futureofcoding.org

Log

Welcome to my development journal. This is an experiment in radical transparency. You can read my unfiltered daily thoughts below. Pardon my typo-laden stream-of-consciousness. If you don’t want to miss a musing, here’s the log RSS feed .

It was inspired by Jamie Brandon’s development journals for Eve and Imp.

The data for this page is pulled from the commit message history for this repository. It’s similar to what you’d see if you did git log. (I used to keep these kind of notes in the now deprecated journal. Those journal entries are below in the log - imported via some skullduggery.)

FRP Morning 9/11/18

09/11/18 Tue 12:05 PM

From Debugging Towards Live Tuing of Reactive Applications

I was sent this paper by Jonathan Edwards for feedback to the authors. It was recently accepted into LIVE. It was right up my alley. It’s the notion of taking the DAG visualization of a FRP app, but making it editable at the visualization level, similar to a node-and-wire environment, such as Facebook Origami. It was a fun read, and I gave a few notes to the authors.

Beautiful Conal Quotes

There are a few things Conal said that have really stuck with me, so I took the time to transcribe them and put them here. But I’ll paste them below as well because they are just so wonderful:

It’s important to me that you cannot look in a behavior and say like “when does it change (change in the sense of events)?” Because in order to answer that question One would need a more complex semantic model. Now, many or most so-called FRP systems I see out there do have some notion of “when does something change.” And every one of those breaks the semantic model.

It’s like you have arithmetic, right? So FRP is arithmetic for time-varying quantities of all sorts of types. By arithmetic, I mean some algebra, some set of operators that have nice laws, nice properties. And imagine if you thought of arithmetic as about compositional structure or about the express that you evaluated.

If you added 3 and 4, can you tell tell the difference between that and what you get by adding 2 and 5? It’s very important to the laws of arithmetic that you cannot tell the difference. If you could tell the difference, then what you would have would not be a type of numbers with a nice set of operations. It would be something more like a type of trees or something like that. And there would be no interesting equational properties. And you’d have something very complicated. And you’d have to talk about your API instead of talking about… You wouldn’t be doing math, you’d be doing data structure manipulation.

For instance every time you hear somebody talk about FRP in terms of graphs or propagation or something like that, they are missing the point entirely. Because they are taking about some sort of operational, mechanistic model, not about what it means.

And what I see happen over and over is not only do people generate a complex model but they don’t know it’s complex because they haven’t looked at it precisely. And they thwart most attempts to do nontrivial optimization’s because they’ve exposed too much information. So I want to make it as abstract and useful as possible, so it’s simple for somebody to think about, and I can do radically different sorts of optimization experiments.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that a “debugging engine” can’t break these abstractions to keep track of these things so as to aid you in understanding. The key is that the programmer cannot break this abstraction at the semantic level, so we can do creative optimizations, etc. In other words, I can write 3+4=2+5 and we can talk about each of those four numbers indepdenently. They don’t immedialy collapse to 7=7 the instant I write them down.

I also love this beautiful quote about functions as boxes and values as flowing across arrows:

It’s an inherently first-order visualization. In other words, the visualization itself makes a hard visually syntactic distinction between functions and values. What’s great about functional programing is that functions are values… [with] visual arrows, with every composition, you get something more complex than what you had before. Complexity grows and grows and grows. Visual langauges are very sparse, rather than a dense notation. So pretty quickly you get swamped… You use up a lot of space not saying very much.

Feyman Method to Solving FRP Notation

The method is:

  1. Write down the problem.
  2. Think very hard.
  3. Write down the solution.

Here’s what that looked like:

image

What I decided was (for now) to give up on wires and arrows to visualize flow and depedencies. Instead I want to be more creative about showing those things, such as spatial arrangement, labelling (including colors, words, and on-hover interactions), etc.

I then pseudo-coded a few classic GUI problems. (I may steal other problems from 7GUIS.)

What I discovered here is that the classic notation of FP isn’t all that bad. (That’s not quite true. For example, Conal’s original bouncing ball is tough to read. More on this in the todos below…)

The problems are:

1. Expression construction made “live” & “concrete”

You want to be able to construct these expressions in any order, such as:

A) Start with an widget, like a button, and then derive some state from it, and then plop it back in itself.

B) Start with a notion of some state (you haven’t yet defined), and build up a widget from that state, which then can be defined in terms of the widget.

Self-referencing makes this possible more difficult, but nothing a structure-y editor couldn’t solve.

2. See the dataflow behind behaviors & events

I dont see any reason why this shouldn’t be possible as an “overlay” of some sort on top of the classic FP notation.

I can also imagine an on-hover interaction to functions that allow you to visualize how they transform their inputs into their output, such as this one.

It’d be neat to have an over-arching shape of an application so you can visually get a sense for how it fits together, but I don’t know if anyone’s done that yet. Node-and-wires don’t tell you much: they tell you less than regular FP syntax, and often in more confusing ways.

What’s the type of FRP Widgets?

I’m not clear on what the “type” of widgets should be – that is, what they “return”.

Are they a “structure” of some sort that you can then get various event streams (such as click) “from”?

Or should they simply return the (or a list of the) event stream(s) that they “contain”?

Blur the line between front & backend

In the past I called this idea “higher level HTTP requests” or “HTTP = JQuery”. Here are some thoughts I put on Twitter along these lines yesterday:

Next steps 9/11/18

  • pseudo-code more GUI problems, possibly from 7GUIS, building up to ToDoMVC
  • think about what and where traditional FRP syntax is difficult (such as Conal’s original bouncing ball), and also more modern syntaxes… re-check out PureScript in this vein

Candlewood Lake Vacation, etc

09/08/18 Sat 5:46 PM

As expected, I haven’t gotten much done here the past few weeks. I was on vacation and wanted to do more freelance stuff, which I did. I’m also reading a great series of novels by Robin Hobb which are distracting. However, I’m excited about all the chatter around my podcast, tweeters, on the Slack group. Thanks to all that listen, and especially to those that write in - even just to say hi!

Foundations

I’ve been thinking a lot what we take for granted, and questioning everything. So why not the foundations. There’s the Turing Machine (wah ich is the epitome of inelegant) and Lambda Calculus (which is a million times better by comparison). But can we do better? Are there other alternatives? I did some Wikipedia-ing, but didn’t come up with much interesting. Here are some links:

* https://www.reddit.com/r/AskComputerScience/comments/78wnv4/is_there_an _alternative_to_lambda_calculus_as_a/

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Process_calculus * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Term-rewriting_programming_langu ages

I’m going to this whacky workshop in Italy next month that will hopefully encourage me to think outside the box on these topics. What even is a computer program?

  • Datafun - functional query language! Very cool. Along the lines of the question I’ve been having about why we have different data structures in databases vs in our languages.
  • Wolfram on Math Notation - very good. Thought provoking!

OAP - open authorial principle

I’ve been having fun Twitter conversations with Antranig (who I think lives in London!). He has a really cool paper on this OAP, which is very similar in spirit to r0ml’s notion of “liberal software.” Many of the examples were in about object inherentance in Java which I am allergic to, but I love the idea of formalisizing this ideal.

What are the key actions that need to be enabled for this principle:

  1. Finding/understanding all relevant sections in the code. (This is related to my recent work.)
  2. Making the change (including previewing it)
  3. Managing various versions

I also had two other interesting, random thoughts:

  1. The “Settings Menu” is a list of global variables you can set to range of pre-defined constants
  2. Where does composability play into the OAP?

Todo 9/8/18

  • “Future work” - better “notations” for higher-order streams (as in Reflex). I should be able to get 5-10 hours here this week. That’s the goal at least.
  • Organize “FoC Thinking” - I’ve been collecting a list of things to think about in my inbox, but I’d like to get that somewhere public.
    • at the top: https://eugenkiss.github.io/7guis/
  • Organize “FoC Research” - same idea but more for things to read for inspiration, like papers
    • at the top: https://github.com/hypotext/notation

London, REBLS, & future plans

08/17/18 Fri 5:11 PM

Moving to London!

Last week I got the Exceptional Tech Talent Visa which means I’m moving there on Oct 1. Just bought my plane ticket. Hope to be there for a year or two.

Submitted to REBLS 2018!!

Last night I submitted my the the submitted PDF version of the paper to REBLS! It took ~10 hours to translate the blog version to the PDF version! I had a lot of trouble with LaTeX, so I fiuged I should put up the full LaTex code and associated files in case it’d be helpful for future independent researchers. Turns out they extended the deadline for another two weeks just now (probably because they didn’t get enough submissions), but it’s nice to have it behind me.

Looking at the cost of flights to Boston from London, it seems pretty stable, so I don’t need to get it yet. I can also register for SPLASH up until Oct 1 for $100 off. I hear back if I get in on Sept 25th.

Next two weeks (8/20/18-8/31/18)

Next week I agreed to write an essay about Dynamicland. Also, I’m visiting Boston for a few days to visit my programming research friends! I’d also like to do more work for First Round Capital next week. So I don’t think I’ll have much time here.

The following week will be more vacation focused with my parents, brothers, and grandparents. I may do a bit of work for First Round and Dark, but not likely work here.

Future research directions

Here are a few ideas. I’m going to chat with Jonathan Edwards in Boston next week so maybe we can review this together.

1. Comprehensible FRP’s Future work

I’m actually very excited about this section. Here’s basically the plan. Take the Reflex TodoMVC diagram from this paper and tweak in in Figma a bunch. At the same time, work on getting this stuff to compile in JavaScript somehow. The goal here is very explicitly a language / visual environment. If it’s good, I win. If it’s bad, maybe I turn it into a paper.

2. Anti-IO Monad

This is a neat line of inquiry but I don’t have a very concrete next step here. It’s very related to the ideas in this tweet storm:

And the lovely replies:

3. Slice-and-Dice Data-ninja playground

This is very much jumping to an entirely different problem. It’s intriguing, but not as likely.

4. Liberal Software

From a motivation/vision perspective, this is important. I’d love to collaborate with r0ml on this.

Incorporated Jonathan Edwards feedback on frp draft 2

08/14/18 Tue 11:49 AM

As usual I received some prompt and insightful feedback from Jonathan Edwards yesterday:

Abstract scalable->modular, larger->entire “this paper shows how higher-order and cyclic streams can improve comprehensibility.”

Introduction they depend => they depend upon

Elm architecture Elm is more like ML than Haskell Defer mentioning higher-order/cyclic streams till later when you define them. Instead: “user interfaces are inherently a cycle of alternating input and output, which is reflected in the Elm architecture”

Reflex Show the types of button and display

Note how the do notation is implicitly assembling the view as if by accumulating side-effects from button and display, unlike the explicit construction in Elm.

The view is very explicitly assembled in Reflex - the vertical order of statements is the explicit order of the view. The “side-effects” we get from button and display are their event streams, which are also explicit. It is unfamiliar to use do-notation to construct an event propagation network, instead of how it’s normally used for imperative code, but that doesn’t make this code imperative.

Is it easy to hierarchically compose views in Reflex?

delete “we here”

The price we pay for this explicitness is that events are abstracted from the single values in Elm into a time-stamped stream of values. In Elm we write a global state reducer function that pattern matches on these events. In Reflex we use stream combinators to define the model and view as streams of values of each other. The single global I/O cycle of Elm becomes a number of cyclic definitions between model and view streams in Reflex.

Diagrams Finding them a little hard to understand. The top level is the big yellow boxes, but what exactly are they? Categories of some sort? I’d expect the top level of the Elm diagram to be Model, View, and Messages.

This is a great question. I think this makes it clearer:

Do ✔ emojis render properly?

08/14/18 Tue 10:27 AM

general editing and added more code explainations

08/11/18 Sat 1:02 PM

I think it’s shaping up!

Also added some fun new images:

  1. highlighting all the relevant actions in Elm (which I created with the amazing Chrome Regex Search)

screenshot 2018-08-11 at 12 09 39 pm

  1. flowchart diagram

Added more example code to FRP essay

08/10/18 Fri 5:54 PM

I added a lot to the essay today. It really feels close, and like it’s shaping up. I am aiming to get a completed Draft 2 to Jonathan Edwards by this upcoming Monday.

I added counter button examples to explain Elm and Reflex, and then some ToDoMVC code from each to get into the comparison. I could definitely come up with better example apps (larger would be better), and another way to improve the comparison could be to articulate the Elm Architecture in Reflex (which is supported) in order to keep the syntax more uniform, but I don’t have the time for that, especially considering how impossible it is to code in Reflex - at least with the set up I have.

I had a VERY FUSTRATING hour or two today when I was working with ghcjs and Reflex and emacs in my remote shell. My god I hated it. I had to take a break because I felt upset afterwards for an hour or so. I wasn’t prepared for how annoying it all was. Such a slooow feedback loop. And so fustrating using emacs! For example, copying and pasting code doesn’t work because the formatting gets messed up. Just one example of how everything takes longer.

In terms of what’s left, I have to finish explaining the meat of Reflex TodoMVC, and then maybe explain one other part of Reflex ToDoMVC (should only take another 3 hours), and then write out the “is the cure worse than the disease” section (~2 hours), and tie it all together with the related work, conclusion and a final read through and edit (~2 hours). I should be able to spend some time tomorrow and Sunday on this, so we’re in good shape for getting it done by Monday.

(In other news, last night at 11:30pm I had some exciting ideas for a future research topic.)

Back at the FRP essay!

08/06/18 Mon 3:59 PM

The changes I’m comitting now were actually done this past Friday. It’s not a ton of work but it wasn’t pulling teeth - it was fun. And I’m excited enough about it that I actually made my girlfriend listen to me read it to her - she was a great sport. The langauge is a bit technical / high level. There’s a lot I need to expound on / elaborate in there, and I imagine that some ambiguity in the essay are weak spots I need to explore more.

Yesterday I had a lot of fun comparing and contrasting TodoMVC in Elm and Redux. I printed out the code for both on paper and wrote all over them. I have a lot of questions about the types of things in Redux that I’ll have to investigate next.

One idea I had is that to make the comparison more apples-to-apples, I could write TodoMVC in Redux but with the Elm Architecture - this is possible but not the reverse. However, that is a bunch of work considering how slow my Reflex/ghcjs feedback loop is. Another possible task is implementing focus on input elements, localstorage, and url hash get/set in Reflex to make them truly equal - but that’s not really the point so it may be more work than it’s worth.

I only have two weeks before I have to submit to REBLS. I think I have enough for the paper in progress section, but I want to make it as best I can before that date. However, I also have work for Dark and First Round I should do this week - as well as taking some time off to spend with family that’s around this month. It’s a lot going on!

Dark research

I spent 3 hours this morning compiling lists of various interesting progrmming environments. What I’m most excited about is my list of classics that I’ve never played with:

  • Hypercard
  • squeak / etoys / morphicjs / pharo / http://gtoolkit.org/
  • Labview
  • apl
  • Self
  • Forth
  • Prolog
  • Sketchpad
  • Matlab / simulink
  • Yahoo pipes

As well as a few I keep haering about:

  • prograph
  • paxmsp and pure data vvvv
  • JetBrains MPS
  • emacs org mode
  • TLA+ / Alloy
  • Sonic Pi
  • R
  • https://www.blender.org/
  • Godot engine
  • Qt
  • Chalktalk
  • http://mbeddr.com/
  • http://openendedgroup.com/field/OverviewBanners2.html

Less FRP essay excitement

08/01/18 Wed 11:02 AM

Hard to figure out why this happened, but I’m less pumped about this these days. I think I’ll give myself a break and do other work and hopefully I’ll naturally get re-excited about coming back to this. Yesterday I spent 2 hours reading the Reflex documentation. It felt like a useful two hours. The key thing I figured out is that it does cyclic updates via an “event propagation graph”, but I wasn’t able to figure out much more details than that.

Some interesting links:

FRP Essay, draft 2 started

07/30/18 Mon 12:30 PM

Relaxing reading on Friday afternoon

I didn’t feel like working on my computer, so I printed out my essay, Jonathan Edward’s feedback, and grabbed a few papers to re-read I felt would be relevant. Turns out they really were!

From What’s Functional Programming All About?

The core of Functional Programming is thinking about data-flow rather than control-flow.

it’s about managing the same complexity in a way that makes the dependencies between each piece of code obvious, by following the graph of where function arguments come from and where return values end up.

From Out of the Tarpit:

There is in principle nothing to stop functional programs from passing a single extra parameter into and out of every single function in the entire system. If this extra parameter were a collection (compound value) of some kind then it could be used to simulate an arbitrarily large set of mutable variables. In effect this approach recreates a single pool of global variables — hence, even though referential transparency is maintained, ease of reasoning is lost (we still know that each function is dependent only upon its arguments, but one of them has become so large and contains irrelevant values that the benefit of this knowledge as an aid to understanding is almost nothing).

Out of the Tarpit turned me on to Dijkstra’s The Humble Programmer:

A study of program structure had revealed that programs —even alternative programs for the same task and with the same mathematical content— can differ tremendously in their intellectual manageability. A number of rules have been discovered, violation of which will either seriously impair or totally destroy the intellectual manageability of the program. These rules are of two kinds. Those of the first kind are easily imposed mechanically, viz. by a suitably chosen programming language. Examples are the exclusion of goto-statements and of procedures with more than one output parameter.

Argument four has to do with the way in which the amount of intellectual effort needed to design a program depends on the program length. It has been suggested that there is some kind of law of nature telling us that the amount of intellectual effort needed grows with the square of program length. But, thank goodness, no one has been able to prove this law. And this is because it need not be true. We all know that the only mental tool by means of which a very finite piece of reasoning can cover a myriad cases is called “abstraction”; as a result the effective exploitation of his powers of abstraction must be regarded as one of the most vital activities of a competent programmer. In this connection it might be worth-while to point out that the purpose of abstracting is not to be vague, but to create a new semantic level in which one can be absolutely precise. Of course I have tried to find a fundamental cause that would prevent our abstraction mechanisms from being sufficiently effective. But no matter how hard I tried, I did not find such a cause. As a result I tend to the assumption —up till now not disproved by experience— that by suitable application of our powers of abstraction, the intellectual effort needed to conceive or to understand a program need not grow more than proportional to program length.

(Bold is mine.)

Reading Dijkstra was a revalation. This quote almost makes my part of my first FRP draft look like plagiarism for not attributing this idea to him!

the intellectual effort needed to conceive or to understand a program need not grow more than proportional to program length

Honestly, I didn’t know! But know I do.

What my FRP essay is really about

I’m realizing that much of my essay need to be deleted, which is sad, but its important to be ruthless about “killing ones darlings” when it’s time to. I went ahead and deleted it all and started afresh in the same file, but I expect that I will be coming back to the first draft a lot to copy and paste various elements.

I see now that my essay is less about the importance of explicit dependencies, but more about how Elm doesn’t have them, but Reflex does, and the reason is higher-order and cyclic streams. I worked on this essay for ~90 mintues today and it was a bit pulling teeth. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m in a new setting – the NY Public Library instead of home – or if I’m sad about the mass deletion, or distracted by my other part time work, or whatever, but I’m going to stop working on this essay today in favor of other part time work, and start again tomorrow morning.

It's been too long!

07/27/18 Fri 10:38 AM

I’ve been busy with my part-time jobs! I spent the first two days this week working for Dark, and the rest of the week working for my new gig at First Round Capital. I found two other gigs (another one at Dark and one at the Jain Family Institute), but pushed off their start dates for a month to give me some time to get this FRP essay done. However, I do expect to be splitting my time 50/50 for $ and research going forward, and if-anything leaning more heavily on the $-side of things because I want to make sure things are moving forward there. It’s exciting to not have to worry about money as much! I wonder if I’ll get sick of this context-switching at some point like Paul Chiusano did and want to go full time on the research.

FRP Draft Feedback

After completing the first draft last week, I sent it over to Jonathan Edwards for feedback. It was truly excellent feedback. I kept reading it over and over again. He was able to highlight the parts of my essay that I was most concerned about, and give very on-point suggestions. Here is his feedback and my thoughts underneath each point:

“modular comprehensibility” is a heavyweight phrase, and modularity has many meanings. Maybe “locally comprehensible” is lighter and more precise?

Agreed. “module” is a loaded word in tech already. Another phrase could be “piecemeal comprehensible”. Or how about “self-contained comprehensibility”?

A metaphor I find helpful is the difference between a novel where anything can happen to anything at any time, and you have to read it sequentially and completely, vs an encyclopedia, which is referential in that you can just look up what you care about (and the entries it specifically references) and be done. So another possible phrase is “referential” or “definitional” comprehensibility.

“implicit dependencies and side effects decrease modular comprehensibility” Is the problem being implicit or non-local? Would non-local explicit dependencies be OK?

Really great question. I totally agree that I don’t make this point well, because I’m partially confused by it myself.

For one, it’s important to not only list what the dependencies are, but specifically how the dependency affects it’s dependent. It’s not “this term depends on x”, but “this term is precisely 2x + 17”.

At the end of the day, I want “data = …”, which is an explicit definition. If the definition of “…” lives in a different file, I don’t care because we can build an automated tool to bring them together for visualization purposes. Explicit-ness is the key, and side effects lead to implicit-ness.

In the essay I complain about “action at a distance”, but I think you are correct in pointing out that that doesn’t really matter. It’s more the implicit-ness that’s the problem.

The graphs are larger than needed to make your point. It took me a minute to figure out what you were doing with the edge adjacencies. Probably should explain in figure captions. It might be clearer to make this point with different syntaxes for representing the graph.

Ok, good to know.

“count is constant in the sense…” is asking for an argument. Is a lazy stream really a constant? You don’t need to pick this fight.

Ok, good to know! (Didn’t realize it was a fight.)

The reflex example needs more detailed explanation. What does foldDyn do and what is its type? Show how the stream is higher order. Also note the dependence on lazy evaluation (which is also the reason for space leakiness)

Agreed, will do.

You need to show todomvc in reflex to compare with the Elm example and show how locality is improved. This is the crux of your argument, and you stopped before you got there!

Ah, ok, will do! I think this will help me articulate some of the questions in your comments.

Don’t credit Glen with inventing live programming. Best citations are Steve Tanimoto and Chris Hancock.

Ok good point, will look them up.

You should address the counterargument that your cure is worse than the disease :). Isn’t the bottom line really the cognitive effort to understand the code? Evan says the Elm architecture is no longer FRP and is easier to understand http://elm-lang.org/blog/farewell-to-frp. FRP can get hairy - do you end up just trading non-local dependencies for convoluted semantics?

Totally, totally agreed. I used to have a section in this essay that referred to Elm’s Farewell to FRP, but removed it. I’ll bring it back!

Some might argue that the data flows are just as complex topologically, you’ve just encoded them in a very terse and abstract way. You propose building code viz tools to help. But perhaps we could also add assistance for understanding the non-local dependencies in Elm also.

Really on-point question. I think about this myself too. One way to phrase this question is: can we build an automated tool to parse an Elm project into a Reflex project?

I fear that the Elm Architecture is functional in the same way that passing around global state as an explicit argument is functional as they articulate in Out of the Tarpit:

There is in principle nothing to stop functional programs from passing a single extra parameter into and out of every single function in the entire system. If this extra parameter were a collection (compound value) of some kind then it could be used to simulate an arbitrarily large set of mutable variables. In effect this approach recreates a single pool of global variables — hence, even though referential transparency is maintained, ease of reasoning is lost (we still know that each function is dependent only upon its arguments, but one of them has become so large and contains irrelevant values that the benefit of this knowledge as an aid to understanding is almost nothing).

Future of Programming Meetup

We had a fun meetup on Monday of this week. It was great. There were 8 of us at the Work-Bench offices, which was a great location. The way we ran this meeting was that different people showed what they were working on and got some feedback. Nick from Windmill showed a terminal app that runs compile processes in a more visual way. Sam and Rodrigo from Hopscotch showed interface ideas for linking between projects. Steve and Joe from Universe showed a new on-boarding flow that teaches the interface, which reminded me of this article that I needed some help from Twitter to find.

Functional Programs That Explain Their Work

I found this link on lamdu.org. So great! The motivations are very similar to my own FRP essay but they take a very different approach. Their goal is:

allow the user to selectively focus on parts of the execution to help their understanding

Which sounds a lot like my goal to make reading proportional to comprehension.

Story Generator Redesign

Glen sent me this link after an email exchange we had. It’s a very thought provoking short demo essay thing. It provides evidence for the “we need lots of little visual domain-specific environments” argument.

Seymour: Live Programming for the Classroom

Crazy I haven’t read this yet. Really wonderfully written. Of course I am a bit tired of trying to visualize imperative programs, but this is an interesting take on it. This is a bit more advanced than PythonTutor, which they reference in the essay.

Academic Pensieve

Found this article via a Michael Nielsen essay. Turns out my experiment in publishing all my work in progress isn’t so new. This guy has been doing it since 2008, and says that it’s called Open-notebook science.

My growing Anti-IO-Monad Obsession

My new motto (from I don’t know where):

My favorite picture (from What’s Functional Programming All About?):

image

And my new obsession (from Can functional programming be liberated from the von Neumann paradigm?):

move I/O entirely out of our programming model into the implementation of a denotationally simple model for whole systems

HTTP = JQuery

Here’s an example of moving I/O out of the programming model. You have a beautiful FRP app. No IO required to render your app. That’s what libraries like React are for. They are like JQuery as a service. You tell it what things should look like it and it does the imperative I/O (virtual-dom diffing and patching) below your level of abstraction.

But what about some arbitrary HTTP requests that your app needs to make to some backend service? How do we get this IO out of our code?

My first thought was that we should use a stream of some sort to abstract over the request. But that feels a whole lot like what we already have with JavaScript Promises, and is still very imperative.

Then it hit me (in the shower, as it always does). HTTP requests are like the JQuery DOM queries and mutations. We have to disallow arbitrary HTTP requests in favor of a more holistic abstraction (that will do HTTP under the hood).

I’m not firm on the specifics yet… but the idea is that you would declaratively say which data are needed on the frontend, and others should be persisted on the backend. Potentially, the way to do this right is to blur the front-end and back-end to a single codebase that speaks in a higher-level abstraction, which is then broken up when the app is compiled – maybe like Meteor. This could help solve many of the issues with trying to the front and back ends.

Another HTTP example

Let’s take another HTTP example. Let’s say you have two services that you want to keep in sync with a third server. Each one sends you webhooks when their data updates. Then you go to the other and update the data there.

Let’s say service A notifies you of a change via a webhook. You go notify service B with a POST.

All is good until service B hits you with a webhook (because you just changed it’s data with a POST and it’s letting you know that it’s data was changed). You could go update A with the changes, but that’s a bit crazy because A already has the changes - it was the one who first propagated the changes.

In order to prevent this craziness, you’d need some way at your server to remember what each service knows so you don’t send them redundant updates. However, that feels kinda dirty. Shouldn’t your service be stateless…?

Here’s my take on the no-IO solution to this problem:

--------------------------------
-- Functions we need to define
--------------------------------
stateView :: State{serviceA} -> State{serviceB} -> State{internal}
serviceAView :: State{internal} -> State{serviceA}
serviceBView :: State{internal} -> State{serviceB}

------------------------------------------
-- Virtual States for diff and patching
------------------------------------------
initialState :: Service S => State{S}

stateReducer :: Service S => webhook{S} -> state{S} -> state{S}

diffState :: Service S => state{S} -> state{S} -> diff{S}

patch :: Service S => diff{S} -> [HTTP{S}]

Our job is to explain how our internal model of the states join together, and then explain how that model should be persisted in each of the views.

Under the hood, our library will pull the initial states from both services (hopefully not the entire states but just the relevant parts), and maintain it’s internal model of each service’s data (the virtual-state), and when there’s a diff in what is and what should be as specified in our model, it’ll do the diff and patch with the appropriate HTTP requests.

One thing to note here is that in the virtual state diffing and patching, I’m using the “Elm Architecture” of a reducer thing, which I normally don’t like. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t be a global reducer like that but more like how I argue in my FRP draft. However, it hurts my brain to think about how to do it that way… Anyways, it’s an implementation detail so it doesn’t matter too much either way.

Now until 8/17/18

I am angling to submit my FRP draft essay to REBLS on 8/17/18, so I’ll be mostly working on that, along with my Dark and First Round work, over the next three weeks.

As far as the essay goes, I have plenty of work to do as specified in Jonathan Edward’s comments above. In particular I need to get clearer on what’s problem (implicit dependencies or non-local dependencies) and also make the case that the solution isn’t worse than the disease.

Oops forgot to add essay last commit

07/17/18 Tue 9:58 AM

I also made more changes this morning. I think it’s really coming together!

Turning FRP essay into real paper

07/16/18 Mon 6:56 PM

I found some solid advice on Twitter for writing a research paper and it got me excited about turing my article into a real paper. I gave it a shot and like it so far.

Draft 2 of FRP Essay

07/12/18 Thu 3:47 PM

I got started this morning at 7am and worked until now (4pm) with only two breaks, a 90-minute and a 30-minute one, which means I worked on this for 7 hours today!! I’m very proud of myself. I’m also excited about how the piece is coming together. I feel my understanding of these topics deepening as I research them more fully in order to write the piece.

One thing in particular that I came across is the imitate method in CycleJS’s xstream, which makes me wonder how far I can get with an FRP framework in vanilla JavaScript… It’d be neat if I didn’t have to build a whole runtime!

I was only planning to work on this until noon-ish, then run, and then work on my UK visa application, but I didn’t do it that way. I’m going to go run now. If I have energy after that, maybe I’ll do my visa app, but if not I’ll do that tomorrow. I also have to do my Dark work for next week tomorrow, because I’m going to be out of town this weekend, so I likely won’t work on this again until Monday, or more likely, Tuesday of next week.

Plan for July 2018

07/11/18 Wed 5:15 PM

Yesterday I had a wonderful conversation with Jonathan Edwards, which helped me figure out my focus for the next month, and possible beyond. I feel very lucky to get his advice.

I updated him on my progress, that I was able to solve DOM Recursion Problem with Reflex, but haven’t made much progress on the UI part of visualizing the stream operators yet.

