Going Beyond Unch

October 4th 2019

I don't usually do long, rambly pieces. This is a long-for-me rambly-for-me piece. I'm eating almost cold French toast that I made this morning before 8a. I have not answered everyone in the inbox yet, but I was writing to someone when my computer powered off. Which resulted in a detached session in mosh which I'll handle when I'm doing a pull on this site.

Where to begin? Finished reading SICP which I've talked about. I keep recommending the book to people, so let me tell you why.

First, let me get the laundry in the wash. With Peppermint Bronner's, par usual. No, that is not sponsored. Yes, I pay too much for it. Why? Because I use it for pretty much all the washing (save the dishes) I do. Ok, with that commercial break, I'm going to

:wq

to save in vim, then do the washing machine thing, and then I will carry on with this here tale about getting beyond unch.

If you don't know what unch is, look it up while I'm getting the wash in, will you?


Did that. Read two notes: one in Spanish, one in English. Asking patrons not to open the doors while the machines are running. And that if you do, please add more quarters to the machine. So polite. However, it makes one wonder what happened. The need for shopkeepers' window! (That is some insider baseball, but this is Chicago. So, insider baseball it is.) (Shop keepers' window is: why are you telling me this? If you've never read The Design of Everyday Things you might get something out of that book, too.)

Also have a job interview coming up. Have an hour to finish this piece and get it published. Oh. I haven't mentioned it here yet, but I'm up for moving and what I'm really after is a coding job. Or jobs. Wherever. One stop from Chicago O'hare so can get pretty much wherever pretty much whenever.

Back to SICP. I keep recommending it. The shopkeepers' window question is kind of...okay, you're taking a break. Just let us know where you went. Where I went was into the book. What I found was...well...let's talk about the word unch to better understand what happens in 500 pages.

Here's what unching is. I had to look up the word because it keeps popping up in the economic news I read daily. Here's what I learned. In brief, unch means unchanged. source When the stock market finishes at about the same place it started, regardless of what happened in the markets that day, it unched. It's unchanged. Neither doing anything all that interesting, nor doing nothing at all.

Why would you want to go beyond unch, then?

If you read SICP you might find yourself in one gigantic, recursive loop where the end feels very much like the beginning. I could tell you all kinds of trivia, and for sure by the end we were building a compiler, but we also got into garbage collection and I thought about the one time I asked Zadie Smith, a well-known author who happened to be giving a talk where I got my undergraduate BA in English...at the Bull's Head Book shop...why did she wrap it up so fast. And she gave an answer which stuck with me to this day. It was off the cuff and my guess is she remembers the question I asked and as a fellow writer, that's her story to tell and maybe she's since written a book tracing that pathway. Or maybe she thought she might but never did. Or maybe she got too much caffeine or not enough that morning. I have no idea. Writers, we give each other a lot of space as a rule.

Speaking with someone last night off the cuff, we talked about how it is to read Plath and Garcia Marquez and all the greats that have gone on to the other side. And I promised her, either aloud, or in silence, to write. But not just to write. To publish.

Yes, that is it. There is one way to get beyond the unch: push publish. To the public. Be open to giving and receiving feedback. Tell your own worse critic (whoever that is. Checked the mirror lately?) that good enough is better than unch as far as doing things with your life goes.


The French toast is getting colder. As is the coffee. But I have this call coming up, and the dryer is still on and if someone really needs all those socks more than I do, well. I guess they're going to be going home with them. I can afford new socks, thankfully. There was a time when I couldn't. And oh my goodness, I wrote through that. But I did not push publish.

I just journalled. That's what I do when I'm not sure what to push publish on. When not of it feels good or done enough. I journal. Alone. With a pen. And paper. And then I shred it.

I know. I'm that jerk. But I don't want you pulling an Oscar Wilde on me, kthxbye.

OMG. I just read that his deathdate is the same deathdate as my mom's: November 30. Different year, obvs.

