Posts filed under ‘oop’

Blocks != Functional Programming

Joel Spolsky is one of my heroes. He has a vast amount of insightful articles that rank among the clearest and most relevant software writing today, and his blog gets more hits in a day than mine ever will. (Speaking of which, I hit 2000 visitors yesterday – around 10x more than I ever thought I’d get.) He’s a very smart cookie, and when he speaks, people listen. But last week, while browsing the top Reddit articles of all time, I was surprised to see his article Can Your Programming Language Do This? at #4. While it’s a good primer on Javascript abstraction, I don’t think it deserves as many points as it recieved. I spent the next few days thinking about why this article bothered me so much – Joel certainly didn’t say anything untrue, attack any favorite language of mine, or make some outlandish claim. But then I realized that Joel’s article fit together in a pattern of recent articles, all of which bothered me slightly.

Here’s what I realized: it seems that every language under the sun is being evangelized as an excellent functional programming language simply because it supports a few paradigms from FP.

Or, restated: Anonymous functions do not a functional language make.

The most egregious example of a pundit claiming a language is functional when it’s clearly not is Eric Kidd’s well-known Why Ruby is an acceptable Lisp. Kidd tells us explicitly that Ruby is a denser functional language than Lisp – and I’ll be the first one to admit that if I were to debate the “denser” part of that sentence, I wouldn’t know what I was talking about.

But Ruby is not functional – Wikipedia calls it a reflective, object-oriented programming language, and I agree with them. Yes, you can have block arguments to methods, continuations, generators, reflection, and metaprogramming – but it isn’t functional, for two reasons.

1. It’s hard to carry around functions as objects.

I really don’t know why Ruby hates parentheses so much – it’s probably part of its Perl heritage. In Ruby, you can call methods without sticking superfluous parentheses in there – take a look at this Python code:

" I'll write about Cocoa soon; disaster struck the app I was writing ".strip().lower().split()

Now take a look at the equivalent Ruby code:

" Apple's releasing a tool
with XCode 3 which completely supersedes my Cocoa app - so I'm very depressed right now ".strip.downcase.split

Though you could put parentheses in front of strip, downcase, and split, Ruby will work just fine without them. Now, this feature makes for far fewer parentheses, thereby making code significantly more readable. But what if I want a previously-declared function as an argument? If I type in the name, Ruby will just evaluate the function. Sure, I could use the kludge that is Symbol.to_proc, but that’s ugly – and it wraps the function inside a Proc object, which has to be called with the call(*args) method. And that’s just ugly. In Python, all you need to do is type the function’s name to use it as an object, and append a pair of parentheses if you need to call it.

2. Variables are.

A purely functional language only has immutable variables. Ruby doesn’t. (Yes, I know LISP isn’t purely functional. But it adheres to so many other FP paradigms that we can overlook that.)

But I’m getting distracted, so I’ll cut the above point short.

Anyway, what I wanted to say was this – just because your pet language has support for anonymous functions/closures doesn’t make it a functional language. Sure, Python has lambda and list comprehensions (which are taken from Haskell, a purely functional language) – but it’s not functional, it’s object-oriented. Yes, Ruby has blocks (even if you do have to wrap them in Procs), but it’s not functional. Javascript may have support for anonymous functions, but its syntax can be traced back to Algol and the birth of imperative programming language. Hell, even Objective-C has blocks if you include the F-Script framework, and it’s the farthest thing from functional there is.

In conclusion, don’t say your language is a functional one just because you borrowed a few ideas from Lisp. If you want a real functional language, try OCaml, Haskell, ML, or Scheme. Calling imperative/OOP languages functional just makes the term meaningless.

January 2, 2007 at 6:27 pm 10 comments

NSManagedObject: better than sliced bread? (Yes.)

(Update: as usual, Scott Stevenson totally kicked my ass:

+ (EPFoobarMO *)foobarWithDefaultContext
return [NSEntityDescription insertNewObjectForEntityForName:@"Foobar" inManagedObjectContext: [[NSApp delegate] managedObjectContext];

I often forget that I’m a cretin preaching to a crowd of really smart people.)

I kid you not: NSManagedObject and Core Data are becoming some of my favorite coding structures/paradigms ever. (I suppose I have Wolf Rentzsch to thank; by the way, mogenerator v1.1 is out. Check it out.) It’s just so awesome – so nice not to have to futz around with NSUndoManager, NSCoding, and all the other minutiae that some brave souls worked with in years past.

I got rejected – not just deferred, rejected – from the University of Chicago. :( As such, I don’t really have time to write a very lengthy entry; therefore, I’ll just leave you with this little question/guide.

The official way of instantiating an instance/subclass of NSManagedObject is (I think) to use the NSManagedObject class methodinitWithEntity:insertIntoManagedObjectContext:, like so: (we are assuming that there’s an NSManagedObjectModel and NSManagedObjectContext named model and context, respectively:

NSEntityDescription *e = [[model entitiesByName] objectForKey: @"Foobar"];
EPFoobarMO *foo = [[EPFoobarMO alloc] initWithEntity: e insertIntoManagedObjectContext: context];

Since they’re nice people, Apple gave us a convenience method:

EPFoobarMO *foo = [NSEntityDescription insertNewObjectForEntityForName: @"Foobar" inManagedObjectContext: context];

But if we’re sticking to the MVC paradigm (which we are, aren’t we?), one wants to put the initialization code for the EPFoobarMO object inside the EPFoobarMO .m/.h file.

+ (EPFoobarMO *)foobarWithContext:(NSManagedObjectContext *)context
// According to the docs the object returned is autoreleased
return [NSEntityDescription insertNewObjectForEntityForName:@"Foobar"

But it’s ugly to have to pass the NSManagedObjectContext to the initializer every time. We could stick it inside the app’s controller:

- (EPFoobarMO *) foobar
return insertNewObjectForEntityForName:@"Foobar"
inManagedObjectContext:[self managedObjectContext]];

But that’s a flagrant violation of the MVC rules. (Of course, if you’re ignoring them, then this is an ideal solution. But down that way lies Nyarlathotep.)

Or we could resort to the insanity that is the C preprocessor. (I would give a code sample, but I don’t want to hate myself.)

Anyway, what do you think? Leave comments with your opinions or to alert me of any blatant inaccuracies.

December 27, 2006 at 4:25 am 1 comment

Adventures in Pythonic Encapsulation

Python has undergone a fair share of criticism for its lack of support for information hiding. Despite its being a solidly object-oriented language, Python has historically refused to support this facet of object-orientation. Other programming languages have implemented encapsulation in a variety of ways:

  • All variables in Smalltalk, the canonical OO language, are private; in order to access them, the programmer must write explicit accessor and mutator methods for each variable.
  • C++, Java, and C# rely on the public, private, and protected keywords in order to implement variable scoping and encapsulation.
  • Cocoa’s Objective-C code strongly encourages the programmer to use key-value coding for encapsulatory purposes.
  • Ruby does ultra-sexy encapsulation through the attr_accessor function(s).

However, Pythonistas like myself often assert that “we’re all consenting adults here.” While this attitude is refreshing in this day of slavish devotion to OOP principles, the Python community has realized that in order to avoid alienating newcomers, Python should perform some sort of encapsulatory behavior. This article intends to show the various ways in which Python supports encapsulation and/or information hiding.


November 3, 2006 at 2:59 am 3 comments

About Me

I'm Patrick Thomson. This was a blog about computer programming and computer science that I wrote in high school and college. I have since disavowed many of the views expressed on this site, but I'm keeping it around out of fondness.

If you like this, you might want to check out my Twitter or Tumblr, both of which are occasionally about code.

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