Abuse Of Some Sum Types In OO Languages
Mar 24, 2022
Programming, Golang

Sum types are useful, but they are also an attractive nuisance in object oriented languages. There's a certain type of programmer who gets a taste of functional programming and has a good time, but misinterprets that good time to mean that sum types are always better, because they are FP, and FP is Better.

But sum types are not generally better, they are specifically better. Using sum types, or even forcing sum types into languages that don't really have them like C, is a valid solution for certain problems, but in most cases they are not the best choice.

To understand when sum types are best, you must understand something called...

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Jul 19, 2021

I've said a few times on Hacker News over the years that I don't think you can have a single shell language that covers the interactive and programmatic use cases, but I have not yet talked through it enough to myself to crystallize the point.

I think I have it now.

Interactive shell usage is optimized for the fact that a human will be examining the state of the world after every shell command. Programmatic shell usage is optimized for the fact that computer will be examining the state of the world after every shell command. I contend that the gulf between these two use cases, and the type and degree of intelligence being brought to bear by the two parties, is too large to be optimally covered by one language.

A language must either privilege interactive use over programmatic use, in which case you get existing shell languages whose affordances run actively counter to what is needed to make it safe to run with a computer as the responsible party, or it must privilege the sorts of things that make it easy to trust a computer driving, at the cost of making it too tedious for real-time usage.

Functors and Monads For People Who Have Read Too Many "Tutorials"
May 25, 2021
Programming, Haskell

Title is literally true. This may not be the best place to learn about these concepts for the first time, because I'm going to focus on knocking down the misconceptions about them.

Then again, it may not be the worst place, for the same reason.

I had promised myself I would not add to the pile of functor or monad "tutorials", but I've been worn down. I gave up when I saw a reddit comment complaining about how Functor was "too hard to understand", which made me sad, because the correct response to the Functor interface is, "That's it?". And while Monad is legitimately a bit more interesting and complex, the correct response to that is not that different.

I am aware of the notorious effect that people "get" monads and then post their own idiosyncratic takes on them. In my defense, this isn't something I write just after my "ah ha!" moment, I've understood them in Haskell's context for many years now, and actually... this isn't even about that "ah ha!" moment at all. This is only about what they are. Even if you completely understand everything I write in this post, the real "ah ha!" where you realize just how useful the libraries built up around the monad interface are, the first time you search for a type on Hoogle where you're like this should exist and it turns out it does in fact exist already, that's still in your future. In fact I'm quite deliberately not trying to convey that feeling in the interests of getting at simply what the monad interface is. Which isn't, strictly speaking, a pre-requisite to that experience, but it does help.

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Interfaces and Nil in Go, or, Don't Lie to Computers
May 11, 2021
Programming, Golang

It is commonly held up as a wart in Go that interfaces have "two different nils"; one is when the interface value is nil:

var something interface{}
fmt.Println(something == nil) // prints true

and one is when the interface contains a nil:

var i *int // initializes to nil
var something interface{} = i
fmt.Println(something == nil) // prints false

This is not a wart in Go. It is a result of a programmer misconception combining with a software engineering bug which results in an attribution error.

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Nov 04, 2020


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