The Adventures of Joe Lisp, T Man

By Kris Hammond (

14th February 1984 (Copyright)

The Case of the Bogus Expert (Part 1)

It was late on a Tuesday and I was dead in my seat from nearly an hour of grueling mail reading and idle chit-chat with random passers by. The only light in my office was the soft glow from my CRT, the only sound was the pain wracked rattle of an over-heated disk. It was raining out, but the steady staccato rhythm that beat its way into the skulls of others was held back by the cold concrete slabs of my windowless walls. I like not having windows, but that's another story.

I didn't hear her come in, but when the scent of her perfume hit me, my head swung faster than a Winchester. She was wearing My-Sin, a perfume with the smell of an expert, but that wasn't what impressed me. What hit me was her contours. She had a body with all the right variables. She wore a dress with a single closure that barely hid the dynamic scoping of what was underneath. Sure I saw her as an object, but I guess I'm just object oriented. It's the kind of operator I am.

After she sat down and began to tell her story I realized that her sophisticated look was just cover. She was a green kid, still wet behind the ears. In fact she was wet all over. As I said, it was raining outside. It's an easy inference.

It seems the kid's step-father had disappeared. He had been a medical specialist, diagnosis and prescription, but one day he started making wild claims about knowledge and planning and then he vanished. I had heard of this kind before. Some were specialists. Some in medicine, some in geology, but all were the same kind of guy. I looked the girl in the eye and asked the one question she didn't want to hear, "He's rule-based, isn't he?".

She turned her head away and that was all the answer I needed. His kind were cold, unfeeling, unchanging, but she still loved him and wanted him back again.

Once I got a full picture of the guy I was sure that I knew where to find him, California. It was the haven for his way of thinking and acting. I was sure that he had been swept up by the EXPERTS. They were a cult that had grown up in the past few years, promising fast and easy enlightenment. What they didn't tell you was that the price was your ability to understand itself. He was there, as sure as I was a T Man.

I knew of at least one operative in California who could be trusted, and I knew that I had to talk to him before I could do any further planning. I reached for the phone and gave him a call.

The conversation was short and sweet. He had resource conflicts and couldn't give me a hand right now. I assumed that it had to be more complex than that and almost said that resource conflicts aren't that easy to identify, but I had no time to waste on in fighting while the real enemy was still at large. Before he hung up, he suggested that I pick up a radar detector if I was planning on driving out and asked if I could grab a half-gallon of milk for him on the way. I agreed to the favor, thanked him for his advice and wished him luck on his tan...

That's all for now kids. Tune in next week for the part two of:

The Case of the Bogus Expert

Starring JOE LISP, T MAN

The Case of the Bogus Expert (Part 2)

As I my plane landed in California I thought back to what I already knew about the EXPERTs. As a cult they were pretty much the same as any other. They would find kids straight out of college who only vaguely understood what was going on in the world and seduce them with promises of big money and scientific advancement. Once in the organization their minds would be stripped clean of reason by late night work sessions, diets of coke and twinkies and, of course, the most seductive and confusing temptation of all, the well kludged demo. I've seen many a kid fall prey to a slick presentation that can really only handle one example. Well,I wasn't here to save them all, I just had one man in mind.

On the ground I got my first chance to slide my way into the organization. The EXPERTs, like all cults, had a large batch of "students" covering the airports. A likely businessman would walk by and they would offer a flower, a text book or sometimes a grant proposal. I've seen corporate presidents toss away a hundred thousand just to get away from the clutching little nerds. Pretending to be interested in a copy of "The Handbook of Artificial Intelligence" I maneuvered one of the cult members into a phone booth. Once there I sapped him with a copy of Bartlett's "Remembering". I like using tools I can trust.

I switched clothes with him a took a gander at myself in a nearby mirror. The short-sleeved white shirt was frayed and hung limply from my shoulders while a plastic insert filled with pens flopped from side to in the breast pocket. The black poly-blend pants were too short for me and did nothing to hide the flash of the white socks that were covered only by the dull brown of scuffed loafers. I looked like a fool, a nerd, an EXPERT...

Gosh, boys and girls, will JOE LISP be able to fool the EXPERTs? Will he get the good doctor out alive? Will he be able to convince the world that man does not think by rules alone? Will the next episode have more to do with AI? The answers to these and other questions in the next episode of...


The Case of the Bogus Expert (Part 3)

But first a message from our producers...

Recently there have been many complaints that the adventures of our favorite detective, JOE LISP, have not contained enough "action". Of course we all know that action is just a euphemism for violence. Although we deplore violence, (we tend to favor blackmail and other forms of extortion), we realize that as public servants we must cater to the tastes of the sleezy low-life that make up the majority in this great country of ours. So without any further ado, we present an all action, all adventure, all violence episode of JOE LISP, T MAN...

