"I have a mind like a steel... uh... thingy." Patrick Logan's weblog.

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Monday, February 28, 2005

Classic Rock

Paul Beard uses The Doors as his canary. Tim Bray uses Pink Floyd's The Wall.

Those both work for me. We have (at least?) three Classic Rock radio stations in my area, so I can bounce around those to avoid commercials as well as worn-out music (and beyond into jazz, community radio, progressive politics, sports, etc.)

The best station though has the weakest signal. Two of the stations are here in Portland. The best one comes out of Corvalis where I suppose there is less commercial pressure, or maybe they're just not owned by a conglomerate with a corporate play list.

In fact the Corvalis station, KLOO-FM, reminds me a lot of early 1970's album-oriented stations that don't just play the "hits". They play the songs they want, wherever the song shows up on the album.

Me too and eight-track tapes

Sam Ruby writes...

I'm old enough to remember when relational databases were controversial.
Me too. Sometime talking about the computer industry in the 21st century feels like talking about the iPod vs. eight-track tapes with my kids. (Not to mention reel-to-reel. Remember those?)

Commonality and Variation

I comment on Ted Neward's observations...

SOA as just another paradigm for commonality and variation... just so, even more generally. SOA is a new term, but people were arguing RPC vs. asynchronous message passing 20 years ago, not just in the labs but in production.

I used Apollo Domain workstations and their Aegis OS at Boeing and Mentor Graphics. In the late 1980's I was in discussions about their built-in distributed OS and mailbox channels vs. the emerging broader standards for RPC. People were arguing about RPC parameters vs. sending ASN.1 data structures (i.e. flexible trees of property/value pairs). Not much new in this SOA world but the terms and new standards which look a good bit like some of the older ones!

Sunday, February 27, 2005


"Intuition leads scientists astray every time."

A Secure Scheme-based OS

When I read this...

  • A type-safe abstract instruction set (MSIL) as the only system binary interface.
  • A unified extension mechanism for applications and the OS.
  • A strong process isolation architecture.
  • A ubiquitous metadata infrastructure to describes code, data, and communication.
(via this), I think of this. Obviously one has a large, ambitious team and the other represents work by a few people in a more narrow area. But a comparative analysis where they overlap would be worth reading.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

What Engineers Do

Wayne Allen writes...

What is it that we are envious of from the "other" engineering disciplines?
I think we envy the respect and prestige more than anything else. The nature of software is different though. We have to build software worthy of respect, and it's very easy to build software that is not. We have unprecendented freedom, but...

Chui Tey writes in a comment...

I don't think the software that runs a satellite or one that powers weaponry would be written any less formally than the effort involved with engineering a bridge. Even at these lofty levels, there are elements of craft at the design level, one which comes from experience, and not one that comes from formal learning.
I think we have more freedom to ignore useful formalisms. Part of the challenge is to understand our formal tools and to push them into new capabilities. Test-first programming is an example of a formal tool not widely understood today. Model checking concurrent systems is an example of a current push into new capabilities.

Generally speaking though I think it is the softer communication issues among a development team that typically leads to failure.

More on common language runtimes

Ian Bicking from comments...

You mean, tried it like Guile? That was the whole premise of Guile, that you could translate other languages into Scheme. They never even got as far as translating elisp (which should have been the easy part) so that they could move Emacs to Scheme. That might not really be fair -- honestly, I don't know if anyone cared enough to try, Guile was born of a flame and never had a real champion...
I did not know that was a goal. I've neither tried Guile nor even looked at it. Sounds like more of an organizational thing than a technical issue. The history of Lisp is full of people writing compatibilities to move their code from one (usually older) Lisp system to another. This ultimately led to Common Lisp to avoid doing this so much.
Someone also tried translating Python to PLT Scheme, and they ended up giving up and just embedding Python in the Scheme interpreter...

Guile was crappy to debug Scheme in, but it offered absolutely nothing for any other language built on top of it. Can you annotate your Scheme source with information that allows you to reconstruct the native language environment when there's an error? Many languages deal poorly with incorrect programs, but Scheme implementations tend to be particularly bad, as is any implementation that comes out of an academic background (rather than being designed by a programmer that actually wants to *do* things with their implementation).

