functional programming

New Functional Web Podcast

May 20th, 2009  |  Published in column, functional programming, podcast, REST, web  |  Bookmark on Pinboard.in

IEEE Computing Now is now featuring a new podcast of my first Functional Web column from the March/April issue of Internet Computing. That was the first issue of this new column, so it’s an introduction to the main topic of the column and what future editions will cover. It describes why I think functional programming languages are making a comeback, briefly compares them to current popular languages, explains why I believe they work well for web development, and describes some of the technologies and ideas future columns will explore.

New “Functional Web” column: Scala and Lift

May 5th, 2009  |  Published in column, functional programming, web  |  Bookmark on Pinboard.in

The May/June issue of my Internet Computing column, “The Functional Web,” is now available. This one’s called “Scala and Lift — Functional Recipes for the Web” (PDF) and I had the great fortune of writing it together with Debasish Ghosh.

I’ve admired Debasish’s blog for awhile now, as he’s always exploring interesting angles and features of different functional programming languages and techniques. I emailed Debasish completely out of the blue and asked if he’d be interested in writing something together, and he jumped right in.

If you ever get a chance to work with Debasish, I highly encourage it. He made the whole task quite easy because he cranked out the first draft so quickly, and as we iteratively edited the column, he turned each draft around literally overnight. He and I live on opposite sides of the world, which worked out well because it allowed one of us to write and edit while the other slept. Meeting deadlines is key to delivering this column on time for each issue of IC, and so I really appreciated Debasish’s attention to our schedule. The fact that he writes well, as you can see in his blog, didn’t hurt at all either. :-)

Given their collective richness, it’s hard to cover both Scala and Lift in a single column, but I think we managed to describe the important issues and features. As always, if you have any feedback on this column, post it here in a comment or email me.

Welcome to “The Functional Web”

March 19th, 2009  |  Published in column, functional programming, web  |  Bookmark on Pinboard.in

A couple months ago I wrote that my Internet Computing column, “Toward Integration,” was going to end. Indeed it did, but I’m very pleased to report that I’ve replaced it with a whole new column entitled “The Functional Web.”

The inaugural column is imaginatively titled “Welcome to ‘The Functional Web’” and it provides the background for what I plan to cover in the column going forward. All signs indicate that functional languages are garnering significant interest these days. At QCon last week, for example, it seemed like everyone was talking about them, and Real World Haskell didn’t just win a Jolt Award for nothing. Most of my work these days involves web development with Erlang, and given my general interest in functional programming, the combination of these two areas seemed like the perfect direction for a new column.

If you’re a functional programmer working in the web space and have a knack for writing, drop me an email. If you’ve got a good proposal, I’d be happy to either co-author something with you or have you serve as a guest columnist for an issue.

Finally, I’d like to thank the readers of “Toward Integration” very much for sticking with me for the past seven years. That’s a long time, but rest assured your many positive comments and your feedback kept me going — I deeply appreciate it. I really hope you’ll join me for “The Functional Web” and that you’ll keep that excellent feedback coming — it’s going to be interesting and I guarantee we’re all going to learn a few things along the way.

QCon London: The Best One Yet

March 18th, 2009  |  Published in concurrency, conferences, erlang, functional, functional programming, RPC, standards  |  Bookmark on Pinboard.in

QCon is always very, very good, but QCon London 2009 last week was the best one yet. Highlights:

  • Ola Bini‘s “Emerging Languages in the Enterprise” track on Wednesday had some great talks, especially Rich Hickey’s Clojure talk. Ola’s deep knowledge and love of programming languages made him the perfect host for this track, and he put together a brilliant lineup.
  • Speaking of Rich, I consider myself very lucky to have gotten to meet and spend a fair amount of time with him. He’s very bright, talented, knowledgeable, and experienced, and both of his talks were outstanding.
  • I introduced Rich to Joe Armstrong at the conference party Wednesday evening and they spent the next few hours talking at length about functional programming, their respective languages, VM implementation issues, concurrency issues, etc. Ola jumped in as well. They also continued the conversation the next day. I just sat back, listened, and learned.
  • Getting to spend time again with Joe was excellent. He always has incredibly useful analyses and opinions to express, and in general is fun to be around and easy to learn from.
  • I also finally got to meet Ulf Wiger, Erlang developer extraordinaire, in person. He’s a laid back guy, quite well-informed and a deep thinker who can cover a wide variety of topics in amazingly useful detail. His talk on multicore programming in Erlang covered cutting edge Erlang development and presented some very difficult concurrency issues.
  • Ulf’s talk, as well as Rich’s second talk, which was on persistent data structures and managed references, were part of Francesco Cesarini‘s “Functional and Concurrent Programming Languages Applied” track on Thursday. I met Francesco, who like Ulf is one of the world’s top Erlang developers, at QCon London last year. He assembled a great track for this conference, with Rich’s and Ulf’s back-to-back talks being way more than enough to sober up any developer who thinks that multicore is not an issue and that today’s methods for dealing with concurrency will continue to work just fine. Best of luck with that!
  • Sir Tony Hoare‘s talk about the null reference being his “billion dollar mistake” was great because of all the detail he recounted from some of the early days of computing. He was both informative and entertaining. I was also impressed with Ulf during this talk, whom Professor Sir Hoare invited to come up to the front and present what turned out to be a pretty convincing argument in favor of the null reference.
  • Paul Downey‘s talk on the downsides of standardization was by far the most humorous talk I heard, perfect to close out the track, but it also presented a number of hard-won useful lessons about the perils of standardization efforts.

As with all QCon conferences, there were a bunch of interesting tracks running in parallel, and unfortunately I still haven’t figured out how to be in multiple places at once. I had to miss Michael Nygard‘s talk, for example, because my own talk got moved to the same time slot as his.

My talk (PDF) covered the history of RPC, why it got to be the way it was, and why the forces that created it really aren’t all that viable anymore.

The final conference panel was by far the most inventive panel I’ve ever been on. Modeled after the British game show “It’s a Bullseye!” and hosted by none other than Jim Webber, it had contestants from the audience throwing darts to become eligible for a prize. Once a contestant became eligible, Jim would ask the panel — Michael Nygard, Ian Robinson, Martin Fowler, and me — to answer a question submitted by conference attendees either earlier during the conference or live via Twitter. Based on our answers, audience members held up either a green card if they liked the answers or a red one if they didn’t, and if the majority was green, the contestant would win a book. The questions were hard! We had only two minutes each to answer, which for some questions seemed like an eternity but for most was way too short. Anyway, it was great fun, and given how many there were in the audience after three grueling conference days and how much they seemed to be enjoying themselves, it worked very, very well.

If you have any interest at all in leading edge software and computing topics being presented by the world’s most knowledgeable speakers in a fun atmosphere, go to QCon. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.