Sapir-Whorf with Programming Languages February 12th, 2009
Patrick Stein

I’ve been coding in Objective-C for a month or so now. It is interesting (in a Sapir-Whorf sort of way), how the language changes the way that I code. Switching from Objective-C to Lisp made me notice something that I hadn’t really noticed when moving from C++/Java/Perl to Lisp.

In Lisp, I will pull something out into a separate function if it makes the current function more self-contained, more one idea. In C++, I will only pull something out into a separate function if I need the same functionality in multiple places.

Actually, it’s even worse than that in C++. For stuff that is less than six or so lines, I might maintain it in several functions. Or, if I’m using some Literate Programming tool, I will just use the same chunk in multiple places. The notable exception in C++ is when I want to use something as a loop conditional, I may bother to break it out into its
own function:

while ( incrementCounter( cntr, min, max, dimensions ) ) {
    // body of loop here

In C++ or Objective-C, I might do something like this:

// some portion of my function

unsigned int choice = random() % length;
void* currentChoice = options[ choice ];
    // yes, I know I can memcpy(), but that's not as obvious
for ( unsigned int ii=choice+1; ii < length; ++ii ) {
    options[ ii-1 ] = options[ ii ];

// some code using currentChoice

In Lisp, I would never consider keeping that code inline. I would put it in another function right away.

This, this is one of the things I meant when I said Lisp is just plain fun. It’s easy to make a new function. I can just do it. I don’t have to fret too much over the name. I don’t have to fret too much over the argument
list. I don’t have to pre-declare it in this header file with the same signature as that implementation file. I
don’t have to pretend its a method when it’s really just a function. I can return multiple values if I need to do so. I don’t have to worry much about which compilation units will need to see this to compile.

Part of the maze generation code that I wrote in Objective-C needs to track walls. I don’t need the same structure during generation that I will use once it’s generated. So, I have a Wall class declared. It feels wrong to declare it right in the header file for the Maze. It feels silly to break it out into its own header file. What I should be doing is making a separate MazeFactory and have its implementation include the declaration of this Wall class. But, that is such overkill here. I just want the darn maze.

In Lisp, I would just be done with no feelings of guilt at all.

Updates In Email