Green Beer? Not Here!

by Paul Barry

I know I'm not the only Irish person that got a kick out of the green beer touting penguin on the cover of the March 2002 edition of Linux Journal. I'm also sure I'm not the only Irish person that thinks, "What's the big deal with green beer?" Although the cover story editorial states that "everyone can appreciate green beer", I'm not so sure. Read on.

My first exposure to the green beer phenomenon occurred when I was living and working in Toronto, Canada, during the early '90s. As chance would have it, I (quite mysteriously, of course) found myself in an Irish bar on Saint Patrick's Day with my fellow coworkers. A pitcher of beer promptly was plonked down on the table. I was shocked. Perhaps it was the lighting in the place, but I was sure that the beer in the pitcher was--green! Turned out it was. Apparently, such practice is the "done thing" in North America on Ireland's national day. Not wishing to upset my gracious Canadian hosts, and being a stranger in a foreign land, I decided that "when in Rome" was the best strategy on this occasion and accepted a glass. Then another. Then another. Oh, let's be honest, after that I lost count.

Some time later, a quick trip to the "facilities" was called for. As I headed for relief, a friend shouted after me, "You know, Paul, no one every buys beer--they just acquire it on a short term lease!" A few seconds later, I was to get my second shock.

What actually happened at this point is best expressed in a short Perl program (although at the time I thought I was either very close to death or had contracted some terrible disease):

    #! /usr/bin/perl -w
    my $p = 'normal';
    while ( my $beer = <STDIN> )
        if ( is_it_green( $beer ) )
            $p = 'green';
        print "You're gonna pee: $p\n";

Note that this program (which does compile successfully) assumes that standard input is redirected to your mouth prior to execution. This is a tricky enough task for most modern operating systems. The less said about standard output as it pertains to this program, the better. Also, note that (in honor of Saint Patrick) the "is_it_green" subroutine is to be added to the forthcoming Perl 6. Honest. (OK, a tiny white lie, but, as I'm being as silly, I can get away with a few really silly statements).

As it turns out, turning your beer green is not the done thing here in Ireland (the myth is exposed). The reason has more to do with our preferred pint than with food colorings. Adding green to black gives you black, and it ruins a good pint. Now, the fact that Ireland's national brewer was sold off a few years ago to a large, faceless, international drinks conglomerate has done nothing to hurt the sales of "the black stuff" throughout the four corners of the Emerald Isle. Just think of the alternatives: if it wasn't for Arthur Guinness, we'd all be drinking one of those trendy European beers or (heavens forbid) that which passes for beer in North America! So, a non-Irish owner of the national tipple is tolerable, just so long as things remain black.

While I'm in a myth-exposing mood, let me tackle a few more:

  • Central Heating has been standard in Irish homes for about 30 years now. Hot showers are not as traumatic an experience as they used to be.

  • Lavatories are now (conveniently) located inside Irish homes. This makes cold, stormy, winter nights that little bit easier to bear (pun most definitely intended).

  • Despite what your travel agent may tell you, not all Irish people live in thatched-roofed cottages. In fact, it is incredibly difficult to insure a thatched-roof property against fire. Most people prefer slate roofs, as mice tend not to create their homes in them.

Other myths that I cannot shed any light on (because they are all, of course, true) include:

  • Leprechauns do exist. Ask any Irish person and they will tell you that they have seen at least one at the bottom of their garden. This is hard to confirm because Leprechauns are traditionally very hard to catch.

  • A pot o' gold can be found at the end of any rainbow. Ask any Irish person and they will tell you that this is very true. However, I've yet to meet anyone that actually claims to have found the gold.

  • Saint Patrick banished all snakes from Ireland--we have none. This helps explain my cultural preference for Perl over Python. (Sorry, Python fans, I couldn't resist that one).

So, what has all of this to do with open source and Linux? In truth, nothing. But, if we can't have a bit of fun on Saint Patrick's Day, when can we?

To all the readers of (and staff at) Linux Journal: Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Paul Barry, when not avoiding green beer, lectures at The Institute of Technology, Carlow, in Ireland. He is the author of Programming the Network with Perl (Wiley, 2002).

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