He was able to give me really great advice here, because he’s potentially the original guy who’s been insisting that we need to work both on the model and the UI at the same time - as opposed to PL people who only work on the model and Bret Victor people who only work on the UI. It’s called co-design, desigining two different pieces towards each other.

He suggested that before I work on the UI, I should write a blog comparing Reflex to Elm, why I like the Reflex semantics as a model better, why the UI of Haskell is hard to use and why we need a better UI, and only vaugely hand-wave about how I think the UI will look.

This essay will be a great foundation to build off of. I’ll share it on social media, HN, etc.

I started the essay today here.

Then, I should pick a few very specific and small examples, and draw out by hand and Figma what they should look like from a storyboarded perspective, not worrying too much about the general case. I can then publish this as a follow up essay. However, Jonathan warned me (and I agree) that this will likely be difficult, possible where this research thread comes to an end, so we’ll see…

However, if I am able to get something that looks promising, I should, in effect, concatenate the two essays into a single narrative and submit to either LIVE or REBLS at SLASH on Aug 17th. In particular, Jonathan noted that I should explain in my submission the “technical challenges for building this for real.”

If I don’t make it in time for SPLASH, the next relevant workshop would be PX at in the Spring of 2019, which is very far away, so I hope I make it in time!

Added Reflection 12

07/09/18 Mon 11:43 AM

It’s been a while since I reflected on my work here. Part of me things that reflection text should really show up in my log… Maybe I’ll add that feature one day, but until then, you have to click on the link above.

Also, maybe I’ll turn this reflection into a short podcast update episode. I could tack it onto the beginning of a podcast interview, like Sam Harris does, but I feel like that’s a bit disrespectful to my guest, who doesn’t really want that nonesense before their interview, especially if they’re going to share it with their audiences.

Yesterday’s Slice-and-Dice Data Ninja Playground

07/06/18 Fri 11:43 AM

While watching fireworks the night before last, I couldn’t stop thinking about Flowsheets, my fuzzyset refactor, my ideas to improve ObservableHQ, and for my own reactive playground.

Here’s how I put it to my girlfriend: “Glen and I are working on the same problem - code comprehensibility - and with similar approaches - visualizing the live data - but for different types of code. He’s working with normal batch code (mostly static input, mostly static output), like data processing, while I’m working with reactive code (which responds to inputs over time), like user interfaces. So my problem is strictly more difficult - possibly even a superset - and is ever harder, because I want to allow higher order streams (streams of streams).

So it occurs to me: why start with the harder problem? We still as an industry haven’t solved the easier problem. If I want to do simple data processing, I don’t have any satisfactory options. The easiest to use is probably Excel / Google Sheets, but that’s a pain and limited. And then there’s Jupyter or ObservableHQ, but those are a nightmare in all sorts of errors and slow feedback loops.

Let’s visualize all the FP list operators!

My first thought was to create metaphoric and live visualizations of all the FP list operators in Figma, such as map, filter, fold, find, some, etc. My thesis here is:

All list (or stream) operators have highly visible structures that programmers have to simulate in their heads. Why don’t we bring those mental visualizations out onto the computer screen as the actual interface? WYSIWYG for list manipulation!

For example, here’s map:

image

This is literally how functions are taught in school to children. They are a mapping from a domain to a range. Arrows from one list to another. And you could imagine actually writing the map function on any of the arrows and seeing the data update through the arrows.

For the fuzzyset problem I’m working on, the visual representation I have in my head is something like:

image

(It was prettier in my head.)

However, I was discouraged when I went to the lodash documentation to see how many of these I’d have to make. Part of my thesis is that there are only a few key primitives you need to do anything you want with lists. (While this is technically true because all you need is fold, it’s likely not true when you consider our mental visualizations of these operators: they are more specific. For example, it’d be difficult to detect that I’m doing a map with foldr (\x xs -> x+1:xs) [] [1,2,3] to get it to expand to the arrows viz above. Ditto with filter, etc.)

However, this isn’t a showstopper. Just because there are a couple dozen (maybe even ~100) operators doesn’t mean I should go home. It’s actually a simple-ish project if I want to commit to it. Here are a few questions I have:

  1. What about nested combinators? A filter inside a map? A map inside a fold? What about both? Look at this crazy code:

image

  1. How do you visualize the current values of computations within the body of lambda functions? Maybe this isn’t a real problem (as long as you have concrete data to flow through), or maybe it’s the same problem as (1) above.

  2. What about user-defined functions? Do they write their own visualizer?

  3. Are the FP combinators the essence of list (or data) combinatorics? What about APL? Sometimes nested lists and maps within lists seem cumbersome. What about SQL?

How about Luna-lang?

I did not have fun with Luna, despite it being squarely centered in all the things I’m into: Haskell, visual coding, live data. For one, Luna only visualize dependencies between values, which are much less rich than I’m thinking in terms of specific metaphoric pictures for each combinator.

image

Secondly, it’s not nearly as live as I’d want.

How about a spreadsheet?

image

It was easy to normalize the string (except the regex wasn’t compatible, so that part needs work).

There’s no range(10) function, so I had to create the series by dragging down +1 of the previous number manually, which won’t scale. I’m not sure how to get around this.

I was surprised to see that there are named ranges now which are similar to variables. The names don’t show up on the sheet (I had to add them manually above as a label) but you can use them in formulas. I did this with value, normalized, and gramSize, but got bored and stopped after a certain point.

Splitting into grams as a mapping was very straight forward (except that there’s no substring and I had to use LEFT and RIGHT - it’s a bummer there’s no function creation either). Grouping and counting was funny - I actually used the Query function which is very SQL-like. It worked like a charm, except it didn’t keep the original ordering, which was a bummer. (You can see the query in the bottom of the sheet.

In order to try to keep the order, I pulled the counts back up into the original grams list. This works, but then there are duplicates of course. I guess I could first remove the duplicates and then join with the counts, but I didn’t do that.

Overall, it’s possible to do stuff in a spreadsheet, but:

  • the cell position references are the worst (always breaking things)
  • you need to dynamically creating ranges (not by dragging down)
  • you need user-defined functions
  • you need to see both the data and the formula at the same time
  • you need to be able to visually see the relationships between cells without looking at formulas
  • you need to be able to export your process to code that can run as a library

What about Flowsheets?

I haven’t had the chance to play with it myself, so I don’t really know, but it looks great. I’d prefer a FP language instead of Python, but doesn’t really matter. I’d be curious how it handles nested data structures.

What about APL?

I spend ~3 hours yesterday on replicating this code in APL. God it was hard!

image

Here’s a link to it on tryapl.

It took a very long time, it was very frustrating, I barely understand how the code works, and I am still not quite done. I haven’t figured out how to abstract over arbitrary word inputs which would allow me to remove the ‘-mississippi-‘ string and hardcoded 11’s and 3’s.

One of my biggest complaints about APL is the documentation. It’s like it’s written in another language! And I wasn’t able to find great Stack Overflow support.

I’ve printed out Iverson’s Turing lecture on APL so maybe reading that will help. I’m dying out here!

The grass is always greener - yet again

I tried to jump ship (again) to a different problem. I thought maybe it would be easier and help with my intended problem, but surprise it’s difficult in its own right.

Todos 7/6/18

I’m not sure where to go from here… I’m feeling as lost as I did in my last todos.

I guess learning Reflex and building visualizations for it (in Figma to start) is a good next step.

(As an aside, I spent about an hour yesterday learning about PureScript which was fascinating. It compiles to readable JS! It does this by not being lazy. The author has a FRP library called Behaviors that’s just ~100 lines of code. It’s neat but not as firm an abstraction as in Reflex, which I prefer. And so I’m stuck with Reflex. But now I know that maybe I can use ghci to get better type instrumentation this time so maybe it’ll be better.)

It may be a couple days (or even a week) until I can work here again because I have visa paperwork do to (I may be moving to London) and work for Dark to do. (On the other hand, maybe I’ll procrastinate on those things and be back here sooner.)

Lots of blogging on the 4th

07/04/18 Wed 5:10 PM

Rant about abstraction haters

I started the day off with a rant about abstraction haters, which was fun. I’m waiting on some notes from a friend before posting it around.

A Human-Readable Interactive Representation of a Code Library

I needed a break, so I read through Glen’s new essay, in part because its topic is excitingly similar to my own. There’s a lot he says that now I no longer have to say myself - I can simply quote him. In fact, I think this essay could provide me with the “intellectual cover” from which to begin my own essay - which would allow me to do away with contexualizing why code comprensibility is important.

I also had fun converting some of his code to an FP style, which allowed me to make some points about why the model is important, along with shwoing the data. I’ve included the email I sent to Glen:

Email to Glen, Fuzzyset & FP

Hey Glen,

I took some time today to dig into your Fuzzyset explanation. It’s wonderful! In particular, I love the little details, such as providing links at the very button numbers that show the calculations of the dot product and magnitude in a popup.

The second interactive section of your essay, “Turning a string into a vector”, features some code that incredibly difficult to comprehend, even with the explanation and GUI beside it. As an exercise I removed the incidental complexity in the code (in other words, converted it to a functional style) to clear things up:

Now you can better follow the logical flow of the code - as opposed to the control flow of the computer. This includes eliminating iteration variables, in fact all mutable variables, which eliminates bugs, such as a 5-line section that doesn’t appear to do anything. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) It also is shorter now: the core of the code is 13 very clear lines (excluding comments).

Additionally, in this form, you don’t need your comments on the side (about normalizing the string and adding dashes) because I’ve added them in context, which makes it even easier for a user to tweak them.

And perhaps the best part of the functional style isn’t captured by the code: it’s quite visualizable in a way that doesn’t require console.log. Each line of code is a constant value, mapped from a previous value. In it’s current form I can imagine it being directly converted to something like Flowsheets, and you could marry the abstract symbols and concrete values even further. Dream, here we come!

Best, Steve

Continued Casual, comprehensible, visual essay

Here’s the current status of the outline. It’s tough. It’s pretty messy. As I said above, I may use Glen’s essay as a starting place and just jump into comprehensibility and reactive programs, and not contextualize why those things are important. At the end of the day, my vision of everyone constantly improving and customizing the software they use as the use it for free, while very compelling for me, is less so for others who have less of the picture in their heads.

Added 26, Glen Podcast

07/03/18 Tue 12:32 PM

It took me ~1 hour to edit the podcast and ~20 minutes (I timed it) to put it online, including uploading it, writing the description, links, etc. This is one of my favorite conversations so far!

A tad lost in FRP Land

07/02/18 Mon 6:19 PM

Unfortunately, Thursday was a bit of a bust. I went to the Games for Changes conference but didn’t get inspired. I imagine that’ll be the case for most conferences - unless they’re nonferences, which is basically a conference without talks and focuses on peer-to-peer interactions.

Fall 2018 conferences

Speaking of nonferences, the tickets for CycleJSConf 2018 go online today and they only have 40 spots so I should decide about that ASAP. It looks like a long an expensive flight, so I’ll have to think on it… As an aside, my girlfriend and I are thinking about moving to London in the next few months, in which case it’s cheap and a 2 hour flight. But then it’ll be harder to get back to the States for Splash in Boston in early Nov…. These conferences are complicated and expensive!

  • Sep 26-28 Strangeloop (and elm-conf) St. Louis
  • Oct 17-19 CycleConf Copenhagen
  • Nov 4-9 SPLASH Boston

A fourth vision-y essay

I spent 2 hours on Friday (before I had to go to Philly for my grandfather’s birthday) on yet another vision-y essay. This one is about how the smallest unit of improvement a person can make in technology is an app, and how that’s too big, especially when people mostly just want to add on to existing apps with a feature or customization.

Casual, comprehensible, visual essay

At this point I have 4 such essays:

  1. Apps are too big as a unit of improvement
  2. People will (learn to) improve software if it’s not too hard
  3. Software needs to be casually improved
  4. In order to be casually improved, it needs to be visual

And starting on Wednesday, I’ve been maintaining a Workflowy nested list of the “outline” of this massive essay / thought dump. Workflowy felt like the right tool for this because I’m making a linear argument with a lot of tangents and nested points, and I want to be able to zoom in and out on the sub-points as well as collapse arguments to see the broader shape. The Workflowy is not on source control, so I put the current version of it in this gist, and here’s a link to the live one.

For better or for worse, these ideas keep metastasizing and gobbling up other projects into their purview. For example, on Friday I re-read the final STEPS report as well as Guido’s Computer Programming for Everybody, the second of which I found from watching @roml’s Liberal Software. All three projects were highly related and I copied and pasted lots of their text into the Workflowy for reference.

I also sent an email to @roml, asking for help articulating the vision for “liberal software.” It’s a fascinating vision. In particular, I want to clarify how it’s different from the Smalltalk, Lively Kernal, Morphic, STEPS, Boxer vision of a unified computing environment. Maybe it’s not different from those, but it feels different. For one, I’m more concerned with web-based tools, while those are more OS based. For another, I care a lot about the visual polish of the end software, while those almost deliberately seem to not.

I’d love to zoom in on a sub-topic of my outline and write / polish that concept well so I can publish it, get it out there, but I am finding that easier said than done. I’m also becoming cognizant of how long this writing is taking me, and am worried that it’s not the best use of my time… Maybe I should go back to the problem as opposed to motivating and contextualizing the problem.

On the plus side, I’ve become skilled enough in communicating what I’m working on and why that yesterday I was able to explain it at a party (in conjunction with Nadia’s Independent Researcher article). Additionally, both Jonathan Edwards and Paul Chiusano sent me a shockingly relevant paper that came out a few days ago, discussed below, which is a great sign that people understand where my head’s at.

Reading & Watching on 6/2/18

I worked from 9:20-2:00 today, had a 45 min break for lunch, and have been working on this write up for the last hour or two. Productive day! (Although it doesn’t really feel it because I don’t have much tangible to show for it.)

Debugging Data Flows in Reactive Programs

This is the paper both Paul and Jonathan sent me, which came out a few days ago. I haven’t felt this sinking feeling of “oh shit someone already beat me to it” in a long time, which is a great sign.

On note I’ll make up front: the reasoning in this paper feels backwards to me. It’s saying: people use FRP, it’s hard to debug FRP with imperitive debuggers, so let’s make visual debuggers. However, I feel that the visualizations are the key to why FRP should be used in the first place, and the fact that we don’t already have good visualizations for it crazy.

They focus on the rxjs library in this example. To be honest, I had considered doing something similar myself, so it’s great to see this before I did that. This means that they do visualize streams of streams, but not cyclic streams.

They also focus a lot on the user interviews, which I find silly, like they’re pretending to be a different kind of science than they are.

I speak more about their visualizer, rxfiddle, below in the “FRP Visualizations” section.

I find it hilarious that they include a reference to StoryFlow, a tool to visually track the evolution of a character in a fictional story. It’s funny to be because I’ve been using the metaphor of fiction as an example of how it’s difficult to follow state in imperative languages.

They also cited a bunch of papers at the end of their paper that extolled the importance of seeing runtime values in order to comprehend programs, which fits into my thesis nicely. Currently you have to instrument your code manually or set debug breakpoints to inspect. I want you to be able to look with your eyes, mostly, and interact only a bit to see what’s up in a program.

Functional Reactive Programming, Continued

After reading the above paper which focuses on rxjs, I felt my understanding of “true FRP” shaken a bit. I often find it hard to keep them all straight in my head, so I read this article in part to see if I could figure it out.

This was an arrowized paper. It helped me get back into the mindset of FRP, but no great insights here.

Monadic Functional Reactive Programming

I was in the groove, so I continued on. This article was fascinating, but a bit hard to read because I’m slightly allergic to monads. It was interesting to see that he explicitly says he wasn’t able to do “mutually dependent signals.”

Practical Principled FRP

Forget the past, change the future, FRPNow!

This paper is apparently the basis for Hareactive/Turbine (discussed more below) and builds upon Monadic FRP. It seems to solve space/time leaks with some clever restrictions about what you can and cannot depend upon. However, as many monadic interfaces do, this feels very imperitive to me. They have a Now monad for goodness sake!

At the end, they make an tantalizing point that “synchronous dataflow langauges, such as Lustre, Esterel and Lucid Synchrone” … never have a issue with leaky abstractions, even for higher-order dataflow, because they are more restrictive than traditional FRP” - but he doesn’t say in which ways they’re more restrictive.

Ryan Trinkle - Reflex

Fascinating talk! In particular, I loved the way he explained why FRP is the best:

  1. equational reasoning, which I’ve been calling “definitional”
  2. local reasoning, or understanding apart from context, which I’ve been calling “being able to rule out parts of the application you don’t have to read”

Another key point I got from the video is that if you want to use ghci with reflex-dom, you can, but then you need to use the ghc binders, which requires a desktop environment to see stuff with. Or something like that. Maybe it means I can use ghci to do more than I thought I could…

In the talk, he shows this tutorial on building a reflex library through building a terminal library. Looks fascinating!

I also skimmed another video, which had a great example and quote about declarativity. He shows dynamic list, whose dependencies are all explicitly listed inside of it. Only one place to (recursively) look. This epitomizes why reflux is the only library I am still excited about.

I reached out to Obsidian, the Haskell dev shop he runs, to see if they’re still hiring. I could definitely see spending some time there, which I can’t say about almost any other company.

FRP Visualizations

Before I found the FRP Debugging articles, I was saying something along the lines of: we need visuals that support casual understanding of large, complex software programs. FRP support this because the metaphors are very visual. Just look at rxmarbles.com and the cyclejs devtools. If you wanted to visualize imperitive programs, the best you could do is Python Tutor, which merely helps you “play machine in your head.”

It turns out, I’m not the only one to want to provide more live visualizations for FRP:

rxfiddle

My inital reaction to this tool was “neat!” But upon closer inspection, I’m not impressed:

  • the high-level graph in the middle of the screen is confusing. It’d be best if you could zoom in and out on the same structure for high and low level views.
  • clicking on data points is confusing
  • the fact that they show opaque green dots instead of raw data is dumb, especially when it’s a number

They try to vertically align data points. This is a reasonable strategy but doesn’t scale super well for complex flows (maybe better layout could solve this). One idea I had would be to use color to show the lineage/causality of events.

One point they make is that more work needs to be done for combinators that modify flows in a less merge-y way, such as filters, folds, etc. Another point is what to do with a high-frequency event. One idea is sparklines, but there are many ways to compress data.

Additionally, I find it useful to have both representations of streams: a lazy infinite list, and also a single value that changes over time.

One final note is that they only show acyclic graphs, which is insufficient for my purposes as discussed elsewhere.

rxviz

These are fun. I like them a lot more than rxfidle. They do a great job of showing higher-order streams. They don’t, however, show how streams combine to make other streams. They just show one output stream or stream of streams.

For completeness, here are some other links on visualizing FRP programs:

FRP flavors

This is a problem I’ve struggled with for a year or so now. There are so many flavors of FRP out there, with different points on the design space, it’s hard to keep them straight.

Andre Stalz has some interesting things to say on this topic here and here.

Jonathan Edwards suggested I make a survey type doc for them. Neat idea. FRPZoo already exists but doesn’t quite capture what I want. Also, I don’t care so much to compare them all. I want to simply find the one model I want and go with it.

Turbine

Seems like the most Conal-based FRP in JavaScript.

However, you add stream on-click handlers in UI elements, which isn’t for me.

CycleJS, Elm, Redux

All have the same singleton state + reducer architecture I don’t like.

However, it is possible to do CycleJS without the singleton state as I did in this Flappy bird about a year ago. The question is: 1) can it do cycles? and 2) how do we like the devtools?

Reflex

I haven’t done much more with this, despite watching the videos above, but it remains the only library I still like, despite the annoying type quantifiers and ghcjs nonesense.

Purescript

Paul Chiusano suggested I see if Purescript has anything I like in FRP land. Maybe it’d be easier than Reflex.

Next steps 6/2/18

There are a few social things to figure out:

  • fall conferences
  • the next FoC meetup in NYC
  • a possible meetup in Boston with Nicky Case and Glen

A few other next steps:

  • update my Workflowy with notes from today’s reading & watching

  • cyclejs with non-singleton state - can we do cycles? what do the devtools do (particularly as compared to singleton state)?

  • look for PureScript FRP library

  • continue learning Reflex. I found this tutorial

What am I driving towards?

  1. An essay about comprehensible programming
  2. A comprehensible & casually editable ToDoMVC
  3. Tufte-inspired (show data, show comparisons, etc) visualizations (and editor) for cyclical, higher-order, GUI streams

Anxiety about speed, focus

I wish that it was more obvious what I should work on next or focus on for this week. I am feeling a bit anxious about getting to a polished published piece of work that I can point to and be proud of, similar to my Visual History of Eve in that it is polished and got attention, but more impressive and meaningful, like a Staltz or BV article.

However, while today wasn’t particularly directed, it was definitely quite productive. It took me ~2 hours just to write up all that I did today. I just have to trust in the messiness and hope that a smaller piece of a project will appear and provide itself for polish and publish at some point.

As far as tomorrow goes, let’s start by re-reading this entry and going from there…

Another vision-y essay

06/27/18 Wed 11:37 AM

I started another essay today. This isn’t a great sign that I keep creating new essays, instead of editing the old ones…

I’d like to find a way to release something, which means I’ll have to cut down the scope as much as possible. The essay I worked on today does a good job of that. It’s just trying to make the point that live modify-ability is a great thing. It’s trying to sell the vision.

The other two essays: visual and casual and more about why FP and FRP is neccesary, and how we’ll make it work. I’m stil not sure how to combine or seperate those essays.

Even worse, I’ve been collecting a large number of notes to add to these essays, and I don’t know where they go…

  • include referneces to http://glench.com/LegibleMathematics/ in my visualizable essay and also talk about how visualizations are key. they’re already in our heads even if we don’t know it.visual metaphors. maybe quote the monad guy. quotes about mathmaticians who see things.
  • also I can clarify that when trying to improve understandability of programming you can either improve the model or the interface, and how I’m working on both dimensions at the same time (paul chiusano leverage, glench is only on UI where I used to be, etc)
  • comprehensibility: model + interface…steps proj, Nile + Bret’s visualizations
  • Haskell note from rattray: compiler knows more than you do
  • declariative langauges stink but they allow for foundation for visual tools such as squarespace and looker

Started visual programming essay

06/26/18 Tue 12:04 PM

Prisma yesterday

I spent yesterday researching GraphQL for Dark. I combined a few pictures on their website to explain Prisma. It’s a little complicated, because it’s solving a GraphQL problem with more GraphQL, but I think this photo explains it pretty well:

The Software Elephant

I was inspired by a wonderful conversation this morning with James Somers (of The Coming Software Apocalypse and many others) to write up my thoughts on how visualizations will save programming. I somewhat-recently read Fred Brook’s No Silver Bullet where he very eloquently argues that software is “inherently unvisualizable.” What makes Brooks so great is that he gives you such a wonderful structure for your arguments, including great metaphors. I actually can’t believe my metaphorical luck: in a relevant quote he refers to software as an “elephant,” which is perfect because it allows me to reference the story of the blind men and the elephant. I ‘m pretty pumped about the rough draft / outline I’ve come up with in the last 2 hours.

I’m not sure how this essay relates to Casual Programming. Maybe it’s a replacement? Maybe they’re somehow complimentary?

Next steps 06/26/18

I’m pumped to get this essay polished and published before continuing trying to understand Reflex, etc, etc. I think it’s useful to take a break to explain the why of what I’m doing before spending more time doing. This post might be similar to my first (and favorite) Andre Staltz post, which is similar in that its a mile-marker on his way to creating CycleJS.

DOM Recursion Problem Solved by Reflex

06/24/18 Sun 11:36 AM

As I wrote in The Model-View Recursion Problem in FRP:

In “Experience Report: Functional Reactive Programming and the DOM”, authors describe a “recursion between FRP and the DOM” problem: “…the DOM tree in an FRP application can change in response to changes in FRP behaviors and events. However such new elements in the DOM tree may also produce new primitive event streams… which the FRP program needs to be able to react to. In other words, there is a cycle of dependencies…”

You start with two buttons. The first button doesn’t respond to clicks. But the second button, when clicked, adds two more buttons to the page, where again the first button doesn’t respond to clicks, but the second button can add more pairs of buttons on click.

… I believe … the solution is mutually recursive like the code in AFRP, and looks something like:

clicksCount = count $ merge $ map (\[b1, b2] -> b1.clicks) nestedButtons

nestedButtons = repeat clicksCount [button, button]

buttons = flatten nestedButtons

Turns out the Reflex library allows me to neatly solve this problem. The core of the code looks like:

rec
  countedClicks <- foldDyn (\a b -> if evenButton a then b + 2 else b) 2 clicks

  clicks <- listListView (ffor countedClicks (\n -> [1..n])) (\ _ x -> dynTextButton x)

And it only took me ~5 hours to write those two lines. No joke. I use a few helper functions of my own creation. You can see the full code here. And the live version here.

And that ~5 hours is not including the ~3 hours it took to get reflex set up on my chromebook. Cloud9, AWS, Digital Ocean, and Codeanywhere all didn’t work for different reasons. Eventually I got Google App Engine to work but I didn’t realize the version I used would delete everything I install over night. So I created a more permanent instance on Google Compute which works as well and lets me SSH in using the browser. I just have to remember to turn it off when I’m not using it (which I am pretty sure stops the billing), otherwise it costs $100 per month because I’m using a big box.

I’m getting better at emacs which is fun. I install haskell syntax highlighting and am using the shell from within emacs to compile the code in a different window. And I have sudo python -m SimpleHTTPSever 80 so I can see the code after I compile it with ghcjs. I can’t use a lot of the really cool emacs haskell extensions because I’m using ghcjs instead of ghc and ./try-reflex instead of cabal or stack, but I’m doing OK now. It took me a while to get used to all the fucking types in reflex, but I’m getting the hang of it.

Next steps… I’m a little lost in terms of what’s next because this problem, along with Reflex ToDoMVC minus a few features seems to already be solved. One idea is that I can go through Reflex ToDo MVC, line by line, expression by expression, and type-annotate everything and add a bunch more comments. There are definitely parts of it I don’t understand, such as the def keyword, &, and .~.

In a vague sense, I’m working towards building a “CycleJS devtools dataflow diagram” experience for Reflex, so another step would be to draw pictures for each type, or a way that I’d display it on the screen and show the values flowing through. And another good step that comes to mind would be to figure out how to get ahold of Reflex internals so I can get a sense of the network and hook into the different event firings.

What am I even working on again?

06/21/18 Thu 2:25 PM

Jonathan Edwards very generously offered to give me some comments on what I’m currently working on if I would take the time to write it up. I spend most of Monday and Tuesday (like 10 hours) on it. My first attempt spent a lot of time explaining the context for why I found this particular sub-problem (the DOM recursion problem) of the sub-field (FRP) interesting.

But I did away with all that in the version I sent over, because that’s what researchers do: they explain their problem in its context and attack it. They don’t need to sittuate the problem in the broader context so much, because readers of technical papers often already know that context.

This exercise was challenging, fun, and very worthwhile, even before Jonathan gave me any comments. It’s great to be getting some clarity on what I’m doing. I am proud of the document I sent to Jonathan.

Jonathan Edwards made some great comments. He suggested that I polish it up and submit to the REBL track of SPLASH 2018. I have until Aug 17th to submit. The workshop is Nov 4th. Dominique Devriese, one of the authors of the Experience Report: FRP and the DOM, is on the organizing comittee. Maybe emailing him would be a good next step!

Casual Programming - first draft

Armed with the newfound clarity around my research, I tried to explain my what I’m working on to two other programmers yesterday. It didn’t go well. First of all, I wasn’t able to get across the why of my research at all. I didn’t motivate the problem well - neither of them agreed with me that a problem existed there in the first place. Secondly, I didn’t do a good job of defending the uninteresting parts of my solution. My solution is to use a form of functional reactive programming, so I need to explain why FRP is the right tool for the job.

So I spent ~4 hours today on a draft of [Casual Programming][./essays/casual] (a phrase Nikolas Martens used before me) to contextualize the problem I’m working on within the vision of the world I’m working towards. It’s a rough draft, needs a lot more fleshing out and examples. Also I’m not entirely sure who the audience is, and what it’s explaining to them. It’s definitely not to be submitted to REBl, because they already get FRP and the problem. So I guess the audience is the programmers who are interested improving programming, but don’t know all the academic stuff. The goal, I gues, would be to produce a blog post of similar caliber to Andre Stalz or David Nolan.

Todos 6/21/18

  • Continue working on [Casual Programming][./essays/casual]

  • Continue working on the academic version of Casual Programming, which I’m calling The Model-View Recursion Problem in FRP . In particular, formalize things up, probably by using an existing FRP library, maybe arrowized, to test things in, maybe on the browser.

  • Email Dominique Devriese

That’s it! Much last list of todos has either been completed or no longer feel relevant now.

Mon 6/4/18 - Fri 6/15/18

06/18/18 Mon 12:18 PM

Apologies for going dark here the last two weeks. On the bright side, I have been quite productive, but in an analog sort of way…

Fedex Kinkos to Brother printer

Two weeks ago, I spent 3ish hours reading Functional Reactive Animation on my phone. I was finally able to make it all the way through, reading every word, and understanding ~80%. I was very proud. But, I didn’t love reading on my phone - I wanted to print some papers out. I didn’t have a printer at home – I hate printers, they always break, and cost a bajillion dollars to buy ink for – so I went to kinkos to print out most of Conal’s papers:

image

But here’s where I felt like a stupid idiot: it cost $75 bucks to print all that! So I learned from my mistake and went on amazon to buy the printer with the cheapest cost per page, and found a Brother printer that fit the bill. It cost $70 itself, and will print ~500 pages before needing more ink. It’s a 10x price reduction!

FRP Reading

Functional Reactive Animation

Finally able to make it through – this was probably the 3rd or 4th time I attempted to read this paper.

Bouncing Ball (solved)

As it turns out, Conal solved my bouncing ball problem in this paper. And I don’t mean that he gave me hints towards the solution. I mean that he actually gave the code to solved the same exact problem. And it’s beautiful:

image

It’s very similar in spirit to what I created. Of course, there are no graphs or visualizations in the code, which is where I want to take this. FRP lends itself really well to live values and graphs.

