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Posts Tagged ‘Emacs’

The Problem with Scripting Language REPLs

I figured out what the problem is with Devel::REPL and the command line REPLs provided by Python and Ruby – evaluation is not a separate step. When I press enter, I’m forced to evaluate the current line.

Yes, you say, that is what REPL means – Read, Evalute, Print, Loop. Evaluate comes after Read.

In reality, usable REPLs, such as Emacs1, let you control when the read evaluate print sequence happens. I can craft the most beautiful function I can think of. Better still, if I change my mind, I can easily modify the function and redefine it with a keystroke. Well, a key chord at least.

In contrast, with Devel::REPL, once I have pressed enter, changing my mind is painful. Integrating it with Emacs comint will probably alleviate a lot of that pain.

Or better yet, as Anonymous recommends, I should take a look at Sepia or PDE which already have emacs integration. Having said that, basic integration is, what, 20 lines of emacs-lisp?


1. Yes, Emacs is a REPL. Kinda.

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Something a casual user of a language will miss out on, is using the latest and greatest libraries of that language and generally programming in a modern style. For example, I1 still naturally use open(FH, 'filename') || die; and have to force myself to use the more modern open(my $fh, '<', 'filename') with its lexically scoped filehandle.

I have been programming Perl for 12 years or so, but aside from one conference (YAPC Muenchen 2002) I've never really immersed myself in the community. For this reason, I think I have missed out on quite a few niceties. Moose, DBIx and other modules bring Perl up to the level of its contemporaries if you don't need to work with people who are not using them. I only came across POE recently (which I keep mentioning because it is so awesome).

Heck, even C++ has boost.

Modifiable Syntax

or DSLs I think they call it.

Ray Dillinger once pointed out that people write scheme in a variety of incompatible styles because the substrate isn't pleasant for programming on directly. But it is possible to layer any sugar you like on it. This leads to a bunch of different and practically incompatible styles.

Anyway, what I see is that scheme programmers are capable of
doing a heck of a lot as individuals, and are very happy with
the personally-customized language they each work with. But
they tend not to work together on large projects because of
the cognitive overhead of learning each other's personally-
customized languages, which may have different or conflicting
definitions.

Common Lisp programmers, by contrast, have a lot of standard
libraries and tend to forgive or ignore some small things that
may not fit perfectly with their personal style. But they do
work together on large projects, because they all have the same
set of language extensions and they can read each other's code.

I still find eager comprehensions about the nicest way of specifying nested loops that I've seen. Perl syntax tweaking dudes: if you add these, I'll never switch! What's that? Fix it myself? It is easier to move to python or ruby I think.

Is it a coincidence that languages with fixable syntax (Lisp, Perl, Tcl, Ocaml) have 'lost' to those with a fixed syntax (Java, Python)? Ruby dudes beware.

Supporting Your Language

There have been a few posts floating around the blogosphere talking about writing posts supporting perl. I put my own effort into doing something similar for Emacs. However, in my opinion, Emacs needs the help and Perl does not.

Emacs could be greatly improved if there were many more Emacs Lisp hackers creating libraries and writing examples and documentation. Perl already has all of those things. <strike>As</strike> If its popularity wanes, what is lost? I guess people are thinking about job opportunities and stuff like that, but I suspect that the outflow of former Perl programmers will outpace the loss of Perl jobs.

Er, So what is my point?

Oh yes, Emacs-using Perl dudes, please add eager comprehensions to Perl and write Emacs blog posts rather than Perl ones. Thank you.


1. Even though I'm not really a casual Perl user. I do this stuff professionally don't you know ;)

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Okay, this post is going to be quite long. I’m going to start with a basic problem I was solving in emacs lisp. From there I’ll segue into thinking about looping syntax and finally I’ll do a bit of benchmarking as I’ve got the code already and people seem to like that (the scheme, ocaml, c++ speed comparison is by far the most popular post on this blog followed by this).


Futzing around with Project Euler is something I do for fun. Most recently I was looking at problem 73 – count the reduced proper fractions with a denominator less than or equal to 10,000 between 1/3 and 1/2.

Emacs Lisp Solution

Emacs Lisp is usually my default language for doing this kind of thing as I’m already in my text editor and there is a REPL to experiment with.

First of all, it is clear that I’m going to need a function to calculate the greatest common divisor. I found an imperative Pascal implementation of Euclid’s algorithm here. A brief aside – I searched for Pascal deliberately as I generally find it very clear. Does anyone else do that?

