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The Aesthetics of Programming Tools: Jack Rusher

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Ivan Reese guest hosts.

I've been intimidated by Jack Rusher from the first blush. I mean, he's wearing a high-collared fur coat and black sunglasses in his Twitter pic, and his bio includes "Bell Labs Researcher". So when tasked with choosing a subject for my first interview, I immediately reached out to him, leaning in to my nervousness. His reply included the detail that he's "generally hostile to the form" of podcasting. Terrifying.

When we talked, it was about Lisp — several flavours of Scheme and Racket, Common Lisp, Lisp machines, Black, Clojure, parens of all stripes. It was also about aesthetics, and graphic design, the relative ignorance of typical programming tools to the capability of the visual cortex, and how to better tap it. This podcast's streak of discussions about Coq, miniKanren, TLA+, and Alloy continues, with the addition of QuickCheck and the like. Jack presents his work on a literate editor for Clojure called Maria.cloud, an environment that makes a number of unusual and interesting choices both in the design and implementation, reaching for an ideal blend of features that afford both instant beginner enthusiasm and unrestricted expert use. We pay our respects to the phenomenal red carpet that video games roll out to new players, inviting them in to the model and mechanics of the game with an apparent ease and apt ability that should be the envy of programming toolsmiths like us. The show ends with Jack sharing an excellent collection of plugs, ranging from academic papers by the relatively obscure Stéphane Conversy, to the aesthetically-lush programming tools pouring out of Hundredrabbits's Devine Lu Linvega.

I am no longer terrified of Jack's persona. Rather, I am now humbled by his towering expertise and the wildly varied accomplishments of his career, and it was a thrill to get to tour them in this interview. Best quote of the show: "A kind of grotesque capitulation to sameness." Damn, Jack!


Jack Rusher is our esteemed guest. He is on Twitter, Instagram, and SoundCloud. Applied Science is his consultancy, and Maria.cloud is their beautifully designed literate Clojure editor.

Ivan Reese hosts. He's on Twitter, works on educational media, is making a visual programming tool, and plays 100 instruments — badly. He started life with HyperCard and now loves Max/MSP.

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

Complex Event Processing is a bit of technology Jack helped commercialize.

ClojureVerse is where a discussion of Luna led to the Visual Programming Codex, based on the History of Lisp Parens by Shaun Lebron.

QuickCheck, miniKanren, Datalog, Black Scheme, and Oleg Kiselyov are touched on. Out of the Tar Pit has its mandatory mention, and then Chez Scheme saves the day.

I wanted to link to the Maru project but the author, Ian Piumata's website seems to be down and I could find no other canonical reference. There's some discussion on Hacker News and such. If you know of a good link, I'd love a PR.

Scheme Bricks and Media Molecule's Dreams are interesting touchstones on the road to future visual programming languages. Ivan has an affinity for Pure Data and Max/MSP and vvvv.

When talking about tools for beginners versus experts, Rich Hickey's Design, Composition, and Performance is invoked — and poor Shostakovich.

Jack's main is Maria.cloud, named in honour of Maria Montessori. SICP gets a nod. Maria has proven useful at Clojure Bridge. Matt Hubert [Twitter] created the Cells abstraction that Maria was eventually built atop — it's similar to ObservableHQ.

Video games like Steel Battalion, The Witness, and Dead Space have strong opinions about how much, or how little, visual interface to expose to the player. Complex 3D tools like Maya and 3D Studio Max are GUI inspirations for Ivan, where Jack and Matt prefer simplicity, so much so that Matt wrote When I Sit Down At My Editor, I Feel Relaxed. Dave Liepmann is the third leg of the stool in Applied Science, Jack's consultancy.

Maria originally had a deployment feature like Glitch. There's a great talk about Maria by the Applied Science trio, containing a mini-talk called Maria for experts by Jack.

Pharo is an inspiring modern Smalltalk.

Fructure is a wildly cool new structured editor, and its designer Andrew Blinn is fantastic on Twitter.

Extempore and Temporal Recursion by Andrew Sorensen offer some interesting foundations for future visual programming tools.

Sonic Pi and Overtone are lovely audio tools by Sam Aaron, widely praised and deservedly so, and everyone should back Sam's Patreon.

A visual perception account of programming languages: finding the natural science in the art and Unifying Textual and Visual: A Theoretical Account of the Visual Perception of Programming Languages are obscure but beautiful papers by Stéphane Conversy.

Aesthetic Programming is one of Ivan's favourites, and the author Paul Fishwick just so happened to teach Jack's graphics programming class at Uni.

Orca is a mind-bending textual-visual-musical hybrid programming tool by Hundredrabbits, who are Devine Lu Linvega and Rekka Bell. Notwithstanding that they live on a sailboat(!), they do an amazing job of presenting their work and everyone in our community should take stock of how they accomplish that.

Ableton Push and Ableton Live are practically state-issued music tools in Berlin. (Not to mention — Ivan edited this podcast in Live, natch.)

thi.ng and @thi.ng/umbrella are Jurassic-scale libraries by Karsten Schmidt, who wrote blog posts about Clojure's Reducers in TypeScript.

Finally, Nextjournal are doing great work with their multi-lingual online scientific notebook environment.

The transcript for this episode was sponsored by Repl.it and can be found at https://futureofcoding.org/episodes/041#full-transcript

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