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Show ARC: Programming is Now Two-Dimensional (breckyunits.com)
1 point by breck 28 days ago | 12 comments




5 points by zck 23 days ago | link

I'm having a pretty hard time understanding what this is, and I think a large part of this is that claims are stated instead of proven or explained. I see that the author thinks this is the future, but "what this is is self-evidently better" seems to be the argument most put forward, without being backed up by examples.

Let's take the article "The flaw in Lisp" (http://breckyunits.com/the-flaw-in-lisp.html):

> In Lisp, which uses parantheses for structure and allows arbitrary whitespace, there are many ways to write your code, and not all of those ways arrange your source code into “geometric trees”. That is, if you connect the nodes of your program with lines, sometimes those lines will intersect or be coincident.

The presentation below^0 mainly seems to take as an axiom that tree-structured^1 languages are better. If you already believe tree-structured languages are better, then yes, Lisp is not as good.

But if you're not (yet) convinced? Ok, then that's just a property of languages that Lisp doesn't have. It also doesn't have the property that it requires semicolons at the end of the line, but by itself, that proof doesn't mean Lisp is worse than Lisp-with-semicolons-at-EOL. What about ETNs are better? Yes, if you draw lines from each node to its parent, they intersect -- but why do I care? Drawing lines like that is something I've never done. I assume your argument is something like "it's easier to understand code when it's clear", but I don't see you even state that argument, nevermind make a case for it.

===

So, being the non-academic that I am, I want to go to see how the code works. I open http://ohayo.computer/, and the first thing presented to me is the Apple "The Crazy Ones" video. This is an extremely offputting message. Between that and the article submitted here (Programming is Now Two-Dimensional), I'm seeing far more self-promotion than argument. It's like listening to a professional wrestler cut a promo: "Yeaaaaah brother. What 'chu gonna do, when tree languages run wild on you", but when it comes to that wrestler getting into the ring, the wrestler is nowhere to be found.

And that aside, I can't even seem to run any code! After reading the README, I learn that there are two languages -- Flow and Fire. I'm not a data science guy, so I click on `fib.fire`. I see this: http://imgur.com/a/3sIxf. There's no connection of anything at all, just a dozen random blocks of noise. How do I actually run any code? I don't see any "run" buttons. The File menu has no "run" option. How do I see this work? Also, I have no idea how this is connected to tree-structured languages! There are no lines between things, as seems to be the motivating factor of this paradigm!

Looking at the "sneak peek" video (http://breckyunits.com/ohayo-sneak-peak.html), apparently there is some sort of source code that corresponds to what's shown. But unlike in the video, I can't click to drag around things. I can't see the source code. Why not?

===

I really just want to see how these things work. I don't want to see unsupported claims. I want to be able to write some code, or modify existing code. Please don't make it so hard for me to understand what this is.

[0] I'm not trying to pick on the presentation for the sake of picking on it, but the pictures are extremely difficult to read, making it difficult to understand the argument. At least rotate the pictures so they're right-side-up. Scan them if you can, and do your best to write them with your best handwriting -- I have similarly bad handwriting, so I don't present people with handwritten documents if I can avoid it.

[1] There appear to be multiple terms for this. It's somewhat confusing, because the picture proofs talk about "pure tree languages", but other things talk about ETNs (Extends Tree Notation), or "geometric trees". I don't think "pure tree language" in the picture means anything different from "tree" in the text, but I'm not sure of that. It would be useful to pick one name for each concept and stick to it.

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2 points by breck 23 days ago | link

Thanks zck!

I agree with every point you made and am working on fixing them.

> mainly seems to take as an axiom that tree-structured^1 languages are better.

