Yesterday, I happened to catch a bit of the annual Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.
In particular I saw Arlo Guthrie and his daughter perform Arlo's father, Woody's, song "This Land is Your Land" while standing in front of a giant Turkey on the Ocean Spray cranberry float.
I was struck by the combination of Arlo's still youthful face, framed by long white hair. Arlo is getting on in years. Thankfully he has outlived his father, who died of Huntingdon's disease at age 55 by some 8 years.
As an aside, although I grew up in the Connecticut suburbs of New York City, I've only gone to the Macy*s parade once in 1997, after I'd moved to North Carolina. That day was very windy and the crews handling those big parade balloons had their hands more than full. The Cat in the Hat balloon knocked over a lamp post, and a parade-goer was struck in the head with falling debris and suffered a month-long coma, my wife and I witnessed the Barney the Dinosaur being stabbed and stomped on by police to avert another accident. "Oh, the humanity!"
And I was reminded of Arlo again today when Andy Ihnatko picked the song Alice's Restaurant Massacree for his Amazon advent calendar.
For those readers of tender years who might not be familiar with Arlo and Alice's Restaurant, the song tells the tale of a communal Thanksgiving feast in a deconsecrated church in Great Barrington, Massachussetts, the home of his Alice and Ray Block. After the dinner Arlo and a friend volunteered to get rid of the post-feast trash, and loaded it into a VW Microbus, bound for the dump, only to find that the dump was closed for the holiday. So they dumped the trash over a fifteen foot cliff by a country road on top of a pile of trash that was already there, figuring "one big pile is better than two little piles." Two days later they were arrested for littering, when the local constable Officer Obie (no his last name wasn't Fernandez) discovered an envelope with Guthries name on it under the pile of garbage, and Arlo when asked about this said "Yes, sir, Officer Obie, I cannot tell a lie, I put that envelope
under that garbage."
This led to a trial, for which he was fined $50 and ordered to pick up the garbage.
The story continues when Guthrie was later ordered to report for induction into the Army. Again, for the benefit of my younger audience, I probably need to explain that, during the Vietnam War, the US had a military draft, unlike today's "volunteer" military which attracts recruits out of a mixture of patriotism and economic necessity.
The upshot of the story was that after going through a series of medical examinations at the induction center, he was nearing being sworn into the Army, except that "the last man" asked a crucial question, "Kid, we only got one question. Have you ever been arrested?"
In reply Arlo told the tale of his conviction for littering, and was sent to the "Group W" bench.
Here's how Arlo decribes Group W.
" Group W's
where they put you if you may not be moral enough to join the army after
committing your special crime, and there was all kinds of mean nasty ugly
looking people on the bench there. Mother rapers. Father stabbers. Father
rapers! Father rapers sitting right there on the bench next to me! And
they was mean and nasty and ugly and horrible crime-type guys sitting on the
bench next to me. And the meanest, ugliest, nastiest one, the meanest
father raper of them all, was coming over to me and he was mean 'n' ugly
'n' nasty 'n' horrible and all kind of things and he sat down next to me
and said, "Kid, whad'ya get?" I said, "I didn't get nothing, I had to pay
$50 and pick up the garbage." He said, "What were you arrested for, kid?"
And I said, "Littering." And they all moved away from me on the bench
there, and the hairy eyeball and all kinds of mean nasty things, till I
said, "And creating a nuisance." And they all came back, shook my hand,
and we had a great time on the bench, talkin about crime, mother stabbing,
father raping, all kinds of groovy things that we was talking about on the
After that a sergeant came over and gave him a long form to fill out with the details of his crime, ending with the question "Have you rehabilitated yourself?" Arlo took the form to the sergeant and said:
"Sergeant, you got a lot a damn gall to ask me if I've rehabilitated myself, I mean, I mean, I mean that just, I'm sittin' here on the bench, I mean I'm sittin here on the Group W bench 'cause you want to know if I'm moral enough join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein' a litterbug." He looked at me and said, "Kid, we don't like your kind, and we're gonna send your fingerprints off to Washington."
So What Does This Have to Do with Ruby?
I'm glad you asked that question.
The answer is that the main enumeration method names of Ruby, collect, select, reject, inject... came to Ruby from the Alice's Restaurant Massacree, indirectly via Smalltalk.
Some Ruby programmers, seem to have an aversion to the inject method. It seems particularly irksome to programmers who have come from languages which use map and reduce for collect and inject. Later ruby versions have made aliased map and collect, and reduce and inject. But this leaves map as taking an optional argument, which if passed is used as an artificial first element to be effectively pre-pended to the enumeration being mapped. That optional argument and the name inject comes from Smalltalk's inject:into: method which makes sense to a Smalltalk programmer since you are injecting that initial value into a reduction of the collection using the block given by the second argument. Smalltalk programmers get used to passing the 'right' value for that argument, for example if inject is used to sum a collection the initial argument is normally the identity value for addition, e.g. 0, or might be something else if we want to add the sum to another value.
A couple of months ago, I was listening to a podcast interview with Dan Ingalls who was the first implementor of Smalltalk, and probably the key contributor as Smalltalk evolved from Smalltalk from Smalltalk-71, through Smalltalk-72, and Smalltalk-76 up through Smalltalk-80 which is what most people think of as Smalltalk today. During the interview he was asked about the origin of those enumeration methods of the Smalltalk collection classes. Alan Kay had told the interviewer that they had come from a song. At first Dan didn't remember this but then remembered that there was a song which had a string of words like inject, select, detect etc. As far as I recall, though he didn't name the song.
But I recognized it right away, here's how "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" transitions from the littering trial to the draft:
Came to talk about the draft.
They got a building down New York City, it's called Whitehall Street,
where you walk in, you get injected, inspected, detected, infected,
neglected and selected.
So Dan picked the collection enumeration method selectors in Smalltalk from "Alice's Restaurant", no doubt. I suspect that that initial argument of inject:into: came about because he wanted to use that pattern and map and reduce didn't fit. Actually I'm not sure that map and reduce were commonly used terms at that time.
So if you don't like inject in Ruby, don't blame Matz, blame Dan and Arlo!
Original article writen by Rick DeNatale and published on Talk Like A Duck | direct link to this article | If you are reading this article elsewhere than Talk Like A Duck, it has been illegally reproduced and without proper authorization.