[Haskell-cafe] Line noise
andrewcoppin at btinternet.com
Sun Sep 21 14:14:58 EDT 2008
I hang out on another forum that is populated by various kinds of
computer geeks. There's a fair few programmers in there, as well as
nerds of every degree. And yet, every time I post anything written in
Haskell, everybody complains that it "looks like line noise".
What do "normal" programmers find so puzzling about Haskell? You might
guess some of the following:
- High-order functions.
- Lambda functions.
- Algebraic data types.
- Lazy evaluation.
Actually, none of these things were mentioned. The things people have
*actually* complained to me about are:
- Haskell expressions are difficult to parse.
- Several standard library elements have unhelpful names such as "elem",
"Eq" and "fst". (My favourite has to be "Ix". I mean, WTH?)
- Several standard library functions have names which clash badly with
the usual meanings of those names - e.g., "break", "return", "id".
- Variable names such as "x" and "f" aren't fabulously helpful to lost
programmers trying to find their way.
If you take a "typical" lump of C or Java code, there's so much
redundancy and noise in it that you can *usually* figure out vaguely
what's going on, even if it doesn't completely make sense. When
presented with a typical Haskell fragment... uh... well, good luck with
that. Let's take Haskell's most celebrated example:
qsort  = 
qsort (x:xs) = qsort (filter (x <) xs) ++ [x] ++ qsort (filter (x >=) xs)
To a novice, it's not actually real clear what the arguments to qsort
are. You and I know that function application binds much more tightly
than (++), but a novice isn't going to know that. You might also not
immediately realise that "xs" is also an argument to filter, not just (x
<) or whatever. The people I spoke to also seemed pretty confused about
the usage of (.) and ($), even after I explained it a few times. Several
people also voiced being puzzled about Haskell's layout rules.
I'm not sure what we *do* with all this data, but I found it interesting
so I thought I'd share. ;-) I've spent the last few years trying to
convert a few people to The Haskell Way(tm), but so far I haven't
succeeded in the slightest. I just get yelled at for pointing white
noise. Heh. Oh well!
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