[Haskell-cafe] On the verge of ... giving up!

Peter Verswyvelen bf3 at telenet.be
Sun Oct 14 15:10:08 EDT 2007

Or F#, if you know C#, which is the "OCaml for the .NET world".

Now I immediately went from C/C++/C# to Haskell, and yes, that was (is) 
hard. For me, the book Haskell School of Expression did it... All you 
need is a good book and lots of patience...

Brian Hurt wrote:
> On Sun, 14 Oct 2007, Andrew Coppin wrote:
>> Vimal wrote:
>>> I like learning by
>>> comparison with other similar languages. This approach worked for me
>>> when I tried learning Python+Perl together. The nicer syntax and
>>> easier object-orientedness made me leave Perl behind and pursue
>>> Python.
>>> I also tried it for Haskell (Lisp+OCaml+Haskell together).
>> This probably works quite well for mainstream programming languages 
>> (since they're all so similar), but is unlikely to work at all for 
>> Haskell (since, as far as I know, no other programming language on 
>> Earth is remotely like it - Miranda excluded). Even Lisp and Erland 
>> are nothing like Haskell, and they're supposedly based on the same 
>> ideas.
> I'm going to offer an opinion here that's likely to be controversial 
> (in this forum): people new to functional programming shouldn't learn 
> Haskell first.  They should start with either Ocaml or SML first.  If 
> it makes it easier to accept this argument, you can consider Ocaml and 
> SML as "Haskell with training wheels".  And that the original poster, 
> rather than giving up on Haskell, should instead put Haskell on the 
> backburner and instead learn Ocaml (which is likely to be hard 
> enough).  Then, in a year or two, start taking another swing at Haskell.
> The problem is that Haskell has a lot of big ideas that all come at 
> you pretty much immediately.  Learning a new language in a new 
> paradigm is a lot harder than learning in a new language in a paradigm 
> you already know. If you know Java or C#, it's not that hard to learn 
> Python or Ruby, because you already know how to think in objects.  The 
> problem with going from a C/Java/Ruby paradigm to Haskell is that 
> Haskell isn't just one paradigm shift, it's several all rolled into one:
>     - Purely functional
>     - Lazy
>     - Monadic
>     - Strongly typed
> Each one of these has a huge impact in how you think about problems 
> and design programs- I'd argue about as large an impact as Objects 
> have. These are all good things (well, I'd admit to not being 100% 
> sure about pure laziness), and knowing how to think in these paradigms 
> is definately a good thing.
> And the situation is worse with pure functional languages.  When you 
> move from, say C/Pascal/Fortran to Java/Ruby/Python, you don't have to 
> learn new data structures and new algorithms.  A doubly linked list is 
> still just a doubly linked list, still has the same properties, and 
> still has more or less the same implementation.  In addition to 
> learning Haskell, you also need to relearn basic computer science.  
> You need to learn what a realtime lazy catenable dequeue is, how to 
> implement it, and why you need one, all the while struggling with the 
> syntax, type errors, and all the other problems trying to learning a 
> new language.
> I mean, contemplate this trivial exercise for a moment: write a 
> program that reads from stdin a series of numbers (one number per 
> line), and writes out the sum of the last n numbers.  This is a 
> trivial problem, and I have no doubt that someone who knows Haskell 
> better than I will reply to this email with a single line of code that 
> does it.  But just think for a moment the number of different paradigm 
> shifts that you need to make to write this program in Haskell.
> I'm not saying that it's impossible to go directly to Haskell, I'm 
> saying that it's just very very hard.
> Ocaml, meanwhile, is in many ways the C++ of the functional world.  
> C++ was needed for object orientation to take off, because it allowed 
> you to continue to program in plain old procedural C when you needed 
> to get something done, and to play with OO concepts and ideas as you 
> have the time/inclination/need.  Then, once people became comfortable 
> with objects and OO thinking, they were ready for the real OO languages.
> In a similiar fasion, Ocaml allows you to write old fasioned impertive 
> code when you need to just get something working.  And as you have the 
> time/inclination/need to, you can start playing with more advanced 
> functional concepts, like purely applicative data structures, lazy 
> evaluation, and even monads.
> Brian
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