Gambit is a good choice because of its C interface, compiler to C, and good debugging capability. Again I am shooting from the hip, but for annotating Scheme source with information for reconstructing the source language information, the nice thing about this is it is Scheme and you can define all kinds of "meta-data" that does something or does nothing execution-wise, but just keeps information around (or eliminates it when desired). Everything is a list, remember. 8^) Just define syntax and/or structure that keeps the information you want, e.g. source text spans for highlighting an expression in a debugger or whatever. Seriously for non-Lisp programmers: everything is not a list. Scheme has "records" ("structs" in C), objects, vectors, etc. I would try defining records for the "meta-data" and the Scheme code would include references to these records.
And that doesn't even deal with the object mismatch issues. You don't actually have to resolve those issues if you just want to take advantage of the performance of the underlying implementation, but if you want to leverage it for interlanguage communication, translating it all to Scheme doesn't actually accomplish a whole lot.
I personally would not want to try reconciling object models too much. I would have each language keep its own definitions and see how easily the translation to Scheme data can support those languages. I would define some kind of interchange but that would not have to be too elaborate. Maybe start with YAML and leave it at that.
I'm highly sceptical of any academic projects, as I they tend to be mismotivated.
Yes, this is just a thought experiment for me. Like the Python and PLT Scheme observation, it may simply be unnecessary when the original language implementations can simply communicate with each other well enough.

The one time I could see attempting something like this would be when defining a new language from scratch. Lisp has always been a good vehicle for experimenting with new languages. They've tended to be more academic and less production too, but something like Gambit for performance is intriguing.


My response to a comment on Wayne Allen's blog...

True, craftiness appeals to many developers. But what is an example of cut and dry standard bits that don't involve craftiness?

Developing TV's? Cars? There is a craftiness to each of these. But less so. And that is where the communication comes into play with the many more informalities. And it is not just color or layout... it's also "What does a user want to do with this purchase order?" There are formal things to do with it, but also informal.

I think software is informal all the way down to the bits on the wire. Only then does it become informal. TV's and cars stay pretty much the same with inflection points here and there (e.g. Tivo, HDTV's, hybrid cars).

Factory, Engineering, Craft, or What?

As James Robertson points out, there are reasons to favor the Software as a Craft metaphor over the Software as a Factory metaphor. But he writes "software is still a craft" (emphasis mine).

That's almost an apology. I'm not sure how intentional his words align with my interpretation, but the notion is commonly expressed, as if someday it won't be a craft but for now it is. Usually the notion is that someday software will be more like "real engineering".

I've taken another view on these metaphors. Let's forget about factories because 10 seconds of thought informs us this does not fit well at all. So the candidates seem to be "craft" or "engineering".

My view is there are things software developers can learn from various kinds of engineers. Maybe there is something to be learned from legal engineering certification processes. But the lack of doing so is not what makes software development seem craft-like.

I think the "informality" of software makes it feel craft-like. If only we had more formalisms. Could be, but we'll always have "informalities". Every engineering effort, and every creative effort in general, involves many informal conversations.

The difference is perhaps software depends more on informal conversations than do many of the traditional engineering disciplines. The requirements in those disciplines are more formal. Most of software development is really requirements development. The interpretation of formal requirements is most easily expressed in software as tests and code that (correctly one hopes) runs those tests.

I think the key difference between software development and traditional engineering disciplines is not primarily the lack of discipline. Rather it is the inherent predominance of informal conversation and that software development fails mostly due to lack of communication. There is room to improve our formalisms for sure. But those improvements will not replace the focus on informal conversation the way standards and formalisms have in traditional engineering disciplines.

Those software development improvements have to support informal conversation. That's why the agile approaches have been successful... when they have improved communication for a specific team, they have improved the results without any new technology or formalisms. Of course some of that communication is in the form of "knowledge transfer" of how to use the available formal tools better. But in the aggregate it is *all* sorts of communication among the whole team that has made agile approaches successful. And when they have not been successful, in my experience it is not from failing to use a formalism well, it is failure to communicate well.

Monday, February 21, 2005

I'm a Broken Record

Update: Luke Gorrie comments...

Can you point me towards any examples that have gone "all the way" with a production language implementation based on translation to Scheme? The approach looks really appealing but I'm becoming skeptical of it.
I don't know. Kelsey went far enough to get a PhD. Feeley (with Erlang to Scheme) went far enough to "prove" the concept. Neither could be considered close to production worthy. The closest thing I can cite would be the compilers for Fortran, Ada, Pascal, C, and Prolog for the Lisp Machine. I'm not sure if they compiled to Lisp or to the Lisp Machine assembly language (which could be seen as a kind of Lisp as much or more than a typical "machine" language.)

I guess the point is not that this is proven, but that today, in 2005, why has it not been explored? People are still beginning VM projects left and right in the 1970's approach. Where does that leave us? Why not try something else, at a higher level, to *see* if it works?

