I’m still alive

December came and went. January came and went. February came and went…

Yes, I’m alive. I’ve been going through a whirlwind this past few months. Here’s a few things that have gone on.

A promotion!

Yep, the wonderful folks I work for at {redacted} have given me the grand title of “Principal Software Developer.”

Having worked here for 5 years now, I am officially to blame for most all the code here. I’ve been here long enough to own it. It’s my bad, folks, but it’ll get better, I promise.

Softball Season

I help run a local girls’ slowpitch league, and have been coaching and umpiring for 5 years now. Softball season starts around the beginning of March, but the work up to the season starting is substantial.

Coaching and helping out my league is meaningful for me. I don’t have better words for it. It’s just an amazing thing that I love to do.


I was at Agile Open Northwest and a local programmer introduced a concept he was excited about called “tiny objects”, wherein he used C# to make objects that had:

  1. No state.
  2. Content that was immutable.
  3. Just methods.

Finally, he had constructed a few rules as well, to make mocking and testing easier.  Specifically, there was to be no static methods on an object.

var example = "some string";
var stringUpper = new StringUppercaser(example).Result;
Assert.That(stringUpper, Is.EqualTo("SOME STRING"));

It. Was. Surreal.

This developer was exactly where I had been. Frustrated by state logic. Completely tired of dealing with new ways to worry about async and threading issues. He just had not heard of or even considered that the language itself was part of the problem.

That is simply why this blog exists.

Immediately, I setup a quick session in the conference to go over how functional programming works, and where to learn about it. Hopefully, I helped some folks see the light, but I doubt it, as I didn’t have a great talk already ‘set up.’ My note to self after that session was that putting together a half-hour talk on What and Why F# is just something I should have in my back pocket.

So there it is.  With a new promotion and getting my team ready to go, we are knee deep in a hundred different maintenance projects. Too many projects, not enough F#!

Thanks to the folks at F# Weekly finding my Fishful of Dollars post!

A Fishful of Dollars

First of all, allow me to apologize for a solid month of failed updates. The world of coaching my son’s football team and bugbashing caused me to want to spend my time at home, asleep, rather than writing about my various misadventures in F#.

To update on the application rewrite, upcoming tax legislation has my firm in quite a tizzy, and is requiring an all-hands on deck approach for the next few weeks. Assuming the bill passes, we may be changing a lot of software, quite quickly, and absolutely none of that has anything to do with an old poorly-written report. The upcoming business need will be drastic, and preparing for that change is important to do.

That said, let’s play around a bit in F#!

I was watching an old episode of Futurama, when a question popped into my mind. If Fry left a bank account with $0.93 in it, at 2.25% interest, would he actually be sitting on a cool $4.3 billion after being frozen for 1000 years? Time to find out!

val fry : float = 4283508450.0

Looks like the math works… but man oh man does it take a while to get there. Using FSharp Charting and iterating over each year…

let fryOverTime = [ 1.0 .. 1000.0 ] 
                    |> List.map (fun t -> compound { Compounding = TimesPerYear 1.0
                                                     Rate = 0.0225
                                                     Principal = 0.93
                                                     TermInYears = t }  )

            , Name="Balance over Years"
            , XTitle = "Years"
            , YTitle = "Balance in Dollars")
       .WithXAxis(Min=0.0, Max=1000.0)
// because it's almost impossible to see any change until year 650 or so...
            , Name="Balance over Years"
            , XTitle = "Years"
            , YTitle = "Balance in Dollars")
       .WithXAxis(Min=0.0, Max=1000.0)
       .WithYAxis(Log = true)
Fry's Balance
Fry's BalanceIt looks like Fry’s bank account doesn’t get interesting until about 300 years or so. Still, compound interest is a wonder, despite whether or not Albert Einstein said so.

Coming Soon – Application Redesign in F#

We have a reporting application at {Redacted}, one I’ve spent more than a few hours maintaining. A colleague of mine and I (the junior developer I spoke of in a prior post) met up with the business owner of the reporting application, to talk about rebuilding the application in more functional way.

This application is not a terribly complicated one. In short, it takes data from multiple data sources, and re-aggregates it into a series of reports. It has however, had multiple developers come and “peek in”, drop code into it, and leave.  In the current C# implementation, it’s 5 distinct assemblies. There are 8 test assemblies to go with it.  It has a lot of business value riding on it being robust and correct, so the tests do seem warranted.

