19 May 2010

On 14th May 2010 the inaugural meeting of the Software Craftsmanship UK user group was held at the offices of Eden Development in Winchester.

The meeting kicked off with introductions, and then Enrique called Doug Bradbury and Micah Martin of 8th Light on Skype, and they talked to us about the history of the Software Craftsmanship movement.

After lightning talks, we moved on to a randori-style coding dojo in which the task was to write an algorithm to determine how many Lychrel numbers there are in the starting range 1-10000.

We used Ruby, which was known by the majority (but not all) of the attendees, and after a few false moves a recursive algorithm took shape and an answer was found. The program could have used a bit of refactoring, but it satisfied the task.

I’m currently very enthusiastic about Clojure, partly because I’ve been meaning to learn a functional language for ages and this looks like a good one, and partly because it runs on the JVM and has some interesting libraries that I want to use with Hadoop for processing and analysing big data sets at Journey Dynamics.

The next day I knocked up a Clojure solution to the problem we’d seen in the dojo. It was concise, tested, and I was fairly pleased with it. I tweeted about it, and was about to forget about it until @t_crayford said that he could do better. Before long he’d posted an improved version of the main function:

At first I was baffled, but that was mostly down to trying to read it on my iPhone after a couple of glasses of wine. With a clear head and a big screen the next day it became obvious how he had replaced my naive recursive algorithm with a much more idiomatic lazy sequence version that has better performance.

He defines a function that calculates the next number in the sequence, and creates a (infinite) lazy sequence of them using iterate. It takes 50 numbers from this sequence using rest and take and checks to see if any of them are palindromic using some. I was initially confused by the ->> macro, but it is explained here.

It’s going to take me a while to think naturally in Clojure idioms, but I think it will be worth it. Paul Graham argues that the truly serious hacker should consider learning Lisp, and I think he is absolutely right. The advantage of being able to think about solutions to problems in a different way from the dominant procedural and OO mindset can be really valuable, and I agree that even if you don’t subsequently use Lisp, having learned it will make you a better programmer.

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