Programming, Python, Ruby

Truly open classes

Here’s an interesting observation, I needed to write a little script to automate some number calculating for me. I was wondering whether to do it in Ruby or Python. I’m doing a lot of Python at the moment so I felt I ought to give Ruby a little go. Share some of the love.

However the solution I had in mind really didn’t work with Ruby because while Ruby has open classes it has a comparatively fixed idea of attributes. In Python you can set attributes very freely on any object so I have got in the habit of creating something and then enhancing by applying a function. Example? Okay.

def make_captain(actor):
actor.rank = "Captain"
return actor

class Person:

captain = make_captain(Person())

So this little trick doesn’t work, or rather is much more difficult to do in Ruby as Ruby, at is dynamic heart, is a language that believes in object-orientation and that classes should encapsulate rather than being little collections of data. You can use instance_variable_get/set but it lacks the elegance of the Python syntax.

In Ruby it would be easier to define the attributes in the class using the existing metaprogramming constructs and then have a class method to generate the content (effectively encapsulating my script logic).

Now this isn’t a straight “Ruby sux, no Python sux more” post. Between Scala, Clojure and Python I have been doing a lot more in a functional style that depreciates objects as anything more than value carriers. The Ruby vision of a class would give me something with a stronger sense of purpose and encapsulation, something that is hard to benefit from in a script for a particular purpose.

What is going to be interesting this year is trying to identify when the value of a piece of code is in the structure of it’s data-definition (i.e. objects) versus its process (functions). Having had a think about it I should perhaps rewrite my script to use some OO modelling because it may answer similar requirements down the line. However from a strict Lean/Waste point of view I should have gone with the Python solution as Ruby was imposing a restriction on me while providing benefits that I was unlikely to realise.

Clojure, Java

Metaprogramming with Clojure

So at one of the recent Clojure dojos we had a situation where we had a number of functions to do with moving that essentially involved passing different keys to a map under different symbols that could be used in the REPL.

Well in Ruby this is the kind of thing you would do by metaprogramming abstracting the shared code into a single function that gets mapped under many names.

During the dojo Tom Crayford provided a map function that seemed to correctly generate the functions we wanted but did so under anonymous names. We couldn’t lick the problem during the dojo and it really drove me a little mad as it seemed we were very close. Some people at the dojo were talking about macros but it seemed that was too strong for the short distance we had to cover to complete the task. It also felt like there was an issue with the language if it couldn’t do this.

After four hours, much consulting of the Halloway book and some fierce googling, a question at Stack Overflow put me on the trail on intern. Adding this to Tom’s function resulted in the right functionality. Here’s a simplified example. However when I ran the code into the REPL the functions failed to appear.

Clojure namespaces are very dynamic and it seems they are very amenable to the kind of manipulation I wanted to do. ns-interns gives you a list of the functions that are currently in a namespace so it was possible to confirm that the functions really had failed to appear. Running the code in the REPL did add them though. So the code was correct.

The final piece of the puzzle was the lazy sequence issue that had been mentioned at the dojo. The map function was being immediately evaluated in the REPL but I had to add a doall to make the sequence unwind when it was invoked during the namespace loading.

The relevant code is part of my Clork fork.

The worst thing in trying to make this work is the old school nature of the Clojure documentation. A lot of the functions tells you literally what the function does but not why you might want to use or more critically give examples of the expected usage. Clojure supports documenting metadata but I think it really needs to be used more effectively.