48 episodes

The Future of Coding podcast features interviews with toolmakers, researchers, computational artists, educators, and engineers, all with compelling viewpoints on what the future of computing could be.

Future of Codin‪g‬ Future of Coding

    • Technology
    • 5.0 • 18 Ratings

The Future of Coding podcast features interviews with toolmakers, researchers, computational artists, educators, and engineers, all with compelling viewpoints on what the future of computing could be.

    Jennifer Jacobs: Para & Dynamic Brushes

    Jennifer Jacobs: Para & Dynamic Brushes

    "Metaphors are important here."

    There's a small handful of people that I've been requested again and again to interview on the Future of Coding podcast. Jennifer Jacobs is one of those people. Her work on Dynamic Brushes in particular, and parametric drawing in general, occupies a major intersection between disciplines and provides insights that we can all apply to our own work. This interview touches on childhood education, programming tools for both non-programmers and expert programmers, tangible interfaces, wearable and embodied computation, aesthetics, the relationship between academia and industry, means of evaluating the efficacy of projects, geometric encodings of first-order logic, symbolic representations, whether Scratch could exist outside MIT, and more. Jennifer does a wonderful job articulating the nature her own work, but also the works of her collaborators, peers, and influences, so that we come away with a great understanding for the broader spaces in which her research fits. Jennifer is already am important figure in our Future of Coding field, and I am very excited to follow her career and see all the places the impacts of her work will be felt.

    You'll notice right away that Steve is sitting in the interviewer chair this time. This is the first of a handful of episodes that Steve recorded in 2019 but didn't release. I'm planning to edit and release them throughout 2020, so you'll hear a bit more of Steve yet.

    The transcript for this episode was sponsored by Repl.it. Show notes and the full transcript are available here: https://futureofcoding.org/episodes/48

    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 1 hr 52 min
    Max/MSP & Pure Data: Miller Puckette

    Max/MSP & Pure Data: Miller Puckette

    Miller Puckette created "The Patcher" Max (the precursor to Max/MSP), and later Pure Data, two of the most important tools in the history of visual programming and computer music. Max was designed by Miller in the mid-1980s as an aid to computer-music composers who wanted to build their own dynamic systems without needing write C code. Max had no facility for sound generation at first, but that would come eventually with the addition of MSP. A decade later, after some academic politics nonsense forced him away from Max, Miller went on to create its successor, the open source Pure Data. Both Max/MSP and Pure Data have become wildly popular, with Max/MSP as a more polished-looking commercial product developed by Cycling '74 (now owned by music behemoth Ableton), and Pure Data as the thriving independent community project of hackers and techno-punks. Node-and-wire visual programming languages are almost a cliche at this point, as the vast majority of them either borrow heavily or at least reference the visual design of Miller Puckette's original Max patcher and its MSP/Pd offspring. Though as you'll hear in the interview, many of them are poorer for not rethinking some of the underling assumptions of their inspiration.

    I decided to bring Miller on the show after hearing a fabulous interview of him by Darwin Grosse on the Art + Music + Technology podcast. (Tip: subscribe, it's good.) Miller gave a great retelling of the history of Max and Pure Data and the forces at play when he created them, and that episode is a tidy complement the more design-focussed interview here on our show. Miller mentioned in passing that one of the three books he has yet to write would be his thoughts on realtime scheduling, so that was the initial hook for my interview. Looking back on the 30+ years of Max/Pd history, what has he learned about the design of tools? What were the alternative ideas that he didn't pursue? Where is there room for improvement, perhaps by others picking up where he left off?

    In this interview, Miller said a handful of things that were, well, painful for me to hear as a dogmatic champion of visual programming. So if you come into this thinking it'll be a well-earned hour of congratulation and adoration, sit up and get ready to flip the dang table. This interview was a blast; on a personal level, I was thrilled to have the chance to talk to such an influential figure in the history of my field, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

    Quote of the Show: "It's not only powerful, but it's also inadequate."

    The transcript for this episode was sponsored by Repl.it. For the full transcript and links go to https://futureofcoding.org/episodes/047

    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 1 hr 10 min
    2020 Community Survey

    2020 Community Survey

    This was originally meant to be a little mini-episode halfway through March, with the next full episode coming at the start of April. Would you believe me if I told you that some things happened in the world that caused me to change my plans? Shocker, I know.

    Well, it's finally here. In today's episode, I'll reflect and commentate on the results of the first ever Future of Coding Community Survey. The show notes for this episode are full of graphs of the survey results, so be sure to take a look at that too.

    As ever, thanks to Repl.it for sponsoring those show notes.