End Update

As per James Robertson, Sriram Krishnan and some folks are building a new VM. It sounds ambitious and two minutes of looking around did not clarify for me why they want to build something from scratch. So rather than suggest they shouldn't, I'll try to be more positive and suggest some reading material for someone interested in these things, then speculate on what I'd do, then admit I have no intention of doing such a thing myself but you might listen to me anyway. Of course I think these ideas are worth considering, unless you *really* want to work on the lower level bits.

Right now, we're looking to copy from existing VMs as much as we can since we really don't have time to design a lot of stuff. This doesn't mean that we don't want to innovate - just that we don't want to reinvent every wheel. I'm personally looking forward to figuring out how to implement continuations inside the VM itself.
You could do worse than to look at the source code for Gambit Scheme and read the 20+ years of technical reports on compiling Scheme. By Sriram's second post, it looks like he is on this trail...
Everything worth inventing has been invented by the Lisp guys 2 decades ago. People like Guy Steele have done some really cool work
I guess if I wanted to work on a language project it would go more like this... start with the implementation of Gambit Scheme because you probably won't do better with less than 2-5 years of research and development. That's probably optimistic, based on the fact that Gambit has a decade or so of concentrated effort from a very bright person, and there's decades of work and discussions that went into Marc Feeley's own thought processes. You'd better talk with those guys because you'll be recreating their mistakes at best.

Then I'd build the translators for the languages I want to run to compile from source to Scheme. Along the way I'd do something interesting to demonstrate the payoff of using what's been done so well already: e.g. I might write translators for partial definitions of a couple languages , perhaps subsets of Smalltalk, Python, and Ruby, and then combine Scheme, Smalltalk, Python, and Ruby in a simple continuation-based modal web server based on Chris Double's tutorial.

The would demonstrate a better way of programming web applications on a well-designed kernel, supporting multiple popular languages. It would also demonstrate the value of continutations in languages that do not have them, e.g. Python (other than Stackless, I think). Pehaps others would want to add to the language fidelity. Another benefit of this approach then is that those folks don't have to understand my VM design, or track its quality, or track its design changes. All they need is to understand Scheme and write a translator from their language to Scheme, or enhance one of the initial prototypes.

GNU Smalltalk is fairly simple... a simple initial translator to Scheme does not seem too hard. I'm not sure what starting points to use for Python or Ruby. But I'm not proposing to do this... only suggest it to someone. I think it would be useful but it's not high on my personal list.

Just some thoughts if there's a Masters student looking for an interesting project.


Jim Weirich writes about web apps, Ta Da, and Ruby on Rails...

Ta-Da lists uses XMLHttpRequest to interact dynamically with the host. Beautiful.

And to top it off, it is a Ruby-on-Rails application. Written in 579 lines of Ruby code, that’s less than the size of the XML config files used in many J2EE applications.

And John Wiseman writes about Groovy, Common Lisp, and the shortness of code for an RSS reader...
I had forgotten about when I said that the only way someone would be able to compete with the Groovy app was to integrate with Java or Cocoa, or use CLIM: He created a webapp and generated HTML.
It took me about 3 hours to write. The initial quick hack version took only about an hour and was about 120 lines, but it was not as nice as this one :).
The final version of the code, at about 200 lines, looks pretty good and wouldn't be hard to turn into a desktop GUI app.
The shortness is due to Ruby, Lisp, (or Python or Smalltalk or...) being able to hide any kind of functionality behind a few simple lines of code. We should expect these languages to provide roughly the same amount of abbreviation vs. more elaborate notations.

Maybe if you like writing code these languages aren't for you after all. 8^)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

WTF? Solved: burnatonce

Update: The winner is burnatonce. I downloaded the software and had the CD burned in less than 1/2 hour. I got my refund from the 24-hour company and will apply it as a donation to burnatonce.

Not sure why Microsoft doesn't make their CD burner more easily available to XP users than to download a 12MB Windows Server 2003 package, while suggesting XP users download some guy's freeware that doesn't work. End of update

OK. I want to burn an ISO image onto a CD using Windows XP. The information from Microsoft says they don't have that capability, but to try some guy's free (beta) software! Thanks a lot. Glad my money's being put to good use up there in Redmond.

Hey, I've got an idea. Maybe I should just run some guy's free software from the ground up and skip this whole Windows thing. But OK, I install this guy's free software. But when I burn the CD an error immediately pops up... error code 1800183298837 or something. This guy must have worked at Microsoft recently. No wonder they recommend his stuff.

Then I try Nero Buring ROM. (Ha! Ha! I get it.) Problem is the software sucks so bad out the user interface that I want nothing more than to burn the Nero software itself.

