28 August, 2009

Update to Post Regarding Hacking & Ruby

This will be a very short entry as it is rather late and I'm looking forward to sleep. I would do but I do feel that I have to get some observations off of my chest after the past 6 hours of exploring ruby (for the third time).

#1. Ruby isn't as intuitive as one might suspect. Maybe python and others of similar influence (groovy) have raised the bar too high in terms of dynamic language syntax and expectations. The standard ruby idioms are inconsistent and ill-named in several cases, mostly involving native data sets.

#2. Namespaces in Ruby are an even bigger mess than perl. To some degree, perl's system seemed to make sense yet from what I've read, seen and with which I experimented, I find the namespace setup for Ruby to be subpar and dare I saw far from fluid in implementation details.

#3. Ruby is indeed very slow, especially when working with the Array types in combination with large datasets and continual pre-requisite 'include?' method calls for each datum in said set. I did find that I was able to achieve the same results wanted via Hash population followed by a dump of keys to an Array with a noticable speedup, removing the need for the very slow 'include?' method. Membership tests are a joy of high level languages, but a drain on some resources, ruby more than others though without a doubt.

#4. The novelty of mutable and immutable version of method calls (collect! vs. collect, slice! vs. slice) is just that. A novelty. This is an ambiguity which I believe does not help to further ease of readability and usability. It further necessitates that non-standard library code implement similar idioms and 'practices' for uniformity's sake with the downside being a snowball effect in this area.

#5. Ruby isn't sure if it wants to be perl, c, smalltalk or itself as can be determined by the mix and match of terms, keywords and standard method names. It doesn't feel like a concrete language that was purpose built, but more like an object system with various sources for tacking on the remaining pieces of the language so as to round out the feature range.

These experiences with Ruby (for the third time) may have been different had I not been spoiled by Python (most notably), or were I not coding in the field for the past 15 years. This is not the case nonetheless. I couldn't see myself coding in this language for anything mission critical or heavy duty and after looking at the problems many of the ruby back-ended software systems and/or websites vs. the other high-level dynamic languages have suffered, it becomes quite clear when industry giants such as Google and IBM throw their weight behind Python.
This isn't meant to be an argument starting post about Ruby vs. Python as they can be found elsewhere, though if the shoe fits...

26 August, 2009

Ruby & Project Realisations

This isn't going to be a long post as it is rather late in the evening (morning) and not only am I trying to rest my leg (hyperextended my knee playing football (soccer for the Americans out there) on Monday evening), but I'm also in need of greater amounts of sleep having a four month old daughter for whom I am the primary care giver starting tomorrow given that my wife works in the academic world.

Short and to the point (for me at least) is that I'm delving back into Ruby (for the third time chronologically), but for the second time on a 'serious' level (i.e. with the intent to actually produce usable code and not simply proof-of-concept understanding code). I'm realising that while I love python which has been part of my daily work for the past five plus years, moreso Django/python in the past two, that it is becoming my 'Java/C#' if you will. By that I mean that it is my work language. It is a clean and elegant language which allows me to focus on getting what I wish completed, completed with minimal fuss and easy maintainability due to its explicit albeit brief and neatly aligned syntax. I feel though that something is missing.

If I can go back a little (and long time readers from previous versions of this blog circa 2002-2006 would remember me discussing this before) and bring up what eventually became my professional lingua of frustration: perl. Larry Wall's masterpiece which I utilised professionally from as far back as 1995 albeit I was working with rexx and pascal(!) more so then. I used perl and was attracted to it because of its expressive hacker roots, but was eventually disgusted by the lack of a decent enforceable object model for doing any kind of OOP work, not to mention maintainability was not its strong suit regardless of how meticulous one might be as a software engineer/coder, etc. This is what ultimately lead me to look at ruby but only briefly as it had residual taste of perl all over it. I found python shortly thereafter and have been happy ever since, until recently.
Sure I've looked and learned other languages in the meantime (as well as used them for personal and professional purposes), but just for the past three weeks or so I've realised that some of python's strong suit do indeed take some of the more guttural joy out of hacking out code. In my line of work I find formality and structure do wonders at getting solid code and meeting my clients' needs, which is the whole point. I'm at the point professionally where I don't get calls or emails saying that "something broke". It is much akin to Apple computers. Things just work without fail, as should be expected.

This ties into my other piece of the recent puzzle. I'm doing web framework design and implementation (amongst other custom software components) for primarily lifestyle, art and fashion magazines. It does pay the bills and it is at least involved with a creative branch of what can be a boring industry (publishing), though I find myself pining for more intellectually/scientific/theoretical research based projects/content. This isn't going to be happening anytime soon where I'm currently spending my efforts (professionally as it were). I have no design to stop doing what I'm doing and for whom I'm doing said work. I enjoy the relationship I have with my clients and there isn't anything wrong there. I'm being kept busy with new work so that's nothing about which to complain.

What I am looking to do is start working on some more experimental/theoretical designs and codebases/classes/packages in Ruby so that I can further explore the language and enjoy the more 'hack' mindedness which I find comes with such an expressive language. I will most definitely share my results with all the CodeDEVL readership (as well as podcast subscribers). I may even post a screen-cast soon as my copy of Snow Leopard for my Octo-Mac Pro (8-Core) should be here on Friday and includes new screen-cast capturing built-in to Quicktime X.

If anyone is in the Doylestown region of Pennsylvania and would like to meet up to talk code, please drop me a line. My email is simply 'eric' at this domain (assuming you're not reading this from the source blogger domain but the domain for which the header image at the top of the page states clearly.

I'll keep everyone informed. Until next time..