    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 1 hr 4 min
    Orca: Devine Lu Linvega

    Orca: Devine Lu Linvega

    Orca is a visual programming environment for making music. Except it's not graphical, it's just text arranged in a grid. Except it doesn't actually make music, it just silently emits digital events across time. When you first see it, it's utterly alien. When you start to learn how it works and why, the logic of it all snaps into place, and it becomes a thrilling case study for authors of live programming environments and interactive media tools.

    Devine Lu Linvega, Orca's creator, struck a wonderful balance between flashy style and significant utility. Orca is typically encountered as an inky black and seafoam green alphabet soup, pulsating to some species of broody electronic industrial throb. But it is also a forgiving learning environment that doesn't crash, puts code and data together in the same space, lets you directly manipulate code and data interchangeably, allows generous recovery from mistakes, and supports discovery through freeform play.

    I invited Devine to come on the show specifically to brain dump about the design process of Orca, how he started the project and built it up to what it is today. During our three-hour conversation we wound up talking a lot about all the other tools he's created, and you can hear that discussion on last month's episode. This time it's all Orca — inspirations, execution model, operators, interface, system design, ports & reimplementations, interactions with other tools, and the community.

    This episode contains many snippets of music, as examples of what you can make using Orca. All of it was created by Devine, and is available on his Youtube channel. If you like a particular piece and want to hear the full thing — and see exactly how Devine made it — they are all linked in the transcript at the point that they appear in the show. So just scroll and skim, or search the transcript for some phrase that neighbours the song you want to find.

    Quote of the show: "It's for children. The documentation fits in a tweet, basically."


    Devine Lu Linvega is our guest. He and his partner Rekka funnel their lives and creativity into Hundred Rabbits. Devine has created countless tools, but Orca is the focus of today's episode. He also appeared on the previous episode. Support them on Patreon, so they can keep making amazing things like Orca.

    At the dawn of time, Devine was inspired to make a game by misunderstanding an Autechre music video. I don't know which one he meant, but here's a classic. And, why not, here's my favourite song of theirs. Yes, that's one song. Put on some big headphones and play it loud while you read, debug, sleep, drive, trip, what have you.

    In the theme of creation through misunderstanding, Orca was inspired by a misunderstanding of Tidal.

    It's not mentioned in the episode, but I wanted to link to this Tidal remix (By Lil Data, aka FoC community member Jack Armitage) of a song by Charli XCX. This remix slaps, but... you can't really feel what the music is going to do based on the code, hey?

    Rami Ismail hosted a year long game jam, for which Devine and a friend created a little block-based puzzle game named Pico, which would eventually become Orca.

    Sam Aaron created the music coding tool Sonic Pi, which is included by default with Raspbian. It reminded Devine a little bit of Processing without the compile time, and seemed similar to Xcode's Playgrounds.

    Dwarf Fortress, ADOM (Ancient Domains of Mystery), and other Roguelike games are precursors to the 2D character grid of Orca. The code structures you create resemble the patterns in Game of Life.

    Learning how to read Orca code is like learning to read the code in The Matrix.

    Orca's traveling N E S W operators are likened to Rube Goldberg machines, rolling ball sculptures, and the Incredible Machine.

    Orca is a language that uses "bangs", a concept borrowed from Max/MSP and Pure Data. Devine also made a

    • 1 hr 34 min
    Making Your Own Tools: Devine Lu Linvega

    Making Your Own Tools: Devine Lu Linvega

    We live in a world that is gradually becoming more closed off, more controlled, more regional. Our relationship with technology is now primarily one of consumption, buying new hardware on a regular cycle, using software conceptualized to meet a market need and fulfill promises made to venture capitalists. It's common to hear people talk about both computing hardware and software as though they were appliances, not meant to be user-serviced, not meant to be modified. The tools we use are being designed for the 80% who live in a city, use grid electricity, want to keep up with the industry, and have an unacknowledged learned helplessness about the limitations of their tools.

    Devine Lu Linvega and his partner Rekka live on a sailboat. He makes art, music, software, and other cultural artifacts. When Photoshop's DRM required that he maintain a connection to the internet, he wrote his own creative suite. When his MacBook died in the middle of the ocean, he switched to Linux with hardware he could service. His electricity comes from solar panels, and every joule counts — so that's out with Chrome and Electron and in with Scheme, C, assembly, and maybe someday Forth.

