Distributed Coding Prefunc: Some Basic Erlang & Erlang Shell Basics

Erlang LogoThe first few parts of this series include:

This continues the series, with the intent of getting to “Distributed Coding” with this all ramping up around Erlang and distributed programing in general. In this entry we’ll jump into some of the basics of Erlang and the shell that we can use to test and write some code.

Erlang Basics : The Shell & Some Integers

Before getting to deep into things, here’s some basic shell usage commands and integers to get a feel for the Erlang shell. To start the shell just type erl, which will present the following in the terminal.

[sourcecode language=”erlang”]
$ erl
Erlang R15B01 (erts-5.9.1) [source] [smp:4:4] [async-threads:0] [hipe] [kernel-poll:false]

Eshell V5.9.1 (abort with ^G)

To exit the shell just type “q().” and hit enter like this.

[sourcecode language=”erlang”]
$ erl
Erlang R15B01 (erts-5.9.1) [source] [smp:4:4] [async-threads:0] [hipe] [kernel-poll:false]

Eshell V5.9.1 (abort with ^G)
1> q().
2> $

It’ll execute a second line that will dump you back out to the terminal. One thing to note, is that when you execute “q().” it drops to a second line numbered two above. If we start the shell back up again and type in some actual code we’ll see that the numbers increment. The idea is similar to each line of code in a code file.

Start up the shell again and type the following.

[sourcecode language=”erlang”]
$ erl
Erlang R15B01 (erts-5.9.1) [source] [smp:4:4] [async-threads:0] [hipe] [kernel-poll:false]

Eshell V5.9.1 (abort with ^G)
1> q().
2> Adrons-MacBook-Air-2:erlangMagic adronhall$ clear
Adrons-MacBook-Air-2:erlangMagic adronhall$ erl
Erlang R15B01 (erts-5.9.1) [source] [smp:4:4] [async-threads:0] [hipe] [kernel-poll:false]

Eshell V5.9.1 (abort with ^G)
1> -69.
2> 2#1212
2> 2#1212.
* 1: syntax error before: 212
2> 2#1010.
3> $A.
4> $B.
5> $a.
6> 2*2+100.

What I’ve done here is enter some values, primarily all integers. These integers, on the first line is a negative integer. By entering a “.” at the end, the lines executes and returns the value. In this case, the value is “-69”.

The second line, I entered “2#1212” without entering a period to finish the line of code. Thus, nothing executes.

The third line I entered the same thing as the second, “2#1212” which is not valid, giving us a syntax error. On the next line I tweak my value just a bit, entering a valid hexadecimal number “2#1010” with the appropriate period at the end. The line executes and it displays the decimal integer “10”.

So far at this point, this shows us several things:

  • Every line must end with a period to execute.
  • We’ve seen a negative integer, a positive hexadecimal integer and an invalid integer and the error that throws “* 1: syntax error before: 212”.
  • We’ve seen that when the line in the shell successfully executes we get the next incremental line, such as “-69.” was on the first line, the first successful second line was the “2#1010.” value and as we move through each line above the code line increases.
  • A valid integer includes -69, but also includes a hexadecimal representation of an integer such as “#2#1010”.

Moving beyond these values the “$A”, “$B” and “$a” are all ASCII representations and return their numeral values.

On line six I actually perform a basic calculator type multiplication and addition of integer values, which returns the integer value 104.

Now that we have the shell start and stop figured out, that gives us a platform in which to start stepping through some of the basics of Erlang.

Erlang Floats

Above we’ve seen how regular integers are represented such as 2, 100 or -69 along with hexadecimal and ASCII numeric representations. For floats, we’re looking at similar uses. Spool up the shell again and try out these examples.

[sourcecode language=”erlang”]1> 21.21.
2> -1234.1234.
3> 3042.1.
4> 650.21
4> 650.21.
* 2: syntax error before: 650.21
4> 650.21
4> 650.21.
* 2: syntax error before: 650.21
4> 650.21.

Lines 1-3 show some standard floats. On the first part of line four I left off the period to show that it won’t accept the line, even with a period in it, because of the numbers after that period. In that second line number four I’ve added the period, but it throws a syntax error.

Then note I did the exact same thing again, to show that entering a float and then adding the period, will still leave the float broken because of the way the Erlang compiler is waiting to execute the code. It’s almost like the compiler sees “650.21650.21” which of course doesn’t mean anything. However on the fifth line of the number four lines, I finally get a good execution and it displays the float I’ve entered “650.21”. Be sure when you’re fixing values like this, the compiler could be stuck in mid execution, because without the period at the very end, being the last character on the line, the compiler is still waiting for the period to actually start the execution.

Mathematical Operators, You Know Those Things That Help Math Explain the Universe!

