk and sed--but it very rapidly spread to the ecological niche of system administration. On Unix, at least, a lot of system administration is text processing. With version3, however, Perl very intentionally escaped the text-processing-only niche by adding the capability to process binary data. Perl4 UNintentionally spread from the sysadmin niche into the CGI/Web niche. Perl5 accellerated that trend by intentionally occupying the extensible-glue-language niche, which had the unforeseen (by me) but predictable result of enabling Web sites to hook all their backend databases to the various textual Internet protocols.

But if you're worried about Perl trying to inhabit the "good for everything" niche, that's actually been Perl's intention since Perl5 came out. After all, you can't add OO to any language without making it perfect. ;-)

Seriously, I think that, for many of the people who use Perl today, the ecological niche they're thinking of is already labeled "everything", even if it isn't quite. For those folks, trying to make Perl better for the "everything" niche is not really an issue--they're already panting for it. These are the people who will actually carry Perl over to the next ecological niche it spills into, and the ones after that. I just made Perl a glue language, and other people applied it to bootstrapping the Web. Making Perl the best tool for growing programs from small to large is actually one of the underlying design goals of Perl6. But other people will use that to inhabit, or even create, other ecological niches. I hope to be surprised again as I was with the Web. I could, of course, be completely wrong.

10) How to get people to take Perl seriously
by kin_korn_karn

I'm a perl programmer who uses it daily. The push is on from the C?O types to get rid of Perl, even though a bunch of us here know it and are very proficient and fast with it. The new standard is Java with web services and all that other BS. This sickens me, because a) I'm biased towards Perl and b) I know Java is simply a fad language and the overhead/infrastructure only serves to give do-nothing architect types jobs.

The high-level technical people in my company don't take Perl seriously. They see it as some kind of super-Awk or an artifact of the early days of the web. Smart people know better, but we're not in charge.

What do you think it would take to get people to take Perl seriously as a programming language [again]? Is widespread use of Perl a goal of yours, or do you not care?


Well, if Java really is a "fad" language, we don't have to do anything to beat it, now do we? :-)

Leaving that aside, my goal is (and has always been) for Perl to be as useful as possible. It naturally follows that if people are avoiding Perl for artificial reasons, Perl is not being as useful as possible. So there's a place for advocacy. It is an unfortunate fact that, human nature being what it is, an ounce of cheerleading often beats a pound of rational discussion.

However, my job is not to lead cheers, but to make sure that Perl is designed to be maximally useful. It has never been a direct goal of mine to be "taken seriously". For good or ill, I am composed of far more levity than gravity. And I'm afraid some of that rubs off on Perl, too. But if Perl is everything it ought to be, it will naturally attract serious attention over the long term. If ecological niches are natural, and if nature abhors a vacuum, it follows that ecological niches abhor vacuums too. I expect to hear some great sucking sounds over the next ten or twenty years.

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Larry Wall On Perl, Religion, and...

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  • by arglesnaf ( 454704 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:07PM (#4206898) understandly what Larry said, would it be hard to restate it more easily? Or is it easily understood that Larry should be hard to understand?
    • by nucal ( 561664 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:15PM (#4206954)
      Once you become the renaissanciest man that ever lived you will understand.
    • Normally Damian Conway does a set of code examples based on what Larry's been saying. Maybe we could get him to do one for slashdot...

      Seriously, if you want some explanation of what's been said then I can recommend:

      • Programming Perl

        Larry and friends explaining about Perl 5. Big book, but nice and easy with lots of explanation about why things are done the way they are

      • The Perl 6 list

        People asking questions about how Perl 6 will work, what's the changes are going to be, what's been written so far. There's a good summary on that's written once a week

      • The Apocalypses and Exegsis

        How Perl 6 is changing from Perl 5 written by Larry and Damian. Also on

      • The Perl Beginners list

        High traffic, but good. From the lists page: []

      (side note: Why doesn't slashcode let me do definition lists in HTML?)
    • Understanding what Larry says is as easy as understanding perl...

      I'm sure everyone can understand that statement. ;)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:07PM (#4206899)
    I bet he wrote a nice perl script to do it for him.
  • odd (Score:3, Insightful)

    by glwtta ( 532858 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:09PM (#4206913) Homepage
    I found the first question to be rather strange, maybe because of where it is to be found: 9/06/1343222&mode=nocomment&tid=145

  • by stu_ajh ( 260949 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:12PM (#4206932)
    "Perl 6 will give you the big knob."

  • Hmmm... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Dirtside ( 91468 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:12PM (#4206936) Journal
    Larry Wall on Perl, Religion, and...
    So, basically, he's talking about the same thing twice? ;)
    • Re:Hmmm... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dystrophy ( 95144 )
      From the Christian perspective...