(defun gcd (a b)
  (while (not (= b 0))
    (let ((tmp b))
      (setq b (% a b))
      (setq a tmp)))
  a)

Thinking ahead, I'll probably know what the gcd is before we call make-fraction as only fractions with a gcd of 1 will be actually counted amongst the solutions. I've therefore made gcd an optional parameter as a nod to efficiency.

(defsubst make-fraction (num denom &optional gcd)
  (unless gcd (setq gcd (gcd num denom)))
  (cons (/ num gcd) (/ denom gcd)))

I like the flexibility that lisp-like languages give you to name your functions too.

(defsubst more-than-1/3 (frac)
  (let ((num (car frac))
        (denom (cdr frac)))
    (> (* num 3) denom)))

(defsubst less-than-1/2 (frac)
  (let ((num (car frac))
        (denom (cdr frac)))
    (< (* num 2) denom)))

(defsubst within-range (frac)
  (and (more-than-1/3 frac) (less-than-1/2 frac)))

We only check fractions between 1/3 and 1/2 as to do all fractions with a denominator <= 10,000 would take far too long.

(defun solve-it (max-denom)
  (insert (format-time-string "\n\nStarted at: %H:%M:%S\n\n"))
  (let (num denom frac max gcd solutions)
    (setq solutions 0)
    (setq denom 2)
    (while (<= denom max-denom)
      (setq num (/ denom 3))
      (setq max (1+ (/ denom 2)))
      (while (<= num max)
        (setq gcd (gcd num denom))
        (when (= gcd 1)
          (setq frac (make-fraction num denom gcd))
          (when (within-range frac)
            ;; (insert (format "%s\n" frac))
            (incf solutions)))
        (incf num))
      (incf denom)
      (when (= (% denom 50) 0)
        (insert (format "Denom: %d Solutions: %d\n" denom solutions)))
      (sit-for 0))
    (insert (format "\n%d solutions\n" solutions))
    (insert (format-time-string "Finished at: %H:%M:%S\n"))))

After I wrote this, I realised I didn't need to construct and destruct my fraction type so simplified to the following:

(defun solve-it (max-denom)
  (insert (format-time-string "\n\nStarted at: %H:%M:%S\n"))
  (let (num denom frac max solutions)
    (setq solutions 0)
    (setq denom 5)
    (while (<= denom max-denom)
      (setq num (1+ (/ denom 3)))
      (setq max (/ denom 2))
      (while (<= num max)
        (when (= (gcd num denom) 1)
          (incf solutions))
        (incf num))
      (incf denom))
    (insert (format "%d solutions\n" solutions))
    (insert (format-time-string "Finished at: %H:%M:%S\n"))))

(solve-it 10000)

;; Started at: 22:14:35
;; 5066251 solutions
;; Finished at: 22:15:45

70 seconds. Okay.

The most annoying thing is the primitive looping constructs. while is the basic and obvious built-in. It also has a slew of macros beginning with doXXX including dotimes and dolist not to mention the mighty common lisp loop macro.

I don't know loop (but I'm going to learn it), but after messing about with do* for a few minutes, I realised it wasn't the looping construct for me.

(do* ((i 5 (if (> j 10) (+ i 1) i))
      (j (+ i 1) (if (> j 10) (+ i 1) (+ j 1))))
    ((> i 10))
  (insert (format "[%d %d]" i j)))

Yuck.

Now, the great thing about lisp is supposed to be that if you don't like the syntax you can add your own with macros. Unfortunately, I haven't got around to that yet as a bunch of people have already designed most of the syntax I like.

Scheme Solution

When I read some of the earlier posts on this blog, it seems that scheme has got some nice generator syntax (aka eager comprehensions) for handling nested loops.

There are a nice set of posts on eager comprehensions here.

I took print-ln from the portable scheme post and gcd from SICP.

#lang scheme/base

(require srfi/42)

(define (print-ln . args)
  (for-each display args)
  (newline)
  (flush-output))

(define (gcd a b)
  (if (= b 0) a
      (gcd b (remainder a b))))

(define (solve-it max-denom)
  (sum-ec (:range denom 2 (+ max-denom 1))
          (:range num (+ (floor (/ denom 3)) 1) (ceiling (/ denom 2)))
          (if (= (gcd num denom) 1) 1 0)))

(print-ln "There are " (solve-it 10000) " solutions")

Yikes, mzscheme is much quicker than emacs-lisp. That surprised me. A factor of 10 I would have expected, a factor of 50 not so much.

