Anyway, it suddenly dawned on me that there's a monad to be wrung out of any recursive data structure. Roughly it goes like this: take a tree-like type, Tree a with some leaves are of type a. Visualise, if you will, an object of type Tree (Tree a), ie. a tree with leaves are themselves trees. You can graft the leaves that are trees directly into the parent tree giving you a Tree a. So grafting gives you a map Tree (Tree a) -> Tree a. That should remind you of part of the definition of a monad - this is the function called join in Haskell, or μ by category theorists. Note, for example, that grafting grandchildren into children before grafting the children into their parents gives the same result as grafting the children before the grandchildren. These, and other similar observations, give the usual monad laws.
Enough talk. Here's an expression datastructure.
> data Expr b = (Expr b) :+ (Expr b)
> | (Expr b) :* (Expr b)
> | F (Expr b) (Expr b)
> | I Int
> | V b deriving (Eq,Show)
Think of V b as a variable whose name is of type b. These are the points at which we'll graft in the subtrees. In this case, grafting will be the well known operation of substituting the value of a variable for the variable.
Here are the definitions:
> instance Monad Expr where
> return b = V b
> (a :+ b) >>= f = (a >>= f) :+ (b >>= f)
> (a :* b) >>= f = (a >>= f) :* (b >>= f)
> F a b >>= f = F (a >>= f) (b >>= f)
> I i >>= f = I i
> V b >>= f = f b
To apply >>= f you recursively apply it to the children except for V b where you actually get to apply f. So now we can define an 'enviroment' mapping variable names to values and construct an example tree e:
> env "a" = I 1
> env "b" = V "a" :+ I 2
> env "c" = V "a" :+ V "b"
> e = V "c" :+ I 3
It should be easy to see that e >>= env substitutes the value of c for V "c". But it's more fun to write this as the slightly bizarre looking:
> subst1 env e = do
> a <- e
> env a
> test1 = subst1 env e
We can read "a <- e" in English as "drill down into e setting a to the name of each variable in turn". So this is a backtracking monad like  with a taking on multiple values. But notice how it only does one level of substitution. We can do two levels like this
> subst2 env e = do
> a <- e
> b <- env a
> env b
> test2 = subst2 env e
With each line we drill down further into e. But of course we really want to go all the way:
> subst3 env e = do
> a <- e
> subst3 env (env a)
> test3 = subst3 env e
And so now I can confess about why I wrote this post. subst3 looks like a non-terminating loop with subst3 simply calling itself without ever apparently checking for termination, and yet it terminates with the correct result. Well I found it mildly amusing anyway.
Anyway, this >>= is a generalised fold meaning there's an F-algebra lurking around. Armed with the words F-algebra, monad and tree I was able to start Googling and I found this which points out that the connection between trees and monads is "well known".
Oh well, I've got this far, I may as well finish the job. That paper is about dualising the above construction so I'll implement it. This time, instead of considering trees where each node is optionally replaced by a label, we now have trees where every node has a label as well as a subtree. We call these labels decorations. In this case I think I'll work with trees are hierarchical descriptions of the parts of something (in a vain attempt to pretend this stuff is actually practical :-)
> class Comonad w where
> counit :: w a -> a
> cobind :: (w a -> b) -> w a -> w b
> data Parts' a = A [Parts a] | S String deriving (Eq,Show)
> data Parts a = P (Parts' a,a) deriving (Eq,Show)
> instance Comonad Parts where
> counit (P (_,a)) = a
> cobind f z = case z of
> P (S s,a) -> P (S s,f z)
> P (A l,a) -> P (A $ map (cobind f) l,f z)
We'll consider parts of a plane. We'll decorate the parts with their price. The function total computes the total price of a tree of parts. cobind now extends total so that every part is (unfortunately, inefficiently) redecorated with its total price including that of its subparts. If you're having trouble visualising comonads, this seems like a nice elementary example to think about.
> total (P (S _,n)) = n
> total (P (A x,_)) = sum $ map total x
> lwing = P (S "left wing",1000000)
> rwing = P (S "right wing",1000000)
> cockpit = P (S "cockpit",2000000)
> fuselage = P (S "fuselage",2000000)
> body = P (A [fuselage,cockpit],undefined)
> plane = P (A [lwing,rwing,body],undefined)
> test4 = cobind total plane
Uustalu and Vene's paper is pretty scary looking for something that's ultimately fairly simple!
Anyway, one last thought: this paper points out that in some sense, all monads and comonads can be thought of as trees with substitutions or redecoration.
Update: Modified the date of this entry. Blogger defaults to the day you first create an entry, not the date you publish. Let's see how many things break by fixing it to today...