Genuinely Functional User Interfaces

Also great. Also was able to read every word and understand closer to 90% this time.

Arrowized FRP is when you use signal combinators, not signals as first class. This is supposed to help with spacetime leaks, as well as modularity. But of course, they are two-sides of the same coin, and it’s easy enough to translate from one to the other.

Paddle Ball is beautiful

The hardest parts of this definition are xvel and yvel, but it all makes sense when you read the paper and look at it for long enough:

screenshot 2018-06-16 at 9 09 38 am

Denotational design with type class morphisms

Harder and slower. I probably got closer to 60% of this one, but I do feel like I have a much, much better grasp of what programmers mean whey they model programming concepts with mathematical objects, and what semantics means.

A Fifteen Puzzle in Fran

Read like a tutorial, explaining how to code an example project. Interesting and helped cement the ideas of FRP. Fascinating how he explained the structure of signal combinations in pictures:

image

Two-handed Image Navigation in Fran

Another tutorial. A bit harder to follow.

Push-Pull FRP

I’ve been having trouble with this one, so have been putting this one off for now, but hope to get to it soon. It’s a prerequisite for a number of other papers I want to read.

Asynchronous Functional Reactive Programming for GUIs

I skimmed through this one. I wasn’t terribly impressed with Elm. I can see now how it’s Haskell-lite and FRP-lite. It’s definitely more synchronous in spirit, taking some interesting ideas without super-solid foundations and running with them.

Experience Report: Functional Reactive Programming and the DOM

Really wonderful read - very easy for me to assimilate because I’m so familiar with the DOM. It also helped me see how much of the trouble of FRP comes from not properly and completely abstracting over the imperitivity of the DOM.

Recursion between FRP and the DOM

They do a good job of specifying this problem:

…the DOM tree in an FRP application can change in response to changes in FRP behaviors and events. However such new elements in the DOM tree may also produce new primitive event streams… which the FRP program needs to be able to react to. In other words, there is a cycle of dependencies…”

The easy solution to this is to give elements names, which we can then use to filter the event stream, but that doesn’t feel quite right.

Ultimately, the problem is referential transparency: I want to be able to create two buttons that look identical but when I put them next to each other, they emit two different event streams. How is this possible if they are identical? They are not identical! When they were put next to each other, the position of one of them was changed in the layout function, and thus they emit different event streams! Of course in order to preserve modularity (so we don’t only get event streams at the top level, when everything is being laid out), we need to use a trick I learned from Conal where you translate the event stream going into a “component” with the inverse of the translation you used on its position. (I haven’t entirely worked out this scheme, but I feel it’s promising.)

Monad Reading

What we talk about when we talk about monads

From Jonathan Edwards. Great recommendation!

Be careful about the “romance of mathematics”. It’s perfect-ness is illusory. Yet despite this, I still feel like math is our best way to reduce incidental complexity.

This definitely made me even more skeptical of monads! He showed cases where people put the word “monad” in the title of their papers when it had no business being there - just to show how cool they were.

Monads and input/output (section 7 of “being lazy with class”)

Fascinating to learn about. Moggi introduced monads to structure the denotational semantics of state and exceptions, but “a denotation semantics can be viewed as an interpreter written in a functional language” and “Wadler used monads to express the same programming language features that Moggi used monads to describe.

Can functional programming be liberated from the von Neumann paradigm?

I printed this one out and re-read it for the 7th time. It’s so fucking brilliant.

“Programming is more about the middle than the end, i.e., more about composition than output.” And quoting Roly, “What looks like imperative output can be just what you observe at the boundary between two subsystems.” We need imperativity in our functional code (usually structured with monads) when we haven’t properly abstracted that particular API into a functional interface yet. For example, think about putChar and getChar from the terminal. How fucking imperative is that?! But FRP (even React) shows you that you don’t need to put and get characters from the screen imperatively. Instead you can describe the UI input and output declaratively - no monads required! The way to get rid of monads is by abstracting over imperativity (databases, file systems, operating systems, etc), one by one.

Other Reading

Tangible Functional Programming

I enjoyed the beginning, but also had trouble sticking with this one, but hope to get back to it soon. It’s so up my alley!

Promise of Live Programming

This was a fun one. Live programming provides a rubric through which to rate a programming system, but not to come up with a programming system.

What’s Functional Programming All About?

This is one of my favorites! These recipe diagrams are just devine! He really makes the case that functional programming is about explicit data dependencies, and it’s gorgeous.

Destroy All Ifs

Really great. He goes even further than I do when thinking about this topic: instead of inputting booleans (or union types) into functions, we should add lambdas, which are semantic explanations of what we want done.

Todos as of 6/16/16

I’m continuing from the last todos in this journal (without the completed or no-longer-relevant ones):

Friday 6/1/18

06/04/18 Mon 1:12 PM

The Mythical Man Month

I was a bit exhausted from coding last week, so I let myself relax with The Mythical Man Month. I had started it a few weeks ago, but I finished it on Friday.

First of all, it’s shocking to see how many key phrases in this field come from this book:

  • The Tar Pit (which is used by the famous “out of the tar pit” essay)

  • No Silver Bullet

  • The Mythical Man Month

  • Essential vs Accidental complexity

Much of the book is still relevant today, even though programming has changed a ton since the 60s, and of course many is just hilarious reminders of how much has changed.

No Silver Bullet

As you may expect, the “No Silver Bullet” essay was the most relevant to me, and I LOVED it. Very, very thought provoking.

The premise of the essay is this: there will be no single magical solution that will drastically improve the beast that is programming. Instead there will be a myriad of small incremental improvements that will over time tame the beast.

A wonderful analogy he uses to illustrate the premise: Before germ theory, we held out hope for magical solutions, such as the fountain of youth, to solve all of our problems. Germ theory, however, told us that no magical solution was coming. Instead we have a long term, tedious war, that will have to struggle against for decades and decades, making slow slow progress. Yet, once we accepted that and stopped wasting all our time looking or waiting for magic, we were able to get to work on making the necessary incremental progress, and look where we are now.

Inherently Invisible (bullshit!)

Thus it’s time to change our focus from the accidental complexity (of hardware limitations, etc) to the essential complexity of ameliorating the inherent difficulties of software development, which are its complexity (so much more intricate than other engineering disciplines), changeability (software is changed rapidly as compared with cars, for example), and invisibility (not naturally mapped onto a 2d visual plane).

Ok, I’ll agree with him the programming is indeed harder than other kinds of engineering for greater complexity and change-ability. While fast changes are hard to deal with, version control in git and GitHub is pretty good, and I and others have a few ideas on how to improve this. Yet if it is indeed also inherently un-visualizable, than we are going to be hard pressed to address all the complexity in code.

But of course I strongly disagree that software is inherently un-visualizabe. I think if Brooks looked at the work of Bret Victor and Edward Tufte, he’d see that through innovative design work, we can increase the visualizablity of just about anything. While we might not have great visualizations today, have hope! Many visualizations that seem obvious now were not obvious before they were invented – and it was in no small part data graphics that led the scientific journal revolution.

We don’t even know what’s essential

Additionally, I deem much of what Brooks refers to as essential difficulties in programming as accidental to how programming is done today, and not at all essential to solving the problems at hand.

Thought experiment: how long would it take for you to describe Twitter, the entire application, from the consumer’s perspective, down to every interaction and pixel? Maybe a couple dozen hours, maybe a hundred, at the outset. Yet thousands of engineers are working on it every day. Why? 99% incidental complexity.

Of course, you may argue that to simply describe Twitter in English is not a fair test because English is not precise enough. So what language do we have that’s 100% essential complexity, 0% incidental? My thought is that math is just such a language. It talks about conceptual objects and relations, not at all about how such things are computed (unless that’s what you are talking about in math). And of course this is why I’m currently working on (as you can see in the last few entries below) describing UIs with only pure maths / piecewise functions with dynamic piece breaks.

Communication and composibility are key

100% agreed. So much of what stinks about programming today is that folder-and file interface of code. Impossible to navigate and communicate how things are built and run. I think a key way to overcome this is to build a sounder model for computation that lends itself better to communication and understanding (such as definitions only depend on explicit dependencies, and nowhere else).

Composibility is also key, particularly for re-using code and collaboration.

Object-oriented programming

I haven’t thought alot about OOP in a while. It’s always felt lame to be, particularly because I learned it in Java and it was mostly about inheritance.

Yet there’s one idea about it, encapsulation, which is kinda neat. The idea is restricting the mutation of state to a higher level operation, hiding the implementation details, and also limiting the number of pathways that can change state. Of course, in practice, objects often become dumb data structures and people just mutate their fields willy nilly with no encapsulation.

I think what OOP is missing here is being explicit about who can access those pathways under which conditions. In other words, being clear about what can effect certain pieces of state, what it depends upon, as opposed to the protocol by which it can be ordered about by.

GoTo Considered Harfmul

I can’t believe it’s taken be so long to read this. It’s just 1.5 pages. It’s so great. Makes me think that even more of what we do to program is also harmful in a similar way. As I’ve been saying recently, everything but mathmatical expressions are harmful. A new thing that I’ve been against recently is dynamic scope and lexical scope. Names are super dumb. Content hashing is really the only way to go. I saw a fun Twitter argument on this this morning with Joe Armstrong.

Tweets with tools_for_thought

I had a lot of fun tweeting with Michael Nielsen on Twitter via his tools_4_thought account: https://twitter.com/stevekrouse/status/1002604633209131009

I also had success tweeting a Fred Brooks quote: https://twitter.com/stevekrouse/status/1002614810780094469

I find it hilarious how great Twitter is for this community!

A Bouncing Ball Graph

05/31/18 Thu 5:34 PM

After banging my head against the ball for an hour or so trying to get Newton’s method to work in JavaScript, I bailed for the Wolfram Language which, as you’d expect, has excellent primitives for solving equations, both analytic and computational.

However, I did really get fed up with constantly re-evaluating old cells to make their definitions update. This was glitchy some of the time too, making me thing there were bugs when it was that I was looking at older version of expressions.

Wolfram Bouncing Ball

Anyways, it took me a 3-5 hours, but I finally got a piecewise, pure, mostly-non-recursive function which can be infinitely expanded of a bouncing ball. Let’s look at the code:

sim[0] = <|start -> 0, end -> 0,  vel -> Function[t, 0], pos -> Function[t, 0] |>
sim[n_] := sim[n] =
  With[{start1 := sim[n - 1][end]},
    With[{previousV := sim[n - 1][vel][start1]},
      With[{vel1 := Function[t, -previousV*0.9 + -10*(t-start1)]},
        With[{startPos := sim[n - 1][pos][start1]},
          With[{pos1 := Function[t, startPos + ((vel1[t] + vel1[start1])/2)*(t -start1)]},
            With[{end1 := First[t/.Solve[{pos1[t] == -473 && t > start1}], t]},
              <|start ->  start1, end -> end1,  vel -> vel1, pos -> pos1  |>
            ]
          ]
        ]
      ]
    ]
  ]

piece := Function[n, {sim[n][pos][t], t < sim[n][end]}]

Plot[
  {Piecewise[Map[piece, {1,2,3,4,5, 6, 7, 8}]]},
  {t, 0, 100}
]

Which gives us the glorious result:

screenshot 2018-05-31 at 5 43 05 pm

Top-level explaination

This code isn’t at all read-able, even by me, a few hours after I wrote it.

First a top-level explaination: the code is creating a piecewise function. Every time the ball hits the bottom (-473), we need to create a new function to represent it’s motion post-bounce.

What’s tricky is that each piece of the function depends on the previous piece’s end values (when the ball bounces, we need it’s old position and velocity). So we construct this recursive function sim which will generate us parts of bounces.

Line-by-line explaination

sim[0] = <|start -> 0, end -> 0,  vel -> Function[t, 0], pos -> Function[t, 0] |>

sim[0] represents the initial conditions, lasting 0 seconds (as the start and end times are the same).

sim[n_] := sim[n] =

We define sim[n] here and also let Wolfram know to (memorize the results of prior runs to sim so it doesn’t need to recompute the results)[http://reference.wolfram.com/language/tutorial/FunctionsThatRememberValuesTheyHaveFound.html].

  With[{start1 := sim[n - 1][end]},

Here I begin a nested series of With statements. They are nested because the computations depend on each other and Wolfram With statements aren’t smart enough to figure out how to handle that.

Some of the variables defined in the With statements, such as start1 above are eventually placed into the association (it’s like a dictionary or object) below. I didn’t name this variable start (as you would in another langauge), because Wolfram would then then I wanted the key to be the value of the start variable, such as <| 4.34 -> 4.34, ... |> – so that’s why there’s a 1 after certain variable names.

And now to the meat of this line: it says that the start of the current piece is the end of the prior piece. Pretty straight forward.

    With[{previousV := sim[n - 1][vel][start1]},

Here we calculate the final velocity of the previous piece, which we do by evaluating its velocity function on the starting time of this piece (which as we calculated above is the ending time of the previous piece).

      With[{vel1 := Function[t, -previousV*0.9 + -10*(t-start1)]},

Here we calulate the velocity of this piece:

  • We reverse the end velocity of the previous piece, because the ball should bounce up with the same speed it hit the ground
  • But not quite the same speed because balls never bounce as high as they did when they were dropped, so we multiply the speed by 0.9
  • And then we changing the speed by -10, which is our acceleration, every second after the starting time of this piece.
        With[{startPos := sim[n - 1][pos][start1]},

The starting position of this piece is the position of the previous piece at the end time of that piece (which is the starting time of this piece). This is the same way we found previousV.

          With[{pos1 := Function[t, startPos + ((vel1[t] + vel1[start1])/2)*(t -start1)]},

Then we calculate position:

  • starting at the initial position
  • then taking the average of velocity at the current moment and the velocity at the beginning of this piece
  • and multiplying the average velocity by the time elapsed in the current piece so far
            With[{end1 := First[t/.Solve[{pos1[t] == -473 && t > start1}], t]},

And here we calcuate the time at which this piece hits the floor which I set here to be -473. The meat of this line Solve[{pos1[t] == -473 && t > start1}], t] simply asks to solve for t where the position is at the floor and the time is after the starting time of this piece. First[t/. is just extracting the computed solution out of the result.

              <|start ->  start1, end -> end1,  vel -> vel1, pos -> pos1  |>

And here we boringly compile the results of our hard work into a single data structure.

piece := Function[n, {sim[n][pos][t], t < sim[n][end]}]

This function turns the nth simulation into an array suitable for the Piecewise function. It’s first argument it the function to be plotted and the second argument is the domain over which it should be plotted. In this case, the first argument is simply the position and the second argument is that the time shall be less than the ending time of the piece.

Plot[
  {Piecewise[Map[piece, {1,2,3,4,5, 6, 7, 8}]]},
  {t, 0, 100}
]

And here we plot 8 pieces of the simulation, resulting in the beautiful graph you saw above.

But why?

I’ve been talking a lot about piecewise functions these last few days, to my mom and my girlfriend, and they both think the idea is kinda neat, but don’t understand why I’m doing this. I don’t have a great defense. Instead of spending 4ish hours making this graph, I could’ve done the same thing in WoofJS in 9 lines of very readable code in under 60 seconds (I timed it):

var circle = new Circle({})
circle.v = 0
forever(() => {
  circle.v--
  circle.y += circle.v
  if (circle.y < minY) {
    circle.v = circle.v *-0.9
  }
})

I want definitions to be definitional goddammit!

I want that when you define something it stays defined. I’ve had enough of these mutable reference cells that you can read to and write to at any time. I’ve had enough of playing Turing Machine!

Redux isn’t all that different than global state we had before. Sure it’s easily serialize-able, which gives you undo and redo, and time travel debugging, but that’s not all I want.

I want to be able to look at a piece of code and know that the only things that can affect that code are written in it. A piece of code should depend on its dependencies. Nothing else should be able to change it. In this way you could understand a small section of your code without having to understand the whole thing. Without this we are doomed to read all our code if we want to understand what’s going on.

I don’t know much maths beyond high school, so I wonder if my salvation lies in a more powerful structure than a piecewise function. If any math geeks out there are reading this, please let me know if you have any ideas!

Mitigating thoughts

Possibly these explicit formula and the Logo/Woof implicit, recursive formula are just two sides of the same coin, and we could allow programmers to write in the more intuitive (change the position by X every Y) and then take the derivitive of that to get the explicit form. (It seems like there are ways to get explicit formula for any implicit or recursive formula, so this seems likely…)

In the same way, I wonder if we can convert a codebase where any mutable cell can be changed by anyone, and statically parse all the places in the code that could possibly have an effect on that value, and bring them all together so you can see you things are tangled. (I am doubtful of this because 1. which values are being modified can change dymaically so we can’t really assess well statically, 2. I bet this would be such a gnarled mess that it’s not really useful expect to show us all the folly of our entangled ways.)

There are just a whole bunch of bad things I know about

1 - Control flow of any kind seems like a terrible idea all around. You should just describe the system and the system shall determine which lines of code to run when. Non-monadic Haskell does a great job of doing away with this.

2 - Mutable variables seem like a terrible idea, as discussed above.

3 - The global state reducer from actions also feels like a terrible idea. I don’t want anything to be able to emit an action that can change any part of the system. If you look at a piece of state, how are you to know which actions could affect it? I also feel like it’s too much power, allowing the system to change itsellf based on the past value of itself.

But how are these piecewise functions any better, you ask? Great qusetion! As you noticed, when a new piece of the piecewise function is being created, it depends on the values of the last piece. It has the entire state of the app to do what it wills with. Yeah I didn’t like this either, but I wasn’t able to thing up a way out of it. We really need to know the final velocity / position of the prior piece to start the next bounce. But I’m not terribly beat up about it: maybe allowing pieces to view prior pieces on piece transitions isn’t so bad…?

As far as the first cricism of Redux from above, that the dependencies of a piece of start aren’t listed in the state, I haven’t yet dealt with that because I haven’t built “prototype” to also work with unpredictable input, such as mouse clicks. But the idea is to allow mouse clicks to trigger new pieces to be generate at the time of the mouse click. Only time protoyping will tell if this new framework has any merits at all.

Part of me wonders if I need to build an interface for this prototype because exisiting ones (such as Wolfram and Woof) just don’t cut it. And part of the whole point is that I’m just constructing transitions between pure mathmatic functions, so should it be super easy to visualize the state of all my functions as graphs?!

At the very least, I’m glad I was finally able to articulate above my dislike of the current frameworks: you can’t tell what’s going on at X by just looking at X and asking for its dependencies.

Added old /journal entries to /log

05/30/18 Wed 11:18 PM

This closes #66, get /journal entries into /log.

Notes on ObservableHQ

I did it in ObservableHQ here, which was really fun and fustrating, both!

  • It took me 5ish to do this task in JS in ObservableHQ, when it wouldn’t have taken more than 1 hour to do by hand (as there were only 68 elements).
  • I both hate and also love ImmutableJS. It provides an API like lodash which is great. It’s annoying because the values don’t yet display well and I needed to add lots of printLine statements below my code someImmutableValue.toJS() just to see what was happening. Also I’d sometimes forget about it and use the old syntax and things would silently break: very fustrating! Also a bit annoying when you’re doing a.something(b) and you want to switch the arguments - lots of typing! Probably lost an hour on ImmutableJS alone, but it was definitely worth it for the API, speed, and not having to worry about mutability ever.
  • I found the way that code was hidden by default (unless you pinned it open) was counter to what I wanted most of the time. I think I’d probably prefer the reverse: to collapse code when I’m done with it.
  • I lost another hour trying to use simple-markdown which was waaaay more than I needed, given that all I needed was to split the string on a simple regex. Another hour or so gone there.
  • Maybe a half an hour was lost screwing up with momentjs, which would fail silently on me. So annoying! Give me an error goddamn it!
  • But the most fustrating loss of time came from writing functions: you can’t see intermediate values and the debugging support is lack-luster. So the main benefits of a reactive tool is lost the second you want to abstract over a list! I was constantly creating a function and testing in on various elements, and then changing the index one at a time to see how it worked: someFunction(someLIst.get(5)). What’s the point of putting my code in cells a whole function is just one cell?! You loose all the benefits of the cells and intermediate results because functions are just a textbox! Not entirely sure how I’d fix this but I have an intuition that it should be possible within this paradigm.
  • I really wish I could’ve also hid the output of a computation, for example the text of the journal which was really long.
  • You can’t search through the code with ctl-f because it’s mostly hidden.
  • You can’t see (without reading) which cells depend on which other ones.
  • You can’t drag cells into other orders.
  • It’s a bit annoying navigating object hierarcy trees - it’d be better if it defaulted to a table or something maybe.

It’s interesting to note how few operations I used:

  • A TON of map, filter, some, max, find and other Immutable list and map operators
  • regex
  • date parsing and diffing (momentjs)
  • importing the file over HTTP
  • downloading the result JSON as a file

For regex, I used regexr.com to live show me the output right on the data I was using.

For date parsing and diffing, I was constantly screwing this up and had to instrument my own code by hand to figure out in which ways. It definitely feels like there should be a regexr-like environment for this too.

Ditto for the list operations: no reason that any of these shouldn’t show you the results in a more immediate way, and where you can see the intermediate values too of course. As said above, not 100% sure how to do this but I feel like it’s not too tough.

As for importing and exporting data, not difficult once you find the example somewhere. I think those sorts of primitives should be easy at hand.

Speaking of easy at hand, I spend a TON of time switching tabs (ObservableHQ doesn’t work great in half-screen) to look at the Immutable, Moment, simple-markdown, and various other documentations. It was annoying. They really need autocomplete on variable properties – but also with documentation, preferably with examples!

And of course, I think everything would’ve been beeter with stronger types. I wasted so much time thinking that everything was OK when it wasn’t and banging me head against the wall. I want to know when things fail!

And if you can do it with no syntax errors, that’s pretty amazing too!

Project idea: functional, immutable, strongly-typed notebook?

This all makes me think that there’s a neat prototype opportunity here. All my prior protyotype ideas in this space have been very visually-focused, almost like spreadsheets. Very much like Glen’s FlowSheets. But what if we don’t need the interface to be a spreadsheet (because variables (as opposed to column and row reference) and nested data structres are nice), but just a vertical series of cells (and cells within cells within cells for nested levels of abstraction)? Syntax errors aren’t so bad (considering I haven’t yet met a projectional editor I prefer, maybe save Scratch), but let’s definitely get some strong types, solid primitives (data structure, string, date, HTTP, importing), and inline documentation.

Math and physics as code

05/29/18 Tue 4:02 PM

I’ve had this intuition for a while now: wouldn’t it be neat if you could somehow “copy-and-paste” your physics equations from your textbook and drop them into your computer and that be the code?

Let’s describe a bouncing ball.

Works great to start:

const a = (t) => -9.8 /* meters per second sq */ * 10 /* px per meter */
const v0 = 0
const v1 = (t) => v0 + a(t)*t
const p0 = 0
const p1 = (t) => p0 + (((v1(t)+v0)/2)*t)

But what about the bounce? There are two problems:

1) We need to reverse the velocity (multiply it by -1) 2) We need to know at what time the bounce occurs

How about a piece-wise defined function? For starters, let’s just hardcode the bounce intervals at 3, and 9:

const t_bottom1 = 3 // p1(t) === 0, solve for t
const v2 = (t) => -v1(t_bottom1) + a(t)*(t - t_bottom1)
const p2 = (t) => p1(t_bottom1) + ((v2(t) + v2(t_bottom1))/2)*(t - t_bottom1)

const t_bottom2 = 9 // p2(t) === 0, solve for t
const v3 = (t) => -v2(t_bottom2) + a(t)*(t - t_bottom2)
const p3 = (t) => p2(t_bottom2) + ((v3(t) + v3(t_bottom2))/2)*(t - t_bottom2)

const p = (t) => {
  if (t < t_bottom1) {
    return p1(t)
  } else if (t < t_bottom2) {
    return p2(t)
  } else {
    return p3(t)
  }
}

Ok, let’s abstract this so the ball can bounce forever-ish:

const eq0 = {
  t0: -1,
  v: (t) => 0,
  p: (t) => 0
}
var equations = [eq0]
const intervals = [0].concat(range(3,1000, 6)) // [0, 3, 9, 15, ...]
intervals.forEach((t0, i) => {
  var eq = {}

  eq_last = equations[i]
  eq.v_last = eq_last.v(t0)
  eq.p_last = eq_last.p(t0)

  eq.t0 = t0
  eq.a = (t) => -9.8 /* meters per second sq */ * 10 /* px per meter */
  eq.v = (t) => -eq.v_last + eq.a(t)*(t - t0) // NEXT: can't decrease by 0.9 because then 6 second hardcoded intervals are fucked up
  // THUS: how do make dynamic
  // MAYBE use something like http://algebra.js.org/ to solve the equations
  // WHICH would eventually lead to allowing mouse click generated invervals
  eq.p = (t) => eq.p_last + (((eq.v(t)+eq.v(t0))/2)*(t - t0))

  equations.push(eq)
})

function eqI(t) {
  const eqNext = equations.find(eq => t < eq.t0)
  if (!eqNext) { return equations.length-1 }
  const eqNextIndex = equations.indexOf(eqNext)
  return eqNextIndex - 1
}

const p = (t) => {
  const eq = equations[eqI(t)]
  return eq.p(t)
}

Full code to be found here.

As said in the code, next steps are:

1) make the intervals dynamic (so we can decrease the speed by 10% each bounce), maybe using something like http://algebra.js.org/ to solve the equations 2) see if we can additionally generate intervals by non-predictable user-input, such as mouse clicks 3) …turn into flappy bird?

Some notes:

  • It was really annoying to code this, because math can be annoying especially inside JS. I wonder how much better it could be in the right kind of environemnt that supports this kind of maths with rapid feedback. I worry that expressing things in this explicit, closed form, with partial equations will be too awkward for people and the gains of mathmatical purity, expresivity won’t be worth it. Regardless, I want to follow down this rabbit hole and see where it goes.
  • To really show why it’s neat to do things in this closed form, I should probably add a time travel debugger thing, that also shows the positions and velocities and accelerations at different points in time, and change when you tweak the params. Probably would be a neat demo.

The rabbitholes never end!

05/21/18 Mon 2:13 PM

Artist-Centric Programming Tools

Friday night, Twitter sent me a notification to look at this tweet:

First of all, I’m amazed and super grateful that Twitter was smart enough to let me know about this.

I only got part-way into the thesis, but I’m pumped to finish it. I got distracted by one of her references, InterState…

InterState

In an earlier entry, I wrote:

how do Facebook’s Origami, CycleJS devtools, and statecharts somehow fit together?

This protoype seems to answer that question! I was so excited that I sent it over to the StateCharts community!

Finished re-watching Tangible Functional Programming

Really wonderful! I missed the beauty here in the first watching. Notes here.

  • Concur - a new FRP library - Found by searching “Elm Fudgets” after reading about Fudgets on Conal’s reccomendation.
  • Forms/3 - I’ve heard of this before but checked it out after seeing it referenced by Conal, and it’s cooler than I remember.
  • Links Lang - I found this after re-reading “What next?” by Graydon Hoare. So cool! Unifies all layers of the stack into one language. Excited to check this out soon!

Open problems as of 5/21/18

As I was falling alseep last night, I thought about the core problems with existing languages:

  1. Redux, Elm, and CycleJS are a pain to code in. Small changes require big refactors. More importantly, emitting actions that can edit state in any way feels similar to the global mutable state we started with, that Andre Staltz argues against in his arrow post.

  2. IO (and async) in an elegant way. Monads and streams kinda stink and feel imperitive the same way Redux does. (Conal agrees.)

  3. In order to build a solution to these problems, it also needs to be somehow inter-operable with existing web frameworks. Relevant questions include whether its interpreted or compiled, etc, etc.

  4. Another open questions is what the backend should look like in order to handle authentication, permissioning, persistance, etc.

  5. Another open question: if you want to add phsyics to an object in your code, why not add the equations from your physics class to your program? In other words, how mathmatical and high-level can we get? What’s the highest-levle we can get and still have something computable (with good performance) at the end? Additionally, can we make a declarative langauge that’s readable and debuggable? (The Seymour Papert’s distinction between LOGO’s first-person FORWARD 1, RIGHT 1, and math’s third-person x^2 + y^2 = z^2, and how they are really just two sides of the same coin via the derivitive feels relevant here.)

  6. Soundness of the type-system from a Scott, Strachey, and Elliot perspective also feels relevant here. I don’t want leaky or infinitely-complex abstractions.

I’m not even sure if these problems are truly problems, or just things I don’t yet understand. Yet, it feels very relevant to continue down the Conal Elliot, FRP rabbithole. I hope that the more I understand Elliot’s and (also Hudak’s Arrowized) FRP, the more I’ll be able to explain why I dislike Redux, Elm, and CycleJS. (Yet, I am a bit nervous that I won’t like any implementation of FRP out there. What then?!)

Todos as of 5/21/18

I still haven’t found a better way to manage these than listing them every log entry. Here are the remaining ones:

  • Prototype TodoMVC in InterState, and read the paper, and reach out for a conversation
  • Finish reading Jennifer Jacobs’s Dynamic Drawing, and reach out for a conversation
  • Edit (or throw out) plan v6
  • Hareactive
  • Simon Friis Vindum, including Let’s reinvent FRP, and possibly reach out for a conversation
  • Facebook Origami Community
  • Stratchey denotational design
  • Conal’s Denotational design with typeclass morphisms, Fran, and basically everything he’s done
  • Verlet and ConstraintJS
  • Sean McDirmid (and these papers he referenced)
  • Reach out to Jonathan Edwards
  • make a better system for todos, things-to-research (FoC Research label in Inbox), ideas-to-ponder-on (FoC Thinking label in Inbox), projects/blogs-to-consider-doing

Back at it, reading and emails

05/16/18 Wed 5:33 PM

Besides the readings below, I cleaned up my inbox, which I haven’t done in about a week, so that feels good to be back in integrity.

