A Blustery Spring

Dyalog version 17.1 will be released soon, with the HTMLRenderer working under Windows, macOS and GNU/Linux, the “Link” system providing infrastructure for connecting APL to source code management systems, pre-built Docker containers with Dyalog APL for Linux installed and many other enhancements that simplify the installation and maintenance of systems based on Dyalog APL.

We’ll be writing much more about version 17.1 soon, and next year’s 18.0 release in due course. The main purpose of this blog entry is to let you know about new members of the Dyalog team and, unfortunately, a couple of departures as well.

Departures


In February, John Scholes passed away. Together with Geoff Streeter, John was one of the original implementors of Dyalog APL in 1982-1983, a cornerstone of all aspects of the Dyalog language and business, and one of the pillars of the APL community. Many members of the community have paid tribute to our Genius, Gentleman and Mischievous Schoolboy at http://johnscholes.rip.

At the end of May 2019, Jay Foad is leaving Dyalog to return to his first love (as a software developer) and become a proper compiler geek again, after nearly a decade of helping move Dyalog APL forward and, for the last three years, helping to “herd the cats” as CTO. We will sorely miss Jay’s technical excellence but understand the desire to hit the sweet skill spot when the opportunity arises, and we wish him good fortune in that pursuit! You can read Jay’s farewell blog post here.

Jay’s management responsibilities will be shared between Richard Smith, our Development Manager and myself; I will be re-assuming the role of CTO until further notice.

New Faces in 2019

The good news is that we will welcome several new people to Dyalog in 2019 – new hands to write code in APL, to work on the APL interpreter, and to write documentation and training materials to help new and old users get their work done more effectively.

APL Consultants

In response to client requests and to help new clients get started writing their first APL systems, we are creating a consulting group in the USA. To date, we have recruited two members for this team: Nathan Rogers joined the team at the end of April and is based in Denver, Colorado, and Josh David starts work for Dyalog in early June (as soon as he graduates) and will be based in New Jersey. If you think you have heard of Josh before, that is probably because he was a winner of the Dyalog Problem-Solving Contest in 2016 (https://www.dyalog.com/news/112/420/2016-APL-Programming-Contest-Winners.htm) – and a runner up in 2015. Nathan found us thanks to Adam Brudzewsky’s work on Stack Exchange: https://chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/52405/the-apl-orchard. You can reach them both using e-addresses in the form firstname at dyalog.com.

When members of the consulting team are not working for clients, the intention is that they will be members of the APL Tools Group at Dyalog, working on new tools for APL application development and helping create test suites for Dyalog APL. They will also support Richard Park, who joined us late in 2018, to work on the creation of training materials and tutorials for new users.

Once we have a better idea of the demand for consulting in North America, we expect to grow the team. Please let us know if you could use hired APL hands – in any territory! If we don’t have the resources ourselves, we may be able to find someone else.

Programming Language Implementors

Nathan comes to us with experience from a broad set of tools and programming languages. In addition to writing tools in APL, he will be a part-time member of the core development team, working on the APL interpreter and its interfaces in C, C#, JavaScript, Python and other languages. However, he won’t spend enough time on this to make up for the loss of Jay, who (like most managers at Dyalog) spent a significant amount of his time writing code.

Therefore, as described at https://www.dyalog.com/careers.htm, we are recruiting at least one C / C++ programmer to help us grow the core team.

A Busy – and Exciting Time

2019 is looking like an extremely busy year, with significant growth at Dyalog. As usual, our plan is to bring all the new (and old) hands to the Dyalog user meeting, which will be held in Elsinore, Denmark this year – September 8th to 12th. Details of the programme will soon start to appear at https://www.dyalog.com/user-meetings/dyalog19.htm. If you would like to present an APL-related experience to the user community, make proposals for new features of Dyalog products or suggest topics that you would like Dyalog to speak about at the user meeting, then please let us know as soon as possible!

Goodbye

At the end of May 2019 I am leaving Dyalog, so it seems like a good time to reflect on my time here and what I’ve learned from APL and the APL community.

When I joined Dyalog in 2010 I knew nothing about APL, so there was a really steep learning curve as I got to grips with both the language and its implementation. I was using some of my previous experience with compilers to improve the performance of the implementation, and thinking about ways to compile APL. This is a tough problem, and one that many people have worked on over the years (see for example Timothy Budd’s 1988 book An APL Compiler). My own ideas have shifted as I’ve gained more experience with APL and the way it is used. At first I thought “writing a compiler” was an obvious thing to do; now I think that hybrid compiler/interpreter techniques are much more promising, and Dyalog’s recent experiments with deferred execution and thunks are a good step in that direction.

