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The Case of the Mad Python Programmer

It started as a relatively innocent exchange...

[Ben] [laugh] Geek. Yeah, that's what makes us good at what we do... and crazy the rest of the time.

[Jimmy] The *rest* of the time? No, no. I'm crazy 24/7.

[Ben] Oh. Well, never mind, then. If you're going to be just like *me *, then all the rules change.

[Jimmy] The rules can do what they like - I'll just do what I've always done, and choose which ones I feel should apply to me.

[Ben] ...and do what you want the rest of the time, provided you can get away with it. Yep - been doing that for a *LONG* time.

But little did I realise just what Ben had been trying to get away with.

[Ben] [grin] S'all right, I've got it. Took a bit of wrestling this morning, and I'm sure that any Pythoneer looking at it would have a heart attack,

[Jimmy] The case was a tough one: for several weeks, various disappearances had been reported by Python user groups around Florida. There had been no fatalities, but it was only a matter of time.

[Ben] "Programmers missing; exposure to deadly code cited as possible cause. St. Augustine man has been questioned and released into the wild on his own recognizance, although no one is sure *why*."

[Jimmy] We took him in for questioning, but no dice. He just sat there, unruffled, occassionally flashing a grin that could mean "who, me?", "I know something you don't know", or "I shouldn't be allowed to use cutlery unsupervised, even if it is plastic".

[Ben] 'Ey, that was just my dyspeptic look - I had a greasy breakfast that morning! You can't prove anything, I wasn't there, and she showed me a driver's license that said she was over 18 anyway.

[Jimmy] We knew it was him. He knew we knew. We knew that he knew that we knew. He knew that we knew that he knew that we knew that... Hey, is 'knew' even a word? We knew that it was, and he knew that we knew, but now we don't know, and he knew that we knew, but didn't know, and we knew that we didn't know, but we knew, and he knew that. And... damn!

We had to let him go, because even though we kn... were sure that it was him, nothing would stick. He was as slippery as a banana skin in an oil spill on an ice skating rink, just as dangerous, and even less likely. We tried to tail him, but started to think that he knew, and... well, you can guess the rest.

We had a hospital ward full of catatonic programmers, and no leads. The pressure was building, but we knew he'd slip - they always do. We pulled in favours everywhere we could, and set the perfect trap - a Python conference.

Now, we play the waiting game...

[Ben] With the native cunning of the insane, the hunted man avoided the Bantu man-trap, the Vietnamese punji-stake pit, and the Russian apartment building (designed to instantly collapse on those unwary enough to enter it.) He peered suspiciously around the bush, and seeing no Python code anywhere, stepped into the open...

* SNAP!!! *

"'Allo! Crocodile 'Untah 'ere, with a mad Python programmah caught in me nets. Now - a good Wildlife Management professional always carries a dual-Pentium Linux laptop with several gigaboits of mem'ry and just simply _oodles_ of hard-drive space, as well as a satellite uplink, so I think we can take care of this ornery little fella right 'ere and now..."

[Jimmy] Know...uh...now we kne....ng! had an idea of how to deal with him, we got our confession - we sent out mail to all the usual lists, asking if Python could be obfuscated. He didn't rise to the bait, until we declared all the examples we were given perfectly legible, and that all we could do now was learn C++... then we had him.

We moved in. It took six men just to hold him down, but he got an arm free and hit us with a regex to parse valid e-mail addresses. Poor Charlie got hit the hardest - the doctors says he'll be confined to Outlook for the rest of his life. In the end, all it took was our quick thinking Australian friend coming to the rescue by mentioning that the State Penn was switching to Linux.

There was an ugly incident when one of the guards made a wise-crack about soap, but he calmed down when he was told that function calls through XML has been ruled both a cruel and an unusual punishment, and has become a model prisoner. He's been tipped for early release, and mailed us a couple of times, thanking us for showing him the error of his ways, and even offered to take us to dinner when he gets out on parole. We've accepted, but only on the condition that it's a Chinese restaurant.

[Ben] [laugh] ...with Perl one-liners hidden in the fortune cookies. Given how many geeks hang out in Chinese restaurants (at least on the West Coast), I wonder if that would be a profitable sideline?

Released under the Open Publication license

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004