Jonathan-Edwards-inpsired Reading

I meant to reach out to Jonathan Edwards today (but didn’t), and found myself on his twitter, where I found some amazing gems:

Graydon Hoare-inspired reading

  • From Graydon, I was sent to learn about algebraic effect handlers in Eff, which didn’t really impress me to be honest. Their pitch of “you know how much you like exception handlers? Let’s have more of those” doesn’t resonate with me because I never liked exception handlers. Feels to procedural, contextual to me. I much prefer it encoded in the types, such as a Maybe or Failure type.
  • Koka makes a little more sense to me, labelling functions based on whether it can raise an exception, possibly not terminate, and be non-deterministic… but I only skimmed the beginning.
  • I was VERY EXCITED to see [Frink](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frink_(programming_language) and “units of measure” in F#. I’ve both sad and excited that this exact idea I’ve had has already been had. I claim independent invention!

Todos of 5/16/17 in no particular order

  • Finish re-watching Conal’s Tangible Functional Programming and try to read the paper, Maybe I should print it out to help me focus…?
  • Also, don’t forget the other ToDos of last week, especially reaching out to Jonathan Edwards and possibly Sean McDirmid
  • Possibly reach out to Graydon Hoare or at least learn more of what he has to say, including re-reading his “What next?”
  • Find a better way to manage these notes and todos so things get less lost…?
  • Edit (or throw out) plan v6

Notes From Last Week

05/08/18 Tue 12:39 PM

Repl.it dev, Mon - Weds

I spent Monday - Wednesday last week working mostly on Repl.it. It was quite fustrating, but in a motivating way: there’s so much about programming that needs fixing!

To give you a taste, I’ve worked 23 horus at Repl.it. The first 4.5 hours were spent setting up my dev environment, then another 2.25 hours debugging my dev environment, and ~2 hours fixing linting or flow type errors. And I believe most of the productive hours I spent were wasted waiting for webpack to recompile all my code for every little change. Sometimes I’d have to wait 10-20 seconds to see even a small change. Very fustrating and very slow! And, of course, so much of my time was spent understanding complex code, React/Redux abstractions, and funneling scope and state, etc, etc. So much garbage!

For the 10ish hours I wanted to work there, I clearly was not being productive enough to justify them getting me up to speed on their stack. As of yesterday, we parted ways, so now I’m down to the 1 part-time gig with Dark (and another one in the works, but it’s touch-and-go if it’ll close). As explained above, this work fustrated me so I’m happy to have it off my plate, but I also got enough fustration to re-spark some motivation in a positive way.

Thursday 5/3/18

I read from 10am to 3pm. It was interesting but also difficult to stay focused.

  • Lucid Synchrone - skimmed
  • Sean McDirmid’s Live Programming Video - Awesome! I want to review more of his work.
  • Conal Elliot Haskellcast video - So great. Took notes here.
  • Typeclassopedia - read for a bit, then skimmed.
  • History of Haskell - read the first half, then skimmed.
    • Haskell was created to solve the “tower of babel” problem around all lazy langauges sprouting up. Purity and typeclasses came later.
    • I/O was intresting too: streams, contiuations, world-passing, and Monads
  • Can Programming Be Liberated…?
    • No variables or substitution! Just one input functions and function combinators.

Friday 5/4/18

I wasn’t so motivated on Friday, so I mostly read Understanding Comics (reccomended by Conal and BV), and did some part-time work for Dark. I also had a group call with Dennis Heihoff, Shaun Williams, and Ivan Reese, which was fun.

Devtools, not programming languages

I’ve realized that “devtools” is a better way to describe the field I’m in that “programming langauges”. Pretty obvious in retrospect, but took me a while to realize this.

Some ToDos I scribbled down last week

  • Stratchey denotational design
  • Conal’s Denotational design with typeclass morphisms
  • Conal’s Fran
  • Simon Friis Vindum, including http://vindum.io/blog/lets-reinvent-frp/
  • Verlet and ConstraintJS
  • Sean McDirmid (and these papers he referenced)
  • Reach out to Jonathan Edwards

Less passion

I haven’t been super productive or passionate about stuff in a little while. It’s been a bit of a slog getting myself to do research.

Part of the reason is that I’ve becommed obsessed with The Wheel of Time series on audibook and am making my way through. Almost to the end!

Foundations

I find myself increasingly curious about foundations, mathmatics, precision, abstraction, etc. I’ve always been on the fringes of the strong types community, and proving program correctness. These things were what the professors were up to a Penn while I was there. But I’ve never seen the need to dive in before. I think it was Conal’s comments in the Haskellcast video that got me:

1) Those that don’t understand FRP are doomed to re-create inferior versions of it 2) All the FRP implementations out there are more complex than their creators realize because they broke abstractions 3) You don’t truly understand how good or complex a design is until you describe it mathmatically, precisely

Music to Paul Chiusano’s ears, I’m sure.

Vision: semantic and cannonical

Why am I so insistent that programming can be better? It’s hard to put into words. As I was falling asleep a few nights ago, I was struck by how a two words kept coming to mind: “semantic” and “canonical”. But what does that even mean? I have a fuzzy image of mathmatical expressions in the sky, with a white background behind them, and you can select different parts of the expression and get interesting information about the node, because it’s a living object that can be manipulated…

Morning FRP readings, and next steps

04/20/18 Fri 11:48 AM

Morning FRP readings

Flapjax

I started the morning by reading the paper on the Flapjax language/library. It seems to do FRP in much the same way that CycleJS does: stream combinators. It’s kinda neat in how it makes things higher level, but just as with CycleJS, I found it quite difficult to parse the code. However, it is crazy to think that this pre-dated CycleJS by a decade… I guess this goes to Bret’s point about aiming higher than “improving programming.”

“Real FRP”

I’ve gotten tired of Haskell people talking about “real FRP”, so I spent a few hours re-reading the Fran tutorial and re-watching two of Conal’s talks on it (1 and 2). Finally, I feel like I have a clear understanding of what people mean by “real FRP.” I don’t think I had seen enough of the “fake FRP” when I first watched the video to understand the distinction:

Real FRP is (mostly) about continuous time, in the same way that vector graphics are about continous space. In other words, “resolution independent time”, or “time as a function from the real numbers”.

Real FRP is also about denotational design, of which I feel slightly closer to groking, but likely still a hundred hours of Haskell away from. One day I’ll memorize the Typeclassopedia and everything will make sense.

Next steps

Hareactive

This is a JS library for “real FRP”, and I’m excited to play with it a bit.

Sean McDirmid

I’ve been seeing his name pop up a lot recently, so I’m excitd to check out this Live Programming Experience video. Maybe I’ll reach out too…

Callbags

I’m excited to check out Staltz new article on Callbacks.

Facebook Origami Community

Another thing I want to do is continue to investigate how far I can push Facebook’s Origami. There are a few interesting threads in the FB Group I want to either look into or reply to, along with posting a question myself about updating complex centralized state.

Jonathan Edwards

He’s also been saying interseting things on Twitter recently, so I’ve been meaning to reach out…

Synchronous programming langauges

Apparently, this is a interesting family of languages, including Lucid and Esterel, etc. I wonder where to start… This article on Lucid Synchrone looks good.

Prototype a better text-based dataflow langague

As in re-write the logic for a game I made yesterday for fun in WoofJS. Maybe I could re-write it in Hareactive or just prototype it on paper (without a library to back it up).

More centralized place for todos

It’s a bit crazy to put them in a log like this… Maybe /now or /todo would make sense…

Dataflow reading

04/19/18 Thu 1:07 PM

Inspired by my conversation with Brent Yorgey yesterday, I spent ~2 hours reading a 30-page survey paper on data flow programming langauges, with an emphasis on visual data flow langauages, such as LabView. It was fascinating!

A good next step would be to find a similar kind of survey paper but for functional reactive programming. While I could just start with Conal’s Fran paper, I expect it’d be more fun and a better use of my time to get a more modern and broad perspective – if it could include ReactJS and other JS libraries too, even better!

Booleans are too generic - proofs are better

Brent reccomended a great article in a similar spirit to my “booleans are too generic” idea. The main idea here is that truth shouldn’t be a data type, but should be a proof, as it is in math.

That’s a bit different from my idea which proposes to create a lot of new, more specific data types to replace True and False, such as Equal and NotEqual, which would be pattern matched against, not branched at like an if-statement.

Notes from Friday 4/13/18

04/16/18 Mon 11:26 AM

I didn’t have time on Friday last week to write up my log entry, so here it is now…

On Friday I ended up opening more links than I had time to actually read.

  • I really need to take the time to read BV’s Climate Change essay
  • Mentioned in random passing in that article, BV links to ActiveSheets, which seems similar enough to Streamsheets to warrant a reading.

Murukesh

Fascinating conversation on Friday of last week. Notes in this google doc. Maybe I’ll turn it into a proper article. It’s fascinating that there’s so much progress in this space in both the past and in industries that we ignore.

He sent me two amazing videos of the NeXTSTEP development environments that Steve Jobs made. Unbelievable. It’s like Smalltalk. Really makes you scratch your head as to why we don’t have development environments like this today.

repl.it

I had a great call with Amjad of Repl.it last Friday as well, in part from my Eve article. I’m going to follow up with a few ideas for improving their IDE interface, and then possible begin developing for them part-time. I’m very excited about this! It makes me feel much more secure to have a second part-time gig running, as well as that it’s starting to feel like finding these part-time gigs at developer-tools companies are repeatedly find-able. Content marketing - who knew?

Chores and reading

04/12/18 Thu 6:14 PM

Today I wasn’t really in the mood to do much hard thinking, so I spent a few hours in my inbox catching up on things, doing random chores around the house, and finally brining myself to do some reading relevant to the research topics I’ve been thinking about lately.

I started with reading Ian Horrock’s UI with Statecharts, but to a break to go directly to the source (Harel’s Statecharts), and then back to Ian’s book. I read parts and skimmed parts of both. They seemed semi-relevant to what I’m trying to do. As far as I could see, neither referenced the management of complex, nested state. They seemed to assume that non-state data (such as the currently displayed value on the calculator screen) was stored somewhere magically.

I then read a series of Andre Staltz posts. It turns out my link to his post on Friday was actually the incorrect post. I meant this one. He had a lot of other interesting posts, but I found myself not excited about the conclusions he drew. In particular, I didn’t like his discussion of hot vs cold observables because I don’t love his conclusions, although I couldn’t find any fault with his logic. It’d be a bummer if there wasn’t a more elegant way to model this distinction. It really seems like an incidental complexity type of thing. I also came to realize that I find stream-based programming a bit annoying. While it’s kinda cool, I wonder if it’s overly abstract, the way Haskell can get sometimes.

I then re-read (for the 10th time), Elm’s Farewell to FRP. Again, an article that feels profound but that I don’t like for some reason, mostly because there are a lot of concepts in it that I don’t quite understand, but don’t like the conclusions reached. It feels similar to when I had to learn AngularJS. I don’t really know what the concepts mean, but I can tell somehow that they are less elegant than they could be.

From there I found my way to Lucid Synchrone, but stopped after a few paragrahs, and just like with statecharts decided I wanted to go to the source, so I started reading Lucid. I’m actually a little shocked that I haven’t read this before. There’s so much here that I was slowly coming to on my own, but it feels like they’ve brought it all together for me. And, of course, Bret Victor is a big fan of it I’ve heard, although I wasn’t able to find his thoughts on it anywhere on the internet. My next steps are definitely to read through this, and maybe the Synchrone Experiment.

And as much as I want to avoid it, it seems like I may have to get my hands dirty with all this theoretical stuff. Read the Fran paper, other Conal Elliot stuff, maybe read Evan’s Elm thesis, as well as other Elm blogs, etc. I imagine all of this stuff could provide interesting conversation topics with Brent next week…

Origami inspired prototyping

04/10/18 Tue 7:40 AM

Origami

Over the last week, I’ve fallen smitten for Facebook’s Origami prototyping tool, which was originally built on top of Apple’s Quartz Composer, but is now a standalone Mac app. It suprised me because I don’t usually expect much from node-and-wire coding environments. I think the main feature that got me is that you can see the live-updating intermediate values of all computations. It’s amazing. It makes looking at static code unbearable. Additionally: there’s no run button - it’s hot-realoading. And they have a great way to add nodes (they call them “patches”) via the keyboard.

Node-and-wire prototyping

This morning, I had the idea of prototyping the Origami UI in Woof. I had a fun few hours doing it: http://woofjs.com/create#origami

I had to come up with techniques for managing lots of things I’d never had to do before in Woof, mostly around nested components and layout. Stuff that HTML and CSS does for you in annoying ways. Turns out it’s pretty annoying to calculate widths and paddings manually too…

Thoughts on a new language…

The idea in my head is that you have a dependency graph of all the values. The trick, of course, is sequential evaluation and events. Mostly events.

Pure expressions

These are simple. They should always have live-updated values.

They are normally things you’d want nested internally (which is a common complaint of node-and-wire tools), but when “proccessing” a thing, you want vertical or horizontal sequencing, such as in Elm.

Sequential evaluation

I think we can do away with it entirely. If you actually need it, you can model it explicitly as I show in this demo.

Events

Can we do without and just have reactive values? Clicks are reactive list of all clicks, and you can get last one and check timestamp a la http://futureofcoding.org/prototypes/streamsheets/.

Potentially, this will be too conceptually difficult, for the same reaons it was to do CycleJS Flappy Bird without centralized state and we’ll need a reducer. But maybe nested state via statecharts could save the day.

Follow up questions

1 - What do I not like about cyclejs and elm (and what’s the difference again)?

1a - Is the main reason that it’s terrible to code in streams and elm, and thus streamsheets?

1a1 - Idea to make cycle better: swap it: make value be values and have a history function that gets the stream on it?

2 - Is the main difference explicit modeling of time and explictly listing all state?

2a - We don’t really need explicitly listing state, just reactively defined

2a1 - What is reactively defined state? wont it eventually bleed into everything depends on everything else and we’re back where we started? in other words, the reducer thingy seems stinky for some reason … it’s annoying to use, but making it easier to use just gets rid of the benefits of using it

2a2 - Can we make a calculus for how we want this to work to simplify things? Such as what I was trying to do with Reactive Woof … Or is this a cyclejs data structure?

3 - How to statecharts keep track of state…? .. go to Ian’s book

3a - Can you do statecharts without events?

4 - Difference between hot and cold streams?

5 - At the end of the day, can we really realize my perception of Anre’s vision in this article that all things contain all the ways to modify that thing? Or is it impossible because we want to branch in too many ways in our code, not sequentially, but just with nested cases? Would it at all be possible to define things in one place only? Or would that just hurt our brains even if we could do it?

Thoughts

04/06/18 Fri 10:57 AM

Eve Success

I was a little surprised to see my Eve project stay on the front page for basically a whole day! It got 150 points on HN and up to #6. I got over 10k people on the page, and around 500 on my website homepage. However, I didn’t really get anything material out of this experiment.

It does pass my “do they spend more time on it then you do test”, because I only spend 10-ish hours here, and even if the average time on the page was 1 minute, that’s over 100 hours of time they spent on it.

Offline morning

This morning I decided to work with my notebook for 2 hours offline, thinking about other projects to work on. I got a bit excited about a WoofJS refactor plan, but ultimately was most excited about an FRP Scratch tool that is similar to Facebook’s Origami (which is based on Apple’s Quartz Composer) in that you can see all the intermediate values flowing through, immediate updates, etc.

Unproductive afternoon

After lunch, I was lazy and watched a few hours of TV. Then I got myself on my computer to look at my Cycle and Elm Flappy Birds for inspiration. I was quite fustrated with how awful coding in Cycle and Elm is compared to Facebook Origami, and also a bit inspired by that, too. However, I feel lazy today, so I’ll have to pick up on this thread later.

Thoughts for next week

  • Scratch FRP prototyping
  • how do Facebook’s Origami, CycleJS devtools, and statecharts somehow fit together?
  • WoofJS refactor plan (start with docs and a build tool)

Continuing Eve tribute

04/02/18 Mon 6:23 AM

Apparently, shooting for quantity over quality leads to better quality, so I’ve decided to complete a small project: the tribute to eve I started last month. Today I finished adding all of the images, videos and links to the page.

What remains:

  • I need to decide if I should include the other links somewhere in the page, including other dev diaries, other Chris blogs, or Chris’s other videos.
  • The story to the page. If it’s a “thanks for your hard work” or more of just an archieve, etc.
  • Better CSS to make it sexy. Potentially, I’ll want a better timeline-y format where the dates are given higher visual priority than they are now.

It’d be neat if I could get this out in the next few days, maybe on HN, Twitter (send a note to the Eve guys), and reddit on the approriate thread.

Few resources for understanding Nile

03/26/18 Mon 8:05 AM

In the “Linked representations” section of Bret’s Thinking the Unthinkable talk, he has a video of a tool he built to understand Nile. You can find these links:

  • https://cdn.rawgit.com/damelang/nile/master/viz/NileViewer/demo_beziers.html
  • https://cdn.rawgit.com/damelang/nile/master/viz/NileViewer/demo_points.html
  • https://cdn.rawgit.com/damelang/nile/master/viz/NileViewer/demo_reals.html
  • https://cdn.rawgit.com/damelang/nile/master/viz/NileViewer/demo_shape.html
  • https://cdn.rawgit.com/damelang/nile/master/viz/NileViewer/demo_test.html

I learned a bit about beziers, as well as more about OMeta and Ohm which was useful. Mostly looking through Viewpoints stuff just made me feel overwhelmed, out of my depth, and sad.

Struggling to settle on work…

Might move on to Dark work this afternoon, or possibly return to my statecharts rabbit hole. Another slightly tempting project is the Eve tribute, in that there’s a clear end in sight for it, and people might actually find value in it…

Next steps

03/26/18 Mon 7:17 AM

I’m excited to get to work today, but also a bit anxious about picking something interesting and worthwhile to work on. Some thoughts:

Time-box a project

The idea here is to pick a well-scoped project, so that I can finish it in the next few weeks and publish something that would hopefully be suitable for Hackernews. An example here would be my tribute to eve.

Continue down the statecharts rabbit hole

I still have a few more resources remaing from my jump down this rabbit hole last week.

Zoom out and pick up past research or projects

CycleJS, Fran, Streamsheets, FRP for Scratch/Woof, Morphic etc.

In re-reading my plan, I came upon something I’ve wanted to do for a while now: struggle to understand STEP’s Nile. Let’s get that a shot…

3/22/18 scattered notes

03/22/18 Thu 2:48 PM

What I read/watched today

I got a reply from Kevin Lyangh which first sent me to this video on statecharts

Then to I stumbled onto a few David Nolan talks, which I thought were interesting mainly because they referenced “Two Cultures of the Scientific Revolution” (which I recently read and didn’t think much of), as well as Out of the Tarpit (which I also recently re-read and enjoyed).

I then got pulled into Rich Hickey’s Value of Values which provided some good counter-arguments to my thoughts about specificity. Echoing what I just heard from David Nolan, he mentions that we almost always choose bad abstractions and that they often get too much in the way. This point really stuck with me, because abstractions and math seem so elegant, yet maybe their overapplication, like with class inheritance in Java, is what gets us into trouble. On the other hand, simple primitives are portable and easy to understand.

Then I read almost all of the articles on The world of statecharts, read most of the threads in the chat.

Rosmaro (and medium posts)

https://sverweij.gitlab.io/state-machine-cat/

I also read the first few chapters of Ian Horrock’s Constructing the User Interface with Statecharts.

I also took some silly notes on how I’m beginning to view much of the “evil” in programming due to historical accidents that have remained with us long past their usefulness. (Side note: I think it’s probably fruitless to look for “the root of all evil” in programming, be it historical accidents today or primitives yesterday. There are two ways to replace this persuit: 1. Be more explicit about trade-offs, and the contexts under which you’d choose between alternatives, and 2. Look for a positive philosophy of what programming is, almost in the John Dewey sense.)

What remains

Yearning for real-world problems

After watching all of these videos, I was left with a sense of blah. What do I do with all of these thoughts? Is this method or that method better? Under which circumstances? My thinking became so divorced from any concrete problems that I felt impossible to compare the trade-offs between alternatives.

And so I had an idea: what if I use coding on WoofJS as a way to explore many of these ideas. More specifically, what if I use refactoring WoofJS to explore some of these ideas?

The tantilizing idea would be to start small, maybe just one boolean flag, or one function, and slowly refactor the app back to some sort of sanity. Of course, we still are left with the problem of determining what is sane and what is insane. I don’t want to simply move WoofJS from VueJS to some new platform, like CycleJS or Elm or xstate, and just have similar-ish problems but in a new framework. That’s a very expensive way to try out a framework.

Yet on the other hand, I fear that re-building simple apps, like a button that counts how many times it’s been clicked, or even ToDo MVC will not expose me to the truly intricate and sticky problems that would expose whether an approach is good, and also motivate alternative approaches to solving such real-world problems.

A relevant thought here is to bring in Alan Kay’s advice to Samantha John: make a list of a few complex applications you want to be able to create in a framework to test and motivate its generality. This is reasonable advice. Some that come to mind:

  • ToDo MVC
  • RealWorld
  • Basic scratch games (http://coding.space/scratch)
  • Basic JS apps (http://coding.space/web)
  • Agar.io
  • Candy Crush (Sam John’s idea)

Fun, fustrating, little progress on killing primitives

03/21/18 Wed 3:47 PM

Part of the problem doing work on the computer is that I’m too plugged in. Whenever I get stuck in my thinking, it’s almost too easy to google around for related work. There are many benefits for struggling through the problem myself, not least of which is that it’s quite fun – I did it last week via pencil and paper and it was a blast.

Today was 6 hours of FoC work. 0 hours of Dark work. Very productive! Tomorrow maybe I’ll do 1.5-3.5 hours of Dark work, and then 3ish hours of work here. In particular, I’m excited to explore xstate, statecharts, David Piano, and maybe email him to invite to chat on the podcast.

6th plan

03/21/18 Wed 2:23 PM

Spent a few hours this afternoon thinking about this project from a meta level. Wasn’t so much fun, nor particularly productive, but I did get some things off my chest I think.

On the one hand, I want to spend less time thinking about the work I’m doing, and just do the work. On the other hand, if I just let myself get pulled in interesting directions, I end up falling into internet holes, like I did this morning, and then feel unproductive. Hard to find a balance here. One thought is to set up time-boxes for free-flowing thought vs thought about a specific topic vs building time, etc. Potentially I could do it without a computer or without wifi to focus.

I am going to spend the next hour or so actually doing the work that I’m curious about: primitives (booleans, ints) too generic and lead to overloading, etc, etc.

Interface design research

03/21/18 Wed 8:12 AM

Pure UI

I picked up today where I left off yesterday, reading about Pure UI and Pure UI control. Excited to continue exploring this way of thinking, and statecharts, David Piano, etc, here: https://statecharts.github.io/use-case-statecharts-in-user-interfaces.html

Kevin Lynagh

I then clicked on Kevin Lynagh’s name in the Pure UI Control essay and fell into a hole about him and Subform, some notes here.

Excited to reach out to him for the podcast. Ditto with Adam Solove. Will reach out now…

Twitter research

03/20/18 Tue 3:23 PM

Inviting people to the podcast

I looked at this list of potential guests, invited my friend Nicolae Russan as well as his friend Simon last to the podcast, and reached out to Brent Yorgey as well.

I really enjoyed reading Brent’s slides on Explaining Type Errors through an interactive interface where you click on a series of questions. However, it did make me recall Bret Victor’s “interaction considered harmful” point, and I wonder if there are ways to build a context-sensitive graphic for explaining type errors without any interaction nor a block of text. Maybe with colors? Maybe with shapes? Definitely in the context of where the error is occuring, and not in the console.

xstate

I then took to my Twitter list for more inspiration, where I stumbled upon xstate, which seems quite similar to CycleJS, particularly now that they can generate state diagrams from your code. I’m quite excited to read:

  • https://rauchg.com/2015/pure-ui
  • https://medium.com/@asolove/pure-ui-control-ac8d1be97a8d
  • https://statecharts.github.io/use-case-statecharts-in-user-interfaces.html

I also stumbled across this neat tool. “Dynamic layout meets direct manipulation.”: https://subformapp.com/

Goodness! There are so many people building cool things in this space. It’s difficult to find a balance between research and novel work.

Newfound excitement

03/19/18 Mon 2:16 PM

Direction lost

After my visit to Dynamicland at the end of Jan 2018, I decided to pause this project. I think there are a few reasons I lost direction here:

  1. I saw a lot of really smart people that I look up to have a hard time in this space (Bret, Alan, Chris Granger)
  2. I felt that my chances of success were dim
  3. I found it difficult to explain what I was doing to friends, family and strangers at parties
  4. I lost track of who or for what use-case I was doing this work

So I started looking for full time work as an engineer. Got a job offer. Turned it down. Then found some part-time work…

Dark (Paul and Ellen’s new startup)

Paul Biggar (of CircleCi) has started a new company with Ellen Chisa. They reached out to hire me to do some consulting work for them part time, like 5-10 hours per week. It’s actually been amazing, potentially exactly what I needed to get re-invigorated here. I started working with them in early Feb, doing analysis of developer companies, like Eve or Luna. Would love to get some of this work on here in a productive way.

It’s actually been really heartening doing this analysis. I am beginning to see how companies like Eve made mistakes that I could avoid, such as spending years iterating on visual programming interfaces or overly optimizing for beginners right off the bat.

Fuck the learning curve

In other words, I am finally beginning to come around to Paul Chuisano’s view that learning a new system is a one-time cost. Of course we want to onboard users as fast as possible but it’s not the most important thing to get right on day 1, and it’s definitely not the thing to optimize for. Instead, let’s fuck the learning curve and optimze for the producitivity in the medium-term. (We can always build a better interface later, maybe even a syntax-less one, but text is great for iterating quickly.)

Working on Woof

However, probably the thing that has got me most excited about returning to this project is the work I did on Woof last week. It took me ~6 hours and was mostly super fustrating, but also fun and addicting, like a video game. It reminded me how much I both love and hate programming, and hinted at how amazing it could be with the right abstractions.

Overloading

A few weeks back, r0ml was kind enough to give me a guided tour of both APL and Squeak Smalltalk. Both were incredibly fascinating and inspiring!

While the APL overloading and concise mentality is admirable in some respects, I also wonder if it could be the root cause of much evil. The thought goes something like this: if you use the same concepts for multiple different contexts, you end up artifically boxing yourself in unneccesarily. Instead if you could be more specific about the “shape” of your app, and all possible semantic states it could get it, you could more purely represent your app as a system of relationships, and then understanding and extending it would be greatly simplified.

This builds upon my ideas of the past such as “booleans are too generic,” to include such ideas as “integers are too generic.”

overloading

Thoughts about where to spend time

I think I need a new framework for this work. I made a list of the type of activities that I do here:

time

I wonder if it would be better if I structured my work around publishing stuff and trying to get views or upvotes on HN. I like it because of the social proof and it would feel good, but I am worried it’s too much click-bait-y and focusing too much getting attention.

Another thought is to focus my attention on a really small problem that I think I can solve well.

Another thought is to find a mentor or some structure in the context of other people.

Another thought that gives me solace is that this stuff is really deep and complicated and the key is optimzing for long term productivity and excitement, so I need to find a structure that lets me have fun here for a while, while staying productive…

Throw out HTML, CSS

And a final thought is to pick a big ambitious project to spend most of my time on. One idea that I keep returning to is “throwing out the DOM (HTML, CSS) and starting over on the canvas,” including building input boxes, etc, from scratch. This project is quite similar to Morphic (more specifically, morphicJS) so I’d start with research there, and try to find other attempts at this vision. Potentially, the canvas is not the right compile target and something more modern or cross-platform would be better, like openGL.

I really admire Elm (and Fran, but need more research here). Also Brent’s Diagrams is interesting for inspiration. The dream would be a very mathmatical language, one in which centering stuff, laying it out, would be super simple. Ditto for animation. All maths and relationsihps. All very pure. And cross platform is by default because so abstract. And reactive by default because canvas is immediate mode already. Also, it will be “turtles all the way down,” like Smalltalk, in that there’s no browser magic elements, like . Everything is hackable. Don’t just change the CSS: change the actual thing or whatever.

Journal break

01/22/18 Mon 5:54 PM

Given how Bret Victor is the main inspiration for this project, it was really really fascinating to spend so much time around him last week. One of the biggest things I took away was that “improving programming” is a difficult goal to shoot for directly. The biggest improvements to programming happened when someone from a different field were shooting towards a bigger, more abstract goal. They also never came from young people. I’m going to have to think through how these new ideas influence this project. Potentially I will put it on pause for a while.

Interviews tomorrow

I haven’t done any interviews this year, but I hope to rectify this with two interviews tomorrow. I’ll release one either late this week or early next week, and the other either late next week or early the following week.

reflection 11

01/16/18 Tue 3:23 PM

Boom - started and finished in an hour. If I reflect often enough, and don’t try to be comprehensive about it, I think I can put up with this.

Rushed BV deep dive

01/12/18 Fri 6:55 PM

Quick progress

Quick & dirty progress with little to no note taking was made today on a number of BV things:

  • Media for Thinking the Unthinkable
  • The Future of Programming
  • Seeing Spaces
  • RESEARCH AGENDA AND FORMER FLOOR PLAN
  • The Humane Representation of Thought

As well as a few selected references that he linked to from those (or the notes for those), but you’ll have to see my notes in this commit for all that jazz.

Remaining things

Thought I didn’t get to them today, I think it would be useful to me to read both Bret’s 2013 links and What a technologist can do about climate change before I show up at Dynamicland. I have plenty of time for both of these things before Monday at 1pm PST, but it’s also not a tragedy if I don’t get to them.

As far as my BV deep dive goes, I’d say that it’s as done, if not more done, than the deep dive I did into Alan Kay. There’s more to be looked at for both men, for Alan there are many videos, and for Bret, there are past websites, projects, and journal entries. But I suspect that after next week, I will feel content in my knowledge of Bret Victor for now, and would be more happy spending time with his sources, than with him directly. And of course, re-reading and re-watching is always useful so I can always comes back to this if I need to.

