Rencontres Dyalog APL 2016 – Paris, France

It is really good to see APL events come back to life! In April of 2014, we witnessed the re-birth of SWEDAPL, which had been dormant for some time – but now meets twice a year and is perhaps the most vibrant APL meeting on our circuit, with many young developers developing new products and features in APL. The last SWEDAPL meeting drew a substantial international crowd, including a number of Danes – and the next one, scheduled for April 1st, is making a guest appearance in Copenhagen, hosted by Simcorp A/S – a bit like the Tour de France 🙂

paris16This year we are really happy to be back in France, which has also had a relatively dormant APL community for the last decade or so – at least in terms of holding meetings. In this case we decided to arrange a meeting with the help of our French distributor – Quantys. Although the invitation was to a “Dyalog User Meeting“, about half of the attendees were users of other APL systems than Dyalog APL – with a little luck this meeting will turn out to contain the seeds for a rebirth of an independent French APL group. Fingers crossed!

Everyone please note: If you want to organise a local APL event, and you invite a speaker from Dyalog, we will do everything we can to send one or two delegates to your meeting. The current “circuit” includes Finland, Germany and Sweden twice a year, France and the East Coast USA. We have been known to show up at the Bay Area Users’ Group from time to time, in Toronto, at J and kx meetings – and recently also at FunctionalConf in Bangalore.

After welcoming remarks from Marc Righetti of Quantys, Gitte talked about Dyalog’s commitment to ensure that APL is well-integrated with modern computing platforms and infrastructure, which is always in the throes of another revolution. The current movement towards cloud computing and the need for platform independence is no exception. The good news is that Dyalog is growing to meet the challenge; we expect to add another couple of heads this year and grow the company by another ten percent.

Dan Baronet is a native of Montreal, Canada. As one of our French-speaking team members, he ended up doing most of the heavy lifting, with presentations on the upcoming v15.0 release, and a recap of the recent language enhancements in version 14.0 – in particular, the rank and key operators and function trains. Nicolas Delcros also spoke in French on the subject of his most recent work on integrating the publishing capabilities of Adrian Smith’s NewLeaf tool to SharpPlot, under the name SharpLeaf. I was only allowed to interrupt the flow of French twice, first with a road map presentation and, in the afternoon, a brief introduction to Futures and Isolates.

At the end of an action-packed day, Quantys treated us all to Champagne and snacks – many thanks to Marc for running the show and taking good care of us. A single day was much too short a time to do justice to the last decade of Dyalog achievements – so we will have to be back more regularly!

FinnAPL Forest Seminar 2016

The view from the Sauna. Some people actually went in!

The view from the Sauna. Some people actually went in!

Finns probably have better reasons to look forward to spring more than most of us: not only does it get much easier to keep that hole in the ice open, it is time for the annual FinnAPL Forest Seminar!

This year, just under 20 of us gathered for two days (Thursday March 10th and Friday March 11th) at Hirvihaara Manor, about an hour north of Helsinki, to update each other on what we have been getting up to recently.

Thursday

After a warm welcome from Jouko Kangasniemi, Chairman of FinnAPL, Veli-Matti Jantunen from Statistics Finland kicked the proceedings off with a talk titled “The long way of an APL2 bigot to Dyalog world”, where he discussed features of recent versions of Dyalog APL, awarding some of them them varying numbers of thumbs up, declaring some to be irrelevant. A few were found to be flawed… We are hoping to talk him into a repeat at Dyalog’16 as this was a valuable and thought-provoking review!

I was on next – with the Spring 2016 version of the Dyalog Road Map. As should be confirmed by the slides, there is not a big change in direction. We are planning to increase headcount by another 10% this year and continue investing in the core interpreter technology, APL compilers, and tools to help you build applications on a growing number of platforms.

Ants on the left. Ray Cannon on the right

Ants on the left. Ray Cannon on the right

After lunch, Ray Cannon showed us how to “Build a better ant brain”, producing wonderful, coloured, animations with ants crawling all over the big screen, using MiServer 3.0 and a bit of JavaScript – running under Dyalog APL on a Raspberry Pi!

