Feb 11

F# Code and Slides to Share

As I mentioned in my most recent edition of F# Discoveries This Week, it’s Code Camp season and it would be great to see more F# users out there sharing the love.  To help out, I’ve provided the slides from my previous talks in one place under the Creative Commons Attribution license.  I even left all of my slide notes intact.  Do anything you want with them, but please do it in the spirit of spreading F#.

Of course, this applies only to my own slides and code.  Everything made by someone else maintains its existing license.  Duh.

As evidenced by this picture of Don Syme, speaking on F# is guaranteed to make you look at least 200% more awesome

F# and You!

This was my go-to intro to F# talk for almost two years.  It’s a whirlwind tour through F# with an emphasis on conveying why F# is good over how to use it or how it works.  I’ve given variations of this talk over 10 times, and it’s always a crowd pleaser.

Functional Language Paradigms in F#

I gave this talk at the NYC ALT.NET Group shortly before moving to NYC.  It may just be my most well received talk of all time.  If you use this, you’ll need to switch up the questions so people can’t just look up the answers online beforehand.

F# For Testing and Analysis

This talk is an overview of some of the tools available for F# and how to use them.  It’s one of my favorite talks for intermediate F# users.  FsCheck always blows the minds of those who are engineering-minded.

A Lap Around the F# Ecosystem

While similar to F# for Testing and Analysis, this talk focuses on some great tools not involved in testing.  For example, I give FAKE some love.

F# 2.0 – A Day at the Beach

This is the content for my CUFP tutorial.  Giving this talk involved a ton of answering questions and walking around helping directly.  The code is a bit dated, I have a much more recent Silverlight version you can use instead.

F# in the Lab and the Classroom

This was my first attempt at spreading F# in academia and I think it went much better than I expected.  My favorite part is the comparison of a pseudo decision tree with F#’s match statement.

Love the Lambda

This talk is a bit of an unfinished project.  The basic idea is that F# allows you to implement features that would requite compiler changes in languages like C# and VB.NET.  I’ve given it only once with mixed results, but I think it has a lot of potential.

I’ve given a few others but they’ve either been composites of what I posted here or are so old that none of the samples would work now.  I hope that by providing these here I’ve inspired at least one other person to get out there and share the F# love.

I’d love to hear about how you used these slides or answer any questions you might have.  The best way to get in touch is with twitter.

Dec 10

An F# Ant Colony Simulation in Silverlight 4.0 with Dynamic AI Loading

I’ve been enviously watching Phillip Trelford publish excellent F# games all week and tonight I just couldn’t stand it anymore.  I stayed in, rolled up my sleeves and ported the very same ant colony simulation I used in my CUFP workshop to Silverlight 4.0.

Install Microsoft Silverlight

Wow, just look at those little guys go at it.  Silverlight sure is pretty!

As you might have noticed by the big white “Click To Load Custom AI” message, you can also compile your own AI and battle it out with what I’ve included here.  To make things easy I’ve provided a ready to go solution.  Simply load it up, compile it and select the compiled DLL.

Once you’ve loaded your AI the game will immediately start.  Best of luck to you against my little monsters, so far they’ve been undefeated.  If you happen to come up with an ant-dominating example I hope you’ll post it here in the comments.  There were some really creative ideas in the CUFP workshop and I’d love to see what could be done with more than just four hours.

If your interested in the gory details of the simulation itself, I’ve put up a github repository with the entirety of the code.  And just in case you’re wondering, I’m still planning on running that contest.  Expect a ton of cool new AI features and a big focus on combat.


Update:  I’ve mucked with a few things.  Mainly, it will be a bit nicer when handling AI exceptions now.  While I was at it I tweaked some of the game world parameters and so you’ll need to re-download the example solution if you already have it.

Dec 10

In Retrospect: The F# in Education Workshop

I was taking the elevator down after getting settled in my hotel room and as the doors opened I was awestruck by the sight of Don Syme sitting on a couch, typing away on his laptop. With a bit of trepidation I walked up to him and introduced myself.  It was immediately obvious that he was both a very friendly fellow and very excited about something in particular.

Don turned his laptop to me and said “look at this”. It was a blog post detailing the release of F# under the Apache 2.0 license. Needless to say, my mind was blown. I was dumbstruck.

Don Syme announcing to the world that F# would forever be under the Apache 2.0 license. (Photo courtesy of Migel de Icaza)

We then proceeded to dinner in the hotel restaurant. Miguel de Icaza was there, and if you know Miguel you know he’s the life of the party. He became even more animated when told about F# becoming open source and pledged to get the source integrated into Mono as soon as possible.

