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That's a New One:
From Paul Ohm, "the world's first law review article that is also a working computer program." I'm not sure I see the benefit of "computer programming and the law" that isn't already captured by empirical legal studies, but then I have never seen an article with a picture of the top of my head before.
einhverfr (mail) (www):
I am not sure what the point of writing poetry in Perl is either, except to show one is clever.

The problem though is that there are certain fields where being "clever" is a bad thing. Computer programming is one of those fields. Arguably the law is another.
4.4.2009 1:10am
David Schwartz (mail):
Sometimes, at least in computer programming, it takes a very clever person to figure out how not to be clever.
4.4.2009 2:08am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
I agree with einhverfr. And the choice of Perl, a language that even Ohm acknowledges tends toward opacity, is not a sign of good taste.
4.4.2009 2:09am
John Armstrong (mail) (www):
I, for one, disagree with einhverfr. I don't know a single computer programmer who doesn't enjoy being "clever", and doesn't relish seeing "cleverness" in others' work.

Well, I suppose that's not true. I do know such programmers, but they're all terrible bores I wouldn't want to be caught dead with.
4.4.2009 3:19am
Frank H:
Cleverness is fine as long as it's well-documented!
4.4.2009 4:14am
DiversityHire:
Perl for lawyers? Oh my god. If Perl and the law are going to intersect, I'd wish it to be in the form of a heavy tax or outright ban.
4.4.2009 4:26am
Arkday:
Still, it's pretty funny that a guy named Ohm would write such an article, no?

And


Cleverness is fine as long as it's well-documented!


If not, you get Perl jam, which is like spaghetti code only more hip if more opaque.
4.4.2009 7:03am
ee:
I, for one, disagree with einhverfr. I don't know a single computer programmer who doesn't enjoy being "clever", and doesn't relish seeing "cleverness" in others' work.


The mathematicians let us use their word:

The word is “elegant”.
4.4.2009 8:31am
Paul Ohm (mail) (www):
Thanks for the link, Orin.

I agree that a large part of this overlaps with the ELS toolkit, but it's a part of the ELS world that is woefully underdeveloped. ELS-types tend to be statisticians who hire statisticians-who-code as their RAs. Their interesting results tend to focus on stats results--lots of great regressions--while neglecting non-stats advances like natural language processing, network science, search theory, artificial intelligence, etc.
4.4.2009 9:46am
Paul Ohm (mail) (www):
And although I agree that Perl is not great for expressing oneself to others (and thus, probably not the best choice for the article), as a sign of "bad taste"? Well I never!

You probably use vi, Hungarian notation, K&R-style bracing, and one-based indexing too. Infidels!
4.4.2009 9:58am
Cornellian (mail):
the world's first law review article that is also a working computer program

The article itself is not a working computer program, it just contains snippets of Perl code.

You probably use vi . . . Infidels!

Blasphemy! Vi is the most brilliant, elegantly minimalist text editor interface known to man.
4.4.2009 10:31am
Stephen C. Carlson (www):
Agreed: vi is sublime and does not belong with the rest of the list (modulo K&R bracing).
4.4.2009 11:18am
Andrew Maier:
And so the great Editor Wars began once again on the fertile fields of the Volokh Conspiracy comment threads. The carnage lasted for weeks and at the end, hardly a man was left standing on either side. Once more the battle was a draw, as it has been since the dawn of these bloody confrontations, but one day one historian will choose either vi or emacs to write the history book.
4.4.2009 11:21am
SP:
Lot of resistance to this idea.
4.4.2009 11:28am
byomtov (mail):
Still, it's pretty funny that a guy named Ohm would write such an article, no?

And just think how bad it would be if legislation came out of this. Resistance is called for.

(Sorry, Paul. I'm sure you've heard all that before.)
4.4.2009 11:30am
Paul Ohm (mail) (www):
(Sorry, Paul. I'm sure you've heard all that before.)

Yes. I have.

In college, while getting CS and EE degrees, everybody made jokes and puns. Even the professors.

In law school, I kid not, the only person I met who ever mentioned it was my Copyright prof, Eugene Volokh. He dressed me down one day for not having registered ohmslaw.com

Once I moved to Boulder, Colorado, home of the many Tibetan prayer flags and Bikram studios, I started getting the Yoga reference about 10x more often than the EE reference.
4.4.2009 12:00pm
Paul Ohm (mail) (www):
The article itself is not a working computer program, it just contains snippets of Perl code.