    I wanted to interview Devine with a main focus on just one of the dozens of tools he's created over the past few years — Orca, a spatial programming environment for generating synchronized realtime events. It's ostensibly a tool for music, but has been applied to all sorts of other disciplines in wildly creative ways. Devine and I ended up talking for over three hours, and after editing out everything superfluous there was still too much matter for just one episode. So we're going to take this in two pieces. Today, you'll hear the bits of our conversation that covered everything other than Orca — Devine's philosophy, the stories of his other tools, the ways in which boat life have forced certain technology choices on him. On the next episode we'll have the rest — a deep dive into Orca, covering the thinking and story behind the design of the tool, the community that has picked it up and run with it in all sorts of wild directions, and lots of little nooks and crannies in the space around this fascinating project.

    My hope is that the topics discussed today will let you see from Devine's perspective, so that when we look at Orca in detail you can appreciate exactly why it is the way it is, and take away valuable lessons for your own projects.

    Given that his most recent explorations have been making art and programming tools that run on the NES, the best quote of the show has to be: "I never want to have a stronger computer than the one I have today."


    Devine Lu Linvega is our guest. He and his partner Rekka funnel their lives and creativity into Hundred Rabbits. Devine has created countless tools, but Orca, Ronin, Left, Dotgrid, the 1-bit drawing tool Noodle and it's 3D scene layout tool Poodle are particularly fascinating. His website is like a wiki, a time tracking tool, and an alternate universe.

    Devine released a series of beautiful illustrations for Inktober.

    Repl.it is our Sponsor. Email jobs@repl.it if you'd like to work on the future of coding.

    Folks interested in energy-efficient spatial programming should watch this Strange Loop talk by Chuck Moore about the Forth programming language.

    Potentially similar projects include Inferno and ChrysaLisp.

    The resilient, living systems of Dave Ackley are also fascinating.

    The transcript for this episode was sponsored by Repl.it and can be found at https://futureofcoding.org/episodes/044#full-transcript

    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 55 min
    Unveiling Dark: Ellen Chisa & Paul Biggar

    Unveiling Dark: Ellen Chisa & Paul Biggar

    Last Monday, Ellen Chisa and Paul Biggar unveiled Dark, a new web-based programming environment for creating backend web services. In these conversations, first with Ellen and then with Paul, we discuss how they met, conceived of the idea, iterated on the product, and what their long-term vision is for the product.

    Dark is a web-based, structured editor with a data store built-in. It's code has a functional programming feel to it, but it also embraces what they call "functional/imperative". For example, their "error rail" allows programmers to defer handling nil-cases, much like a dynamically-typed language, but still keeps track of their existence in a monadic structure, like a statically-typed language, but without users having to learn anything about monads!

    Paul often brings the discussion of Dark back to Fred Brook's distinction in _No Silver Bullet_ between essential and accidental complexity. I had fun in this interview diving into the Aristotelian roots of that distinction. We also debated the meaning of the terms "no-code" and "low-code", and whether either could be applied to Dark.

    Dark removes accidental complexity around infrastructure and deployment. There is no separate step to deploy code in Dark. It's "deployless". Every single change to a Dark codebase is instantly (in 50ms, the time it takes to get your incremental change to the server) deployed to production servers. Of course this doesn't mean that every change you make is instantly deployed to _users_, but simply put on production servers behind a feature flag _ready_ to be rolled out at your discretion. Deployment, getting code running locally to run in production, is eliminated because all code is running on Dark's platform at all times. What remains is simply choosing when to release that code to users.

    One of my favorite parts of Dark is how readable its editor makes functional programming, which I typically find intimidating and difficult to parse. The Dark editor saves all past HTTP requests to all routes, and then uses those values to provide "live data" for every intermediate expression in that route. A dense section of code becomes totally comprehensible by clicking through each expression and seeing actual past values that have inhabited that expression. It combines of the best parts of a debugger and sprinkled console.log statements, but without the downsides of either.

    I'm glad that we had the opportunity in this conversation to dwell on some of the trade-offs of using Dark. Paul and Ellen are well aware of the risks customers face by moving their applications onto the Dark platform, and hope to alleviate those risks as much as possible. For example, they are looking into creating a legal structure that will make Dark open-source in the event that Dark shuts down.

    Paul Biggar is best-known in the Valley for co-founding CircleCI, a tool for continuous integration and deployment. At heart, he's a compilers nerd: he got a PhD in compilers, worked on the JavaScript compiler at Mozilla, built CircleCI which is a compiler for deployment, and is now building Dark, a programming language, environment, and infrastructure compiler.

    Ellen Chisa is passionate about helping people make things. She worked at Microsoft on Office Mobile, at Kickstarter, and started a company that built tools for travel agents, Lola.

    The full transcript for this episode was sponsored by repl.it and can be found at: https://futureofcoding.org/episodes/043#full-transcript

    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 2 hr 27 min

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