Edi Weitz' Road to Lisp
I, Edi Weitz, do solemnly offer these my responses to The Road to Lisp Survey:

When did you first try Lisp (meaning here and throughout the survey "any member of the Lisp family") seriously, and which Lisp family member was it?

I first worked with Lisp (or rather had to work with Lisp) during my studies (math and CS) at the University of Hannover, Germany in 1986. It wasn't Common Lisp - must have been some MacLisp variant, the university had a couple of PDP machines at that time. (Data point: I bought the Lisp book that my professor Dieter Müller wrote - ISBN 3-411-00628-5 - at that time. I couldn't find it anymore but a former fellow student of mine was so nice to give me his copy.) I seem to recall that I was pretty impressed by some of Lisp's features but didn't pursue it any further because it wasn't available for my personal computers (Apple II and Atari ST) and we had only very limited access to the university's machines. I forgot about the language (and most other CS stuff) when I started doing serious math...

My second contact with Lisp was around 1996 when I gradually moved away from Macs towards Linux. I started using Emacs and learning Emacs Lisp and was, again, quite impressed by the language. However, I only used Emacs Lisp for Emacs (obviously) and continued to do "serious" work with Perl, C, and friends.

I finally moved to Common Lisp somewhere around 2000. I think I tried CMUCL on Linux and LispWorks on Windows first.
What led you to try Lisp?

I think I'm mostly influenced by good books. I began to like Perl (OK, now you can shoot me...) after reading the Camel book which I still like very much. The first book that opened my eyes for Lisp was (surprise, surprise) the Giraffe book - a wonderful book IMHO. And let me add that I find it quite ironic that an O'Reilly book paved the way for Lisp given the fact that O'Reilly is actively ignoring Lisp.

Later I came across a local book sale where they offered the German translation of Graham's "Ansi Common Lisp" for 5 DM (around US$ 2 at that time) and I bought it. Although the translation is rather bad I liked the book (and what I read about Lisp) so much that shortly thereafter I also ordered "On Lisp" and was lucky enough to get a copy. These books (and Norvig's great PAIP) finally got me hooked.

What made Lisp stand out for me was its beauty and clarity compared to the other languages I knew, probably because I'm a mathematician.

I also have to add that I began to read c.l.l in 2000 and that this newsgroup has certainly assured me in keeping on track. I'm still impressed by the wealth of interesting posts I can find there every day and I'm grateful to people like Barry Margolin, Tim Bradshaw, Joe Marshall, Duane Rettig, Steven Haflich, Erik Naggum, Kent Pitman, and many others for sharing their knowledge with us mere mortals. But if I'd have to pick one person which I think is the best Lisp promoter around I'd certainly vote for Paul Graham.

If you were trying Lisp out of unhappiness with another language, what was that other language and what did you not like about it, or what were you hoping to find different in Lisp?

This one doesn't apply because I didn't try Lisp out of unhappiness with other languages. But since I began to seriously work with CL I've come to the conclusion that all other languages I know pale in comparison.

How far have you gotten in your study of Lisp? (I know, that is hard to measure)

I still have a lot to learn but I'm quite comfortable with CL now - to a degree where I often "think" in Lisp although I have to write something in Perl or PHP. I wrote five medium-sized libraries (CL-PPCRE, HTML-TEMPLATE, CL-WHO, CL-GD, and CL-INTERPOL) and a stand-alone GUI application (The Regex Coach) in Lisp and I managed to sneak it into some of my commercial projects. These include two Windows GUI apps, a full-blown dynamic website (using mod_lisp and UncommonSQL) for a soccer sweepstakes, and a small testing framework. I also started the Common Lisp Cookbook project in order to learn more about the language.

What do you think of Lisp so far?

It's wonderful, I love it. But that doesn't mean I don't think it can be improved. Some remarks:

  • I have a couple of wishes for the evolution of CL which mostly center around vendors agreeing on certain sub-standards for things that aren't part of ANSI CL, like multi-processing, sockets, FFI, data persistence, internationalization, Unicode, and so on. (The ALU site shows some efforts in this direction and there are also things like UFFI but I have yet to see the commercial vendors taking notice.)
  • I have never worked with a Lisp Machine (follow this link and watch the videos if you haven't done already!!!) but from what I saw and read I'm convinced that the Lisp IDEs we now have could be much better. I don't want to resurrect the old Symbolics hardware and I don't want emulators, I just hope that the current state of affairs will evolve in this direction. (And, yes, I'm willing to pay for it.)
  • <heretical>I don't think Common Lisp is the end of history. I hope that in a couple of years we'll have a new Lisp which will sport some significant additions (see first point) and at the same time get rid of some cruft. I'm keeping an eye on Arc.</heretical>

Switch Date 2000 | RtL Language Curiosity | RtL Paul Graham | RtL Peter Norvig | RtL comp-lang-lisp