      God is Omnipotent, Omnipresent, but NOT Omni-controlling. Bad stuff happens to good people because we're not preprogrammed to a set of only good behaviors. We have free will that affects us and others. That doesn't stop the fact that He (God) loves us, and is willing to forgive us in the case where we make life changing decision(s) and turn away from that (and other) wrong.

      I thought Larry did a wonderful job of distilling the Bible into two bits. If more pastors, priests, and normal Christians had as simple and life changing a belief, a lot of the ugliness between each other (inter-Church), and other belief systems (Christian vs. neo-paganism or atheism) would be resolved. Agreeing with others outside of your personal views is definitely not required in Christianity, but loving them is.

      Given the condition that the two bits that Larry proposed are set, I believe that two more bits are in order. Whereas the previous two bits relied on God to view and set them, these two are set by your response to God:

      A) Love God with everying you are
      B) Love the people around you like you love yourself

      These two bits, when set, change your life.

      • Re:Hmmm... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Erore ( 8382 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @01:31PM (#4207551)

        If you want to combine this discussion of free will and the writings of JRR Tolkien, read chapter 2 of the Silmarillion.

        You'll see that it is a story about free will. Free will for the dwarves, free will for Aule. Parallels to the Bible as explanations of why God created us and gave us free will, as well as the free will choice of Abraham to "begat" Ishmael, to "begat" Islam, to "begat" future conflict between the Jewish and Islamic people. (I'm not trying to start any flame wars here about the Jewish and Islamic faiths, I'm trying to show how the choice of one man led to some pretty big things years later.)

        Free will "begat" an awful lot of future strife in both the Silmarillion and the Bible-real life. But, that free will never altered God's perfect plans for his creation. Which is exactly what the opening sequence, called Ainulindale, of the Silmarillion is all about.

        "...and often strife will arise between thine and mine; the children of my adoption and the children of my choice."

  • ... Could tie in quantum physics to an answer regarding his beliefs in God. Genius.
    • I've seen at least two separate Jesuits do this.
      • by Golias ( 176380 )
        In other words, only somebody with marginal knowledge of theology would think Larry Wall was the only one to approach the discussion in this manner.

        The apostle Paul was once praised as being "all things to all people" because he emersed himself into a culture before he began ministry in it. That way, when he spoke to the people about God, he spoke in terms that they could both understand and relate to. Tech geeks can relate to poisoning hypothetical cats to demonstrate quantum theories, so using that to make his point is really just following Paul's example.

  • by Ravagin ( 100668 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:18PM (#4206972)
    Please tell us how in the world a scientific or at least technical mind can believe in God, and what role religion has played in your work on Perl.

    I missed the original discussion in which all these questions were collected, but yowza, that's a dense question (no offense to the inquirer!).

    I am not religious either - faith is simply not in me, I cannot believe in something I cannot see - so I see where the inquirer is coming from, but as Larry puts it, the question is talking at right angles.

    To say "you're a scientist, how can you believe in God?" makes the automatic and ignorant assumption that said scientist believes said god created the world in thirty days, wrought man from the testicles of a gopher, and causes the sun to rise every day by means of ropes and pulleys (or something of the like - you get my point).

    Larry may be a Christian, but though there may be many irrational/ignorant/intolerant Christians in the world, not all Christians are like that. As a friend of mine says, the attitude that they are "puts the asshole in atheist."

    Being religious does not preclude being a smart and talented scientist. Sorry if this is a bit OT, but I'm kind of fed up with the attitude that "belief in god(s)" == "irrational and stupid." And though he has in no way convinced me, I'm quite impressed with Larry's defense of his faith.

    • by billstr78 ( 535271 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:32PM (#4207073) Homepage
      I am an athiest as well for many similar reasons. I used to wonder how anyone who questioned anything could ever believe in the traditional Catholic or Christian view of God. Now and especially after reading this article, it apears to me that one does not have to believe in thier God to believe in the teachings of the bible as a collection of stories passed on from generation to generation that help us mortal humans make sence of a world we cannot ultimatley control.

      So if control is in the hands of the laws of Physics (as the question posed), God, Buhdda, the Dali Lamma or who/what/ever, it does not really matter as long as you know that you are not it. It is feasibly scientific to believe that Perl is God! I mean it is what is conrolling SlashCode after all.
    • by totallygeek ( 263191 ) <> on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:32PM (#4207075) Homepage
      Remember, too, that scientists have been ridiculed by other scientists throughout history. Germs? Something you cannot see that makes you ill? Have anti-septic surgery?

      The atom looks like pudding? The atom cannot be made of any smaller particles. Splitting an atom wouldn't make much energy.


      Go to the moon?

