Why "Lambda Latitudinarians?"

February 25, 2017

Since I created this site, I've received many questions about the name. As a result, I've created this blog post to try to address the issue. In short, the name of this site stems from Alonzo Church's Lambda Calculus. Lambda Calculus was a highly influential mode of computation invented in the 1930s that eventually influenced a great deal of programming. This is most obvious in the form of the Lisp family of languages, where lambda functions have been present from day one, and where the very structure of code is based off of lambda calculus. However, the Lambda Calculus has now managed to seep into other programming styles-- most famously, C++ and Java have variants of lambda functions.

Now that you're familiar with the tip of the lambda iceberg, you're probably wondering: just what the hell is lambda calculus anyway? The wikipedia page is not particularly good at teaching the basics, so you probably expect me to demonstrate something. As it turns out, you're in luck. Behold: a lambda calculus example:

λparameter.(function parameter parameter) input

Which is equivalent to this function in C:

int lambda(int parameter){
	function(parameter, parameter);

int main(){

That's pretty basic, but it shows you the way that lambda functions work: the lambda function pulls in an input item and replaces "parameter" in its body with the value of input. Now I can show you something a lot cooler:

λg.(λx.g (x x)) (λx.g (x x))

Above is a *magical* function the lambda calculus calls a fixed-point combinator. Basically, it's a recursive function that repeatedly applies itself. Of course this is probably all pretty nonsensical because you've probably never seen or heard, much less played with, the lambda calculus before you saw this blog post. So now I'll get back to my story about why this page is called λ Latitudinarians.

Long story short: in my junior year of college, I was a teaching assistant for a theory-based class. That class had a unit on lambda calculus (coupled with scheme programming), and I drew the short straw and ended up writing and grading the homework assignments for that unit. I ended up spending a lot of time with lambda calculus, and honestly it's kind of a fun letter.

Latitudinarian serves two purposes. First: it vaguely means "open-minded." Something I like to be whenever possible so I don't get too grumpy and cantankerous. In 17th and 18th century England, a group called the latitudinarians supported variation in local practices; translation: don't be too much of a stickler for doing things a certain way just because that's what you're used to. Second: it's a really long word. It's not necessarily easy to spell. So every time I use the domain for email, or to let someone know the URL of my blog, I chuckle to myself because it's just ridiculous. It's a good reminder to never take myself too seriously.