A word to the wise though… simple things that are more complicated than they should be AND that have a ton of tests are REFACTORING GOLD. Nothing feels better than taking something complex and unwinding it to it’s core essentials, and nothing feels better than doing it in F#!

We took a page out of For Fun and Profit’s DDD page and focused for nearly an hour on the objects and processes involved in this report. Naturally, the process seemed extremely solvable in a functional way.

Unfortunately, due to time constraints on the rest of the day we were only able to start with some very high level type definitions, but those type definitions described our problem in such a way that the business owner was able to see and understand.

We did the whole thing with an instance of VS Code and Ionide, and had types describing the objects and functions involved, all with just a simple “domain” setup in the process. Did we implement anything particularly? Well, kinda yeah, this is perfectly compile-able F# code, which as opposed to Gherkin or some other spec-based “code”, does not need a secondary interpreter.

That’s the crux of this application and function. I think we may be able to get this down to a few pages of code… as opposed to the novella you’d call it now. #FeelingHopeful

Fractions Cont’d, Factoring a Number

As we last spoke about Fractions, we had a simple task after getting a Fraction object. We wanted to reduce them. I was taught to rit educe a fraction by factorizing the numerator and denominator, and then crossing out the common factors. Then, multiplying the numbers together to get the reduced value. E.G.

 60        2 * 2 * 3 * 5        2 * 2 * 3 * 5       2 
----  =  -----------------  =  ---------------  =  ---
 90        2 * 3 * 3 * 5        2 * 3 * 3 * 5       3

The example above is a simple one.

So the question is, how do we best factor a number?

First, we define the mechanisms we require.  We need a way to define that a number is a factor of another.

let isFactor i pf =
    i % pf = 0I

What does this method buy us? First, it gives us a simple True/False flag defining whether or not a number is a factor of another. Namely, if the module of i and pf is 0I  (specifically, zero, as a System.Numerics.BigInteger), then we know that pf is a factor of i.

Next, we define a recursive function that takes two parameters, start and i. The idea of this function is to return a sequence of numbers from start to i, counting by twos. The start value is an option type, so if not present, it assumes 2 is a valid option, and starts the sequence there, then goes with every odd number. Note: I’m accepting as a given that this will do some checks against numbers it’s unnecessary to do that against.

Finally, I define my internal recursive loop to accumulate the resulting found factors. An interesting thing we’ve got here is some issues of partial application for function calls. The “findFunc” function is a partially applied isFactor call, with the i value already passed in. The reason I did this was to make the Seq.tryFind call easy to use, because the Seq.tryFind call is shaped like this:

('a -> bool) -> seq 'a -> Option 'a

But to get to my “bool”, I needed more than just a single ‘a parameter.  That’s why partial application was so valuable here! Instead of changing the function signature to meet my needs, I simply made a quick, easy to reference function by supplying some arguments ahead of time.

The rest of the function is fairly apparent. The loop recurses over the sequence, finding factors and then appending them to as the head of the accumulator (f::acc), until the Seq.tryFind call eventually returns None, and the accumulated list of factors is returned.

The last bits of the function just wrap up return values. In this case, we check for negative numbers, or a 0I being passed in.  Negative numbers are fairly easy to factor as they only require normal factorization of the inverse with -1I appended, and 0I simply returns an empty list.

With that, we get our results (mapped to ints, for ease of readability.)

getFactors 64000I |> List.map int;;
val it : int list = [5; 5; 5; 2; 2; 2; 2; 2; 2; 2; 2; 2]

getFactors 6423453000I |> List.map int;;
val it : int list = [8599; 83; 5; 5; 5; 3; 3; 2; 2; 2]

getFactors 9536923853063I |> List.map int64;;
val it : int64 list = [354041L; 178393L; 151L]

getFactors 953692385306332I |> List.map int64;;
// this one's still chugging.

The last thing to do here is to figure out how to avoid unnecessary iterations but that’s a topic for another blog.

Fun Friday (Monday version) – Fractions

This will be a slightly longer series of posts. I thought about treating fractions as a distinct problem, and wanted to find a way to code reducing fractions in a logical and meaningful way.

The first problem was describing the type. Naturally, you can do it a as simple pair:

type Fraction = int * int
let a = (-1, -2 : Fraction)  // negatives?