      More examples? And, as far as having to see something to believe -- have you travelled to every continent or just taken someone's word that those places exist? Are you sure there are other galaxies? Have you even seen Pluto? Can you "see" microwave radiation or a single atom?

      I am not faithful either, but cut the faithful some slack. Their beliefs are just as strong as our non-belief. Let's at least be good-hearted athiests.

    • "I cannot believe in something I cannot see"

      I'd be a little careful about that statement. I'm sure that you believe that atoms exist, even though you cannot see them. Of course, it is absolutely silly to say that because you believe atoms exist that you should also believe that God exists. However, you might wish to reexamine what you really mean when you say "cannot see."

      • Stop being pendantic and splitting hairs.

        The existance of atoms and quanta can be proven with mathematics (besides scientific observation) - they can be "seen" when you use the language of science. I know of no mathematical formula or scientific experimant that _proves_ the exisitance of God - so He truly is "un-seeable" (in the context of the physical world, anyway).

        Belief in a Higher Power is (or should be, anyhow) a matter of faith and personal choice, nothing else, IMHO.

    • I must agree. This is one of the most intelligent, enlightened defenses of faith that I have ever seen. And without the taint of superficial holiness that so many Christians add to the mix.

      As an atheist, I must say, "Bravo."

      Of some additional interest, you might like the following books, by an acquaintance of mine (one of the most intelligent men I have ever met):

      • The Reluctant Prophets: Has Science Found God?
      • COSMOS AND CONSCIOUSNESS: Quantum Computers, SuperStrings, Mysticism, C++ Programming, Egypt, Quarks, Mind-Body Problem, Aliens, Linguistics, and Turing Machines

      Both by Stephen Blaha, Ph.D. and available at 1st Books [].

    • I'm in the same boat - I don't beleive in a "God."

      However if there is a "God" then I know two things about him/her/it:

      God has a sense of humor: See Lemeurs, Spam and 42 for evidence.
      If were made in the image of God, then God would prefer doubting inteligent people, to dumb people with blind faith. Good things happen to doubting inteligent people, while dumb people have a rough time of it - they tend to get killed, maimed and taken advantage of.

      So have fun, be smart and if there is a God - let's hope this is a some sort of pratical joke. Making us in the form of giant hairless monkeys is rather amusing when you think on it.

      • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @02:10PM (#4207845)
        > God has a sense of humor: See Lemeurs, Spam and 42 for evidence.
        > If were made in the image of God, then God would prefer doubting inteligent people, to dumb people with blind faith. Good things happen to doubting inteligent people, while dumb people have a rough time of it - they tend to get killed, maimed and taken advantage of.

        Agreed on your first point. Disagree on the second point. Smart creative people get whacked just as much as dumb fsckwits.

        Then again, my two favorite books in the Bible are Ecclesiastes and Job. Both of which...

        > So have fun, be smart and if there is a God - let's hope this is a some sort of pratical joke. Making us in the form of giant hairless monkeys is rather amusing when you think on it.

        ...provide a sound Scriptural basis for your conclusion. So welcome to the True Faith, Brother :-)

        On a more enlightening angle, allow me to quote Carl Sagan (atheist):

        How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant'? Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths."

        - Carl Sagan
        The God worshipped by Islamokazi nutbags and Creationist fundies is of little interest in me. He may have created us in His image - but some of his less-than-clued followers have unfortunately returned the favor :(

        The Islamokazis (and to a lesser extent the Roman Catholic Church) re-created him in the form of a celestial slot machine ("insert [ 767 | money ], pull lever, get [ 72 virgins | indulgences ]"), and the Christian fundie hucksters re-created him in the form of a carnival barker ("I whipped it up in a week six thousand years ago and hid different ratios of potassium and argon isotopes in the dinosaur bones just to confuse their scientists 6000 years later! Suckerrrrz!").

        But a God who can come up with an entire universe based on a few fundamental constants and some deep mathematics, such that out of that universe, a few bits of carbon compounds might emerge into sentient life capable of looking around at the universe and trying to unravel the math for themselves... That's the kind of God that might be worth getting to know more about.

    • I am not religious either - faith is simply not in me, I cannot believe in something I cannot see...

      I just need to ask: Are you gasping for breath right now? Unless you live in L.A., I would think you can't see the air that you're breathing.

      On a more serious note: What about Love? There is something that is completely intangible. Sure, you can break it down to chemical reactions and nerve impulses, but that is not the sum of it's parts.