Self-directed masters program

On a trip to the bathroom, I picked up Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and Social Hope and was blown away by the first few pages. He alluded to being able to dissolve my current paradoxical thoughts on the distinction between inventtion vs discovery. It feels like Rorty might do for Dewey what Deutch does for Popper.

Anyways, I have a stack of books in front of me ranging from Piaget to McLuhan to Raskin to Vygotsky to Brooks to Rheingold to Minsky to Hofstader. And I have at least another dozen such books elsewhere that feel like essential reading for me to live a fufilled life. Thus had the thought to structure all of this reading and reflecting into an organized structure of some sort, which I am currently referring to as a “self-directed masters program.” Here are some of the tasks (unordered) that represent my current thinking of the next steps here if I choose to continue planning in this direction…

  • look into how other masters’ programs, PhD programs, or other programs of study are organized, such as Open Masters and Steph Jang’s post

  • think about the topics / questions / goals (in other words, why do this over getting a job or starting a company, or any other possible thing?)

  • will there be a thesis or end product, one or many?

  • mentorship?

  • physical location?

  • time

  • budgeting

Plan for 01/12/18

01/12/18 Fri 12:52 PM

Media for Thinking the Unthinkable

I spent the morning watching Media for Thinking the Unthinkable, again without taking notes, but still making an effort to read sources, which in this case included The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics and An Ill-Advised Personal Note about “Media for Thinking the Unthinkable”, the ladder of which had a few wonderful gems, including:

Any concept, technique, or tool that is specific to software engineering is guaranteed to have a short shelf life, at least on any time scale that I personally care about. (Which is totally fine if you’re into that, but this is my ill-advised personal note, not yours, and I personally care about mattering 100 years from now.)

Wow, that’s fascinating. Makes me wonder about where this desire to attain a lasting legacy comes from.

Rest of today

I’m going to take an the next hour for lunch and mayge get a haircut, so that puts me at 2pm, and then I have to leave for dinner at 7pm, so I have 5 hours for work. Given that this is my last real work day before visitng Dynamicland, I’d like to get through the following things:

  • finish the last ten pages of Visual Display
  • finish reading No Silver Bullet
  • finish my BV deep dive, which includes:
    • The Future of Programming
    • RESEARCH AGENDA AND FORMER FLOOR PLAN
    • Humane Representation of Thought
    • What a technologist can do about climate change

Will probably have to go much faster than usual to make it through. No problem.

Reading Tufte

01/11/18 Thu 4:47 PM

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

Today I read 178 out of the 190 pages of Tufte’s Visual Display. It was While I have recently been writing copious notes while I read, today I simply read without taking any notes, despite of course, this adorable note:

It was interesting reading. When I turned the page and found the beginning of the next chapter, I would intend to take a break, but figured I might as well read first read the first few lines of the next chapter just out of curiosity. But then my curiosity would be so piqued that I’d find myself going chapters at a time without breaks. It was a good 4 hours of Tufte today.

Given that I don’t have any immediate concrete, practical use for these skills, I’m not sure how useful it felt. As a study in where ideas come from, it was interesting to see many Bret Victor ideas I’m familiar with in their original context. For example, I recognized sparklines, a Tufte invention, from BV’s work (although in a quick web search, I am unable to find an example of this…) This speaks to the question of pre-loading vs just-in-time learning. I feel like most of the value in my reading today will be in knowing where the answers to questions about data visualization will likely be found – and that there are answers here at all – rather than the actual rules or techniques that I read given that I am likely soon to forget them in the absence of applying them anytime soon.

Steve’s Search for Meaning

Recently I’ve been talking a lot about meaning, asking questions about the value of earning money, status anxiety, and company mission statements. Given that this is not the first time my brain has wadded its way into this territory, I am suspect that these concerns are “real” concerns, in that I don’t actually care about the answers to these questions. I feel that it’s much more likely that I am feeling unsettled for some external reasons (such as having less contact with people given all the reading I’m doing, or having less structure in my life), and am then looking for logical questions to focus my and others’ attention on to explain away my unsettled internal state.

When I shift my attention away from these questions, and back to my current plan of pickling myself in ideas, I feel much less anxiety: as long as I read a lot, and reflect on my reading, I’m following the plan. Another thing that abates my worries: the books and essays on my to-do list are first-class. In fact, it’s difficult to find any to remove, and sometimes feels impossible to prioritize. My disquiet disappers entirely if I simply focus on enjoying the pinacle of pleasure that I have the luxury to enjoy by simply being allotted the time to dive into books that are interesting and potentially useful to me. That is, if I stop justifying, and simply enjoy.

Good meetings and reading

01/10/18 Wed 6:35 PM

Questioning the idea of crusade

I’ve been doing a lot of questioning these days. Today I did my questioning with Omar Rizwan and my cofounder Eli. Maybe Bret’s importing of the idea of “cause” from social activism into engineering isn’t such a great idea? Maybe it’s more fun and useful to solve problems for real people on their own terms - without having a bait-and-switch reason why.

Finishing Learnable Programming

Technically not 100% finished, given that I need to read all references, and I’m not entirely done with No Silver Bullet.

Big long day of BV deep dive

01/09/18 Tue 5:26 PM

Still making my way through Learnable Programming, making sure to read all of the footnotes and refernces, as well as fully articulate all of the relevant other thoughts I have while I read. This is probably too much writing, I’m beginning to realizing, but I am indeed almost done! With this one essay. Then there is much to do read and re-watch before heading out to Dynamicland.

I also got my first Tufte book, the Visual Display, and would love to get partway into that at least as well.

Shortcut to github issues

01/05/18 Fri 4:55 PM

Now futureofcoding.org/issues will link to https://github.com/stevekrouse/futureofcoding.org/issues

And futureofcoding.org/issues/3 will link to https://github.com/stevekrouse/futureofcoding.org/issues/3

This works for arbitrary issues because I wrote the code in the 404 page for this repo, which here acts as a router.

Update for this week

01/05/18 Fri 4:09 PM

Plans to visit Dynamicland!!

I’m very excited to be visiting Dynamicland in two weeks! I’ll be there Jan 15-19 2018. I’ve heard, read, and seen so many amazing things from there, and I’m pumped to see it all firsthand and play with it all. Hopefully I’ll have some fun videos, writings, and/or podcasts for y’all from there soon!

Where have I been this week?

I have not committed to this project/log/journal at all this week, which is directly contradicting my policy of contributing every day, except when otherwise specified. Part of the problem may be that it’s unclear where I specify which days I have on vs off. Food for thought.

Anyways, I’ve really taken this past week for vacation. I took my girlfriend to waterski on Monday, spent the day with my grandparents on Tuesday (six hours of grandparent technology help was fun!), and spend what was supposed to be my last day in FL with my mom and brother on Wednesday.

We were supposed to leave Thursday morning, but our flight was cancelled because of the snow. I spent the day packing and then unpacking my things and on the computer and then phone with Spirit airlines. Very fustrating.

However today I have been working! I spent the morning on email, then had a fun chat with Paul Chiusano about education, and now am here. I plan to spend the next 90ish min here, then workout, then have dinner.

Given how unproductive we’ve been this past week, my girlfriend and I are considering spending this weekend (tomorrow and the next day) working too, so stay tuned on that front. No promies.

Reflecting on reflection 10

I am overwhelmed by the size and scope of reflection 10. It’s both too much to think about and also not fun to think about.

And it’s just plain embaressing, really indefensible to not get any work done because you’re blocked on a reflection time. Apparently there was wisdom in the setup that I had before: Monday’s are reflection days. You can only spend as much time as you have on a Monday. This is good because it forces me to not include all sorts of tangents.

So my current idea is to spend the next 90 minutes finishing reflection 10, of which the goal is to come up with a plan for the next two weeks before leaving to visit Dynamicland.

Cleaning up reflection 10

Make the BV deep dive section short. No re-reading of notes.

Remove the Alan Kay / possiblitiy and income sections.

Keep misc updates.

Think about priorities.

Let’s do it!

Started Reflection 10 yesterday

12/22/17 Fri 11:03 AM

At first I tried to write the reflection entirely in a commit message. There were a few problems with that:

1) I was scared of losing the data because it’s not really saved or commited anywhere.

2) I wasn’t able to commit my work halfway done. Or if I did then I’d have to copy-and-paste it again into the next commit which would be annoying for readers.

Thus I came up with the brilliant idea of creating a file in a new folder for it: /reflections/10.md

Even though I finished my 10-day course of 3x antibiotics every day, I am still not feeling 100% better. I’ve been very tired, so I’ve been sleeping a lot, which makes me feel better, but also doesn’t leave much time for work, particularly because I’m with family and want to spend time with them as well. Hopefully I feel better soon so I can finish this reflection, finish my Work Plan (if the time is right, which it feels like), and finish my BV deep dive before visiting Dynamicland sometime in Janurary (still don’t have dates yet).

Reflection on reflections

12/17/17 Sun 9:27 PM

Running out of space

I just spent almost an hour freeing up space on my Cloud9 instance. I had over 20GB on this machine - and the max size is 10BG! First I deleted all the large directories that I no longer use. Then I tried to figure out how to shrink this directory down.

First I installed Git-LFS and tested it out on a single file. However, that file wasn’t easily reachable in github pages, so that solution was out. And besides I think that was solving a different problem than the one I have.

Then this article helped me delete unneccesary files with git sparse-checkout. I still have a 350MB .git directory because they are probably storing those large files.

However now I have 7GB of space on this machine and that should last a while if I just add text here from now on. Potentially I’m going to want to git clone --shallow this repo from scratch. The problem there is that I have to remember to bring over my config files in the .git directory. (It is a bummer that those files aren’t more portable!)

Brief rant on “overthinking”

One of my least favorite words is “overthinking.” I firmly believe that whatever someone’s problem is, thinking too much can never be the problem.

We all know people, maybe even ourselves, who have thought themselves into circles about relatively simple decisions. Clearly this person has a thinking problem, but the problem isn’t that they are thinking too much: it’s that they aren’t thinking well.

Let me prove it to you by contradiction. Say you are worried that you are overthinking an issue in your life. How in the world are you supposed to be able to evaluate this claim? The only way is meta-cognition: thinking about your thinking process. Through meta-cognition you may come to the conclusion that you have been doing too much unproductive thinking. But it would be impossible to say that you were doing too much thinking because the only way you were able to determine that you were thinking too much was more thinking!

This word “overthinking” feels appropriate when someone is doing too much of unhelpful kinds of thinking. Thus I propose we replace it with a new word. Let’s say, you’re “thinking poorly.” Ok, that’s a bit harsh. Maybe “thinking in circles” is a better metaphor.

Cons and pros of my current schedule

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s do some reflections on my process of reflecting.

I set up this research schedule for myself 4ish months ago. I’ve learned a lot about how I work in that time. For the most part, I’ve liked this schedule. Let’s reflect on what I don’t like:

  • non-informative logistics around post production and publication for podcast episodes
  • feeling pressured to reflect, record, edit and publish reflections all in the morning on mondays

The pros of my current process:

  • re-reading my last reflection and journal entries from then until now is really useful

One question

What value does recording, editing, and publishing my research recap podcasts provide for me? (Not counting the reflecting I do to prepare to record.)

None, save when others listen to it and then contact me to be friends.

In other words, I gain all of the value from simply doing the reflection in text, minus the people that listen to the podcast that wouldn’t read my bi-weekly textual updates. Recording it on audio is simply for audio-only people.

I wonder how many of those there are. I get about 100 downloads on most episodes. I’m not sure how many people actually listen to them after downloading. I used to have listeners contact me, but that has stopped. And I suspsect that many would’ve contacted me from the conversation episodes alone.

Here’s where podcasts shine: two-person conversations. A two person conversation requires little prep time and I usually learn a lot from the conversation. And the person I interview has an audience to spread me around to. (Although that hasn’t really ever lead to much yet.)

I’m thinking it makes sense to go to a 1 episode every other week as an interview plus Sam-Harris-style “housekeeping” section in the beginning if I have other things to say. For example, I can start my interview with Jason next week with housekeeping notes that I won’t be doing research recaps any longer.

What about people who want to read my bi-weekly reflections / status update?

A few options.

A) They can read them in the reflections/ or updates/ folder. B) I can create a TinyLetter bi-weekly newletter like Glen Chiacchieri.

Let’s start with (A) for now and see if anyone asks for a newsletter.

One final question: what’s the plan for tomorrow’s reflection?

First of all, I won’t be starting tomorrow’s reflection until I finish my personal life reflection (which is private). I estimate that taking 1-4 hours tomorrow so I may not have time to do a reflection here until Tues or Weds.

I definitely want to re-read the last two weeks of journal updates.

I also want to read the prior reflection.

I also want to re-read my plan.

I feel finally ready to finish my work plan. It’s basically what it is now plus this section of my journal.

Let’s try and finish my reflection first and publish it. Then I can decide what to do next: continue to BV deep dive, do “deep thinking”, other “FoC research”, or write the plan.

Learnable Programming & video games

12/14/17 Thu 12:54 PM

Productive morning

Really excited to be back in the swing of things! Woke up at 7am, snoozed the alarm for 20 mintes, then set up my workspace for 20 minutes (adjusting the chair and computer heights), and got into it!

This morning I reviewed Evan Miller’s Don’t Kill Math which was fun.

Shower outline of “climate change for conservatives”

This outline shows how much I’ve internanlized both Nicky Case’s know your audience and Scott Adam’s persuation techniques. In short, as someone who’s been skeptical of the left’s portrayal of climate science, I communicated to people like me about ways to assimilate climate science into their existing mental models.

Learnable programming

After the shower, I pushed myself to re-read Learable Programming. I was at first resistant because I’ve read it 2 or 3 times now, and the last time was only a few months ago. Almost immediately I realized that I definitely need to read this article again!

The things about it that surprised me this read:

  1. Video games as a vector for powerful mental models. Aligns incentives well in for-profit: people pay for games. Will Wright is a boss. Need to research Minecraft. Maybe go work for Will Wright or some amazing game maker. Or team up with Nicky on a game.
  2. I want to re-write Learnable Programming. I’ve already put down some thoughts about the re-write. It’s mostly a more coherent and justifying able framing, as opposed to explaining the importance of a seemingly random assortment of virtues Bret specifies at the top of the article.

Reading vs writing polished work

Given that I’m producing outlines for two pieces this morning, in addition to all of the other content that I’ve been meaning to produce in a polished way, not to mention the backlog of blog ideas I have stuck in a Trello, I am beginning to wonder how I will balance my time as a reader and writer. Right now I’m in reading mode. I think the balance of writing as a form of note-taking is great during this mode. It will help in writing mode for sure. I wonder when I will feel the impetus to switch to writing mode. At the current moment it feels like there’s so much for me to get into my head, including:

  • Alan Kays videos
  • re-reading Seymour Papert
  • Mountessouri
  • Marshall McLuhan
  • Piaget
  • Chris Granger
  • Nicky Case (again and more thoroughly)
  • John Dewey (I’m becomming obsessed with this guy)
  • F.M. Alexander (feels relevant to this project too)

And then I have a dozen books in my apartment that are begging to be read, such as:

  • The Mythical Man Month
  • Two culture of the scientific revolution
  • Show your work
  • Society of Mind (minsky)
  • Theory of Fun for video game design

Given my current pace (assuming I’m not sick and continue to mostly read and not protoype), I feel like this reading will take more than a month but less than a year, which is very reasonable. The only worry is that the more I read, the more I will want to read because I’ll want to continue walking the tree up to influence of influences of influences, eventually getting up to Plato or even the Torah.

Pickling my brain is a lot of work!

As Feynman says, there are no miracle people If you want to be smart you merely have to do what smart people did to become smart. It seems like smart people do a lot of reading. What they’re actually doing is assimilating models into their heads. Then when they’re not reading they are playing with those models.

It’s a blessing and a curse that there are so many amazing models out there today. It’s a blessing because we can be so much smarter than any person in history. It’s a curse because if we want to be one of the smartest people of today, there’s a lot of pickling to be done!

The next time someone implies that I was born this smart, I will need to give them a piece of my mind: “Do you know how much work it takes to be this smart?! Day in and day out I read and write and read and write. Just like an athlete trains the body, I train my mind every day, all day.”

Joesph Campbell:

I would get in nine hours of sheet reading done a day. And this went on for five years straight… Reading what you want, and having one book lead to the next, is the way I found my discipline. I’ve suggested this to many of my students: When you find a writer who really is saying something to you, read everything that writer has written and you will get more education and depth of understanding out of that than reading a scrap here and a scrap there and elsewhere. Then go to people who influenced that writer, or those who were related to him, and your world builds in an organic way that is really marvelous.

(Wow, reading more of this snipet is amazing stuff! Now I’m excited to read this whole book where I found this quote!)

It’s interesting to note here I was already following this strategy before knowing about his advice. It’s quite vindicating to know that this strategy worked for someone else. And if it takes me 5 years, that’s ok too. I’ll just have to find some way to make it financially sustainable…

Back (again)

12/13/17 Wed 1:29 PM

^ I wonder if the above generates a table of contents in the markdown.

Sick (again)

It’s deja-vu all over again. I fell back off the horse again for the same reason. It looks like I’ve had strep throat, on an off for the past 2 months. We’re not 100% sure but our prevailing theory is that my girlfriend and I keep passing it back and forth to each other, which is how I still have it even after taking 10 days of antibotics. Now we’re both on antibiotics so I feel confident that we’re kicking this sickness for good this time.

Getting back into things (again)

It’s definitely tricky going from sick-mode (which is similar to relax-mode) to work mode, or vice-versa. Once in a mode, it’s easy to maintain it, but the transitions are tricky, particularly when they are un-expected. Usually the transition goes smoother when you admit that you’re transitioning.

For example, last night I stayed up to midnight, watched too much TV, had too much to eat for dinner, and had too much snack food after dinner. I woke up this morning feeling almost hung over. I was tired and everything hurt. Contrast this with how I go to bed when I’m in work mode: asleep before 11pm, eat a reasonable meal, none or a small dessert, 1 or 2 episodes of TV, maybe reading, definitely not a movie.

Scattered thoughts

As happened last time I got sick, my thoughts seem to have scattered and I feel quite directionless. I feel like I’ve forgotten why I’m doing a Bret Victor deep dive, as compared with all of the other branches of the tree I could go down.

Chat with Stefan

It was really helpful to chat with Stefan Lesser this morning for a few reasons:

  1. He was very bright and optimistic, almost cheery. I got a very warm feeling from him. I wonder if it’s related to him listening to my podcast because I get a similar feeling from Aidan.

  2. We think in very similar ways. Talking to my girlfriend about these ideas is like pulling teeth because we don’t speak the same languages. She speaks the artist langauge and I speak the programmer langauge. But Stefan and I can communicate very fluidly. More than that we agree on so many points. It’s very validating. I imagine that’s part of why working in a research lab, like PARC or Dyanmicland, is so inspiring. Shared vision. Fast communication.

Shower Note Session

I was overflowing with thoughts to such a degree, and I was cold to such a degree, that I decided to do one of my famous shower brainstorm sessions. This was definitely one of my more scattered ones:

There’s almost too many thoughts and directions in all of those notes. While it was fun and energizing to write them, I am now intimidated by their quantity and scope and don’t feel like engaging or proccessing them now. Content overflow is definitley one of my main themes of this project.

Looking ahead

Things on the horizon:

  • I have ~3 hours today, ~8 hours tomorrow, and ~3 hours Friday
  • On Friday I go home to Florida for 3 weeks
  • Jan 8 - 12 I will hopefully (just applied) be at the 1-week Recurse Center program
  • Jan 19 - 26 I plan to visit Dynamicland in Oakland
  • I have 2 years of runway before I need to get a job (living in NYC)

Thoughts on /plan v5

I felt much more centered after re-reading my most recent plan this morning. My thoughts are:

1. Justify cause/crusade framing

The cause/crusade framing feels so obvious to me, but definitely not to many others. I want to dig into these feelings a bit more. Think about why prinicpled, conscious, purposeful creation is “better” than simply doing stuff for money or more whimsical reasons.

2. Still blocked on philosophy

How do I know that I’m still blocked here? Because I can’t make decisions. I had a great call with Jaime Brandon yesterday. It was very easy for him to diagnose this problem in me because he’s faced it himself, as well as seeing it at Eve. When you’re too broad, when you don’t have good priorities or boundaries, you agonize over each decision, and constantly want to walk up and down the tree. A good project can easily see what it is and what it is not, and doesn’t spend much time thinking about paths it didn’t take in the tree because that is not what it is. A thing in the world defines itself by the path it takes. What it is and what it is not. Staying up in prototype/research land is refusing to do that. Even within prototype/research land, I feel constant agony about what is the priority to research or prototype or communicate or build.

I feel my brain wanting to escape this proccess. I feel it looking for the easy out. Looking for a quick answer it can sub in here so we can get back to more structure, a more easily optimizable game. On the one hand, I applaud my brain for this strategy, because the less unknowns you’re working with at one time, the better. Yet on the other hand, I feel like if I took an easy route such as getting a job at a company, I would immediately wish I was back here, working on my own philosophy, as opposed to actualizing someone else’s, which I would constanatly be picking apart.

Thus, the appeal of the ultimate escape hatch on this procecss: go work for someone who’s vision is so clearly better than anything I could come up with at the moment. The candidates for this position are few and far between: Alan Kay, Bret Victor, maybe someone at Bret’s lab, maybe Paul Chiusano. We shall see what happens here when I visit Dnyamicland soon.

Constructing Meaning

I went deep into this rabbit hole in my shower brainstorm. I have defined a crusade as the most meaningful thing I can do. This is explicitly not the most good I can do from the Juan Benet / Elon Musk / Peter Singer perspective. Yet if this is the case, and it’s truly subjective. Then I better be damn sure I know what is meaningful to me. That’s why I started making a list of all of my positive memories that held meaning in my life. (It reminded me that my fustration with Looker was that I can’t remember a single decision any one made because of a Looker report. In my experience, the tool was analytics for analytis sake.)

Then I got into a hole where I realized that the difficult thing with children as customer is that their incentives are so perverse given the structure we place them in. For example part of why I hate tutoring is that either students are un-motivated or motivated for the wrong reasons (grades), or motivated to just get the end product to show off and thus just want me to program it. It’s rare (but happens sometimes) to find a student in the right context: working because they enjoy making something and getting better at making things.

I’m also thinking about the condescending nature of this whole project, particularly the bait-and-switch part, where you sell a product that does X, but only because you have an ulterior motive Y. Sell electric sports cars to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy. Part of me wants to just give it up and go wherever there’s the most money. Stop trying to be so normative. Just let people tell you what it is they want and then deliver it. That’s not to say that you should blindly listen to customers. It’s that you should iterate with customers towards something they will pay a lot for because it solves a big problem for them. Put another way, Looker clearly is solving a massive problem for tens of thousands of people at thousands of companeis. It’s truly software through empathy, as Lloyd talks about. Who am I to tell the world what’s best for it? In other words, I better have a strong and well-thought-out philosophy for how to make thw world better if I am going to try my hand at shaping it through technology. Otherwise, I might as well just go where the market is because that’s garunteed to make people better off (if you assume markets do that).

Priorities for Dec and Jan

1) Life priorities

My main focus for my own health is the Alexander Technique.

For my family, particularly in the context of the 3-weeks in Florida, the focus is making the most of the time, in the context of others. This means that I want to * strategize ahead of time* to set myself up for success, but be content in the moment, even if it feels like a waste of time. In other words, 1) don’t see people just because they asked to see you, 2) go to bed early and wake up early, 3) phsyically seperate from others when trying to focus, 4) calendar sculpt. The main priority here is “peace in the home”, which is a Jewish saying. This is not the time for arguments and figuring things out. It’s a powder keg. This is the time for making nice. Reflect later. Figure things out later.

2) Work priorities (12/13/17 - 1/8/18)

Calm, coherent, patient, doing less. The opposite of frenetic. That’s my goal. Re-reading my /plan embued me with calm and happiness. Meditating, coming back to my journal to reflect. These are the things that add the structure I need in this purposefully unstructured time.

I can’t see any reason to stop my Bret Victor deep dive given that I still have at least half a dozen links to go. I feel like I’ve lost steam on it, but that might just be a momentum thing. Could return when I get back into it.

I don’t want to start doing priority-calculus, seeing if there are other things to read that are slightly more efficient uses of my time.

However, I wonder if I should budget more time in my calendar for “deep thinking.” I set aside a place in my Inbox (Google Inbox) for notes that I should proccess later. It’s the “deep thinking” label. I feel like my time for thinking those thoughts has been crowded out by an urgency to finish the Bret deep dive.

Now that I mention it… while this next thought does go against my intention not to play priority-calculus… I have a lot of links in various places that could use some attention, including /links as well as the “foc research” label in my Inbox. At the very least I could clean this up a bit and figure out a home for them.

Finally, there clearly are top-of-mind topics that I could keep in a prioritized list somewhere. Basically, the next version of /ideas. These are Blockly++, FRP Scratch/WoofJS, StreamSheets, CycleJS devtools, FRP research incl Reflex & Conol Elliot, essay about essays, better wiki tool, etc.

Ok, I need to go eat lunch now. With the remaining 2 hours in the day (given that I spent an hour on this journal entry), I will:

  1. Get to inbox zero
  2. Publish Joe Cohen interview

The plan for tomorrow is:

  1. Deep thinking notes procecssing
  2. Calendar sculpting for vacation time
  3. Bret Victor deep dive (unless I come up with anything better)
  4. Plan friday

prep for call w stefan

12/13/17 Wed 8:30 AM

Thinking about ways to collaborate on this project…

Chat with Samuel Loncar

12/13/17 Wed 8:22 AM

Why am I talking to a religion scholar? Good question! Sam is a brilliant scholar,. Every time we talk it feels like there’s so much to learn from him. In particular, I love his focus on deeply understanding historical context – he reminds me of Alan and Bret in that way. He was excited to meet me and learn about those guys, because he’s interested in the history of technology, particularly the religiousity of Silicon Valley, epitomized by the Singularity and anti-deathers.

In the course of preparing for this chat, I made the following outline, which I didn’t actually reference in the chat, but looking at it now, I see that it’s a good model for where my head is currently at.

  • my career plan
  • crusade / cause
  • inventing on principle
  • We are our tools
  • including ideas, patterns of thought, notation
  • augmenting human intellect
  • copy and paste
  • Dynamicland - ergonomics
  • democratizing tool generation
  • paths
  • build
  • profit
  • Looker, Bubble, Excel
  • non profit
  • Scratch, Wikipedia
  • research
  • Victor, Kay, Papert, Engelbart
  • Patreon?
  • constructing cause
  • now: read Bret, and influences
  • Jan: visit dynamicland

  • areas of interest
  • comprehensible programming model
  • CycleJS devtool write
  • FRP Scratch/WoofJS
  • workflow and version control
  • underlying interface library
  • LogicHub
  • Ten Brighter Ideas?
  • All assumptions, including reasoning principles, visible and tweakable, all the way down to “primary sources”
  • wiki-like (massively collaborative, structured, inter-connected) platform for science
  • A tool for surfacing and ameliorating inconsistencies
  • Allows for multiple contrasting axiomatic views (but possible not any mutually inconsistent ones concurrently)
  • Popper vs Kuhn

  • presenting old vs researching new?
  • work at TCS
  • work on Woof (and off-boarding)
  • work on old programming languages

  • Doing a podcast?

Writing about, more than reading, Kill Math

12/06/17 Wed 5:20 PM

Today I wrote ~3000 words about the ~1500 words I read of Bret Victor’s Kill Math essay. Clearly it was thought-provoking. This is slightly misleading because I also re-read Chris Granger’s Coding is Not the New Literacy as well as an article about Kill Math. Yet, the fact remains that I had a lot to say about these thoughts!

Given that I was still feeling under the weather today, I didn’t workout which gave me lots more time today to do things like make a doctor appointments, as well as do a few clearerthinking.org quizes, and a few emails. I’m in a positive, we-can-solve-it-with-science mood now, which is definitely responsible for, or was caused by, all my discursive writing this morning.

I got in about 4 hours of reading/writing here and 4 hours of miscellaneous tasks, which was less reading/writing than I planned for today but the other tasks were useful so I am happy with it. Tomorrow I only have 3 hours for reading/writing here, and also the aforementioned dentist, as well as a podcast interview, and two meetings.

Bret Victor Deep Dive!

12/05/17 Tue 5:25 PM

Bret Victor Folder

I created an entire folder inside my notes directory. I took so many notes on just Magic Ink](/notes/magic-ink) that it seemed like a good idea to have a seperate file for each piece of his work.

Tired, and maybe sick

This was a long day! I worked for most of the last 10 hours, and most, at least 7 hours, was reading and writing about Bret’s projects. I am exhausted, partially because my throat is hurting :( I’ve really been sick with this thing for a while now! Let me schedule a doctor’s appointment now for tomorrow… Ok, I got an appointment for 4pm tomorrow.

Trust & doctors

I wish I had a doctor that I trusted, from a philosophical perspective, as much as I trust my Alexander Technique teacher Rebecca. I have trouble understanding the way doctors think, diagnose and cure things – partially because they go through so much formal training that I didn’t have, whereas Alexander Technique was something that a non-medical person created simply from personal analysis.

So many of my ideas

In particular I was shocked by how many of my favorite ideas Bret also wrote about, including a better medium for mathmatics, including for school children, LogicHub, a wiki-like platform for understanding and argumentation with nested sources.

Custom Log

I’m really really excited about the work I did on my custom log file yesterday. That was pure fun. Later in the night, I opened it up just to admire it. Hope to work on that again soon!

Tomorrow (12/6/17)

Should have 5 hours to continue here with the deep dive as long as I am not feeling too sick.

removed _site from repo

12/05/17 Tue 5:13 PM

jekll serve; log.html -> log.md

12/04/17 Mon 5:07 PM

Almost finished with future authoring

12/02/17 Sat 6:29 PM

Useful and somewhat fun but also basic stuff for me given how much reflection I already do. I really think this course would be great for those who aren’t crazy journal people like me. All the same, I’m glad I did it for the structure and clarity. Still have 30ish minutes to go so will do that Monday morning :)

Plan v5 is off to a great start

12/01/17 Fri 5:54 PM

I’m pumped that the table of contents Jekyll thing worked. That’s really beautiful and super elegant.

