Re: [xsl] recursive loop in XSL stylesheet is failing

Subject: Re: [xsl] recursive loop in XSL stylesheet is failing
From: Wendell Piez <wapiez@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 25 Mar 2010 13:58:05 -0400

At 12:53 PM 3/25/2010, David wrote:
I still think that variables are misnamed in XSL

the terminology matches all uses that I'm aware of including mathematics and fairly old computer languages such as lisp and newer functional languages such as ML, haskell, F#, etc.

When I was first shown programming (fortran and algol) in the 70's
a big deal was made that "variable" in those languages was a strange computer-related thing that didn't mean what you would expect it to mean and that x=x+1 was ok despite the fact that it was clearly nonsense in mathematics.

That was exactly my experience too. X=X+1 was bizarre; I had to learn that it was a named value that was being reassigned, and rewire my brain to accept that "variable" was the word being used for it.

And I'm not even a mathematician.

As a student of natural languages, however, I'm keenly aware that it's easier for the human brain (especially the aging brain) to reassign meanings to old words than for it to establish entirely new words. (Until, that is, both become impossible.)

In other words, the developers of FORTRAN and BASIC and all needed to call it something, and "variable" was close enough. That is, even though it contradicted the technical meaning in mathematics, it was close enough to a reasonable natural-language sense ("something that can vary") that it was an effective fit.

A few decades later and there seem to be people so exposed to this usage that they have convinced themselves that it is somehow natural:-)

Quite. It is a feature of the brain's rewiring capacity to be able to forget that it has done so. (To say nothing of the experience of people like Richard who were never wired the old way to begin with.)

As a teacher, my advice is to notice that words don't always mean the same thing, and get used to it. This is not less true when dealing with computers -- which, linguistically speaking, aren't really their own realm at all, but only a weird between-space connecting people with processes -- than any other time.


Wendell Piez                            mailto:wapiez@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
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