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Best Programming languages to learn to get a job (Read 35999 times)
Nigel Bree
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Re: Best Programming languages to learn to get a job
Reply #15 - Jan 26th, 2009 at 5:28pm
 
Rad wrote on Jan 24th, 2009 at 4:35pm:
Have you heard of HtDP? Your thoughts?

I hadn't heard of that particular text, although Matthias Felleisen and Shriram Krishnamurthi are well-known educators who have done a lot of good work in the Scheme community.

The overall tone of the paper is balanced, but think it's also notable that they don't mention some important things about why SICP is the way it is, and why today's students really struggle so much with it. MIT's student intake is truly exceptional; many of the "problems" talked about with SICP in the paper are complete non-issues, or elevate some modern fashion (viz, explicit methodologies) beyond where they should be. The simple truth is that other schools are dealing with a wider range of student abilities, and as I've talked about before, the level of ability of incoming students to software courses has been falling very substantially worldwide for many years.

Alternative texts like this exist as a practical compromise to broaden the appeal of SICP-like instruction in more universities, by lowering the barrier to entry; the advanced material from SICP thus elided is covered by texts like Essentials of Programming Languages so that in the end educators stretch the same core material into a) more stages to fill out three-year undergraduate courses, and b) be split over those years into different streams of ability, so that elite students can still get a proper classical CS education which will allow them to continue on, while the bulk of the undergraduates get at least some exposure to classical concepts (which most currently do not) during their basic vocational training.

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They use Scheme, which is a varient of LISP, I believe.

The same variant used by SICP and indeed created for the SICP course.

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They also gravitate toward Java to teach OOP.

While it is a poor decision to use Java for anything, it's rational in the context of the bargain being struck; to make some of the classical material available to institutions which have otherwise abandoned CS education and are just doing low-end vocational training. Those lower-tier institutions - which were the ones teaching Pascal as a programming language back in the 80's - pretty much all switched from Pascal to Java back from '95 through to '97, since that's the way the wind was blowing.

Such course providers have a real problem, incidentally, which is that the industry has split again, with web development now playing a huge role - despite all the dumbing down of courses based on Java, even that is something students are telling course providers is simply "too hard". So really, there needs to be even more streaming of students into different courses.

Which is not a problem itself; it has throughout my life always been the case that there is a huge intellectual gulf separating most "working" programmers from those aware of the intellectual foundations of the field. The only problem being the notion that everyone engaged in writing software is engaged in only minor variations of something called "programming", when that's not the case (although the belief nonetheless persists for equally obvious reasons).

The divide in abilities is real, which feeds into the hiring problem and thus to universities as a feedback loop since recruiters can't really distinguish between the ability of candidates to find the high-ability ones, employers want staff that are readily interchangeable and easily hired, while universities have to supply industry with candidates from a pool whose median ability is changing, but who can't really make that streaming of courses and candidates too explicit.

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Regarding SICP, I also like that they present a general framework for thinking about languages:

Indeed, but that is because the authors are absolutely steeped in the tradition of the lambda calculus, and Scheme being essentially a vehicle for using it directly to write programs means that it is teaching the universal mathematical essence of computing. Other programming languages have abandoned that essence for the sake of convenience, and present a model of computing which is built around a small set of end tasks their user communities want to perform.

This is known as domain-specific languages; since Lisp (and Scheme) are such perfect vehicles for writing interpreters for other languages, their model of how programs are written is really built on the idea of bridging the gap between computer and problem by creating a tower of interpreters for languages that are ever closer to a particular problem domain.

[ Most of the things which would be held up as "general-purpose programming languages" really aren't general-purpose at all. C and C++ are particularly notable in this category. They are pretty terrible at everything except writing certain kinds of code where their semantic closeness to the way register machines work is useful for high performance, i.e. operating systems or run-time systems for other programming languages. ]

This is in contrast to the popular "modern" languages, none of which really aspire to being "universal". Instead, each of which was created close to some particular end problem space and was built to address only that (the cautionary exception being Java, where the designers did have the aspiration of it being able to be used for everything, but succeeded only in creating something never more than third-best at anything).
 