But that design describes some issues I’m not super keen on handling, namely negative denominators. Mathematically, negative denominators aren’t all that complicated to deal with, but in my head, it seemed unnecessary to solve them, so that led to the following:

type Fraction = int * uint32
let a = (-1, 2u : Fraction) // ugh, not as clean as I'd like

Now we’ve dealt with the negative denominator problem, but that leaves us describing fractions in a sort of “planar” way. Great for talking to a professor, but I’ve always been something of a “make it clear” personality. Record types work well for this.

type Fraction = { Numerator : int; Denominator : uint32 }
{ Numerator = 1 ; Denominator = 2u; }

Nice and pretty. Except 0 is a valid uint32 value. Shit.

type BiggerThanZero = private BiggerThanZero of uint32

module BiggerThanZero =

     let create uintValue =
          if (uintValue > 0u ) then BiggerThanZero uintValue
          else failwith "No zeros"

     let value (BiggerThanZero u) =

type Fraction = { Numerator: int; Denominator: BiggerThanZero }

Alright. Something is breaking my “F# is less verbose” than other languages spidey-sense here, in C#.

using System;

public class Fraction
    public struct BiggerThanZero
        public BiggerThanZero(UInt32 u)
            if(u == 0u) then 
                throw new ArgumentException("No zeros");
            Value = u;

        public UInt32 Value 

    public Fraction(int numerator, BiggerThanZero denominator)
        Numerator = numerator;
        Denominator = denominator;
    public int Numerator { get; }
    public BiggerThanZero Denominator { get; }

Nope, spidey-sense was off. C# is still more code. Phew… thought I was going to have to go back to OO land. 🙂

OK… so now we have a domain object. We cannot represent an object in the domain that is “invalid” in any way, so fundamentally, our functions should be easy to reason about.

So first thing… decimals to my new “Fraction” type.

let getFraction decimalValue = 
    let rec fract dm =
        let a = (d * m)
        let r = a % 1.0m
        match r with
            | 0.0m -> { Numerator = (int a) ; Denominator = BiggerThanZero.create (uint32 m)}
            | _ -> fract d (m * 10.0m)
    fract decimalValue 10.0m

This function goes back to our old friend, the recursive inner function. We take our input decimal value, and multiplying it by 10, and calling the result ‘a’ (shorthand for ‘amount’). Then we take ‘a’, and get the decimal part of that value by applying the modulo function to it and 1.0, and naming that value ‘r’ (shorthand for remainder). Assuming that ‘r’ is non-zero, we recurse into the loop, updating the multiplier to another factor of 10 greater than what we had before. Otherwise, we simply return a Fraction object, with the Numerator set to ‘a’, and the Denominator set to the multiple. E.G.


getFraction 0.4m;;
val it : Fraction = { Numerator = 4; Denominator = BiggerThanZero 10u }

getFraction 0.542m;;
val it : Fraction = { Numerator = 542; Denominator = BiggerThanZero 1000u }
getFraction 0.8675421m;;
val it : Fraction = { Numerator = 8675421; Denominator = BiggerThanZero 10000000u }

This is the start of our Fractions work, and although it’s correct, it’s certainly got some potential error cases. Our int and uint32 bases for values could be overflowed. That’s fixed in the following.

Next time, we’ll deal with reducing our fractions.


Managing Expectations

Non-F# content warning: Skip to the next one if you’re not interested in general stuff.

Generally, a working programmer doesn’t have too many difficult “non-programming” tasks. Difficulty is the name of our game, and we like it that way. That said, one of the most critical skills a developer has is to manage folks’ expectations of you. Thought-work, in general requires a level of communication that seems nonstandard and maybe a little unnatural to your work.

The reality of being a working programmer is this: Your boss probably doesn’t exactly understand what you’re doing. Your boss may be relying on you to do a good job, regardless of his/her detailed understanding of your work. Making sure those expectations are set properly is key to keeping this relationship copacetic.

An Example: A customer asks you to sneak in a quick feature. You’ve taken a swag at it, and it looks like it won’t take more than a few hours and doesn’t impact anything, so you agree. Your customer leaves you happy, and everything seems fine. Fast forward to a week from now. The feature you were supposed to be working is late, and blocking everything going out. Your customer, who felt like his request was tiny, and shouldn’t impact anything, complains to your boss that the feature is late. Your boss, who has no idea that you agreed to anything, has now the unpleasant task of defending why the feature is late, even though she/he didn’t know it was part of the release. That makes her/him look disorganized and incompetent, and that’s not how you want to make your boss feel or look, even if you hate her/him.

