:: languages, dev environment, workflow, learning

By: Pookleblinky

I tend to get flustered when learning languages. I bounce from one to another, trying the same thing in each. “oh cool how would I do this in foo? Ah, gotta yakshave my emacs for bar.” Since every programming language sucks, I end up endlessly plunging down rabbit holes trying to yakshave things to work properly and smoothly. My focus gets distributed among n languages, m setups, and p annoyances. In this vast space, I end up wandering stochastically and occasionally bumping into useful things. This is no way to conquer a territory and hear the dialup modem screeching lamentations of its robots as you chase them before you.

Little ends up getting done, and I end up working at a cartoonishly slow pace as I bounce around playing with everything. Despite learning, I end up with little to show for it, and the lack of structure means I end up following an interesting avenue and completely neglecting what is usually considered a vital part of the language.

Right now, I’m focusing on Racket, Elixir, Clojure, and Common Lisp. oCaml, LFE, and Haskell as background noise, not the main focus. Clojure is a bit lower priority than Elixir; it’s just not a good lisp and the dev is not fun on a low-end device. Elixir is a better lisp than clojure and it’s not even trying. It didn’t even bother to bring its bag full of parentheses to the party and it still kicks clojure’s ass. Reminder to rant about this later.

That’s a lot of opportunity to get distracted on several levels, from other languages to yakshaving dev environments and workflows for them.

For instance, my normal workflow involves vim-slime and tmux. Vim-slime sends text to a specified tmux pane, it doesn’t know or care what repl is on the other end. It doesn’t know or care about nrepl or swank or any of that. Just where to dump the text. I prefer this over magic. Well, in LFE slurping a file into the repl dumps all previously slurped macros and defs. The repl is more stateful than most, so the workflow is a little awkward. I was pondering how to tweak vim-slime to have an LFE mode that would on C-c C-c first save, then send over the text (c "@%"), or something. I could yakshave on this happily, but it’s a distraction. I’m trying to minimize as much as possible the temptation to yakshave, so I forced myself mid-fork of vim-slime into lfe-slurp to stop and just accept a bit of extra typing.

My attempted solution to the focus problem is simple. For focus, I’m using exercism. Each language is on a different track, each has defined tasks to accomplish and progress is tracked. Most tracks have similar tasks, which nicely satisfies my “oh man I wonder how I’d do this in foo” impulse, but in a structured and focused way. Yakshaving is kept to a minimum: while working in racket, I can pop over to another pane, type “langjournal,” and note a todo about yakshaving vim to work better with it. Later, I can yakshave, but I can keep focused on what I was doing instead of falling down the rabbit hole.

I also have an enormous folder of interesting code laying on my 2tb external harddrive, from language cores and projects to ebooks. I can browse, offline, all the code I could want. Obviously, without structure I could endlessly study this without ever doing anything useful. With even a modicum of enforced structure, this actually becomes useful, instead of a labyrinth through which I’m chasing my own tail.

While doing the erlang track, I saw that rebar.config hardcoded rebar3. I did the task, gsubbed rebar3 to rebar (v2 is what I had), and ran the tests. They passed, I made a note. Went on #erlang, asked about rebar3, and decided to upgrade. I bootstrapped it in less than a minute, reverted rebar.config, and it worked as intended. Minimal yakshaving.

I figure as long as I keep things structured, push yakshaving out of the way into its own activity (“today I’m gonna get vim to work better with lfe”), and avoid temptation, I’ll have a much nicer time than my usual habits provide. Then, I’ll actually get stuff done, comprehensibly, instead of amassing largely useless knowledge.

This blog is going to be part of my workflow, forcing me to maintain a coherency which is usually lost reinventing a local PLEAC.