At the same time, there was a lot of excitement around the APL language itself. Dyalog was working on APL#, a new .NET-based APL dialect (sadly abandoned as Microsoft’s own commitment to .NET waned). And Dyalog APL itself was starting to borrow more language features from the SharpAPL/J branch of the family tree, starting with the Rank operator and continuing over many years. This prompted me to delve more into the history of APL, to try to understand some of the fundamental differences between different implementations, so that we could reconcile those differences in Dyalog APL and provide, as far as possible, the best of both worlds. I think we’ve done pretty well in that, as evidenced by the fact that many APLers are happily using Rank, Key, function trains et al in an APL2-based language, something that seemed unthinkable a decade ago.

One of the most gratifying developments in the time I’ve been working with APL is the rapid growth of new APL implementations, open source projects and grass-roots enthusiasm. In particular, the open source movement has made it much easier for anyone with a good idea about language design to implement it, and share it with the world. We’ve seen a wide variety of new APLs and APL-inspired languages popping up over the years, ranging from full-featured to highly experimental, including but not limited to (in roughly the order I remember hearing about them): ELI, ngn/apl, GNU APL, Ivy, Aprildzaima/APL and APL\iv.

And speaking of new APLs, of course there is Co-dfns, a compiled APL implementation that tries to solve another tough problem: harnessing the power of GPUs and other massively parallel hardware in a way that makes it accessible to the end user. This is something that many people are trying to do, in a wide variety of languages, but as far as I can tell no-one has quite succeeded yet. The state of the art is still that, in order to get good performance, you need quite a lot of mechanical sympathy for the underlying hardware. But Co-dfns has come a long way, and if any language is well-suited to run on parallel array processors then surely it is APL!

This brings me on neatly to my next job: I’ll be working on compilers for GPUs, the parallel computers that render 3D graphics. They are closely related to their “general purpose” cousins the GPGPUs, which are used for pure number crunching, and to so-called tensor processing units (TPUs) that simulate neural networks for use in machine learning and artificial intelligence. “Tensor” here just means an array of arbitrary rank, or as we would say: an array. For programming TPUs there is a Python-based framework called TensorFlow. But, look closely at the APIs for some of the core TensorFlow libraries, and you’ll see operations like reshape, reverse and transpose, which are eerily similar to their APL equivalents. There truly is nothing new under the sun!

With fond regards to all APLers,
Jay.

Pool Stories: Fergus back on Form

It has been almost 2 years since our last post about Jo Fergus (daughter of our Customer Account Manager, Karen Shaw) the pool player who Dyalog have sponsored in the past. When we last updated you, Jo had just had her daughter, Remy, and made the difficult decision to take some time out from pool to concentrate on her new family.

On June 30th 2018 she married Tom Fergus, Remy’s Dad, in a small ceremony at Trowbridge County Hall and became Jo Fergus. The wedding came as a bit of a surprise to friends and family who thought they were attending a birthday lunch but the sun shone and a fantastic day was had by all. Jo started to miss playing pool and in 2018 she went to the Wiltshire county pool trials and was invited back into the Wiltshire Ladies A county team. After a successful season, in which they didn’t lose a match, the team has qualified for National County Finals taking place at the beginning of March. Jo has also joined a team playing in her local pool league.

In 2019 Jo took the decision to test herself and her pool skills and signed up to the 2019 IPA Ladies Tour which will see her play at 5 events across the UK. There are only 32 places on this Ladies tour and it will give Jo a chance to play against high level opposition, which she feels will improve her game. Ranking points will be awarded and the top 8 in the rankings after Tour 5 will automatically qualify for the first ever IPA Ladies Blackball Premier League.

Dyalog are proud to be sponsoring Jo for this tour and it is planned that all Ladies finals will be live streamed on freesports.tv so we have our fingers crossed she makes at least one final!

New York Dyalog Meetup

I am very pleased to announce the creation of the New York Dyalog APL Meetup group, details of which can be found online at https://www.meetup.com/New-York-Dyalog-APL-Meetup/. The meetup has been created and is organised by Paul Mansour, who is also sponsoring the venue for the inaugural meetup, scheduled for 6-9pm on Thursday February 7th, at Alley, 119 West 24th Street, New York. If you are interested in meeting APL users in the New York area, please join the Meetup group so that you will be notified of future events. Please sign up for events that you intend to attend so we know you are coming!

Meetup is a service used to organize online groups that host in-person events for people with similar interests, including programming languages. In addition to the New York group, there is also an APL Meetup group in Frankfurt which meets regularly. We welcome the creation of more local meetups! If you create one in your area, remember to inform us at Dyalog so that we can add a link from our event calendar, and arrange to stop by and speak when we are in your neighborhood!

The program for the meetup on February 7th is as follows:

6:00-6:30pm: Time for Networking

6:30-8:00: Morten Kromberg: New Ways of Working with APL

When you are busy solving problems, new technology can be an unwelcome distraction – but every now and again technologies appear which have the potential to make development, maintenance or distribution significantly easier. Morten will demonstrate some of the new ways of working with APL that have become available in the last few years, and also discuss likely features in the next couple of releases of Dyalog APL: 17.1 in Q2 of 2019 and 18.0 in 2020.

