Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Evils of Perl (or Logic Should Make Sense)

The people who know me professionally (even a little) have probably picked up on the fact that I hate Perl. I spent several years as a sysadmin, so I come by my Perl aversion honestly.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a useful language and I found it to be a very handy tool, but it’s so very easy to make code that even the person who wrote it isn’t sure what it does. The next day.

Or it could be that I’m a crappy developer. Either’s possible. Maybe a little from Column A and a little from Column B.

It’s the only language that I’ve seen where your cat can walk across the keyboard and come up with a valid program. What does it do? We may never know. It may parse a file for a list of addresses, trigger an ICBM launch, or create animated gifs of dancing cats, but by gum it’ll run.

Personally, I’m hoping for the dancing cat gifs. Everyone loves dancing kitties.

My standard quip for why I finally stopped coding Perl is that in any sane language, to get the length of an array, you do something along the lines of myArray.length. That may not be exactly how it’s done, but it will be something similar.

In Perl, you do the following: $myArray = @myArray

You assign the array variable to a scalar variable (single piece of information. Int, char, etc.). This to me makes zero sense from a logical standpoint.

I made that comment about a week or so ago, and the person I was talking to said that it makes perfect sense because it’s an implicit type conversion. (I’m not sure if he was joking or not. I hope, and think, that he was).

He had a sort of point about implicit type conversion, but that sort of thing is supposed to follow a logical convention of some kind. For example, an implicit conversion from int to long makes sense (it’s basically just shoving existing data into a bigger container).

You could even make the case for implicit conversion between string and character array data types. I wouldn’t do it, because it’s probably better done explicitly so you don’t shoot yourself in the foot, but the argument could be made.

However, using implicit conversion to cast an array to (effectively) an integer in order to get the length of the array doesn’t make any logical sense. It’s like buying a chicken because you want a renewable source of pineapples.

In what non-Euclidian universe does this make sense?

“Well, I just need to figure out how long this array is, so I’ll assign it to a scalar and HOLY CRAP! THERE’S CTHULHU!”

Ia! Ia! ArrayLength! Fhtagn!

Any language that will summon Cthulhu by simply using it is probably a bad choice…

Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got to Great Old One proof my office.

Current mood: Amused

Current music: Charlie Daniels Band – The Devil Went Down to Georgia

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