      God help you if you go blind. ;)

    • by cwernli ( 18353 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:49PM (#4207213) Homepage

      I cannot believe in something I cannot see

      That reminds me of two stories:

      1. A Swiss band once had a song with the title "America doesn't exist", describing how Columbus didn't believe in his own theory, therefore didn't board the ship but hid in Spain instead, just to come out of the bush when the ships returned. Everybody patted him on the back for having discovered America, only that he himself was feeling terribly uneasy because he couldn't possibly ask anybody if America really existed. The conclusion is that the singer himself doubts Americas existence because lots of people claim to have been there, but how do you verify it ?
      2. Then there's the anecdote Stephen Hawking tells in one of his book: at a conference an old lady ferociously refuses to accept that the Earth is a globe, stating that it's obvious that the Earth's flat and resting on a tortoise (which btw accounts for the earthquakes). Asked where the tortoise's standing, she replies "on another tortoise of course!", to which the physicist didn't really have an answer.

      As much as I like your statement, the inherent danger is (forced) ignorance: most of todays knowledge has been derived, either from other knowledge or taken from other people. Do you verify the entries in an encyclopedia ? Did you verify yourself that the earth circles the sun or do you believe otherwise ?

      I have the impression that you actually wanted to say "I believe only in stuff which has been proven by a reliable source, which brings us back to square one.

      • 2. Then there's the anecdote Stephen Hawking tells in one of his book: at a conference an old lady ferociously refuses to accept that the Earth is a globe, stating that it's obvious that the Earth's flat and resting on a tortoise (which btw accounts for the earthquakes). Asked where the tortoise's standing, she replies "on another tortoise of course!", to which the physicist didn't really have an answer.

        I don't remember Hawking telling this story, but I do remember an extension of a similar story:

        Physicist: So you say the tortoise is standing on the back of another tortoise?

        Woman: That's right.

        Physicist: Well, what is that tortoise standing on?

        Woman: You can't get past me that easily, young man. It's tortoises all the way down.
      • Yes, we've all heard it before, but "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

        So, if Bob tells me that he went to China, and people there ate kittens, I would say "interesting." If Bob instead claimed that they flew using the powers of ESP and a shaman, I would want video to say the least - and lots of it from multiple angles.

        So, what I usually ask is "can I see a picture of it?" China? I've seen pictures, video, and heard audio. Australia? Hey, I've met Austrialians. They seem to really live on that continent.

        God? So far, no picture, no conversation, and nothing that makes me believe that "it" has existed.

        Lastly, from the interview:

        then we really are the slaves of our selfish genes, and there's no basis for morality other than various forms of tribalism.

        This is true - but Christian morality is derived from Jewish morality, and I have not been impressed with their morality as found in the Old Testament. To me, it's entirely ethnocentric, and you don't need to read too much of it before you catch on to the coincidence of an ethnic group that worships a God that "chose" them.


        PS I'm still curious as to the exact scripture that released Christians from observing the same Laws as the Jews. When did God change his mind, and why?

  • by int69h ( 60728 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:18PM (#4206975)
    Let's not forget everyones hero, Don Knuth. He's a devout Christian as well.
  • Larry is correct to point out that anything PHP can can do with perl (mod_perl)...often better, and still keep the language you use for everything else. In this sense the rise of PHP has mystified me.

    Why the need for a novel language to do web scripting? The only argument I can see is ease of installation and learning, but those aren't good reasons for serious developers.

    • by Ravagin ( 100668 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:21PM (#4206991)

      I don't know - if I all I need to do is check some cookies and output a stylesheet based on those cookies, or dip into a database and sort and output some data, why do I need perl? I can do it quickly and painlessly in my page with PHP. No need to go around insulting those of us who use it as "unserious."

      I see perl's coolness, but just to play contrary deity's advocate with you... why not PHP? :)

      • Re:Good point on PHP (Score:5, Interesting)

        by twoshortplanks ( 124523 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:33PM (#4207082) Homepage
        Personally? Because I find that PHP is too powerful for an embedded language. You end up with this large chunks of code in the middle of your HTML making it really hard to maintain.

        Give me a simple language like the Template Toolkit that can connect to a more powerful language (er, Perl) to do the difficult stuff any day.

        Of course, you may disagree, and you're not stupid or evil for doing it. You just have a different point of view...I'm certainly not going to start bashing PHP.

        Of course, wat I'm really waiting for is Parrot to be completed, both with the ability to run Perl 6 and PHP generated bytecode, so we can both use whatever we want, call each other's code all over the place, and play nice together...

        • Personally? Because I find that PHP is too powerful for an embedded language. You end up with this large chunks of code in the middle of your HTML making it really hard to maintain.

          So don't put large chunks of code in the middle of your HTML. Sock the code away in another file and just call it where you want it.

          Or, even better, do it up right and build code that generates html. A similar line is crossed in Perl when you move from providing teeny little CGIs that get called with EXEC CGI tags in html, to full-blown applications with a .cgi on the end.

