We Can Do Better


It is the idea that we can break things down into nice, cohesive parts. Once we do that, we start to build more and more abstractions on top of what we have until we are left with what we have today: obscurity.

It saddens me that the we are equating “modern programming” as meaning we need to abstract away the fundamental parts of programming. Many languages coming out today are trying to get away from what programming fundamentally is: manipulating memory.

Now, I get it. Memory management can be a pain. However, as I reflect on where our industry has gone, it seems to be as if we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater. We’ve introduced highly involved and complicated systems to attempt to solve this memory management problem.

And have we succeeded?

For some domains, we have gotten “good enough”. So when I see languages coming out that are so focused on getting rid of memory management as a core principle, it just feels wrong to me. It feels like we are solving the wrong problem.

I think the problem comes down to two things:

  1. Clarity of expression – how well can we author our code, understand our code, and maintain our code?
  2. Introspective ability – how good are our tools that we use to help us diagnose our problems?

The first, I think it is a language problem. The second is a tooling problem. If we could track the lifetime of every allocation in our program, we could understand just exactly where and why memory is being leaked. We could track who is overwriting memory that they don’t own. We could know when memory is being accessed that has been reclaimed.

Yes, to some extent we’ve invested in some of these tools. But most of them suck and the language does little to help diagnose any of these problems. The language also does little to help you prevent these problems, and when they do try and help, those languages make doing many things much more difficult. High Friction.1

That’s what I want to try and do. Create a better language that allows you to be expressive, pragmatic, and get stuff done without handcuffing and treating you like a child.

Hello Proteus.

  1. The “high friction” term is something that Jonathan Blow talks about in his exploration of a new programming language for games. If you have not seen his videos, they are great; I highly recommend you check them out.
We Can Do Better