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

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.