WMassDev Meeting Notes (2007.11.01)

Paul and Miles have been keeping notes at recent meetings of the Western Mass. Developer’s Group lately so as to keep those who can’t make it some weeks in the loop. However, neither of them could make it last night, so I thought I’d take a whack at providing a bullet-point précis.

Now, keep in mind that this is my first foray into anything resembling journalism hackery.

  • A couple of new faces showed up, including (dear god, I hope I’m getting the names right) Jason from Studio4Technologies, who mostly works with C#, Dan, who lives in Avon, CT, has a day job using C#, but is working through SICP on his own and is interested in all manner of functional programming languages, and Michael (Eger, not McIntosh), who is a jack-of-all-trades consultant.
  • Gerard and Lou had already installed Mac OS X 10.5, and sang its praises (for the most part). Highlights include Spaces (a “killer” implementation of virtual desktops), the Exposé/Safari select-and-clip widget maker (very cool feature, although no one can think of a good practical use of the tech), and the salvation that is having the Dock on the side of the screen so as to avoid the absurdities associated with how it’s rendered at the bottom of the screen.
  • Lou’s going to a tech convention in Las Vegas next week (thereby missing election day!); it turns out that the whole gang from Atalasoft is going to be sporting snazzy pixelated ties on the convention floor. Very cool, but clip-ons?
  • Logo design is always about whatever the guys in the design shop happen to be messing around with in Illustrator the day your order hits their desk. Thus, the cyclic obsession with graceful swoops, cubist abstract styles, and flaming butterflies.
  • Gerard took a look at Scala since our last meeting, and found much to his liking. “If I were using Java, I’d definitely be coding in Scala,” said Gerard, in yet another example of how Sun made everything more complicated for everybody by conflating the JVM and the Java programming language for years. Here’s hoping IntelliJ gets moving on some first-class Scala support.
  • Dan’s been using Scheme to go through SICP and the Little Schemer (an obvious choice since that’s the language used in those materials), but he’s somewhat overwhelmed by the number of functional programming languages that are available — how can one choose what to use? My response was that they’re all functionally the same (ba-dum-crash!) in terms of the primitives they provide. Which FP language to use in any particular situation generally comes down to the details of one’s deployment and runtime requirements at the time. For example, I’m using Scala right now because it interoperates smoothly with Java and .NET, making it easy to work with PDFTextStream’s existing codebase.
  • Michael asked what functional programming is, exactly. From there, I somehow found myself holding forth on definitions of functional programming, why minimizing state is Good™, what continuations are and why they’re handy, and the differences between global continuations and delimited continuations. I’m sure most people were groaning. Lou mentioned Common Lisp’s exception handling (better known in that world as conditions and restarts) as an instance of delimited continuations.
  • Jason mentioned that there seems to be some noticeable growth in the number of startups in the area, his Studio4 Technologies being one of them. Maybe it’s time for the group to start tracking how much work is coming into the area, how many new businesses have opened and where, etc.
  • Greg pulled out his new Thinkpad, running Linux (though I can’t remember the distro).
  • Using OS X Mail to access GMail via IMAP is apparently still a no-go, given Mail’s lack of tag support. Thunderbird was thrown out there as a possible alternative, but some had doubts that GMail’s tags would be properly represented via IMAP.
  • The state of social networks is totally out of control — there are too many profiles to manage on too many sites. Some fun was had at the expense of those that are “professional networkers” — those people that have thousands and thousands of LinkedIn connections, etc.
  • Michael polled the group for thoughts on XSLT, at which point a wave of grunts was heard ’round the table. Just about everyone panned XSLT as being handy, but inevitably too complex without the right tools. XSLT 2.0 doesn’t exactly make progress on this front. As an aside, I noted that XSLT also happens to be a functional language (perhaps the most widely used FP in industry these days, I’ll wager). [As an aside, Dan’s first message to the list arrived with the title “XSLT is like Lisp, but with a punch in the face.”]
  • Generics were briefly discussed, including some comparison of how they’re implemented in the JVM (erasure) and the CLR (not-erasure, although no one knew the details there).
  • ikvm was mentioned as a practical and totally usable way to cross-compile Java libraries for use in .NET environments. [We happen to use it in order to provide PDFTextStream.NET.]
  • For those new to the group, the mailing list was mentioned, as well as our usual IRC channel (#wmassdevs on Freenode), which is unfortunately pretty sparse these days!
  • A pretty lively exchange was had on the topic of Borders vs Barnes and Noble, especially as it relates to the availability of technology tomes. The B&N in Hadley is tremendously mediocre, and the one in Holyoke isn’t a whole lot better. The general consensus was that Borders generally has a better tech book section than B&N, so there’s reason to hope that the significant presence that Borders looks to be building in the Holyoke Mall will make things a lot easier when one of us just absolutely has to have a particular tech book today. There was also talk of the partnership between Borders and Amazon, which apparently yields various benefits.

That’s all that I can recall. I really should have had a notepad with me, I suppose. If anyone has anything else they want to add, feel free to drop it in the comments.

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