Continuation

I’m quite overdue for a status update, so here we go.

I spent most of July with a busted ankle. Crutches are fun, I tells ya. That helps sum up the whole lotta nothin’ I did this month. It’s a really bad sprain I got late June, and it took many weeks and many doctors, and it’s still not fully healed yet, but at least I’m not on the crutches anymore.

Oh, you want to know more about Smile, right. Y’all come here to find out what I’ve been coding, not for personal stuff. So let’s talk about Smile.

The language grammar is now fully implemented in the interpreter, and a number of bugs in the methods on the core objects have been fixed. It has a REPL now, which makes experimenting and testing much easier.

Continue reading “Continuation”

Uniconundrum

I really want to get the Unicode support in Smile right. I really do.

The unfortunate thing is that it seems there’s no consensus on what “right” looks like. Some people argue that UTF-8 is the right answer, some argue that UTF-16 is the right answer, some argue that UCS-4 is the right answer, and if you ask a hundred people, you get a hundred different answers as to what’s right.

Y’all are complicatin’ my life ‘cuz ya can’t agree on nothin’, I tells ya what.

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Let there be Unicode

So a few weeks ago, I was reading this essay by Ramsey Nasser. I’ve debated back and forth several times as to whether Smile should keep its strings and identifiers as 8-bit characters, or whether they should be upgraded to full Unicode. It’s a tough question.

On the one hand, I’m trying to build a language that will be able to grow well with the needs of the future, and the future argues for Unicode. There are a lot of people out there, and not all of them speak English. Or read or write English. As Nasser notes, Arabic is poorly supported by, well, everything, and there’s only a few bajillion people out there speaking Arabic. (It so happens that Arabic is possibly a pathologically-bad worst case for programming language support, too, since it’s a proportional cursive writing system and not fixed-with, with concepts like initial, medial, and final forms, instead of a single letterform per phoneme, and for the icing on the cake, it writes in the dead opposite direction of most other languages on planet Earth.) And beyond Arabic there’s Chinese and Russian and Devanagari and Japanese and a thousand others, and a really good future-proof programming language ought to be able to support all that in a very natural, native kind of way.

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Time keeps on slippin’

Well, that was a quick month.

So what’s happened? I’m a married father with a baby, so family eats up a lot of time. And there’s that full-time employment thing I do most of the week. And a secret project I can’t tell you much about but that you’re gonna love (psst, that link’s not a link yet :-P). And yard work, and chores around the house; with spring comes mowing and mulch and weeds. We also had our basement flood when the big rainstorm came through last week, and pumping out that water and cleaning up afterwards was just loads of fun.

But you probably don’t care about all that; what most of you in reader-land care about is Smile, this suddenly-notorious little programming language I’ve spent so much of the last decade-plus thinking about and working on. So let’s talk about that.

I’ve been busily shoring up the implementation of the interpreter, trying to knock out bugs and fix issues, getting it to the point where it at least parses and executes the whole language correctly, and is a full implementation of both the core language and the base-level libraries. I’ve also been writing documentation, lots and lots of documentation, so that when you do get your hands on a copy of it, you won’t just throw your hands up in disgust and confusion, and you’ll be able to learn it and try demos and look up answers when you don’t understand things. This has been a lot of work, to put it mildly, and there’s a lot more to go.

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A couple more responses to Reddit

There are a few posts on Reddit about this that I just had to give direct replies to.

I always thought lisp was a platonic form

Lisp is not really a “platonic form,” although really what should be argued is the number of operators required for Turing-completeness. Lambda calculus could make a better claim to something like that, although it’s a Turing tarpit. Lisp had a certain degree of elegance by being able to describe its own evaluation using seven fundamental operators (or five, or six, or eight, or whatever, depending on who you talk to). But you can define a Turing-complete language using a single operator. Even the simplest Lisp is a lot bigger. Smile has about a dozen fundamental operators (and its unique parsing/translation layer): That core is not as small as McCarthy’s Lisp, but it’s not exactly a gallumphing dirigible either. That said, of that, only six or seven of those operators are truly necessary; you can write a simple but working eval function for Smile in Smile with just that much, and one of the sample programs I’ll include is exactly that.

I suggest Sean release the language specification and let alternative implementations begin.

Doesn’t there have to be a first implementation before there can be alternative ones? I’d like to get the formal language specification nailed to the floor and etched in stone — and build good conformance tests — before really thinking about alternative implementations. When I’m done squishing bugs in the interpreter, and I have enough documentation that people can learn Smile and become comfortable coding in it, that’s when it’s time to start talking about alternative (faster) implementations. Right now is just too early.

That said, the current interpreter has the Apache open-source license stamped all over its source code. You will be able to get your hands on it from stem to stern, optimize it, clone it, and rebuild it to your heart’s content — when it’s ready for the general public, which it definitely isn’t yet.

> Actually Smile code is very similar to Rebol however it’s exponentially more powerful

> what does that mean?

I don’t know either.

So now what?

I’ve been pondering this question all day: What the heck do I do next?

The intarnetz has discovered Smile, which is kinda cool, in a terrifying sort of way.

But the language is still barely in its infancy. I have a semi-working interpreter (release package 0.3!), but there are lots of bugs and some stuff is far from built. The language grammar is pretty well nailed-down at this point. But the libraries are severely lacking, even for really common operations, and even a few of the standard data types don’t exist. I have some documentation, but it’s far from complete.

Yet people want to know more. They got a taste of something interesting, and for a fleeting moment, it’s become news, after a fashion. I don’t want to starve and disappoint potentially-interested folks, but I don’t want to give out junk and crush what could be something pretty neat.

So tomorrow, I’m going to talk with some folks at work who’ve been following Smile through its development, and we’ll see if our brain trust can figure out what a good next step is. I’m a coder: I develop algorithms, not marketing plans, and I’d rather stick to what I know.

For tonight, I got the current Smile interpreter running under Mono on Linux, so w00t on that.

Anyway, uh, stay tuned, I guess.

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.

Continue reading “Why I’m Not a Leader (and Why You Shouldn’t Be Either)”