On the line: 020809

  • Got a copy of Masterminds of Programming, which has a silly title, but which includes pretty thorough, and very interesting, interviews with a number of designers of well-known programming languages, including: C++, Objective-C, ML, Haskell, Java, C#, BASIC, Awk, Perl, Eiffel and others. I find it fascinating how different these people are and how varied their views about programming and computer science are. Gives me hope, somehow, to see that there is a lot of healthy diversity in the field of language design, and lots of room for different views and approaches. Worth a read.
  • Also picked up Beautiful Architecture, which has essays from developers of various largish computer systems, including Facebook, Project Darkstar, JPC, Jikes JVM, Eiffel, Xen, KDE, and GNU Emacs, among others. Not much to say yet, as I’m just digging in.
  • The DaVinci Machine project continues to plug along, and Attila Szegedi posted to the JVM Languages Group that he’s made a build of the latest DaVinci JVM available for download, if you’re using OS X. This is a nice, helpful, contribution and hopefully will make life easier for people who just want to try it out without fussing with Mercurial changesets and an (occasionally) complex build setup. Attila, by the way, is one of the maintainers of the Rhino JavaScript engine for the JVM, as well as a proponent of an interoperability mechanism among JVM languages (the so-called meta-object protocol, or MOP).
  • For some reason, there’s some work on Groovy working well with Clojure–see this post by Andres Almiray on invoking a Clojure script from Groovy. Very clean, kudos.
  • Charles Nutter got JRuby working on Android again, whereas another guy is working on a dialect of BASIC for Android, called Simple (which is open-source). Interesting to see where this will go–I assume we’ll see more and more languages targeted at Android over time, and wonder how that will affect the experience for app developers.
  • JetBrains has released version 1.0 of the Meta Programming System (MPS), which, for me at least, failed the tutorial test–even building a small language to calculate values was a grind through one after another of abstract, foreign concepts. The bulk of it appears to be open-source. I think the most interesting idea is that we (somehow) get away from restricting our language designs based on the limits of our ability to parse symbols from text files, and use a language modeling tool instead, which builds editors for us.

One of my favorite interviews from Masterminds of Programming was the one with Tom Love, who co-developed Objective-C with Brad Cox. Tom is funny and insightful, though, oddly enough for a book about programming languages, he focuses less during the interview on language design itself and more about the problems of writing and maintaining large code bases, team and project management, and so on. Favorite quote from the interview:

“I’m currently working with a government client that has 11 million lines of code, some of which is 25 years old, for which there are no test cases. There’s no system-level documentation. They even stripped out the comments in the code as an efficiency measure a few years ago, and it’s not under configuration control, and they issue about 50 patches per month for the system and have been doing so since 1996. That’s a problem.” Tom Love, Masterminds of Programming

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