Correct! And also correct that I haven't proven this to be the case yet. I'm heading in that direction and think by the end of week 1 of the announcement there should be more evidence in that regard. I just launched version 1.2 just now. In a Flow program, you can now add a ">3d" block, which can have a "content" property where you can add some ETN code and see it somewhat visualized in 3d. Rough version, but starting to hint at what's to come. Basically imagine a 100,000 line program, where you can visualize and manipulate the source (and AST!) in 3D, and it all runs blazing fast. That's where we are headed with this. I believe 2D/3D languages may be better because 1) it seems the constraints imposed by the criteria that source must map to physical dimensions helps avoid anti-patterns (but i don't have a proof yet on why) 2) our brains are wired to work in 3D. Although those are theoretical guesses. For me, 95% of why I believe they are better is because of my experience working with them the past few months (which I'm trying to bring that experience to others asap).

But yes. Agreed that I haven't proved this yet.

> I open http://ohayo.computer/, and the first thing presented to me is the Apple "The Crazy Ones" video. This is an extremely offputting message.

Haha, thanks for that feedback. Last week was a week with little sleep, and didn't have time to make a proper intro screencast, so put that up as a placeholder because I thought the "ones who see things differently" was apropos. That won't be up much longer. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

> I'm seeing far more self-promotion than argument

Agreed. I just do believe in the potential impact of ETNs, and truly believe if anything I'm underselling the impact they could have, and if I got hit by a bus before I could provide more evidence I wanted to make sure people took notice and continued where I left off. Low bus factor last week--but now that is much higher! Maybe once more evidence is out there I can revisit all those posts and tone them down.

> fib.fire

Another person emailed me and said it should start with "hello world", and not Fib. That's coming soon. Thanks for this additional feedback. Also, the Fire editing is brand new. It was very theoretical until last week. So the UX has a long way to go. I made some improvements this morning but still it's quite shitty. Working on it.

> How do I actually run any code?

Version 1.2 (today) introduces the shortcut "shift+b" to build program, which will show you the compiled Js output for Fire programs. You can also use "command+shift+b" to build and save to file.

> The File menu has no "run" option.

Great suggestion! Will likely add next version.

Also, another suggestion I got is to have a "Quick tips" that shows the top 5 things to do (like double click to add a node, ? for help, et cetera). Coming soon.

> source code that corresponds to what's shown

Shift+u. Again, great feedback. I'll add a File toggle and also a quick tip.

> I really just want to see how these things work. I don't want to see unsupported claims. I want to be able to write some code, or modify existing code. Please don't make it so hard for me to understand what this is.

Agreed! Thanks! I also made a lot of speed and test improvements this morning and will have project editing very soon.

> [0] I'm not trying to pick on the presentation for the sake of picking on it, but the pictures are extremely difficult to read, making it difficult to understand the argument. At least rotate the pictures so they're right-side-up. Scan them if you can, and do your best to write them with your best handwriting -- I have similarly bad handwriting, so I don't present people with handwritten documents if I can avoid it.

Haha, great points!

> [1] There appear to be multiple terms for this. It's somewhat confusing, because the picture proofs talk about "pure tree languages", but other things talk about ETNs (Extends Tree Notation), or "geometric trees". I don't think "pure tree language" in the picture means anything different from "tree" in the text, but I'm not sure of that. It would be useful to pick one name for each concept and stick to it.

Correct. I haven't found the correct mathematical term for it (I've searched graph, braid/knot, set, and some other theories). I bet there is one. If not, maybe I'll standardize on "Geometric Tree".

Thanks again for these comments. Super helpful!

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4 points by zck 23 days ago | link

Cool. I look forward to reading some new stuff about it. I'll just comment on some of the things here.

> Version 1.2 (today) introduces the shortcut "shift+b" to build program, which will show you the compiled Js output for Fire programs. You can also use "command+shift+b" to build and save to file.

This is interesting, but might actually work at cross-purposes to what you want to show. This presents it as "a graphical interface to write javascript", which isn't quite what you want. I want to _run_ the code, not just compile to js. (Obviously compiling to js and then running the js is fine, but don't make me do two steps when one is enough)

But for a run button, I'd think you want this to be as obvious as possible. So don't even bury it in a menu -- make a header with a giant "run" button. Or maybe not "giant", but somewhere that's displayed when you open the page.

