The final day of the language summit sported loads of interesting presentations, just like the first two days. I can’t over stress how well prepared these three days have been – especially with regards to the schedule. A huge thanks to Brian Goetz, John Rose and Charles Nutter, for being the main instigators and coordinators of this effort. Very nice work indeed.
The third day also marked a departure from being mostly JVM centered. The first presentation was Mads Torgersen from Microsoft, talking about LINQ. I hadn’t actually realized what a thin layer over regular closure syntax the LINQ infrastructure was. Quite impressive, although it still feels like one of those ideas that really makes sense in some cases, but not at all as many as was originally envisioned.
Per Bothner described his Kawa toolkits. If you didn’t know, Kawa is one of the older alternative language implementations for the JVM – but it’s not only an implementation of the Scheme language. It also contains parts of an Emacs Lisp, XQuery and Common Lisp implementations. As it turns out, Kawa has ended up being more of a general toolkit for building dynamic languages on top of the JVM. Very nice, and I’m seriously considering stealing parts of it for a few of my language projects. It was also a quite astute presentation with no unnecessary frills. Per ended his presentation with some thoughts about language design – and why so many languages seem to be dynamic just for the sake of being dynamic. I totally agree with his sentiment, even though ioke will be about as dynamic a language I can imagine.
Erik Meijer talked about Fundamentalist Functional Programming. Erik is always a hilarious speaker, and even if you don’t agree with everything he says, it’s great entertainment and loads of great quotes and soundbites. Eriks main point of view is that what is currently called functional programming is really nothing of the sort. The only way you can be really pure in a functional programming language is by specifying which parts of the implementation that has any side effects. If these are specified the side effects can be isolated and thus you can keep the rest of your system free from the taint of side effects. He showed several compelling examples of how side effects totally mess up calculations that look like the should have been correct and functional in approach. One thing he said that I really liked was when he talked about “types that lie”, where you have situations in many common languages that have static types but the types doesn’t actually tell you the whole truth. In that case Erik feels it’s better to just be dynamic, since dynamic languages at least doesn’t have dishonest types. Of course, the thrust of the presentation was Haskell, and how Erik is trying to sneak the benefits of Haskell into Visual Basic. He’s got his own group for fooling around with things like this, and it does sound extremely interesting. Oh, and he’s looking for people for his team. In another life, if I’d been more convinced about static typing, I might have applied.
I ended up spending most of the lunch/open space time working on my Antlr-ELisp system. It’s actually coming along really great. Simple lexing works and I have most of the DFA handling implemented too. It ended up being a really fun project although lack of lexical closure bites me over and over again. I’m just too used to it from Scheme and Common Lisp, and not having it makes my brain hurt sometimes.
Part of the open space time was also devoted to a quick introduction by Cliff Click to his Azul systems. Every time I see the kind of analysis he can do with that VM I’m astonished. It’s just so cool stuff. Everyone should have an account there. Really.
After lunch, Rene Jansen from IBM talked about NetRexx – one of those JVM languages that aren’t as well known, but lives a really successful life inside of company boundaries. I really wonder have many of those languages there really are.
Paul Phillips gave a presentation about Scalify – one of those funny, half way crazy projects. It aims to translate Java code to Scala, to make adoption for Scala easier. At first glance this sounds quite easy, but there are several complications to the approach, and Paul introduced it all in a candid and interesting way.
After that it was Neal Gafter’s turn (who is nowadays at Microsoft. Will the world ever start making sense? =). From the title of the presentation I got the impression it would mostly be about closure proposals, but instead he talked a lot about the impedance mismatch between different languages on the JVM, how you can handle that and what needs to be done to the core language to make it possible to interoparete better between languages. Closures is one of the things that Java really doesn’t have, and it’s very obvious from the design of the standard libraries. Very good and thoughtful presentation.
Cliff Click did one of his typical romps about the JVM and how well some of the alternative language translate to bytecode. Extremely entertaining and full of small factoids about the JVM (like the usefulness/lack of usefulness of the Integer.valueOf cache in some cases).
After that, I did a short presentation about Jatha, and tried to mention some generalities about the languages that haven’t succeeded so far, and what kind of support they might want to have from the JVM in the future.
The last talk of the day was about the Parrot VM. In this case there were a bit too much introductory material about dynamic languages, and not enough meat about how the Parrot VM actually works. I would have loved to get much more deep content here than I actually did.
All in all the Friday was an extremely strong day with regards to presentations. Loads of technical content but also some more high level musings that contained real insight about the current state of programming language implementations. I’m very happy with the whole JVM language summit, and it seems like it will happen again next year. If you have any interest in this area I recommend that you set aside the time to go. It will be worth your while.
And now I’m off to JAOO, which also seems to have lots of delicious content for a language geek like myself. We do live in very interesting times.