Transfer of pywer

Guido van Rossum is "resigning" from being the Python BDFL: "I'm basically giving myself a permanent vacation from being BDFL, and you all will be on
your own." Apparently running a language can be tiring... It will be interesting to see what happens next.

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"C Is Not a Low-level Language"

David Chisnall, "C Is Not a Low-level Language. Your computer is not a fast PDP-11.", ACM Queue, Volume 16, issue 2.

"For a language to be "close to the metal," it must provide an abstract machine that maps easily to the abstractions exposed by the target platform. It's easy to argue that C was a low-level language for the PDP-11.
...
it is possible to make C code run quickly but only by spending thousands of person-years building a sufficiently smart compiler—and even then, only if you violate some of the language rules. Compiler writers let C programmers pretend that they are writing code that is "close to the metal" but must then generate machine code that has very different behavior if they want C programmers to keep believing that they are using a fast language."

Includes a discussion of various ways in which modern processors break the C abstract machine, as well as some interesting speculation on what a "non-C processor" might look like. The latter leads to thinking about what a low-level language for such a processor should look like.

The Gentle Art of Levitation

The Gentle Art of Levitation

2010 by James Chapman, Pierre-Evariste Dagand, Conor McBride, Peter Morrisy

We present a closed dependent type theory whose inductive types are given not by a scheme for generative declarations, but by encoding in a universe. Each inductive datatype arises by interpreting its description—a first-class value in a datatype of descriptions. Moreover, the latter itself has a description. Datatype-generic programming thus becomes ordinary programming. We show some of the resulting generic operations and deploy them in particular, useful ways on the datatype of datatype descriptions itself. Surprisingly this apparently self-supporting setup is achievable without paradox or infinite regress.
It's datatype descriptions all the way down.

Comprehending Ringads

Comprehending Ringads

2016 by Jeremy Gibbons

Ringad comprehensions represent a convenient notation for expressing database queries. The ringad structure alone does not provide a good explanation or an efficient implementation of relational joins; but by allowing heterogeneous comprehensions, involving both bag and indexed table ringads, we show how to accommodate these too.
Indexed/parametric/graded monads are the key (read the paper to understand the pun).

Sequent Calculus as a Compiler Intermediate Language

Sequent Calculus as a Compiler Intermediate Language
2016 by Paul Downen, Luke Maurer, Zena M. Ariola, Simon Peyton Jones

The typed λ-calculus arises canonically as the term language for a logic called natural deduction, using the Curry-Howard isomorphism: the pervasive connection between logic and programming languages asserting that propositions are types and proofs are programs. Indeed, for many people, the λ-calculus is the living embodiment of Curry-Howard.

But natural deduction is not the only logic! Conspicuously, natural deduction has a twin, born in the very same paper, called the sequent calculus. Thanks to the Curry-Howard isomorphism, terms of the sequent calculus can also be seen as a programming language with an emphasis on control flow.

How to Write Seemingly Unhygienic and Referentially Opaque Macros with Syntax-rules

How to Write Seemingly Unhygienic and Referentially Opaque Macros with Syntax-rules
By Oleg Kiselyov
This paper details how folklore notions of hygiene and referential transparency of R5RS macros are defeated by a systematic attack. We demonstrate syntax-rules that seem to capture user identifiers and allow their own identifiers to be captured by the closest lexical bindings. In other words, we have written R5RS macros that accomplish what commonly believed to be impossible.

Why Is SQLite Coded In C

We are nearing the day someone quips that C is an improvement on most of its successors (smirk). So reading this page from the SQLite website is instructive, as is reading the page on the tooling and coding practices that make this approach work.

I think none of this is news, and these approaches have been on the books for quite a bit. But still, as I said: an improvement on most of its successors. Hat tip: HN discussion.

Resource Polymorphism

Resource Polymorphism, by Guillaume Munch-Maccagnoni:

We present a resource-management model for ML-style programming languages, designed to be compatible with the OCaml philosophy and runtime model. This is a proposal to extend the OCaml language with destructors, move semantics, and resource polymorphism, to improve its safety, efficiency, interoperability, and expressiveness. It builds on the ownership-and-borrowing models of systems programming languages (Cyclone, C++11, Rust) and on linear types in functional programming (Linear Lisp, Clean, Alms). It continues a synthesis of resources from systems programming and resources in linear logic initiated by Baker.

It is a combination of many known and some new ideas. On the novel side, it highlights the good mathematical structure of Stroustrup's "Resource acquisition is initialisation" (RAII) idiom for resource management based on destructors, a notion sometimes confused with finalizers, and builds on it a notion of resource polymorphism, inspired by polarisation in proof theory, that mixes C++'s RAII and a tracing garbage collector (GC).
The proposal targets a new spot in the design space, with an automatic and predictable resource-management model, at the same time based on lightweight and expressive language abstractions. It is backwards-compatible: current code is expected to run with the same performance, the new abstractions fully combine with the current ones, and it supports a resource-polymorphic extension of libraries. It does so with only a few additions to the runtime, and it integrates with the current GC implementation. It is also compatible with the upcoming multicore extension, and suggests that the Rust model for eliminating data-races applies.

Interesting questions arise for a safe and practical type system, many of which have already been thoroughly investigated in the languages and prototypes Cyclone, Rust, and Alms.

An ambitious goal, and it would be an incredibly useful addition to OCaml. Might even displace Rust in some places, since you can theoretically avoid triggering the GC, but you have the excellent GC available when needed. This is definitely a pain point for Rust.

The Left Hand of Equals

The Left Hand of Equals, by James Noble, Andrew P. Black, Kim B. Bruce, Michael Homer, Mark S. Miller:

When is one object equal to another object? While object identity is fundamental to object-oriented systems, object equality, although tightly intertwined with identity, is harder to pin down. The distinction between identity and equality is reflected in object-oriented languages, almost all of which provide two variants of “equality”, while some provide many more. Programmers can usually override at least one of these forms of equality, and can always define their own methods to distinguish their own objects.

This essay takes a reflexive journey through fifty years of identity and equality in object-oriented languages, and ends somewhere we did not expect: a “left-handed” equality relying on trust and grace.

This covers a lot of ground, not only historical, but conceptual, like the meaning of equality and objects. For instance, they consider Ralph Johnson on what object oriented programming means:

I explain three views of OO programming. The Scandinavian view is that an OO system is one whose creators realise that programming is modelling. The mystical view is that an OO system is one that is built out of objects that communicate by sending messages to each other, and computation is the messages flying from object to object. The software engineering view is that an OO system is one that supports data abstraction, polymorphism by late-binding of function calls, and inheritance.

And constrast with William Cook's autognosis/procedural-abstraction view, which we've discussed here before.

The paper's goal then becomes clear: "What can we do to provide an equality operator for a pure, autognostic object-oriented language?" They answer this question in the context of the Grace programming language. As you might expect from some of the authors, security and trust are important considerations.