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The Gamma: Simple code behind interactive articles

There are huge amounts of data around us that we could use to better understand the world. Every company collects large amounts of data about their sales or customers. Governments and international organizations increasingly release interesting data sets to the public through various open government data initiatives (data.gov or data.gov.uk). But raw data does not tell you much.

An interesting recent development is data journalism. Data journalists tell stories using data. A data driven article is based on an interesting observation from the data, it includes (interactive) visualizations that illustrate the point and it often allows the reader to get the raw data.

Adding a chart produced in, say, Excel to an article is easy, but building good interactive visualization is much harder. Ideally, the data driven article should not be just text with static pictures, but a program that links the original data source to the visualization. This lets readers explore how the data is used, update the content when new data is available and change parameters of the visualization if they need to understand different aspect of the topic.

This is in short what I'm trying to build with The Gamma project. If you're interested in building better reports or data driven articles, continue reading!

I did a talk about The Gamma project at the fantastic Future Programming workshop at the StrangeLoop conference last week (thanks for inviting me!) and there is a recording of my 40 minute talk on YouTube, so if you prefer to watch videos, check it out!

Are you a data journalist or data analyst? We're looking for early partners! I joined the EF programme to work on this and if the project sounds like something you'd like to see happen, please get in touch or share your contact details on The Gamma page!

Published: Monday, 28 September 2015, 5:07 PM
Tags: thegamma, type providers, data journalism, programming languages
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Creating web sites with Suave: How to contribute to F# Snippets

The core of many web sites and web APIs is very simple. Given an HTTP request, produce a HTTP response. In F#, we can represent this as a function with type Request -> Response. To make our server scalable, we should make the function asynchronous to avoid unnecessary blocking of threads. In F#, this can be captured as Request -> Async<Response>. Sounds pretty simple, right? So why are there so many evil frameworks that make simple web programming difficult?

Fortunately, there is a nice F# library called Suave.io that is based exactly on the above idea:

Suave is a simple web development F# library providing a lightweight web server and a set of combinators to manipulate route flow and task composition.

I recently decided to start a new version of the F# Snippets web site and I wanted to keep the implementation functional, simple, cross-platform and easy to contrbute to. I wrote a first prototype of the implementation using Suave and already received a few contributions via pull requests! In this blog post, I'll share a few interesting aspects of the implementation and I'll give you some good pointers where you can learn more about Suave. There is no excuse for not contributing to F# Snippets v2 after reading this blog post!

Published: Tuesday, 15 September 2015, 11:26 PM
Tags: f#, web
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In the age of the web: Typed functional-first programming revisited

Most programming languages were designed before the age of web. This matters because the web changes many assumptions that typed functional language designers tak for granted. For example, programs do not run in a closed world, but must instead interact with (changing and likely unreliable) services and data sources, communication is often asynchronous or event-driven, and programs need to interoperate with untyped environments like JavaScript libraries.

How can statically-typed programming languages adapt to the modern world? In this article, I look at one possible answer that is inspired by the F# language and various F# libraries. In F#, we use type providers for integration with external information sources and for integration with untyped programming environments. We use lightweight meta-programming for targeting JavaScript and computation expressions for writing asynchronous code.

This blog post is a shorter version of a ML workshop paper that I co-authored earlier this year and you should see this more as a position statement. I'm not sure if F# and the solutions shown here are the best ones, but I think they highlight very important questions in programming language design that I very much see as unsolved.

The article has two sections. First, I'll go through a simple case study showing how F# can be used to build a client-side web widget. Then, I'll discuss some of the implications for programming language design based on the example.

Published: Wednesday, 9 September 2015, 5:14 PM
Tags: f#, type providers, web, functional programming, research
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