- Sauvik Biswas - https://sauvikbiswas.com -

Wading through Practical Common Lisp

About six months ago, I had this sudden urge to learn a new computer language. Over the years I have learned more than half a dozen languages and used them to solve various kinds of problems. I can grasp the fundamentals of a language pretty quickly – mostly owing to some level of abstraction and correspondence with a known language.

After reading this [1] and this [2], I was convinced Lisp was the way to go. In the last year I have tried working my way through MIT Scheme, Racket, and even Lisp Games [3] – each to a different degree of utility and completion. Sadly, I was not able to get anything out of these.

I realised much later that the basic entry point that I had chosen was wrong. I prefer knowing mechanisms more than syntax. The books and the tutorials I was referring to were more aimed at solving direct problems. While it is fun to write things that work, it is extremely important to know why exactly does it work.

Enter Peter Seibel and Practical Common Lisp [4]. (For those short on cash can avail the online free version [5]). The text is a joy to read. I enjoy his elaborate footnotes. ON top of that it took me four sittings to wade through the third chapter. Compared to Learn Python the Hard Way [6], this was like snail’s pace. Three years ago, when I started learning Python, I was sailing through four or five chapters in one sitting.

There are a few things that I liked about the approach. Peter Seibel asks the reader to use SLIME+CCL combo found in lispbox. This makes things pretty coherent and consistent. Most Lisp implementations have customisations (macros?) defined on top of the ANSI standard. For a newbie like me, it was necessary that the author uses a lower level standard construct. As I improve my understanding and start working on problems on my own, I would eventually discover them anyways.

He introduced the symbol types early on. That was a big relief. Often while attempting to understand a form, I re-read the earlier chapters. This has been of great help.

Right now I am at chapter 8 – defining macros of my own. There are many new things that I am being exposed to. That’s why, I am taking it slow.

Searching for Waldies replacement: Yak's Kitchen [7]
Re-raiding Tombs : Gameplay as a Function of Enjoyment [8]