Featherweight Musings

Thursday, April 29, 2010

UK Elections

Bit of a departure from the usual, but it's election time, so why not?

Who to vote for - no-one looks conviincing, labour are tired and have made a total mess, plus there is that unpleasent Tony Blair taste left over. The size of the british state is getting ridiculous and the infringements on civil liberties frightening.

Voting Tory would be like selling one's soul to Satan (remember the '80s?), plus Cameron looks like Blair 2.0. The liberal democrats have some good policies (civil liberties, imigration) and actually have a chance of getting some votes this year, but have some stupid policies too (abolishing tuition fees, no nuclear power, etc.). Perhaps a lib-dem/tory coalition might work. What we really need is a proper liberal party - in both economic and social terms. And one with the guts to radically reform the health service (take power away from the GMC, reform doctor training and the doctor's/GMC monopoly) and education (let universities charge what they like, abandon the stupid target of getting stupid people through universities, fix primary/secondary schools a bit (although God knows how to do that)).

So The Economist is probably right, as repulsive as it seems, the tories are probably the best bet for a vote. Now that is a sorry state of affairs, glad I don't actually live in the UK right now.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

You wait months for a good seminar...

...and then three come along at once!

Following Monday's seminar Robert was scheduled to talk again on tuesday, this time at the NZCSRSC (student research conference). It sounded like an interesting talk - "How to change the world" is not a modest title. And having perused the slides I am very disappointed not to have attended - it looks like there were a lot of good things, and thinking about your work in terms of impact is an interesting perspective, and one which I have not thought of since working in PLT.

Anyway, I couldn't attend because I was attending another seminar, this one from Rusten Leino on the Dafny language/verifier and other verifcation stuff going on at Microsoft research. It was a very interesting seminar with a very good demo of verification in action. Pretty impressive amount of bugs caught and all proofs done automatically - it was kind of like magic! Really solved the problem I have with a lot of these things, which is that no-one wants to prove their programs. The annotation overhead is still quite high, and I think only a minority of programmers will be able to write the specifications. But, with a little practice, I can imagine writing code with specs in Dafny in a practical way.

Rusten also summarised some of the other verification efforts he is associated with and they have acheived some pretty cool stuff.

"Dynamic framing" sounds cool, and I should try and understand it better.

Overall, I got the feeling that right there was the future of 'safe' programming languages, or at least a sneak peak of it. And, since it's at Microsoft, it actually has a fighting chance of making it into the real world!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Who would have thought...

...that a talk about standards would be interesting? But it was! Robert O'Callahan (Mozilla) just gave a talk about web standards. Standards are dull, and people who care about them tend to be even duller, but this was not a dull talk! It was interesting! Lots of interesting things about the web.

One nice thing is that short interations seem to work better for standards too, just like software. I think this is one of those fundamental computer science truths, kind of like "you can solve any problem with an extra indirection", for any task, shorter iterations are better.

Also, interesting parsing problem - "herebedragons", its obvious what is intended, but how should you parse it? And make a tree that can be manipulated by Javascript etc. And we all thought syntax had been solved thirty years ago. In fact, the web seems to be a whole new world of interesting computer science problems (see the post on Javascript VMs). Now what would be an interesting research topic?