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Designing and evaluating programming languages: Dagstuhl trip report
Take, for example, the idea of variable names found in most modern languages. Languages didn’t always have user-defined names; we used to write assembly language with a fixed set of registers with predefined names or no names at all. Why are names useful? One theory is that they are conceptual shorthand for the semantics of a program’s behavior, accelerating our ability to read and reason about it’s behavior. For example, the name kitten_count clearly refers to some quantity of kittens, and implies that we are counting them. In contrast, the name x could refer to anything. Having names that evoke concepts help us reason about the role of the variable in the larger purpose of an algorithm, accelerating our inference of that purpose. On the other hand, bad names might serve to build a wrong model of the role of a variable and behavior of an algorithm, slowing program comprehension, debugging, or modification of a program.


One idea that emerged is that learnability appears to concern the complexity of abstractions embedded in a language. For example, consider indefinite loops, which require someone to reason about potentially infinite executions of a block of code. What about this possibility of the infinite is hard and why is it hard? We need methods to discover these hard concepts in languages, so that we can precisely define what is irreducibly difficult about them.

Abstractions also interact with people’s prior knowledge, making the mental modeling of that complexity more or less difficult. For example, when one sees the symbol = in mathematics, it means one thing, but when one sees it in JavaScript, it means another. Are these conflicts purely syntactic, or are they also semantic?
andy-j-ko  programming-language  programming-environments  abstraction  metaphor 
13 days ago by jbrennan
The Road to Abstraction – tecosystems
While it’s unusual to stop to think about abstraction explicitly as a driving force, neither is it a surprise when pointed out. It’s taken for granted, not completely unknown. What can be interesting, however, is the pace of these cycles of abstraction and what they tell us about the future of the industry for buyers and sellers.
talks  abstraction  redmonk 
20 days ago by ntschutta

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