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Monty Python, Joanna Lumley and Me

What’s In A Name?
by Huw Collingbourne
Tuesday 30 January 2007.

Over the past year I’ve read various people’s explanations of the ’meaning’ of the name, Ruby In Steel. One popular myth is that it’s a play on the name IronPython - a .NET version of the Python language. Another theory has it that ’Steel’ must be related to ’Rails’. Well, nope, I’m afraid neither of those is correct.

Let me put you straight. The answer is: Joanna Lumley.

Yes, the plain truth of the matter is that, were it not for the ex-Bond and Avengers girl, more recently known for her boozy role in the British sitcom, Absolutely Fabulous, our Ruby IDE might well have been called something mundane and obvious such as, well, Ruby IDE For Visual Studio.

Where names are concerned, British TV has been surprisingly influential on modern computing. Monty Python was responsible not only for the name of the Python language but also for giving us ’Spam’ in its modern sense (taken from ’Spam with everything’ in old Monty Python sketch). I’m not sure where the Iron bit of IronPython comes from. At any rate, metals of various sorts do seem to be quite fashionable among programmers. In addition to IronPython and Rails, there is also Chrome (Object Pascal for Visual Studio), GOLD (a programming language parser) and Mercury (a ’logic’ programming language).

But I digress. None of these other metals was of any consequence to us when we started the Steel project. On the contrary, our guiding light was, as I’ve already said, Joanna Lumley. Not forgetting David McCallum. If you happen to be British and of a, er, ’certain age’, all will by now be as clear as day to you. Other people may, however, need a few more clues...

Here goes...

Ruby is a red gemstone of the mineral corundum whose chemical composition is aluminium oxide. A Sapphire is also a gemstone of the mineral corundum whose chemical composition is aluminium oxide. The most treasured Sapphires are generally blue but there are other colour varieties including yellow and red. The red form of sapphire is called ’ruby’.

So where does Joanna Lumley come into all this? Time to get back to British TV....

In the late 1970s, Joanna Lumley and David McCallum played the roles of two time travellers in a bizarre little series called Sapphire and Steel. Ms Lumley’s character was called Sapphire; Mr McCallum played the part of Steel. Each episode began with a voice-over stating:

All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic, heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.

And if you can figure out what that all means, you’re doing better than I am. At any rate, you can get a backgrounder on the series on Wikipedia’s Sapphire & Steel.

Having explained the genesis of the name, all that now remains is to explain what Sapphire and Steel are in software terms.

Steel is the name of our IDE. This explains why the projects we create have the extension ’.stproj’, short for ’STeel PROJect’. In principle, we could adapt Steel to support other languages. In fact, Ruby is the only language which Steel supports at present and we are not currently working on any other languages. Our sole aim currently is to provide the best possible support for Ruby and for Rails - and all the features announced in our Road Map leading towards Ruby In Steel 1.5 are aimed at achieving that.

As for Sapphire... Yes, we do have a project code-named Sapphire. But, no, we are not going to give any more details on it at the moment.

Joanna Lumley has a lot to answer for... ;-)

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