Friday, August 04, 2006

Scalability by using a lot of computers

Every wondered how they get web searches to come back so fast? Obviously, by using a lot of computers. But,
Without understanding functional programming, you can't invent MapReduce, the algorithm that makes Google so massively scalable.
says Joel Spolsky, while going on to explain what functional programming is. To simplify, what he says is that if you are processing data by looping through it, then different computers can loop through different sections of the data all at the same time. This is the vital next step:
By abstracting away the very concept of looping, you can implement looping any way you want, including implementing it in a way that scales nicely with extra hardware.
What's more:
The very fact that Google invented MapReduce, and Microsoft didn't, says something about why Microsoft is still playing catch up trying to get basic search features to work, while Google has moved on to the next problem: building Skynet^H^H^H^H^H^H the world's largest massively parallel supercomputer. I don't think Microsoft completely understands just how far behind they are on that wave.
Well, Microsoft are further ahead than just basic search, but they are certainly lagging. He ends up by pointing out that too many Computer Science students are not taught this part of their subject. Is this correct? I was just such a Computer Science student once, and there was a module on functional programming module available, but if I thought about it at all back then, I saw it as a branch of the subject with not much application to the real world. As it turns out, I was wrong.

Psychedelic wipe-out

First Syd Barrett, probably the greatest talent of the psychedelic movement in Britain, copped it. And now his American counterpart Arthur Lee is gone.

What have they left us? About an LP's worth of great material or so each, a sense of innocence and wonder, and hopes that were never fulfilled.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who has died at 90, was a lyric soprano whose aristocratic purity of tone and attention to detail made her the supreme female exponent of the songs of Strauss and Wolf and produced some of the most authoritative operatic performances of the postwar era.
I'll listen to the Italienisches Liederbuch this morning...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


The Weekly Standard and, less tendentiously, The Economist look back at the Suez Crisis.

The Federation of Conservative Students

The Westminster Hour, broadcast on Sunday nights, has an excellent 15 minute slot called The Sunday Supplement. The last two weeks, entitled A Burst of Freedom, have contained a two-parter about the Federation of Conservative Students. It functioned as the Tory party's libertarian youth wing during the Thatcher years and provides a colourful piece of political history. Both parts should eventually be available here.