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moderately geeky  moderately geeky

Case 156

The Garden Path

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Master Suku and her novices had come to a town that Suku knew from her youth. The day was hot, and all four travellers were parched.

“Young monk”, said Suku to one of her novices. “Fetch us some water from the well at the foot of this hill, and I will tell you of my youth in this place.” When the monk had done this, and all four had drunk their fill, Suku said:

“In this town I was prenticed in C to a good master. Our shop followed the coding standards he set down, yet always I felt he allowed us too much creativity. For freedom is like the kama1: with it the skilled can reap a whole field in a day, but the clumsy can cut your head off.

“Over time I devised an elegant set of design patterns for my own use. Ah, if I could but show you now the glorious code I wrote! Every constant, type, function and variable was named according to its purpose. Parameters were ordered from most complex type to least, and the fields of structs were prefixed to facilitate the use of special macros I’d invented. Maintaining my own code became a true joy.

“I refined this system until with great pride I was ready to show it to my master. I begged him to add my coding standards to his own, that our whole shop would benefit.

“My master declared to all that it was indeed the most complete design and implementation metholodology that he had ever seen, and if the whole shop followed my example we were certain to produce code of unparalleled beauty, clarity, and extensibility.

“He gave me the name Enro2 and rewarded me with the honor of laying a new path in our meditation garden. He designed this path to resemble a great winding serpent, with its tail grazing his garden gate and its jaws closing around a well at the bottom of the grounds. It took me a month to dig the bed, level the bottom with sand, lay the paving stones, and set them well with gravel and earth.

“When I finished my master said that the path, like my code, was a thing of sublime beauty, and decreed that his shop would keep it forever.”

At this Suku fell silent for a long time.

Eventually one of her novices asked: “Is the path still there?”

“We are seated upon the tail right now,” said Suku. “See, right here is my old master’s gate; his house lies just beyond. And the water we drank is from the well between the jaws. Note what is on the path, and what is not.”

The novices’ eyes followed the wriggling path up from the well as it swept a great meandering arc around the hillside. Its stones were green with moss and beset with weeds. Where the path disappeared through the gate they noticed that it joined a second track of bare earth, where the grass appeared to have been trampled so often that it ceased to grow. The dusty track ran straight from the gate to the well, marred only by a fresh set of sandal-prints that went down, and then up, and ended at the feet of the young monk who had fetched their water.

1 A farming implement like a scythe, also used as a weapon.
2 “Garden-path”.