TIL. I'm learning a lot all the time. This past week I spoke in more languages than...well...I'm not going to brag, but I spoke in Cantonese for the first time, but I've been learning Mandarin, so I spoke that and hoped the person understood what I meant. But they are visiting the US for the first time, so they told me, from Hong Kong, so they told me, then I learned how to say a few friendly phrases in Cantonese. Earlier in the week I learned to say 'hello' in Croatian: bok which sounded to me like 'book' minus the second 'o'. Or yeah, the bok in bok choy.

Of course I spoke Japanese this week. I taught someone some Japanese. Hm, what else? Code! It's all about learning languages!


Scheme is a dialect of Lisp. Lisp is what makes up the bulk of the book SICP.

I've given writing a book report a go a few times. I'll publish my notes and link to the piece here.

In my opinion, the best way to play around with any language -- be it programming or otherwise -- is to use it and be fearless about making mistakes when using it.

Primitives, the means of combination and the means of abstraction. Those three elements make up a large chunk of the book. The same is true when learning a language, if you think about it. When you learn a new language you have to get the primitives (in Japanese you have to get hiragana the basic alphabet. Then katakana which is the 'primitive' -- to use the SICP language here for Romanized words such as 'wifi' and Kanji, which dates back 5000 yearshttps://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/10173291/5000-year-old-Chinese-characters-discovered.html) maybe. Older link, good, easy to understand description

Just peer at that image of pictographs. Makes sense, right? You have to understand what a tree is first. That's a primitive, right. Then you have to visualize it in your mind. Then you have to make that tree, well, put its parts onto the page. It has a trunk. It has some limbs. Stroke order matters, but for now, let's keep things simple and go from a trunk and some limbs being the Kanji for 'tree' ok?

Apply the same logic to a function:

You want to make the machine perform some behavior(s). Start with a 'primitive' which in Lisp let's just say '+'.

Now you want the primitive to perform some behavior. Let's say add two things together. Let's say you want two and two to be added together.

(Taking a little break again. The planes are flying low out of O'Hare. It's noonish. I've done the laundry, rambled through this piece, spent about an hour preparing for and having an interview, getting a response faster than expected and coming back to the page to write. The yellow leaves are falling in the park out front.)

Going to do a wc and see how long this has gotten.

Mmk, less than 2k words, so hang in there. You've made it this far with me. Let's keep unching after I get the hot water off the boil to make some matcha.

Even took a photo of the matcha. Tasty drink. Hm. Let me go sit for the second time today and enjoy this. You can play around with a function while I'm doing so if you want:

function matcha (x, y){
  return x + y
}
console.log(matcha(10, 200))
console.log(matcha(99, 1))
console.log(matcha(2, 2))

Before you run it, think about what you're going to get. Or make your own. Whatever. I am going to go sit for a bit.


Sat. Slow sipped the green matcha until it was gone.

Now that I'm back I realize I should have told you to save that as a javascript file and run it with node (that is making a lot of assumptions, I know). But if you get it at a conceptual level, great! Even that kind of thing...getting it...hold on I have a quote from one of the SICP authors to insert here. Here we go:

FUNCTIONS provide an economic way of computing lots of interesting values in a single expression. Indeed, programs are functions. Once you understand functions well, you know almost everything there is to know about programming.

source (style choices on the quote are mine) the source link includes the full text -- (and if you can buy a hardback copy, please do, because the hardback, especially when supporting local businesses by buying used, is fun and I keep flipping through it, so, there's that, too. Cannot flip through the internet. I did not learn this by reading this book, but I was reminded it's a good way to go about things in life. Keep asking: how. So, I want to greet you in whatever language you speak. And I am not fluent in the language. So I ask you to teach me how to say hello in whatever language you are strongest at speaking. Simple. I was reminded why I do that by reading SICP (Sussman and Abelson are listed as the authors, with Sussman).

I am moving beyond unch by publishing this piece today. Raw though it is. Unedited though it is. Errors and omissions though it contains.

Similar to watching people speak another language and...being in the country where the language is spoken so fast that you feel like you're gasping to just get the basics to years later laughing that you were in Brooklyn asking for a lawyer in a bodega when all you wanted was an avocado.

Going beyond unch is, I guess, how we evolve. As writers, as programmers. As humans we'ing.


Published 04 October 2019. Comments welcome.

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