Erlang has the standard operators that you’re used to, especially if you’ve done anything with a language based around C syntax such as JavaScript, Java, C#, C++, Objective-C… well, pretty much every regularly used static typed language and more. In functional languages these operators are pretty common too. If any don’t look familiar, be sure to get intimate with them. You’ll find them all over Erlang code.

The + and – characters act as addition and subtraction, but also as unary operators. In order of precedence, the unary operations of the + and – have the highest precedence and the addition and subtraction usage of the + and – have the lowest precedence.

The * and / signify multiplication and division. They’re precedence is just below that of the unary operators of + and -.

Two that are a slight bit unique, is the usage of “div” and “rem” for division and remainder, for integer numbers. This begs to bring up the point that whenever an integer is involved in multiplication, division, addition, subtraction or other operations, it is coerced into a float when being operated on against another float. Such as 2 + 3.47 would mean that 2 is turned into a float before it is added to 3.47.

Here’s some examples of operations occurring between numbers via the shell.

[sourcecode language=”erlang”]
$ erl
Erlang R15B01 (erts-5.9.1) [source] [smp:4:4] [async-threads:0] [hipe] [kernel-poll:false]

Eshell V5.9.1 (abort with ^G)
1> +15.
2> +2.
3> -11.
4> 11 div 5.
5> 12 div 5
5> .
6> 15 div 5.
7> 14 div 5.
8> (12 + 345) div 12.
9> (3+2)/5.
10> 2*3*4.12.
11> 1+1+1+1+13+-2.
12> 2/3 + 3/4 – (1/2 + 2/3) – 1.
13> 14 rem 5.

These examples show a number of effects of how the operators work. Notable is how everything looks very much like simple math being done. This is one of the more readable aspects of Erlang. Note also that the rounding generally goes down.

The Adron Code Tour, Let’s Hack, Bike and Talk Hard Core Technology

I’m aiming to do over the first couple of months of 2013, to come to various towns throughout the United States and prospectively parts of Europe & England to code, bike, code some more, bike and generally hang out with the coders that are making waves and getting work done in the particular cities that I’m visiting. That’s where my question comes into play.

What towns should I visit, and who’s interested in hacking some code, talking shop, biking around town, showing me the places to be and generally hanging out? A few of the cities that are on my list of places to visit already include the following.

United States Stops

  • Spokane, Washington
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Portland, Oregon (this doesn’t really count, since I live here)
  • Oakland, California
  • San Francisco, California
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Orange County, California
  • San Diego, California
  • Austin, Texas
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • New York, New York
  • Boca Raton, Florida
  • Jacksonville, Florida
  • New Orleans, Louisiana,
  • Charlotte, North Carolina

England & Europe Stops

  • London, England
  • Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Copenhagen, Denmark

So that’s the list so far. I’ve got a lot of logistics to figure out. But it still leaves the question, who else is up for a visit? Is there a user group in your town that I should stop at? Anything related to PaaS, Cloud Computing, or Coding & Software Craftsmanship you’d like me to come speak about?

The things I’ll be aiming to hack on and blog, code, discuss and find out what each local community is focusing on and trying to make progress on includes these things:

Key Discussion Topics : I’d love to talk with as many people as possible about these.

  • PaaS – Platform as a Service Technologies. What are you using? AppHarbor, AppFog, Tier 3, AWS, Azure or something else?
  • Cloud Computing – What do you see as the greatest benefits, but more importantly what are the greatest issues to resolve and make progress around in your country, community and in your day to day job?
  • What’s the stack, framework and languages that you deal with on a daily basis? What’s your polyglot soup and what trends are you seeing?

Polyglot Soup : Are you hitting the Node.js, .NET, Java, Ruby on Rails, Sinatra or is the focus elsewhere?

  • What’s the feel for Ruby on Rails, Sinatra and the ruby community in general in your area?
  • How’s the Java vs. .NET peacetime activities (cuz ya know the war is over). How are each holding up under Oracle and Microsoft respectively? Are you still using them anywhere?
  • What’s the Node.js community like in your area? Are you doing full JavaScript stack development yet?
  • Hitting any of the outlier languages that have big impacts like; Go, Scala, F#, Erlang or any of the others? Powerful languages with an extremely small development community. I’m always curious about the activities here.

Feel free to send me an e-mail, call me, txt me, message me, skype me, or please comment below! I’m open to all ideas and thoughts. If you have a couch I can crash on, have a suggestion about a cool hotel, an awesome place to visit in one of these cities, please let me know. Over the next few months I’ll be trying to figure out this tour of mine and will be finalizing the locations soon, which I’ll announce and blog heavily on what we’ll hack, etc. I’ll also alude to the biking adventures I’ll partake upon.