Take a look at your day to day interactions and communications. Do folks know what you are doing? Do they know when you releasing your work?

Here’s a tip. Don’t assume that folks are reading every email, or “making the connection.” Make yourself very clear about what you are doing, when you expect to be complete, and if there are any items blocking you. If you are not sure yourself what to be doing, there is a very good chance you have not managed expectations well.



Fun Friday – Diamonds are Forever

Sometimes you write code you’re just not super happy with.

The Diamond Kata is a simple kata to take a single character parameter, and return a “diamond” shaped string.  Examples:

diamond 'A';; 
val it : string = "A"

diamond 'B';;
val it : string = "
 A "

diamond 'C';;
val it : string = "
 B B 
C   C
 B B 
  A  "


That’s how I describe this Kata I was working on. I’m just not super happy with it. It feels wordy, and a bit inelegant. Still, it does work (as long as you pass a character ‘greater’ than upper case A. I should probably enforce that sometime… but for now, here it is.

TDD in Fable and React – can it be done?

I’ve been working to evangelize F# through {Redacted} for about a year now. I started with tests, and the build server, using FAKE and using standard tools.

In one of our Dev org meetings today, a junior developer brought up his experience with Fable, after noting how much fun I was having and sharing while coding in F#.

His review was fantastic. He was using React, and comparing native Javascript versions to what F# was enabling him to produce, and the code was more terse and wonderful. One of the things you immediately notice about React components is that the markup is still quite messy, and there is certainly something “icky” feeling about combining your markup and javascript. With Fable, Elmish and React, you are simply calling functions, with no extra tags that you don’t need.

Fundamentally though, the debugging story wasn’t great, and the TDD story was equally difficult, as he couldn’t figure out how to immediately test against a virtual DOM in his Fable F# code. For now, I ask the community, how do you best do that? How do you test that the virtual DOM actually contains the react component in question? How do you test it? I have a feeling that in the next week or so, I’ll find out.

Modeling the Domain : Short Codes

Anyone who’s read For Fun and Profit’s domain modeling exercise may see some similarities in today’s code. Mainly, I wanted to point out the value of quickly being able to create types that describe my functions here.  For context, I’m in the middle of rewriting a sticky report that consumes data from a ton of different places… this is an example (slightly modified, to avoid spilling too many of {Redacted}’s beans.)

In the above, we’re dealing with a thing called ‘Short Codes.’ At redacted, we have a shortened string which represents many of our more common domain objects, called a ‘Short Code’ which makes domain objects easily identifiable when viewed in spreadsheets.

In C# code, we’ll typically treat these objects as simple strings, or you deal with of domain types as espoused in Vladir Khorikov’s Pluralsight course, “Applying Functional Principles in C#”.

But in F#, you get drastically simpler code, that gives you similar benefits.

  1. Any change to ShortCodes can be done once, and all references using it get the change. That’s as DRY as it comes.
  2. ShortCodes can be equal to each other, but AccountShortCodes cannot be equal to ProductShortCodes cannot be (try it in FSI, you get compiler errors!)
  3. The modules allow us to retain the business logic, so we avoid the annoying issues of duplicating validation code everywhere. If I reference an AccountShortCode, it’s implied that I created one successfully in the first place!

The code to do stuff becomes quite easy:

type ConsumingRecord = { ShortCode : AccountShortCode
                         ImportantValue : decimal }

let m = AccountShortCode.create "APPLE";;
// m is an AccountShortCode option, because of the 
// validation logic there, so we need it from the option, 
// before we push it into our consuming type.

let n = { ShortCode = (Option.get m)
          ImportantValue = 5.0m}

The subtle thing here is that we have to actually deal with the fact that it’s an option. We CAN fail to get an AccountShortCode here, depending on what we pass in, but once we have a “ConsumingRecord” object, the validity of the ShortCode is guaranteed. This only works, however, because F# doesn’t do nulls. Once your language does nulls, it throws this stuff right out the window.

But I’m sure eventually C# will get that, too. You’ll just have to use an attribute to make your class less C-sharpy. 😉

Not Much F# Today

You ever have one of those days when everything goes wrong and it’s all a C# developer’s fault? I kid, of course, but it made for a difficult day with almost no sitting at my own desk to actually get anything done.

My mission is to update this blog every day, regardless of what I actually accomplish for the day. Today, I saved the world, and solved problems that were a little more tactical in nature. I did enjoy a welcome to the firm lunch with a new QA in the office, but beyond that, very little coding.