Did you look at the preface? Are you making a semantic distinction about literate programming? It isn't object code, but it's definitely source code--just a preprocessor step away.

(And before others flame me, I admit that footnote 7 is a bit of a regrettable cop out, but a necessary cop out if I wanted to get this thing published. When this finally goes to press, I'll put the original noweb files up at paulohm.com under "Code".)
4.4.2009 12:04pm
East:
The essay doesn't go beyond "law professors should write programs". It details a few scripts, web scraping mostly, but doesn't suggest anything more substantive.
4.4.2009 12:10pm
ASlyJD (mail):
Paul,
Hate to pile on, but perhaps you might enjoy this shirt: Resistance is Futile.
4.4.2009 1:31pm
Frater Plotter:
"Literate programming" is, in part, an inversion of the usual boundaries between code and comments in a program's source code.

In "normal" programming, a source code file contains the code itself, which is intended to be run by a computer, as well as comments, which are intended to be read by a human. The code comprises the majority of the file; comments are interspersed here and there, set off by special punctuation that instructs the computer to ignore them.

(Comments in a program are somewhat analogous to obiter dicta in a court opinion: explanatory, but not binding. They help a human reader understand what the code is intended to do, but they do not affect its actual operation.)

The notion of "literate programming" was devised by esteemed computer scientist Donald Knuth. A literate program file is chiefly a natural-language (e.g. English) description of the program's logic, with code itself set off by special punctuation. So rather than surrounding comments with special punctuation that tells the computer to ignore them, the programmer surrounds code with special punctuation telling the computer to read it.

The idea is an elaboration of Knuth's more general notion that computer programs be written primarily as a way of communicating ideas to human readers, and only secondarily as instructions to an actual computer. This notion is much more accepted in the academic field of computer science research than it is in industry. Concomitantly, literate programming is mostly found in research, and not so frequently in software engineering.
4.4.2009 2:20pm
htom (mail):
Vim for the Win!

I'm not sure the world is ready for programming lawyers.
4.4.2009 5:33pm
Cornellian (mail):
I'm not sure the world is ready for programming lawyers.

Oddly, I know at least two people with both a law degree and a graduate degree in computer science. It's an odd combination.
4.4.2009 7:11pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
John Armstrong:

I like what Kernigan said about clever code.... To paraphrase:

The problem with writing clever code is that you have to be more clever to debug it. Since you can never be more clever than yourself, it is generally unmaintainable.

Most of the software engineers I work with use the word "clever" as an insult.
4.4.2009 11:47pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Also literate programming, vim, Perl, etc. are all great tools. I currently help maintain a 177k line Perl-based accounting/ERP application. We don't use Hungarian Notation though, and our bracing is slightly different from K&R....

However, Ohm has shown by his comments that he must be a member of the Church of EMACS and therefore probably a follower of St, IGNUcious. Infidel!

Although Ohm's Law is why one can't get electrocuted with a car battery, or was that why getting electrocuted with a car battery would violate the 8th Amendment. I forget....
4.4.2009 11:53pm
Cornellian (mail):
but one day one historian will choose either vi or emacs to write the history book.

There's a great deal to be said for writing a book with a text editor
rather than a word processor. See, e.g.,
http://ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu/~cottrell/wp.html.
4.5.2009 12:36am
t-boy (mail):
No book should be written in vi or emacs. All books should be written in LyX with LaTeX formatting.
4.5.2009 4:46am
Arkady:
Holy shit...the great vi-vs-Emacs war...and the uninitiated thought the Mac-PC deathmatch was the central galactic struggle between light and darkness.
4.5.2009 6:38am
Paul Ohm (mail) (www):
However, Ohm has shown by his comments that he must be a member of the Church of EMACS and therefore probably a follower of St, IGNUcious. Infidel!

Yes, I follow the teachings of the church. VI is the number of the beast.

I've written a 500+ line elisp program for reading and annotating law review articles--can't do that in vi!

But, I'm prepared to confess my deepest secret: being a law professor for four years now, I tend to do most of my productive work in MS Word! Wow...feels good to type that outloud. I'm Paul, and I use Word.

:wq
:qw
:q!
4.5.2009 9:36am
Cornellian (mail):
I'm not a partisan in the vi versus emacs debate. If you want to edit a text file quickly, use vi. To the extent you want your editor to go beyond that core function (e.g. emacs org-mode), then emacs becomes a more attractive proposition.
4.5.2009 11:37am
htom (mail):
I have recommended LyX to students who wanted an editor for taking notes in math-heavy classes.
4.5.2009 12:28pm

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