Monthly Archive for August, 2010

The Wilderness Project

Yesterday the Wilderness Project hit the new media crowd like wildfire. This HTML5 experiment realizes what we all know is possible, but as yet, only the nibble can execute with eloquence.

If there is a cannon for new media, with its sudden leaps and bounds, this piece makes the cut.  It employs  music, motion,  maps and your childhood address.

And if it doesn’t make you cry, or at least move you in some way, there’s something wrong with your heart.

BTW – It runs best on Google Chrome, but I did get it to go with Firefox.


One women vs 256 strong men

The British APL Association finally admitted to what’s been clear for over a year now!  They don’t want to contribute to my documentary because they can’t control it. They can’t justify spending the money they control on a documentary.

They sure got that right! I wish them well, too.


Monkey see, monkey do

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, while I am obsessively logging everything, all my research to date, in a series of Open Office documents whose structure, unsurprisingly, resembles a relational database (hint, hint); Godzilla is boning up on his array programming vocabulary. He’s reading Jeff Boror’s, Q for Mortals if you must know.

Never fear, he and I are on our dogged mission to understand this subject from the match stick to the forest, even when the chips are down.

And speaking of match sticks, I’m going to make one of those observations that’s likely to irritate some of you. The thing of the thing is, that while we are super ready to talk about nuances with the various array language implementations in minutia detail or fight each other to the death over the nitty-gritty theoretical points, when I ask, Ok, but what can I DO with an array language? OR What IS a parallel processing problem? I’m sorry to say, that up until now, there has been what seems to me to be a stunned silence within the community.

Happy, happy me sees a steady stream of really cool applications and ideas coming in at this moment. I can’t wait to pick the best of the best for the ‘Top 10 Cool Things you can do with an Array Language’ page coming soon to this site!

And while I’m on the topic of interesting array language problems, yesterday I got to meet Hans Wobbe, an IPSA gent from the 1970’s who’s located right here in Toronto.  He’s thinking about the global Address Management problem.  And he’s so keen about arrays, he calls the world wide web, The Array.

Personally, I think he should have borrowed The Matrix which does, after all, have that stellar Canadian cast.  You see,  because the movie was so successful, ‘matrix’ has achieved high ranking in the commons and will likely make archetype status long before ‘array’.  And where this gets really yummy, is that the allusion opens doors to play with all kinds of metaphysical ideas, like the 6th dimension,  for example.  But that’s jut me.

Back to Hans and The Array.  Yesterday he gave me a precious gift; an education on Address Management and a tiny insight into who is interested in address data other than the post office.  And the answer is everybody who has a stake in either land or money. Not to mention the folks interested in time and space.



Watch out, Batman.


Catherine’s Array Language Contest

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.


Taryn Simon explores truth and memory

Taryn Simon’s rejection letter from Disney reads:

Especially during these violent times, I personally believe that the magic spell cast on guests who visit our theme parks is particularly important to protect and helps to provide them with an important fantasy they can escape to.


Eugene McDonnell

Eugene McDonnell and Larry Breed, Palo Alto May 2009

Eugene McDonnell & Larry Breed, Palo Alto May 2009

Eugene Edward McDonnell

(October 18, 1926 – August 17, 2010) was a Computer Science pioneer and long-time contributor to the programming languages APL and J….

Studying the poems of Robert Frost, he noticed that the first two poems in Frost’s book West Running Brook, “Spring Pools” and “The Freedom of the Moon”, not only discuss reflecting, but the rhyme schemes of the two reflect each other: aabcbc and cbcbaa….

His first work at IBM was in the design of IBM’s first Time-Sharing system, which became a very early host to IVSYS, a predecessor of APL. In 1968 he became a colleague of Ken Iverson, used Iverson notation before APL was named, and was active in the very earliest days of APL…


Eugene - APL Bug Meeting May 2009

Eugene - APL Bug Meeting May 2009

Roger Hui’s Eulogy

Jeffrey Shallit’s Eulogy

Eugene’s Memorial site

Condolences, from me and my family.

– Catherine



When I began this project, I calculated that 375 people in the whole wide world would give a damn about the story of APL and its descendant Array Languages.  I based this number on my own magic formula: roughly 500 IPSA Employees in its heyday.  I can count on 75% of them to be interested in a story that must inevitably include them.

Imagine my surprise when I figured out that the Origins of APL video I posted on myspace is much more popular.  In fact, it has received 4,ooo views since I posted it over a year ago.   Exactly 4,000, as of this moment. Merci, Bashyal at LtU.

Fri 13th - Survey Visitors by Country % of 600 counted

Fri 13th - Survey Visitors by Country % of 600 counted

Oh shit.

Pardon my language,  I mean: WHAT?

Given that we’re talking about the whole wide world, these stats are not earth shattering or what a rapper would bring in, but man oh man, am I excited.