Next I try MagicISO. Installs quick. Simple interface. BAM! The trial cannot burn an ISO greater than 300MB. Thanks. Seems useful enough that I decide to spend the $30 USD right then and there. The order process goes OK.

I get the email confirming my purchase. Great. But there is no key to register the software in the email. And there is no URL in the email to get a non-trial version.

Let's actually read the email.

Your order will be fulfilled directly by company that develops the software. Orders are generally fulfilled very quickly, however, please allow up to 24 hours.
%@($#^!& What is this? A 24-hour turn-around for an electronic purchase? (I chose not to spend the extra $10 USD to get a CD!)

I guess this time tomorrow I will be burning an ISO image on a CD.

With any luck.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Build Relationships

I guess it is Extreme Programming Day here at Making It Stick.

Kent Beck writes about planning...

We deliver functionality but we build relationships. Planning is more about building relationships than it is about delivering functionality.
I teach a "whole team" Agile/XP course a half dozen times a year. I emphasize values a much as practices. Communication is the value at the top of the list. We also spend a significant bit of time discussing how to adopt XP. My first (and often repeated) message is, if you can only take one thing out of this course then take the benefits of "clear communication with your whole team" into whatever practices you do choose.

Not only is communication the most important value it is also the easiest thing to adopt as an individual under any circumstances. Build relationships.

Slowing Down

Ron Jeffries on the pace and stress of software development...

If you're feeling under the gun, it might be time to slow down.
Amazingly counter-intuitive advice is found throughout Extreme Programming practices. I have *never* seen continued pressure and stress succeed in software development. On the other hand more than once I have seen big improvements when teams are able to step back, breath, make a couple of observations, and move forward gradually. Before long the team is working better than ever.

Courage and Trust in Software Development

Bill de hOra writes...

While refactoring is important for codebases that are expected to provide a product dynasty rather than a legacy mess, it's often devalued as mere tinkering by those removed from source code, as it doesn't provide new functionality - it can be very difficult to explain to a non-expert why not adding, or even delaying features now, will help with delivery of features later.
I think there are several ways to approach this devaluation. One is, do things in small pieces whenever possible. A little refactoring following a little vlaue adding is hardly noticeable.

A frequent question I get in the face of this kind of devaluing is, "Should we just do X and not tell them?" My sense is that sometimes may be advantageous when adopting a practice that has been unduly questioned. But my advice is not to make a habit of this. An important goal is to build an effective whole team, and deception in any significant, ongoing, way cannot be effective in the long run.

There is a more positive approach to this kind of behavior. That is to revisit the roles and responsibilities of developers and other stakeholders. In this case, developers have the responsibility to improve the design when they believe they'll get better at adding value in the longer run. Stakeholders having the courage to trust their developers is as important as those developers having the courage to admit they need to go through a significant refactoring for some reason.

Most software development practices over the last several decades have not brought courage and trust into the equation. Making these values part of the discussion is a clear advantage to agile methods and Extreme Programming. Scary, but better to be encouraged to courageously dive into the depths of what will haunt you anyway, even if ignored.

Friday, February 18, 2005

That's It

Bill de hOra...

We can see the market looking at 3 things to provide value in software solutions:
  1. Simple protocols and formats
  2. Open source infrastructure
  3. Agile methodologies
All of these are disruptive.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Skiplists in C# and Smalltalk

This on data structures recently from MSDN...

Skip lists are an ingenious data structure that turns a linked list into a data structure that offers the same running time as the more complex self-balancing tree data structures... In the latter part of the article, we'll be building a skip list class in C#, which can be downloaded.

I recently had a use for a skip list in Smalltalk and could not find code I wrote a significant number of years ago. So I got out the trusty skiplist cookbook.

Fortunately I did not get far before discovering that skip lists are available "out of the box" in Squeak.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

New Functional Geometry

Bill Clementson references a functional programming book chapter on functional geometry. (Part of a really interesting book from the early 1980's still worth reading.)

As it turns out the functional geometry presentation has been updated.

The Future of SOAP

James Governor writes...

One big question is why haven't IBM and Microsoft responded? The obvious answer is vested interest. When you have "bet the company" on a technology stack its kind of a drag to have to respond to something else. Its interesting that in a week when the bug guys, including Gartner, have trumpeted the arrival of UDDI 3.0, the world is quietly getting on with more interesting projects.

Smalltalk Evolution

The question is raised, how does Smalltalk evolve?

My answer is "very little". Smalltalk is not perfect, but is high up on the list of near-perfect languages. Any radical changes are better off being put into a new language. Otherwise the change can be put into one of the open source Smalltalk implementations and adopted ad hoc. That's your choice and right. If the change succeeds wildly the community will adopt it for you.

