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OCaml Summer Project deadline approaching (was Re: [Caml-list] Interactive technical computing)
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Date: -- (:)
From: Jim Miller <gordon.j.miller@g...>
Subject: Re: OCaml Summer Project deadline approaching (was Re: [Caml-list] Interactive technical computing)
In looking through the list of summer project ideas at the website, there is
already one listed for the scientific visualization.  It even references R
as a good place to look for a starting point.

On 3/7/07, Yaron Minsky <yminsky@cs.cornell.edu> wrote:
>
> I definitely agree that this kind of interactive visualization is a big
> hole in the OCaml ecosystem.  If I might make a small plug, doing the
> initial work on a good interactive visualization system for OCaml would make
> a great project for the OCaml Summer Project (
> http://osp2007.janestcapital.com).
>
> This seems like a good time to remind people that the deadline for
> submissions is approaching fast.  All submissions must be in by March 15th,
> and decisions will be rendered by March 30th.  We already have a number of
> solid proposals, and would love to have more.  We hope to help bring some
> great OCaml software into existence this summer.
>
> y
>
> On 3/7/07, Jim Miller <gordon.j.miller@gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> > I think that this would be a potentially fantastic application!  As a
> > physicist I am frequently faced with the option of using an interactive tool
> > that supports graphics (PV-WAVE, IDL, R, and Matlab/Octave are very popular)
> > but is VERY slow or doing things in a fast but tedious language (C/C++ are
> > currently the rage with a few individuals that still do Fortran 9X).
> >
> > Having an OCaml based language that combines a top level command line
> > loop that allows me to interactive explore data and develop scripts but that
> > allows me to compile those into something fast could be a very, very useful
> > tool.  My particular domains are atmospheric photochemistry as well as
> > satellite mission planning and imagery exploitation.  We tend to do a LOT
> > less with 3D visualizations and much more with traditional line, contour,
> > and scatter plots.  We also do a lot of false color imagery.
> >
> > The closest that I have come to this is a quick module that allows me to
> > spawn a gnuplot program and pass command strings, via a pipe.  A few
> > functions to ensure that data is formatted properly and I have something
> > that's manageable.
> >
> > I'd be interested in conspiring/planning on something in this space.  It
> > would also be useful to see if there's a useful way to bridge this with R,
> > which is my current favorite language for doing statistical data analysis
> > and plot generation but it still suffers from the problems of speed.
> >
> > On 3/7/07, Jon Harrop < jon@ffconsultancy.com> wrote:
> > >
> > >
> > > Being a user of both OCaml and Mathematica, playing with the new F#
> > > language
> > > from Microsoft and watching tutorial videos about VPython:
> > >
> > >    http://showmedo.com/videos/series?name=pythonThompsonVPythonSeries
> > >
> > > has given me a lot of inspiration about interactive technical
> > > computing
> > > environments. This class of applications is hugely useful for working
> > > scientists and engineers because it lets you slice and dice your data
> > > in
> > > interesting ways whilst also giving you visual throwback and even
> > > letting you
> > > do some fancy visualisations.
> > >
> > > For example, I'm in the process of updating my ray tracer language
> > > comparison:
> > >
> > >   http://www.ffconsultancy.com/languages/ray_tracer/index.html
> > >
> > > and I'm using a mix of OCaml (to fire off compilation and execution
> > > commands)
> > > and Mathematica (to dissect the results, compute verbosity using
> > > regexps and
> > > plot graphs):
> > >
> > >    http://www.ffconsultancy.com/tmp/mathematica.png
> > >
> > > Mathematica's equivalent of the OCaml top-level is called a notebook.
> > > It
> > > provides expression input and result output, just like OCaml, but
> > > integrates
> > > graphics, adds typesetting and lots of mathematical functions.
> > > However, it is
> > > widely used for more general purpose programming despite being very
> > > slow.
> > >
> > > Using F# from Visual Studio 2005 provides some of this functionality.
> > > The
> > > following screenshots illustrate 2D and 3D graphics spawned from an F#
> > >
> > > interactive session using a little of my own code and
> > > DirectX/ComponentsXtra:
> > >
> > >    http://www.ffconsultancy.com/tmp/fs_xygraph.png
> > >    http://www.ffconsultancy.com/tmp/fs_3dplot.png
> > >
> > > For all non-trivials examples in F# it is necessary to spawn a
> > > separate thread
> > > to handle the GUI of the visualization, or the GUI will hang when the
> > > top-level is doing an intensive computation.
> > >
> > > I think F# has a great future because of its ability to spawn
> > > visualizations
> > > from a running interactive session. Expensive commercial offerings
> > > like
> > > Matlab and Mathematica are ok when you're doing something they have
> > > built-in
> > > (e.g. a Fourier transform) but when you're problem is not trivially
> > > decomposed into their built-in operators (e.g. a wavelet transform),
> > > F# and
> > > OCaml are typically 2-5x faster, and when you must resort to more
> > > general
> > > purpose programming F# and OCaml are often 100x faster.
> > >
> > > However, there is a lot of work to be done in getting competitive
> > > charting and
> > > visualization tools into F# and I'm thinking that OCaml could benefit
> > > from a
> > > joint venture here. Low-level routines would target DirectX in F# and
> > > OpenGL
> > > in OCaml but high-level routines could be language and platform
> > > agnostic,
> > > handling a scene graph that is essentially a typed version of
> > > Mathematica's
> > > to provide much faster graphics and even interactive visualisation
> > > (Mathematica is software rendered and not interactive!).
> > >
> > > This raises several questions:
> > >
> > > . What OCaml programs currently allow OpenGL-based visualizations to
> > > be
> > > spawned from the top-level?
> > >
> > > . Has anyone tried to write an IDE that mixes OCaml code with
> > > graphics?
> > >
> > > . Would anyone here be interested in a low-cost cross-platform
> > > technical
> > > computing environment based upon the OCaml and F# languages?
> > >
> > > Obviously I'm interested in this from a commercial perspective. That
> > > looks
> > > easy for F# but not so easy for OCaml. Compiled OCaml+OpenGL code is
> > > not as
> > > portable (between machines) as F#+DirectX. Also, I can sell F# DLLs
> > > and even
> > > make the library available to other .NET languages (albeit with a
> > > significantly less productive API).
> > >
> > > Finally, I'd like to note that operator overloading is probably the
> > > single
> > > biggest difference between my F# and OCaml code. The ability to apply
> > > + and -
> > > to many types, particularly vectors and matrices, makes this kind of
> > > work so
> > > much easier. Even if you have to add the odd type annotation. So I'd
> > > love to
> > > see a compatible implementation of overloading introduced into OCaml.
> > >
> > > I'd like to hear everyone's opinions on this as, it seems to me, we're
> > > sitting
> > > on the foundations of a great technical computing system.
> > >
> > > --
> > > Dr Jon D Harrop, Flying Frog Consultancy Ltd.
> > > OCaml for Scientists
> > > http://www.ffconsultancy.com/products/ocaml_for_scientists
> > >
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