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How to Code Like Larry Wall
Larry Wall is the computer programmer responsible for creating Perl, a powerful general-purpose programming language known for its strengths in text processing. Wall, whose graduate work was in linguistics, designed Perl in 1987 for reports processing and continues to oversee the language's development according to the motto "Larry is always right, even when he was wrong." He also originated the three canonical "virtues" of a good programmer: laziness, impatience, and hubris.
Question: What is your work set-up like?
Larry Wall: Well, my company just moved a couple weeks ago from one office building to another. We had been across the street from Google headquarters and now we're a few miles down the road near the Great America theme park. So at the moment, my office is pristine, but that's because I haven't actually worked in it yet. My office would tend to be rather messier. The way I think is not linear; the way I consider problems, I just have to let things stew around, bubble. I can't say what's going to be important, but pretty soon the important thing bubbles up to my consciousness and then I do something about it, so my office tends to reflect that. You know, I've got my hands in 30 or 40 different pots simultaneously and so I have a little bit of all of that where I work.
Question: Do you work better in the morning or at night?
Larry Wall: Oh, I'm definitely a night owl. I get going about the time my wife crashes and goes to bed. And in some sense, I've had to learn to be more of a cat napper in recent years because Perl development, Perl design and development, has become a worldwide phenomenon—not just mailing lists, but RSC channels, Twitter even. This all happens 24 hours a day. And people come up with questions at any time of the day or night. I have people working on this in Europe, in Japan, China, Australia, India, South America, all over the world, except maybe Antarctica. No, I think we even have a Perl programmer in Antarctica.
So I've had to learn kind of sense when the questions would be coming and be ready to handle them. There's a lot of education and reiteration that happens on these online channels and sometimes it's tempting to just say, "Well, just go and read the documentation," but you know, people appreciate being led along and taught and mentored. This is part of the reason I'm not too concerned about the future of Perl after me, because I see how these people are interacting with each other and even when I'm not there, they are helping each other and solving each other's problems in a way that I could not do, even if I were there.
So while I have historically been a late worker, you know, sometimes I even like to get up early and see what's happened in the few hours of the night and then I often take a nap in the middle of the day just to sort of make up for stretching my day out.
Question: How do you stay alert during late nights?
Larry Wall: Well, coffee is my drug of choice, generally, with a little bit of Pepsi here and there, if I need more sugar. But yeah, if I could do intravenous coffee, I would. But I guess that's pretty standard.
Question: Do you listen to music when you're writing code?
Larry Wall: I used to not be able to listen to music. I was raised a musician and I played classic music, violin, in orchestras and music comedy theaters, I have music running around in my head all the time, and if I hear music that's too interesting, I have to pay attention to it.
For a while there, I could really only work if I had sounds of oceans or [ocean sound] in my head. Lately though, I find that music like, that is very complicated structurally, like jazz, I can actually listen to that and work at the same time, because I can just let it wash over me and not have to bother analyzing it. That works for me.
Question: Do you procrastinate?
Larry Wall: Never put off till tomorrow what you can put off till the day after tomorrow. Like a variant of the song, Tomorrow, only it's more of the idea, the Mexican idea of mañana, you know, [singing] mañana, mañana, I love you, mañana, you're always a day away.
So, yeah, I procrastinate, but mostly because there's always too many things to do, and I got the stew in my mind that things do bubble up, so I'll throw things in there and let them stew around. It's sort of like greasing the squeaky wheels in my own brain. When something gets loud enough or I feel guilty enough about it or somebody else complains about it, or I just feel it's the next thing to do, then the thing will de-procrastinate itself at an appropriate time. Basically there's just so much stuff flowing past on the internet now, you have to let most of it go. And I've grown accustomed to the process of not worrying too much about the stuff I'm not getting to, because the important stuff will come back around.
The famous developer of Perl talks about his work set-up, how he works best, and why he sometimes procrastinates.
Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.
Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?
Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.
An article in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry raises questions about the goal of these advocacy groups.
- Two-thirds of American consumer advocacy groups are funded by pharmaceutical companies.
- The authors of an article in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry say this compromises their advocacy.
- Groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness act more like lobbyists than patient advocates.
