There is a lot of buzz these days about “Rich Internet Applications”. People are finally realizing that HTML is incapable of supporting a sophisticated user interface. AJAX is a reeking pile of hacks and cluges that offers only a glimpse of what could be possible with a halfway-intelligent browser platform. Many people are betting this platform will be Flash. Specifically Flash 9, Flex 2, and ActionScript 3. Maybe — but there is one dirty little secret no one is talking about: Flash is resolution-dependent. Continue reading “Brother, can you spare a pixel?”
I had a lousy cold all last week, so I spent it toying with a Mac. It seems that all the cool hacker dudes are on Macs these days and I wanted to see what it’s all about. I ended up installing Vista on the MacBook Pro, but Apple’s beta drivers are still too buggy, so I returned it. I have ordered a new Thinkpad with Vista. Continue reading “Switched to Mac — and back”
Long time no see. I have posted my latest OOPSLA submission.
At long last I feel like I am making progress again. I have been stuck on this problem for the last 9 months. The worst part is that people kept asking me “What are you working on?”, and I would say, “Well, I am trying to figure out how to do conditionals, and I am really stuck”. This produced funny looks. I mean, what kind of moron can’t figure out how to do conditionals? What could be hard about that? Well, I think I have finally figured out how to do conditionals.
The next paper will probably be about how to do loops. But first I need to do some honest coding…
Greetings from Portland, Oregon. Here are my impressions of OOPSLA 2006. Continue reading “OOPSLA 2006”
My OOPSLA submission (to the Research Paper track) was rejected. Not a big surprise. The paper was ill-conceived, more of a brain-dump of my latest research than a focused story. Still, I thought it contained some real contributions, like a new approach to the problems of mutable state and concurrency. Continue reading “Abort, Retry, Fail?”
My recent proposal to work on modeling capabilities fell flat, but elicited some good discussion of future directions for Subtext. Peter Marks wrote:
… I would rather see a complete re-examination of what lies underneath the World Wide Web. And then take the Subtext approach of banishing syntax, treating program as data, history, etc. … This would mean initially abandoning the UI demo and focusing more on the development of a system/infrastructure that works with and within the Internet.
Macneil Shonle wrote:
I wonder what “Subtext on Rails” would look like?
The comments on Plan B have changed my mind (a rare occurrence in the blogosphere). Continue reading “Plan A”
Subtext faces enormous obstacles to becoming an accepted programming language. It is still just a sketch, missing crucial pieces. But even as I slowly fill it out, I am encountering unyielding resistance. There is a great deal of skepticism about the whole idea of non-textual programming, due to the past failures of Visual Programming Languages. Overcoming that bad reputation will require proof that the UI and VM can scale to industrial-strength, and that there are unequivocal productivity benefits. I can’t do that alone, and it seems that I won’t get much help (particularly from the academic community) until I can first overcome the skepticism. Chicken and egg. Modern programming languages have dug a deep rut over the last 50 years, and dislodging them will not be easy. It will require finesse. Continue reading “Plan B”
OOPSLA was great. I got a lot of positive comments and encouragement. It was quite heady to have established researchers, whose work I respect, introduce themselves and tell me that they liked my work. Perhaps a bit too heady: it wasnâ€™t until the last day of the conference that I realized I should be using the opportunity to seek criticism and advice from the masters. Continue reading “OOPSLA report”
One of the anonymous reviewers of my OOPSLA paper made the point, paraphrasing, that the main problem in software development is not the difficulty of programming, but the difficulty of getting a development project to function effectively. This is usually seen as the subject of methodology, with â€œextremeâ€ and â€œagileâ€ methods being the latest trends. My initial reaction to this criticism was to point to the example of spreadsheets, which make a certain class of problems simple enough to be solved by an end-user or power-user themselves, without enduring the trials and tribulations of a professionally staffed development project. Even on such multi-person projects, reducing the programming effort ought to reduce the size of the team and the number of interactions subject to error. However the fundamental point of the criticism remains true: the biggest problem in software development is teamwork. It has occurred to me that the design philosophy of Subtext can contribute to solving this problem. Continue reading “The Currency of Development”
Building a toy for my children suggested an analogy with programming. Many toys come knocked down, requiring assembly, with instructions of the form “insert peg A into hole A, slide tab B into slot B, …”. This is just like the way we use names in programming languages, indicating parts that need to be attached by labelling them with the same name. The function call A is to be attached to the function definition A. Programming with names is like creating a program as a big pile of pieces with labels attached, and leaving it to the compiler/interpreter to assemble the pieces into something that works. Textual programs are knocked down.
The problem is that this approach boggles the mind when used with thousands or even millions of pieces. Modern IDE’s like Eclipse strive valiantly to help us imagine how things will plug together, but this is an impossible task. Even my kids know that all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can’t put Humpty together again.
The goal of Subtext is to fabricate programs as working wholes. No assembly required.
Here is a review of some research on managing the explosion of information in an IDE. Note that all of these are based on Eclipse, which appears to have become the dominant platform for IDE research.
Mylar is an experimental Eclipse plugin that tracks what program elements you are interested in, by watching your editing/browsing behavior. It alters the standard views such as the Package Explorer, Outline, and Type Hierarchy to focus in on what you have expressed interest in. Uninteresting things are filtered out, and the interest-level of the remaining things is indicated by different shades of highlighting. You can manually establish “landmarks” on program elements, which drive certain views to automatically display related elements, such as a type hierarchy filtered down to show only the inheritance structure of the landmarks.
Relo takes a different approach: instead of filtering the system down, it lets you build up a diagrammatic view of just the parts you are interested in as your explore.
JQuery lets you build a custom broswer by writting queries over your program. The results are shown in tree form, and you can expand any leaf with another sub-query, either custom or standard.
Dynamic Aspects has released some white papers and demos of their planned development tools. Their initial product is a Java IDE where the language becomes the tool. They seem to share many of my goals, and I am looking forward to seeing what they come up with. Their headline feature is micro-refactoring. Continue reading “Dynamic Aspects”
Lambda the Ultimate posted an item on Subtext. I waded into the ensuing discussion to try to clarify things.
I didn’t notice it for a few days though, and the attention span of blog discussions seems to be only a day or two. What I need is something like the old clipping services for newspapers, that would email me whenever anyone blogs me. I thought that was what pingbacks were for, but I have never received one (nor a trackback).
Oliver Steele observes a significant division among programmers: the Language Mavens vs. the Tool Mavens. I want to reflect upon this distinction, and use it to make a point about the nature of programming. You see, for a long time I was a Language Maven, but now I am a Tool Maven. Continue reading “Crossing the IDE Divide”
Sir – your Nov 25 special report â€œManaging Complexityâ€ asked whether the manifest failures of software can be fixed by giving developers better tools. Some of the tools you discuss, so-called Lifecycle Management, will actually make things worse. Lifecycle Management is an ill-concealed attempt to impose a totalitarian regime upon software development. As such, it will inevitably fail, but only after having first caused much damage. Experience has shown time and again that successful software development results from the freedom to innovate, not the discipline of control. Continue reading “Letter to the editor of The Economist”
I discovered the creative exhilaration of programming at a formative age. Yet all along I have also felt stifled by primitive, ill-suited languages and tools. We are still in the Stone Age of programming. My quest is to better understand the creative act of programming, and to help liberate it. Reflection upon my own practice of programming has led me to three general observations: Continue reading “The future of programming”