From the Editor's CRT

Jon Orwant

Welcome to The Perl Journal.

Why hasn't there been a publication devoted to Perl until now? It's not that there haven't been enough Perl programmers. It's certainly not that Perl is a "niche" language (whatever that is). And it's not even that we needed the yeastlike explosion of the Web to swell our ranks by the thousands. Perhaps it's simply that those of us devoted enough to create TPJ were having too much fun programming to calm down and write.

Perl is like that. I'll leave it to the sociologists to discuss the addictive qualities of computer programming, and I'll leave it to Larry Wall to talk about the seductive qualities of Perl in particular (Wherefore Art, Thou?).

But Perl is a pleasure to write about: it's quirky and useful and fun. We hope the same will be said of TPJ. Most computer magazines are educational but unentertaining: recipe books for busy programmers. We're aiming a bit higher, for an intellectually stimulating publication that explores the craft of Perl, the craft of programming, and a few other crafts as well: our next issue features Lincoln Stein's piece, "How Perl Saved The Human Genome Project," which has a dash of Perl and a healthy dose of biology, and is a good example of the eclectic articles we plan to provide.

Sometimes it's easy to forget that computer languages, like human languages, aren't merely ways to accomplish tasks, but tools for thinking about the world. It would be easier for us to concentrate on the "how" of Perl rather than the "why" or the "what now", but not as much fun. We want TPJ to be intricate and interesting, like Perl itself.

Whenever I catch myself marveling at something intricate and interesting, like watches or automobiles or televisions, I ask myself, "Does the design of this thing follow from its function? If the inventor hadn't existed, would it have been invented by someone else?" It's a question about the uniqueness of the design: if the Wright brothers had never lived, the airplane would just have been invented by someone else, because the principle that imparts lift to wings is easily discovered, conceptually simple, and overwhelmingly useful. On the other hand, televisions can be built in many different yet perfectly workable ways - the TVs we have now are quite similar to the original 1940s-era sets, not because the current broadcasting scheme is ideal (far from it) but because it was chosen as the standard back then. Another equally valid scheme might have "won" just as easily.

Now consider computer languages: which ones needed to be invented? Certainly LISP, with its elegance of design and origins in mathematics, and probably C as well, as a natural evolution from assembly language. But not Perl - it's too weird.

In part, that weirdness derives from its heritage - Perl is a melting pot of computer languages. It has quite a few parents: BASIC and shells and awk and sed and Modula-2 and C. C has only one parent: assembly language (well, not counting BCPL or B), and LISP has none at all, having sprung fully formed from the brains of Smart People. Perl was the result of eugenics, from the premise that anything done often should be done concisely, and by considering the typical errors made by novices (or careless experts).

Weirdness doesn't mean instability. True, Perl has grown a lot since its birth in 1987. But it's middle-aged now, and barring a mid-life crisis, will change less and less in the future. The language remains as fertile as ever, however, thanks to Perl 5 modules and their availability in a centralized (but replicated) location, the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network (see page 29) which helps the worldwide library of Perl code grow at a phenomenal rate. It also ensures that TPJ will always have enough material.

However, I'll occasionally exercise every editor's right to waste valuable column-inches commenting about minor stylistic changes to the publication: "We've now switched our font to Gutenberg Triply Aliased Semibold" or "our paper is now made from recycled Python books." Sorry if these comments don't interest you - they're my consolation for having to spend time managing instead of writing.

A few words about managing: we're starting small, but hope to grow rapidly, with more pictures, pages, and issues per year. But we plan to achieve our dream of solvency from advertising revenue, not subscriptions. (For $25 per twelfth-of-a-page, you can say whatever you want to our readership. End of sales pitch.)

If you have any comments about TPJ, drop us a note at Negative criticism is welcome, too - editors always like to include a little vitriol so that they're not accused of bias. Not that we intend to be fair. On the contrary, we intend to be blind fanatics when it comes to Perl. If it can't be done in our precious language, it's obviously not worth doing. This is not Byte. It's not even Dr. Dobbs. We're a lot smaller, and the size of a magazine is inversely proportional to its chutzpah. That's why 'zines are full of bad drawings and bad attitude, and Newsweek is, well, Newsweek.