You see, I had no idea how many lives and careers and programming languages the APL story has influenced.

This is serious.

And if I  had actually grabbed the right type ball for my photo shoot with Godzilla last week, I’d be feeling like little miss smarty-pants, right about now.  But, alas, once again, this proves to be an ironically humbling road.

In any case, for better or for worse, this brings me to the survey, because this is all one big warm up for…. drum roll…. The results.

Friday the 13th of August 2010 Survey Results


Who looked vs who responded

Visitors (survey days only) = 621
Unique Visitors = 432
Survey Respondents = 46


In case that wasn’t enough information, here’s your APL trivia for the day – John McGrew told me in NYC that APL2 still carries APL’s birthday, which I promptly forgot and so from the other side of Canada, Roger Hui tells Array birthday stories.


Dare me

I’ve been chasing Array language folks around for over a year now and I noticed something really interesting: a ton of individuals and groups have taken it upon themselves to voluntarily preserve or explain or support APL and children in the public eye.

I’m not talking about the businesses here, businesses get paid  for marketing one way or another.  I’m talking about the thousands of volunteer hours that have gone into organizing conferences, putting information online, working with the museums who are interested. Hours, maybe thousands of thousands of hours. People must really care about this stuff  but… nothing permanent and ongoing is out there unless you count Roger Hui’s tireless work over decades and he won’t admit to a thing.

Something permanent would require money and a concerted effort.  But we’re CATs, cats don’t consort! And we’re extraordinarily individualistic.  So, we each, individually, put hours into cyberspace, we never pay a cent – and our efforts are usually successful for a time and then become lonely links in cyberspace.

That’s OK.  Isn’t it?

The image above is Godzilla holding an old IBM type ball with the original APL characters.

Interim Results (as of Aug 14,2010 Sat 1:00pm EST)


Happy Eight

Thanks Roger!


Individualism, parallel processing and Condor

Thank goodness it’s someone else’s job to get deep down into technical nitty-gritty and  make things go.  It’s my job to DREAM and make huge semantic leaps.  And that’s how I assert my own individuality on the universe, make my markOr dent, in the words of Steve Jobs re-purposed by Hugh McLeod.

Recently, I was talking to someone interesting and important in the APL community about what it takes to be an APL programmer these days. He said, It’s more than just being proficient in Array programming.  You need to be able to listen and understand what the customer wants, and do THAT.

And this reminded me of another conversation between two former APLers who are both very successful in business and technology now outside of the Array language community:  One says to the other, It took me a long time to realize it’s important to do what my boss wants me to do… Yeah! says the other, Me too!

Oh! Individualism! The Array programmers’ tragic flaw.  Where other languages require a whole army to assemble around a problem, for us it’s just one. We don’t need to assemble.  APL makes us independent.

But what if we want to tackle really big problems.  And I mean huge gigantic impossible to imagine they-are-so-big problems? I mean problems like parallel processing problems. 

What the heck is a parallel processing problem anyway?

I asked Peter Keller if he would explain to me a parallel processing problem, because I read a lot of discourse on the subject, but only see very small hints about why I should care.  Not enough, really, for me to sink my teeth into.

As it turns out, his answer was really cool.  He’s working on the Condor project, which is not an Array language project, but it could be.   Here’s an excerpt of what he wrote to me:

In the use cases that I know of, and for which my small contributions are most likely to be used, it would be data processing for high energy physics.

Basically, modern particle accelerators (like the large hadron collider) produce interesting particle event data in the gigabits per second range for ten or more years straight. This data gets stored and routed to entire countries or political organizations to be processed on the vast physics grids to look for statistical correlations in the data or to see if it matches predicted behavior.

The mathematical models are very complex, sometimes being in pipelines of dozens to hundreds of programs and have to be run upon billions (possibly trillions?) of events whose subsequent data-in varying sizes of kilobytes to terabytes, needs to be moved to the right place, etc, etc, etc. Each scientific research group has their own set of mathematical models, each with their own data pipelines, and there are many groups. The processing of a single event may take 5 minutes or much longer like an hour depending upon the type of analysis being performed on it.

These pipelines already exist… and each one can take 6+ months in real time to run on hundreds to thousands of computers (all going up and down, networks failing, disks filling up, etc, etc, etc). Condor and other batch schedulers are the means by which these disparate workflows are executed (often at the same time in a pool of machines). We provide a robust layer to get the work completed in the face of all kinds of failures. We try very hard to make it that one or two people can manage hundreds of parallel workflows on thousands of machines with little to no human intervention.

High! Energy! Physics! I want to understand high energy physics!

Peter also suggested that I go ask the big physics project entities why they are not using APL or any of the APL Array Languages descendants. I expect that asking is the next best thing to being there.  So, I will.

Now I shall keep a close eye on my stats to see if  I’ve caught your attention.

Oh! I’m still getting hits on my naked Austrian post, by the way.


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