Feb. 8th, 2017

pheloniusfriar: (Default)
I have had a special fondness for the FORTH language since I first encountered it many, many years ago. There is an elegance, and dare I say beauty, to it that other computer languages lack. It was its own operating system, integrated development environment, and programming runtime from the early 1970s and a powerful paradigm for software development in the 1980s with the advent of microcomputers (I did one actual application in it professionally, but used it a lot to play with different ideas I had on my own as well). There is something about the way of approching application development with FORTH that is different than pretty much any other language: that you basically write a new language, based in FORTH, for the application rather than a series of functions or objects to implement the needed funtionality to support the application. It's a fundamentally different way of approaching problems, and one that I find very satisfying. The only other language that comes close to it for me is Tcl (the Tool Command Language, pronounced "tickle"), which is an odd duck of a computer language as well (and one in which I have developed some very sophisticated application software for "electronic data interchange" and such), but that's another story.

One of the things that differentiated FORTH as well is a famous book on the language called "Starting FORTH" by Leo Brodie. It was illustrated with little cartoons to act as mnemonics to learning and covered everything one needed to know to get going and even get good with FORTH, along with a bunch of "under the hood" stuff for those doing serious programming. I think I was mumbling something about it to a friend and I was thinking... I wonder if that book is online anywhere? Sure enough, it is, but it is in a form that is a little challenging to try to read (it was only allowed in HTML, a PDF was not permitted by the copyright holders). I had been hoping to show my friend a little bit about it using the fun (but in depth) introduction done by Brodie, but I figured if I recoiled from the online version, my friend (who has only done a bit of programming) would be flummoxed by it entirely. The FORTH user's group or fan pages or whatever they were, said that "if you ever see a copy of Brodie's book for a reasonable price, buy it! They can be rare and expensive!". So, at the suggestion of my friend, I went online and did find a copy of the book for a very reasonable price, and went ahead and ordered it. It arrived a few days ago and I have been casually reading through it. I am falling in love with FORTH all over again, but also realize the serious limitations it had back then (the book was based on the FORTH-79 standardization, and there have been two rounds since then, with the latest in 1994, called "ANS FORTH"... so modern features have been added for sure).

Anyway, I just wanted to share one "adorable" quote from the book... a true time capsule of the state of the computing world back in 1981 (at least the microcomputer computing world):

Disk memory is divided into units called "blocks". Many professional FORTH development systems have 500 blocks available (250 from each disk drive). Each block holds 1,024 characters of source text. The 1,024 characters are divided for display into 16 lines of 64 characters each, to fit conveniently on your terminal screen.

Awwww... so cuuute! :)


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