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Perl: the Markov chain saw


by Enitharmon (Sexton)
on Mar 21, 2007 at 22:43 UTC ( [id://605934]=user: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

I had my first real encounter with a computer when I was 15, at an IBM open day. I typed in PRINT 2+2 on a teletype and it clattered out 4. I thought it was very cool and I was tempted to do Computer Science A-Level. For one thing it would have involved one day a week at an FE college instead of going to school. Perhaps I should have stood firm when my parents objected.

Later I became familiar with a DEC PDP-8 and wrote FORTRAN code for in my physics undergraduate lab. I thought that was cool too and I festooned my student room with punched paper tape, but I still didn't really catch on. I taught high school physics and mathematics for three miserable years until I'd had enough, went to something called the Occupational Guidance Unit (for those looking for a second chance career) and they recommended I train as a systems analyst/programmer. Bingo!

So I started bashing out bits of COBOL code and as the most junior person in the office was set to such tasks as finding the erroneous job number in a mountain pof green-striped listing paper. And attracting the attention of the technixcal director, who was responsible for building modular machinery for sticking labels onto bottles in various ways with great precision (think of Johnny Walker bottles!). He also had a North Star Horizon running CP/M and wanted someone who had been exposed to such things (as I had in my A/P training) to persuade it to put the right modules together in the right order and print an estimate for the client. Oh bliss, that's what you call a lucky break, just as desktop microcomputers were starting to attract attention.

I wrote accounting software that ran fine on an 8K Apple ][. I moved to the backrooms of the City of London and devised a security system for the IBM PC-AT that persuaded the audit people that these pesky PCs were fine for critical banking applications. I devised and led a team building a real-time forex deal tracking system. I became a contractor and tracked Eurobonds and wooden pallets, and specified and quoted for modular call-centre kit. And then in my 40s I ran out of steam. Nobody loved you any more if you were over 40 in IT.

I found myself generating stats, reporting to ministers and being a computer dogsbody for the unit that administered the government's literacy and numeracy strategy. Everything had to be done by rigid procedures. There was one particular report that took the best part of the day to generate by following the procedure. I didn't know Perl then but I downloaded ActiveState, learned the basics and shaved that report down from most of the day to five minutes. And got the change accepted. It was like being reborn. Perl is my kind of language: quick, dirty and effective!

I'm retired now, mostly. I still hack about on my laptop in Perl of course, running under Arch Linux to keep me on my toes. I've been lurking about the Monastery for a good many years now but now that I've made it to Acolyte I thought I really ought to start exploring it more. Of course I don't start my day until I've had my good strong mug of coffee and done the Guardian crossword, and this is just the time of year for me to spend my afternoons watching the Tour de France with my cat on my lap. Did I mention that I write crime fiction too? Not always dealing with cyber crime either though I won't deny that happens.

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