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Historic 'Summit' with the Creators of Python, Java, TypeScript, and Perl
"At the first annual charity event conducted by Puget Sound Programming Python on April 2, four legendary language creators came together to discuss the past and future of language design," reports PacktPub. - Guido van Rossum, the creator of Python - James Gosling, the founder, and lead designer behind the Java programming language - Anders Hejlsberg, the original author of Turbo Pascal who has also worked on the development of C# and TypeScript - Larry Wall, the creator of Perl You can watch the video here -- the speaker introductions start about 50 minutes into the video-- or read PacktPub's summary of the event: Guido van Rossum said designing a programming language is very similar to the way JK Rowling writes her books, the Harry Potter series... He says JK Rowling is a genius in the way that some details that she mentioned in her first Harry Potter book ended up playing an important plot point in part six and seven... When designing a language we start with committing to certain details like the keywords we want to use, the style of coding we want to follow, etc. But, whatever we decide on we are stuck with them and in the future, we need to find new ways to use those details, just like Rowling... When James Gosling was asked how Java came into existence and what were the design principles he abided by, he simply said, "it didn't come out of like a personal passion project or something. It was actually from trying to build a prototype.... It started out as kind of doing better C and then it got out of control that the rest of the project really ended up just providing the context." In the end, the only thing out of that project survived was Java... Larry Wall wanted to create a language that was more like a natural language. Explaining through an example, he said, "Instead of putting people in a university campus and deciding where they go we're just gonna see where people want to walk and then put shortcuts in all those places." A basic principle behind creating Perl was to provide APIs to everything. It was aimed to be both a good text processing language linguistically but also a glue language.... Similar to the views of Guido van Rossum, Anders Hejlsberg adds that any decision that you make when designing a language you have to live with it. When designing a language you need to be very careful about reasoning over what "not" to introduce in the language. There was also some discussion of types -- Gosling believes they help improve performance, while Hejlsberg said types are also useful when building coding tools. "It turns out that you can actually be more productive by adding types if you do it in a non-intrusive manner and if you work hard on doing good type inference and so forth." In fact, Hejlsberg told the audience that the TypeScript project was inspired by massive "write-only" JavaScript code bases, while a semantic understanding (including a type system) makes refactoring easier. Guido van Rossum acknowledged that TypeScript "is actually incredibly useful and so we're adding a very similar idea to Python. We are adding it in a slightly different way because we have a different context.... I've learned a painful lesson, that for small programs dynamic typing is great. For large programs, you have to have a more disciplined approach. And it helps if the language actually gives you that discipline, rather than telling you, 'Well, you can do whatever you want.'" In the video Larry Wall says the Perl 6 team had also noticed the limitations of loose typing, and added a robust type system to Perl 6 to "help with programming in the large." This was the first annual benefit for CSforALL, a group promoting high-quality computer science classes at every grade level.

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'How the Boeing 737 Max Disaster Looks to a Software Developer'
Slashdot reader omfglearntoplay shared this article from IEEE's Spectrum. In "How the Boeing 737 Max Disaster Looks to a Software Developer," pilot (and software executive) Gregory Travis argues Boeing tried to avoid costly hardware changes to their 737s with a flawed software fix -- specifically, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (or MCAS): It is astounding that no one who wrote the MCAS software for the 737 Max seems even to have raised the possibility of using multiple inputs, including the opposite angle-of-attack sensor, in the computer's determination of an impending stall. As a lifetime member of the software development fraternity, I don't know what toxic combination of inexperience, hubris, or lack of cultural understanding led to this mistake. But I do know that it's indicative of a much deeper problem. The people who wrote the code for the original MCAS system were obviously terribly far out of their league and did not know it. So Boeing produced a dynamically unstable airframe, the 737 Max. That is big strike No. 1. Boeing then tried to mask the 737's dynamic instability with a software system. Big strike No. 2. Finally, the software relied on systems known for their propensity to fail (angle-of-attack indicators) and did not appear to include even rudimentary provisions to cross-check the outputs of the angle-of-attack sensor against other sensors, or even the other angle-of-attack sensor. Big strike No. 3... None of the above should have passed muster. None of the above should have passed the "OK" pencil of the most junior engineering staff... That's not a big strike. That's a political, social, economic, and technical sin... The 737 Max saga teaches us not only about the limits of technology and the risks of complexity, it teaches us about our real priorities. Today, safety doesn't come first -- money comes first, and safety's only utility in that regard is in helping to keep the money coming. The problem is getting worse because our devices are increasingly dominated by something that's all too easy to manipulate: software.... I believe the relative ease -- not to mention the lack of tangible cost -- of software updates has created a cultural laziness within the software engineering community. Moreover, because more and more of the hardware that we create is monitored and controlled by software, that cultural laziness is now creeping into hardware engineering -- like building airliners. Less thought is now given to getting a design correct and simple up front because it's so easy to fix what you didn't get right later. The article also points out that "not letting the pilot regain control by pulling back on the column was an explicit design decision. Because if the pilots could pull up the nose when MCAS said it should go down, why have MCAS at all? "MCAS is implemented in the flight management computer, even at times when the autopilot is turned off, when the pilots think they are flying the plane."

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Erlang Creator Joe Armstrong Has Died
Rogers Cadenhead (Slashdot reader #4,482) writes: Joe Armstrong, the computer scientist best known as one of the creators of the Erlang programming language, died Saturday. Erlang Solutions founder Francesco Cesarini shared the news on Twitter and said, "His work has laid the foundation which will be used by generations to come. RIP @joeerl, thank you for inspiring us all." Erlang was created by Armstrong, Robert Virding and Mike Williams at the Ericsson telecom company in 1986 and became open source 12 years later. It is known for functional programming, immutable data, code hot-swapping and systems that require insanely high levels of availability. In another Tweet, Cesarini asks people to share their own memories of Armstrong -- " funny, enlightening or plain silly." And Ulf Wiger, who describes himself as an Erlang old-timer, remembered giving a talk about how to avoid projects dominated by mediocrity. "I used Joe as an example of a 'brilliant developer, but hard to fit into a regular project.'" Joe had replied, "I am very EASY to fit into regular projects! It's just that so few projects are regular..."

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