I Program Therefore I Compile – Trail-Blazing Paths Traveled

Over the past month and a half, my job has slowly evolved into what it has now become – something closer to a programmer than a researcher. granted, its mostly work in SQL, which many hardcore programmers do not consider to be a programming language, but I do not consider the difference between SQL and say – C++ to be all that different. The scope of what each language sets out to do is the true difference. Lately, part of my job has been pulling me into the world of R – another light-weight programming language that gets poo’d on by most hardcore programmers. The syntax for it is odd, different, and quite foreign to my brain…and so I feel challenged to make it do things. This is probably the best way to make me want to learn something – make it difficult for my brain. I always enjoy a challenge. Back when I was in high school, I learned to program pixels on the screen of my television with my Commodore 64. I would sit for hours in front of my C64 keyboard, programming the vector for each pixel – and even once got out graph paper and drew an intricate design. I then mapped the graph to the locations I wanted on the screen, and again sat for hours writing each line of code. I believe the entire program took somewhere close to eight-hundred lines of code. I never thought of optimizing code to do the same thing in the fewest lines of code or what is commonly referred to as “code optimization.”

A few months ago, I was asked to design a retention study for a particular collegiate program. The query I wrote called for thirteen years of data to be pulled to the screen from the database. First the population of a semester, then a group of students that were in both this semester, and the following one, and then the next semester’s population. For thirteen years of data, I wrote the entire query with hard-coded values, and the result was nearly five hundred lines long, with fifty-three coded variables. Amending the query to run for a different time frame or a different program was nearly impossible. Most of the singular changes would take nearly an hour to do. So I rewrote the query using a virtual table (not writing to the database but to RAM) and utilized a loop to handle the tedious recall of the same six lines of code. The result was a query that was 69 lines long with five variables. It was easily amended to utilize different time frames and could be recorded to another collegiate program with a change of one three-character variable (provided you knew the three character variable you needed to change it to).

Why did I do it?  Well, two-fold. One, I wanted a query that could be amended easily by anyone who was not me – with a small instruction set that explained what needed to be changed by the end user. That explanation was five sentences long. I was the trail-blazer here – as was stated in the movie “Moneyball”….

I know you are taking it in the teeth, but the first guy through the wall… he always gets bloody… always. This is threatening not just a way of doing business… but in their minds, it’s threatening the game. Really what it’s threatening is their livelihood, their jobs. It’s threatening the way they do things… and every time that happens, whether it’s the government, a way of doing business, whatever, the people who are holding the reins – they have their hands on the switch – they go batshit crazy.

Now, some of you might not be completely following along. I know, computer programming can be some of the most boring, inane stuff to some people. Not everyone is wired for this. But here is the point – being a trail-blazer is not for the weak of heart, or for those lacking the faith in what they are trying to do.

I am on a path of Druidry. I am NOT a trail-blazer here. It may be new, fertile ground for me, but someone else has walked here before me. I may not have a journal of their adventures or experiments or experiences to reference. So my experiences will seem like trail-blazing for me, but its most likely not. Except….that it is trail-blazing. It is FOR ME. And those initial steps are exciting. That new pattern of knowledge and logic falls into place, lighting up a whole new pattern of syntax. My world expands a bit more. I see things in a manner I have never seen them before. And I may not have a grinning mentor standing at my side, knowing what I am experiencing – allowing them to remember what it was like when their world was opened for them.

Thinking back, when I was that proselytizing newbie Pagan…when I had devoured “Drawing Down the Moon” over a single weekend, “The Spiral Dance” in a single evening…I remember how much those two books opened my eyes to what was possible. I had smelt the petrichor of the rains from Paganism for so long, knowing that there was so much more than what Christianity had to offer. Only I could not see on to that rich, inviting plateau until the wall between “cultured” religion and “uncivilized” belief was set aside. And my world was opened to a wider perspective. In a way, I had the same experience that Luke Skywalker did, when he first opened his mind to the concept of the Force. I was so excited by my “discovery” that I felt that everyone needed to see it too. That if they could perceive what I did, they would see the beauty of what I was encountering, and find joy in it as well.

Yeah.  Not so much. Just like the moment that the hero of Rush’s “2112” experiences his deflated moment when the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx shoot down his “discovery” as a ‘waste of time’ – the evangelical Christians I worked with at Carswell Air Force Base made sure to remind me that I was in Satan’s clutches. And in that same vein, being the only true programmer in my department, it is hard to share the excitement of learning more evolved manners of writing the same code in nearly 425 fewer lines to achieve the same result.

I am certain that many other Pagans have gone through similar moments in their Spiritual lives. As I noted before, many others have walked the same Path that I have. These corridors were fresh to others before me. These same corridors will be fresh to others that come after as well. They will be trail-blazing their ways to their own “new” knowledge, adding subtle changes or nuances going into the future. Just as programming will change as well, as new ways of addressing bits and bytes will be found – fundamentally changing the structure and syntax of a language. Each individual will have to compile the program on their own to see how it addresses who they are…while others have walked here before, we still have to walk those same Paths individually, for ourselves.


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