Morning Coffee 141 – Lang.NET ’08 Edition


I was hoping to blog my thoughts on Lang.NET as the event went along. Obviously, that didn’t happen, though I was pretty good about dumping links into my feed. The talks were all recorded, and should be up on the website in a week or two. Rather than provide a detailed summary of everything that happened, here are my highlights:

  • The coolest thing about conferences like this is what John Rose called “N3″ aka “Nerd-to-Nerd Networking”. It was great to meet in person, drink with and geek out with folks who’s blogs I read like Tomas Petricek, Wesner Moise and Larry O’Brien. Plus, I got to meet a bunch of other cool folks like Gilad Bracha, Stefan Wenig and Wez Furlong. That’s worth the price of admission (which was admittedly nothing) right there.
  • Coolest MSFT talk: Martin Maly “Targeting DLR”. I was wholly unaware that the DLR includes an entire compiler back end. Martin summarized the idea of DLR trees on his blog, but the short version is “you parse the language, DLR generates the code”. That’s pretty cool, and should dramatically lower the bar for language development. Of course, I want to write my parser in F#, so I’m going to port the DLR ToyScript sample to F#.
  • Runner-up, Coolest MSFT talk: Erik Meijer “Democratizing the Cloud with Volta”. Erik is a great speaker and he really set the tone of his session with the comment “Division by zero is the goal, not an error”. He was referring to an idea from The Change Function that user’s measure of success is a function of perceived crisis divided by perceived pain of adoption. Erik wants to drive that adoption pain to zero. It’s a laudable goal, but I remain unconvinced on Volta.
  • Coolest Non-MSFT talk: Gilad Bracha “Newspeak”. Newspeak is a new language from one of the co-authors of Java. It’s heavily smalltalk influenced, and runs on Squeak. He showed developing PEGs in Newspeak, and they were very compact and easy to read, easier even than F#. He calls them Executable grammar, and you can read his research paper or review his slides on the topic. Unfortunately, Newspeak isn’t generally available at this time.
  • Runner-up, Coolest Non-MSFT talk: Miguel de Icaza “Moonlight and Mono”. The talk was kinda all-over-the-place, but It’s great to see how far Mono has come. Second Life just started beta testing a Mono-based script runner for their LSL language (apparently, Mono breaks many LSL scripts because it runs them so fast). He also showed off Unity, a 3D game development tool, also running on Mono.
  • Resolver One is a product that bridges the gap between spreadsheets and applications, entirely written in IronPython (around 30,000 lines of app code and 110,000 lines of test code, all in IPy). Creating a spread-sheet based app development environment is one of those ideas that seems obvious in retrospect, at least to me. If you do any kind of complicated spreadsheet based analysis, you should check out their product.
  • If you’re a PowerShell user, you should check out PowerShell+. It’s a free console environment designed for PowerShell and a damn sight better than CMD.exe. If you’re not a PowerShell user, what the heck is wrong with you?
  • Other projects to take a deeper look at: C# Mixins and Cobra Language.
  • I thought my talk went pretty well. It’s was a 15 minute version of my Practical Parsing in F# series. Several folks were surprised I’ve been coding F# for less than a year.


The DLR is pretty cool; I've been playing a bit with it using a very simplistic language (not toyscript) and certainly the DLR makes it a lot easier. The cool thing about the DLR (for me) is that it allows you to simply with with expressions, and let the DLR itself deal with building call sites and ensuring that method calls are resolved to the right overload and such, easing things a *lot*. The problem with the DLR, however, is that it has pretty much zero documentation (except a few comments here and there on the code), and there are several places where it expects you to create tree nodes (such as actions) in very specific ways which are totally not-intuitive, and finding out why it isn't working or why you're triggering an exception or assert is anything but clear (Example: an InvokeMember action can require on certain ocassions an extra argument that must not be on the callsignature)