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Was George Costanza a Computer Programmer?

From what I can tell, Paul Jansen hit the Nail on the head when he says, on page 20, that "new languages pop up every day"—languages like, well, Nail. Okay, Nail isn't a new language, but it is a declarative query language that you run across from time to time.

SPARQL (www.w3.org/TR/rdf-sparql-query) is another query language. Designed for the Semantic Web, SPARQL lets websites exchange data. I grant you that SPARQL isn't that new either, but Gregory Williams's "tSPARQL" (tw.rpi.edu/2007/11/tsparql-poster.pdf) is. Even though there are RDF vocabularies that support temporal (time-related) data, it's hard to directly query SPARQL about time. Hence, "tSPARQL" is a workaround. But SPARQL isn't at the top of Gregory's to-do list right now. He's currently working on RDF::Query (search.cpan.org/~gwilliams/RDF-Query-2.000_05), a Nice (nice.sourceforge.net) query engine for languages like SPARQL and RDQL. (That's nice as in "nice," not "Nice" as in the programming language "Nice.")

Another language you may not have heard about is Cobra (cobra-language.com), an open-source programming language developed by Chuck Esterbrook. Not to be confused with other languages of the same name (see www.cobrabytes.co.uk, for instance), this Cobra is a Python-like language that runs on .NET and Mono (www.mono-project.com). According to Esterbrook, Cobra enables quick, expressive coding thanks to its Python and Ruby roots, delivers fast execution due to static typing and .NET/Mono machine-code generation, and supports static binding via the .NET typing system at compile-time and dynamic binding via .NET reflection system at runtime.

As you've probably experienced, programming languages are always a good topic to sit around and chew the FAT on. (That's "FAT" as in the "FAT programming language"; see baztech.icm.edu.pl/baztech/cgi-bin/btgetdoc.cgi?BPS2-0003-0033). And a good chew we had at the SD West 2008 panel on Beautiful Code, a book edited by O'Reilly's Andy Oram and Dr. Dobb's contributing editor Greg Wilson. You might even say the panel was sheer Bliss (

On the panel were several contributors to the book—Michael Feathers, Jim Kent, Christopher Seiwald, Elliotte Harold, Ron Mak, and Alberto Savoia—all of whom feel passionate about what's beautiful code and what isn't. Let's start with "what isn't"—ugly code. That's easy, says Alberto Savoia. Ugly code is code that someone else wrote. Beautiful code, on the other hand—well, that's a Horse of a different color (that's "Horse" as in the "Horse programming language," by the way). None of the panel members could agree on what beautiful code is. Moreover, I suspect if all 33 contributors had been on the panel, we would have had 33 different definitions of beautiful code.

A topic on which there was a modicum of agreement was whether beautiful code is language independent. Can a program written in Whenever (www.dangermouse.net/esoteric/whenever.html) be as beautiful as on written in Python? Considering that the book had example code in languages ranging from Fortran and Lisp to C++ and Java, the answer seems to be that language doesn't matter.

What does matter, however, is nothing—Whitespace, in other words. No, not the "Whitespace programming language" (compsoc.dur.ac.uk/whitespace), but the "nothingness" of indention and the resulting whitespace. Of the panelists, Christopher Seiwald and Jim Kent seemed the most adamant about whitespace, keeping the comments to the left and code to the right—with a lot of nothing ("whitespace") in between. Not being as esoteric as Christopher and Jim, all I could think of was George Costanza and Jerry Seinfeld arguing over nothing.

Clearly, we didn't come up with any answers with the Beautiful Code panel, but that's not the point. The enjoyment was in kibitzing about these topics and others. Which is one reason we recently launched Dr. Dobb's Code Talk (www.dobbscodetalk.com), a website that gives you a forum for discussing issues about programmers and programming. An opportunity to hang out around the virtual watercooler with other programmers and discuss the programming issue du jour. Not only does Dr. Dobb's Code Talk provide lots of expert blogs to spark your imagination, but it also lets you launch your own blog on topics of your choosing. And, of course, you can interact with everyone via threaded forums.

So when you have a few minutes, stop by www.dobbscodetalk.com and share your thoughts on topics such as what's beautiful code—and what's not.

Jonathan Erickson


[email protected]

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