April 26, 2003
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The poetry of mapcar

The sweet song of our youth, the song of power that once we held and lost, gentle poetry of elegance and understanding:

(mapcar ...)

You had to have been there. (It means, "do something to each item", it makes a loop a thing, and that's grand alchemy indeed. Lately, I've been trying to reach more often for STL's foreach and to stroll less often down those familiar garden paths of childhood that lead through for loops to the ancient comforts of DO 100 I=1,50).

This was LISP of the Lisp-machine era, an elegant and powerful language and system that let us build what had been impossible before. It's better now for most of us, we've moved on, and two decades of Moore's Law and integrated development environments means that we seldom pine for the tools of long ago.

This came back to me reading Tim Bray's self-responsive Why XML Doesn't Suck, in which he points out in passing that XML's notation is close to LISP's underlying S-expression -- and that LISP's notation, though fixed in the 1960's, might actually be better.

t's crystal-clear that you could have used S-Expression syntax for XML and it all would have worked about as well. Maybe it's because S-Expressions were too closely identified with the tattered dreams of the AI community?

Good point. But, now that the fight is over and forgotten, now that developers needn't fight for $30,000 personal computers because there are no $30,000 computers on offer, are those dreams so very tattered? And who tattered them? Dave Winer is taking no prisoners:

P2P was the last gasp. I remember getting breathless invitations to keynotes where this or that luminary was going to finally tell us what it is. In the end it wasn't the technology that made a difference, but ironically, the people . Apparently the promoters of Social Software were listening.

It's wrong. We don't need this.... Pfui!

But technology does make a difference, Dave. It's the promise of something better, something can let the people do what, before, they could not. It can let us build what, before, we could not. Yes, the people are what matter in the end, but if we rely on the people alone, we'll have know-nothings and Bushies and tyrants from now 'till the people destroy the planet out of frustration and just not giving a damn. T

The poetry of mapcar.