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Farewell, Devil's Advocate


The following is adapted and abridged from Devil's Advocate, UNIX Review, July 1994 (Warning: political correctness occasionally breached. — Ed.)


FAQs of Life
"FAQs, familiar to all Usenet dredgers, are Frequently Asked Questions, ranging from the transcendental 'whoami?' to the recursive 'What's a FAQ?' A RAQ (Rarely Asked Question) is whether FAQ should be pronounced \faxh[kh]\ or bureaucraticized as \eff-a-kew\. Or, you might prefer the lighter, romantic guttural of \mujer\. While R&S [Eric Raymond and Guy Steele's New Hacker Dictionary. — Ed.] offers both \fak\ and \F-A-Q\, an amusing variant comes from the ill-documented fracas at a Liverpool cinema foyer in 1939. A breathless arrival asks which queue (line) is the queue for 'Gone with the Wind.' The usher shouts 'Far queue, far queue!' and that, your Honor, is how the fight started.

I hadn't planned to recurse (no hyphen) so early in this column, but once tempted with 'What's a FAQ?', the chasm and my readers yawned. So, 'What's Recurisivity?' Those seeking a playful definition can look it up in my original Devil's DP Dictionary:

recursive adj. See RECURSIVE

Thus, Richard Stallman's popular GNU (GNU is not UNIX) is dubbed a 'recursive algorithm.' Since the GNU of the definiendum exists and can be expanded freely and forever in the definition. R&S, by the way, reports pre-GNU, that is, not-so-g'new, examples: EINE (EINE is not emacs) and the later, cleverer CYGNUS (Cygnus, your GNU Support) with its nested subrecursion.

The GNU-type acronyms are certainly recursive in the sense that they 'call themselves.' But since there is no 'break clause' and they ignore all the 'last exit to Maine()' road signs, one could argue that they represent the very recursion that our students should avoid. This caveat inspired me to tighten up the definition of 'recursive' in my forthcoming book:

recursive adj. while (unclear) {unclear--; See RECURSIVE}

Judaic Park
Re-curse now bears the hyphen. Curse the guilty, all of us, repeatedly without escape. I write on Holocaust Memorial Day, April 8, 1994, entirely shattered by 'Schindler's List': first the book and then the film and again the book. The ultimately arresting moment in 'Schindler's List' for DP professionals: an SS sysadmin complains about the 'endless paperwork.' He is saddled with tap-tap, Underwood list of Aktions. This is a chaotic, manual, inefficient, killer-driven system that simply screams for an integrated, automated methodology. Before submitting your proposal, you should read Berel Lang's essay 'Language and Genocide.'

Primo Levi survived Oswiecim (Auschwitz) to answer Simon Dubnow's dying plea: Schreibt un' farshreibt! (Write and record!) In spite of all the evidence, tenured revisionists are still denying the truth. A more subtle denial exists among the lexicographers. If you look up SS in Langenscheidt's New College German Dictionary (1988), all you get is Sommer-semester, 'Summer term.' A more gut-wrenching overload is hard to imagine. If you happen to know that SS = Schutzstaffel, you can look up the parts to discover that Schutz = protection and staffel = a military group or squadron. Otherwise, the nearest entry is Schutzstoff: (med.) antibody! Yes, Langenscheidt defines Endlösung as 'final solution,' but there's no footnote saying 'Use this term with care!' The definitive Holocaust FAQs remain: 'Why?' and 'Can we prevent recursion?'"


— Andrew Binstock
Editor in Chief
alb@drdobbs.com
Twitter: platypusguy
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