My technical keynote in the morning had included a demo of a very early prototype of a Python interface, which will allow APL users to tap in to Python libraries. I was, therefore, very interested in the next presentation by Esa Pursiheimo from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland – which gave us all an introduction to the Python language. There is no question that the Python community has built libraries that could be very useful to APLers (although I cannot say the language itself impressed me much 🙂 ).

The last presentation of the day, titled “Data Driven Documents” (aka “D3”), was also about using libraries written in other programming language to extend APL applications. In this case the language was JavaScript. Jouko Kangasniemi from the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) showed how he is generating JavaScript to call the popular D3 Graphics Library and publish charts that are relevant to Economic planners in Finland. A collection of animated charts created using this technology can be found at http://ek.fi/materiaalipankki/tietografiikka/talous/viikon-graafit/.

Since we were in Finland, the afternoon ended with a visit to a traditional “smoke sauna”, before we all scrubbed up for the banquet.

Cheers! From left to right (more or less): Antero Ranne, Gitte Christensen, Esa Lippu, Miika Rämä, Simo Kilponen, Jouko Kangasniemi, Heikki Viitamäki, Esa Pursiheimo, Olli Paavola, Kaarlo Reipas, Göran Koreneff, Morten Kromberg, Kimmo Kekäläinen, Veli-Matti Jantunen, Timo Korpela, Ray Cannon (Missing: Anssi Seppälä)

Cheers! From left to right (more or less): Antero Ranne, Gitte Christensen, Esa Lippu, Miika Rämä, Simo Kilponen, Jouko Kangasniemi, Heikki Viitamäki, Esa Pursiheimo, Olli Paavola, Kaarlo Reipas, Göran Koreneff, Morten Kromberg, Kimmo Kekäläinen, Veli-Matti Jantunen, Timo Korpela, Ray Cannon (Missing: Anssi Seppälä)

Friday

The first talk on Friday morning was perhaps the most interesting from my point of view: Antero Ranne of the Ilmarinen Mutual Pension Insurance Company: Parallel showed how he was able to speed up financial simulations by a factor of approximately 3 on his Intel i7-based laptop, using Futures and Isolates in Dyalog version 14.0. It is really good to see that domain experts wield this tool!

After coffee, Gitte presented the work that she had done to put APL on the map as an invited speaker at a recent conference on the history of information technology in the Nordic region. She also reminded us all that we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first running APL system on November 27 (http://silvermapleweb.com/first-cleanspace/). At Dyalog ’16 on October 9th-13th in Glasgow, Scotland, Dyalog will set time aside to celebrate this anniversary in collaboration with the British APL Association. If you have a good story about ground-breaking work done in APL in the early days, please get in touch and discuss how you might contribute to the celebrations!

Once again, I found myself standing between the audience and lunch – fortunately there are enough juicy language features and interfaces coming in versions 15.0 and 16.0 and I did not have anyone walk out before I was done. I even had time to talk about a workspace that we added several years ago, after discovering that several members of the audience were unaware of it: The “loaddata” workspace, which contains functions to read and write Excel Spreadsheets, CSV files, XML and ODBC data sources. If you have not seen it yet, try loading it and take a look.

After another excellent lunch, Anssi Seppälä of Enease Oy wrapped up the formal part of the programme with a talk on an inverted vectorial database implemented in the J programing language, named JD. JD makes it straightforward to manage large timeseries containing records of power usage and the quality of electricity delivered to consumers, perform analyses and generate visualisations of the data.

Several of us continued discussing programming challenges, while drinking (STRONG!!!) Finnish coffee and eating the wonderful cakes that were provided all day by Hirvihaara Manor, before heading back home after another successful FinnAPL Forest Seminar – we look forward to the 2017 edition!

Gitte and I managed to get about 40 hours at home before boarding the next plane, heading for Paris for the first French Dyalog User Meeting in recent history. More about that coming soon!