I think my changes in the diff for this commit speak for themselves. Really excited to come back to this next week.

Plan for next week

Monday is full with the bi-weekly research summary, working out and two meeings. Calendar sculpting is included in the bi-weekly research summary time.

Tuesday and Weds are total open and will remain so, and until 2pm on Thursday and Friday are open as well.

I guess it’s mostly Bret Victor deep dive. Fun!

My first step will probably creating a list of all of his content that I want to get to and then prioritizing it. I don’t want to make the mistake of starting from the first post he ever made in his oldest blog. While good for empathy, I want more of the fully-baked stuff.

Fith version of plan

12/01/17 Fri 5:34 PM

Very rambly so far. Had to even siphon of a thousand words into its own essay. I found myself unable to figure out where my next header should go or be so I googled around for how to auto-generate a table of contents. The downside to this method I am trying now is that it only works after committing and pushing to Github pages, which I why I am committing this plan in mid-working session. Let’s see what happens!

Future Authoring, part 1

12/01/17 Fri 10:41 AM

I recently have fallen into a Jordan Peterson love affair, and stumbled upon this course he created, which seems quite relevant to me articulating my goals for this project. I found a free version and have answered the first part of it in not-bold here and am taking his advice to wait until a night or two of sleep before doing the second part. Let me put time on my calendar tomorrow afternoon to tackle it.

It went really well! A lot of it was personal stuff about my life, but readers of my stream-of-consciousness style in this journal are not strangers to that. It feels relevant at times to talk about my life in this journal and this is one of those times. I am a bit worried it may bite me in the butt at some point down the line but that’s just fear talking. I don’t have any concrete worries here.

Crusade Discovery

Well and thoroughly pickled

In particular I think I made a shockingly large amount of progress on articulating my crusade this morning. And the way I came to it is really a function of a week well sculpted. (I love this phrase, by the way, calendar sculpting. A quick google search makes it seem like I have indeed inventing this phrase. I wonder if it’ll catch on.)

For example, starting my week of thinking about how communication works for my “essay about essays” with Nicky Case lead me to Douglas Hofstader’s “Analogy as the Core of Cognition” which was exactly what I needed to read right now, as well as re-reading Seymour Papert’s “Gears of my Childhood”, also exactly what I need to read right now. (Watching Bret Victor’s Inventing on Principle last week also played a big part on my thinking this week.)

Then Wednesday diving even deeper into how the brain works, how people learn, why they’d want to learn to code, etc with my coggle brain mapping was amazing. Really helped me spread out my thoughts in space and get clearer about them and how they relate and build upon each other.

Thursday my brain was on fire reading through the Dynamicland zine the first way through. I’ve only made it 4 pages in the second way through and have written ~3.5k words already. I was able yesterday to really live in the future and imagine what it would be like, without hating or “making wrong” the present. I was able to bask in the possibility while also being grateful for reality. The thing about truly living in the future, while accepting the present, is that you can do it all the time, and it’s only when you live with things as core components of your life that you are able to imagine the next step, how to build on top of them, how they interact together, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th level causes. I was even ambitious enough to explain to both my grandma and then my mom about my vision for the future and how it relates to tools and humans and augmentation, etc. They both got it to some degree and were excited that I was excited and I learned more for explaining these thoughts to lay people.

I also had a great conversation with my buddy Jonathan Leung yesterday where he was excited for me for “not making the present wrong” because he noticed it was something for me to work on when we did our podcast many months ago. We thought about Elon as a crusader and what his crusade is (averting existential threats) and how that compares with Juan Benets crusade (decentralization).

Additionally, yesterday was largely inspired by How to Measure Anything, my new favorite book which is really going to make a scientist out of me and helped me understand the distinction of mesaurement and how it is truly what science is: reduction in uncertainty.

As the zine says (quoting someone), the idea is to immerse myself if brilliant thoughts get pickled by all these ideas, which will in turn lead me to having my own ideas.

Ariculating Crusade

I think here’s what’s profound about the ideas I had yesterday and today:

0) Tools, or technology, includes ideas, ananlogies, physical machines, virtual software. Anything that allows someone to do or think things, either at all or easier, than without the tool.

1) Humans subsume our tools into ourselves, becoming what we were before plus our new tool. The result is a cohesive whole. Removing the tool reduces the human to what they were before the tool, akin to removing a person’s arms.

2) We know a great deal about how the mind works, how our bodies work, how emotions and happiness works, as well as what doesn’t work. We can take all of this knowledge and bring it to bear on the problem of desigining proper tools for humans.

Pause! How does this relate to programming language tools? Well programming langauges are tools for designing tools. Wow. Has there ever been such a tool? Ok, well writing is a tool for desigining tools. The notion of tool is a tool. Ok, so there are plenty. Programming is a tool for desigining tools that can also desigin itself. That’s pretty neat: you can’t make a pencil with a pencil. You can’t make a typewritter with a typewritter. But you can make software tools with software tools.

However it doesn’t feel like the bootstrapibility of programming languages is why I’m so passionate about improving programming tools. Let’s flip the question on its head: am I more passionate about building better tools for programming than, say, science? Or better dinner table conversations? Or more logical thinking? Nope. I’m really excited about each of those problems. Maybe the dinner table one a bit less emotionally but not that much less. The only reason I was so excited about programming tools was that 1) they were problems I had, 2) they were problems my students had, 3) I knew how to code and would have fun solving them. I’m really excited about all tools for thought and how to really embed them inside of people so that people can be augmented, not just be augmented.

Wait is that my crusade? Be augmented. The metaphor is that we are already the bionic man. We already have technology in our brains. We might as well optimize this software as best we can. And make the technology outside our brains optimal as well because that technology exists inside our brains too, just not phsyically. The metaphor for that is 1) my arm isn’t “inside my body”, but it’s clearly me and 2) same goes for my clothes.

Rest of today

I’m going to go workout with Sarah at a barre class now and then grab lunch. The idea this afternoon is to try my hand at another draft of my plan. I think I’ve got a good head on my shoulders about it this time.

However, I think I’ll probably want to come back to it after I finish the future authoring and get through my Bret Victor deep dive. Really, my plan seems like it might be done in time for the new year.

Read Dynamicland Zine (& merge commit)

11/30/17 Thu 3:49 PM

As you can tell by reading my notes, I was blown away by the Dynamicland zine.

Things on my mind

Markdown headers in commit messages

This is important so that I can link to content via its anchor tag. (Yes this currently doesn’t work because this content is currently not rendered as in the github commits page for this repo. I will need to do that at some point soon-ish.)

This was bothering me so much that I solved it right now. It’s as simple as git commit --cleanup=verbatim and then just deleting everything but the message. Closing https://github.com/stevekrouse/futureofcoding.org/issues/62.

Next steps

It’s becomming clearer that my next steps revolve around Bret Victor and Dynamicland. At the very least I need to spend a few hours there, but I could see it being weeks, months or even a year or two.

This week I worked on:

1) brainstorm “essay about essays” 2) brainstorm “learn to code” essay 3) read and reflect on zine 4) reflect on goals and work on long-term plan (tomorrow)

This was a really great week. However, I’m now seeing my work on the “learn to code” essay as potentially premature. Or not premature, but not quite as urgent as I thought. It’s not like I’m going to forget my hardwon insights from The Coding Space. While I could write something now, I am only going to learn more about these topics as time goes on. And I can always come back to teaching if I need to remember things for the essay.

The “essay about essays” project is also a bit random. However, if Nicky Case would collaborate with me on it, I would drop all my other projects and jump at that chance.

However, if left to my own devices, it feels like its time for a Bret Victor deep dive, much like the Alan Kay deep dive that I did a few months back. (You can read about it in my old journal.) Like my Alan Kay deep dive, this one will likely also take approximately two weeks (12/04/17-12/15/17). Then I go home for three weeks (12/18/17-1/4/18) for the holidays. I might do some (no more than 20 hours) work the week of 12/18/17.

Then it’s time for a visit to Dynamicland! https://twitter.com/mandy3284/status/936284579333156864

I’ll probably go in early Jan, but it depends on when they want me I guess. I’d love to stay for a week or two and work out of the space every day, but I’d be happy to go for even a single afternoon.

All this said, while I have set aside all day tomorrow to work on my goals and my plan, I may cut that short if it doesn’t feel productive to get a head start on my new priority: the Bret Victor deep dive!

Back from sickness and vacation

11/28/17 Tue 10:59 AM

The past two weeks didn’t go as planned. If you’re following this journal, you’ll notice that I haven’t made any entires or commits for two weeks. This was mostly because I was still(!) feeling sick. Finally I was diagnosed with strep throat, and am feeling a lot better today. Tomorrow is my last dose of antibiotics so hopefully I’ll get back to running tomorrow or the day after.

Note: the entry prior to this one is fairly defeated in tone. This is because (1) I was unexpectedly starting to feel sick (again) and didn’t want to believe it, and (2) I was trying to get too much done in the time allotted. A recipe for defeatedness. I’m feeling much better about things now. Plenty of things to do but one step at a time. Plenty of time to address them all. Most important ones first.

Despite what it says in my plan at the moment, my next step will not be creating a Patreon. This is because (1) the value accrued from having a Patreon up before creating my content probably isn’t that high (look at how Vi Hart raised $6k in just a few days on her reputation), (2) it takes a while to get a strong following on a Patreon so the money wouldn’t mean much, (3) it’s a distraction from focusing on the work the will actually help move me forward at this juncture (planning, reading, writing).

I’m very excited about a potential upcomming collaboration with Nicky Case. On our phone call a few weeks back, I asked him for advice on writing essays and he outline his thoughts in what will hopefully be an essay he and I collab on. That sounds like a lot of fun! It would be great to have a small win under my belt. Despite it likely not being the absolute highest priority right now, it’s in the right direction. In other words, even though my Work Plan isn’t quite done, I still have a pretty strong feeling that this small detour would move me closer to accomplishing it. As I told Nicky, I have ~20 hours this week to work on the essay. But really there’s no rush. I can work on other things this week and come back to that next week.

Another thing on my mind is the unbreakable-links project. This project has taken much longer than expected. Just another opportunity for me to improve my currently highly inaccurate planning skills. The short-term solution is quite reasonable: whenever I want to move or delete a file in this directory, I simply have to think through what will happen to all prior links to that page. I do this well with the now deprecated /journal page.

Ok, so now let me think about my priorities:

  • Write 3 different outlines for the “essay about essays” to send to Nicky Case
  • Publish the now-very-late podcast with Emmanuel from bubble
  • Spend time writing about my goals for this project
  • Deep dive on Bret, read the Zine, send him an email
  • Write 3 outlines about learning/teaching to code (and learning in general)
  • Continue writing FoC plan
  • Schedule meetings with key people (Aidan, Stefan, Samuel)
  • Migrate other blogs from Trello (including AT essay outline)
  • Reach out to guest or two for next week on the podcast

Ok, these are all top priorities that need to happen in the next week or so. The order I do them in doesn’t matter much. Let’s go ahead and put them on my calendar in blocks, so I can visualize what I can get done and move them around as needed.

This is what it looks like now:

screenshot 2017-11-28 at 10 52 36 am

I’m feeling happy and aligned with this. I am now noticing that this would be in contradiction with what I told Casey, that I have ~20 hours for this project. Depending on how our conversation goes, I can always bump one of these blocks to next week no problem and manufacture 20 hours here. However this is the plan if he doesn’t want to work on this this week.

You may have noticed that I’m more structured today than usual. This is (1) because I have not been regular about my entries the past few weeks and am feeling a bit adrift, and (2) I fell into a Jordan Peterson YouTube hole last night and he says some pretty straightforward things about happiness, including that you need structure. The first question he asks someone who’s depressed is, “do you have a job?” If the answer is no, then his answer is get one, even if it’s not perfect. It will set you up for success. So while I don’t want to follow the letter of his advice, I do want to add a little more structure to my life to stave off any kind of emotional turmoil from working alone and jobless.

Why is my plan so ugly?

11/13/17 Mon 6:08 PM

I was hoping to publish my work plan by the end of day today but I don’t like it. My thoughts are all over the place. I don’t like the summary of steps at the end. It needs more work than I can do right now. Let’s not rush.

As crazy as it sounds, I think I want to create a new work plan from scratch yet again. Hopefully it will be the last time. In particular I want to think through the steps of the plan and the timeline.

I’ll also be working on the content for my Patreon in the next few days. I expect that to launch in the next few weeks.

Finally, I am starting to rethink the homepage design. Maybe I’ll add some photos. Maybe I’ll feature certain content. I could think about the “user flow” as opposed to simply listing all content by date.

Done (for now) with plan (I think)

11/10/17 Fri 4:40 PM

I know the title of this commit doesn’t inspire confidence but I think this plan is in a good place. Good enough for me to move on to step 1 of it at least. I’m sure I’ll be back here, rethinking things soon enough.

  • It feels like every time I come back to working on this plan, I delete everything and start over again. That’s not neccesarily a bad thing.

  • It’s such a bummer to me that I have to write these journal thoughts somewhere random and then copy and paste them into the commit message at the end of my work even though I’m now writing them before I get started. Why can’t the commit have a home before you finish the commit?! (Brainflash! I should’ve just commited the above thoughts to the repo without any changes this morning!)

  • Version control is definitely a topic I want to think about more. Really “version control” isn’t the write word for it. It’s more “iterating on software” or “the software workflow”. Managing versions of software is a different problem. The elements of change guy is really the only one I know who’s really thinking about this in a thoughtful way.

  • I’m not sure where my fustration with this plan is coming from: 1) my lack of progress on it the last few weeks because of my sickness and taking too many meetings, or 2) not having enough data to make a good decision here.

added unbreakable-links repo inside futureofcoding.org

11/08/17 Wed 8:45 PM

update unbreakable-links

11/08/17 Wed 8:40 PM

added unbreakable-links, simply ?version=

11/08/17 Wed 8:30 PM

Created new outline for Future of Coding Plan

11/03/17 Fri 7:20 PM

Don’t have time now to explain. It’s a mess in there. It begins with the things I need to do next on this project. Then it’s an outline. Hope to clean it up soon!

recovering from a sore throat

10/24/17 Tue 12:44 PM

I came down with a sore throat this weekend, which was pretty bad yesterday and mostly better today. Yesterday I was planning to do my research recap, meet with Yair from Lamdu and record an episode with him, and go to the Future of Programming meeting. Unfortunately, I was able to do none of that, but I did find the energy to work on https://github.com/stevekrouse/unbreakable-links which is both important to work on and a very fun project for me.

Today I’m feeling a lot better, but I still don’t want to push myself, especially because I want to conserve my energy for the MoMath fundraiser that I was invited to by Pete Muller when I bumped into him at Springsteen on Broadway and he heard that I’m a Mitch Resnick fan, and that he’ll be there tonight! I’ll have to make sure to finish his book in the next few hours…

As far as my main focus, my #1 priority these days is my Planning Series, which starts with “Life Plan”, then “World Plan”, and finally “Future of Coding Plan”. The first two will live on stevekrouse.com and the third will live here, probably on futureofocoding.org/about or futureofcoding.org/plan.

Just Plans

As you may notice, I have decided to stop referring to these plans as “master plans” for a few reasons: 1) “master” is a word with strange slavery connotations (it also makes me uncomfortable to have “master” branches in git but one problem at a time), and 2) it makes me feel less egotistical to have “plans” as opposed to “master plans.”

where I've been

10/19/17 Thu 11:01 AM

Over the last few days, I haven’t been pushing nearly as much to this as I used to for two reasons:

  1. I am working on unbreakable-links which will allow me to more freely edit the structure of the site, which is key because I need to change it.

  2. I am master planning. You can read my life master plan here https://docs.google.com/document/d/1tycCeK3FbOVqiz6xcePqr1iE0QTfsqpEgn4XUsXfuRM/edit

this journal is officially deprecated -> /log

10/19/17 Thu 10:57 AM

This journal is now officially deprecated! If you’d like to continue following my progress, you can do so by following the commit log at futureofcoding.org/log.

Working on my life master plan...

10/17/17 Tue 10:50 AM

I feel bad for neglecting this site for the past few days. I’ve been working hard on my master plan for my life and I’ll be back here shortly to continue working on my master plan for this project!

Continued developing master plan

10/06/17 Fri 12:24 PM

I’ve been making a lot of progress in the past few days, thinking about this project at a high level. I made a lot of progress in the shower this morning:

image

There are a few next steps:

  1. Articulate my prototype ideas for StreamSheets, Scratch or WoofJS FRP (and come up with a name for this), generic GUI for langauges, and more if I have them.

https://github.com/stevekrouse/futureofcoding.org/issues/54 https://github.com/stevekrouse/futureofcoding.org/issues/55

  1. Spell out my design principles.

https://github.com/stevekrouse/futureofcoding.org/issues/9

  1. Send my master plan around to friends.

  2. Consider the future organization of the website and if now’s a good time to go for it. https://github.com/stevekrouse/futureofcoding.org/issues/53

testing to see what long commit messages look like

10/06/17 Fri 8:20 AM

Can you see this message?

How about this link?

How about this header?

journal death knoll and streamsheets write up

10/05/17 Thu 9:24 AM

So as it turns out, I had plenty of productive time on my hands yesterday to do research here while at jury duty. However, possibly because I wasn’t expecting to work, I didn’t default to continuing on Elm Flappy Bird like I was planning to. Instead I began strategizing for this project which I wasn’t planning to do until next week but I’m really happy I got started already! I had some more thoughts in this vein this morning.

Death knoll of this journal

If you go and read those thoughts, you will see that despite my love for this very journal, I acknowledge that while it serves me in some ways, a better organizational structure will serve this proejct better, so this will probably be one of the last entries. I am taking great pains (as you can read above) to ensure that no links to this journal will be broken, so no need to worry about that!

Streamsheets write-up

I spent the bulk of my research time yesterday writing the Streamsheets writeup, which was very fun and productive. I got over 2,000 words in! It was in response to a request from the Future of Programming community:

screenshot 2017-10-05 at 9 19 20 am

structured editing write up

10/03/17 Tue 2:04 PM

I had a few fun conversations yesterday, including a reply from @r0ml who agreed to come on the podcast, a Future of Programming meetup, and also an email from Niko Autio (who I hope to chat with soon and helped spur on the Structured Editor writing below) who was sent to me via Andre Stalz (who I will hopefully find time to chat with this coming Monday to kick off my “master planning”).

Structural Editors

Given all the recent Structural Editor (also known as “projectional editor”) conversations I’ve been having, I think now is a good time to write about those, leaving Thursday (as tomorrow I have jury duty, which I make up for by working a double research shift on Friday) to continue the Elm Flappy Bird.

Fustrations with Structural Editors

Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist. - George Carlin

You may remember that I starting building my own structured editor for JavaScript called Rose, which can you read about at the end of this post and the beginnning of this post, but ended this prototype fairly early. You may also remember my review of Lamdu, in which I was both impressed by what this could become but disappointed about its current state.

You may recall my conversation with Lloyd Tabb where he explains his disillusionment with structured editors because of his failure to build one in the 80s, and his current insistance that text will always win as the interface for programming.

Last night at the Future of Programming meetup, there was a discussion about how excited we all have been at various times about structured editors, but as you can read in the notes, have been disappointed each time.

I’ve recently become friends with Aaron Kent of Isomorf and am quite impressed by their structured editor! However as a “pro user” their tool would still slow me down over text-based editing. (Although it might be faster for a new programmer, but I’m not sure.)

What’s crazy about all this negativity towards structured editors is that its coming from people that desperately want to be positive about it. All the negativity comes from dashed hopes.

This is not to say that some of us don’t think it’s possible to succeed here. (Ok, some of us do think it’s impossible to succeed here. But those that do think this often think it because they spent months or years of their life trying and failing to succeed here.) But some of us are just skeptical of that possibility.

Optimism about Structural Editors

I, for one, am not skeptical of it at all. Despite all this negativity, I think it’s not only possible to succeed in a non-text-based editor (here I’m using a more general term than “structured editor” to include other editor types like block-based or node-based) but probable. I say this from my experience successfully using MIT’s Scratch myself and with students, from my decade of experience using dozens of programming languages, from my experience building on top of Google Blockly and trying to build a structured editor for JavaScript referenced above, and from my experience trying out many such editors over the past year, many of which while leaving a lot to be desired, hint at how amazing they could become with just a bit more development.

After seeing the negative feedback on structured editors from the meeting last night, Yair of Lamdu quickly shot back a few notes about how they plan to address each of the comments brought up, such as where to put comments and changes regarding operator precendence.

I agree with his optimism. While text-based editing does have a signicant tooling advatange because it’s been the dominant platform for the last 60 years, I think there’s no reason that we can enumerate all of the use-cases and issues that people have with structured-editors and tackle them one at a time until the quality of structured editors outpaces the quality of text-based editors, even for “pro users” that have all the emacs shortcuts memorized.

One caveat to this, of course, is that in order to build a tool to such a level of quality, you need its developers to stick with it for years and years. Given that there as of yet (aside from LightTable and Eve) been little money for such projects could be an obsticle. However not a insurmountable one, as shown by how the Lamdu developers have made signicant, sustained progress in their free time over the past few years while keeping up with full time jobs. Others in this space are persuing VC funding like Eve did. And then there are researchers who are supported by grants or non profits.

Niko Autio’s Microeditor

Niko shot me an email last night with his video of a prototype here and description here.

There are a few really solid insights here:

  1. Text is merely one of many projections of the underlying data structure, usually an AST.
  2. You can create many “microeditors” that give you very specific interfaces to this underlying data structure (“I want view THAT piece of data as table and THAT as diagram.”) In this way you can have your cake and eat it too.
  3. If you break up each microeditor small enough and build the underlying platform well enough, you could get the open source community to contribute to their development. Potentially you could bootstrap things and build the tool in the tool.

You know… this idea isn’t all that crazy. You could combine an existing browser code editor like CodeMirror with exisiting JSON and XML editors and table viewers to get started… I imagine the real trouble with this project will be that it’s trying to solve every problem for everyone all at once and won’t get good at anyone’s specific problem anytime soon. That is, the trouble here is focusing on a use-case to optimize for.

Ville Vanninen’s Foolproof HTML

I think I’ve seen this before, but was sent it again by Niko last night. In particular I like this diagram (which people in this world constantly have in mind but I have seen written out explicitly before):

image

Very neat project!

  1. First they start by removing syntax that humans don’t need (but computers like) to get something similar to Jade (or other compile-to-HTML languages)
  2. Don’t let humans make syntax errors
  3. Make things easier with good shortcuts

At the end of the day, it’s not all that different than a good IDE and Jade. The struggle here would be making something good enough to convince people to switch to it. It seems to be that it may take significant effort to create something here that’s even 50% better than a good IDE and Jade, and often things need to be more than 100% better to convince people to switch to them.

All the structural editors

At this point, I know about a lot of these things, so I created a Github issue where we can start a list for them

Not the highest priority

In a recent talk, Paul Chiusano of Unison explained that while structured editors (like those he himself worked on in the past) will make programming better, they’re not currently the highest leverage thing you can do to improve programming. His thought experiment: “would you rather a brain-to-text interface to x86 assembly or a emacs-interface to Haskell?” Most people would prefer Haskell, he says (and I agree), which explains why he’s now working on creating better mathmatical abstractions for distributed computing as opposed to more fluent interfaces to existing languages.

In a similar vein, my current thesis is that slapping a structured editor interface on top of our current programming language paradigms will only improve things marginally, and that’s after investing a lot of work into them over a period of years (which is why I stopped working on my structured editor Rose). The real leverage is in enabling better paragigms through more intuative interfaces, such as enabling stream programming through a spreadsheet interface, like my StreamSheets project I talk about throughout this journal (ctl-F to find it).

However, the old programming languages and paradigms will stick around for a while, so more power to the people trying to make structured editing work! In particular, I’m excited to watch Isomorf iterate on their interface as they get people using it to solve real-world problems.

Merge pull request 48 from stevekrouse/episode-13

10/03/17 Tue 9:38 AM

added episode 13, waiting for lauch date

elm flappy, andre and nick, juan benet master plan

10/02/17 Mon 9:49 AM

I continued work on my Elm Flappy Bird this morning (new version here) which was fun but slower going than last time (but faster than with CycleJS probably because I know what I’m doing this time). I made jumping work on space key press and also added pipes. In particular I had fun with the way I chained transformations on the model.

update : Msg -> GameState -> GameState
update msg model =
    let
      moveBird model = { model |
        bird = {y = model.bird.y + model.bird.ySpeed, ySpeed = model.bird.ySpeed - 1}
      }
      movePipes model = { model |
        pipes = List.map (\pipe -> {pipe | x = pipe.x - pipeSpeed}) model.pipes
      }
      addPipe model = { model |
        pipes = {x = 250, yOffset = 0}::model.pipes
      }
      jumpBird model = { model | 
        bird = { y = model.bird.y, ySpeed = 10 } 
      }
    in
      case msg of
        Tick time (keys, _, _) -> model
          |> moveBird
          |> movePipes
          |> (if (round time) % newPipeTime == 0 then addPipe else identity)
          |> (if keys Space == Down then jumpBird else identity)
        Jump -> jumpBird model

However while it is very nice to have good type errors, there are a lot of confusing type errors too, particularly when I leave out type annotations or parenthesis. I spend a good deal of time this morning not realizing I needed parenthesis around the if-expressions above. I hope to finish this up in the next day or two!

I got a reply from Nick Johnstone this morning, and I’m really excited to chat with him soon!

I also a reply from Andre Staltz this morning regarding my CycleJS questions from last week (one of which you can see below). I hope to chat with him over Skype soon to chat about 1) getting CycleJS working on Cloud9, 2) my Future of Coding project more explicitly at a high level (as opposed to in the weeks discussion about projects), 3) his Scuttlebutt project because that is interesting.

CycleJS Onionify “share data between components” in the case of collection items

Andre Staltz’s reply to my bullet (5) below:

It’s possible to give a lens for each list item through the makeCollection API. Just provide it in the itemScope argument, e.g. key => ({onion: pipeLens(key), '*': key}), where pipeLens is a function that takes a key and returns a lens. This may seem a bit unfamiliar, but in fact when you use isolate(Component, scope), that scope argument is the same thing we are using for makeCollection itemScope.

There are two different isolation use cases:

  • Isolate the collection of items: isolate(PipesList, {onion: pipesLens})(sources)
  • Isolate each item separately: itemScope: key => ({onion: pipeLens(key), '*': key})

We tried very hard to make the makeCollection API intuitive and easy, but it’s also fundamentally a different piece of the system (it’s a dynamic manager of component instances) so its API, e.g., itemScope feels different to the normal use of components in Cycle.js, but actually it’s just an option to configure how isolate(Item, scope) will be called.

So it’s still possible to “share data between components” in the case of collection items.

Juan-benet-insired Master Plan

Three years ago, a friend forwarded me an email written Juan Benet (of IPFS and FileCoin) where he muses on the important things to focus and work on. At the time, I thought it was somewhat interesting but mostly just random and didn’t pay it much heed. However, my new friend Andreas (@curious_reader on Twitter) that I spoke to on Friday sugggested I listened to a YC podcast he wa on and it blew my brain: everything he set out to acheive three years ago has either been achieve or will be acheived. Even more fascinating, the same things he was talking about acheiving then are what he’s talking about acheiving now. This really shook me to the bone: articulating your ambitious, seemingly-impossible aims and truly standing for them, and then having them morph into reality – that’s powerful. Part of why this affects me so is that I spoke with Juan on the phone for like an hour two years ago when he was working alone on a crazy project without any money to support himself – and I wasn’t at all interested in this project, which has since gone on to earn unicorn status in record time for a startup, just a few years! (Yes, it’s through an ICO which are super bubbly now but in his case I don’t think its entirely unwarrented.)

Relatedly, I recently decided I was ready to meet someone to seriously date, so I wrote down a list of what I’m looking for in a partner and just a few weeks later I found someone amazing and we’re seriously dating! (This also happened to a friend of mine last year!) So basically I am in rapture for the power of articulating, preferably on paper, what you’re looking for. (To clarify, I do not believe in the cosmic power of “the secret” whereby I am bending reality to my wishes. On the contrary, I think the reasons this articulation technqiue works are clear: 1) it helps you articulate to yourself what you’re looking for, 2) it helps you articulate to others what you’re looking for so they can help you find it, 3) it makes it easier to optimize your strategy towards acheiving your goal through reflection.

So I spent 90 minutes on Saturday starting the about page of this website, which I think could serve as the “master plan” for this project. (I’m stealing the phrase “master plan” from Elon Musk.) However, I realized that while I did spent a significant amount of time on it, I didn’t come close to finishing. Planning takes time. I can’t just squeeze it in during the weekend. I need to allocate a significant period of time to reflecting on my goals and strategy, come up with new ideas, get feedback on these ideas, and articulate my new plan of attack. Thus, I will finish this two-week research cycle by wrapping up my Reactive programming deep dive, and spend the entire next two-week cycle working on my Master Plan!

Septempber 29, 2017 12:06pm

Ok! So I don’t have time for the planned 6 hours of work today but I did get in about 4 especially if you count the conversation with Andreas I will have in a few hours which was spurred by this conversation on Twitter.

Fun conversations

Speaking of talking to cool people and twitter, there’s been some fun activity on those fronts:

  1. I tweeted out the Atlantic article about the future of coding and Chris Granger retweeted it!

  2. I finally did get a few emails back from Alan Kay. He’s too busy to mentor me now because he’s writing a book (very exciting!) but he reccomended I check out what Bret Victor’s up to (lol).

  3. I sent an email to Nick Johnstone this morning. I hope we become friends!

  4. After chatting with Christopher Anand on the podcast (which will come out next week), I’ve been talking to other people who teach functional programming to children, Emmanuel from Bootstrap and Scott from UCode who also teaches Elm. Maybe we should start a club!