 
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Nigel Bree
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Re: Best Programming languages to learn to get a job
Reply #16 - Jan 26th, 2009 at 6:10pm
 
Rad wrote on Jan 24th, 2009 at 4:35pm:
I'm also interested in your thoughts on Ruby/Rails

As I've pointed out before, Matz set out specifically to create a language which would be approachable to a certain developer community, explicitly built on the concepts of Lisp but subsetted massively and disguised to make it appealing to an audience which would if told of the relationship with Lisp would reject it out of hand.

So, intellectually, Ruby is not really much different from Scheme except that it a) abandoned more of the Lispness, and b) being intended as "practical" the size and nature of the run-time library and the existence of the the Rails web framework is all that matters to most of its users rather than the Lisp concepts at its core.

It's a similar process that went on with Javascript, incidentally. It too was begun by Brendan Eich as a Lisp, but it ended up having a simplified Algol-like syntax glued to Self's object model which itself was modelled on Smalltalk (Self's kind of dispatching is an independent reinvention of basically the same approach as that taken by the Lisp community in their adoption of object-oriented programming in the 1970's - several of the early Lisp libraries for this worked basically the same way as Self does, although the approach that was later standardized as CLOS was rather a complicated one) and in this subsetting and simplification becoming something much less.

As I've said before, pretty much all roads lead back to Lisp and Smalltalk. There simply haven't been more than one or two genuinely new ideas in programming introduced since 1970's, just repackaging of different subsets aimed at different problem domains with perhaps a dash of the other unique progenitors like FORTH (later hybridized with Lisp as Postscript, for instance), or SQL or regular expressions which are off on the side as the embodiment of algebras rather than general calculi.

Given that my background is such that I could write an implementation of pretty much any programming language from scratch, I'm really the wrong person to answer the question of the relative merits of using them, because the newer ones exist primarily to express concepts that are not new and to serve needs I either don't have or can satisfy without them.
 
 
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Pleonasm
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Re: Best Programming languages to learn to get a job
Reply #17 - Jan 26th, 2009 at 6:11pm
 
On the subject of programming languages, let’s not forget APL (A Programming Langauge), created by Ken Iverson in 1962. Arguably, you can do more ‘work’ with one line of APL code than with any other language.
 

ple • o • nasm n. “The use of more words than are required to express an idea”
 
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Nigel Bree
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Re: Best Programming languages to learn to get a job
Reply #18 - Jan 26th, 2009 at 6:36pm
 
Pleonasm wrote on Jan 26th, 2009 at 6:11pm:
let’s not forget APL

Honestly, I put that in the same general box as the others more concerned with algebras (APL's core approach being vector algebra) than general calculi, since it's only the vector nature of it which is substantially important (combined with particular approach to symbology from which it derives its compactness of expression). It's so inordinately clumsy at any task which isn't concerned much with vectors I'd really call it a domain-specific language for them.

Prolog is similar in that respect; it puts the unification algorithm rather than vector algebra at its heart, and like APL although it can be used to do more general stuff it's really pretty awful to work with anything for which unification isn't a "natural" fit.

Each was important historically, of course, because there are problems of these types around, just as today there are lots of web problems, but neither really offers a wider lesson for program construction beyond that.
 
 
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Re: Best Programming languages to learn to get a job
Reply #19 - Jan 26th, 2009 at 10:44pm
 
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level of ability of incoming students to software courses has been falling very substantially worldwide for many years

Why is this?

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Alternative texts like this exist as a practical compromise to broaden the appeal of SICP-like instruction in more universities, by lowering the barrier to entry

Are you saying this is a watered-down version of SICP?

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educators stretch the same core material into 

which would suggest SICP is more compact, yes?

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The same variant used by SICP and indeed created for the SICP course.

Scheme was created specifically for SICP?

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the notion that everyone engaged in writing software is engaged in only minor variations of something called "programming", when that's not the case (although the belief nonetheless persists 

Yes, I had this idea .. knew no better.

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exception being Java, where the designers did have the aspiration of it being able to be used for everything, but succeeded only in creating something never more than third-best at anything

interesting. I didn't know that.
 
