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Simple Made Easy (2011) (infoq.com)
133 points by BerislavLopac on July 21, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 30 comments

Fantastic talk, covering the difference between “simple” and “easy”, and how (when you can’t have both) the former is preferable.

I find it interesting that Python, despite being widely described as a simple language, takes the opposite approach. The language isn’t simple at all [0], it prefers to make things easy. This preference even appears (in the contrapositive) in the “Zen of Python”: “Complex is better than complicated.”

As a specific example, Python 3.7 introduced dataclasses, making them dependent on type hints when they could have been completely orthogonal. The language design ignored this talk’s advice against “complecting” features.

[0] https://twitter.com/raymondh/status/1280946969116995584


> I wrote a #clojure program for logic A in 4 hours. I've been asked to rewrite it in #python because of some product requirements. It's been 3 days since i've started and still on the first 25% of it. Note: I'm using python for more than 13 years.

Yeah, no way that's true if his python and clojure knowledge are at the same level. That tweet sounds like what you see on r/clojure all the time, a cult.

After using a bunch of other programming languages professionally (for over fifteen years), I can confirm - Clojure is a cult. I am so stuck in it and have no desire to leave. Rich Hickey is a voodoo shaman or something. Don't you ever watch his talks and do not try Clojure! I have warned you!

It seems hard to say conclusively what is or isn't possible about differences in development time without knowing more about the problem domain. Since he mentions GIL in one of his tweets, it seems like his code must have involved concurrency, and Python and Clojure differ enough in this regard (to say the least...) that it seems believable that something that's easy in Clojure could be gut-wrenching in Python.

> That tweet sounds like what you see on r/clojure all the time, a cult.

Check any Clojure forum - clojureverse, clojurians slack, mailing-list. Talks from conferences. Clojure/conj , ClojureD, ClojureX, etc. Click around, check the profiles. Then you'd probably see that majority of Clojure users are not that young. Most of them come to Clojure after learning other, very often multiple programming languages. Many of them have tried all sorts of different tools before finally discovering Clojure.

You see it over and over again, people claiming that Python, and other popular PLs have little to offer in comparison to Clojure ecosystem. And your only explanation is "it's a cult"? Yeah, sure. Clojurists are just a bunch of losers who simply failed to learn Python. It is a pretty cool cult to be in, it is based on ideas endorsed by people like Guy Steele, Gerald Jay Sussman, Paul Graham, Matthias Felleisen, Brian Goetz, and many others.

Just a language that isn't yet used widely in production. I remember when Python was like that, there is even a relevant xkcd strip: https://xkcd.com/353/

Gosh, I remember when JAVA was like that!

> isn't yet used widely in production

What are you talking about? Walmart has built their receipt processing in Clojure. Apple uses it (afaik for payments processing). Cisco has built their entire security platform in Clojure - security.cisco.com. Funding Circle has built their peer-to-peer landing platform in Clojure. Nubank - the largest independent digital bank in the world and sixth-largest bank in Brazil been using Clojure extensively. There are many other companies very actively using Clojure. Pandora, CircleCI, Pitch, Guaranteed Rate, etc. It's even used at NASA.

It's a the third most popular JVM language after Java and Kotlin, and the most popular alt-js PL (if you don't consider Typescript as alt-js). It's the most popular language among PLs with a strong FP emphasis - it is more popular than Haskell, Elm, Idris, OCaml, Erlang, Elixir, F#, Purescript, and (recently) Scala.

Clojure is very ripe for the prime-time. The ecosystem is really nice. A lot more nicer than most other languages. It is an extremely productive tool. But of course skeptics be like: "but it's dyyying ...", "it ain't popular ...", "but all those parentheses ...", "it's a cult ...", etc.

Clojure is used in production a lot, a big majority of users report using it for work. There's been significant shift from from the enthusiast-dominated community days of 10 years ago.

See the first graph at https://clojure.org/news/2020/02/20/state-of-clojure-2020 where you can see what portion of respondents have reported using it for work over the years.

All of the Rich Hickey talks I watched (there are many!) are insightful and entertaining. He manages to talk about technical things on a abstract, sometimes philosophical level. I even re-watched some talks after a couple of years and got something new out of them.

One of the most entertaining ones I watched was "Spec-ulation". It is less general than some of the more shared/cited ones but really funny.

Anyone else interested it is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyLBGkS5ICk

This talk had a profound effect on how I think about complexity, and taught me not to conflate easy and simple, 2 words in english that are often treated as synonyms. It really opened my eyes to how much tooling we use as devs (particularly in ops) that hides much of the complexity of a system. I’m much more dubious now whenever a tool comes around that makes X easier, and look for any added costs to complexity to see if there’s a hidden tradeoff.

I highly recommend giving the talk a listen to.