> Another person emailed me and said it should start with "hello world", and not Fib. That's coming soon.

I feel like you want to have both. But yes, it's useful to have Hello World.

I do want to play around with this, so hopefully I can understand what it is soon.

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5 points by akkartik 24 days ago | link

HN discussion on this post: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14604269

I thought all the emphasis of how great it was made it harder for people to understand _what_ "it" was. Probably a good idea to keep an initial post like this matter-of-fact. Motivate it with just one simple strength that's easiest to communicate. Describe the broader context and implications in a separate post, later, after people understand what it is.

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2 points by breck 24 days ago | link

I totally agree. Although perhaps I wouldn't have gotten as much feedback had I taken a more modest approach? Hard to say. I still haven't done a good job communicating the benefits of ETNs yet, stemming from their 2D/geometric nature. Almost got version 1.1 of Ohayo done which makes another step toward that.

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5 points by akkartik 24 days ago | link

That motivation makes sense. Bear in mind, though, that the "less modest" approach has a limited amount of gas. It will stop working at some point.

I can relate with having these questions and considering the different strategies as well. If you really think that this is going to be your life's work, it's reasonable to burn some 'reputation' to get the word out. However, I've often been wrong before. Now I tend to err on the side of playing a long game.

Over time I've gained respect for the essential wisdom of this quote:

"We knew that Google was going to get better every single day as we worked on it, and we knew that sooner or later everyone was going to try it. So our feeling was that the later you tried it, the better it was for us because we’d make a better impression with better technology. So we were never in a big hurry to get you to use it today. Tomorrow would be better." -- Sergey Brin, as retold by Seth Godin in "The Dip"

Applicable to ideas like here just as much as products.

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2 points by breck 24 days ago | link

Wow, what a quote! That's exactly how I feel about Ohayo. That seems like a better approach--not to be in a big hurry to get people to use it today. Thank you akkartik. Really appreciate that advice!

My only concern pre-launch and announcement, was that I was going to get hit by a bus and the world would have to wait longer for someone else to stumble upon (and popularize) TN and ETNs. Now that it's out there and a few thousand people have seen it, I can take this more sensible approach. Fantastic advice.

Btw, just pushed version 1.1.0 if anyone's interested.

UX still needs work, but I rushed adding a "3D block" to the flow language, (using the vis.js library), so you can start to see what "3D" code looks like.

http://breckyunits.com/files/untransformed-source-etn-code-i...

I need to rev that a bit (I see some immediate bugs) but gives the basic idea and I have to run out for a little while.

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3 points by Oscar-Belletti 25 days ago | link

Hi. I've read the paper. From what I understood, the core idea is that source code maps to ast directly. Which is what lisp is already doing. You say everything is a tree, but isn't this already so? Json, html, lisp, just to name a few languages. You call it 2D: an advancement in the y axis makes a "sibling" and in the x makes a "child". But children and siblings as a concept already exist, even though I haven't heard it called 2D programming yet.

Let's look at the example in the paper:

    title Jack and Ada at BCHS
    visitors
     mozilla 802

This is basically a whitespace based syntax for lisp.

     ((title Jack and Ada at BCHS) (visitors (mozilla 802)))

And there already are indented based lisps: http://chrisdone.com/z/ https://www.dwheeler.com/readable/ http://www.draketo.de/english/wisp

So, I'm sorry, but I see no innovation in this new approach. Of course I could be wrong.

I'll comment your points in the paper:

1. ETN uses fewer nodes. Why? It maps to the same tree as the languages I already mentioned.

2. No parse errors. I have to say that I was writing in c++ recently, and the parsing wasn't an issue. And as you say, it doesn't make nonsense programs correct.

3. No semantic diffs. I didn't really understand, to be honest, but "just one way to encode a program" is wrong, imho. There are always many ways to the same thing. For example "a + b" is the same ad "b + a", and "a <= n" is the same as "a < n + 1" (when "a" and "n" are ints).

