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Monday, June 30, 2008

Too Complex?

There's a lot of features of Ruby that I like, but there are some that just drive me nuts like blocks not taking blocks and the ampersand operator. Raganwald did a great job of explaining blocks, procs, and the ampersand in this blog post: Explanation of Ruby's Unary operator. I came away with the feeling, "Wow! It took that much explanation just to tell how to send blocks around?" If blocks were first-class citizens, Ruby would be more elegant. Raganwald would not be writing huge blog posts on block vs. proc because it would be unneeded.

Ruby has all it needs right now. Ruby 2.0 should be a pruning of features and removing special cases. Get to the things that help you concentrate on your design and not on the language. Ampersand is nothing more than noise in your code and brain. Remember elegant is simple.

Labels: ,

  • I like the phrasing in the Scheme Standard:

    Programming languages should be designed not by piling feature on top of feature, but by removing the weaknesses and restrictions that make additional features appear necessary.

    Sadly, R6RS seems to have lost sight of this to a degree.

    By Blogger Jeremy, at 10:04 PM   

  • In all fairness, although there’s a lot of explanation for how to do unusual things, the simple things really are simple to accomplish, like using blocks with methods.

    So although I like the Scheme quote, someone defending Ruby might quote Alan Kay:

    Simple things should be simple, complex things should be possible.


    By Blogger Reginald Braithwaite, at 8:16 PM   

  • I agree that most things in Ruby are simple. It's just frustrating for me when I'm trying to solve a problem and my head is completely into it and then WHAM! I'm caught off guard with a compiler issue or prevented by something else. It's the cognitive friction that I would like to remove from Ruby. I think the core ingredients are there, but I think Ruby should go through a feature removal. The first things for me to go would the ampersand followed closely by all of the built-in global variables.

    I would like to see Ruby go the path less traveled and not the one Java took.

    By Blogger Blaine, at 8:51 PM   

  • By Blogger Reginald Braithwaite, at 8:55 PM   

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Weakest Link

"The deliberate use of a weak element that will fail in order to protect other elements in the system from damage." - Universal Principles of Design

Unit tests could be seen as a form of weakest link in that we want the system to fail in our tests instead of in our production environment. Pre-condition and post-condition assertions (remember Bertrand Meyer don't you?) are the perfect example of weakest links in software design. The assertion fails, then the program stops or does something intelligent about the detection: logging the anomaly or dropping an incorrect record. We have more options available to us when our weak link fails in software than other domains. I would even put exception handling under the weak link design umbrella.

So, why don't we use it more? It's rare I see pre-condition assertions at all. I know the performance overlords declared them to be bad. But, when you have Rails running high traffic websites, does a few extra assertions really matter? I think not. I would rather have my program run slower with safety belts than doing something catastrophic with my data. Brian Foote once gave a talk where he equated pre and post conditions to the goalie in a game of hockey. And asked the question, "Would you want to play with or without the goalie?" It's a statement that's lived with me since.

With that being said, are they places in your current design that could use a few more fuses?



Sunday, June 22, 2008

My Hopes For Ruby 2.0

I must admit I haven't been following Ruby 2.0 too closely lately. But, I since I've been using 1.8 quite a bit lately. I thought I would list the things that are in 1.8, but I hope are gone in 2.0. This is a prayer of good vibes.

  1. Make blocks first class citizens. So, no more & in your methods. Everything should be an object. Blocks are no exception in fact, they have more right than anyone. This will make blocks syntactically cheaper too. No more "lambda". Happiness is cheap syntactic blocks.

  2. Reflection on everything. Yes, this means the stack. It also means keep the source in memory as well as part of classes and blocks. This might could used for a lot of cool things (like interesting ways to traverse code). Don't worry. It doesn't add much memory.

  3. Make blocks accept the same kind of parameters as methods. Right now, you can not have methods take an implicit block (you know with the & in front). Wait a minute. If number one is satisfied, this will be too. Oh goody. Cheap blocks take away complexity. Isn't this reason enough to have them?

OK, that's it for now. The above things would make life so much easier. I could lobby for taking away case statements and most keywords, but I think the above would be great to take the language forward without hurting too much.



Saturday, June 14, 2008

Five Years

I can't believe it. I missed my fifth anniversary for blogging! I started out in 2003 to be a public diary for my technical side. I've enjoyed doing it and plan to do so for many years to come. It's just too much fun to read through all of the posts and remember where I was at during that point of time.



Monday, June 09, 2008


I've joined the modern age. I'm now on twitter. I know, I'm behind the curve. See you there!



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