Later that night the Hotel turned into some kind of giant dance party and fashion show.  Thinking of the day ahead we all returned to our rooms.  I did sneak back down later though to grab a celebratory book-publishing nightcap with Ted Neward.  It’s old hat for him, but I’m still reeling from it.

Announcing Professional F# 2.0! (Click for Video)

To be honest, I was a bit intimidated by the idea of speaking to a room full of PhDs. Because of this, I put far more thought and practice into this 30-minute presentation than any of the much longer talks I had given before. Having my material down pat, I was able to turn that anxiety into gusto with what I feel was great success.

While presenting I noticed that the entire room was laughing at my jokes at first but by the end most seemed rather serious.  I took this to mean that many were offended by my critique of current teaching techniques. Had I been too heavy handed with my language?

Afterward my fears were allayed by the enthusiasm of those who came and spoke with me. Later, a swath of positive reviews confirmed that, while I may have been skirting the edge, I hadn’t gone too far.  Even so, I think I’ll try to be a bit softer in my approach in the future.  As they say, you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Judith Bishop
Queen of Microsoft Research

Miguel de Icaza
Lord of all things Mono

Tomas Petricek
F# Jedi

Joe Pamer
Tamer of F# Compiler Lions

Photos Courtesy of Microsoft Research

That night I had dinner and drinks with some of the most brilliant people. Conversation ranged from type systems to the future of F# and Mono. I ended up staying up quite late talking with Tomas about his future plans. It looks as though he has a ton of great stuff for the F# community right on the horizon.

Howard Mansell
The F# Prophet of Credit Suisse

Richard Minerich
Who invited that guy anyway?

Photos Courtesy of Microsoft Research

The next day Howard and I took the train back to New York and discussed our plans for NYC-wide F# domination. Howard is almost single-handedly responsible for Credit Suisse’s rise as one of the biggest F# using companies. They now number over 100 F# users strong and continue to grow. Combined, we might just be unstoppable.

All-in-all I’d say that the event was a great success both personally and for F#. In a couple of years we’ll see some of the first big batches of graduates educated in statically typed functional programming. At that point, those the imperative object oriented camp will need to start playing catch-up.

Nov 10

An F# Whirlwind

Just under two weeks ago I was packing up my things at Atalasoft and enjoying my last Friday Beer:30 with coworkers and friends.

Moments before I left Atalasoft to seek fame and fortune.

My last Beer-30 at Atalasoft

A lot has changed in these past two weeks. I’ve moved into my Hoboken apartment and (partially) assembled a whole set of IKEA furniture, I’ve gotten started as the first employee at a brand new company called Bayard Rock, and I’ve seen quite a few exciting things happen in my own little F# world.

First, I’ve managed to get a new site up for my F# Discoveries This Week blog series. It’s called F# Central and I hope to do big things with it far beyond the scope of my weekly blog post. Stay tuned.

Second, after a year of blood, sweat and tears Professional F# 2.0 has been released.  I wrote the entirety of Part 3 and worked hard to convey every moment of functional programming epiphany that I experienced while learning F#.  I hope you’ll pick up a copy and let me know what you think.

Third, this Friday I’ll have the great honor of speaking alongside giants such as Don Syme, Tomas Petricek, Judith Bishop, Joe Pamer, and Howard Mansell at the F# in Education workshop. In my talk entitled F# in the classroom and the lab, I’ll be drawing on my own past experiences in order to paint a picture of how F# can be used to improve all aspects of academic life.  Even if you can’t make it in person be sure to watch it via the internet simulcast.

Finally, with the help of my good friends Rachel Appel and Howard Mansell I’ve got everything in place for the first meeting of the New York F# User Group.  I’m getting the feeling that the NYC F# community is about to explode and I hope you’ll be part of it.  Come join us if you’re in the area and help spread the word if you aren’t.

Oct 10

A CUFP Tutorial, F# Day at the … Oh God, Ants!

Everyone was ready for a nice relaxing day at the beach when they showed up for my CUFP tutorial…

A Day at the Beach, Interrupted

So, after realizing how boring it would be teach thirty flavors of factorial to experienced functional programmers for four hours, I thought I’d spice things up a bit. AI is always fun and I do love ants, so why not a contest where attendees would write Ant AI to gather food? For a bit of additional motivation to get everyone over the post-lunch slump, I decided to give away one of my Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate Edition MSDN subscriptions as a prize.

Just look at those little guys go.