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Re: Best Programming languages to learn to get a job
Reply #20 - Jan 26th, 2009 at 10:50pm
 
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As I've said before, pretty much all roads lead back to Lisp and Smalltalk. There simply haven't been more than one or two genuinely new ideas in programming introduced since 1970's,

Are you saying that if someone learns LISP & Smalltalk they know a lot about most programming languages?

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Given that my background is such that I could write an implementation of pretty much any programming language from scratch

Forgive my n00bness, but what is an "implementation"?
 
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Nigel Bree
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Re: Best Programming languages to learn to get a job
Reply #21 - Jan 27th, 2009 at 2:18am
 
Rad wrote on Jan 26th, 2009 at 10:44pm:
Why is this?

I don't know; a chap I know with a Ph.D. in Computer Science Education doesn't know either. There are certainly a lot of plausible potential explanations, many of which may contribute to some extent. Bear in mind that this is not isolated to computing, but is affecting a great many engineering disciplines, and it is happening worldwide - it is more striking outside the U.S., but that is because many elite students from other countries study at US institutions (which tend to dominate the global league tables for postgraduate engineering) and so it's mainly apparent in the ratio of nationalities for, say, PhD's awarded by U.S. institutions (where the ratio of foreign-born engineers has been increasing for some time).

Rad wrote on Jan 26th, 2009 at 10:44pm:
Are you saying this is a watered-down version of SICP?

Not quite - it's totally different to SICP, as a matter of deliberate design, to teach different things to a different kind of student.

Those different design choices made by the authors are many; much is omitted outright, other things which SICP only touches on (largely via the exercises, letting readers discover rather than telling them outright) are addressed in extensive detail. That doesn't make it worse, since if it helps anyone not ready for SICP make progress that is a very, very good thing indeed; rather, that it isn't a substitute for SICP.

Rad wrote on Jan 26th, 2009 at 10:44pm:
which would suggest SICP is more compact, yes?

Yes, but it's more than that, more like ... the difference between showing and telling. SICP is content to guide; students are asked to perform tasks requiring astonishingly deep insights in the exercises, the confidence of the authors being that the problems cannot be solved without the student undergoing the "Aha!" moment and making those key insights for themselves. A text like HTDP aims to tell lots of simpler, more measurable things that no-one can miss, but in the process it avoids challenging students to reach those deeper understandings.

Again, it's not that one is necessarily worse; but they are very different in aims.

Rad wrote on Jan 26th, 2009 at 10:44pm:
Scheme was created specifically for SICP?

Actually, the folklore is that it was created to explore a thing called the Actor model, from a paper by a gentleman called Carl Hewitt which was a seminal step in the development of object-oriented programming. However, it's no accident that Scheme is not just a subset of the Lisp dialects of the day, but refounded the language on the classical Lambda Calculus (making it perfect for teaching), and it's no accident that Gerald Sussman was one of the designers and used it in the MIT course he taught.

You might notice that Carl Hewitt's Ph.D advisor at MIT was one Seymour Papert, collaborator with educational theorist Jean Piaget, and whose Logo programming language designed for teaching children is also a dialect of Lisp. Alan Kay also had as one of the motivating ideas for Smalltalk that it would be a vehicle for teaching children.

Rad wrote on Jan 26th, 2009 at 10:50pm:
Are you saying that if someone learns LISP & Smalltalk they know a lot about most programming languages?

In the abstract, it's certainly likely; both languages have certain key characteristics like introspection underpinning them and which mean the language is hard to master without coming to understand how the constructs in the language could be used to create itself. But that understanding isn't inevitable. Of course the only people who learn either nowadays are those specifically interested in those deeper ideas anyway.

Rad wrote on Jan 26th, 2009 at 10:50pm:
what is an "implementation"?

An implementation is the concrete realization of something which is an abstract idea. For a programming language, that abstract something is usually a specification of the behaviour of the language constructs; a program that takes in source code and arranges for it to execute according to the specification is an implementation of that specification.

