Programs from the Crypt

by Lee Schmidt

1998 1028

Some things just don't go together.  Like vanilla ice cream floating in tomato juice, they should be separated for individual enjoyment.  But how does one apply that to his dreams?  With all of the various activities and priorities in one's life, it is easy to form categories and enjoy times of industry and of leisure, pursuits of fact and of fantasy, periods of learning and of applying knowledge.  Why is it then that the sleeping mind picks them all up like dice from a table, shakes vigorously and then dumps them back into the stream of not-quite-conscious thought in a combination which cannot be counted rationally?

Did "The Simpsons Halloween Special" have anything to do with it?  Perhaps it is just the season with all of the goblins, et al.  Maybe it was something I ate -- the "Pappy's" seasoning on the fish?  But why did it dredge up the horrors of the past?  Certainly one culprit was ZD University, one of the Internet's purveyors of technology transfer.  Logging on late at night didn't help either, that's a sure dream trigger.  But why the horrors of the 70's?  Well, it wasn't a horror back then, or was it?  I suppose that I had plenty of dreams about the stuff I was programming in those years.  That's one reason I always tried to finish any given job before bedtime.  Unsolved problems always work their way into that stream of questionable consciousness.

Historically, languages come and go.  Some of them, probably, should never have come in the first place.  That is certainly true of programming languages, but they never truly die until we ourselves, the programmers who used them, return our bodies to the dust of the earth.  "Out of use" is not totally out of mind, as evidenced by my recent nocturnal meanderings of semi-thought.  I have been doing programming languages since the late 50's.  I concocted my first excuse for a compiler around 1960 (on a 2Kword 650).  I loved FORTRAN on the 704; somewhere I still have the original white paper with John Backus' name on the cover.  In the mid 60's, I finally wrote a FORTRAN of my own, for one of those computers which never sold to anyone but the government.  But would those fun days come back in my dreams?  No way!

One of the languages enjoying current popularity is PERL.  One of its uses is in CGI processing on the Internet.  That means it is used on the server side for processing those fill-in boxes on Web sites where we buy things or register for COMDEX.  So, PERL looks like it would be a good thing to know, especially for a techie who feels that he should always use the latest technology.  I could buy a book, or a CD-ROM.  The trouble is that books put me to sleep, and CD-ROMS all too easily become shelfware.  Then along comes ZDU.  They offer a "test drive" of their system, then they threaten to raise their rates if I don't sign up soon.  Being a good American consumer, I bite.  I audit a few courses; suddenly along comes "CGI programming with PERL."  This time I sign up for a real seat in the class, which means that I can actually post questions and (perish the thought) chat with the other students.  (About "chat": I really have a difficult time with the concept of watching someone else type.  I certainly didn't prepare this online.)

Well, here's the peculiar thing.  The class just started.  I have only read the intros and downloaded the book ($20 in pdf).  That's really how ZDU makes its money -- book sales.  In my mind, even CGI processing is still in the nebulous stage; the brain hasn't yet locked down the particulars of how it's done.  But last night --- was my mind reverting to the screen-scraper technology of the 70's?  --- with protected and unprotected fields?  Was technology taking a step backward?  Is HTML really just a reversion to a past life?  With all of the database languages, with all of the modern visual tools, with all of the billibucks which we pump in to modern programming technology, with 17" color monitors under $300, with disk space at $25 per gigabyte, with T3 lines and fiber optics, with CPU's smaller than postage stamps -- with all of that, and more, please explain to me, Dear God, why, oh why did my dreaming mind reach into the crypt of programming hell and dream of "CGI programming with -------------------

Warning!! The author and the Web site on which this appears assume no responsibility for those who put themselves in danger of fright by reading further.  If you are afraid of haunted houses & roller coasters, if you have heart problems or are in the care of a psychiatrist, GET OFF THIS WEB PAGE NOW!!

Why, oh why did my dreaming mind reach into the crypt of programming hell and dream of CGI programming with -------------------

R P G ???

(Now that's scary.)

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