Top Reasons To Use Lisp

There several reasons to learn a new language. Lisp is on the languages that I like a lot, although I haven’t been lucky to use it for work.

Here is what I believe are some good reasons to give Lisp a chance:

  • It has a very regular syntax: everything is an s-expression (expression with parenthesis), so there is no surprises in terms of syntax. After you learn how to create functions and work with data types, there is not much to worry about.
  • It has a huge library: if you decide to use Common-Lisp, the languages comes already with a ton of useful functions.
  • It is multi-paradigm: unlike Java that forces you to write OO code, Lisp supports several paradigms: functional, OO, declarative (Prolog style), and even imperative.
  • Third-party libraries exist: different from a few years ago, libraries for Lisp are available for most applications. There are a few web sites like clbuild that provide all libraries you need in a simple-to-install package.
  • It is a compiled language: unlike languages such as Python and Ruby that are interpreted, Lisp is compiled (to machine language, not to an intermediate language such as Java). This makes it extremely fast compared to other dynamic languages. Its compiler also has options to generate typed expressions, so that you can get the ultimate speed when working with integers and floating point numbers.
  • It is a modern language: implementations such as sbcl (available for Windows too), and clojure (for Java) make it possible to create modern applications that are just as fast as any other language (including C).
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When Frameworks Are Useful

One of the things that can make the life of programmers harder is the use of a bad framework. The worst thing about frameworks is that they start as an easy way to do your job quickly.

However, after a few months of using that piece of software, we encounter more and more situations where it is making your life difficult, instead of being helpful.

Think, for example, on all the times you had to write a SQL query by hand just to avoid a performance problem on your preferred framework. These are things that add up and make development less pleasurable for experienced programmers.

The Good Side

I would be misleading, however, if I didn’t mention situations where having a framework is of great help. In a number of times, having a framework ready to use is just the thing you pray for. Here are three of these situations:

You are working in a domain you don’t know well: when that is the case your best bet is to rely on something that is already in use. Most industries these days have some kind of framework that handles the most common business logic. If you don’t want to become a specialist on this domain, just use the framework and be happy.

A second situation arises when you need to use an unfamiliar programming environment, such as a new language. Most development shops these days use Java for commercial programming, but from time to time you will need to create applications in something different. When that happens, it is nice to have a framework ready for use.

Still another case happens when you know what you’re doing, but you don’t have the time to do it: if you need to have an application ready for tomorrow, for example, there is no way to continue, other than using a framework — And you know, it is nice they exist for when a small application needs to be finished quickly!

So, for me there is no doubt. When you can’t escape such situations, it is better to smile and use your friendly framework.

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Top Software for Programmers

As a software developer, I came to realize that one of the most important things (after being paid) is to create software that we really enjoy.
During those years, it has become really easy to see the kind of software valued by programmers: editors, compilers, interpreters, and all kinds of little tools that are useful only by other software professionals.
And the reason these programs are written, I came to understand, is not just that we need them. I believe that one of the main reasons this kind of software is so popular is exactly that, to write it, there is no need for external users!
When we create software for ourselves, the obvious advantage it that there is not formal need to elicit requirements.

The Easiest Software to Write?

Writing software for programmers is easy in an important sense: you just need listening to yourself. Writing software for the needs of real users is not so easy: first one needs to interview one, and understand the hidden requirements — what really needs to be done.
Next, you need to worry about user interface… Why bother with this when everything could be solved with a couple of command line arguments?
Just continue thinking like this, and UNIX is reborn. That is right, classical UNIX is the ultimate dream of most programmers: a system that needs no real interface other than the command line.

Who is to Blame?

Programmers are notable for writing this kind of software. And who is to complain? It is much easier to write programs when we don’t need to worry about real requirements. Integration with existing environments is another pain for business software writers: just say no.
Our culture has found the perfect solution for such problems in writing programming tools. No wonder why there are so many computer languages, compilers, editors, and web frameworks. They are fun to write, have challenges that are mostly intellectual, and can be shared among other programmers as a trophy.
Here are some example areas if you are looking for something exciting to write:

  • Programming language implementation: C, Python, Lisp, TeX;
  • Experimental operating systems based on UNIX;
  • Games (most games still are just the implementation of an abstract concept);
  • Web frameworks

So, if you want to improve your software development skills, maybe you should  spend some of your time developing code that you like, after all.

Avoid dealing with user requirements during your creative breaks. At least stay away from things such as: interfacing with legacy code; interfacing with existing databases; using existing UI standards; and using mainstream business libraries…
Most of these factors don’t help in improving the quality of a product after all (and sometimes it is just the opposite), and takes time and energy from developers.
It may be a good exercise to practice programming without such worries. And if you do it really well, you could end up with something useful, which could even become your next “real” job.

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