Meanwhile there is controversy over the leadership of Squeak. I don't know the whole story here but this is open source. They seem to be mostly supported and they've stepped up to the task, so good on them. It's not like they should be taking the language in radical directions.

Fork the language under a new name for radical changes. Let Smalltalk be Smalltalk at this point. I think the limitations of other languages lead their communities into a mindset of constantly adding features as if it were a Microsoft Office product.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Less is More

Blaine Buxton makes an often discounted observation...

Removing code means you are simplifying the code and the result is a net gain. So, next time, you're refactoring and deleting code. Don't think of it as deleting, but as gaining code via simplicity.
Blaise Pascal is quoted as saying...
I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Shell Scripting

Danny Ayers is looking for a shell script to keep another process alive. I'm sure I won't do better... I do as little shell scripting as possible. Shell programming never seemed aimed at humans.

Everything I've wanted to do manually in a shell script I have done more easily in Emacs or some other interactive programming environment involving Lisp or Smalltalk. For automated tasks its as easy to schedule a Lisp script as easily as bash. The trick in the past was using a small Lisp like XLisp or one that generates small apps like Gambit Scheme. That's still the trick but there are more choices.

Many Lisp implementations these days understand the #! notation to run as a script. Another option is to use scsh, the Scheme Shell.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Tim Brookins writes...

In case you've been living under a rock, Longhorn is platform for the next decade...

Software developers live to ship code. So delaying the first release of MBF is painful. However, as a Software Architect, I am absolutely convinced that this was the right choice. Shipping part of MBF in Whidbey and part in Longhorn would have created a system which spans two technology eras.

Interesting. There are several potential messages in this statement but I am not sure how a customer deciphers which should be heeded.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Objects and Processes

Ian Bicking on objects and processes (when processes are done right)...

That's when I thought about Erlang. Instead of objects, Erland has processes, and you send messages between processes. It seems obvious, but when I'd looked at Erlang before the parallel hadn't occurred to me. In that light Erlang processes make much more sense to me.
Something about Erlang design... if you need state, like an "object" would, then put it in its own process. Asynchronous messages to update the state and return state information. Like many small "databases" on the order of a table or so running in their own process.

Study the Work of Others

From Harold Carr's talk at the University of Utah...

  • No literature search in industry.
  • No encouragement for deep knowledge (want "code monkeys")
  • To climb ladder encouraged to manage or "architect" versus doing "the" work

  • Great painters and writers don't delegate
  • They continue to do the work themselves
  • And they continue to study the works of others

Not long after writing this, I come across an item from James Robertson with more ever-present evidence of this sad observation.

Adventure Ahead

Robert X. Cringely writes...

Right now, there is in the U.S. venture capital community about $25 billion that remains univested from funds that will end their lifespans in the next 12-18 months. If the VCs return those funds to investors they'll also have to return $3 billion in already-spent management fees. Alternatively, they can invest the money -- even if they invest it in bad deals -- and NOT have to cough-up that $3 billion.

...so get ready for the most furious venture investing cycle in history.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Inexplicable: Truth Held Hostage

Where's the outrage over the recent 9/11 disclosure?

In April last year, President Bush said, "Had I any inkling whatsoever that the people were going to fly airplanes into buildings, we would have moved heaven and earth to save the country. ..." The 9/11 commission report apparently found that there were indeed such inklings, which should have "raised alarms about the growing terrorist threat to civil aviation throughout the 1990s and into the new century."

We're left with a pretty good inkling as to why the president moved heaven and earth to keep it quiet before the election.

And reading about Mark Dayton...
Also adding to his vulnerability, Dayton recently delivered a stinging denunciation against the confirmation of now-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
I should think Rice would be the vulnerable one. Some National Security Advisor!

Speaking in Objects vs. "Code Complete"

I was listening to a presenter in a recorded session today refer to their project being "code complete". I did not expect any to refer to that term these days.

Coding never made sense to me as a milestone. I was on one of the first death march C++ projects ever, beginning in 1989. The previous couple of years were spent primarily developing in Lisp. Even with CFront, no debuggers, mangled names... or maybe especially because of these things, my preferred development style was to be unambitious about the results, and to work in small steps.

As a whole hubris had overcome the team. C++ would enable us to rule the world, the sooner the better. The intuition was to spend more time thinking and then coding. Compiling, etc. took too long, so should be avoided.

The problem is that "thinking in objects" is not nearly as productive as "speaking in objects". When you speak in objects, you have a dialog. You speak your intent into the editor and the objects you create respond right back, the sooner the better.

Today Phil Windley writes about a couple of projects still on that old beaten path. So that's three projects in one day I've come across.

