Alex Barnett blog



In my first week with the Data Programmability team, my new manager suggested I set up a bunch of introductory meetings with some of the team members. One of the very first of these meetings was with Software Architect Brian Beckman. I spent an hour with him and was totally blown away.

This is Brian, holding a copy of the 'Towards 2020" report published by Microsoft Research that he contributed to this year:

As I was sitting and listening to Brian's stream of consciousness I felt like I was watching a live 3D version of a Channel 9 video. At the end of our chat I asked him if he wouldn't mind me asking Charles Torre of Channel 9 to interview him. I really wanted others to have the chance to hear him talk. He happily agreed and the end result is now up for downloading on Channel 9. It's a large download but worth it - you'll be thoroughly entertained.

Brian is a cosmologist / astrophysicist  / quantum physicist / academic-turned-programming language designer (!). His bookshelf is one of the more unusual you'll see around campus in terms of the mix (and is the only person I know other than me to own a Steve Wolfram book (I have A New Kind of Science - an extraordinary work).

He spent his early career at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) researching nutty stuff such as the Time Warp Operating System and virtual time theory, distributed computing - running the Game of Life and virtual billiards on parallel processors, and developing War Game simulators for government (a little bit like the Game of Life, but more of a Game of Death involving large-scale nuclear warhead deployments and massive Soviet troop and tank maneuver scenarios: think of it as Sims Massively-Accelerated-Anti-Evolution Edition)...

Gosper's Glider Gun creating "gliders".

Brian joined the Microsoft Research team years ago (before it was known as MSR) and today leads the our research and product incubation efforts in the Data Programmability team. He loves his functional programming languages: Haskell (Erik Meijer is one of Haskell's designers and is also in Brian's team) and Scheme. And he loves his Monads: Erik and Brian jointly wrote 'The Return of the Monoids' (not a science-fiction horror script, but research paper). As an example of what Brian does today, he was involved in the development of the Entity Data Model (EDM) into ADO.NET. This technology recently saw the light of day in ADO.NET Entity Framework CTP), with Brian taking on the role of translating the theoretical and mathematical models of EDM developed by the research team into coded concepts the product teams could interpret and then develop the technology for ADO.NET, SQL Server, and Visual Studio. In our first meeting we spent some time discussing the dynamic languages Ruby, Python and Perl - the great news for me was that he was very familiar with these and is actually quite a big fan of them although his day-to-day attention is focused on VB.NET as you can see from the video.

Mr Beckman collects calculators. He showed me one I've never see before - the CURTA Calculator. (The story behind its invention is as amazing as the device itself.)

He also show me this:

...which he has programmed to print out these:

His desktop scientific print calculator simply crunches out prime numbers, all day long, every day and has done for years.

Each new prime takes a little longer to calculate than the previous prime. Currently it takes about 6 hours to work out the next prime number. Earlier this year our team ran an internal competition - ADO.NET Idol: it's simple: the coolest app developed by a member the DP / SQL team using the ADO.NET vNext / EDM stack wins. Brian won it by developing an full-on emulator of the print calculator, GUI and all, programming each of the calculator's functions into a virtual ADO.NET vNext calculator to calculate and print out the prime numbers (at a considerably faster rate than the real calculator of course...). For fun.

Anyway, along with Brian and Erik and loads of others on the team, I've always plenty to learn each day around here...


TrackBack said:

I just added Brian Beckman to Bloglines....
# September 5, 2006 12:14 AM blog said:

Channel 9 keeps pumping out good stuff. Here is my pick of recent interviews: Charles Torre discusses

# February 1, 2007 5:51 PM