I think my understanding of programming languages — ex: what role do they serve in tech engineering work, what my favorite language is — is something that continues to evolve, and has done so once more recently. Here is where I started from and where I stand:
Random Bits of Lisp/Clojure Hype
A friend sent me a link to Uncle Bob’s blog post on Clojure (2019), where he explains his road from hating Lisp to appreciating it to the point where its simplicity and power makes it his favorite language. He declared it a language for the ages, just as I did. Given that Uncle Bob is a co-founder of the influential Agile Manifesto and has used several different types of languages, his declaration has more reach, and he explained it more concisely than I could, anyways. And what about Paul Graham, whose ideas have a large audience and hasn’t stopped writing about Lisp’s secret superpowers? He’s been apparently creating a new language Bel, a version of Lisp that is defined in itself, and the premise’s challenge is like a math/logic puzzle that resonates with the history of Lisp as an unintended result of implementing math theorems in a computer. But he seemed to have liked Uncle Bob’s post, and in recent years, when asked, he also recommends Clojure as the flavor of Lisp to use for modern times (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
Learning Rust for Beginners
Rust is a new-ish language that is very compelling in certain contexts, but learning it has a really deceptive learning curve, so I wanted to provide the links that I have found most effective for slow learning beginners like myself, especially because the “official” Rust book(s) are to me paradoxically hard to learn from despite being thorough.
I presented at the Unicode Conference 2 weeks ago, on Oct. 16, on important yet overlooked issues that concern languages that use abugida scripts and have agglutinative morphology, using Thamil language as a case study. Although the talk was mainly about the issues around dictionary data sets, other issues included input methods, and the need for phoneme level segmentation for these use cases. See below for more details:
The talk covered the following topics:
OmnICU is a new project to create Internationalization (i18n) functionality in multiple target languages and multiple resource-constrained runtimes. Two different approaches to solve that problem are wrapping a single common binary in multiple target language wrappers, and to write a source-to-source transpiler in a one-to-many fashion. Here are reasons why choosing Clojure (Lisp) would be a good decision for writing a transpiler.
I’ve finished my 3.5 year stint writing Scala, and I haven’t stopped missing writing Clojure. The knowledge of Clojure continues to heighten and inform my programmer sensibilities. One thing that I appreciated about Scala is that it was as good of a medium as you might practically find to allow writing Clojure without writing Clojure. I liked to think of Scala as the canvas on which I painted my Clojure ideas. Because Scala makes itself amenable to many styles of programming at once (at least, FP and OOP), it was possible to write code by imagining what the Clojure code would look like, and then writing that in Scala syntax. Interestingly, the more I did this, and the more faithfully I did so, the more people implicitly (no pun intended!) acknowledged the code as “good Scala code”. Because, you know, most Scala programmers agree that good Scala code puts “val”s at the top of a function body, uses immutable collections exclusively, prefers functions over (object) methods, and makes functions small, stateless, and composable. More on that later. Here, I want to simply release some of the code that I wrote in Scala to fill in a few perceived gaps in Scala’s Seq abstraction, where the perception is based on what I was accustomed to using in Clojure.
I recently was tasked with performing an ETL task that should be done as efficiently and quickly as possible. The work led me to learn more about parallel and distributed processing in Clojure. In addition to having a greater appreciation for what Clojure enables (once again), I also pushed the boundaries of what I thought is possible using the available tools. I ultimately ended up writing a Spark job whose executors are each running N threads (currently, N=3). But the path to that solution taught as much by what didn’t work as much as what did work.
For those of you with experience with Maven, you might be wondering why anyone who is using Leiningen to build a project would then want to run that build tool from Maven, which is itself another build tool. There is a reason why I even ventured down this path. I would like to share what I have found so far, in case it benefits anyone else, but I would also like to get feedback from people who know of a better way of accomplishing the same goals.
I’m excited to be selected as a speaker at the upcoming Clojure/West 2015 conference next month in Portland! I’ll be talking on how Clojure can be used to program in other human languages (other than English). There are interesting opportunities related to diversity and access. I will be drawing on my experiences with programming in/for Thamil in the clj-thamil library. And I’ll see what other interesting, related ideas I can slip in (turtles that draw?)… and put a bird on them.
Or: A clear example of what macros can do
I started working on a library called clj-thamil that I envision as a general-purpose library for Thamil language computing (ex: mobile & web input method), but a slight excursion in that work has led me to some very deep, intriguing ideas — some of which are technical, and some of which are socio-cultural. But they all fit together in my mind — Clojure, macros, opportunity and diversity (in computing), and the non English-speaking world.
I think that the implications are things that we should all think about. But if nothing else, hopefully you can read this account and understand something about macros — the kind of power they uniquely provide and at least good one use case where they are necessary.