The First Real Post about Smile

I’ve wanted to talk about Smile for a long time now.

Smile is a programming language. A decade ago when I named it, it stood for “Syntax Makes Interpreting Lisp Easier,” but don’t tell anybody there’s a Lisp in there, because it doesn’t look, act, or feel like Lisp.

So let’s start at the beginning.

Smile is a programming language.

It is built on extremely solid theoretical foundations, on a cross between the untyped lambda calculus and a message-passing model. The core of the language is built on very simple concepts, rigorously applied at every level to build mathematically-provable abstractions. It’s a language that is designed to make computer scientists giggle with glee at its elegance and simplicity.

It is also a programming language designed for practical use. Real use. By real programmers. Who need to get real things done. It comes out-of-the-box with strong support for strings and files and regular expressions and crunching and slicing and dicing data so that you can solve real problems with it in just a few lines of code. The language syntax is simple and easy to learn, for common problems it reads a lot like languages you already know, a little Python here, a little Ruby there, a little JavaScript over there. That’s by design: You don’t want to waste your time learning another language’s bizarre idiosyncracies. Hello, World shouldn’t take you ages to divine; it should be obvious to any moderately-capable programmer what every character in it does:

    #include "stdio"

    Stdout print "Hello, World.\n"

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Three Months to a Whole New You

We have a baby.

Those of you that have kids know that this is pretty much complete and sufficient explanation for where the heck I’ve been for the last six months. Those of you who don’t have kids, well, just trust me on this.

His name is Alan Thomas, after my grandfathers and my father, named a good strong name carried by WWII veterans, by leaders of men, by the men who taught me by example what it is to be a man, so named to honor our shared ancestry as he carries our lineage to the future. No pressure, kid. But I’m sure you’ll do fine.

He’s an amazing little thing. He’s three months old now, and not yet able to sit up, but he’s healthy and happy.

It somehow still boggles my mind that I’m a father. Fathers? Aren’t they adults? Big strong men who drink beer and watch football and lift heavy things and talk in short sentences about weighty matters? Is that me? Guess it must be. Sure don’t feel that grown-up, but I have a job and a wife and a dog and cats and a house and a mortgage and car payments, and now I have a son, too. I keep wondering who he’s going to be like, keep hoping I have something in common with him, which is a hard thing to divine when he mostly squeaks and squirms and hasn’t yet learned how to hold a spoon, much less why you’d want to.

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Why I’m Not a Leader (and Why You Shouldn’t Be Either)

“They say you should lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

So began an essay I once wrote for a college entrance exam to a very prestigious university. I was rejected, and they claimed it was for my less-than-perfect grades, but I don’t doubt that essay played its part. As a seventeen-year-old, I was ill-equipped to state the message well, but it’s a message that I live by, and it’s a message that bears repeating:

If you must lead,

Follow,

Or get out of the way,

Choose to get out of the way.

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Computer Science vs. Programmers

I have a gripe.

Computer science is a branch of mathematics. It’s a powerful, amazing tool based on logic and reasoning and the work of giants. And it seems to get no respect from the programmers who blithely don’t realize they’re using it every day.

In the business world, programming problems are solved by either gluing preexisting stuff together or “just hack it until it works.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a colleague say, “Well, what if we just try this,” or “I know this trick,” or “I don’t know why that broke, maybe sunspots.” There seems to be little recognition of the value that computer science brings to the table: Everything is just tips and tricks and technologies, not reasoning and technique.

And if (like me) you’re one of the rare ones who uses computer science to solve a problem, it’s not attributed to all those proofs and techniques and hard science you learned: You’re just a “programming wizard.” It’s as if everybody around you is building houses out of pine, and they see you build a house out of stone and think you found really hard, strong pine somewhere. And worse, they then ask you to point out which trees you got it from.

I don’t understand this disconnect.

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Thoughts on CorelDRAW X6

I love CorelDRAW*. It’s one of my favorite go-to tools for just about everything graphics-related. I’ve been using it since a friend gave me a bootleg copy of CorelDRAW 3, all the way back in 1994. Four years later, I had scraped and saved enough to buy a legitimate copy of CorelDRAW 5 (see! piracy really can lead to sales sometimes!), and I’ve been upgrading ever since. Boxed copies of everything from version 5 to version X5 are sitting on the shelf behind me as I type this.

* Lest there be any doubt, I’ve tried Adobe Illustrator. I gave it a fair shot, I really did. But it drives me crazy trying to use it. I spend a lot of my time bending and tweaking nodes, and I use the heck out of CorelDRAW’s PowerClip and Blend for everything from simple clipping to really complicated shading effects. Illustrator was pretty weak in all those categories the last time I used it. I tried InkScape, too, and stopped using it right about the point where their coders asked on their forum, “Why would you ever want PowerClip?”

That said, as much as I love CorelDRAW, there are a few things I’d really like to see either changed or fixed. Some of them are downright bugs that they keep not fixing. Some are existing functionality that just doesn’t work well. And one’s a “please steal this technique from your competitors already.” So here’s my list:

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Snowed In

I’ve watched with great interest the chase of Edward Snowden. And it’s resulted in a change in my attitude toward government.

Once upon a time, I distrusted government, but I generally assumed that they were simply too incompetent to do anything truly malicious. These are the same people that can’t decide what color to paint a wall, my reasoning went, so there’s no way they could possibly be capable enough to be able to apply the level of evil so many of their detractors accuse them of. That, and there are so many bureaucratic checks and balances that they’re at best handicapped; I envisioned NSA spying on a level only slightly less primitive than tying an extra string to a tin-can telephone.

And then Snowden. Good news, crackpots, you’re not paranoid. Instead of the government being a well-paid collection of Mr. Magoo’s closest relatives, they suddenly morphed into the worst Orwellian nightmare Hollywood can depict. Even as I write this, I’m not at all sure that these very words aren’t placing me on a watch list — if I’m not on one already for having a brain in my head and a tendency to ask probing and awkward questions.

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C minus minus 11

I spent a little time yesterday reading through the changes to C++11.

Now, mind you, I’ve written a lot of code in C++, upwards of half a million lines of it: So I know all the intricacies of templates. I can use references and pointers safely. I can write const-correct code and overload operators without causing trouble. I know which parts of the language are sturdy and which are dangerously unsafe. I know how to aim the gun right next to my foot without actually striking it.

Now, I spent the last four years in C#, and that’s colored my opinions a bit. A lot of the stuff I used to have to work hard on in C++ is stupid-crazy-easy in C#, and not having to worry about freeing memory makes certain algorithms a few bajillion times simpler. But at the same time, I miss being able to control what winds up on the stack and determine where my memory gets allocated and when it gets freed. C++ gave me power, and sometimes I miss it.

So I think I’m at least somewhat qualified for talking about C++. And I went back to that language for the first time in a while yesterday and read up on what’s new.

I threw up in my mouth more than once.

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Noah to the Front Desk, Please…

My wife and I got back yesterday from a trip to visit my in-laws, and we discovered that our hot water heater had — technically speaking — gone all asplodey-go-boom, leaving an inch of water across our entire basement.

The cats, whose litter boxes were in the basement — dry, but separated from them by six feet of inch-deep water — coped with the situation by pooping and peeing all over the living room.

We spent five hours yesterday and five hours today cleaning, and we’re getting close to having the basement dry and the poop and pee cleaned up. The tank is drained, and next up is replacing the thing with one that’s slightly less likely to go asplodey-go-boom in the near future. This is really not how I intended to spend the last twenty-four hours, but such is the joyous life of a homeowner.