Happy New Year from the CXO!

To all our existing users, business partners and friends we have not yet met: Happy New Year from everyone at Dyalog – we hope that we can be of service to you in the year(s) to come!

But what – or who – is a CXO? Well, according to Wikipedia, chief experience officer (CXO) is the officer responsible for the overall user experience (UX) of an organization. The chief experience officer ensures the organization has good customer service, so customers are able to have a positive experience.

Since I joined the company nearly eleven years ago, the responsibility for customer experience has been an important part of my job as CTO. During this period we have grown very significantly – the five people who were responsible for Dyalog APL before the acquisition in 2005 have now become more than twenty, and we have plans to hire a couple more this year. We have reached a point where we have the manpower not only to keep existing clients happy by continuing to accelerate what has become one of the largest sustained investments in APL in the history of the language, but also to be more aggressive in going after completely new business – and attracting new generations of APL users.

As a natural consequence of this growth, we have decided that it is time to split the CTO role into two parts, with the addition of a CXO role. The CXO will focus on understanding the customer experience and what we need to do as a company to improve it, and the CTO will be responsible for implementing enhancements to the technology that we offer our users (and make sure that Dyalog itself masters the technologies that it needs to use to implement solutions today and in the decades to come).

Jay Foad appointed CTO

JayWith immediate effect, Jay Foad will assume the title of Chief Technology Officer and be responsible for the core development team at Dyalog Ltd. Jay has been with Dyalog for just over five years now, and has impressed everyone with his ability to rapidly understand almost everything that goes on under the hood. Most importantly, he combines a keen interest in the lowest levels of hardware and software, with the ability to argdiscuss the finest points of APL language theory with the likes of John Scholes and Roger Hui.

I will take the role of Chief Experience Officer and be responsible for the rest of what was the CTO role. In many ways, I will be going back to what I have been doing most of my life – working with large and small APL users to put APL technology to good use. My primary responsibility will be to make sure that Dyalog understands the needs of current and potential users and to work closely with the CTO and his team to satisfy these requirements. This is not just a question of eliminating defects and making sure that the help desk provides a good experience when users need help with our software (although that IS important). More importantly, the software needs to have the features that current and future users actually need in order to be competitive when using APL as a development tool. The features need to perform well, have decent quality and they need to be designed in such a way that each feature is not only easy to discover and use but it should ideally also be easy NOT to use, if you have no need for it.

More APL Skills at Dyalog

For the last 2-3 years, we have been moving steadily along an essentially unchanged technical road map. You can find slides and video recordings of presentations from the last many Dyalog User Meetings at http://dyalog.com/user-meetings/index.htm. Our most important goals are to:

  • continuously improve the quality of our products.
  • continuously increase performance – this includes taking advantage of parallel hardware.
  • port Dyalog APL to new platforms.
  • provide cross-platform development tools that make it straightforward to develop applications on any of the platforms we support and deploy and maintain them on any other.

During the same period, we have gradually increased our investment into adding tools written in APL, in addition to enhancing the core technology. One important change in emphasis signalled by the creation of the CXO role is that Dyalog intends to accelerate this trend and significantly increase its capacity to do programming in APL, by adding young APL developers to our staff. There are several reasons for this:

  • We need more APL developers in order to create tools, tutorials, documentation and other training materials. This is necessary to make existing users more productive and to make Dyalog an attractive tool for a new generation of users.
  • We would like to increase our capacity to engage with our existing users in order to better understand requirements and help you take advantage of new tools and language features.
  • We would like to work with new users, helping them get started with that first application implemented in Dyalog APL.
  • We want to participate in the creation of the next generation of APL “Top Guns” so that we can eventually extend our application audit, tuning and migration services.

You may be able to help us: we will be looking to place APL and core technology developers within user organisations as part of their training. If you think you could host a Dyalog developer for a few days or a week to show them what life looks like on the front lines, or you have a small APL development project that might be suitable for a young APL developer to use as a learning experience, please contact me.

