Raku: the firkin challenge

For anyone wondering where my occasional blog on raku has been for a couple of months – sorry. I have been busy wrestling with, and losing to, the first released version of my Physics::Measure module.

Of course, this is all a bit overshadowed by the name change from perl6 to raku. I was skeptical on this, but did not have a strong opinion either way. So kudos to the folks who thrashed this out and I am looking forward to a naissance. For now, I have decided to keep my nickname ‘p6steve’ – I enjoy the resonance between P6 and P–sics and that is my niche. No offence intended to either camp.

My stated aim (blogs passim) is to create a set of physical units that makes sense for high school education. To me, inspired by the perl5 Physics::Unit module, that means not just core SI units for science class, but also old style units like sea miles, furlongs/fortnight and so on for geography and even history. As I started to roll out v0.0.3 of raku Physics::Unit, I thought it would be worthwhile to track a real-world high school education resource, namely OpenStax CNX. As I came upon this passage, I had to take the firkin challenge on:

While there are numerous types of units that we are all familiar with, there are others that are much more obscure. For example, a firkin is a unit of volume that was once used to measure beer. One firkin equals about 34 liters. To learn more about nonstandard units, use a dictionary or encyclopedia to research different “weights and measures.” Take note of any unusual units, such as a barleycorn, that are not listed in the text. Think about how the unit is defined and state its relationship to SI units.

Disaster – I went back to the code for Physics::Unit and, blow me, could I figure out how to drop in a new Unit: the firkin??…. nope!! Why not? Well Physics::Unit v:0.0.3 was impenetrable even to me, the author. Statistically it has 638 lines of code alongside 380 lines of heredoc data. Practically, while it passes all the tests 100%, it is not a practical, maintainable code base.

How did we get here? Well I plead guilty to being an average perl5 coder who really loves the expressivity that Larry offers … but a newbie to raku. I wanted to take on Physics::Measure to learn raku. Finally, I have started to get raku – but it has taken me a couple of years to get to this point!

My best step now – bin the code. I have dumped my original effort, gone back to the original perl5 Physics::Unit module source and transposed it to raku. The result: 296 lines of tight code alongside the same 380 lines of heredoc – a reduction of 53%! And a new found respect for the design skill of my perl5 forbears.

I am aiming to release as v0.0.7 in April 2020.

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