A Short Ballad Dedicated to the Growth of Programs

Date: 28 Jan 86 06:22:59 EST (Tue)
From: ram@yale-ring
Subject: Of growing code and diminishing hacks...
Sender: ram%yale-ring%arpa.yale@edu.mit.lcs.mc
To: t-discussion@arpa.yale, scheme@arpa.mit-mc


    A SHORT BALLAD DEDICATED TO THE GROWTH OF PROGRAMS
    ==================================================
                      by
                  Ashwin Ram
    
    This is a tale of a sorry quest
    To master pure code at the T guru's behest
    I enrolled in a class that appealing did seem
    For it promised to teach fine things like T3 and Scheme
    
    The first day went fine; we learned of cells
    And symbols and lists and functions as well
    Lisp I had mastered and excited was I
    For to master T3 my hackstincts did cry
    
    I sailed through the first week with no problems at all
    And I even said "closure" instead of "function call"
    Then said the master that ready were we
    To start real hacking instead of simple theory
    
    Will you, said he, write me a function please
    That in lists would associate values with keys
    I went home and turned on my trusty Apollo
    And wrote a function whose definition follows:
    
        (cdr (assq key a-list))
    
    A one-liner I thought, fool that I was
    Just two simple calls without a COND clause
    But when I tried this function to run
    CDR didn't think that NIL was much fun
    
    So I tried again like the good King of yore
    And of code I easily generated some more:
    
        (cond ((assq key a-list) => cdr))
    
    It got longer but purer, and it wasn't too bad
    But then COND ran out and that was quite sad
        
    Well, that isn't hard to fix, I was told
    Just write some more code, my son, be bold
    Being young, not even a moment did I pause
    I stifled my instincts and added a clause
    
        (cond ((assq key a-list) => cdr)
              (else nil))
    
    Sometimes this worked and sometimes it broke
    I debugged and prayed and even had a stroke
    Many a guru tried valiantly to help
    But undefined datums their efforts did squelch.
    
    I returneth once more to the great sage of T
    For no way out of the dilemma I could see
    He said it was easy -- more lines must I fill
    with code, for FALSE was no longer NIL.
    
        (let ((val (assq key a-list)))
           (cond (val (cdr val))
                 (else nil)))
    
    You'd think by now I might be nearing the end
    Of my ballad which seems bad things to portend
    You'd think that we could all go home scot-free
    But COND eschewed VAL; it wanted #T
    
    So I went back to the master and appealed once again
    I said, pardon me, but now I'm really insane
    He said, no you're not really going out of your head
    Instead of just VAL, you must use NOT NULL instead
    
        (let ((val (assq key a-list)))
           (cond ((not (null? val)) (cdr val))
                 (else nil)))
    
    My song is over and I'm going home to bed
    With this ineffable feeling that I've been misled
    And just in case my point you have missed
    Somehow I preferred (CDR (ASSQ KEY A-LIST))
    
                        :-)    
    ==================================================

Last Update: 13 March 1995 / Brad Miller / miller@cs.rochester.edu