Promoting APL

In addition to having the right features and tools, we need to be sure that people know about them. Over the past decades, our ability to develop new features has often exceeded our ability to produce training materials and samples for them. A significant part of the CXO role will be to work with our CEO, Gitte Christensen, to significantly increase our efforts to tell the world outside the existing APL community about the well-kept secret that is Dyalog APL.

An important goal will be to produce completely new, modern samples and training materials – including videos and regular web casts – to make it easier for both existing and new users to discover and take advantage of Dyalog APL and associated tools. We will also spend significantly more time and effort creating a presence at conferences and online forums outside the array language community.

It is going to be a busy New Year!

Posted in CXO

SWEDAPL Meeting in Malmö, November 11th 2015

The November cycle of APL User Meetings is kicking off; the SWEDAPL meeting in Malmö was first this year, holding a meeting at the top of the famous Turning Torso in Malmö. Since it was just a short trip from our Danish office, Dyalog was represented by Gitte Christensen, Bjørn Christensen and Morten Kromberg – with Brian Becker and Dan Baronet joining the meeting remotely. Next week, Richard Smith and Nick Nickolov will be representing Dyalog at APL Germany in Erfurt and Dan Baronet at FinnAPL in Helsinki – check http://dyalog.com/dates-for-your-diary.htm periodically for a list of APL meetings and Dyalog presentations!

Gilgamesh Athoraya welcomes us to SWEDAPL

Gilgamesh Athoraya welcomes us to SWEDAPL

This turned out to be a very international group – ten Swedes (two of whom were from India but based in Göteborg), six Danes who made the trip across the sound, two from the UK, one German and one delegate from each of Serbia and the Ukraine – plus about five North Americans who joined the afternoon sessions via GoToMeeting. This was the first “themed” SWEDAPL meeting; all of the talks were related to the use of Web Services in APL.

First up was our host Gilgamesh Athoraya from Data Analytics in Malmö, who showed us how he had been using Paul Mansour’s new RUMBA application interface which is built on top of Dyalog’s TCP toolkit (which is known as CONGA). Gil has been experimenting with support for Web Sockets, which are bi-directional connections that allow the server to push data to web client applications, making it possible to have very responsive user interfaces in web applications.

Joakim Hårsman explaining how slippery SOAP can be

Joakim Hårsman explaining how slippery SOAP can be


The next presentation was by Joakim Hårsman of CompuGroup Medical, who have been exposing data held on IBM AIX servers via Microsoft.NET-based Web Services for many years. Joakim had a few interesting stories to tell about getting a grip on and maintaining Web Services based on the protocol known as SOAP, which is supposed to make this easy…

The last talk before lunch was by Stephan Poßberg of Vallourec, who talked about the use of Web Services to make computational code available across a large, global organisation. Lunch was served on the 54th floor; unfortunately the weather didn’t quite allow us to see all the way to Helsingør.

The Turning Torso in the Mist, After Dark

The Turning Torso in the Mist, After Dark

After lunch, it was Morten’s turn, assisted by Brian Becker (who joined the meeting from Rochester NY) to present Dyalog’s brand new support for RESTFul web services, available in MiServer 3.0. Paul Mansour also joined this session and provided valuable insights into REST technology, which seems to be taking over as the preferred Web Service architecture for new applications.

Finally, Peter Simonsson from Aplensia in Göteborg told us how Web Services had become widespread at Volvo Cars, where a couple of hundred APL-based services provide the backbone of a network of applications centered around product data and production planning – with the earliest web services dating back to the days when APL ran under VM on IBM Mainframes.

Many thanks to Gilgamesh, Data Analytics and Optima Systems for arranging this event, which provided much food for thought, and inspiration for future work by several people at Dyalog – and by the sound of it, a number of users of APL as well! Expect to see more support for Web Services and Sockets in future versions of Dyalog products!