      • Re:Good point on PHP (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Telastyn ( 206146 )
        Oddly enough, I use php for most of the stuff people use perl for: log parsing, process handling, and general scripting use. Mainly I've not had the need or time to learn perl, despite the fact it's generally nicer; more stable; and a hell of alot faster.
      • In short - to reuse the packages you may have already written to do offline work. mod_perl lets you reuse your existing logic.

        What I am basically saying is that I don't see the value in a domain-specific language for web scripting. Even outside of perl, java and C# provide good tools for reusing the language you already use elsewhere in your web apps.

    • Domain specific languages are really good. They allow you to think more about the task at hand than the task of getting the language you are using to do the task.

      Of course, one such example of a domain language is the Template Toolkit [] which is a language that's inside out and designed to be used in places like webpages and config scripts. It's used in Slashdot, and written in Perl (and can call perl routines really easily called.) There's a good justification why not to use pure Perl in the template in the manual []

      Of course, come Perl 6 we'll be able to redefine our own grammers. By using a module (technically a grammer) we'll be able to dynamically switch in anohter rule (er, perl 6 regex able to match grammers) in the current scope to parse the current section - essentially our own little mini langauge.

    • by jeorgen ( 84395 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:28PM (#4207047)
      Ars-Fartsica writes:

      In this sense the rise of PHP has mystified me. Why the need for a novel language to do web scripting

      mod_php is installed at most Apache based web hosting services, mod_perl practically never.

      (The mod_p(erl|hp) makes the scripts run as long running processes instead of short lived processes incurring a lot of overhead).

      Besides, there is no standard template language for perl, and that fragments the knowledge in the field in the perl community.

      perl and Zope coder

    • by Jester99 ( 23135 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:33PM (#4207083) Homepage
      Why the need for a novel language to do web scripting? The only argument I can see is ease of installation and learning, but those aren't good reasons for serious developers.

      When all you have is a hammer... everything looks like a nail.

      Perl is a really, really, honkin' big hammer. It can smash just about any nail into anything. But sometimes, a wrench or a screwdriver would do the job better.

      A master carpenter doesn't say "I can do anything with this hammer, given enough effort." He's got a giant toolbox filled with a dozen wrenches, a few hammers, screwdrivers... you get the point.

      If you want to consider yourself a "serious developer", you should really consider broadening your skill set. There's a lot of things that I can do very fast in perl, but sometimes I need to come up with a quick database enabled website on Windows 2000. I immediately think, "Cold Fusion." Sure, I could install ActiveState perl, but I can do the job twice as quickly in CFML.

      Likewise, PHP has it's job creating webpage templates in a UNIX environment. PHP has great database hooks and CGI handling. I can do some things in PHP in fewer lines than in Perl. The converse is also true -- in which case, I use Perl, and not PHP.

      So, if you're handy enough with the Perl hammer, you could probably use it for everything. But you might dent up the walls a bit on the way.
    • Using both perl and PHP for my various needs, I find that they have equally valid uses for me. I am much happier programming my PHP for WWW-to-DBI applications. If I have my postgresql DB up and running, then I find it more intuitive to use PHP commands that I've learned to access that data and then use its scripting to do any data manipulation (rather than pass it off to another language, etc).

      When I'm not accessing my database and just need to parse output or setup other sorts of webpages and things, I find perl to be exceptionally talented as well. It all depends on the entire context of my problem and the involvement of databases and DBIs for me. I know that perl has DBI capability, but I find PHP's DBI commands and things to be a bit more intuitive to the way I think.

      This is very similar to Larry's reason for Perl in the first place: Anything to make the user happier about programming the way they want to program...

  • by dpt ( 165990 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:22PM (#4206994) Journal
    Perhaps that's something for companies to consider. Every place I've worked, large and small, has had some Perl working away in the background in some capacity - from humble one-off tasks like formatting the odd bit of text through to being the driver for the automated test framework or managing the corporate web infrastructure.

    We seem all too willing to throw money at licenses for Office, but my team uses Perl in many interesting, fun and labour saving ways every single day - even though ostensibly we're coding in C. I think I might make a case to my manager on Monday that a small donation has *already* paid for itself ...

  • Excellent (Score:5, Interesting)

    by totallygeek ( 263191 ) <> on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:22PM (#4206998) Homepage
    Always great to read something from Larry Wall. I chuckled a bit recently when I saw the "Wall Nut House".

    Excellent interview; would like to see more with him in the future. My dream list right now would be:

    • Steven Hawking
    • Bill Joy
    • Bill Gates
    • Steve Jobs
    • Mark Horton
    • Eric Allman
  • by phorm ( 591458 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:26PM (#4207032) Journal
    I was somewhat wondering who might actually have suggested this, probably not anyone who has made a serious use of Perl.

    When I first used Perl, I found the $%@ symbols confusing as all heck, and wished it was more like PHP.

