Learning from the master coders at Strangeloop St. Louis

Looking to hone some of your coding skills? Then consider putting Strangeloop on your conference agenda for next fall. The annual conference, held in St. Louis, was this week and was packed with technical sessions that appeal to programmers. Often the speakers were the originators of a particular open source project or practitioners in particular functional programming fields. Some of them were quite clever. For example, there was Bodil Stokke who flew from Oslo to show her Catnip workflow project that she built using Clojure. It embeds your entire IDE in your runtime environment.

Or Doppio, a complete Java Virtual Machine that runs inside your browser without any plug-ins. “We know that Java is dead and isn’t being shipped as part of the operating system any longer, and Android and iOS browsers don’t support it, so we wrote it. If you have an interactive program, you need a way to come back to the browser to enter data that can go into a JVM,” said the three programmers Jez Ng, CJ Carey, and Jonny Leahey, who began the project when they were all MIT grad students.

Kyle Simpson gave a talk on how to put thin wrappers or “facades” around all the various HTML5 APIs, a project he calls H5ive that is on Github. He is trying to code responsibly and reuse frequent code segments in predictable ways that can reduce testing and debugging, yet still provide the power of HTML5 and make his code easier to examine.

And Kevin Lynagh spoke on his C2 Clojure project, which is a way to build custom visual interfaces easier. “You want to be explicit about the state of your systems and map it explicitly as well,” he said during his session. He showed how visualizing large data collections for a wind farm manager or for bioscience research can really help show relationships of the data and make it more accessible to non-programmers.

The conference isn’t all uber-geek. I sat through a presentation from Elonka Dunin on her work decoding the CIA’s massive Cryptos sculpture that has perplexed the best cryptographers for more than 20 years and a discussion on how the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato can apply to functional programming: “Leibniz’s monads weren’t understood hundreds of years ago, and no one understands them today either,” said Matt Butcher at his talk. “Programming is going to change in the next several years in the same way that metaphysics has changed in the past.” Interesting words to live by.

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