Reasoning about digital circuits using string diagrams

Hardware and software, two worlds apart As I drifted between the worlds of programming languages and hardware design over the last ten years or so, I was quite struck by one significant and maybe difficult to explain difference when it comes to modelling and semantics. 
In the world of software the workhorse of formal verification and validation is operational semantics: programming languages come with a set of syntactical rules showing how the program and other components of its configuration (e.g. the state) evolves during execution.  Let's take, for example, a simple language of commands. We may want to model a program (c) by showing how it changes the state (s), which is a function mapping memory location (addresses) into values. A configuration is a program together with its state, (c, s). We show the execution of a program in a state to a new state as run (c, s) = s' or, using fancier mathy notation (c, s⇓ s'. Here are some sample rules (this list is quite boring,…

Comparing apples with oranges: OCaml vs Java in teaching

Can we compare programming languages? Can we ever say that subject to some criteria one language is better than the alternatives? Very hard, in general. But this year I was in a position to do this comparison in a way which even though far from perfect is at least vaguely meaningful.

We teach our freshmen two programming languages simultaneously in Year 1 Term 1: Java and OCaml. We don't assume the incoming students have programming experience although, of course, some of them do. But in terms of backgrounds this is as clean and as homogeneous as you can hope for. In Week 5 and Week 6 two of the assignments are shared between OCaml and Java. In total this means 6 short algorithmic programming exercises, administered via HackerRank (and tested for correctness and efficiency). The assignments were completed by about 180 students each.
zipping three lists (arrays in Java).unifying two strings with constants and variables.finding the best trade in a historical sequence of prices.runni…

What else are we getting wrong?

I like reading history of science and, as a working academic, I am amused by theories that used to be widely accepted yet false, such as the miasmatic theory of disease or the phlogiston theory of combustion. The examples are numerous enough to have their own Wikipedia Category. It makes me wonder which of the current orthodoxies are as spectacularly misguided (this is my personal bet). But the most challenging exercise is to think about my own discipline, the theory of programming languages, and think if any of the (sometimes unstated) dogmas could be utterly wrong.

I think asking ourselves this question is a useful exercise in critical thinking even though it sounds like trolling. First of all, it is justified, if we consider the historical trajectory of mainstream programming languages in terms of improving programmer productivity. I don't have a precise definition of what programmer productivity means, but I certainly don't mean KLOC/week or something silly like that. Let…

Welcome to my blog

This is a continuation of my old blog, The Lab Lunch. My old posts remain there. The main topics I covered in that blog are:
game semantics, an interactive approach to denotational semanticsGeometry of Synthesis, a new approach to high-level synthesisprogramming languages, the general area in which I do researchproof assistants, such as Coq or Agdaseamless computing, a new way to compile for distributed systemssystem level semantics, a syntax-independent semantics of languagesteaching mathematics, especially algebra, to childrenanticomputationalism, my attempt to refute the most fashionable theory of mind I am moving my blog here both due to regular failures of my old installation and because I want to perhaps express some non-work-related opinions in the future.