In thinking about how I would run this contest, it occurred to me that the AI better be pretty frickin easy to write. Four hours is not a lot of time to both learn a language and write something cool in it. Below is a modified (to fit nicely on my blog) version of the Ant AI for the red colony above, which is what I provided as a baseline sample for participants to test against.

match me with | HasFood | HasMaxFood -> match locations with | HasUnownedFood cells when not (here.HasPheromone me.Color) -> DropPheromone (here, 100) | NearHome homeCells -> match homeCells with | CanDrop dropCells -> DropFood dropCells.Head | CantDrop -> Move homeCells.Head | AwayFromHome allCells -> if not homeDirectionCell.ContainsAnt then Move homeDirectionCell else match randomEmptyLocation locations with | Some location -> Move location | None -> Nothing | HasNoFood -> match locations with | HasUnownedFood foodCells -> TakeFood (maxFood foodCells) | SmellsPheromones pheroCells -> Move (maxPhero pheroCells) | _ -> match randomEmptyLocation locations with | Some location -> Move location | None -> Nothing

We all had a great time. Most didn’t even take the given breaks other than to run out quickly to the bathroom or grab a coffee. When time finally ran out I was proud to have three finalists who stayed and watched their ants battle it out, one of whom completed the entire project in Mono/Linux (Mono on MacOS, not so much).

Making it this far was an accomplishment.

The three finalists: Frank Levine, Phil Clayton and Paul Greene.

Paul’s rather clever ants did what they could to block the opponent’s nest while gathering food. Phil, despite having some delays getting going due to my lack of experience with mono, made an excellent showing. However, in the end little could be done to stem the tide of Frank Levine’s pheromone gradient following ants.

As runner up, Phil will be getting a fresh copy of Professional F# 2.0 as soon as they hit my doorstop. Frank won the day and took home his very own MSDN Ultimate subscription.

Frank wins the day.

All of the tutorial feedback was great. To my surprise, those who had trouble getting my code running on their Macs seem to have had a fun time. For days afterward I received emails from people who kept working on the problem even after they went home from the conference!

Currently I’m working on putting together a larger version of this contest online. I hope to extend the model used in this to include combat, spawning new ants and maybe even decaying dead ants. Send me a message on twitter if you’re interested in helping to beta test the engine.

I want to thank all of the attendees for coming, having fun, and putting up with the various cross platform issues. I also want to thank Martin Logan and Anil Madhavapeddy for helping to make this session happen. Finally, I want to thank Paul Greene for reporting a behavior related bug he found afterward through experimentation. It’s fixed now in my local source, but not in the files you can sneakily grab from the Mono bug report above ;).

I hope all of you CUFP tutorialists will join me in the next iteration of this contest. It’s sure to be a blast.

Sep 10

Learning F# for Fabulous Prizes

Nearly a month ago I visited the NYC ALT.NET User Group in Manhattan.  Having been told by Steve Bohlen that I was up against a particularly sharp audience, I decided to do something much different than I had in any of my previous talks. Spread throughout my slides were questions. Those who answered correctly first were given F# stickers that they were later able to turn into various prizes.

I found that the anticipation caused by not knowing when the next question might be asked kept attendees on their toes. Energy ran high throughout the session, higher than I’ve ever seen before. That said, never before have I had the pleasure of having such an intelligent and attentive audience.

Along these lines, I’m planning on running a contest at my upcoming CUFP F# tutorial. Grand prize will be a MSDN Subscription with Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate. I know many in the audience will be running Linux or OSX, but it’s just about the best thing I have on hand to give away and I’m fairly certain that it comes along with Windows 7 so you can run it in a VM.

Many thanks to Alex Hung who has provided high quality video of my NYC ALT.NET talk.

Note: On the Async question: I suggest using function composition and sequences for discrete element transforms. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to mention it.

Note: For the DSL question: You do get intellisense within a module. For your DSL you can just put your grammar into a module and then blamo, intellisense.
Errata: I was wrong about the compiler sources. It turns out the compiler source is available in the CTP. Vladimir Matveev has written a great post on how to build it.

Aug 10

The Language Matters on the Software Engineering Productivity Podcast

Actually, I used my phone.

In this episode, Richard Minerich tells why the language developers use can have a huge impact on their productivity. New high level languages, like F# (one of Richard’s favourite languages), free engineers from much of the traditional drudgery leading to faster development cycles and better quality.”

I recently had the pleasure of being a guest on Michael Surkan’s Software Engineering Productivity podcast.  The topic: why language choice matters in software engineering.  Michael contacted me to join him on his show after many pages of heated debate on a topic I started in his Linked-in group of the same name.  It seems many still feel that language choice has little impact as long as it meets the basic project requirements.  I disagree.

Listening to it afterward, I think I did quite a good job of getting most of the many ‘whys’ across.  Not bad for 20 minutes.