4. Easy composition. Python uses indentation, which collides with the syntax of TN. As long as you have reserved characters(and not having is probably impossible) you'll have to do something with languages that use them.

By the way, the whole idea seems to be that you can have nicer syntax, while I think the biggest advantage of writing ast directly is that you can create syntax. Obviously I could be wrong, I could have missed the point, it's perfectly possible.

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3 points by akkartik 24 days ago | link

This later post by the author may be relevant: http://breckyunits.com/the-flaw-in-lisp.html

Though it's hard once again to understand. When are two nodes coincident? By definition you can only have one character in one place on the screen. Is he talking about indentation, that the same level of indentation can mean different things? That seems true of ETN as well, from what I can tell.

The pencil scratchings on the screenshots don't help either.

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1 point by breck 24 days ago | link

Sorry, the lines in the geometric mapping of the source code are coincident. In drawing B) in the visual proof, the edges which connect the child nodes to their parents intersect and/or are coincident. So when you put Lisp source code onto graph paper, and draw boxes around the nodes, and line segments for edges, it shows why Lisp source is not a geometric language (I define a geometric language as one where there are no intersecting or coincident line segments).

Now, figure A) shows the same Lisp code, formatted differently, in a way that is a geometric language. But as you can see, that code is standard TN/ETN. Or perhaps another way to put it is ETNs are just Lisps with a whitespace syntax and no parentheses. Another reader on HN pointed me to I expressions (https://srfi.schemers.org/srfi-49/srfi-49.html), which I hadn't seen before and is 90% of the way there to TN and ETNs. The creator of I-Expressions have communicated briefly over email now and are going to be talking soon.

Anyway, perhaps another term for Tree Notation/ETNs is "Geometric Lisp", or "2-Dimensional Lisp". I'm not wedded to the terms TN/ETNs, although I do think it's better to have new terms, because I think these will come to dominate the usage of Lisp.

Still working on more updates and evidence on why I think these will be so big.

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1 point by breck 24 days ago | link

Thanks for the comments! The thing that z, readable, and wisp all lack, is that with ETNs every node has a point (x,y,z). So in addition to your source code mapping directly to your AST, it also maps to physical, geometric space (The Z axis is your program/document, the y axis is your line number, and the x axis is the column #/indent level).

So what you now have with ETNs, is the power of Lisp, now in a regular 2D/3D "structure", that you can inspect, visualize, and manipulate in new ways.

> 1. ETN uses fewer nodes. Why?

That's not compared to Lisps. Sorry, that was not clear. The paper was targeted toward a broader programming audience.

> 2. No parse errors. I have to say that I was writing in c++ recently, and the parsing wasn't an issue. And as you say, it doesn't make nonsense programs correct.

Ohayo briefly shows the power of no parse errors. Your program is parsed by little "micro-parsers", so there's no monolithic parse failure and programs can recover/autocorrect gracefully. More demonstrations here will do a better job of explaining. More to come.

> 3. No semantic diffs.

It's actually only "Semantic diffs" (not "not semantic diffs"). As opposed to syntax diffs. So "(+ 1 2)" and "(+ 1 2)" mean the same thing semantically in Clojure, for example, but git will give you a 1 line diff because of the whitespace syntax diff. In an ETN, "+ 1 2" and "+ 1 2" generally would be different, and could cause an ETN error unless the ETN allowed blank words.

4. Nothing collides. After years of going through every possible edge case, you cannot break TN. There is nothing that collides with the syntax. See for yourself. Download the library and create a TN with it's line/children set to something you think will collide. The indentation and ability to do "getTailWithChildren" takes care of all possible edge cases. (Sorry, I realize I still need to explain this better as this is a common concern and it is very surprising to people (myself included), that there are no edge cases that don't work.

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1 point by breck 28 days ago | link

Author here. Happy to answer any questions or comments people may have. Also will be launching an app later today, called Ohayo, which demonstrates the benefits of ETNs.

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