Programming on the Edge

Why is Scala more difficult than Java?

Published by Matt Hicks under , , , , , on Wednesday, December 08, 2010
I was pretty exclusively a Java developer for twelve years before making the switch to Scala. Yes, it was difficult to learn some of the syntactical differences, but now that I have I don't want to turn back. No, this is not a baited question to get a flame-war going, but an honest attempt to get some real feedback by those that believe Scala is more difficult than Java.

Let me lay some ground-rules before we get this discussion going though. First, complex topics in Scala are complex, there's no debate there, but that doesn't make Scala more difficult than Java, there are just more possibilities to what you can accomplish. I say that the argument cannot be made that Scala is more complex if there is not a side-by-side comparison to Java code that is much simpler to understand. This means we have to leave the advanced concepts of implicit conversions, multiple inheritance, and so much more that Scala can do, but are features that bring it beyond the capabilities of Java. Yes, of course you can make an argument that in switching to a language like Scala you will eventually run into these scenarios, but I am speaking purely of the introductory programmer and the "difficulties" between Scala's syntax versus Java's.

Now, can someone give me a scenario of code in Java that would be more complicated to understand in Scala?

Learning Scala: scala.Either

Published by Matt Hicks under , on Thursday, October 21, 2010
I would consider myself pretty competent with Scala at this point, but there is still so much I have yet to learn. Something I always used to do in Java was to work my way one class at a time through the JavaDocs of the language I am attempting to do with Scala now as well.

I've just run across the Either class in the ScalaDocs and really like the idea.

The idea is that you may have two different return types that may result from one method. Classically that is solved with all sorts of hackery or returning the common superclass to the two and then doing an instanceof check, but in Scala the Either class provides a much more elegant solution:

object Test {
 def main(args: Array[String]): Unit = {
  numOrString("5") match {
   case Left(s) => println("String: " + s)
   case Right(i) => println("Integer: " + i)
 def numOrString(s: String) = {
  try {
  } catch {
   case exc: NumberFormatException => Left(s)

I'm not really sure how practical this example I wrote is, but my method "numOrString" takes in a String and attempts to convert it to an Int. If it can return an Int it does so or it returns a String. By use of the Left and Right subclasses of Either you can define which type of result you are sending back. Finally, with Scala's awesome matching you can easily determine which type of result you got.

The Pitfall of Programmer ADD

Published by Matt Hicks under , , , on Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Programmer ADD: The (often external) push to work on many projects at a time rather than focusing on and accomplishing one task at a time.

I currently work for a small company and unfortunately that means I'm constantly being pulled in many directions. There just aren't enough people to do everything, but lately I've started noticing the effect this has had on the quality of work I do. Since I'm constantly pushing to finish up what I'm working on in order to start on the next project on my plate I often don't take the time really necessary to quality check and test the functionality I've added or changed. This results in work that is not as well thought out as it should be, and not as well executed as I would like.

I can definitely point a finger to my boss for pushing the amount of work I have to accomplish in a given time-frame, but realistically even when I've worked for larger companies this has still been more-or-less true of all development work I've done. As developers we're constantly being pushed for deadlines and getting bugs fixed. This might be great from a management perspective on "work accomplished", but I think this really has a negative impact on the company in the long-term as we aren't really given the time necessary to nurture our projects to write solid and well-tested code, but just enough to get the job done. The result? Code that eventually has to be repaired or updated at twice the effort as it would have taken to do it right in the first place.

This is basically just a rant as I see the quality of my work declining as deadlines push me to do more than I can safely accomplish, but it also raises my curiosity if this is something most other developers deal with as well?

Eclipse Helios (3.6 RC4)

Published by Matt Hicks under , , , , , , , on Monday, June 14, 2010
I've been a user of Eclipse for many years now and when I saw there was a free t-shirt to be had by reviewing the newest release there was only one choice to make. :)

The download is exactly the same as all previous releases but the first thing that struck me was the startup time. Granted I have no plugins installed yet, but Eclipse was up in just a few seconds and that already has me excited. Performance has always been the biggest problem in Eclipse and if they've made major strides in that direction I'm a happy camper.

Granted this is RC4, but immediately after downloading and unzipping I checked for updates and it spend the next 5 minutes downloading a pretty large update to the Eclipse SDK and made me restart when it was done. Again, RC4, so lets just hope the actual releases are up-to-date. :)

Installing MercurialEclipse and the Scala plugin went smoothly and I went to pull down Sgine ( and all was fine except Scala can't seem to build the project correctly. My guess is this is a bug in the Scala plugin with Helios.

After spending a bit more time with it I haven't really seen much difference in 3.6 and 3.5 apart from some performance improvements. However, performance alone is a very worthwhile feature.

Still Alive!

Published by Matt Hicks under , , , , , , , , , , on Saturday, May 01, 2010
Well, this is a great title for this post not only as it's the first blog post I've made here in seven months, but I've also had the song from Portal stuck in my head lately. :)

Looking at my blog it would be easy to classify me as MIA but I've actually been quite busy in the open-source and have even been blogging quite a bit lately, just not here, but I'll get to that in a minute.

First of all, my very basic last post talking about the entry-level learning I was doing with Scala was quite fitting as my last post as very shortly after that post I made a complete shift from Java to Scala programming. With this came the abandoning of lots of open-source projects I've either created (like jSeamless) or been a developer on (like jMonkeyEngine). I believe so strongly in Scala that I've shifted everything I possibly can to Scala.

Second, with the shift I've made to Scala and all the projects I've abandoned as a result, one new project has come to being that, in many ways, embodies much of the vision I've had for several projects I've left behind. That project is called "sgine" (Scala Engine). I've been developing on it for a while now and have made some major strides recently and finally wanted to make a re-appearance on my blog to hopefully start posting here again.

Now, at the beginning of this post I said that I've been blogging elsewhere. If you go to you'll see that it's a blog filled up with posts regarding updates to the engine I've been developing. I'm really excited about this project and though many people have accused me of abandoning Java...and realistically that's pretty much what I've done...I haven't a regret for switching to Scala, it's such an incredibly powerful language and has renewed my vigor in programming. For anyone considering looking into a new language I cannot recommend it enough.