Aug 10

In Retrospect: TechEd 2010 North America

Celebrity photo op with Sara Ford

This year I was invited by Microsoft to attend TechEd 2010 North America in New Orleans.  Largely, I was to be found at the Visual Studio languages booth answering questions about F#.  It was exhilarating to hear so many developers come up and talk about how they were planning to use F# to tackle what they previously thought insurmountable.  Most often I heard engineers tell me about how they wanted to paralellize complex computations but didn’t want to sacrifice the readability of their models.  Although, a great many were also excited just to dig into some new language features and to try and understand programming in a new way.

One of the most exciting things about the trip was that Amanda Laucher and Ed Hickey helped me to put together an on-site meeting for the New England F# User Group.   Steffen Forkmann spoke on his F# projects from Germany to two audiences: one at our usual location in at the Microsoft Nerd Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts and another at TechEd NA 2010 in New Orleans.  Thanks to Talbott, who was facilitating the Cambridge meeting along with Michael, a video of the talk is now available online.

I spent my off time hunting down smart people and forcing them to hang out.  Thankfully, most didn’t seem to mind.  The Visual Studio languages guys were friendly as always.  Of the few I didn’t meet at the MVP summit, it was most fantastic to finally meet Amanda Laucher in person.  When she’s around things just seem to magically come together.  I also had some awesome times with Alan Stevens, a man even more rad in person than in the stories they tell about him.

That Friday I hopped on a plane euphoric and exhausted, and headed to Singularity Summit 2010 for a slightly more intellectual, but much more subdued time.

Jul 10

In Retrospect: A .NET Rocks! F# Panel

Intense Discussion at the .NET Rocks! F# Panel

From left to right: Carl Franklin, Richard Campbell, Talbott Crowell, Richard Minerich and Richard Hale Shaw. (Photo taken by Ken Pespisa)

Just this past May I appeared on the .NET Rocks! radio show in a panel with Talbott Crowell and Richard Hale Shaw.   The show started with a short intro in which each of us discussed something we though was great about F#.  This was followed by an in-depth Q&A session with Carl Franklin and Richard Campbell.

Overall, the show went extremely well.  Talking with people afterward, it turned out that many who had previously been on the fence were now very excited to give F# a go.  One of the attendees, Ken Pespisa, wrote on his experience and I feel as though it sums up the feelings of many.  Even Bill and Lou from Atalasoft were moved to give F# a harder look.

It was a privilege and a pleasure to be on Carl and Richard’s show.   In only an hour’s time, they were able to showcase the entire breadth of common F# questions in a very concrete and intelligent way.   This well formulated Q&A style made for an exceptionally engaging and educational show.  I hope very much to work with them again at some point in the future.

Jun 10

Love the Lambda

Just this past Saturday I gave a completely new talk at the third Code Camp Hartford.  This talk was inspired by a previous mid-talk realization: most C# programmers (and almost the entirety of my audience) have never written a single lambda expression or anonymous delegate.  From this I further realized that I’d never be able to teach F# to those who are completely unfamiliar with the concept of functions as first class language constructs.  First, this idea and its ramifications would have to be taught.


So the idea for Love the Lambda was born:  I would demonstrate both the usefulness and sheer novelty of first class functions and do so simultaneously in C# and F#.  More than that, I would use the opportunity as a kind of F# omnibus.

Here was the general game plan (as written by me imagining the thoughts of some intelligent, but yet uninformed, person sitting in the audience):

  1. First class functions sure are great!
    1. Oh man, and with closures they are even better!
    2. I’m going to use this stuff in C# all of the time!
    3. Wow, that F# code looks so much cleaner than the C#!
  2. Now check out what you can do with partial application!
    1. Oh wow, this pipelining stuff puts LINQ to shame…
    2. …and function composition is amazing!
    3. Hey, wait a minute, you can’t do this in C#…. :(
  3. Good thing F# integrates really nicely with C#.  I can pull it right into our existing projects!
    1. Plus F# has tons of other amazing stuff, I’m going to start playing with it tomorrow!
    2. I can’t believe how much less code I need to write when I use these features!
    3. F#, where have you been all my life?!

All that said, the first iteration of this talk worked out a bit different than my initial vision.  This was mostly due to running out of time when constructing the presentation.  I still think the ideas I was trying to convey are in there but not as sharp and as easy to grasp as I’d like.

Still,  the attendees seemed really happy with the talk and the review forms agreed.  Everyone left my talk loving the lambda at least a little bit more.

If you are interested, I’d encourage you to download my slides and code samples.  Also, I’m always interested in hearing about how I might improve my talks, or further spread my love of functional programming.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to share ideas.