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Valued Contributor

In Jeff Borror’s classic textbook Q for Mortals you will find frequent references to moments of “Zen meditation” leading to flashes of insight into the workings of q. 

My teacher Myokyo-ni liked to quote Dogen-zenji:

The Great Way is not difficult. It avoids only picking and choosing.

The Do form of the Scan iterator has a pattern I think of as ‘the Zen monks’.


— How many Zen monks does it take to change a lightbulb?
— Two. One to change it; one not to change it. 

The basic pattern is to apply a function and not to apply it. Consider the trim keyword. It must find the spaces in a string, then the continuous spaces from each end. If we had to write trim in q it might be


q){b:x<>" ";(b?1b)_ neg[reverse[b]?1b] _ x}"   Trim the spaces.  "
"Trim the spaces."


We notice the repetitions:

  • both b and reverse[b] are searched for 1b
  • two uses of the Drop operator 

We want to do the search/drop thing from both ends of the string. 


q){x{y _ x}/1 -1*(1 reverse\" "<>x)?'1b}"   Trim the spaces.  "
"Trim the spaces."


Notice the {y _ x} reduction above. Lambda {y f x} commutes a function f by switching its arguments. The pattern R{y f x}/L  successively applies a list of left arguments L to an argument R.

Here we use 1 reverse\ to get the boolean vector and its reversal. I think of this 1 f\ pattern as the Zen monks. 

Here is another use for it, in finding the shape (rows and columns) of a matrix.


q)show m:{max[count each x]$'x}string`avoids`picking`and`choosing
"avoids  "
"picking "
"and     "
q)shp:{count each 1 first\x}  / shape of a matrix
q)shp m
4 8


The Zen Buddhist pension plan: “A day without work is a day without food.” Can you see any other work for the monks?