Writing those programs - the compilers and interpreters for programming languages - involves making hundreds or thousands of tradeoffs, such as that between execution speed and memory consumption, or between execution speed and portability, or between execution speed and having debugging facilities, or many others. The sum of all these different tradeoffs an implementor can make in realizing the specification can add up to some big practical differences.
 
 
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Nigel Bree
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Re: Best Programming languages to learn to get a job
Reply #22 - Jan 27th, 2009 at 4:20pm
 
By the way, in respect of your blog entry, PLT scheme really is excellent and having a top-notch development environment like that really was something that teaching via Scheme needed.

Working through HtDP is a good thing, for sure, and the SICP courseware will still be there for you if at any point you want to dip into it. As long as you find that HtDP connects with you, that's more important than anything else.

Incidentally, another one of the folks (Dorai Sitaram) who worked on PLT scheme came up with Teach Yourself Scheme in Fixnum Days; the first part is just a gentle introduction to the language itself, while chapters 14+ do some practical things. This one is just focusing on using Scheme, so it doesn't attempt to deal with the kinds of weighty concepts SICP or even HtDP does.

Any of these texts are suitable at getting you started; they just won't take you all the way to the point where you really understand that computer languages themselves are just programs too, so if you go the HtDP route I do recommend a text like Essentials of Programming Languages as a follow-up.

[ In actual fact, it was the first edition of EOPL that was my introduction to Scheme; I read SICP afterwards. EOPL (any edition) is certainly a fine text.  ]
 
 
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Rad
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Re: Best Programming languages to learn to get a job
Reply #23 - Jan 27th, 2009 at 10:38pm
 
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a lot of plausible potential explanations, many of which may contribute to some extent. Bear in mind that this is not isolated to computing, but is affecting a great many engineering disciplines, and it is happening worldwide

Got me thinking. Trying to figure out why that may be. What are your intuitions?

If nothing else, that makes you skills even MORE valuable.

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Not quite - it's totally different to SICP, as a matter of deliberate design, to teach different things to a different kind of student.

But you would say "easier," no? *Lots* easier?

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anyone not ready for SICP  

Are there concepts in SICP that some programmers simply cannot grasp? I mean, I feel it's just a matter of time .. in that you can teach brain-surgery or rocket-science to someone of average intelligence .. but it will simply take that person LONGER to learn .. but they will still be able to learn .. given enuf time (and perseverance).

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A text like HTDP aims to tell lots of simpler, more measurable things that no-one can miss, but in the process it avoids challenging students to reach those deeper understandings.

I see. Good explanation. (Great, actually.) To be honest, I like someone to spell it out for me .. whenever possible. Eliminates ambiguity. Growing up on the East coast (near New York) taught me to value directness. [ "Rad, you stink," vs "Hmmm, what's that smell?" ] Tho now you have me curious about comparing the approaches used in the two courses.

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refounded the language on the classical Lambda Calculus (making it perfect for teaching),  

I know you have discussed L-C before, and I have even read the Wikipedia entry on L-C, but could you pls again explain WHY a language founded on the L-C is ideal for teaching???

Maybe its the term 'Calculus' that is throwing me?

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Piaget, and whose Logo programming language designed for teaching children is also a dialect of Lisp. Alan Kay also had as one of the motivating ideas for Smalltalk that it would be a vehicle for teaching children.

One of the reason I felt drawn toward HiDP over SICP, even tho my ego would prefer to tackle SICP (and it have the videos, too) .. is that I feel I might be able to teach the course to the Bug when he gets older, or even some local high school kids, after school, since Newport Beach has many wealthy families.

Just thoughts, tho .. but the teaching of children has been a recurring idea running thru my head lately, and I seem to have a knack for conveying complex ideas so folks can grasp them more easily.

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motivating ideas for Smalltalk  

Can you pls summarize the diffs between Lisp, Scheme and Smalltalk?

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hard to master without coming to understand how the constructs in the language could be used to create itself

Uh, I've been reading that term .. just today .. CONSTRUCT(s). What is a construct?

That part about "creating itself" sounds deliciously intriguing .. like an inverse paradox or something.

