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Virtues of Community

by footpad (Abbot)
on Jun 29, 2001 at 00:45 UTC ( [id://92458] : perlmeditation . print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

In an recent thread, Abigail and I have traded ideas about Baby Perl. Chromatic later sent me a /msg suggesting that Larry himself talked more about Baby Perl in "State of the Onion 2." In turn, this led me to all of the "Onion" addresses (along with another) which I dutifully read. While I'd seen a couple of them previously, it was very interesting to read them sequentially.

Besides reinforcing my opinion that Larry Wall is a very smart and wise person (not to mention a little strange--in a good way), this led me to ponder a number of recent (and some not so recent) discussions about Perl Culture, our community, and some of the various, um, reactions we've had with each other.

As far as I can tell, Larry doesn't specifically outline how he'd like us to respond to Baby Perl specifically. He doesn't seem to be the type of person to be so dogmatic. In these talks, he tends to speak (write?) metaphorically and leaves you to draw your own conclusions.

So, here are some conclusions I've drawn, expressed in the form of out-takes:

  • [A]sk yourself whether your belief system is closed or open when it comes to Perl. Can you think new thoughts about Perl, and about Perl Culture?
    -- Perl Culture.

  • [W]e really ought to emulate the American Indians of the Pacific Northwest, who invented what they called "potlatch". In that culture, you were valued not by what you acquired, but what you gave away.
    -- Perl Culture

  • It's a natural human trait to look for patterns in the noise, but when we look for those patterns, sometimes we see patterns that aren't really there.
    --2nd State of the Onion

  • [C]omplexity is not always the enemy. What's important is not simplicity or complexity, but how you bridge the two.
    --2nd State of the Onion

  • We can debug relationships, but it's always good policy to consider the people themselves to be features. People get annoyed when you try to debug them.
    --2nd State of the Onion

  • Of course, in Perl culture, almost nothing is prohibited. My feeling is that the world already has plenty of prohibitions, so why invent more?
    --2nd State of the Onion

  • People understand instinctively that the best way for computer programs to communicate with each other is for each of them to be strict in what they emit and liberal in what they accept. The odd thing is that people themselves are not willing to be strict in how they speak and liberal in how they listen. Instead, we're taught to express ourselves.


    You may feel better afterward, but consider the poor guy next to you with the ruptured eardrum.

    Ruptured eardrums should be prohibited.
    --2nd State of the Onion

  • [M]ost people see the outside of the onion, not the inside.
    --2nd State of the Onion

  • People realize the power of a simple idea. We don't need software patents or trade secrets. All we need [is] another simple circle. A circle with a 'c' in it....The 'c' in the circle should stand for civility.
    --2nd State of the Onion

  • I can't predict whether Perl's road ahead will be bumpy or smooth, but I can predict that the more perspectives we can see things from, the easier it'll be to choose the perspectives we like.
    --2nd State of the Onion

  • Most of you are familiar with the virtues of a programmer. There are three, of course: laziness, impatience, and hubris.

    These are virtues of passion. They are not, however, virtues of community. The virtues of community sound like their opposites: diligence, patience, and humility.

    They're not opposites, because you can do them all at the same time...These are the virtues that will carry our community into the future, if we do not abandon them.
    --2nd State of the Onion

  • Look at the big picture. Don't focus on two or three things to the exclusion of other things. Keep everything in context.
    --Perl, the first postmodern computer language

  • More than that, we're required to make individual choices, the assumption being that not everyone is going to agree, and that not everyone should be required to agree. However, in trade for losing our monoculturalism, we are now required to discuss things. We're not required to agree about everything, but we are required to at least to agree to disagree.
    --Perl, the first postmodern computer language

  • Modernism oversimplifies. Modernism puts the focus squarely on the hammer and the nail.
    --Perl, the first postmodern computer language

  • Perl is humble. It doesn't try to tell the programmer how to program. It lets the programer decide what rules today, and what sucks.
    --Perl, the first postmodern computer language

  • True greatness is measured by how much freedom you give to others, not by how much you can coerce others to do what you want.
    --Perl, the first postmodern computer language

  • Perl was the first computer language whose culture was designed for diversity right along with the language.
    --Perl, the first postmodern computer language

  • You need people who are willing to be partisan on behalf of their chosen culture, while remaining sufficiently non-partisan to keep in touch with the rest of the world.
    --Perl, the first postmodern computer language

