Hey Nelson, or, Perceptions

Hey Nelson,

While I’m delivering the news, here’s something for you ignorant American backwoods motherfuckers. Some people’s names have “special characters” in them. Like François Rabelais or Björk Guðmundsdóttir or 艾未未. It’s 2011; the only software that can’t handle Unicode properly is Perl. (As if you needed another reason not to use Perl.)

please quit being an ignorant backwoods motherfucker and stop talking shit about crap you don’t know anything about.

To the Perl folk reading this — the problem we’re dealing with in terms of perception nowadays is confirmation bias. Nelson hates Perl, sees one question on StackOverflow that is making the rounds because Tom answered with one of his obsessively detailed (and therefore huge) missives, generalises wildly from a shallow read of the QA, and then – surprise – finds his opinion further confirmed.

I don’t know that there is a way to get out of this bind. Reasoning is flawed because it evolved as a means to convince others, not to figure out the best decisions to make. This is why we are addled with so many cognitive biases. That hypothesis also explains why people slip entirely unrelated jabs (or memes in general) into some other argument they’re making, as Nelson did there: a bonding ritual for the likeminded.

Finding a community that largely has no prior opinion of Perl (which likely means it has cohered around something other than programming) might be the only way to overcome this. Cf. BioPerl as an example.


Of course there is another option; press releases. I realize that every script written to assist the busy sysadmin will not merit a press release, but there are many applications of Perl which do. I find many people do not know what Perl can do because they have not been told and are too busy to go look. It happens to all areas of IT and computing. For instance, the Oracle DBA that doesn't know what nvarchar2 type is or what it is for.

Why, it might be useful to suggest to Perl programmers what features they should list on each of their scripts and apps. Character set support would be simply one of those features. It won't be long before many people are thinking that perl does almost everything rather than almost nothing right.

I know that is kind of like mandating documentation but perhaps some clever sod might go ahead and write a utility that helps determine features that are supported by a Perl application and give a nice pretty listing of those.

I'd be pretty damn happy if that was a Padre plugin actually.

I'm not entirely convinced the perception is much of a problem. The language will remain useful as long as enough people are around to keep the community alive. That seems to be the case regardless of the already prevalent negative perception. And I suppose to some extent it's a bit of a competitive edge to be underestimated, but that's probably only a marginal advantage. Sure, it feels really nice to be the shining star, but that time has passed. It may come again, it may not. But the important thing to me is that the language remains useful.

I look at it this way: your work I know. Nelson, I've never heard of and given what you quoted, I see no reason to learn more. Things like this are one of the items that puzzle me more and more as I see the phenomena both continue and increase. What is it that caused hatred in reference to a programming language? I've thought about it for a very long time and can come up with no rationale that seems sensible. If this were one group hating another then the usual excuse of insecurity would come to mind. But this is hatred of a computer language for God's sake---how in the world does that (forgive me Spock) compute?

From what I understand, Perl actually has very good Unicode support even when not compared to other languages. But compared to other popular languages, like PHP and Python, Perl's Unicode support is outstanding.

His comments make me wonder if he has ever actually used unicode in any language. I certainly didn't find it easier in Python than in Perl.

And p5p is letting tchrist write docs again :(

Hey there, I'm responsible for the offending quote. Thanks for the thoughtful response. I regret my drive-by comment about Perl distracted from my larger point, which is that a whole lot of web applications (in any language) still don't handle Unicode. It's unacceptable in 2011.

I think you're right that my Perl bashing is driven by confirmation bias. I've read that post from tchrist 4 times now and each time I read it the only takeaway I get from it is "wow Perl doesn't make Unicode any easier". A lot of tchrist's caveats are issues in any language: correctly handling all multinational languages is difficult.

But there's something really limiting in his conclusion that because it's hard to do Unicode correctly in all cases, Perl shouldn't try to do any of it. That Perl programmers have to treat all Unicode as some rare and fragile beast. It's not like that in most languages.

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