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Re: Wolfram User Interface Research?

  • To: mathgroup at
  • Subject: [mg88053] Re: Wolfram User Interface Research?
  • From: AES <siegman at>
  • Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2008 04:07:25 -0400 (EDT)
  • Organization: Stanford University
  • References: <fuhfdc$ihb$> <fuhrka$s88$> <> <fukeo8$s2j$>

In article <fukeo8$s2j$1 at>,
 Murray Eisenberg <murray at> wrote:

> This comment about APL is quite wrong: nothing "compelled you" to write 
> "inscrutable single line programs" (except maybe in the earliest days, 
> when one was sending single lines over a telephone line to a mainframe, 
> then waiting for your instruction's turn to get its slice of time and 
> have the result sent back and typed at your terminal).
> With APL then, and with IBM's APL2 now, you MAY, if you wish, write 
> overly condensed one-liners.  And indeed some APL programmers aimed to 
> write as concise a program, all in one line, as they could possibly do.

      I'll totally concede your point here.  But I don't think it makes
      my original comment "quite wrong", or even wrong at all.

      And I'm not attacking APL at all -- a great (if arcane)
      intellectual achievement in computer science, and maybe 
      a great (if still arcane) tool for certain types of computation.
      But nonetheless, the arcane symbolic notation used in APL 
      tends to make even multi-line APL programs nearly as 
      inscrutable for all but APL experts.

> What's more, many of the combinations of symbols in APL were instantly 
> recongnizable to any APL programmer as so-called "idioms".

      Again, happy to agree.  But, there aren't really a lot of 
      "APL programmers" around, right? -- and I'd bet that 
      they tend to be "programmers" employed as such, rather 
      than "ordinary users" from many other fields, who just 
      want to be get some computational task done in the
      field where their skills primarily lie.

      Is the primary market for Mathematica supposed to be
      "Mathematica programmers", skilled in the arcana of the
      more abstruse parts of Mathematica, or "ordinary users"
      whose primary interests and skills lie in many, many other 
      fields -- and who want Mathematica to be (for them) just
      an easy to learn, easy to use, easy to remember tool?

> The delight of APL was, and is, that many very complicated things can, 
> in fact, be expressed quite concisely, in a way that the suggestive 
> graphic symbols of APL help one understand.

      Yes, and that's absolutely fine.  

      But is Mathematica supposed to be a $1000 gaming 
      platform for "most powerful but also most abstruse 
      one-liner competitions"?  

      Or a useful tool that can be quickly and easily learned (and 
      remembered between intermittent uses!) by ordinary 
      _non-programmer_  users, who just want to get work 
      done using it in _their_ field of expertise.

> Mathematica programs can be MUCH more difficult to understand 
> than corresponding APL program -- because the Mathematica programs use 
> all those, often long, words, and because they force one to pay close 
> attention to order of precedence and to insert nested brackets.

      Have to more or less totally disagree here.  The 1000 or
      more basic symbols in Mathematica have names like  ToUpperCase[]  
      and  EllipticThetaPrime[]  for a reason . . . a _good_ reason.

> I cannot speak knowledgeably of the current situation with APL2, but for 
> many years APL programmers were incredibly productive compared with 
> those programming in just about all other standard computer languages. 
> It's not for no good reason that, for example, major financial analysis 
> systems and reservations systems were written in APL (and some still 
> are, or at least in offshoots from the APL trunk).

      I suspect that one large part of the good reasons for this 
      situation (if not the primary reason) was that every type of 
      computer resource --- cpu speeds, hard disk storage capacity, 
      printer capabilities, display capabilities, compiler capabilities, 
      communication link speeds --- was (or were) were all 
      _immensely_ more limited and more expensive 20 years ago, 
      when these programs were written, than what we enjoy today.

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