$ time mzscheme frac.scm
There are XXX solutions

real    0m1.413s
user    0m1.404s
sys     0m0.004s

Perl Solution

use strict;
use warnings;

use POSIX qw(floor ceil);

sub gcd
{
    my ($n1, $n2) = @_;
    until ($n2 == 0) {
        my $tmp = $n2;
        $n2 = $n1 % $n2;
        $n1 = $tmp;
    }
    return $n1;
}

The nested loop actually looks okay to me in perl although not as nice as the srfi-42 eager comprehensions.

sub solve_it
{
    my $max_denom = $_[0];
    my $solutions = 0;
    foreach my $denom (5..$max_denom) {
        my $max = ceil($denom / 2) - 1;
        foreach my $num ((1 + floor($denom / 3))..$max) {
            if (gcd($num, $denom) == 1) {
                ++$solutions;
            }
        }
    }
    return $solutions;
}

printf "There are %d solutions\n", solve_it(10000);

The performance of my perl is pretty bad too.

$ time perl frac.pl
There are XXX solutions

real    0m47.026s
user    0m46.963s
sys     0m0.008s

Ocaml Solution

let rec gcd a b =
  if b = 0 then a
  else gcd b (a mod b);;

let solve_it max_denom =
  let rec loop num denom solutions =
    if denom > max_denom then solutions
    else if num >= (denom/2+1) then
      loop ((denom+1)/3+1) (denom+1) solutions
    else begin
      if gcd num denom = 1 then begin
        (* Printf.printf "%d/%d\n" num denom; *)
        loop (num+1) denom (solutions+1)
      end else
        loop (num+1) denom solutions
    end
  in
    loop ((5/3)+1) 5 0;;

Printf.printf "There are %d solutions\n" (solve_it 1000);;

Oh dear, I seem to have an awful accent when programming ocaml. I'll need to work on that.

$ time ./a.out
There are XXX solutions

real    0m1.071s
user    0m1.060s
sys     0m0.004s

So, Conclusions

For this particular task (looping and integer math) Emacs Lisp is slow, but not that slow compared with another scripting language. I really like the scheme looping constructs and mzscheme is surprisingly quick (again, just for this tiny thing), not too far from the ocaml - although again I should emphasise that the ocaml is a terrible hack. And finally, I need to learn how to use loop properly.

All comments welcome.

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I’ve finally published the next installment of my mini-series on Emacs Comint. I’ve decided to publish it as a Squidoo lens. In it, I demonstrate how to create a slick, emacs-based interface to a stock price publisher. Part 1 in the series can be found here.

The first version extracts the ticker and price and displays them nicely in a seperate buffer. The later version highlights the updated line by flashing a magenta background for half a second after any update.

The lens covers the following emacs features: comint, process filters, overlays and timers. Let me know any comments or suggestions you have either here or on the lens itself. Please visit my emacs comint lens.

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Multiple Build Commands For Emacs

Alex Bennee left a comment on my dollar editor post:

I then open a number of separate emacs processes for each project I’m actively working on. I mainly do this as each project typically has it’s own make invocation.

I have a similar issue myself where my work projects require different commands but I prefer to avoid running multiple emacs instances if possible. It is not too difficult to fix. The idea is to detect the name of the file and run a different make command depending on which directory the file is in. This can be extended to as many different directories as necessary.

(setq compilation-scroll-output t)

(defun make-lib ()
  (compile "make-lib-cmd"))

(defun make-app ()
  (compile "make-app-cmd"))

(defun run-compile ()
  (interactive)
  (let ((file (buffer-file-name (current-buffer))))
    (cond ((not (stringp file))
           (error "[%s] is not a string.  Invalid buffer %s ?"
                  f (buffer-name)))
          ((string-match "/src/lib/" file) (make-lib))
          ((string-match "/src/app/" file) (make-app))
          (t (error "Invalid location %s" file)))))

(define-key c-mode-base-map [f7] 'run-compile)

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New Management

News: curiousprogrammer.wordpress.com is "under new management".

Hi, I’m Jared. I’m not much of a schemer, but I am a curious programmer. I do write a fair bit of emacs-lisp which I think is quite similar. You don’t have to agree :)

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