    Now that I've used a lot of Perl, I wish PHP would make more use of the $%@ symbols for clarity sakes. Actually, it would be a lot nicer in many languages to use symbol-defined clarifiers, I certainly get tired of "Dim Somevar as sometype" and "sometype somevar" when somebody makes an extremely ambiguous name which doesn't differentiate an array from a scalar or reference variable.

    Ignorant people keep educated people employed! - phorm
    • Some of us would say that you should choose variable names to mean what they say, so it's reasonably obvious what the type is. Plural in particular is a big help, and hash/list distinctions can often be made obvious. In dynamic languages, this is usually sufficient.

      But while I believe in that, what I *really* want to see in perl is the sigil labelling the named object, not the final value of the expression, i.e., %hashvar{THING_IN_HASH} instead of $hashvar{THING_IN_HASH}. Fortunately, Perl 6 is supposed to do it this way.
  • by rw2 ( 17419 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:27PM (#4207043) Homepage
    Larry said "We find the same problem in teaching reading to kids. Some people shout "Whole language!" while others shout "Phonics!" Well, guess what, they're both oversimplifying. You have to learn some phonics, and then you learn some larger bits based on that, and some larger bits based on that, and eventually you find that you're intuiting whole language. "

    Whole language incoporates phonics as one of it's several learning approaches.

    Whole language is, in fact, exactly what you go on to say is the 'right' solution.

    (I'm not a teacher by training, but my mum is a reading specialist (with her graduate work focusing on the subject) and I did confirm this with her)
  • Thats the best explaination of the Christian faith I have ever seen applied to geek speak.
    Now if someone will just translate "The Book of Subgenius " into python........

  • by Don Negro ( 1069 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:34PM (#4207091)
    Perl 6 will give you the big knob.

    That's as funny as it gets.
  • by Jeppe Salvesen ( 101622 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:36PM (#4207112)
    You can't please God the way Enoch did without some faith, because those who come to God must (minimally) believe that:

    A) God exists, and
    B) God is good to people who really look for him.

    That's it. The "good news" is so simple that a child can understand it, and so deep that a philosopher can't.

    As much as I respect Larry, I have one thing to say : "The Devil is in the details". "God exists" sounds so simple. It's not. Ethics are fundamentally different in the presence or absence of a God. In the absence, ethics are based around pragmatism and as such adaptible. In the presence, ethics are given to us. Look at history. Which case has proven the better approach? I'd rather God not existed, but if he does, I hope he has foregivness for me since I do in fact live by many of his rules - only out of pragmatism. I expect to burn in hell if there is such a thing, though.
    • With all due respect, the initial question was "How can you believe in God?" and not "Which of the huge litany of Christian, Catholic, and pseudo-Christian ethical laws do you think actually apply, and how do you reconcile the ones that seem to conflict with scientific evidence?"

      Larry really was right-- a lot of people's perceptions make the question more complicated than it needs to be.
  • ...because all the best ThinkGeek [] t-shirts are about Perl!

  • by Bingo Foo ( 179380 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:37PM (#4207117)
    I live in fear of the new magic variables after Larry learns Japanese.
  • by Clover_Kicker ( 20761 ) <> on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:39PM (#4207133)
    >the first Slashdot interview guest ever to send his
    >answers preformatted in squeaky-clean HTML

    What the hell would Slashdot editors know about clean HTML?

  • by warmcat ( 3545 )
    My wife and I were discussing this bogus leak of The Two Towers the other day, and I said to her that it was a pity Tolkien was not around to see these great films.

    She pointed out that he was a crusty old goat, and particularly loathed C. S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia, for his Christian subtext is those stories.

    Of course, Larry is probably aware of this and in itself it has no impact of settling The Big Question. BTW I personally interpreted the two-bit explanation given in the answer as the healthy result of getting bored with an unanswerable question. Perhaps it would have been better to leave it on the note that 'this question is not answerable' than '11', though. Maybe a ternary [] system would give results that conform better to what is knowable :?)
    • Re:LOTR (Score:3, Informative)

      by Rikardon ( 116190 )
      Ummm... considering Tolkien is one of two people Lewis credits as being critical in his conversion to Christianity, I doubt your wife's information comes from a reliable source.

      See Lewis' own book, "Surprised by Joy," if you don't believe me; or look at the entry for 1931 in a brief bio on one of the best-known Lewis sites on the Net:
  • Sorry Larry (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Reality Master 101 ( 179095 ) <RealityMaster101 AT gmail DOT com> on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:53PM (#4207237) Homepage Journal

    God is good to people who really look for him.

    This is actually a premise we can test, and it's simply false. Many studies have been done comparing religious and non-religious people, and it's never been found that religious people end up with "better luck" (better health, better livelyhood, better children, etc) that non-religious people.