Biking wild and coding crazy, cheers!

Coder Society Seattle, Inaugural Report!

Coder Society Seattle got off to a start this weekend on this beautiful sunny Saturday! We all mozied into the Blue Box offices in downtown Seattle a mere block away from Pike Place Market.
After a relaxed gathering we circled up to break out the kanban with the story ideas around our problem domain. We knocked this out in short order, all ready to dive into groups, frameworks, and determine what we’d learn for the day.

Clive, our picture taker, arriving at Blue Box
Clive, our picture taker, arriving at Blue Box (Click through on the image, you’ll need a Google+ Account)

We all then took a democratic vote on which tech stacks we’d all work with for the day. We came concluded the vote with Sinatra and Node.js as our primary two framework stacks.

During this voting however we broached the topic of doing Backbone.js and Knockout.js. So we decided that, instead of two, we would break into three groups. This created two server side web services teams and a more pure client side team. Each team would act as if they were an independent startup, working specifically to provide a web data service API or respectively a UI that offered a mash up of this data.

Kicking off the day...
Kicking off the day…

Using Sinatra for the Barista Business Data Domain


Backbone.js & Knockout.js for the Bash Up of Barista + Coffee Drinker Business Domain


Using Node.js for the Coffee Drinkers Business Domain


(NOTE: Some members didn’t have twitters yet, I’ll add em’ when they send em’.)

I Can Write on Post Its!
I Can Write on Post Its!

After the breakout we all dove into getting our various domains done. Many of us were not versed well with our respective technology stack we chose. Some time was consumed digging into that. After a few hours everyone had gotten a few solid key features done. In addition we’d all broken out our direct business objects into a set of models, interfaces, etc.

Mid-day we used the “Put your order on a post it note” ordering system and I (@adron) headed off to retrieve a true Chipotle Lunch. While there I experienced the odd queueing mismanagement that can happen since I had multiple orders and an unclear way to provide the messaging needed to get those orders into the “queue”. However, I succeeded finally and we all enjoyed lunch, courtesy of Tier 3! Thanks Tier 3!

Coder Society Coders Coding Node.js (and Sinatra in the other room... etc)
Coder Society Coders Coding Node.js (and Sinatra in the other room… etc)

We came toward the end of the day having learned a lot, built various aspects of what we had intended and all joined back up in the common space for a review of the day. There were a number of lessons learned that’ll will be integrated into the Coder Society flow. It was unanimously voted to be a successful day by the group. We did a short review of things to do slightly different and came up with these conclusions:

  • Send links to git and github tutorials for those that aren’t familiar with this source control technology.
  • Determine frameworks and specifics to configuring machines ahead of time.
  • For web application development, PaaS by far saves hours of configuration and setup. Keep doing this in the future. However for certain “topics” we broach we’ll still use IaaS or other systems as needed.
  • Minimize user stories to 3-4 specific stories per team. Have more flexible kanban boards that can be moved around or taken (re: like a poster board) to the area teams break out to.

With that, the inaugural meetups in Seattle and Portland are complete. I’m aiming for one more in San Francisco and then working to organize regular monthly meetings for the Coder Society. I hope you’ll join us in the future. If you’re interested in kicking off a Coder Society user group in your city feel free to ping me @adron on Twitter and we’ll coordinate.  Cheers!

Why Clean Code Seriously Matters!

The first example is some working code, that determines if a date value is a weekend day and returns true or false based on that.

[sourcecode language=”csharp”]
bool firstSecondNulls = false;
var dayOfWeek = (DateTime) zeros.ElementAtOrDefault(i).BalanceDate;
if (dayOfWeek.DayOfWeek == DayOfWeek.Sunday || dayOfWeek.DayOfWeek == DayOfWeek.Saturday)
firstSecondNulls = true;
return firstSecondNulls;

This second example also provides the same result, except in a more readable, cleaner, and more efficient way. Matter of fact, I’d say in some circumstances it is exponentially more efficient! Do you see why?

[sourcecode language=”csharp”]
var dayOfWeek = (DateTime) zeros.ElementAtOrDefault(i).BalanceDate;
return dayOfWeek.DayOfWeek == DayOfWeek.Sunday || dayOfWeek.DayOfWeek == DayOfWeek.Saturday;

This is an insanely simple example. But just imagine some of the nightmarish methods and functions, with hundreds of lines of code. Keep in mind, that those nightmares are minimal compared to the Enterprise Scale 1000+ plus line methods! Yes, those exist and they are beyond nightmares but holocausts of thought and design!

So the next time you think “meh, I’ll refactor it later.” just take that extra minute or two and do it now! The pay off, you know full well when you think about it, is massive in the end. Cheers!