Wednesday, July 30, 2008

ECOOP day 2

Well my notes get sparser by the day and I attribute this to conference fatigue rather than fewer good talks, so here is my rather brief account of day two at ECOOP.

The first paper I would like to describe was on UpgradeJ and the talk was given by Gavin Biermann. To be honest I thought this problem had been solved because I have not seen any work addressing it recently, but it seems I am wrong, and just as well because this was one of my favourite talks. The problem is to dynamically update running Java programs, which entails all sorts of headaches: Gavin started off the talk by warning that this was a topic for experts, not novice programmers. Although, after everything was explained it didn't actually seem _that_ hard, perhaps in real life it is more difficult (which begs the question - "how much can this stuff be encapsulated?"). Anyway, they propose a scheme of class upgrading with explicit (and multiply co-existing) versions; furthermore, upgrading is explicit too. I kind of like this approach - no surprises! There are lots of nice little features, such as fixing classes at a certain version or allowing them to upgrade, or allowing possibly breaking upgrades etc. Also, it is rather conservative, in a good way, you can not rely on versions being loaded at some point to call the upgraded code. I wonder if it is possible to rollback versions too. I suspect so, seeing as the system, is conservative type-wise, but I guess I'll have to read the paper to find out...

Next was Donna Vali... (sorry Donna! My internet has gone down, and I will be too lazy to check this later) talking about her system for mixing nominal and structural subtyping. I've looked at this work a few times before (see blog posts below vvv). I like it, it has a nice mixture of the features of both type systems and it seems well thought through. My only quibble is that it is hard enough to convince programmers to use types and I wonder if they will get enough benefit to deal with the extra overhead. Actually, I suspect they would, if they tried, but I also suspect that they are mostly to lazy to try and that language designers are too risk averse to try too. Also, the real joy of structural typing comes from the flexibility, and this has to be lost in order to accommodate nominal subtyping, so I am very interested to see how flexible the system is. I will read the paper and find out! And something to think about - Donna gives objects a structural and a nominal type, the structural type has a clear run-time counterpart - the record, and an object can be thought of as a record and a brand (the nominal part of its type). BUT, what is a brand? Is there a runtime entity that can exist without an object and captures the essential features of this mysterious brand? I am very interested to know, so if anyone has any ideas, please let me know!

The day was wrapped up with Gilad Bracha's summer school talk on his new language Newspeak, which was very popular (I would be a little gutted if my talk was scheduled for this time) and brought on a lot of George Orwell puns. Anyway, it was a great talk, Gilad is a wonderful speaker,and the language is interesting and abides by a lot of very sensible rules. One thing I lied was the design philosophy - you think of a rule, and everything else just kind of follows from it, no exceptions.

After all this intellectual tomfoolery we had the conference banquet in the evening. This was in a touristy taverna in Paphos town where the music was too loud and the entertainment was very cheesy, and apparently provided by perverts. If I ever have daughters they will never set foot in Paphos as long as I live. James Noble started a very entertaining speech, including heckling some tourists at one point, but was quite rudely cut off by the band halfway through, which is a shame since it looked like it was going to be the only entertaining conference speech in history. This was followed by more 'entertainment', not least of which was my supervisor, Sophia, dancing with performers and generally enjoying herself (there is video, although I have not received it yet...). We made a sharp exit, and had an enjoyable night chatting with various ECOOP people in various ECOOP places.

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