Before I forget, I want to thank you for your help. I greatly appreciate it. Your knowledge/posts are so rich, I read them multiple times.

 
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Re: Best Programming languages to learn to get a job
Reply #24 - Jan 27th, 2009 at 10:46pm
 
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Writing those programs - the compilers and interpreters for programming languages - involves making hundreds or thousands of tradeoffs, such as that between execution speed and memory consumption

How much of programming involves the effect of your code/prgm on CPU/memory? I never considered that aspect (for some reason).
 
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Re: Best Programming languages to learn to get a job
Reply #25 - Jan 27th, 2009 at 10:56pm
 
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PLT scheme really is excellent and having a top-notch development environment like that really was something that teaching via Scheme needed

You are referring to DrScheme, I suppose. I find it interesting that the book/text is dated Feb 2001:

http://www.amazon.com/How-Design-Programs-Introduction-Programming/dp/0262062186

.. with the online manual/version dated Sept 2003:

http://www.htdp.org/

.. but the language (and environment which comes WITH the language) is dated/updated January 21, 2009. (v4.1.4)

http://www.plt-scheme.org/

A date of Feb 2001 does not make the text obsolete?
 
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Re: Best Programming languages to learn to get a job
Reply #26 - Jan 27th, 2009 at 11:03pm
 
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As long as you find that HtDP connects with you

This stuff connects with me. The problem is that I want to learn it all yesterday.

Do you recall that scene in the Matrix where a chopper is on the roof, and Neo asks Trinity, "Do you know how to fly that thing?" And she responds, "Not yet." .. then says, "Tank, I need a program for a model XXX chopper.."

.. Her eyes flitter for sec. Then she says, "Let's go." .. and she knows how to fly the thing.

I get frustrated when I can't absorb it fast enuf. Plus all this legal BS I've been having to deal with just sucks and wastes my time months at a time.

This is why I envy guys like you & Pleo who ALREADY know all this cool stuff.

Ars longa, vita brevis. The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ars_longa,_vita_brevis
 
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Re: Best Programming languages to learn to get a job
Reply #27 - Jan 27th, 2009 at 11:08pm
 
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so if you go the HtDP route I do recommend a text like Essentials of Programming Languages as a follow-up.

I am familiar with EOPL cuz there is a link to that website/info in the HELP menu of DrScheme, which I've been familiarizing myself with .. so I know it's beyond me right now.
 
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Nigel Bree
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Re: Best Programming languages to learn to get a job
Reply #28 - Jan 28th, 2009 at 5:47am
 
Rad wrote on Jan 27th, 2009 at 10:38pm:
If nothing else, that makes you skills even MORE valuable.

Ah, but compared to what? The commentary about most businesses only seeking engineering staff who have readily interchangeable skill sets is no joke. Individuals with especially high ability are in fact considered a bad thing in many places; we cost more, we cannot be replaced, and we are hard to manage (being independent thinkers, we don't just STFU and do what we are told). There's even a project management concept which revolves around avoiding concentrated expertise.

Mastery is still worth pursuing, of course (as in any field!) but let's just say that with software in particular it is not an unalloyed good.

Rad wrote on Jan 27th, 2009 at 10:38pm:
But you would say "easier," no? *Lots* easier?

It's not a question of easy or hard so much as ... having the spark. The most profound parts of SICP have an activation energy which if you are missing doesn't just make them difficult, but almost impossible. But if you can reach the threshold, you unlock a level of understanding that makes all kinds of things easy. That's why it's a "when you are ready for it" text.

Rad wrote on Jan 27th, 2009 at 10:38pm:
Are there concepts in SICP that some programmers simply cannot grasp?

Cannot? It's a hard call. The vast majority of developers simply never make, and cannot be convinced to make, the attempt; they reject out of hand the idea that anything can exist which would be so different to their basic workaday understanding. They believe they are above average and the notion of further levels of understanding is one they will not believe in.

Rad wrote on Jan 27th, 2009 at 10:38pm:
could you pls again explain WHY a language founded on the L-C is ideal for teaching?

I'll try, but actually this is one of those things that you'll just "get" one day. Ya know it in your bones or ya don't.

