List of Awesome Things

from the Lang.NEXT conference this week. I heard most of this stuff not from the talks, but from the awesome people who were attending the conference.

  • Alloy – A language for relational models. You enter a specification of your problem in a first-order relational language (quite powerful) and then it tries to find counterexamples within some small space. If no counterexamples are found, you can have a fairly high degree of confidence in your model (as they say, “most assertions are wrong; most flaws have small counterexamples”).
  • Combinatorial Sketching. “Here’s what I want my algorithm to do, and I know that it probably involves a for loop and addition and multiplication. Figure it out for me, kthxbye.” (Thanks to Peter Alvaro for the last two links; check out his research on Bloom, too: a very nice way to simplify and analyze distributed systems)
  • Cyc, a queryable database of “common sense”.
  • Labanotation – a standardized system for recording human motion. Traditionally used to write down choreography.
  • Structure and Interpretation of Classical Mechanics, in which Sussman (creator of Scheme) writes about classical mechanics in a functional style. I have read the first chapter, and I have to say, functional calculus notation makes a lot more sense to me than the traditional notation. Go figure.
  • Algorithmic information theory
  • Smooth interpretation — a way of smoothing out digital programs so that their parameter spaces can be searched by gradient descent.
  • Lytro, the coolest piece of hardware I have seen in years: it’s a camera which records the directions of incoming rays, so that you can focus the picture after the fact. For example.

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