Ralph Richard Cook
I, Ralph Richard Cook, 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 tried Lisp as an undergrad at Georgia Tech in the early '80s. More recently I started up with Common Lisp this year (2003).

What led you to try Lisp? 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?
Back in the early '80s I was a CS student at Georgia Tech, and had some Lisp courses, and like most everyone I thought "Ick! Parentheses!" and forgot about it for a while. I went through the usual '80s and '90s stuff, doing Windows programming in C and C++, later moving on to Java, then Python. Along the way I read the Gang of Four's Design Patterns book and saw how CLOS with multimethods got rid of the need for the Visitor pattern. Interesting.

In the past couple of years I've gotten interested in functional programming, which first took me through Scheme and Lisp, looking at SICP and my old Lisp textbooks, but again I thought "Ick! Parentheses!".

I then looked at Haskell since it's a pure functional language. Problem is, it's a pure functional language, and as most people here know sometimes imperative is better for some things, such as multiplying matrices but mainly for I/O. Haskell's monads made my head hurt. Sometimes you just want to print something out or access a database without getting a PhD.

This led to OCaml, which seemed to have most of what I wanted. Functional, but not obsessively so (you can printf when you want to). Good execution speed. Support for objects. I read a lot of literature about functional programming vs. object-oriented programming and came to the conclusion that both have their uses so I wanted a language that had both. I started writing some simple OCaml programs as I was learning the language and I liked the way they came out, no having to declare variable types, passing around functions and the like. Then I got farther along in my studies, learning more about how objects and classes are used in OCaml. I started looking at how they handled the FP vs. OOP tension, namely adding functions to a existing class/module vs. adding classes and subclasses, and they started talking about parameterized classes and abstract modules and the syntax started getting more and more complicated, and I started thinking in the back of my mind "or, you could just use Lisp and have multimethods".

So I went back and looked at the Lisp articles and such, and the parentheses weren't looking so bad after all, especially when looking at Lisp code in parentheses-aware editors. And we had multimethods, and a simpler syntax for macros (OCaml has macros, but it's a whole different syntax), etc, etc.

I would say that OCaml and Lisp give you much the same power to do things, but my experience is that while doing the simple stuff may be simpler in OCaml than in Lisp, doing the complicated stuff is simpler in Lisp than in OCaml, and I planned on doing a lot more of the complicated stuff than the simple stuff. Although people say Common Lisp is a 'big' language, it's basically just parentheses and keywords. I don't want to expend my brainpower wrestling with my programming language, I want to expend it solving problems, and I think Lisp is the best way to do this.

Especially since the problems I'm interested in are in the areas of bioinformatics. The big Bio projects on the web are BioPerl, BioPython and BioJava, but those languages don't offer the combination of speed and power that OCaml and Lisp do, and in addition to Lisp's simplified syntax my feeling is that there's more bioinformatics projects done in Lisp than in OCaml, probably since it's been around longer and is more well known.

How far have you gotten in your study of Lisp? (I know, that is hard to measure)
Not too far, mainly reading the usual suspects (Ansi Common Lisp, PAIP, some of On Lisp) plus writing some Common Lisp versions of examples from "Beginning Perl for Bioinformatics."

What do you think of Lisp so far?
When reading Lisp books and writng Lisp I feel like incredible power is available at my fingertips. Functional, OO, imperative, symbolic programming, code that writes code with macros, things you can technically do with other languages, if you have enough time, but why bother?

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