But the executive summary is that the notation devised by logicians in the early 20th century turns out to be able to represent everything that computers can possibly do. There are other systems which can do this - Turing Machines, SK combinators - but those other systems have have several weaknesses; they are very very different from what our computers do, and they require colossal amounts of space (tape for Turing machines, program size for SK combinators, and so forth).

The notation used for Scheme is, in contrast, practical; programs require only modest space for the program itself and data space to run it, and making the physical computing devices we can build (from the first mainframes to modern CPUs) actually just run lambda calculus was easy enough that a Lisp (i.e., lambda calculus) interpreter turned out to be practical in assembly language on the machines of 1960.

And furthermore, it turns out via denotational semantics that the lambda calculus is a great vehicle for modelling not just programs, but the behaviour of programming languages themselves. Aside from the mathematical tricks that formal semantics brings, the fact you can represent the behaviour of any programming language in the lambda calculus means that model (which you create so you can prove theorems about it) can also be a program you can run!

This process could be seen recently in the work on the next revision of Javascript; as changes to the language were proposed, they were integrated into a formal semantic model (in a notation called ML) which could be both analysed as a theorem but also just run - the reference implementation of ES4 (the proposed next Javascript) was generated this way.

And this relates to the tradition I mentioned above, of computers languages as programs themselves. One of the key properties of the "universal" notations like the lambda calculus is that they can embed themselves. An interpreter for the lambda calculus can easily be written in the lambda calculus; and so it's a notation in which it is possible to write an interpreter - the program to implement - any other programming language.
 
 
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Nigel Bree
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Re: Best Programming languages to learn to get a job
Reply #29 - Jan 28th, 2009 at 6:34am
 
Rad wrote on Jan 27th, 2009 at 10:38pm:
Uh, I've been reading that term .. just today .. CONSTRUCT(s). What is a construct?

It's a sort-of pun on the noun form of the English word we normally use as a verb: sense 4 in this reference. A construct (noun) is a constructed thing; programming language constructs (noun) are synthetic (i.e., constructed) ideas, built out of grammar and syntax and semantics. The self-referential joke is that those constructs (noun) exists in order to be put together in different ways to construct (verb) bigger things, i.e. programs.

Rad wrote on Jan 27th, 2009 at 10:38pm:
Can you pls summarize the diffs between Lisp, Scheme and Smalltalk?

Actually, I'd kinda like to skip that for now. The Lisp-vs-Scheme thing isn't that important, whereas a potted summary of how Smalltalk and Lisp relate wouldn't do Smalltalk justice (and wouldn't mean all that much to you if you don't yet know Lisp).

Rad wrote on Jan 27th, 2009 at 10:46pm:
How much of programming involves the effect of your code/prgm on CPU/memory?

Lots. That's the entire point of the many textbooks like this or this or of course this are all about analysing their relative efficiency in terms of time (measured in some abstract way) and memory space.

Aside from that, some particular languages (C and C++) avoid taking any responsibility for memory management themselves, pushing it onto the program author (on the somewhat dubious basis that the program author can potentially figure out how to do this better than any computer can) with the result that just keeping track of what memory is in use can in fact dominate the amount of code written (yup, you read that right; it's not uncommon for programs in C or C++ to have more lines of code devoted to wrangling memory than to actually solving the end problem).

Rad wrote on Jan 27th, 2009 at 10:56pm:
You are referring to DrScheme, I suppose.

Yup. PLT Scheme is the umbrella for the project that DrScheme is part of.

Rad wrote on Jan 27th, 2009 at 10:56pm:
A date of Feb 2001 does not make the text obsolete?  

Nope. The concepts in it are basically timeless.

Some of the HtDP author's views on development methodology are less timeless, since some of the development practices they talk about are really just matters of fashion, but they are practices which have not yet fallen out of fashion (although hopefully more people nowadays are aware of their limitations than in years past) and really for methodologies they don't become obsolete as much as they get overshadowed by the next Silver Bullet that gets seized upon and promoted by folks who never learned the lessons of the Mythical Man-Month.
 
 
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