I think Ward Cunningham said...

It's all talk until the tests run.

Ruby's Postulate

From a talk by Sam Ruby...

The accuracy of metadata is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the data and the metadata.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

What She Said


I have more to say, about how democrats are a pathetic excuse for a progressive party.
Meanwhile, we should get on to the serious business at hand... starting with this guy...

Language Evolution

Philip Wadler's humorous take on language evolution. (pdf) Via Finding Lisp.

Not Getting It Any Way

Via Cheese Bikini, too bad Nintendo apparently doesn't get it. The DS is a nice device.

This is the sort of rich, simple innovation that I hoped would emerge with the wi-fi enabled Nintendo DS portable video game system. But Nintendo seems to have locked down DS development, limiting it to internal and professional developers. Such professionals have years of experience and training in building traditional games. This background cripples their ability to innovate, to see beyond the constraints of traditional game platforms.

Nintendo, learn from eBay and Google and Amazon: let customers and outsiders build value for you. Open your platform and let it thrive.

Software Factories

Clicking through from James Robertson's item about Smalltalk and C#(?), another item refers to Software Factories.

I will wager any system using a factory metaphor for software development will either not get off the ground or hover low to the ground for some time until they shift the metaphor to something lighter weight. Like balloons.

You're Getting It Our Way

I think Bill Venner in his item on static and dynamic is trying too hard to separate language and culture.

Python supports this multi-valued return technique better in its syntax than Java, but I realized that the availability of syntax isn't the main reason I do it in Python. The main reason is that's the way it's usually done in Python. By contrast, that's not the way it's usually done in Java. The cultures are different. The culture that guided the design of a language influences my attitudes and mindset when I use the language. The Java culture encourages me to build solid bricks...
I don't think you can untangle the culture and the language, even the syntax. Python the language was influenced by Lisp and Smalltalk. Those languages were developed by, and developed the dynamic culture that surrounds them.

Lisp was created in the late 1950s by people who needed agility more than they needed speed. (Yes, 1950s.) Smalltalk was influenced by Lisp, and Python by each in turn. They began is labs that gave us the earliest work in AI, collaboration, and usability. They were not computing pi or finding the next largest prime number.

This realization got me wondering, to what extent is this perceived increase in productivity with languages such as Python, Ruby, and Smalltalk due to the culture of those communities, and the mindset that the culture engenders in programmers, versus the actual languages themselves? What is the real source of the differences in the static versus dynamic language debate?
A community cannot sustain a specific culture unless the framework supports that culture. Programming languages are the framework that sustains the culture of the community that uses the language. They go hand in hand and nother will change that.

Today, and since the late 1980s, the programming community in general has needed agility for the most part more than we have needed speed. Our languages coming out of the "need for speed" community (C and Pascal, then C++, and now Java, C#) and the cultures that accompany them, have slowly been migrating to be more a culture of agility and less a culture of speed.

Those need for speed languages have features and those cultures have adopted practices that are more like the agile languages developed and used in the AI and collaboration labs in the 1970s. Finally we are seeing the last stages of the transition. Truly dynamic languages are gaining mindshare over the partially dynamic.

Meanwhile good implementations of dynamic languages and the advances of hardware have all but eliminated the speed side of the equation. There are fewer uses than ever for the languages coming out of the speed culture.

Update: A comment on Bill's blog...

Whenever you start to think of some Java problem as a general problem with static type checking, maybe rewrite it in Nice http://nice.sourceforge.net/
let boolean redirected, reply;
let long forumID;
let String subject, body;

(redirected, forumID, reply, subject, body) = ExamplePage.process(request, response, session);
I agree as far as that goes. The newer type systems are "dynamic" even though they represent a somewhat different development model than more traditional dynamic languages. But I don't know Nice and cannot say that it is dynamic or merely "partially dynamic", esp. if it is just a precompiler for Java. (Someone will correct me so I won't even google it.)

Being dynamic or agile is more than just having an explicit type system, or having a bad type system vs. a good one. For example, are relatively heavy mechanisms like "class loaders" needed?

Imagine That

From MSDN .Net Architecture Center...

The file has been the central container of work in software development for over thirty years. All of a project's structure and logic is ultimately reduced down to files and directories. The tools that surround software development are built around this concept, too. This article explores the concept of file structure, and contrasts it with an emerging view of Model Driven Architecture...

It seems clear that the file is a relic that has outlived its usefulness for software development...

The modern development environment has not yet fully caught up to the object-oriented shift. All of the tools still rely on a file to be the container of source code. While some contain modeling capabilities as well, the models exist as different entities than the file and its code.

