Thu, 07 Oct 2010
Perl & Parsing: A Metapost
This series of blog posts on
"Perl and Parsing",
which is evolving
into a mini-history of parsing theory,
started as an offshoot of
attempt at a contribution to parsing.
I wanted to do a couple of blog posts
aimed at those trying to
decide whether it was better
to take a chance with my
or to stick with the terrors of the known.
There's a large literature on parsing,
but much of it is difficult or dryasdust,
and I thought I could contribute a helpful overview.
"An informed consumer is our best customer" and all that.
Like other offshoots of the Marpa project before it,
while the "Perl & Parsing" was originally intended to draw
it's been better at drawing attention to itself.
I've received some positive comments,
and some helpful criticism.
I'm grateful for both,
and I plan to continue the series.
The history is not being told in order.
This is not because I am
attempting to ape "Pulp Fiction".
It's because the series was originally planned as
perhaps two or three blog posts and has grown in
I'm stuck now with telling the tale using flashbacks and fast-forwards,
but I'll make the process as easy
Parsing is an extremely important topic.
It's technical no doubt --
math and technology play an important role
in the rise and fall of parsing algorithms.
But so does personality and history.
In much of what we programmers do,
we are following fashion
(though it does sound more professional when
we call it "best practices").
In fields like parsing and search algorithms,
even the top minds have to guess.
Most everybody else is not even guessing --
they are simply
playing follow the leader.
Not that that's a bad idea.
Pick leaders like Torvalds, Ritchie, Wall,
Stallman and Thompson,
and "follow the leader"
becomes a pretty good
Since personalities are important here,
so is the history.
Historians can divided into two types --
the Braudel's and the Churchill's.
Fernand Braudel insisted on accumulation of detail,
and avoided broad sweeping statements, especially those
of the kind that are hard to back up with facts.
Winston Churchill thought the important thing was
the broad sense,
and that historians should awaken the reader to what really mattered,
not deaden him
with forgettable detail.
In general, the quiet diligence of a Braudel contributes more
than the flashy grandeur of a Churchill.
But the history of parsing
has been in the hands of the Braudel's.
A Churchill would liven things up.
In this series I will take Winston's road,
although I hope I will avoid Winston's
detours through the odd fib.
posted at: 18:08 |
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