Michael Naunton's Road to Lisp
I, Michael Naunton, do solemnly offer these responses to the The Road to Lisp Survey:

When did you first try Lisp seriously?

Hard question, I've often been serious. One of:

  • 1979. I bought Winston's Artifical Intelligence as a kid and learned the language from it. Looked a lot nicer than BASIC.
  • 1986.I built a little hypertext mark-up language/processor in Scheme for a company I was consulting for.
  • 2002. I started using Lisp for all my recreational hacking.
Which Lisp did you try?
  • pencil & paper
  • TI Scheme
  • CMUCL.
What led you to try Lisp?
  • A deep sense of unfairness. BASIC had functions like PRINT, But I was forced to GOSUB to my own (better) functions.
  • It fit the problem. A weekend of work produced the basic system. Everything else was hacked out in a couple of man-months. Solved the problem. Too well as it turned out.
  • I needed a good language. My current firm has a really nice development environment. I couldn't bear to go home and hack in C++, etc. A friend mentioned that Common Lisp had come a long way in the past 15 years.
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?
  • Extensibilty. I just wanted to write functions that were as easy to call as the ones provided in the base language.
  • Elegance. We were dealing with hundreds of different people managing news feeds, advertising campaigns, advice columns, mail, newsgroups. Any wart would have dragged us into a long debate with someone.
  • Usability. An environment must be interactive, powerful, flexible, and capable of talking to external programs/libraries.
What other languages did you look at besides Lisp, and what did you think of them?

C++, Perl, Python, OCaml, Lua, Squeak. What I thought of them could fill a book. Essentially, all had their strengths and weaknesses, and I feel I couldn't write fun code in any one without hitting a weakness for some domain. Of course, CL has a big footprint, so it's not perfect either (e.g. for hacking on my Playstation 2.)

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?

Heard some bad things, but tend to trust those I respect, so no real negatives were raised.

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

70% proficient: I'm still learning of useful functions I don't know. I'm still learning packaging, naming conventions, etc. Many of my implementations of simple functions (e.g. transpose) match reference implementations almost character for character.

What do you think of Lisp so far?

It's like one of the Kung Fu monasteries in old Shaw Brothers' movies.


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