This talk turned an inflection point in my career. The physical metaphor of a braid and having that braid straightened out applies to so many areas of software. "Unbraidedness" is a very useful (albeit informal) measure of quality for me. It helps me detect when something's not right, as well as hinting how I can help straighten it out.

Even the informal concept is useful, but I suspect it could be formalized. I'd love to hear from a theoretical CS person about that notion.

I see this talk given as an example of best talks. I watched it twice. I'm obviously in a minority here, but I don't get it. I hear just truisms. Like: "It's better to be rich and healthy than poor and sick." I know it's hard to summarize a talk in a few paragraphs, but what big point did you get out of it. Honest question, I'm genuinely interested.

1) easiness is subjective, simplicity is objective.

2) simple code is easy to read, but hard to write.

If you're a programmer, and you're not surrounded by people conflating both words, consider yourself lucky. What does a coworker really means by "I did the simplest possible thing" ?

Ok. So it might be a language thing. Not being a native, easy and simple from pov of a customer is the same for me.

For example, for me, statement 1 is false. Simplicity is also subjective

I am one of the people conflating the terms. Are they used from the devs pov? Like what's easiest for you (add one more parameter to this function or another special case handled with its) might make things more complicated.

From the customer pov simple or easy is the same, or?!

It is a language thing, even for native speakers :) That is why he went to a lot of trouble to define each term in the beginning, and kept referring back to his opening definitions throughout the talk:

Simple = One thing not 'mixed - linked - folded' with anything else. That's why he says it is objective - if you look at something and see it's mixed up with something else, it's not simple (in his terms, now it's complex - eg many things woven together)

Easy = Near to you. Near in as you know it already, or you have it already and so on.

His talk is for the dev pov, but even outside of dev, simple does not mean easy all the time.

For example, (and something I am struggling with right now) it is simple to lose weight - eat less calories than you burn each day. Simple.

But I can attest it is far from easy.

Thank you for the reply. I'm starting to get it.

The core idea is to separate ease from simplicity and to talk about the implicit trade-offs of adhering to one over the other.

He claims that certain (often popular) tools and practices adhere to ease rather than simplicity, which introduces accidental complexity. And he introduces term „to complect“ which is now widely used in the Clojure community.

Many of the concepts and comparisons he talks about can be found in the design of Clojure and Datomic.

What is simplicity and how it differs from ease? I haven’t got a chance watching the talk yet.

Simplicity is described as being "disentangled" or the opposite of complexity.

I personally often picture complexity as a graph of nodes and edges:

- The more edges you add, the more complex the thing it describes.

- The more rules you can deduce about the graph (for example "it is a unidirectional circle-like") such as the flow of the edges, counting etc. the less complex it is.

The imagery in the talk describes it similar: Complexity is more knotted and interwoven. Simplicity is more straight-forward, clear and composable.

Ease is described as something being "near", also in the dimension of time. Something you already know or can learn/do quickly.

The talk goes on describing how simplicity requires up-front investment and time to achieve and also how ease and simplicity sometimes overlap and when they are at odds.

Wow it has been close to a decade since then. Is there a simple made Easy 2? He presents a number of grandiose ideas, it would be interesting to see what he thinks he got right and what went off the rails.

That’s precisely what this is, including what he got right &c — “10 Years of Clojure” https://youtu.be/2V1FtfBDsLU

He indirectly recognized the importance of declaring the shape of data 6 years later by introducing spec, which to date still has big issues and screams "just use a proper statically typed language".

Everytime I read your name, you subtile spread some negativity :)

Maybe Hickey just didn't prioritized "types" as high as some other ideas to spend his time on. And in my opinion he focused on the right things and achieved something really great.

As general advice stay positiv, focus on the things you like instead of telling everyone what you don't like, it's better for your mental health ;)

> spec, which to date still has big issues and screams "just use a proper statically typed language"

I think this statement is unfair.

I don't think there is a widely used statically typed language that is nearly as expressive and simple as spec. Also the opt-in nature of it retains the advantages of dynamic typing.

There's no "proper statically typed language." Every single statically typed language I tried, comes with certain drawbacks. However, I'd like to add - I do miss sometimes static types in dynamic langs, including Clojure. Bottom line - there are truly no silver bullets. That's why we keep inventing new programming languages and new paradigms. But of course, once we pick up one "religion," we feel compelled to yell at others: "you're doing it wrong!"

I wonder what he meant by "Rules" (compared to "Conditions"), in his table where he describes "Complexity" vs "Simplicity".

Is it some kind of paradigm that exist in Clojure but not in procedural languages?

I believe conditionals is referring to if statements (and their ilk, switch/case/cond etc). Rules is referring to rule systems and/or more generally declarative knowledge systems. Things like core.logic in clojure (or prolog, datalog and minikanren in the wider world).

Stuff like this is not specific to clojure, however it would be harder to have an embedded rules system in your language if its not a lisp. You'd probably have have to resort to a string based DSL (something like drools in java).

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