Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

What's In A Name?

How did (parent . thesis) get it's name? If you know LISP, it should be obvious...

Michael Tiemann
Michael Tiemann is president of the Open Source Initiative and vice president of open source affairs at Red Hat. Disclosure.
Michael Tiemann
2 min read

When my wife Amy invited me to join her in a parenting blog, I was happy to do so. I already blog quite a bit on the topic of Open Source and I'm surely as opinionated about parenting and child development as I am about software development. But first, we needed a name.

At first I played a word association game: man-woman, Mars-Venus, dad-mom, etc. Then I thought about the geekiest pairing I could recall from my days as an undergraduate at the Moore School of Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania and it hit me: car-cdr. The head of the list vs. everything else on the list seemed like an apt metaphor for the traditional head-of-household vs. the everything else that society expects mothers to do about children. But that's just the start of the analogy/explanation.

For those who have studied computer science, you know that if FORTRAN was the programming language of the neanderthals, LISP was the the first programming language appropriate for homo sapiens sapiens. LISP is the expression of the Lamda Calculus, which itself is concerned with generative forms--and what are parents if not generators of generations and roots of n-ary family trees?

The Little LISPer (and its hip cousin, The Little Schemer) provide the computer science student with their first explanation of computer baby-talk--beginning with atoms, moving to lists, then function, application, and before you know it, Turing completeness. The ability to express so much with something as simple as the elements of LISP changed my way of thinking about computers and programming. Hopefully through this blog, I'll be able to present small and simple observations that are nevertheless profound when presented in the context and calculus of parenting.

Of course, there had to be a pun, and it was simply irresistable to make the name self-describing and self-referential (the hallmark of a recursive programming language like LISP and honored by projects like GNU, where the letters GNU stand for "GNU's Not Unix" (but what's "GNU"? GNU stands for "GNU's Not Unix" etc.)). Thus the title ( parent . thesis ) relates both the subject (parenting) and its potentially infinite list of topical materials (constructing the thesis) in a form that acknowledges LISP syntax while remaining merely a humorous aside.

Or at least, that's what I think.