It started as soon as I entered the secret enclave of the EXPERTs. There was a left, a right, another left and right. I knew it was a test. They wanted to see what kind of action I'd take, how I paired up against them. They hit me again with a flurry of lefts and rights, and ended with a right to the body... of LISP code that is. God these guys were good at production system hacking.

I made my way through their playroom and located the office of the head of the EXPERTs. He was a tough man whose main claim to fame was his work on the Fast Automated Thing. It was a "general purpose" expert system that was able to analyze any known problem that could possibly crop up on the Navy's a35-22b Bernoulli Suction Module attached to the pre-pump assembly found in sump systems on the 82-83 models of the tugs used to guide Trident subs out to sea. The system itself is able to recognize almost 14 different problems using less than 3,572 rules, each of which has at least 43 conjuncted tests on the left side. He finally left his work on the Fast Automated Thing in order to, in his words, "... get out of the rarified atmosphere of theoretical AI and work on some real world applications". Only the EXPERTs ignored his past work however, so while the rest of the world knew him as the F.A.T. Man, they knew him only as the head honcho... the top dog... the big cheese. I walked in to face him.

He looked up from his desk as I entered. In front of him was an open copy of "Fifth Generation Japanese Computer Terminology made E-Z". As I walked closer and pulled out my gun he froze in terror and recognition. "I thought you were dead," he said. "My men killed you last year." I sneered for effect and explained to him that he hadn't killed me. He'd killed my brother Mack, Mack Lisp. I would have mentioned him earlier but the dramatic impact of a sudden revelation can't be beat... and the name was suggested to me only after the first episode. His face was white with terror as I pointed my gun at his...

Where is Joe pointing the gun? What will the FAT man do? What is the secret of the woman in white? How much will you offer me to stop writing these messages?

As per usual, the answers to these and many other far less interesting questions (such as how many times the word "whip" is used in the bible) will be answered in the next exciting episode of:


The Case of the Bogus Expert (Part 4)

The Final Encounter

...terminal and fired. Unfortunately, in the four weeks that had elapsed between episodes, the FAT man had not only moved his terminal and most of his office furniture but he had also shipped his operation to the University of Hawaii and was at this very moment drinking a badly prepared Mai Tai on the porch of Don Ho's veranda.

I had once again fallen victim to the frame problem. Time had passed and I hadn't been updated in the data base. I had hoped that having a script would save me, but as I looked at it I realized that it was the wrong script. In fact it was a old script for an episode of "Our Miss Brooks." I had been beaten by a flawed representation.

Well two could play at that game. I wrote down all of the features describing Hawaii and California. I limited my descriptor list to only those predicates which the two locations had in common and fed the resulting data into a learning system with an impoverished data base. In no time at all I had rediscovered that California and Hawaii were in fact the same place. I had to pat myself on the back for this one, I wasn't an Einstein, but I could still bring home the Bacon.

Once in Hawaii, I had little trouble tracking the FAT man down. As I got closer to his enclave, the people around me began to use more and more computer jargon. By the time I found him the silicon slang was flowing fast and furious. Outside the FAT man's door, a teaching assistant was explaining to a female student what it meant for a system to go down. It had gone further than I had thought. As I burst though the door of his office, I realized that I was just in time.

"It's over FAT man. All your students have fled to industry. Your grant supervisors are getting wise to your overblown promises, and your popular books are on the remainder tables. You've got nothing left."

He flashed a glance at his terminal screen and laughed insanely.

"If I fall, so do you Lisp. I'm sending out a letter to everyone I know in the field. You'll never get another paper published, you'll never get a tenure track position and you'll never see a single penny of grant money."

I knew he was serious and I'd come prepared.

"Don't try to send that mail FAT man. Go for that keyboard and you're a dead man."

He smiled and dove for the key. Then he died. As I said, I came prepared. I'd switched over to a representation with no actions, just state-changes. I had even told him, 'Go for that keyboard and you're a dead man.' I didn't have to do a thing. I just waited for an update of the state of the world. It's just a good thing that everyone knows that I never lie.

Well I picked up the professor down the hall and dropped him off with a deprogrammer I know. He'll be back to normal in just a couple of weeks of watching his rules become more and more baroque as he has to confront the real world.

And me... well I'm back in my office. I do my job and I'm happy. I just need the simple things in life: an Apollo, funding for another semester and bottle of '75 Talbot breathing in my desk drawer. I'm just waiting for the next time some lost soul walks though that door and asks for me... JOE LISP - T MAN.

That's it for now boys and girls. And remember, Joe Lisp is with you no matter where you are or what you are doing. When ever content wins over structure, whenever it is pointed out that a program is not a theory, whenever the rigors of science triumph over the daily needs of technology... Joe Lisp is there. He's always watching you, so keep it clean.

So ends another chapter in the ongoing saga of JOE LISP. Be sure to buy JOE LISP comics and the new JOE LISP compiler coming out in June.

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