  • ...Perl is a bit like those early chemistry sets. You didn't have to understand what you were doing in order to do interesting things. you might blow yourself up, but more likely, you'd have a great deal of fun.
    --3rd State of the Perl Onion

  • [I]t's important to be the right person today, and not put it off till tomorrow.
    --3rd State of the Perl Onion

  • [W]henever you synthesize something, people will find a way [to] misuse it.
    --3rd State of the Perl Onion

  • I expect people to make Perl mean opposite things, both good and bad.
    --3rd State of the Perl Onion

  • In terms of our culture, it means that sometimes we attract each other, and sometimes we repel each other, but more importantly, it means we're there for each other to attract or repel as necessary. Look for balance in your attractions and repulsions. Look for equalibrium.
    --3rd State of the Perl Onion

  • The key to equalibrium is to balance out all your reactions.

    Don't overreact. Don't underreact.

    Don't overact. Don't underact.

    But do act. And act passionately, with balance.
    --3rd State of the Perl Onion

  • It's easy when you hear two people arguing in a public forum to think that the entire forum is bogus, but if you look carefully there's usually still a background of nonfighting going on as well.
    --State of the Onion 2000

  • How does this play out in Perl culture? Well, we have to be willing to let people fake it for awhile. If Perl is getting their job done, then that's fine, but we also have to find ways of encouraging people to upgrade their abilities when they're ready for that step, and we don't do that by beating them over the head. We do it by showing the positive benefits of learning Perl for real.
    --State of the Onion 2000

  • [W]e've already started a redesign of Perl culture, trying to keep the good aspects and leaving behind the nonproductive aspects."
    --State of the Onion 2000

Yes, these quotes are taken out of context and, as we well know, context is very important--especially to Perl. Even so, I believe that they illustrate the intentions that Larry has for the Community and how he'd like it to operate. Even if I've mis-stated, misunderstood, or am otherwise mistaken, I think there are interesting observations to make regarding effective community practices by reviewing Larry's other writings.

I also believe that these ideas might apply to a number of current and (in some cases, thankfully) dormant discussions (including a certain non-public one currently in progress).

I invite you draw your own conclusions, after investing some time into the original material. For the really industrious, I also recommend Larry's own Perl page. Let's use these as a starting place to discover how we want to handle--and maintain--our little online home.


P.S. Please understand that I'm not trying to canonize Larry as a role-model. However, I do believe that part of the success of Perl lies in his personal vision of how things should work. Since many of us agree that the technical vision has worked reasonably well, it seems worthwhile to see if similar success can be found in his expressed ideas regarding Community and Participation.

Edited: 28 Jun 01, 15:08 (PDT)

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Virtues of Community
by Mungbeans (Pilgrim) on Jun 29, 2001 at 13:01 UTC
    There is nothing wrong with canonizing Larry Wall. The man is an excellent communicator and facilitator -- as well as technically brilliant. Plus he has no problem with integrating different, often totally opposing view points. That's pretty rare.

    All good traits to aspire to. I wish I could listen and understand and synthethise as well as Larry.

    I agree that Perl's strength is in the community. Look at CPAN, look at the vast body of code and algorithms out there (donated free out of others blood sweat at tears). Look at the people prepared to spend their time helping others.

    To give an example of how this works: I used an algorithm yesterday from this node 67956 (thanks bjelli) to put together code that would have taken me a week on my own. It took me 4 hours; to put this in perspective, this is replacing C code that's been running badly and buggily for 2 years. I didn't want to replace it because I didn't think my skills were up to it. 4 hours.

    I'm grateful - which means I'm motivated to contribute more (such as I can) - which means the community keeps growing. This is a virtuous circle - if you find the community helps you, give back, it's in your own interests.

    Another facet to the circle, strange as that may seem, the more support there is out there for Perl, the more it will be used. The more it is used, the more people will make a living from it. The more making a living, the better support it will get. Selfishly speaking, this is good - I'd far rather code in Perl than in C or pretty much anything else I know. And it's good for employers too, the cost of development with Perl is extremely low (not that I have stats to back this up).

    It's all good. So, um, thanks Larry :-)

    "The future will be better tomorrow."