    Now, you could argue that perhaps these studies aren't correcting properly for whether someone is "really" looking for God, but at the very least we can assume that if God is "good" to those people, then the effect is pretty subtle.

    • Re:Sorry Larry (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tweek ( 18111 )
      Depends on what you consider "good".

      Was God good to Job, his most faithful of servants?

      Good is a relative term. Many health and wealth preachers will try and tell you otherwise but it's simply not the case.

      I would consider God being good to me if I wake up in the morning or if I don't die on the way to work because of some jackass who doesn't understand the concept of a loop exit.

      The Bible never promised riches to those who were faithful. Well not unless you count the ones that we store up in heaven. Hell, Jesus himself said that.
    • The first mistake most people make (religious, athiest, or whatever) is incorrectly defining the problem and its scope. Your being too closed minded with your analysis.

      Okay, so if there is a God and he/she/it/them/... and if the premise is that "God is good to people who really look for him" then that cannot be properly tested in any way. Why? Because how is God good to them? How many subtle ways might God have saved a person's life or changed it? Perhaps some hardship one faces is, in the long run, "better" for them. And what's more, if there is a God, then the it's quite likely that the "goodness" God will give to those who "really look for him" won't come until some sort of afterlife. And how could you measure that?

      So the logic doesn't stand -- as most "logic" people use to claim existance or non-existance of God. Too often people limit the scope of possiblities and come to incorrect and inconsistant conclusions.
    • by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @01:52PM (#4207688)
      God is good to people who really look for him.

      This is actually a premise we can test, and it's simply false. Many studies have been done comparing religious and non-religious people, and it's never been found that religious people end up with "better luck" (better health, better livelyhood, better children, etc) that non-religious people.

      You are absolutely correct.

      The beauty of religion, and why it can persist in the face of reason, and even seduce intelligent people like Larry Wall, is that the parameters of every definition are endlessly malleable.

      Remember that mustard-seed sized bit of "faith?" That provides all the wiggle room required for any religious premise, no matter how prima facia absurd, to withstand argument, provided you argue on their terms (which is almost always what is expected and demanded). "Faith" means acccepting something which defies logic, so the theologens are correct when they say a tiny bit of faith is all that is required. A tiny bit of willingness to defy logic and accept the absurd is all that is required to promote, and buy into, any belief system at all, no matter how absurd, how self-destructive (remember the now-extinct Shakers? How about the People's Temple?), or how simply plain wrong it is when illuminated by the cold light of reality.

      In this particular case, the non-religious people end up being burned 'alive' for all time, while the religious people enjoy a profoundly boring existence playing harps in the presence of the universes most stodgy old man (which of course, makes one wonder what happens to those whose harp-playing skills aren't up to snuff).

      Or some variation thereupon, the key ingredients being "the faithful" (there's that word again) get to live well, while the "non-believes" (that would be you and I) are tormented forever.

      Given that, god really is good to those who look for him, at least in comparison to his treatment of those who do not.
    • Re:Sorry Larry (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Zathrus ( 232140 )
      So, I suppose that you're going to ignore the numerous studies that show that "people of faith" have a higher survival rate for cancer and other long term illnesses? Or, at the very least, suffer less depression? (Yes, unsurprisingly, different studies have had different results).

      Yes, I'm an atheist. And I raise an eyebrow at these studies as well, but to some extent I'm unsurprised. There's a great deal of psychology when it comes to survival of a long term illness, and people who believe in a "higher power" may very well have a better attitude toward all of it, believing that God will pull them through, or that if they die then they're at least going to a better place. Ask any Oncology doctor -- they'll tell you that a good attitude is essential to surviving, and as such believers may be more likely to have that attitude.

      And, of course, others have made commentary regarding how you measure "better", and that some measurements may not be accurate. I know that I'd rather be poor and happy rather than rich and miserable. (Of course, I can say this having never really been poor... shrug... but I've been deeply unhappy before in my life and I know I don't like that, and that money doesn't solve it).
  • Does anyone know where this is? I can't find it on CPAN.
  • wall and morality (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 06, 2002 @12:56PM (#4207254)
    Larry Wall ses: "Because if it turns out to be 0, then we really are the slaves of our selfish genes, and there's no basis for morality other than various forms of tribalism"

    there it is again! Religionists, including christians, believe they have a monopoly on morality! this is ignorant and insulting, and you should be ashamed of yourself. Here's a couple of alternatives upon which to base a morality:
    1) The Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated.
    2) Homo Sapiens is a social animal, but it is not possible to put any number of animals together in a society without establishing rules of engagement; i.e. a moral code. Call it tribalism if you wish, but since every religious cult seems to have its own moral code, i don't see how religious tribalism is in any way superior to secular tribalism. If there really is an omniscient, all-powerful creator, he/she has done a really shi--y job of getting across a consistent message.
  • Only Larry Wall (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The Pim ( 140414 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @01:06PM (#4207320)
    could get away with using the word "renaissanciest".

