Day 3 – LetterOps with Perl6

Scale

“Scale! Scale is everything!”.

Elves scattered in all directions when the booming voice of Santa reached them.

“This operation is prepared for, what, thirty four children? And now we have zillions of them! And adults are sending letters too!”

Buzzius the elf stepped forward and spurted “But now we have computers!”, darting back again to his elvish pursuits.

“What good are they? Pray tell me, what can I do if I still have to read every single letter?”.

Diodius the elf briefly raised his head from his hiding place and said “Tell the children to send a letter in a text file”.

Santa stopped yelling and scratched his well-bearded chin. “I can do that”. Early children adopters sent a letter just like this one.

Dear Santa: I have been a good boy so I want you to bring me a collection of scythes and an ocean liner with a captain and a purser and a time travel machine and instructions to operate it and I know I haven't been so good at times but that is why I'm asking the time machine so that I can make it good and well and also find out what happened on July 13th which I completely forgot.

“I can do that?”. Santa repeated to himself. He would have to extract a list of gifts out of that single-line mess. For instance, dividing it by and.

And, of course, using Perl 6, which being able to use as a variable, and even runic our $ᚣ = True was his favorite language. In a single line you can get all the chunks obtaining something like this:

[ "Dear Santa: I have been a good boy so I want you to bring me a collection of scythes", "an ocean liner with a captain", "a purser", "a time travel machine", "instructions to operate it", "I know I haven't been so good at times but that is why I'm asking the time machine so that I can make it good", "well", "also find out what happened on July 13th which I completely forgot.\n" ]

The /\s* «and» \s*/ regexp took the ands and also trimmed spaces, creating a set of sentences. And these sentences might or might not contain something the customer wanted Santa to bring. Which made Santa start roaring again. “Scale and structure! We need to scale and we need structure!”

Markdown to the rescue

Marcius pitched in. “Everybody knows Markdown. It’s text, with a few marks thrown in for structure.”

Oakius, who was working towards his promotion to Elf, Second class, said. “Use the elvish-est language, Elm. You know, it’s elf but for a letter”

“I can do that”, said Santa. Elves loved his can do approach. So he installed the whole thing and did this little program

Santa was quiet for about 30 seconds. And then his roaring could be heard again.

“Never, you hear me? Never I want to hear again about this spawn from the Easter Bunny or other evil creatures”.

Those elves nearest the screen observed lots of red, but not nice red, and nothing resembling working code. So they gave Rudolph the (nice) Red Nose Reindeer a note, which he dutifully carried pricked in one of his smaller antlers.

“Should we go back to Perl6 then?”

Processing Markdown with Perl6

Santa Found Text::Markdown, which he promptly installed with

zef install Text::Markdown

It had Text, it had Markdown, it promised to process it, that was all he needed. So he got word to his customer base that markdown was going to be needed this year if you wanted this guy to go down your chimney with a burlap bag with nice stuff in it.

Once again, early adopters answered with this

# Dear Santa

I have been a good boy so I want you to bring me a collection of
scythes and an ocean liner with a captain and a purser and a time
travel machine and instructions to operate it and I know I haven't
been so good at times but that is why I'm asking the time machine so
that I can make it good and well and also find out what happened on
July 13th which I completely forgot.

Well, it is Markdown, is is not? It’s properly addressed and all. “Properly addressing a letter is important”, Santa said aloud, in a not-quite-yell that only startled Rudolph, which was the only one hanging around. “It gives structure. Let us check whether letters have this”.

“Wow!” Said Santa. And then, “Wow”. Just a few lines of code, one to read and understand the structure of the document, another one to check if there is at least one that is a heading. It will say True if that is the case. And it was true.

Santa was happy for a tiny while. He scratched the scruff of the neck of Rudolph, who was kind of surprised by this. Then he stopped doing it. Rudolph looked up and backed his hind legs just this tiny bit, feeling unhappiness.