Re: Virtues of Community
by nysus (Parson) on Jun 29, 2001 at 18:52 UTC
    Heh, I guess what Ultima is to gamers, Perl is to programmers. Thinking back, I learned quite a bit about values from playing Ultima in 1983 on my Apple IIe. But I think Perl is a bit more useful as a tool in the world. :)

    $PM = "Perl Monk's";
    $MCF = "Most Clueless Friar Abbot";
    $nysus = $PM . $MCF;
    Click here if you love Perl Monks

Re: Virtues of Community
by dthacker (Deacon) on Jul 02, 2001 at 09:03 UTC
    For context I give you my background. I have been a member for over a year. I do not write perl for a living. It's maybe 10-20% of what I do. I used to code in 4gl for a living. I now can truthfully say that I code perl like a 4gl programmer. My code can be clumsy and unwieldy, but eventually works. I work with people who have much stronger skills, and I badger them a lot. I want my code to be as concise and coherent as theirs.

    I found this definition of monk:

    monk-A man who is a member of a brotherhood living in a monastery and devoted to a discipline prescribed by his order: a Carthusian monk; a Buddhist monk.

    I have found the monks to have high standards. They are truly devoted to their discipline. I like that. I want my code to meet those standards. I'm willing to have my questions re-phrased and my code corrected as long as you are explaining why or giving me a clear path to that explanation. By showing me civility when you do this, you also show me your brotherhood.

    I value your time and your help. For my part of the discipline, I commit to RTFM, thinking it through, and trial and error before I post. For your part, I ask a civil and thoughtful answer. I'm as devoted to the discipline as you are, but I've not seen everything you have. Help me see.

    And now I must go meditate on perlref.... Dave

Re: Virtues of Community
by Aighearach (Initiate) on Jun 30, 2001 at 15:09 UTC
    I think a basic question in these discussions is, who is a member of the community, and how can we be useful to each other.

    So, Who is a member of the community? I propose that anybody who is a serious Perl programmer, or has a desire to become a serious Perl programmer, should be considered a full member of the community. That is to say, the person who strolls in, doesn't want to learn Perl, but wants us to help them get a script working... this person is not a member of the community. Their role should really be as an employer of a member of the community, else they don't really have anything to give back.

    And that definition of the community embraces both the "expert friendly" sort of Perl, and the Baby Perl. It also makes it a little easier to decide if you should tell the person the wrong way they are asking about, or the right way; of course, if the person is or intends to be a serious Perl programmer, they need both answers! If I don't know both why it sucks and what it looks like, I won't be able to spot it when it creeps in.

    And something maybe Larry Wall doesn't know about the native people of parts of Washington State, (potlatch wasn't practiced much in most of the NW, it is northern coastal thing) it is more of a cash economy than the other systems in the region. This is because, when you are given a gift, you then have a very real obligation to give back based on that. So, a lot comes down to exchange rates. It's really not what it looks like at first glance. Certainly it isn't a gift economy. The term "potlatching" is often used to describe fake gifts that are only given in expectation of the return gift. I think it is a bad precedent to say that the producer of a thing should decide who buys it and how many they buy. Far cry from "gift economy." Are humans even capable of producing working examples of ideas like "gift economy?" I suspect it is like socialism... many things, but all of them something other than what it is claiming to be. The only difference I can see between NW "gift" economies and bartering is that in bartering there isn't a decepection about the purpose of the transaction.
    Snazzy tagline here

Re: Virtues of Community
by dragonchild (Archbishop) on Jan 23, 2004 at 03:21 UTC
    I just reread this post tonight while waiting for RH9 to download. I've had it as the only link in my profile for over two years, because it's the only post I found worth putting in my wallet. Larry has the breadth of paradigm and lack of filtering that makes his words and thoughts worth listening to. A true modern philosopher.

    We are the carpenters and bricklayers of the Information Age.

    Please remember that I'm crufty and crochety. All opinions are purely mine and all code is untested, unless otherwise specified.

Re: Virtues of Community
by mpeppler (Vicar) on Sep 23, 2003 at 19:01 UTC
    I'm reading this two years after it was posted - but it reminds me of a post to comp.lang.perl (yep, before the split) that Larry made in response to a flame. That had 30 or so different answers, all saying the same thing in different tones of voice. I found the post on google a while back - I could probably find it again, but my point is that when Larry was still active in the newsgroups he was always able to post well reasoned and balanced posts - something that I've found to be rather unusual in most on-line communication unfortunately.

    So using Larry as a role-model is fine with me :-)