Sunday, October 21, 2012

Haskell Exchange 2012 talks

Summary: The talks from the Haskell Exchange 2012 are online.

The Haskell Exchange 2012 took place last week. We had a good range of speakers, who all gave excellent talks. I would like to say thanks to all the speakers and to Skills Matter for organising and running the event. The talks are all available online, and I thought I'd just go through them now:

Simon Peyton Jones argued that purity and types are the key to Haskell. The purity thing is without doubt true - people cheat if they are allowed to, but Haskell discourages impurity both through the IO monad (effects are explicit) and community pressure (don't use unsafePerformIO unsafely). I also think that laziness combined with an aggressively optimising that messes up unsafePerformIO at the slightest opportunity have also helped (impurity always comes back to bite).

Simon Marlow explained the async package, showing how you can turn complex problems into simple ones with a simple mechanism that looks highly reusable. I have previously used a similar idea in my F# coding (although not nearly as thoroughly thought out), and been happy with the results - I suspect Simon's version will be even more useful. I particularly enjoyed the use of STM - it's rarely a concurrency solution I think of (I'm a threads and locks kind of person), but seeing it used so elegantly makes me want to experiment more.

Lennart Augustsson talked about embedded languages - where you write a language that looks a lot like Haskell, inside a Haskell program, only to find out later that it wasn't Haskell at all. Lennart is clearly the expert at these languages, having covered C, Basic and now financial combinators. Once you have these inner languages, you can take them in all kinds of directions, including right down to optimised assembly code.

Blake Rain gave an introduction to Yesod. I had read the Yesod documentation a while back, but the had trouble figuring out where to start, and what it was that mattered. Blake did both the sales pitch, and the beginners guide - I'll certainly be trying a Yesod at some point. In particular I really liked the type-safe routing, that would certainly have some in handy in my ASP developer days.

Duncan Coutts gave updates on the Cloud Haskell work, which in only a year, has gone from a research project to a practical library/tool that can be distributed at scale. The work covers details like how you distribute, why you distribute and how the model was designed (basically, copy Erlang). Another interesting aspect was how the real world development challenges, both the diverse nature of network/cloud computing, and how you can fund turning an academic idea into a user tool.

Rob Harrop showed how Ruby, Erlang and Haskell can all communicate using a message passing framework (AMQP). I certainly prefer Haskell, and go fully Haskell where possible, but a heterogeneous environment provides an easier migration path. Rob showed how to start and stop Haskell processes, switch elements from Ruby to Haskell and back again, all while a website was continuously responding to requests. This development style certainly provides an easy route in for Haskell, but also highlighted that Haskell still lacks some of the nicer sugar over AMQP that Ruby provides.

The final session was an open session where people discussed topics relating to Haskell. This session was fun, but I felt it could be better. I think it meandered at some points, and had a core of people who talked, but a large number of people who just watched. I'm not sure how I'd do things better, but it felt like some of the questions after the talks (Simon Peyton Jones and Duncan Coutts talks in particular) lead to more thorough discussions. I know this can be a problem for Haskell Symposium "Future of Haskell" discussions too, so perhaps there is some scope for tweaking the format?

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Haskell Exchange next Wednesday

The Haskell Exchange 2012 is happening all day next Wednesday, October 10th, in London. There is still time to register, and with the discount code HASKELLX-2012-TE1 you save £50, making it £175. This event is very much about learning how people use Haskell, and how you can use Haskell. It isn't academics giving their plans for the future, or perfecting the small details of the language, it is all about what you can do today.

I've been helping Skills Matter organise the program since the start of this year. The final list of speakers is Simon Peyton Jones, Simon Marlow, Lennart Augustsson, Duncan Coutts, Blake Rain and Rob Harrop. You can find details of their talks on the main page. I'm very happy with both the variety and quality of the speakers. It includes people who were there at the beginning of lazy functional languages and also people actively making their living developing things for clients with Haskell.

I've seen four of these speakers talk many times before, and they are always fun and informative. The two speakers who might be less familiar to some in the Haskell community are talking about topics which sound particularly interesting:

  • Blake Rain will be talking about Yesod, one of the three Haskell web frameworks. I've read the excellent documentation on Yesod, but I've never seen the overview. I ran an ASP web development company many years ago, and want to see how I could have avoided the problems of untyped development. I want to see how the ideas behind Haskell web frameworks work in practice, with real end-users who care far more about the shade of blue than type safe URL's.
  • Rob Harrop will be talking about integrating Haskell components into an existing system via message passing over the network. I hear more and more people structuring complex systems as separate processes that talk to each other with messaging interfaces. Once you have process boundaries, then using a different language for each piece becomes easy. Translating 1 million lines of code to Haskell isn't usually an option, but prototyping one new process might be - this approach seems like a great gateway for Haskell.

I look forward to seeing some of you there! Register now (discount code HASKELLX-2012-TE1).