Over the Moon with Selenium

Over the years, I have become more and more reluctant to write code without good regression tests – 35 years of software development have taught me that it is just too dangerous! Regression testing of user interfaces has always been difficult, but for the last few weeks I have been working with technologies that put user interface testing within easy reach: HTML and the Selenium WebDriver, which star in the following video (if you can wait, read the full story below the video before watching):

This is exciting – I hope you can see why I am “over the moon” (apart from Selene being the Greek Moon Goddess).

Modern Markup Languages

One of the good things about modern User Interfaces based on markup languages like HTML is that logical information about the user interface is available at runtime. For example, a browser displaying HTML maintains a “Document Object Model” of the web page. The content and other attributes of each element within the DOM can be inspected and manipulated at runtime by a testing tool – this is what Selenium does.

Selenium

Selenium is a widely used open-source tool for automating browsers, with growing support from browser vendors. Selenium provides an API that allows you to perform just about any operation that a user could: click on buttons and select items from drop-downs, press keys to enter text, drag and drop items, or perform exact mouse movements and different types of clicks. Over the last few weeks, we have been working on a some thin covers for Selenium to make it easy to drive browsers from Dyalog APL. At the moment we require the Microsoft .NET bindings and can only do the testing from Microsoft Windows. The web server can be running anywhere, and we hope to add other client platforms in the future.

The results of this work are now available in the GitHub Repository Dyalog/Selenium. The following example, included in that repository, shows a simple test which verifies that the TryAPL website is able to execute a simple expression:

 ∇ r←Basic;S;result
 ⍝ Basic test that TryAPL is working - return error message if it isn't
 
 S←##.Selenium
 S.InitBrowser''
 S.GoTo'http://tryapl.org'
 
 'APLedit'S.SendKeys'1 2 3+4 5 6'
 S.('APLedit'SendKeys Keys.Return)
 result←'ClassName'S.Find'result'
 r←result S.WaitFor'5 7 9' '1 2 3+4 5 6 failed'
 ∇

MiServer Regression Testing

The primary motivation for this work has been to create regression test scripts for MiServer version 3.0. The MiServer regression testing mechanism is extremely simple (possibly a bit TOO simple, we’ll cross that bridge later): If a site contains a folder called “QA”, and the folders within mirror the structure of the web site, then a mechanism exists to load each page in turn and run the corresponding test function. You can read more about it on GitHub and see it working in the video at the top of this post.

Response to Name Colouring for Dfns

This post contains comments to John Scholes’ post on name colouring; please continue to post any further comments with the original post.

This is a very interesting topic – as the discussion has already showed, there are many different needs. It seems to me that some of the suggestions that have been made are forms of highlighting that you would want to turn on briefly in order to search for something specific or highlight structures while editing code. For example:

  • to verify the structure (highlight the matching parenthesis or bracket, or rainbow colouring of parentheses/brackets)
  • highlight all uses of a particular name or small group of names.

I don’t think I would really want any of these enabled for any length of time; some of them can probably work very well if they are turned on and off as the cursor moves through the text (when on a parenthesis, highlight the other half of the pair, when on a name, highlight all uses of that name, etc).

Making it easier to read statements through highlighting of “kinds” feels more like something that I might well want to have enabled all the time. However, I find colouring to be quite distracting – it breaks the flow for me. I would certainly want the colours to be as calm as possible for the most common kinds, getting more exciting for the “exotic ones”. So I would suggest:

 Array
 Function
 MonOp
 DyOp

For example:

   r←(foo dop 1 2 3) mat hoo mop vec

I find that syntax colouring is much more effective in a bold font:

   r←(foo dop 1 2 3) mat hoo mop vec 

But…looking at the above, I personally find the colours to be quite distracting; they make it hard for me to read the expression as a “sentence”. How about if we experiment with emphasis instead, for example we could make functions italic, monadic operators bold, and dyadic operators both.

   r←(foo dop 1 2 3) mat hoo mop vec

This is very subjective of course, but this is much more readable to me than the coloured version.

Further comments with the original post please.