09 December 2011

I love mjd's "It came from... the HOLD SPACE!"

I love mjd's It came from... the HOLD SPACE.

This article describes some of the culture that I grew up in.

Slide 18 in particular....wow, that takes me back...  I can remember cutting my teeth on some sed/shell-scripts back when I was younger.  I had work that needed to be done, and these seemed like the logical tools to do it with.

I made progress on this work too.  For example, in one frenetic afternoon/evening I wrote a script that my boss (later) claimed saved the company....a huge sum of money.  It was nice to be able to solve some big problems with these tools.

However, I never did really fall in love with these tools.  The tools themselves had some downsides:  not portable enough ; subject to arbitrary internal buffer limitations ; and, most importantly, for some of the problems I was trying to solve I felt like I was working with my arms tied behind my back.

In mjd's slides, you can see him grapple with a couple of problems in the "sed" section.  When I saw this, I got this awful case of déjà vu...

I have a friend who is 100 times as good of a sed programmer as I am.  I have seen him whip together phenomenal sed programs that accomplish some totally neato and useful work.  I never really got to be a good sed programmer, and I always admired his skills in this area.

However....I never really felt like I needed to put in a ton of time into sharpening my sed skills.  I can remember on one specific day, fighting like crazy to get sed to do The Right Thing in a certain text transformation.  I must have fought for two hours to try to get things right.  But the problem I was running into was a lot like the problem mjd brought up in his article -- what to do about that last line?

Eventually, I decided that it wasn't a good use of my time to spend a huge amount of time with tools like this.  There was this neato new language called Perl....and it looked very similar to what I already knew....but it really didn't have any of the limitations that I regularly found myself dealing with with the old tools.  So, I spent quite a long time with Perl, and that proved to be pretty fruitful.

Nowadays, I pretty regularly work with some pretty huge datasets with my trusted tool:  Perl.   I still find the old tools to be useful, but when the problems get serious, I reach for more powerful tools.

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