8:00-8:15 Short Break

8:15-9:00 Paul Mansour: Keeping it Simple – A Git Workflow for APLers.

Abstract: Git is great, but the newcomer can easily drown in a sea of commands and options. Git doesn’t tell you when or why to branch, when or why to merge or rebase, how to version your project or prepare a release. AcreFlow is a radically simplified Git workflow that answers these questions. It is implemented in Dyalog APL so you can branch, commit, and put out new versions directly from the APL session.

 

Phil Goacher (05-11-40 – 09-03-18)

Phil Goacher
I attended Phil Goacher’s funeral yesterday. He probably had no idea of just how much he would influence the development of APL. I first met Phil at W S Atkins which is a large UK engineering consultancy. There was a sub unit called Atkins Computing which provided internal computing support to the engineers and, crucially, provided a time sharing service to external users. He became my manager when I moved from supporting the transportation program suite to the brand new APL team.

Phil was more manager and business man than programmer but he had an engineering background in Gas distribution and thus the mathematical bias that seems common to APL users.

Phil was the sort of man with an eye for a business opportunity and when a advert appeared from someone who wanted to set up an APL consultancy with a limited objective to provide resources to Rank Xerox (UK arm of Xerox Corp) he turned up along with half his team. Phil was a wheeler dealer type and had already talked to the recruiter, persuaded him that he could manage the team, and then interviewed the candidates. So I wound up being interviewed by my existing manager. Following this Phil decided we only needed a salesman and we could set the consultancy up with a much wider remit. Phil recruited Ted Hare who was one of Atkin’s top salesmen and Dyadic Systems was born.

Phil did all of the necessary legal and administration to get Dyadic off the ground and became the company’s administration guy. He bought an Apple 2 with VisiCalc so was early into the spreadsheet concept. It must be said that all five of the people who started Dyadic were “early adopters” by nature.

Dyadic was quite successful as an APL consultancy but wanted to do more. I am not sure who instigated it (I was too busy consulting) but it was probably Phil’s idea to develop an APL of our own. Knowing Phil this was probably a business eye and a request from Pam Geisler who was Pauline Brand’s sister (Pauline was an early recruit that we “acquired” from Atkin’s) but, more importantly, high up in the management of Zilog. Zilog was developing a new 16 bit chip, Z8000, that was going to push them up market from the 8-bit chip with which they had had enormous success – Z80. IBM had been pushing APL as the future, and it was incumbent on competitors to provide an APL offering.

Phil and Dave Crossley will have been the instigators of recruiting John Scholes, who had also been at Atkin’s, and teaming him with me to develop Dyalog (Dyadic + Zilog). Dave provided the management overview of that project while Phil and Ted had to worry about financing John and I, who were not bringing in consultancy money. It was at this point that Dyalog APL became a UNIX and C project. It was much later when I read Brian Kernighan’s obituary that I realised just how early we had got into UNIX and C.

Dyalog APL was not the instant success that Dyadic hoped for. It had increased costs. We needed an office and the paraphernalia that goes with selling a product rather than brains. Dyadic ran into financial issues and was taken over by Lynwood Scientific, who made terminals with Zilog Z8000 chips inside. I think they really wanted the Z8000 expertise that John and I had acquired. As part of that takeover Phil, Ted and Dave had to leave with a derisory pay-off and I lost touch until I learnt of his death a fortnight ago.

From the perspective of APL language development Phil is not a tower of strength. However, from the perspective of having provided the impetus and drive to get Dyalog APL developed, he is very important.

NOTE: For anyone interested in reading more about the early days of APL, see the Vector special on the first 25 years of Dyalog Ltd.

Supporting the Community – Update

You may have been wondering what has been happening with Jo Shaw (daughter of our Customer Account Manager, Karen) the England pool player who Dyalog have sponsored in the past, so we thought it was time for an update.

After getting a new job in December 2014, Jo moved from Hampshire to Wiltshire and joined the Wiltshire Ladies county pool team. After a successful first season with them, Jo again qualified to play for England as a reserve player in May 2016 but the exciting news that she was expecting a baby meant that she was not able to take up her place in the team – unfortunately the Nation’s Cup event was happening at the exact same time the baby was due. Jo also found that she was not able to practice or play pool during the later stages of her pregnancy as she was just not able to bend over the table(!) so this meant she had to take a back seat with the Wiltshire Ladies county team too.

Jo’s daughter Remy was born on 18 October 2016 and Remy has been a keen supporter of Wiltshire Ladies since she was born – she even has her own team shirt!

Jo and Remy have recently been to the EBPF National Finals to support Jo’s Wiltshire teammates as they became National Ladies Champions for the first time. Jo was disappointed that she wasn’t able to play a bigger part in the victory but being a mother is now her top priority and she was pleased that her team did so well.

After a lot of thought Jo has now made the very difficult decision to take some time out from both county and national pool to concentrate on being a mum. She plans to be back in a year or so once Remy is a bit older and Dyalog fully expect her to win back her place in the England team – we will be there to support her when she does!