    Lately, I've seen more and more uptight types[1] [] skewer Larry as a half-assed linguist, a half-assed language designer, a half-assed art historian, and a half-assed philosopher. What they don't realize is that Larry sees things from so many perspectives--some entirely original--and incorporates them so fluidly, that analyzing him in any narrow way is laughably short-sighted. Yes, he is educated in these fields, but expecting him to come off sounding like an orthodox linguist, language designer, art historian, or philosopher entirely misses his true gifts.

    Set aside your judgement for a moment, and simply savor the output of one of the most creative, wittiest, and just plain renaissanciest minds with which we have the pleasure to associate. (Oh, he's also a nice guy and never said anything mean about you. :-) )

    [1] Yes, they're mostly Python advocates

  • "Hymn #42"? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mendax Veritas ( 100454 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @01:32PM (#4207562) Homepage
    That would be the Jethro Tull song of that name, right?
    Oh, Father high in Heaven,

    Smile down upon your Son,
    Who's busy with his money games,
    His women, and his gun.
    (Oh, Jesus, save me!)

    And the unsung Western hero
    Killed an Indian or three,
    And then he made his name in Hollywood
    To set the white man free.
    (Oh, Jesus, save me!)

    If Jesus saves,
    Well, he'd better save Himself
    From the gory glory seekers
    Who use His name in death.

    Well, I saw him in the city
    And on the mountains of the Moon;
    His Cross was rather bloody
    And he could hardly roll his stone.
  • by Hotsphink ( 519665 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @02:24PM (#4207979)
    I don't need to scratch my head and search my soul to figure out whether God created the universe. I was there. I saw the whole thing.

    God didn't create the universe. Well, He did, but not intentionally. God just wanted a beer. But you can't just create a beer floating in the middle of the void -- there's nothing satisfying about it. It would be like a book written by an illiterate person -- sure, he could put lots of black squiggles onto a bundle of pages that would vaguely look like a book, but it wouldn't mean anything.

    So for a proper beer, God pretty much had to make up physics. I'm not just talking about the refinements needed to get it to foam just right -- I'm talking about the whole deal. After you drink some, there should be less left over, not more. Drinking a beer should not make you turn into beer yourself. Beers should not be smarter than the drinker. Well, not the first few, at least. The state of drinking beer needs to contrast with something, so the state of not drinking beer must also exist. In fact, that's where most of the world came from, because having the world exist in only two states (currently drinking beer/currently not drinking beer) just seemed too lame to a clever guy like God. Same idea for water and other liquids -- if He can drink beer, He really ought to be able to drink not-beer, just so He can say He chose the beer instead.

    And then there's the whole question of origins. A beer is so much less interesting if it creates itself or just spontaneously comes into existence. A truly full-bodied beer needs a background, a character, a story. God went a little crazy with that, inventing those 'human' things with enough cleverness to invent stuff, curiousity to try things out, and a desperate need to get sloshed, smashed, trashed, and basically totally drucking funk. And all that cleverness and curiousity necessitated science. And dinosaur fossils. And religion. (God got a real kick when he realized he'd have to invent religion, I remember. Of course, he wasn't exactly sober by that time...)

    Oh, and you know that bit about "...and on the 7th day He rested?" Purely an excuse to keep us from bothering Him during His hangover. We're still on the 7th day, see. I'm not even sure if He thought far enough ahead to make an 8th day. He was having some trouble with the notion of Time, and I recall Him saying something like "aw, screw it. Nobody's going to be drinking any beer at the speed of light anyway. I'll see you later -- I'm gonna go get wasted."

  • by The Wookie ( 31006 ) on Friday September 06, 2002 @04:02PM (#4208815)
    Talk about a sudden flash of enlightenment!

    The existence of God is represented as the two-bit value 11. I *finally* understand what is meant by the holy trinity.

    Thanks Larry!
  • The magic knob! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by j3110 ( 193209 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {llerretmas}> on Friday September 06, 2002 @04:48PM (#4209154) Homepage
    Hopefully, this knob of which he speeks will have a "Readable" selection. I find myself, after having written some perl (and commented it), wondering what I just did to make it work. When I go back to fix some bug, I find it easier to just redo a section than to figure out exactly why it was functional (not even considering the bug at this point). The line noise perl programs should be impossible when the knob is set "Readable".

    As for theology, the existance of God to me is a qubit that can be observed with any given teaching. When I use the Bible to observe it, I keep getting a 0 because the old testiment was much to brutal for me to accept as devine. That's better than getting the -1 that I think I would get with scientology though :).

God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"