Disturbance in The Force

I’d like to lay out a couple of thoughts here to discuss further to get more insight from people with different mindsets / opinions / facts / views. Reasons are mostly selfish: I know what I don’t know and I’d like to understand it better.

Folds and Braids

As Clojure developers we are in this “Cult of Simple”. Simple “was defined to us” 🙂 as one fold/braid/twist, which does not mean “one thing”, and is really about the interleaving, not the cardinality. We also know that simple is “objective”, we can look at it and see the “number of folds”.

I don’t think it’s such a bad cult to be in, but.. It seems that the above “simple definition of simple” is now taken to an extreme where, as definition, it is interleaved / complected with real problems and is losing its intended power.

The definition of simple is now used as a shield, rather than a tool.

It might have to do with the very subjective definition of “one fold”. It is easier to understand what “one fold” is when thinking about “primitives”: i.e. Rich’s example of “Sets vs. Lists”, where Sets are simpl(er) since Lists introduce order. But it is not as clear what “one fold” is in a more “complected problems” whether these are business problems or tool libraries.

Keep Your Functions Close, but “Just In Case” Closer

Clojure protocols are super powerful, and I would say “simple”.

I don’t think Clojure records are powerful, but good (in my experience) for type driven polymorphism, and they hold fields a bit more efficiently than maps. In reality “type driven polymorphism” would be the only reason I would use them for.

If “type driven polymorphism” is all that’s needed I would first reach out to deftype instead of records, since records complect data with types: two folds 🙂

However, since intuitively, building solutions with protocols feels a lot more extensible, robust and flexible, I think they get applied where a simple set of functions over multiple namespaces should have been used instead. This problem, I think, is caused by the invisible seduction of “easy”, which is defined to us as “lie near”:

since my solution should be robust and extensible, I’ll use records and protocols, since I know they will make it so“.

In other words, for initial application design: “records and protocols lie near”.

That is not to say that protocols or types should be avoided, quite the contrary, dynamic type dispatch, libraries with (internal) abstractions, host interop: all great cases to use and love them.

But I don’t think it is wise, in the Clojure Universe, to make people create records / types and use protocols when they need to use your library to develop products. This is not the absolute truth, but for most cases, when developing a business application, I would rather use a Clojure function: one fold 🙂

Humor Driven Development

I spend a couple of years working in Scala. An implicit type in Scala was one of the most common causes of confusion. It is used everywhere internally in the language itself, as well as advocated to use in every day Scala programs. This and many other examples, teach us that “implicit” is “complex”. The flip side of that is where the problem lies. In Clojure “formal circles” the “inferential” belief is that “explicit” is “simple”.

I believe that neither implicit nor explicit can be applied to simple without a context. And no, a “well implied implicit” does not mean complex. And no, explicit does not mean simple.

For example, I need to create a local scope and bind some values: if I am given a choice to write an identity monad or to use a Clojure let binding, I would choose the let binding, because it is a great syntactic implicit. An identity monad would also work, but being explicit here does not buy me any simplicity.

An interesting quality of a good implicit, by the way, is “automatic” understanding of what’s implied: that’s how we laugh 🙂

Respect and Doubts

This brings me to the overuse of “explicit formalism” in Clojure. On one hand it cannot be subjectively complex, since we know that “simple” is objective. On the other hand it can, because a “single fold” can be defined very differently in the explicitly formal solution by me and by people who created it.

I say: let’s listen to each other, rather than teach and preach.