Larry Clapp's Road to Lisp
I, Larry Clapp, do solemnly offer these responses to The Road to Lisp Survey:

When did you first try Lisp seriously?

Define "seriously"? I read about Lisp in college in the late 1980's in Douglas Hofstadter's book, Metamagical Themas. Based on the "specification" in that book, I wrote a small Lisp interpreter in Turbo Pascal. More recently, I read Kent Pitman's interview on Slashdot in early 2002, and got back into it.

Switch Date 2002

Which Lisp did you try?

GNU Common Lisp, CMU Common Lisp.

What led you to try Lisp?

  • Douglas Hofstadter's Metamagical Themas.
  • Kent Pitman's interview on Slashdot, and especially this question:
    7) What will it take to make Lisp fashionable again? by kfogel

    For myself and a number of friends, Lisp/Scheme programming has for too long been a kind of mystical Eden, fading in our memories, from which we have been mostly banished in our professional lives. But we can still recall how it felt to work in a language able to shape itself to any pattern our minds might ask: coding was more interesting and more expressive, and the rate of increasing returns over time was tremendous, because fine-grained -- almost continuous -- abstraction was in the nature of the language. Life was just more fun, frankly.

    Alas! In our jobs and even in our personal projects, we are often forced to use C, C++, Java, Perl, or Python -- not because we prefer to write in those languages, but for two much less satisfying reasons [...]

  • Also, Graham's essay "Beating the Averages" made me dream about writing Lisp-based server apps (and making lots of money, too :).

RtL Douglas Hofstadter | RtL Kent Pitman | RtL Paul Graham

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

I wanted to have fun programming again.

What other languages did you look at besides Lisp, and what did you think of them?


If you had heard bad things about Lisp before trying it, what were those things, from where did you hear them, and why did you try Lisp anyway?

"Lisp is slow". CMU CL compiles to x86 machine code; when I realized that, I didn't worry about speed any more, especially given that for the vast majority of recent coding I'd done, I'd used Perl (not a crawler, but not compiled to machine code, either).

"You have to use Emacs." I didn't really "hear this about Lisp", but lots of people mentioned ILisp, an Emacs add-on module. I've used Vi/Vim since 1991, and didn't fancy switching to Emacs. I had little confidence that the Vi emulation modes for Emacs would have the Vi-extentions to which I'd grown accustomed in Vim (though I didn't actually verify this assumption). So, I wrote VILisp, which has suited my needs, at least for the fairly rudimentary stuff I've done so far.

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

I've read Graham's On Lisp, and ANSI Common Lisp. I've fiddled with some Lisp hacking in off hours, but not done much else. I've lamented the "xml is just s-expressions in drag" truism as I've fought with xml in Java at work. :-\

What do you think of Lisp so far?

I like it.