The Corruption That Brought Prozac to Market — Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bea9cff2b25efc18b663a011a679ba16"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UyaJExxFPAE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Consumer-oriented groups gained steam over the ensuing decades. Their efforts helped inspire the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act after over 100 people (mostly children) died from a sanctioned drug, Sulfanilamide. If not for the hard work of these advocates, this case might have been overlooked.</p><p>Early efforts also focused on the food industry, which was increasingly using chemical preservatives. The origin of Consumer Reports can be found in the consumer advocacy movement. Both the food and drug industries were getting a free pass to experiment on citizens with few repercussions.</p><p>These movements provided a social foundation for important advocacy work in the second half of the century. Female-led groups evolved to focus on women's reproductive rights, AIDS, and mental health. As the authors write, these groups struck a balance between working <em>with</em> and <em>against</em> current trends. Sometimes you need to craft legislation with officials; at other times, you have to rage against the machine with everything you've got. </p><p>Advocacy marked an important turning point in public health (and culture in general). These groups were tired of placating to a medical model that treated the male body as the standard. This wasn't limited to anatomy. As I <a href="https://bigthink.com/coronavirus/pandemic-warnings-rp-eddy" target="_self">wrote about last week</a>, a high-profile 1970s-era conference about the role of women on Wall St featured no women on stage. You can imagine what reproductive health looked like during that time. </p><p>Advocacy groups made real impact in public health. Then the money began pouring in. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"These groups were funded largely by individual donations with some foundation support, but in the late 1980s, newer women's health groups moved to professionalize, effectively splitting the women's health movement."</p><p>A number of groups resist corporate ties to this day, such as the National Women's Heath Network and Breast Cancer Action. Too often, however, groups argue that their existence depends on corporate funding. This can lead to uncomfortable compromises. </p><p>An estimated two-thirds of patient advocacy groups in America accept funds from the pharmaceutical industry. Pharma companies gave <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11673-019-09956-8.pdf" target="_blank">at least $116 million</a> to such groups in 2015 alone.</p><p>For example, over a three-year period, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which was founded by two mothers whose sons suffered from schizophrenia, received nearly $12 million from 18 pharmaceutical companies. The largest donor was Prozac manufacturer, Eli Lilly. By 2008, three-quarters of NAMI's budget was funded by the pharmaceutical industry. It gets worse:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"An Eli Lilly executive was even 'on loan' to NAMI, paid by Eli Lilly, while he worked out of the NAMI office on 'strategic planning.'"</p>
A customer waiting for his medication at the Headache Bar in a pharmacy in Sydney, Australia. Among the items on sale are 'Paigees with Chlorophyll' and Alka Seltzer on tap.
Photo by Dennis Rowe/BIPs/Getty Images<p>This influx of cash skews public understanding of drugs. It also influences advocates to overlook real problems caused by pharmaceutical interventions, especially when it comes to mental health.<br></p><p>For a real-world example, consider how Xanax came to market. As journalist Robert Whitaker <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e829xdb4AA" target="_blank">explains</a>, an <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1463502/?page=1" target="_blank">initial study</a> was conducted to determine efficacy in treating panic attacks. After four weeks, Xanax was outperforming placebo, which is common with benzodiazepines over short-term usage. But it wasn't a four-week study; it was a 14-week study.</p><p>At the end of eight weeks, there was no difference in efficacy between Xanax and placebo.</p><p>At the conclusion of the study after 14 weeks, the placebo outperformed Xanax. By a lot.</p><p>Why is Xanax still prescribed for panic attacks? Because the pharmaceutical company, Upjohn, only published the four-week data. The 14-week data was not in its favor. Nearly forty years later, over <a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/781816/alprazolam-sodium-prescriptions-number-in-the-us/" target="_blank">25 million</a> Americans receive a prescription despite its <a href="https://drugabuse.com/xanax/effects-use/" target="_blank">long list</a> of side effects and addictive profile. </p><p>As the authors note, many consumers are not aware of how advocacy groups are funded.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"An international study of groups in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and South Africa found that the extent of relationships with industry was inadequately disclosed in websites that addressed ten health conditions: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, depression, Parkinson's disease, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis."</p><p>That's a tangled web of relationships. Pharmaceutical industry funding negatively impacts the work advocacy groups should be focused on: protecting us. NAMI, for example, claims that as a "natural ally" to the pharmaceutical industry, it helps consumers access "all scientifically proven treatments." When the industry ignores evidence of long-term damage caused by its treatments, you have to wonder what's being advocated. </p><p>Although, as the authors conclude, that question is easy to answer. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Instead of drawing insights from patient experience to set organizational agendas and challenge industry agendas, today's groups are silent on high prices and drug harms, oppose efforts to regulate these basic rights, and demand access to drugs that challenge the safety and effectiveness."</p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>