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.

Spring 2015 Dyalog Travelogue (An American Tale: Dyalog Goes West)

Concluding Morten and Gitte’s whistlestop tour round Europe before heading to the US (see parts 1 and 2)

Saturday afternoon feels like Déjà Vu all over again...

Saturday afternoon – Déjà Vu all over again…

On Saturday afternoon we passed through London’s Heathrow airport for the third time in 5 days, this time continuing west to JFK, bringing the total for the week to 8,943km plus 300-odd in 3 different cars, 220 by rail, 25 by bus and 5 on the ferry 🙂 .

Sunday was spent with some of Dyalog’s North American contingent, co-ordinating and putting the final polish on the coming week’s presentations.

On Monday morning we were ready to start the first Dyalog North America user meeting – DYNA’15. The Princeton Crowne Plaza was our venue – making this our third time there after Dyalog ’07 and Dyalog ’09.

Back at the site of Dyalog ’07 and Dyalog ’09 – the Crowne Plaza in Princeton, New Jersey

Back at the site of Dyalog ’07 and Dyalog ’09 – the Crowne Plaza in Princeton, New Jersey

 

We had 37 visitors on Monday and 25 on Tuesday – a total of 45 different delegates representing about 15 different clients turned up to listen to updated road maps, demonstrations of new tools and four half-day workshops on Recent Language Enhancements, Parallel Programming using Futures and Isolates, Web Application Development and Modern APL Application Architectures. While there were no user presentations this year (the potential presenters seem to be keeping their powder dry for Dyalog ’15 in Sicily in September), we nonetheless had a full schedule.

Woodley Butler of Automatonics, Inc had been due to make a presentation, but had a scheduling problem and was unable to come. Gitte presented his exciting new hosting solution for Dyalog APL: APLCloud.com, during the opening session on Monday.

Monday’s dinner may have been the highlight of the event. We traveled (longer than expected due to the shuttle driver getting lost) to Mimino’s Restaurant for an authentic Georgian meal. The word meal does not do the experience justice – it was a culinary extravaganza – with plate after plate of incredible Georgian food. Imagine everyone’s surprise when we were told that it was now time for the entrees! Good friends, good food and good drink made it a truly special night.

After a meeting in Princeton on Wednesday morning we hit the road, again, this time to the Poconos to spend a few days relaxing and working with the North American Dyaloggers on a variety of projects before wrapping this tour up with visits to clients next Monday and Tuesday.

Spring 2015 Dyalog Travelogue (The Saga Continues)

Continuing Morten and Gitte’s whistlestop tour round Europe before heading to the US for DYNA15

From left to right this time…

From left to right this time…

FH Bingen – must have good student parties?

FH Bingen – must have good student parties?

Day 3: Bramley-Bingen

Job interviews done by lunch-time, and we hopped in the car (without lunch) to Heathrow, flew to Frankfurt and finally arrived at Bingen at sunset, just in time for some Weissbier and Flammkücken with the other early arrivals. Bingen is located west of Frankfurt, where the Rhine leaves the plains and bends north through hills, heading for Köln, Düsseldorf and the North Sea. Separated from the river by a vineyard-covered hill lies Fachhochschule Bingen, where our, host Dieter Kilsch, uses APL with MatLab and other tools to teach students about quality control and other subjects.

Days 4 & 5: APL Germany Spring Meeting in Bingen

We spent the next two days in the company of about 25 German APL enthusiasts. This time we were first up with a 2.5 hour workshop on Futures and Isolates, and we were very pleased to see that all the delegates who had gone to the trouble of installing Dyalog APL were able to perform all the exercises. We’ll have to make them a little harder next time (Tuesday in Princeton) 🙂 . The afternoon was focused on IBM: News from the Z-series hardware front, and the IBM GSE requirements process, where APL2 users get together and vote on priorities for requests for enhancements. Wouldn’t it be great if our Dyalog users would gang up on us like that and help us to set priorities as a group?

The watch tower at the top of the hill south of Bingen

The watch tower at the top of the hill south of Bingen

The first session on Friday was an APL Germany “business session” which we were allowed to skip. Morten discovered that the Tourist Information office next to our hotel rented bikes. They were a little shocked that he was willing to spend €13 for on hour on a bike, but he felt that he really needed to burn some carbon off the spark plugs. Seems he can’t see a hill without feeling it is necessary to make an attempt to get to the top of it.

With Morten energised after an hour on the bike, it was time to return to the meeting. A couple of presentations were particularly interesting: before lunch, Jürgen Sauermann spoke about GNU APL, which is now 2 years old and up to version 1.5. It is very encouraging to see open source APL systems thriving and promoting the use of APL.

GNU APL

GNU APL

One of the presentations after lunch can only be described as mind-blowing! Jörg Hudelmaier presented a development environment for JavaScript applications, written in Dyalog APL. Jörg was able to prototype JavaScript applications in Dyalog APL, using the WinForms WebBrowser control to render the User Interface, processing callbacks in APL – using a set of APL functions that emulated enough JavaScript DOM support to make his application work. Once he had finished development, he wrote a translator that generated a stand-alone JavaScript application which could run in a browser.

We rounded the two days off with a presentation on our strategy and selected demos of features from versions 14.0 and 14.1: Key, the new experimental JSON parser/generator and the Compiler, threw ourselves in the rental car and headed to Denmark for 15 hours at home before we set off for JFK and Princeton. The story continues next week, on the other side of the Atlantic!

To be concluded…