Maybe some tools. Not all tools.

The article seems to conflate two issues that could benefit from being addressed independently:

  • Files
  • Models
By the end of the article I did not really learn anything new about the next generation of tools in Microsoft's Dynamic Systems Initiative, which seemed to be the intent.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

TDD: Test-Driven Demo?

Perhaps preparation for a demo should be treated as preparing any kind of release for an Extreme Programming project...

  • Prioritize the stories.
  • Write the story tests.
  • Break stories into tasks.
  • Program test-first, writing the task tests and completing the tasks.
  • Run the story tests as the tasks are completed.
  • Any stories not completed by demo day will not be in the demo.
  • The stories are prioritized up front but can change as marketing needs change before the demo day.
If the person doing the demo sticks to the script there should be a good chance the demo won't crash.

When to Generate

Xach Beane is dissing maps.google.com...

Google Maps is essentially a large JavaScript application. Great hackers have an almost instinctual aversion to JavaScript. Google is betting its future on something a tasteful programmer's radar rejects.
I don't think JavaScript is that bad, but I've never been accused of being a great hacker. JavaScript has a few things going for it...
  • It is fairly simple and regular. Not a lot of obscure corners.
  • It is ubiquitous and familiar.
  • Most of the interesting uses for it in the browser can be written once or generated on the server!

Monday, February 07, 2005

Cygwin Heaven

I hadn't used Cygwin in some time. So nice. I found a tip for setting the TERM to rxvt which makes applications like emacs display well.

Gambit-C 4 beta 12 builds fine. The 'make check' test fails, maybe due to some CR-LF text/binary mode setting I need to consider. When the tests are diff'd ignoring whitespace they work fine. The tests for the C interface and dynamic loading need to be looked at. But the resulting executables seem fine so far.

Now I need to try the emacs mode for gambit.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Theory: More than the Sum of Some Parts

More evidence a theory is more than the sum of some parts.

In Need of a Theory?

The notion of establishing a "metaphor" in Extreme Programming is similar to programming as "building a theory" as proposed by Peter Naur.

Reading how "Microsoft officials have characterized SharePoint as 'the killer app for XML'", I am looking for a theory to emerge in the way that perhaps continuations are beginning to form a theory around web server programs and s-expressions form a theory around manipulating XML.

SharePoint is a larger concept than continuations or s-expressions. So I would expect a larger theory, but a theory nonetheless, to associate SharePoint and XML conceptually. I did not see one emerge in this coverage of Bill Gates' keynote at a Microsoft Office conference.

Gates told keynote attendees to expect Microsoft to more tightly integrate SharePoint with other Microsoft technologies and point products, going forward. He said to expect SharePoint and Active Server Pages (ASP) to "become closer," and SharePoint and SQL Server to become more entwined, as well.

Gates discussed Microsoft's quest for unified storage of all types of data, ranging from files to e-mail and emphasized that SQL Server would be the ultimate repository for storing this type of data.

As "SharePoint evolves up on the server and WinFS evolves down to the client," Microsoft will be able to realize its unified storage goal, Gates told attendees.

Gates is attempting to associate a number of disjoint concepts in this quote. This approach is something I would expect of a salesman, rather than a Chief Software Architect. An architect should be a "theory builder". I would have trouble buying into this stated direction without a better theory, or even any theory at all.

Of course this opinion could be dismissed as just more Microsoft bashing from the likes of me. But think about it, and tell me the theory that is holding all this together. Maybe I am just missing the point. Microsoft provides the dominant architectures in my computing world. I have a vested interest in them making my life easier, and so I have the desire to point out where I think they're missing the mark.

From this, I think they're missing a theory that could propel their success for another decade. As it is, I suspect they're cobbling pieces together and I am asked to take their Word for it that there is a "there" there where there should be a theory.

Template-Based Programming

The last C++ program I wrote was long before templates became part of the language. Ted Neward writes...

There's a tremendous amount of power in template-based languages.
I have no idea what this implies for C++. I can agree that it's true for Lisp though.

Programming macros in Lisp perhaps has at least something in common with programming templates in C++. Where you go from there is up to you. I hope never to write another line of C++ even with templates.

Defending Applications

Phil Windley also writes about defending an application from OS attacks by running on multiple operating systems. An interesting idea that could be taking one or two steps further...

Better XML Scripting

Phil Windley writes...

I've written programs that use XML in Java, Perl, Python, XSLT, and now Scheme. Scheme has been the easiest. I think the reason is that with s-expressions, XML is essentially a native data type in Scheme. That's an incredibly powerful idea.

The Soul of a *New* Machine?