Elm Flappy Bird

I began working on Elm Flappy Bird this morning on Ellie-app, which is very exciting. I was pretty blown away by how much progress I was able to make in just under an hour of coding. Not sure if it’s because it’s easier to use than CycleJS or because they’re so similar that I’m able to use what I learned with Cycle here. Excited to finish this up soon and re-evaluate my StreamSheets prototype idea with my newfound deeper understanding of reactive programming and streams!

Update journal.md

09/28/17 Thu 8:40 AM

I have a hack day at The Coding Space today. Anyone who wants to improve their coding skills comes and works on projects, and I help them if they get stuck. In between when people need help, I’ll work on WoofJS issues. I have 6 hours reserved for research tomorrow.

finished cyclejs flappy bird

09/27/17 Wed 1:01 PM

Today was a productive morning! I finally finished my CycleJS flappy bird! Here the newer version (I forked the previous version). I also went ahead and created a gist for this code as well in case (god forbid) my new favorite service webpackbin goes out of exsistance one day – that’s definitely one thing I am learning to avoid from reading decade-old blogs of others’.

Thoughts on CycleJS thus far:

  1. It’s crazy that the only platform I can get it to run on is webpackbin! (Yes, I know I am being a bit unreasonable by demanding that it be easy to use on a chromebook, but that’s where my bar is.)

  2. As I remembered from my first time working on this project, it’s really difficult to know how to fit the pieces, particularly the boilerplate pieces, of your CycleJS code together. There’s a lot of combing around through documentation and examples scattered around the web. Once it comes together, it’s beautiful but it isn’t immediately obvious how to make that happen.

  3. This took sooo long! Obviously the code now is beautiful and I have total control over what happens every second. However, it’s a bummer it takes so much longer to write code so beautiful. And thus: my current project to create a layer of abstraction on top of it makes a lot of sense.

  4. This is the bleeding edge of reactive programming! No joke - in the course of developing this app, Andre pushed a new version of Onionify that makes it easier to work with dynamic lists. I realized it earlier this morning when things weren’t working and I saw “ Update all examples for makeCollection API - 2 days ago” as the most recent commit message on most of the codebase.

  5. However while the makeCollection API does indeed seem cleaner, I wonder how I’m now supposed to sharing data between components. I was able to push the gameOver state into my Bird component by creating a lens that contained both the bird and the gameOver data. However, I’m not totally sure what the idomatic way to accomplish this with makeCollection is. The best I came up with is by pushing the shared state (gameOver and score) into each induvidual list component. This pattern also works for setting shared state from within a component: the child component just updates the state in itself and the parent setter scans the children to pull the new state when it occurs. TODO ask andre about this…

  6. TODO - I also really want to play with the CycleJS devtools so I’ll look into that soon…

  7. An idea from when I first did this project months ago: think about encoding seconds, pixels and p/s and p/s^2 into types with typescript, particularly in the constants at the top of the program.

  8. DOM Canvas with the upside-down y-axis hurts my brain! (This isn’t a CycleJS issue, really.)

  9. Tomorrow I want to start work on building the same exact app but in Elm, potentially using the McMaster university SVG library. Hopefully this doesn’t also take me about a dozens hours!

  10. I feeling pulled towards creating a “reactive woofjs” at this point. Having just talked to Christopher Anand of McMaster University and Emmanuel Schnazer from Bootstrap (and Pyret), and spending so much time making flappy bird games on the canvas, wishing I had 1) a proper x-y axis with 0, 0 in the center, 2) a Scratch-like sprite abstraction (which would make it easier to check if things are colliding and would make it so that I don’t have to redraw blue every time), and 3) most importantly, I could possibly abstract over some boilerplate code that seems to be inherent in all CycleJS and Elm (not sure about Pyret) projects. This project is definitely a digression but not neccesarily a distraction. I think it could be a fun way to learn more about reactive programming through building a simplier abstraction over it than the one I ultimately want to build.

Update journal.md

09/26/17 Tue 11:59 AM

I spent another 90 minutes on the CycleJS Flappy Bird. It’s coming along! This morning I pushed gameOver state into the Bird and Pipes components, even allowing the Bird to set gameOver: true when it goes out of bounds, which simplified the code a lot. I also switched the order of the reducers, bringing the Bird reducer to the front which helped an issue that was tripping me up. I then added canvas sinks to all of the components and then combined them in the main() function. I still have another few hours remaining on this project (the never ending flappy bird!) to 1) create Pipe components underneath the Pipes component and 2) detect Pipe collections and setting gameOver: true.

I have set aside the remaining hour of my research for today to organize myself around my logisitcally tasks, like organizing the Future of Programming meetup on Monday, putting the final touches on next week’s podcast episode, etc, etc.

research recap 6

09/25/17 Mon 9:29 AM

Research Recap #6

For better and for worse, the last two weeks were less productive than the prior two weeks, both in terms of time-spent (maybe 10 hours less over the two weeks) and in less focus during those hours because I was distracted both with The Coding Space developments and with my personal life.

However, I did some fun and useful things:

My plan for next two weeks (9/25/17-10/9/17)

It feels useful to continue this deep dive into CycleJS and FRP, especially in the context of: “I have very similar goals to Alan Kay’s STEPS project, which they build with FRP and stream programming. However, they don’t totally commit to the metaphor which makes it less powerful. Using the new advances from the cutting-edge open source CycleJS community, can I use the Streams paradigm with a spreadsheet metaphor to more fully realize the vision of the STEPS project to build a better foundation for software?”

To this end, I’ll first finish my Onionify Flappy Bird.

I’ll also try to get the CycleJS devtools working, first by asking the gitter to help me use them with WebpackBin… actually let me do that now…

screenshot 2017-09-25 at 9 18 05 am

That was fun! I even got to help another person with their issue! Now I really feel like I’m getting the hang of CycleJS!

Then I’ll read a number of links on this topic, including:

  • http://elm-lang.org/blog/farewell-to-frp
  • CycleJS Component Difficulties
  • http://conal.net/papers/icfp97/
  • http://conal.net/papers/push-pull-frp/
  • http://conal.net/papers/Eros/
  • http://tinyletter.com/Flowsheets/
  • https://github.com/gelisam/frp-zoo
  • https://github.com/reflex-frp/reflex
  • making sure everything can be visual (pool, math.random) https://github.com/cyclejs/cyclejs/issues/581

I will also email Nick Johnstone of @cycle/time and other projects related to this work, possibly to collaborate, and also to get on the podcast.

I’ll then either make another CycleJS app for learning, or jump right into drawing out spreadsheet visual metaphors for a number of Stream combinators.

Also next Monday is a Future of Programming meetup, so I’ll send out reminders for that. Should be fun! Let me know if you’re not part of our slack and want an invite.

Update journal.md

09/22/17 Fri 5:35 PM

Ok, so I got a decent bit done on my CycleJS flappy bird. However, I do want to note that I’ve spent a dozen hours on this and 1) it’s not done yet (still needs another few hours), and 2) it hurts my brain to do it. Despite all this, I do love how beautiful it all is when it’s working. Clearly a text-based interface to stream programming is difficult, so the question is how do I simplify and constrict things? Apparently Elm did away with FRP to some degree by baking a default architecture into the types, so that might be a decent way to go. However, I still feel like something more low-level stream based could work as long as we have the right visual metaphor. I think we could’ve massively sped up my code development with the right visual tools, but that remains to be seen. Potentially I should try to build some games in Elm next week for comparison.

My current project is here. I really want to play with the CycleJS devtools diagram but that might be difficult with webpackbin…

As far as the Recurse Center goes, it seems like I have to make up my mind in the next day or two… I’m really on the fence. More to come on this front soon.

I also didn’t stay focused enough today to get to most of the logistical tasks I was hoping to do, like emailing people and editing my new podcast interview. Ah well, I’ll get to them next week. Have a great weekend!

to recurse or not to recurse

09/22/17 Fri 10:05 AM

Despite getting a late start to the day and potentially going on a run at some point, today is totally reserved for research to make up for lost time Weds and Thurs this week.

I’m going to spend most of the day, starting in the morning, continuing my CycleJS deep dive, and then in the afternoon do some housekeeping work on the podcast and also for the NYC-based Future Programming Slack meetup group. (I think moving forward as I learn to be more precise with my time, I will begin counting some of this logistical work towards this project. Otherwise, I end up spending much more time that I planned here – which isn’t the worst thing in the world – but it leaves my work-life balance in a suboptimal place.)

To Recurse or not to recurse

The main decision I have to make this morning is whether or not to attend the Recurse Center for six weeks starting Monday 9/25 through Thursday 11/2. The main arguments to go are:

  • I’ve wanted to go for years now
  • They are an inspiration for The Coding Space, so I bet I could learn a lot from them to apply to my business
  • I’ll meet a lot of amazing people
  • I’ll become part of the Recurse Center network, including getting access to Zulip
  • Being apart of their network will allow me to scale the Future Programming Slack community better (as many of our current and probably future members will be there)

Arguments against going:

  • I seem to have hit my stride from working at home
  • I will have less flexibility in terms of being able to monkey with my schedule, such as taking a run in the middle of the day
  • I probably won’t go every day or do the program quite as “by the book” as they’d reccomend given my other current commitments (as in, I could wait to do it)

Given that there are 4 open spots in the batch, I don’t think I’d feel super bad about taking a spot and then potentially canceling if it doesn’t work with my schedule. Reading their website, I see that they ask you to email them before committing if you have “work, school, or other obligations that will conflict with the batch,” so why don’t I do that?

Update journal.md

09/21/17 Thu 3:14 PM

I’ve been really busy the past few days with other, slightly related work. For example, I made a really fun spreadsheet for my business that helped me visualize capital allocations over time, on a month by month basis. We were wondering if how much money we’d need to borrow at any one point in time and I used a technique I learned from Felienne Hermans that allowed me to visualize it really easily. It was fun! However this is only slightly related to this project so doesn’t really “count” for research time. Thus, I need to make up for the missed time tomorrow which means that most of tomorrow has now been reserved for research. A whole long day to dive deep into CycleJS!

Also I had a bit of time yesterday to work on the CycleJS Flappy Bird and I created a fork of the code where I will move towards a more traditional state singleton stream model (and eventually potentially onionify) here.

Update journal.md

09/20/17 Wed 9:11 AM

No time for research today. About to interview Professor Christopher Anand about teaching Elm to K8 students so excited for that conversation and to release it in two weeks. Will have an extra long research session on Friday to make up for it!

played with cycle, create github-embed-footer

09/19/17 Tue 10:30 AM

Ok, so that was fustrating. I spent the ENTIRE MORNING trying to get CycleJS to install. This is just more motivation for me to build a more intuative version of this, I guess. I first had to update node with nvm, then try to use cycle-create-app, but I still wasn’t even able to preview the app after running npm start, potentially because of cloud9 random bullshit, such as port or https problems. Here’s the help I asked for (but did not yet receive from the CycleJS gitter):

screenshot 2017-09-19 at 10 10 58 am

Hopefully I’ll be able to figure this out, but if not, I guess I can go back to using WebpackBin, which I just remembered is how I did CycleJS the first time, as you can see with this unfinished Flappy Bird game.

I spent some of the research time today getting the API side of this app working using my friends’ new tool Clay, which was really fun! However, if I really just want to get reacquianted with CycleJS it probably makes more sense to simply finish (and maybe move to Onionify or a better architecture) the Flappy bird game I link to above… Ok, I just spent 10 minutes on this and had fun. Let’s pick up here tomorrow…

I accomplished 2b from yesterday, but I just created an issue for 2a to do later. As far as more top-level links to organize my research, here are my thoughts on that.

So let’s jump into CycleJS! What shall I build? I want to build something useful. How about this embedable widget thing?

Update journal.md

09/18/17 Mon 11:33 AM

So this wasn’t the most productive morning I’ve ever had, but I did enjoy the links I reviewed and found some good stuff.

However, I am feeling overwhelmed for a few reasons:

1) While I am all set to be working on StreamSheets, I feel like I need a firm grasp of my inspiration language CycleJS in order to prorotype it on paper. However, this seems like it will take a little while. I guess I should just dive in, though, and build an app or two in CycleJS, with and/or without Onionify. And then (before or after) read more about FRP. Seems like a deep, hard, time-consuming, and scary hole to fall into but I guess that’s what’s there to do.

2) I feel like my /links page is getting a little disorganize so I may take a minute to reoganize it. There are a number of things that need to happen:

2a) Convert all bullets to mini headers with hashtags so I can link directly to links.

2b) Organize my un-researched links (organized and unorganized) to reflect my deep dive into CycleJS (and the different directions I can go in afterwards, including Bret Victor)

I want to take time later today to think more deeply about other ways to organize my thinking around what I’m currently working on and what I have to work on after that. The page structure so far (/journal, /links, /ideas) are decent but I think I can continue to do better, so more on that soon…

However, through this writing I feel more settled about continuing to go deeper and deeper into Cycle, starting tomorrow by building a toy app or two in it, followed by reading papers about it, and then maybe some Github issues.

Update journal.md

09/15/17 Fri 4:54 PM

CycleJS deep dive!

I’m having a lot of fun today reviewing the links Andre Staltz gave me in this call. You can see some notes here.

Need to continue with this next week. I’m both excited by how much I’m into CycleJS (and Eve and STEPS) because it feels like we’re all onto something big here. But I’m also a little skeptical because maybe it’s all just fads… Either way, I’ll keep pulling on these threads to find out.

Update journal.md

09/13/17 Wed 11:32 AM

I actually made some time yesterday for thinking about StreamSheets. I mostly reaquainted myself with xstream, the CycleJS stream library. Some notes:

image image

I’m pretty new to the Stream programming world, so before I go off trying to make it better through visual metaphors, let’s first try to understand it:

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5V1ynVyud4M
  • https://medium.com/open-collective/cycle-js-a-unified-theory-of-everything-for-javascript-e266ac9a59ad
  • https://vimeo.com/217444733
  • https://github.com/Widdershin/bonsai-editor
  • https://github.com/Widdershin/stream-tree
  • making sure everything can be visual (pool, math.random) https://github.com/cyclejs/cyclejs/issues/581
  • https://github.com/gelisam/frp-zoo
  • http://conal.net/papers/push-pull-frp/
  • http://conal.net/papers/icfp97/
  • https://noflojs.org/
  • https://github.com/staltz/cycle-onionify

These links should take me a while!

research recap 5

09/11/17 Mon 4:52 PM

So I haven’t yet yeard back from Alan Kay, but I did hear back from Andre Stalz and had an early morning conversation with him today. It was very productive! I will think more on next-steps on that call and StreamSheets below in my Research Recap.

Research Recap #5

Dan and Andre let me record our conversations so I’d love to play snipets of them in this research recap, but that sounds like it could be an editing nightmare, especially editing it all on my phone which sometimes has trouble with two tracks (and this would be three).

Podcast and website analytics 9/11/17

Podcast - It says my number of suscribers grew from ~50 to ~130 in the past two weeks! Most of the growth seemed to happen between August 31 and Sept 1, which is interesting because I didn’t publish anything in that timeframe. It looks like people have been starting with episode 1 and then go straight to the most recent episode, which is currently 8. In total, I have had 156 people listen to episodes, 403 episode downloads, with most people listening on iPhones, most from America, but like 100 (which is shocking to me) other countries, broken down by a few dozen from Canada, France, Brazil, UK, Spain and Singapore.

Website - Probably the most interesting metrics are monthly, weekly and daily active users. I have 245 monthly active users, 35 weeks, and 6 daily. This is very exciting to me that I have a even a single person (let alone 5) other than me that come to my website every day! It’s basically only US visitors, half phone and half desktop. Not surprisingly, people who find me via organic search, bounce the least. In the last 28 days, I’ve had 394 sessions, with a bounce rate of 67%, and 1m31s session duration, with a huge spike on the launch date, settling with higher but still pretty low daily viewage.

Next Steps with Research 9/11/17

There are two obvious directions to take moving forward:

1) begin prototyping a visualization of CycleJS data as tabular spreadsheets

2) continue the deep dive on Bret Victor

Before I compare and contrast these options, let me meditate on any more options…

3) (From futureofcoding.org/ideas) build a generic expression building widget/library (google sheets formulas but without syntax errors)

4) write-up some of my prior research or ideas (such as “flexbox block in cycle v2” or “stop teaching for loops in favor of forEach loops and while loops”, from futureofcoding.org/ideas)

5) While are are some other links I’m eager to research, after seeing how much gold was to be mined in an Alan Kay deep dive, I think I’ll make it through Bret before looking at anything else.

Reflecting on all of these options (and yes, (5) is not an option but explaining a lack of one), I see that (1) is where my heart is at, and I can justify it logically as well with this principle:

As long as I can see where I can make progress on a prototype that has interesting open questions, I should make that progress so that when I get blocked, I can reach out to people for help as soon as possible, and spend the time waiting on various other research paths. To put it another way, I should always have a prototype that I’m working on, and my other research are merely ways to inspire other prototypes during the times that I’m stuck on my main prototype.

Begin prototyping a visualization of CycleJS data as tabular spreadsheets

I guess I can start by using a lot of the graphSerializer code from the CycleJS devtools. Let’s think about the app architecture… I’ll probably want the app itself in an iframe and then can get the window.cycleJs from appPreview.contentWindow.cycleJs or something.

However, before I go to code, I should think about the core streams as spreadsheets metaphor and demonstrate in drawings how I plan to visualize each xstream operator. Great! That’s the next place to go. According to the xstream documentation, “there are only 26 core operators”, so doing pictures for each of those sounds like the way to go. Maybe I’ll start on paper and then go to computer diagrams if I feel the need to be more precise.

Sweet, I’m pumped!

bret victor deep dive day 1

09/08/17 Fri 10:33 AM

Good morning! So I spent the last hour or so writing Alan Kay a much too long and too epic email. Now I’d like to move on to my Bret Victor Deep Dive. Before I begin, I’d like to share a laugh with everyone with this link to Bret’s hit single Caltech Girl. HOLY SHIT I JUST FOUND THIS GOLD

Unfortunately, the link to his earliest website at CalTech seems to be broken: http://sites.ugcs.caltech.edu/~bret/alternate/. I wasn’t able to find it on waybackmachine either, so if anyone has access to an archived version of this, please let me know at steve at futureofcoding.org :)

While they are fun, Bret’s websites’ interactivity does make it a bit harder to exhaustively and systematically explore. Let’s start with http://worrydream.com/ugcs…

alan kay day 5 journal and recap

09/07/17 Thu 11:55 AM

Success! Not only did I stick to schedule (despite a 45 minute break to talk with mom), but I also mark today as the end of my Alan Kay Deep Dive Experience. Here is the final commit.

Alan Kay Deep Dive Recap

While I have been highly influnced by the work of Alan Kay over the past decade – through Bret Victor, object-oriented programming, let alone GUIs – I didn’t watch more than a handful of his videos and hadn’t read any of his papers. Thus given that I had a free week of research I decided to remidy this sittuation and read almost every paper I could find online with his name listed as an author, and watch a handful of his videos (not nearly as many as he’s given). I am quite excited by what I have learned!

I am able to see more clearly now the progression ideas through my idols, from Piaget to Papert to Kay to Resnick and Victor, as well as how the ideas of Montessori, McLuhan, and Postman relate to this beautiful worldview.

More than anything, I am struck by how much I relate to many of these ideas (which from one perspective isn’t suprising because these are my role models, the people that I’m actively trying to be like, so it’s like saying “what a coincidence that I like the music of my favorite band and its influences”), and how we not only agree on goals, but also on specific implementation ideas, in particular reactive/stream-based programming.

It was also really interesting to get to contexualize what sometimes from afar appears like biterness or regret. I get the sense that while he’s so proud of what he’s created, he’s also ashamed of how inadequate it is and almost wishes he could go back and time and do it right the first time. Samantha John mentioned on an early episode of the podcast that Bret Victor is more worried about something bad becoming ubiquitous rather than nobody noticing it, which is why he doesn’t release a lot of his source code. This makes more sense now in the context of Smalltalk being released before it was up to Kay’s standards of what a programming environment could be.

Ok, I am now out of excuses, it’s time to send him an email!

alan kay deep dive 4, journal

09/06/17 Wed 11:09 AM

This morning was quite productive! I started research just a 15 minutes late (making my morning coffee and writing in my private journal took longer than expected) so I tacked on some more time to the end of today’s research. I got a decent bit done, mostly around the STEPS project (which I’ve decided to only read the final report of unless in reading it I decide to read the progress reports), more specifically the KScript language. I was blown away by the KScript paper! It’s so similar in goals and methods to StreamSheets! I think there’s a ton I can learn from that paper (and those it references) that I don’t yet notice because I am still to early in this project so I’m sure I’ll return to it. I also bet there’s a lot I can learn from the paper’s authors here too!

Thinking about interface design, metaphors, and GUIs, got me thinking about the way in which I use a computer, which I am quite proud of, and inspired me to drone on about it below. Upon re-reading it, I can’t help but roll my eyes at my know-it-all tone, yet I don’t want to spend the time to re-write it without this tone, so you’ll have to make do.

Overlapping windows considered too expressive (and other optimal computer use strategies)

As a comptuer user since the age of three, I have had ample opportunity over the last twenty years to develop better computer usage patterns. One of the most effective I’ve found is to never have any minimized windows, overlapping windows, or windows totally hidden behind other windows.

Instead, I make liberal user of tabs and split-screen. My default view is two windows, side-by-side, each taking up half of the screen. On a chromebook, this is easy to set up with the alt-[ and alt-] shortcuts built in.

On the left window, I pin a number of tabs to apps that I want open throughout the day for constant use, Spotify, Inbox, Calendar, and Slack. This “pin” makes it harder for me to accidentally close the tab and makes the tab seem more “fundamental” than a regular tab which is more ephemeral. The left window usually only has one non-pinned tab on it, which represents the main task I’m working on. For example, this tab is currently open to Cloud9, and online IDE, where I am typing this very journal entry. A moment ago, this tab was still on Cloud9, but in the /links.html file so I could take notes on a paper I was reading in the right tab. Similarly, if I am writing software, I will have my code in the left window and the preview output for the code in the right window. If I need to google things to debug my code, that will also be in the right window. In some occasions, I want one window to be full screen, in which case I put all my tabs onto my left window and hit ctl-+.

I try to do things in logical chunks. This means not leaving any task in a “dirty state” such that if you threw my computer into a river I wouldn’t be upset at any lost work or effort. One common mistake I see people make is having more than a handful (like 5) tabs open for long periods of time. This is a problem for two reasons 1) if you comptuer or web browser crashes you lose all of those tabs which represent of list of links you want to look at, and 2) it makes your desktop more cluttered which can make your thinking more cluttered, and make it difficult to find what you need, similar to having a mess in your room that you do not clean up. Thus I copy the URLs of the tabs I’m not currently working on to an appropriate list or bookmarks folder and then close that tab. Another common mistake is to not save every logical change directly to a cloud service. Having a chromebook makes making this mistake harder but still possible. This is similar but less true for Dropbox on a Mac or PC because there are so many ways to save things to disk, and so much disk storage.

Occasially, it can be be helpful to have more than two windows on the screen at the same time. I used to run into this when developing code before cloud9, where you needed a third window for the terminal (in addition to the code editor and code preview). (However, cloud9 combines the terminal and code windows so I can make do with two windows.) However, at no point is it useful to have windows overlapping each other. Given that I can resize the boundaries of windows, and zoom in and out on their contents, I can always get a view of the things I want in a window without obscuring the contents of another window. Side by side is more than enough. Thus not only is overlapping windows not helpful, it is harmful because it allows the user to put their windows in a disorganized fashion (like a messy bedrooom). It also allows the user to not realize that certain windows are still open but not visible, which is draining computing resources and even worse could hold work in an unsaved state which could then be lost. (There is a special case where you’d like to do some proccessing on data in one minimized window while you work on other applications in visible windows. However, I think the “correct” way to handle this case is upload the task to some web service for proccessing, close the window, and then have that service email you a link to the finished product when it’s done.)

Given that a goal is to complete tasks in logical chunks, one may inquire how the interface could support such a workflow. The first step could be helping the user to think through the steps and substeps of their current action and organize them (WoofJS Workflow). If the step is stated precisely enough, upon finishing a step the system could check to make sure that it meets the requirements for the step, that all unncecasry windows and data are cleaned up, and the appropriate things are saved to the cloud, etc. In this way, it would become not only possible but easy to travel back in time to any previous semantic state of your computer workflow, and able to see how your project is constructed piece by piece. You can never lose any work or data this way, and your logical path can be elucidated easily. Taking the idea of working in logical chunks to an extreme, the ideal you could shoot for, in theory, is the ability to throw the user herself into a river and feel content that the contents of her project and safely stored on the computer in a organized fashion, so it would be less of a problem if George R R Martin died before completing Game of Thrones, for example.

journal for alan kay day 3, and logichub 1

09/05/17 Tue 9:22 AM

I got much more sleep last night, which makes sense given that I barley made it through the day even with TWO glasses of cold-brew, so I feel much better this morning and, no suprise, feel much better about the reading I did today.

Given that I only did 60ish minutes of research this morning, when I planned to do 90, I added 30 minutes to my research block tomorrow morning.

LogicHub #1

The more I read Alan Kay, the more I feel like an idea I had, which I call “LogicHub” is relevant to this project. In short, LogicHub is the repository for all of human argumentation and evidence. The goal is to create the right structure that humanity can bring its logical prowess to bear in the least biased way possible. As Karl Popper says, criticism is the root of all progress, and my dream is for a system like LogicHub to transcend the printing press’s limitation that neccesitates the my criticism be a entirely seperate from the content that it’s criticizing. More specifically, I want to unify and cannonicalize logic and argumentation, so that we can have incredibly logical nested discussions about everything. I can even imagine a world where scientific papers are written directly in this tool, and so are court cases, and even bills in Congress, because then we’d truly be able to fufill Philip Morrison’s vision (that I found earlier today in Kay’s writings), that “the eveidence, the experience itself and the argument that gives it order, [is what] we need to share with one another, and not just the unsupported final claim.” Imagine a world in which we don’t call each other names, like “global warming denier” or “environmentalist hippie”, because we can truly see the arguments, evidence, assumptions, and perspective of another.

alan deep dive part 2, journal

09/04/17 Mon 10:53 AM

I’m very proud to report that on day #1 of my new schedule, I mostly stayed on point. Despite staying up a few hours later than my target 11pm bedtime, I was able to wake up feeling pretty good, which then got better after some cold brew coffee that my brother taught me to make yesterday.

I worked from 7:30am-10am at which point a friend called and we caught up for 30ish minutes, which leaves me with another 30 minutes of research to do.

As far as the research today goes, I had a lot less fun with Alan’s work than I did last time. I wonder if that has more to do with my mood than the content of his writing. My guess as to why I’m less excited about his work is 1) he talks a lot about the implementation details of Smalltalk which feel less relevant today, 2) he spends a lot of time talking about ideas in object oriented programming which don’t hit home for me.

Anyways, here’s what I accomplished this morning: https://github.com/stevekrouse/futureofcoding.org/commit/d391cf4dd862a0e26c7133a580fd5dc911134296 & https://github.com/stevekrouse/futureofcoding.org/commit/9976e7c46d85a09c1c5c4776e3673b8aac44152a

I’m feeling a little overwhelemed so I may start skimming his work if I continue to have low interest. I’m going to continue for another 30 minutes and then stop for the day, picking up where I leave off tomorrow.

reflections on schedule 9/3/17

09/03/17 Sun 4:25 PM

So I haven’t spent any time on research this weekend like I vaugley hoped I would, but that’s no problem. I definitely don’t want to burn myself out, and I have done that in the past by pressuring myself to work on the weekend. I only want to work on the weekend when it feels natural, not forced.

Reflections on my schedule 9/3/17

As you can tell if you read prior entries on this journal, I’ve been thinking about better ways to structure how I spend time doing research for this project. Up until today, I set aside three full days each week for research. However, in practice I’ve found it hard to devote whole days to research, so I’m considering changing the way I divide up my time, slicing it horiztonally instead of vertically: doing my research every day in the morning, as opposed to on specific days.

I also am trying to wake up earlier (as discussed in previous posts) so my inital thought was to do research from 7:30-10:30 Monday through Friday, which is 3 hours per day for 5 days per week, so a total of 15 hours per week. Assuming that I spent another 5 hours per week preparing for interviews and other logistical tasks for the podcast/research project, that’s 20 hours per week on this project, half of my working week (because I want to have long-term sustainability and work-life balance I target 40 hours per week). Given that I have two other projects, each of which I want to devote 10 hours per week to, The Coding Space and WoofJS, this seems like a reasonable place to start. Let’s give it a shot for a week and revisit next week. I’m most worried about being able to go to sleep on time. However, now that I’ve decided to start a coffee habit (which I come to reluctantly but am only doing because Scott Adams convinced me to in his book), I think I have a real shot at sticking to this schedule!

screenshot 2017-09-03 at 4 21 33 pm

Given that I can only work until 9am on Tuesday, I added some research time to my schedule on Thursday morning.

I wonder what Alan Kay, Bret Victor, et al will think of this schedule, and what tips they will have for improving it. My plan is still to email Alan at the end of this week and Bret soon thereafter.

alan kay reading recap 1

09/01/17 Fri 7:16 PM

Alan Kay Deep Dive #1

Here are my notes from this first session: https://github.com/stevekrouse/futureofcoding.org/commit/3851f3f22bb2fe32c849a91a6f369c3f0e19c456

I ended up working for about 3 hours of solid reading and notes which I’m proud of. I took a three 10-15 minute breaks to stretch in between. I had fun the entire time. I feel like a fool for not doing this earlier. This stuff is exactly what I need to be reading right now. It’s blowing my mind how much Alan Kay represents what I’m trying to become, almost more than Bret or Mitch because he invented Smalltalk which is probably the closest to my dream that’s ever been attempted, both in the spirit of its design and the shift in software paradigm that it represents. I am really excited to continue in the Alan Kay deep dive tomorrow and maybe into next week. And then proceed with the Bret Victor deep dive.

