History

Co-hygiene and quantum gravity

Co-hygiene and quantum gravity. Some light weekend reading by John Shutt.

The post starts with a dazzling proposition:

Gravity corresponds to pure function-application, and the other fundamental forces correspond to side-effects. ... quantum non-locality ("spooky action at a distance") is part of the analog to side-effects ...

I can't do it justice here, so if you're interested in John's fascinating take on the relationship between lambda calculus and quantum physics, hop on over!

Jean Sammet, Co-Designer of a Pioneering Computer Language, Dies at 89

Obituary from NY Times.

Jean Sammet, Co-Designer of a Pioneering Computer Language, Dies at 89
Jean E. Sammet, an early software engineer and a designer of COBOL, a programming language that brought computing into the business mainstream, died on May 20 in Maryland. She was 89.

....

Grace Hopper, a computer pioneer at Sperry Rand in the late 1950s, led the effort to bring computer makers together to collaborate on the new programming language. Ms. Hopper is often called the “mother of COBOL,” but she was not one of the six people, including Ms. Sammet, who designed the language — a fact Ms. Sammet rarely failed to point out. (Ms. Sammet worked for Sylvania Electric at the time.)

“I yield to no one in my admiration for Grace,” she said. “But she was not the mother, creator or developer of COBOL.”

Joe Armstrong Interviews Alan Kay

Youtube video (via HN)

By far not the best presentation of Kay's ideas but surely a must watch for fans. Otherwise, skip until the last third of the interview which might add to what most people here already know.

It is interesting that in this talk Kay rather explicitly talks about programming languages as abstraction layers. He also mentions some specifics that may not be as well known as others, yet played a role in his trajectory, such as META.

I fully sympathize with his irritation with the lack of attention to and appreciation of fundamental concepts and theoretical frameworks in CS. On the other hand, I find his allusions to biology unconvincing.
An oh, he is certainly right about Minsky's book (my first introduction to theoretical CS) and in his deep appreciation of John McCarthy.

C is Manly, Python is for “n00bs”: How False Stereotypes Turn Into Technical “Truths”

Jean Yang & Ari Rabkin C is Manly, Python is for “n00bs”: How False Stereotypes Turn Into Technical “Truths”, Model-View-Culture, January 2015.

This is a bit of a change of pace from the usual technically-focused content on LtU, but it seemed like something that might be of interest to LtUers nonetheless. Yang and Rabkin discuss the cultural baggage that comes along with a variety of languages, and the impact it has on how those languages are perceived and used.

"These preconceived biases arise because programming languages are as much social constructs as they are technical ones. A programming language, like a spoken language, is defined not just by syntax and semantics, but also by the people who use it and what they have written. Research shows that the community and libraries, rather than the technical features, are most important in determining the languages people choose. Scientists, for instance, use Python for the good libraries for scientific computing."

There are probably some interesting clues to how and why some languages are adopted while others fall into obscurity (a question that has come up here before). Also, the article includes references to a study conducted by Rabkin and LtU's own Leo Meyerovich.

BWK on "How to succeed in language design without really trying"

A talk by Brian Kernighan at The University of Nottingham.

Describes all the usual suspects: AWK, EQN, PIC. Even AMPL. I was wondering which languages he had in mind when he mentioned that some of his creations were total flops. I'd love to learn from those!

The talk is a fun way to spend an hour, and the audio would be good for commuters. For real aficionados I would recommend reading Jon Bentley's articles on the design of these languages (as well as CHEM and others) instead.

Ancient use of generators

Guido van Rossum reminisces a bit about early discussions of generators in the Python community (read the other messages in the thread as well). I think we talked about the articles he mentions way back when. Earlier still, and beyond the discussion by Guido here, was Icon, a clever little language that I have a soft spot for. i don't think we ever fully assessed its influence on Python and other languages.

ACM Classic Books Series

This list of classic books is the result of a poll ACM conducted where members named their favorite computer science books.

Good list. Bar the last two, which I have nothing against, the list consists of favorites of mine. It is always nice to see how many classics of CS come from work on programming languages. Not a surprise for anyone here, of course, but not always acknowledged. While we are on the subject of classic books, check out Luke's twitter poll here.

Tracking the Flow of Ideas through the Programming Languages Literature

Michael Greenberg, Kathleen Fisher, and David Walker, "Tracking the Flow of Ideas through the Programming Languages Literature", SNAPL 2015.

How have conferences like ICFP, OOPSLA, PLDI, and POPL evolved over the last 20 years? Did generalizing the Call for Papers for OOPSLA in 2007 or changing the name of the umbrella conference to SPLASH in 2010 have any effect on the kinds of papers published there? How do POPL and PLDI papers compare, topic-wise? Is there related work that I am missing? Have the ideas in O’Hearn’s classic paper on separation logic shifted the kinds of papers that appear in POPL? Does a proposed program committee cover the range of submissions expected for the conference? If we had better tools for analyzing the programming language literature, we might be able to answer these questions and others like them in a data-driven way. In this paper, we explore how topic modeling, a branch of machine learning, might help the programming language community better understand our literature.

The authors have produced some really interesting visualizations of how the topic content of various conferences has evolved over time (it's interesting to note that OOPSLA isn't really about OO software development any more, and that PLDI appears to have seen an increasing emphasis on verification and test generation).

Also of potential interest to LtU readers: there is a prototype tool at http://tmpl.weaselhat.com/ that is based on the work presented in this paper. It allows you to upload a paper PDF, and will return the 10 most closely related papers according to the POPL/PLDI topic model. It could be a handy research tool. But, if nothing else, it's a fun way to see what else is related to a paper you're interested in.

Punctuated equilibrium in the large scale evolution of programming languages

Sergi Valverde and Ricard Solé, "Punctuated equilibrium in the large scale evolution of programming languages", SFI working paper 2014-09-030

Here we study the large scale historical development of programming languages, which have deeply marked social and technological advances in the last half century. We analyse their historical connections using network theory and reconstructed phylogenetic networks. Using both data analysis and network modelling, it is shown that their evolution is highly uneven, marked by innovation events where new languages are created out of improved combinations of different structural components belonging to previous languages. These radiation events occur in a bursty pattern and are tied to novel technological and social niches. The method can be extrapolated to other systems and consistently captures the major classes of languages and the widespread horizontal design exchanges, revealing a punctuated evolutionary path.

The results developed here are perhaps not that surprising to people familiar with the history of programming languages. But it's interesting to see it all formalized and analyzed.

sml-family.org

In his blog, Bob Harper, in joint effort with Dave MacQueen and Lars Bergstrom, announces the launch of sml-family.org:

The Standard ML Family project provides a home for online versions of various formal definitions of Standard ML, including the "Definition of Standard ML, Revised" (Standard ML 97). The site also supports coordination between different implementations of the Standard ML (SML) programming language by maintaining common resources such as the documentation for the Standard ML Basis Library and standard test suites. The goal is to increase compatibility and resource sharing between Standard ML implementations.

The site includes a history section devoted to the history of ML, and of Standard ML in particular. This section will contain a collection of original source documents relating to the design of the language.

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