Thursday, April 20, 2006

Beyond the Query 

I have been working a long time to bring queries into a modern programming language.

. . .

The next horizon is already in sight. Queries will eventually become runtime optimized. They will enable automatic parallelism, scaling and distributed processing.

Yet, we are not there yet. With the help of a lot of other people, I’ve only just arrived at that first horizon, a place where the mirage forms into solid shapes and the world that I only imagined becomes substantive, where I can look out across the landscape of all that was devised and see it functioning, its clockwork gears spinning, its implications twinkling like dew upon fields of freshly grown grass. And I can simply query it, all of it, the grass, the trees, anything identifiable and enumerable. And it just works.

Yet in the midst of all that, I am overcome with another thought. Another horizon has opened up in my mind and I can see a bit further, beyond the benefits and the boosts, beyond the query itself. I can see now that it was only the first stepping stone. Something much bigger is out there. A paradigm shift is coming, where all things become fluid, all boundaries dissolve and intent becomes first class.

And it has certainly all been done before.

Topics: Programming | Language | Design

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Bee Waggle Dance 

Waggle Dance Tutorial
There can be no argument that the most famous aspect of honey bee biology is their method of recruitment, commonly known as the honey bee dance language. It has served as a model example of animal communication in biology courses at all levels, and is one of the most fascinating behaviors that can be observed in nature.

The dance language is used by one individual to communicate two items of information to one ore more receivers: the distance and direction to a location (typically a food source, such as a patch of flowers). It is usually used when an experienced forager returns to her colony with a load of food, either nectar or pollen. If the quality of the food is sufficiently high, she will often perform a "dance" on the surface of the wax comb to recruit new foragers to the resource. The dance language is also used to recruit scout bees to a new nest site during the process of reproductive fission, or swarming. Recruits follow the dancing bee to obtain the information it contains, and then exit the hive to the location of interest. The distance and direction information contained in the dance are representations of the source's location (see Components of the Dance Language), and thus is the only known abstract "language" in nature other than human language.

Topics: Representation | Language | Bees

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

BitVault: a Highly Reliable Distributed Data Retention Platform 

MS Research
BitVault uses “smart brick” as the building block to lower the hardware cost. However, the challenges are to maintain low management cost in a system that needs to scale all the way from one brick to tens of thousands of bricks, to ensure reliability and to deliver with a simple enough design. Our design incorporates P2P technologies for its self-managing and self-healing capabilities and uses massively parallel repair to reduce vulnerability window of data loss.

Topics: Database | Architecture

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Re-thinking the online spreadsheet 

Sean McGrath
The obvious thing to do would be to take a spreadsheet from an office suite and transplant its functionality into a browser. This can certainly work and various initiatives are under way doing exactly this. However, I cannot help feeling that there might be an opportunity to do something a little more interesting than just "functionality transplantation" in this case.

What is a spreadsheet really? At heart it is a collection of cells of information. Some of these cells are static, containing words, numbers, pictures and so on. Some of these cells are dynamic containing calculations. The calculations use information from other cells to compute interesting things. The cells that calculations use can themselves be calculations...and there you have it. Everything else about a spreadsheet is secondary.

Cells in a spreadsheet are not like paragraphs in a word-processor or slides in a presentation in one very critical aspect. Cells have addresses. Cells can be uniquely referenced by means of their row and column numbers. Cells can also be referenced by friendly names allocated to cells such as "gross profit" or "unit cost" and so on.

See also: RDF Prior Art

Topics: Web 2.0 | Design

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Language may have evolved from music 

via Tom Coates
Studies in neuroscience and anthropology, however, suggest that music did help human ancestors survive, particularly before language. In "The Singing Neanderthals," which Harvard University Press is publishing Friday, Prof. Mithen weaves those studies into an intriguing argument that "language may have been built on the neural underpinnings of music."

He starts with evidence that music is not merely a side effect of intelligence and language, as some argue. Instead, recent discoveries suggest that music lays sole claim to specific neural real estate. Consider musical savants. Although learning-disabled or retarded, they have astounding musical abilities. One savant could hardly speak or understand words, yet he played flawlessly a simple piano melody from memory despite hearing it only once. In an encore, he added left-hand chords and transposed it into a minor key.

"Music," says Prof. Mithen, "can exist within the brain in the absence of language," a sign that the two evolved independently. And since language impairment does not wipe out musical ability, the latter "must have a longer evolutionary history."

. . .

Music also promotes social bonding, which was crucial when humans were more often hunted than hunter and finding food was no walk on the savannah. Proto-music "became a communication system" for "the expression of emotion and the forging of group identities," argues Prof. Mithen.

Because music has grammar-like qualities such as recursion, it might have served an even greater function. With music in the brain, early humans had the neural foundation for the development of what most distinguishes us from other animals: symbolic thought and language.

Topics: Music | Language | Evolution

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