There hasn’t been a paradigm shift in software development for quite some time.  I think the main reason for this is because of our myopic tendency to assume software development can only happen with programming languages based off some lexical syntax.  Visual Basic and the following rapid application development (RAD) IDE’s have shown us this is not true for some aspects of code.

I wish to explore Intentional Programming and talk about some of the new ideas it presents.  You can read the link for more details but basically Intentional Programming gets rid of the lexical code portion and allows the programmer or user direct access to the parse tree.  Lisp allows you to program the parse tree directly but Intentional Programming is a little bit different.  It says, yes, the program is eventually a parse tree but give the end user or programmer tools to build the parse tree for each particular problem domain.  Often times the “intention” of the programmer is easier expressed graphically, or maybe by recording a macro, or maybe by drawing lines between objects representing data objects.  For example, if you needed to read 5 columns from a database table, it would make much more sense to pop up that table in a GUI and then just click on each column.  From there it would store that “intention” in the parse tree.  Only the data and the intention would be stored.  The intention can be thought of as a function that operates on the data.  So instead of writing everything using code in a text editor, you use a lot of small tools to construct a parse tree in the most natural and intuitive means possible for each and every problem domain.

Why is it that we are only using text in such a limited fashion?  We are not using color, size or position to represent any additional syntatic meaning.  This makes for inefficient communication between the programmer and the computer.  It would be easier to read code if color, size, or position could be used to represent more.  This is readily seen when using color syntax highlighting in an editor.  It is much easier to scan code to understand the meaning.  The human brain can spot things quicker that it would have otherwise skipped over.

Why are we using only text and not graphics to represent our code?  The compiler takes some kind of input and translates that into machine code.  Why does it always have to be text.  Why can’t we use something that is easier to read and write code in?  I’m not exactly sure what this might be.  Perhaps it could be some kind of flow chart, or it could be wiring objects together like Legos.

I don’t claim to have all answers to these questions.  I am throwing them out there in the hopes that it triggers imagination in others.  I intend to share my thoughts on these questions as I have insights.

Programming in it’s essential nature is breaking down a problem and then specifying the solution to that problem in a way that a computer can repeat.  Why do we always use the same language most of the time?  We tend to have our favorite languages and we use them to solve our problems.  This greatly limits our ability to think about the problem.  We break the problem down into the components of the particular language we want to use.  This goes back to the saying, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  Programmers are often unaware there is a better way of solving their problem because they think they only have the tools the language provides them.

I think a better way to go about solving problems is to have a generic framework for building our solutions and then builidng the language to suit the problem.  This goes back to intentional programming.  A programmer should not just use what is in front of him to solve a problem but build the tools he needs to solve the problem as well.  This is top-down and bottom-up development at the same time.

Frequently programmers develop the same kinds of things over and over.  It is to the advantage of the programmer to learn more about building tools, especially about building his own small languages to express a problem in a manner that is concise and without needless syntatical artifacts.

I recommend programmers take a look into tools like ANTLR to get a better idea of what I am talking about and to expand their minds.

ANTLR in and of itself will not allow you to combine multiple languages together.  This is why I said some kind of general universal framework is needed.  I think intentional programming has a lot of ideas that can help advance us in that direction.

I will attepmt to cover these ideas more in future posts.  I apologize if my writing is difficult to follow or lacking in clarity or explanation.  This is my first time trying to write my thoughts down in any serious manner.  Hopefully, my writing will improve with each post.

Posted Sunday, January 18th, 2009 at 2:13 am
Filed Under Category: Design Issues, Miscellaneous
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3

Responses to “Think Outside the Box”

Zoran

Hi,
Ugh, I liked! So clear and positively.

Have a nice day
Zoran

KattyBlackyard

Hi, interest post. I’ll write you later about few questions!

CrisBetewsky

Some of us even don’t realize the importance of this information. What a pity.

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