More structure is needed.

Santa had found this letter:

# Dude

## Welll...

I have been a naughty person


## Requests

Well...

Proper addressing and everything, he could not waste his time with persons that had not been good. Scale. And resources. Resources should be spent only in good persons, not in bad persons. Bad persons are bad, and that’s that. So went back to coding, Rudolph slipped away looking for lichen candy or whatever, and he produced this:

Santa was kind of proud of the trick that extracted the paragraphs after the second heading, as well as the fact that he had been able to put to good use the Thorn letter, which he loved. He also loved functional programming, having cut his teeth in Lisp. So he created this flip-switch that is initially false but flips on when the element it is dealing with is a heading and its level is two. He was also happy that he could do this kind of thing with the structured layered on top of the text by the marks.

Besides, he could check whether the word “good” was present in any of the paragraphs between that heading (Behavior) and the next. And any is so cool. It is enough that one of the paragraph mentions good. The last line will first return an array of Boolean values, and will eventually say True if just one of them includes good. False otherwise. Good for culling the good from the bad.

Santa was happ-y. -Ier. But still.

The toys are the important thing here.

So what he actually wanted was a list of the toys. After requesting, once again, a change of letter format, which he could do because he was Santa and everyone wanted his free stuff for Christmas, he started to receive letters with this structure:

# Dear Santa

## Behavior

I have been a good boy 


## Requests

And this is what I want

 - scythes 
 - an ocean liner with a captain and a purser
 - a time travel machine and instructions to operate it 

What they lack in spontaneity they have in structure. And structure is good. You can get a list of requests thus:

That is really an unsaintly list of chained list processing expressions. And this sentence before this one has an list of list mentions that is almost as bad. But let us see what is going on there.

First thing in the list, we take only what comes after the Requests heading, using regular expressions and stuff. We could have probably pared it down to a transformation to Str but we would have lost the structure. And structure is important, Santa is never tired of repeating that. Next we extract only those elements that are actually a list, taking out all the fluff.

And it so happens that there is such a thing as too much structure. The list has elements that have elements that have elements in it.

That, or Text::Markdown could do with a big makeover. Which is what the author of this post is putting on his particular wish list.

Not there yet

But almost. We have the list, and now Santa finds things like time travel machines and Mondays and things like that. He cannot order Mondays in the elf factory. He would have to read every single list of things. But no worries. That can be taken care of, too:

Simply enough, this program goes over the saved list of items in the wish list, and checks for product-ness. Is it a product? It goes. Are you asking for last Friday evening, which you completely missed? It does not, and don’t you dare to waste Santa’s time, boy.

The gist of the thing is in the Wikidata query, which uses the brand-new Wikidata::API module. This module just sends stuff to the Wikidata API and returns it as an object. Believe it or not, that is what the SPARQL query does: inserts the item name into the query, makes the query, and returns true if the number of returned elements is not zero. Productness at your fingertips! In a few lines of code! Now he could just chain all the stuff together and obtain from a letter containing this

 - Morning sickness
 - Scythe
 - Mug

Just the two of them which you can actually order from your local, downtown, mom and pop shop, which is where Santa actually goes to secretly buy all the stuff because he buys in bulk and he gets a pretty good deal.

Santa smiled, and a loud cheer erupted from the crowd of elves, reindeers, and a couple of puffins that were there for no good reason. They then set down to

Wrap up

Santa and Perl 6 are a good match, simply because they both came in Christmas time. Santa finds you can do lots of useful things with it, by itself or by using one of the fine modules that have become available lately.

The author of this, however, will include in his letter to Santa some help to carry ahead with the two modules used in this post, maintained by him, and which need more experienced coders to test, extend and maybe rewrite from scratch. But he is happy to see that mundane and slightly divine things like processing letters to Santa can be done straight away using Perl6. And you should it too.

Code and samples for this post are available from GitHub. Also this text. Help and suggestion are very much welcome.