As you could’ve guessed, I didn’t come close to finishing my goals of the links below. In fact, my goal has receeded into the distance because I neeed to add a key (pun not intended) link that I didn’t have before, which I’m still in the middle of now: The Early History Of Smalltalk, which I’m reading in HTML on Bret Victor’s website which speaks volumes, because Bret must think it’s such an important paper that he converted it to a more readable format. This makes me wonder how Bret and Alan first developed their relationship. I bet that’s an interesting story!

Estimating that each link will take me about 1 hour, I have 10 or so hours of Alan Kay to go. Thus I probably won’t finish tomorrow even if I spent the whole day, which I do not plan to do. Thus a more realistic plan is to finish by the end of the week, picking up with Bret Victor whenever I finish and taking however long I need, probably another week to make it through his material, much of which I’ve already seen but I now feel inspired to revisit with new eyes.

On the downside, this means that I won’t email Alan today or tomorrow, which I worry is just me procrastinating, but I don’t think so. I will email him at the end of this week at the latest when my brain is full of his ideas and thus I have the best shot of enrolling him to be a mentor to me, and possible more. The more I read his stuff, the more I feel like moving myself out to wherever in the world he is so I can have his direct guidance as I work.

Update journal.md

09/01/17 Fri 4:44 PM

Thoughts about lack of time spent Wednesday and Friday (today)

Yes, I know. I’ve been delinquient here. Breaking my word about when and how much time I will spend here. On Wednesday I was busy with other work things. However, many of those things could’ve waited until next week. I just would’ve felt less “on top of things” but I need to become more comfortable pushing off urgent and unimportant things for less-urgent but more important things. Again, this morning I was feeling “behind” on reviewing WoofJS pull requests so I spent 4 hours this morning catching up. I was only planning to spend an hour or two but I figured that I might as well finish up while I was on it. However, now with the clarity of a few hours I can see that that’s an illusion because the more work I do on pull requests (and email) the more work that boomerangs back to me. If I just left it, it would’ve waited a few days until I got to it next week. I will try to do this more in the future. It’s a constant struggle of mindfulness and fighting the “staying on top of my shit” urge that I’ve built into my workflow and which has allowed me to accomplish so much up till now. As a researcher, this skill is working against me. I don’t have any plans tomorrow so I hope to do an hour or two of research tomorrow to make up for the lost time. \

Yes, I acknolwedge that this is all articifical scarcity and urgency around my research, but as I’m just starting as a researcher in earnest I think it’s important to establish good habits. Potentially, I will find over time that in order to build a regular research practice that I need to have a more established schedule where I do research at the same time each week, possible before the sun comes up, and before I check email, etc.

One final thing to note is that I’m still working on optimizing my sleep schedule so I go to bed earlier which would allow me to wake up earlier. I have a lot of work to do here because I waste a lot of time watching TV and reading and other stuff and night because I’m not able to fall asleep without it. One thing that I suspect might be contributing to this is that whenever I plan to wake up early and get to work, I get so excited about what I’m going to do the next day that I can’t fall asleep. It’s only when I convince myself that I won’t be up until 9 or 10am that I am finally less excited enough to actually fall alseep.

Thoughts on Peak

Through reading Jaime Brandon’s blog, I found and listened to the Peak audiobook over the last few days. It was AMAZING. It’s got me super jazzed about applying the principles of deliberate practice to my research practice (alone with other ideas of applying it to my teaching practice at The Coding Space):

1) Get a teacher. As I’ve said before, my role model in life is Bret Victor. So much of who I am, what I’ve accomplished, and what I want to become is wrapped up in him. Other role models are Seymour Papert, Mitch Resnick, and Alan Kay, as well as my new friends Paul Chiusano, Jonathan Edwards, Jaime Brandon, Paul Biggar, Kent Beck, Jonathan Edwards, etc. I wonder if one of these people, particular Bret, would be interested in mentoring me here, giving me regular (monthly or so) feedback on my progress as a researcher. My plan is to send Bret, Mitch and Alan emails at the end of today (or tomorrow if I feel like I need more time).

2) Be more systematic about debugging the ways in which I could improve my practice. You can begin to see how I’m starting to optimize my research time in the way I’m thinking about my procrastination and sleep above.

3) Develop more specific goals for myself and track my progress at achieving them. Otherwise you’re operateing blind, not knowing if you’re getting better or not. Given that its difficult to have concrete goals for research the way I’m doing it, I think my best proxy of this is having a target number of hours engaged in real reaching (including this journal, prototyping, reading papers, but not scheduling or editing podcasts, or working on WoofJS). More on this later.

Plan for today 9/1/02017

So it’s 4:26pm right now. I have no more than 3 hours of good work in me today, but realisitcally it’s closer to 2 hours. My plan is to do a deep dive into Alan Kay and then send him an email. I have a few papers of his in mind, but let’s compile them here:

Update journal.md

08/30/17 Wed 11:04 AM

Ok… So realisitically I’m not able to do research today. Other things I need to do:

  1. Prepare questions for my interview today with Pete Hunt.
  2. Prepare questions for my interview tomorrow with Paul Chiusano.
  3. Publish two podcast episodes I have in the queue.
  4. Other random emails and tasks.
  5. I’m currently at my office running a day-long hackathon for my teammates so they can learn to code, so I will spending some time today mentoring them.
  6. Prepare for the WoofJS database migration. Ok, realisitically I’m not going to get super far on this either but I will try!

So sadly this means no research today. I really want to do research on Friday. My goal is to do a deep dive into Alan Kay and then send him an email. However, being realisitc I might sacrafice Friday to WoofJS and then be able to focus more next week on research without distraction. Regardless, I want to acknolwedge that all of this time-pressure is 100% artifical and that it really makes no difference if I do a deep dive into Alan Kay today, Friday, next week, the week after, etc. However, I LOVE that I feel so much pressure and excitement to fit it all in soon. It makes me feel like this structure is working!

Analytics after yesterday’s launch

I shared this website and podcast on all the places (facebook, hackernews, reddit, etc), and here are the results:

I had 62 episode downloads yesterday! I have almost 100 downloads in total!

Looks like I have 51 total podcast subscribers which is neat!

I had ~150 people on my website yesterday. About 62 make it onto my journal.

This is fun.

research recap 4

08/28/17 Mon 3:51 PM

Andre replied already! He is busy preparing for a bunch of conferences so might not have time to chat until 9/8/17. I asked him if he could help point me in the right direction over email, but I may just have to wait two weeks :( No worries, there are plenty of other things to research in the meanwhile.

Research Recap #4

  • I followed through on my plan to review links from Paul, Jonathan Edwards’ blog, Imp, Eve, and other links.
  • I did lose a day or two of research, which given that I only get 5ish days for research each week, is a lot. I still made great progress. Thanks to Sophie at the coding space for taking over for me so I could get back to research.
  • Jonathan Edwards
    • https://github.com/stevekrouse/futureofcoding.org/commit/52a0d72bc49f2d56eebcfcdaae440467008f1cd2
    • https://github.com/stevekrouse/futureofcoding.org/commit/cd83671ac0a4d68818c40815c9f5202ec078aafc
  • Conal Elliot
    • https://github.com/stevekrouse/futureofcoding.org/commit/52a0d72bc49f2d56eebcfcdaae440467008f1cd2
  • Eve
    • http://futureofcoding.org/journal#my-first-full-day-with-eve
  • Imp + Jamie
    • http://futureofcoding.org/journal#august-25-2017-1216pm
    • Finding a time to chat soon. Think I may have found a kindred spirit and friend.
  • StreamSheets
    • http://futureofcoding.org/journal#august-28-2017-228pm
    • Waiting on Andre
  • Plan for next two weeks
    • tomorrow morning I’m sharing the pocast and website widely
    • I have 6 days in the next cycle (Weds, Fri, Mon, Weds, Fri, Mon) unless something comes up. If Andre gets back to me, I might spend more time on StreamSheets. If not, I’ll work on other research and pick up Streamsheets after we chat in two weeks.
    • Two really fun interviews
      • Paul Chiusano from Unison
      • Pete Hunt from ReactJS and now Smyte

updated journal

08/28/17 Mon 2:43 PM

I made some decent progress on StreamSheets this morning. It’s now simply a table that populates with event information when you do things with your mouse over the “preview div” on the left of the page.

I’m feeling a little daunted by all of the things that need to happen to build this prototype from a UI perspective. Given that so much of what I’m doing is conjectural, I worry that committing to a design and building it might take too long. I’m looking for a hack of some sort that will allow me to get a sense of what a working version of this could look like.

From one perspective, that’s what CycleJS is. A working version of this with no UI. All text. When I realized this, I went and watched See the data flowing through your app which was a really impressive demo of the CycleJS devtools to get a sense of how your code works from a understanding and debugging perspective. However, it’s not from an creation perspective, which is what I’m trying to do. But it seems like Andre might have this idea as well, given this slide The Past, Present, and Future of CycleJS talk at CycleConf in 2017 which says:

Dataflow tools scenario
  • Cycle.js DevTool as an IDE
  • Push-pull FRP
  • What would be a better host language?
  • What would a CycleLang look like?

Sounds like my next step is talking to Andre, potentially through Codementor. I wonder if he’d let me record the conversation for my podcast. What questions do I have?

  1. Pitch StreamSheets and see what he says.
  2. Ask him to help run me through how the CycleJS chrome extension builds its graph so I can use CycleJS as my compile target. Could it be a one-to-one mapping?
  3. Hear his ideas for “Cycle.js DevTool as an IDE”

Great. I’ll shoot him an email now.

updated journal and links with streamsheet research

08/25/17 Fri 8:17 PM

So for some reason, probably having to due with all of the rice in the burrito bowl I had for lunch, I was super tired after I got back at 3:30 so I took a nap until 6pm.

Despite going off-plan, I was still able to skim my way through the resources I listed below and begin thinking through what StreamSheets would look like. I think I’m ready to start implementing it. It’s a fun idea that I keep thinking about and I think the only way to stop thinking about it is to do it and fail. So my goal is to fail fast. Build the minimum features I need so that I get see why it won’t work as soon as possible, hopefully in just a week or two.

image

image

In terms of next week, I have a bi-weekly research recap on Monday. Given that I missed a few days of research because of my other job over the past two weeks, I would like to sneak in as much time as possible doing productive work before then, so I’ll try to get started on developing StreamSheets in the morning and then do my recap writeup and recordning in the afternoon.

On Tuesday morning at 10am, I plan to publish this podcast and website broadly via all the social channels I have available to me (#25). Tuesday afternoon is set aside for emails and other random tasks but if I have time, I’ll continue working on StreamSheets.

Wednesday is totally reserved for research so that’s probably StreamSheets.

Thursday I will set aside for work on refactoring the WoofJS database (#352, #390). However, if I don’t get it done (or screw things up badly) I may have to continue working on this on Friday.

If all goes well on Thursday, Friday is back on StreamSheets.

I did a deep dive into Imp this morning which took about 2 hours. He has a great collection of relevant papers, of which I’ve read a few and plan to read about a dozen in total. I also shot him an email so hopefully we can become friends.

Let’s think about the rest of the day. I’m about to go on a 2-hour run-lunch-grocceries break, so I’ll be back at the computer around 3pm, which gives me another 3ish hours of work.

I really want to spend some time on StreamSheets denotational design but I have a few other relevant papers that it might make sense to read first:

All this shouldn’t take more than an hour-ish, which leaves me plenty of time to start thinking about StreamSheets!

updated journal

08/23/17 Wed 6:46 PM

My first full day with Eve

The Eve Quickstart Tutorial is super buggy! I find that I have to really mess with different blocks of code (by editing them by adding random whitespace) to get things to run properly. It’s unclear when things aren’t working becuase I’m doing it wrong and when things are just broken are their end.

Looks like you can only use Eve version 0.2 on their play.witheve.com site. This is a bummer because it’s pretty buggy and their documentation for 0.2 is pretty weak. However, as I learned with Lamdu (and Elm and Haskell and others), it can take a day (or more) to get a non-web-based tool up and running. So for now at least I will stick to v0.2 online. Potentially I’ll come back when they release v0.4 which it sounds like they’re skipping to.

For example, I tried to create a simple button that counts its clicks. You can read my laughable attempt here: https://gist.github.com/anonymous/458ea8ff7f968faa719f6e52d46848b9

You can load it up into eve by going to play.witheve.com and hitting the cloud button with the down arrow in the top-left of the screen.

I spent approximately 4 hours on this single attempt at getting a counter button to work! That’s pretty crazy! Obvious things that slowed me down that aren’t their “fault”:

  1. Lack of stack overflow answers to my questions
  2. Lack of documentation. It was super sparse and unfinished. (This isn’t their fault because I understand that it’s beta software that changes quickly so it’s hard to have good documentation for an older version.)

The things that slowed me down that are their “fault”:

  1. Implicit databases in search is very confusing. Where is it searching when you don’t specify?!
  2. It’s also annoying that it doesn’t automatically pull in all the joins I ask for even if I don’t search in that database. Seems like something their engine could infer.
  3. Not having any error messages is insane! The only way to survive this is to do constant sanity checks every change I make. Even then, it’s really slow going and easy to miss things.
  4. Their interface is super buggy! I had to constantly save and refresh the page to get things to work. If it were any buggier, it’d be unusable.
  5. Not having the version of Eve that I’m using in the URL (or somewhere on the page) was very fustrating. Took me a while to figure that out which prevented me from using the appropriate docs.
  6. It’s unclear how control flow works between blocks. For example, for every search term do I need a new block of code?
  7. The difference between bind and commit was not clear. I spent much of my time trying to use commit to add things to the page but it wouldn’t add more than 1 of the same kind, which seems like how I’d expect bind to behave.
  8. I found it confusing to think in the “prolog” or “datomic” style, thinking about which records would satisy my queries. I was usually wrong when trying to guess what records my queries would match. Given that there’s no UI for this, I was forced to constantly add silly divs to the screen as sanity checks for each query.

On the positive side, things that I liked:

  1. I liked that (almost) everything has uniform record syntax. The syntax was relatively easy for me to pick up. However, I don’t know if that will be the case for everyone. Why not just use a lisp syntax? (Turns out there’s a clojure library that’s similar: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/eve-talk/b-IN4pLF45A)
  2. I liked that the core data structure is a record
  3. I liked how the API simplifies everything to either searching or adding (commiting or binding) to a database, and anything, including the page, is just a database. (Personally, I wouldn’t have two seperate ways to add to a database but just one, “add”. If you want a “bind” sort of behavior, you should have to somehow specify that manually. I should think more on this, but it might be tricky given that I don’t really understand the difference between the two.)

I found this quote while reading the Eve Google Group:

In Excel, they show the data and hide the formulas. In programming, they show the formulas and hide the data. In Eve, we show both.

I really love that quote and vision for a programming language that’s as concrete as a spreadsheets but has the powerful abstractions of programming langauges. Unfortunately, Eve does not live up to this vision in its current implementation. It’s much closer to Python than Excel.

I think my vision for Streams as Spreadsheets could fufill this vision. To that end, I think there’s a lot about the Eve architecture that I could mimic or at least learn from for when I think through how to design this prototype.

Plan for Friday, August 25th

I don’t plan on having time to do more research tomorrow, so I’ll pick up my research on Friday with Imp and potentially doing some denotational design on Streams as Spreadsheets:

  • scope out the interface of streams. what are the core things you can do to them that lets you build out all the other stream combinators? give it a callback that recieves the next item?
  • can the structure can be dynamic? can a row dynatically create a sheet which creates a sheet, etc?
  • metaprogramming

Update journal.md

08/23/17 Wed 9:56 AM

I was able to carve out today entirely for research! My thought is that given that I have a whole day to work, I might as well use it to build something, or multiple somthings, in Eve, and save Imp for a day where I have less continuous time.

Update journal.md

08/21/17 Mon 6:19 PM

So as my closest friends and family know, I am not so great at mental math. The math that worked was: 1 day Coding Space + 1 day WoofJS + 3 days research and podcast = 5 days. However, when I decided to spend two days per week interviewing over the past 2ish weeks, I didn’t take into accounts that it would now leave barely 1 day left for research. Luckily, my teammate Sophie will be taking over interviews from me starting next week so I can return to a normal research schedule next week. However, that means that I didn’t get to do research today like I’d hoped. I hope to get a few hours of research done on Wednesday and Friday of this week.

I’m also pushing back my launch date of the podcast from today to next Monday, barring any other glitches. As far as next week’s research recap goes, it just might be a particularly short one :/

Update journal.md

08/17/17 Thu 3:27 PM

Unfortunately, I’m realizing that realisitically I don’t have time tomorrow to do research. My time has been stolen away by various meetings and urgent emails, so I’ll pick up where I left off on Monday. Have a great weekend everyone!

Update journal.md

08/16/17 Wed 5:29 PM

While I had no trouble finishing up Jonathan Edward’s blogs, which were fascinating and full of insights, I barely even started getting through Imp, watching 1 video and 1 paper deeply and that’s it. However, I really loved both the video and the paper. Many of these are quite simliar to my StreamSheets ideas and are informing them greatly. (To be honest, they’re mostly affirmation bias-ing them greatly.) I’m also noticing that I’m interpreting all of these ideas through the lens of Streamsheets, which makes me think that I’m going to have to move to disconfirming my assumptions (which could involve prototyping) about it sooner rather than later so I can put it to bed and begin thinking about other ideas.

Tomorrow is full of interviews. Friday will be split between Imp and Eve. I hope to get twice (or more) time on Friday by going to bed earlier Thursday night. Let’s see.

Update journal.md

08/16/17 Wed 12:48 PM

I stayed up too late last night goofing off on my phone in bed so I got a super late start to today, which effectively cuts my research day in half today. Not good. Let me try a new system… I just set my Apple Bedtime app on to go to sleep at 11:30pm and wake up at 8:30am. Let’s see how that goes.

What do I want to accomplish today?

  • 1pm-2pm get through Jonthan Edward’s remaining blogs
  • 2-3:30pm go on a run
  • 3:30-5:30 imp

Great! This might be a little ambitious, but I can do any overflow on Friday. The rest of the time on Friday will be spent doing a super deep dive on Eve.

Update journal.md

08/14/17 Mon 6:03 PM

I made a decent amount of progress but also got pulled into a research hole, looking into Conal Elliot’s work. It’s interesting to see how he differs from Jonathan Edwards, who is the other hole I tried to explore today but failed. I saved his remaining 50 blog posts in a bookmark folder for easy access on Wednesday. Then I’ll take a look at Imp and Eve.

I’m feeling like this research is doing great things from my brain, and I’m excited to model out my StreamSheets idea according to Conal Elliot’s denotational design paradigm, and pair it with the requirements I know I need about metaprogramming and undo-ability and composability from Jonathan Edwards, Expressions of Change, etc.

research recap 3

08/14/17 Mon 11:34 AM

And it’s time for another research recap!!! Before I get to that, I have a few housekeeping thoughts to get out of the way:

  1. I’ve been noticiting that I’ve been procrastinating starting this recap, sleeping later, distracting myself with other tasks. I guess I’m a little worried about it, but I’m feeling better already now that I’ve started.

  2. I used to keep track of my to-do list for this website and podcast in a seperate google doc, but I have layed it to rest (RIP) and will now use Github Issues on this repository to track my todos.

Research Recap #3

  • While I was planning to do more research into other peoples’ work, everything changed when I got a call from Paul Chiusano from Unison about a “writers’ workshop” in Boston with my kinda people.

  • WoofJS Workflow https://docs.google.com/document/d/1gt4SDLgCSeKa_h1seWtriPFsve8aYHzdhuADWas2j0c/edit
    • Kids lose the forest for the trees
    • Forget what they’re working on
    • Don’t make outlines for creative projects
    • Integrated top-down programming assitant
    • Also code branches, version control
    • Buggy demo at woofjs.com/workflow
    • Cool proof of concept, but would require many more hours to get production ready (need better merging up and down, less bugs, permissioning), and I’m doubtful kids would even use it in its current form. It’s confusing and not clear what they’d get out of it. So I’m not going to continue with it for now.
  • Workshop recap http://futureofcoding.org/journal#boston-future-programming-writers-workshop-recap
    • Paul gave a really interesting talk, making the case that building better mathmatical abstractions is more powerful than building better interfaces to the abstractions we have
    • Having a deadline was neat, but conferences probably don’t make sense for me (applied to PX! but wont’ go)
    • But I will start making videos (about WoofJS workflow, and also older prototypes)
  • This week I really do hope to review other peoples’ research
    • a number of links from Paul Chiusano
    • Jonathan Edward’s 50ish blogs
    • Expressions of Change
    • Imp
    • Eve
  • Also, I’m obsessed with my spreadsheets+streams idea: StreamSheets

  • Other notes
    • Editing audio on my phone now, after buying all of the other tech
    • Entering a busy time for The Coding Space, my after school program. I try to schedule all of my work, which is mostly interviews for part time teachers, for Tues and Thurs, but it might overflow to research days, sadly.

Update journal.md

08/11/17 Fri 11:15 AM

Sadly, because I allowed today to get filled with various other tasks and meetings, I don’t have time for research today. For example, I have four interviews for part-time teachers at The Coding Space this afternoon.

However, I will say that I’ve been spending a ton of my time thinking about my “streams as spreadsheets” idea and really think there’s some potential here. In particular, I love how concrete it makes everything. You never have to imagine how the streams flow into streams which flow into data which flow into HTML elements. Everything is always inspectable and concrete, even asynchronous things, in their own streams. My next steps are to outline how I’d build TodoMVC and a Chat App in it.

Update journal.md

08/09/17 Wed 5:29 PM

Boston Future Programming Writers’ Workshop Recap

The last few days have been a whirlwind! Although it might not seem that I spent much time working on Future of Programming research in the past few days, I’ve been doing almost nothing else besides this research – so much so that I’ve been having trouble finding time to journal about it. Finally I have just 5 minutes now to jot down some notes.

First of all, my presentation on the WoofJS Workflow went great! Here’s the Google Doc to the finished paper that I talked through and then submitted to Splash PX!, the conference in Vancover, yesterday. Second of all, it was really amazing to get to meet Jonathan Edwards, Richard Gabriel, Mel Conway, and more! What a fun group of people working on these same issues I think about all day.

I ended up spending most of Friday, Saturday and Sunday working on getting the protoype working, which you can now play with at woofjs.com/workflow. It’s not super pretty or bug free yet but you can play with it.

One of the most precient pieces of feedback I got on it was: why are you talking to us about this? Just try it out with your students. I think this is a really great point. I’m not a theoretical researcher. I’m a inventor/product person and our crucible is the user-test, not the paper review.

Other updates from the last few days

I spend many hours trying to find the right setup to do light editing on my podcasts. I tried my chromebook, a PC, a desktop iMac, a faster desktop iMac, an iPad Pro, and finally settled on… editing the episodes right on my iPhone 7 Plus! I am a fan of the free Hokusai 2 app. Seems to work great and it’s all free.

Given that I spent most of this two-week research cycle on prototyping, I’m not sure what I’ll be talking about on the research recap episode on Monday… Probably go into some implementation details and more feedback I got at the workshop. I can also go into the other participants and their research, in particular, Paul Chiusano and Jonathan Edwards, both of whom I hope to have on the podcast soon!

I don’t plan to have time to do much research tomorrow but I plan on spending Friday morning here, probably sifting through links and working out various ideas. No more prototyping for a little while, I hope.

Update journal.md

08/04/17 Fri 6:18 PM

I spent 3ish hours yesterday and 3ish hours this morning building out the WoofJS Workflow. It still has a long way to go but it was enough for me to get a sense of how it works and take a decent screenshot for the summary I sent to the other participants in the workshop on Monday.

WoofJS Workflow Summary

There are many ways for a new programmer to get “stuck” while learning to code, and require the help of a more experienced programmer to get them “unstuck.” For example, it’s virtually impossible for a new programmer to spot a missing closing-bracket. That’s why a block-based coding platform like Scratch is so wonderful. By eliminating syntax errors, it allows new programmers to spend more time learning, being productive, and enjoying coding. One way to optimize a programming environment is minimizing the time learners are stuck.

In this vein, I’d like to discuss a problem that my students encounter while coding in WoofJS, and a prototype that I’m working on to solve it that I call “WoofJS Workflow”. For reference, these students are aged 8-14, and attend classes at my after school program, The Coding Space. We built WoofJS (woofjs.com) to be “the next step after Scratch” for our more advanced students. It’s a JavaScript framework and IDE for students to make games and animations. For each block in Scratch, there’s an equivalent JavaScript command in Woof that does the same thing. In this way, WoofJS is an alternative to ProcessingJS.

image

As simple as it sounds, I’ve found that the most common way students get stuck is when they lose track of what they’re working on. Thus when any student asks for help, we first ask, “What are you trying to accomplish here?” More often than not, the student will have entirely forgotten what she’s trying to do, and respond with a shoulder shrug.

If the student is working through one of our guided tutorials, which have numbered steps, we can then follow up with, “What number step are you on?” and then, “Could you read it aloud?” Sometimes, simply re-focusing the student’s attention on the problem at hand allows her to solve her issue herself with no further teacher input. But even if the student needs more guidance, the conversation is much more productive now that teacher and student are aligned on the goal.

However, when students are working on creative projects of their own devising, there is no numbered list of steps for them to refer back to. While I’m constantly begging students to write their steps out for themselves on paper, it’s a losing struggle that almost never happens. Many creative student projects never see the light of day because students get stuck, frustrated, and quit, going back to our guided projects.

While staying on task is vital to many constructive endeavors, it’s particularly difficult in programming because our tasks have subtasks with subtasks with subtasks with subtasks. When a student gets stuck on a subtask 3 levels deep, they often lose sight of the larger picture and what they’re even trying to accomplish in the first place. Luckily, programming has a technique for dealing with breaking down problems into subproblems - top-down programming. The Solution While top-down programming is indisputably a core programming competency, our tooling doesn’t lend itself well to it, which is why we often resort to whiteboards, pieces of paper, or github issues. What would it look like to integrate a top-down programming assistant into an IDE?

I think it would look like a nested To Do list right at the top of the screen. That way, what the student is working on now is always top of mind. Even better, the breadcrumb trail explaining how what they’re working on now plays in the larger picture is also right there.

image (This photo represents a rough prototype-in-progress. Many of the features I discuss below aren’t implemented yet.)

Here’s where it gets interesting. Each To Do item represents a separate isolated branch of code. When you drill into a To Do item (by clicking its bullet), you see the code only for that branch and can edit it without affecting the other branches. Then, when you’ve completed a To Do task, you simply hit “Done” to merge this branch with its parent branch. (Have you ever thought it strange that in git you first decide what to work on, then do it, and at the end write about what you did? Doesn’t that seem backwards?) As you can see, this workflow skips the “git add” and “git push” steps. It also makes it much easier to switch between branches – no need to stash changes before checking out a new branch. Those changes will be waiting for you at this branch whenever you come back to it.

While this tool is technically no more powerful than git and github, I think it would enable greater collaboration, because by encouraging you to break your problems down explicitly, it allows teammates to go directly to a sub-problem 6 levels deep and help you there. Currently, we only collaborate with pull requests one level deep, but I think a tool like this could change this, enabling deeper collaboration without much thought for coordination.

Update journal.md

08/02/17 Wed 7:02 PM

Invited to “Writers Workshop” in Boston

Yesterday, Paul Chiusano called and invited me to a “writer’s workshop” for independent future of programming languages researchers organized by Jonathan Edwards and Richard Gabriel. Very exciting! It’s going to happen on Monday in Boston so I’ve got to get to work on my presentation. After some deliberation I’ve decided to build and present the WoofJS Workflow (formerly called “Workflowy Git”).

To prepare for the event, I want TODO some research on the other participants tomorrow…

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_P._Gabriel
  • http://dreamsongs.com/
  • http://web.mit.edu/barryam3/www/blog/
  • https://people.csail.mit.edu/sperezde/oopsla16.pdf
  • https://people.csail.mit.edu/sperezde/onward13.pdf
  • http://neverworkintheory.org/2016/09/30/rethinking-git.html
  • http://alarmingdevelopment.org

WoofJS Workflow

image

Like last Friday, I spent a while (maybe 45 minutes this time) in the shower taking notes. This upcomming Friday I want to build a rough prototype of this. I may have to spend time this weekend on it too…

Creating branches
  • replacing the WoofJS logo with the text, “What’s one thing you want to accomplish?”
  • For each branch, you can see the linked breadcrumbs > of > how > you > got > there
  • It prompts you to create sub-branches with, “Could you break this problem down into a sub-problem?”
Staging
  • not a seperate step
  • eventually, will be able to select chunks of code to merge
  • for now, create two sub branches, delete the changes in one and merge it, then you’re left with a branch with the remaining changes
Mergning
  • basic git merge with conflicts (eventually move to a github like interface)
  • will warn you about conflicts before you merge like github
  • I don’t think fixing merge conflicts needs to be a seperate branch but that could make sense
Editing branches
  • once you’ve editing a child, you can no longer edit the parent (unless you get rid of child changes)
  • re-ordering children is allowed
  • unindenting is not allowed (needs to be merged)
  • indenting is allowed
  • multi-homing is not allowed (for now)
  • (Eventually) each branch could have github style issue/branch discussions
Permissioning
  • Anyone can create sub-branches.
  • Up to the owner of the parent branch whether or not to merge.
  • Can hide all non-owner branches
  • Need to be formally added as a collaborater for real time editing
History
  • could just be linear like git
  • would be neat if we could take advantage of the nested structure though…
Other benefits
  • foster collaboration infinite levels deep, instead of just one level deep like with pull requests
  • allows mentors to help mentees by created nested structure that the mentee can attack
Potential issues
  • doesn’t solve top down programming with functional abstraction, which I’ve had a difficult time getting students to intuit on their own
  • easier with single file, but I don’t see any clear blocker for many files
  • could work on any IDE, but maybe not as a terminal thing
  • internet connected, not as distributed
Worried about timing

I’ll have to make sure to write out my presentation and time it so I can make sure I take no longer than 20 min. It’s fun to gloat over all of my wonderful features but many of them will be obvious and I won’t need to mention them. Also will need to figure out how much context I should give about myself, my other research, The Coding Space, and WoofJS.