Consider the function below: int add(int arg1, int arg2) return arg1 arg2; can you convert this function definition to its xml equivalent? Turns out, it's reasonably simple. Naturally there are many ways to do this. Here is one way the resulting xml can look like: define-function return-type"int" name"add" arguments argument argument /arguments body return add value1"arg1" value2"arg2" / /return /body /define we can go through this relatively simple exercise with any language. We can turn any source code into xml, and we can transform the resulting xml back to original source code. We can write a converter that turns java into xml and a converter that turns xml back to java. We could do the same for. (In case you're wondering if anyone is crazy enough to do it, take a look.
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What other type of data is often represented as a tree? At this save point the list is as good as infinite so i'll give you a hint at what I'm getting at - try to remember your old compiler course. If you have a vague recollection that source code is stored in a tree after it's parsed, you're on the right track. Any compiler inevitably parses the source code into an abstract syntax tree. This isn't surprising since source code is hierarchical: functions contain arguments and blocks of code. Blocks of code contain expressions and statements. Expressions contain variables essay and operators. And so it goes. Let's apply our corollary that any tree can easily be serialized into xml to this idea. If all source code is eventually represented as a tree, and any tree can be serialized into xml, then all source code can be converted to xml, right? Let's illustrate this interesting property by a simple example.
item /todo what happens if we unleash our favorite xml parser on this to-do list? Once the data is parsed, how is it thesis represented in memory? The most natural representation is, of course, a tree - a perfect data structure for hierarchical data. After all is said and done, xml is really just a tree serialized to a human readable form. Anything that can be represented in a tree can be represented in xml and vice versa. I hope you understand this idea. It's very important for what's coming next. Let's take this a little further.
It is our bridge to conveying understanding to regular programmers. So let's listing revive the dead horse, take out the stick, and venture into xml wilderness that no one dared venture into before. It's time to see the all too familiar moon from the other side. Superficially xml is nothing more resume than a standardized syntax used to express arbitrary hierarchical data in human readable form. To-do lists, web pages, medical records, auto insurance claims, configuration files are all examples of potential xml use. Let's use a simple to-do list as an example (in a couple of sections you'll see it in a whole new light todo name"housework" item priority"high" Clean the house. item item priority"medium" Wash the dishes. item item priority"medium" buy more soap.
Oh, and may the force be with you. A thousand mile journey starts with a single step. A journey to enlightenment is no exception and our first step just happens to be xml. What more could possibly be said about xml that hasn't already been said? It turns out, quite a bit. While there's nothing particularly interesting about xml itself, its relationship to lisp is fascinating. Xml is the all too familiar concept that Lisp advocates need so much.
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"Well, of course these concepts aren't explained in terms of familiar territory they said. "They are so different, they're unlike anything these people have learned before." This was a poor excuse. "I do not believe this to be true i said. The response was unanimous: "Why don't you give it a try?" so i did. This article is a product of my efforts.
It is my attempt to explain Lisp in familiar, intuitive concepts. I manpower urge brave souls to read. Grab your favorite drink. Take a deep breath. Prepare to be blown away.
After all, i got it, and if I can do it, anybody can. Then what is it that makes Lisp so hard to understand? The answer, as such things usually do, came unexpectedly. Teaching anybody anything involves building advanced concepts on top of concepts they already understand! If the process is made interesting and the matter is explained properly the new concepts become as intuitive as the original building blocks that aided their understanding.
That was the problem! Metaprogramming, code and data in one representation, self-modifying programs, domain specific mini-languages, none of the explanations for these concepts referenced familiar territory. How could i expect anyone to understand them! No wonder people wanted specific examples. I could as well have been speaking in Martian! I shared my ideas with fellow Lispers.
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I was rehashing the same arguments that write were given to me for years (only now they actually made sense! hoping to convert unsuspecting bystanders. My persistence sparked a few people's interest but their curiosity dwindled at the mere sight of sample lisp code. Perhaps years of advocacy would forge a few new Lispers, but I wasn't satisfied. There had to be a better way. I gave the matter careful thought. Is there something inherently hard about Lisp that prevents very intelligent, experienced programmers from understanding it?
Dozens of essay times I heard Eric raymond's statement"d by different people: "Lisp is worth learning for the profound enlightenment experience you will have when you finally get it; that experience will make you a better programmer for the rest of your days, even. I never believed it could be true. And finally, after all the pain, it made sense! There was more truth to it than i ever could have imagined. I've achieved an almost divine state of mind, an instantaneous enlightenment experience that turned my view of computer science on its head in less than a single second. That very second I became a member of the lisp cult. I felt something a ninjitsu master must feel: I had to spread my newfound knowledge to at least ten lost souls in the course of my lifetime. I took the usual path.
me over. I took the plunge, bit the bullet, got my hands dirty, and began months of mind bending exercises. It was a journey on an endless lake of frustration. I turned my mind inside out, rinsed it, and put it back in place. I went through seven rings of hell and came back. And then I got. The enlightenment came instantaneously. One moment i understood nothing, and the next moment everything clicked into place.
The moment I regained my sight I communicated my frustrations to some members of the lisp sect. Almost immediately i was bombarded by a standard set of responses: Lisp's parentheses are only revelation a superficial matter, lisp has a huge benefit of code and data being expressed in the same manner (which, obviously, is a huge improvement over xml lisp has tremendously powerful. The list was very impressive. Needless to say none of it made sense. Nobody could illustrate the usefulness of these features with specific examples because these techniques are supposedly only useful in large software systems. After many hours of debating that conventional programming languages do the job just fine, i gave. I wasn't about to invest months into learning a language with a terrible syntax in order to understand obscure features that had no useful examples. My time has not yet come. For many months the lisp advocates pressed.
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Monday, may 8, 2006, when I first stumbled into lisp advocacy on various corners of the web I was already an experienced programmer. At that point I had grokked what seemed at the time a wide range of programming languages. I was proud to have the usual suspects (c, java, c etc.) on my service record and was under impression that i knew everything there is to know about programming languages. I couldn't have possibly been more wrong. My initial attempt to learn Lisp came to a crashing halt as soon as I saw some sample code. I suppose the same thought ran through my mind summary that ran through thousands of other minds who were ever in my shoes: "Why on Earth would anyone want to use a language with such horrific syntax?!" I couldn't be bothered to learn a language. After all, i was almost blinded by the infamous Lisp parentheses!