Ted Leung writes about a reinventing of capitalism to enhance its positive social effects.

I happen to be reading an arguably related book of essays, and poetry of all things. Poetry does not have the same cultural reception here in the US as it does in other parts of the world. This book, ("The Heart Aroused", by David Whyte, who I knew briefly 18 years ago when I lived on Whidbey Island just north of Ted's Bainbridge Island) addresses the problems of capitalism as they occur in our everyday work life.

Here is part of David Whyte's essay on Beowulf...

Business and politics profess to be hardheaded, but how many businesses, and even countries, have been ruined through decisions that were ostensibly hardheaded but which had more to do with the relutance of those in charge to face fears or vulnerabilities?

This reluctance to enter the deeper waters of the psyche is not confined to modern participants of corporate life. Fifteen hundred years ago in the Old English poem Beowulf, an anonymous bardic author confronted his listeners with a frightening image of this inner lake. His listeners were almost certainly rough warriors used to getting their hands dirty. He found them equally shy of that dark water.

Beowulf is a masculine story of descent into the waters of the unconscious, but where the restoration of a profound inner feminine power is essential to his survival. In that context it is a compelling story for both women and men working in a masculine workplace sorely in need of a commensurate balancing power. In a corporate culture still dominated by the image of the warrior archetype, Beowulf's plunge into the waters of the unconscious seems to be equally instructive for both sexes.

The early English teller of Beowulf asked his listeners to drop beneath the surface of their daily existence, where the rational mind continually prays for dry feet. Since that time the physical details of life may have changed. The elemental motifs have not.


John Robb writes...

My future opportunity, and yours, is being diminished by a state that doesn't value decentralized energy and prefers to spend its coin on military power.
The sad irony is these concerns and strategies were being addressed in the 1970's at least. I remember reading a pamphlet in the early 1980's called "The Indefensible Society" about this idea. As it turns out the web has an excerpt from that pamphlet.
Because moving in the direction of decentralization and the development of planetary villages is different from the direction our society has been heading during the past century or so, it is likely to be dismissed at first glance as impractical and utopian. Yet in reality it is eminently practical and well within our means as a society. And not only is it appealing and workable at a human level, it also can provide creative and effective solutions to problems that presently seem both unsolvable and out of control, such as the arms race.
Of course the original 20th century arms race is over. (On the other hand the US is spending $1 billion USD per week on Iraq.) The problem now is at least as dangerous as the arms race.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Cooler than That

Web shopping in particular, and web user interfaces in general, just got a lot cooler. Clearly, 2005 is now officially the year of the rich thin client.

This is really inspiring work (try it), and the contact information shows Portland, Oregon. Anyone know who is behind this?

(Via Mark Baker)

Lessons Not Learned (Yet?)

Avi Bryant writes...

In Smalltalk, however, the only thing that's in C is a tiny virtual machine that understands a very simple set of bytecodes - it knows about pushing and popping objects from the stack, accessing indexed slots, blocks, and method dispatch. What it doesn't know anything about is the language syntax, standard library, compiler, debugger, profiler, thread scheduler, exception system, and so on, and so on - all of these things are implemented in Smalltalk.

[Smalltalk] doesn't support continuations and you want to add them? No problem; 10 lines of [Smalltalk] code and you're there.

...clearly you could implement the Ruby language with a Smalltalk-style VM (hopefully one with a Smalltalk-style JIT as well, which would bring a 20x or so speed increase to the current Ruby interpreter). But really what I'm talking about is a philosophical difference, not a technical one: to Smalltalkers, it's essential that as much of a system as possible be implemented in Smalltalk, whereas this simply isn't a priority for the scripting language community, and it's the priorities rather than the individual implementations that draw me to Smalltalk.



Via Blaine Buxton

Modern Software Architecture

Gordon Weakliem writes...

Mozilla is still a C++ app though, and seems to be very stable. Architecturally, it seems to be built around JavaScript and XUL though. It's almost like a VM architecture in that respect. I've been messing with Mozilla Extensions lately, and though it's not the greatest development environment ever, it's very easy to write code for once you get your bearings. The XUL architecture seems to extend very far down into the browser, with most of the browser implemented in XUL and script. Again, it seems like an underlying VM is a prerequisite for a modern software architecture.
Which is ironic given not more than ten years ago the programmers using this architecture were fighting heated arguments about the very idea.

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About Me

Portland, Oregon, United States
I'm usually writing from my favorite location on the planet, the pacific northwest of the u.s. I write for myself only and unless otherwise specified my posts here should not be taken as representing an official position of my employer. Contact me at my gee mail account, username patrickdlogan.