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Re: Re: Wolfram User Interface Research? [off-topic!]

  • To: mathgroup at
  • Subject: [mg88100] Re: [mg88053] Re: Wolfram User Interface Research? [off-topic!]
  • From: Murray Eisenberg <murray at>
  • Date: Thu, 24 Apr 2008 05:59:20 -0400 (EDT)
  • Organization: Mathematics & Statistics, Univ. of Mass./Amherst
  • References: <fuhfdc$ihb$> <fuhrka$s88$> <> <fukeo8$s2j$> <>
  • Reply-to: murray at

Responses interleaved below.

AES wrote:
> 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".
>       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.

Yes, and my experience with students and colleagues is that long (lr not 
so long) Mathematica programs, especially those that involve functional 
programming and patter-matching, are just as inscrutable to the 
non-initiate or non-expert.

>       ...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.

Right, there are far fewer "APL programmers" today. To some extent this 
is because the stables of such employed by time-sharing services or the 
several large APL implementation houses disappeared as time-sharing 
services disappeared and as the APL implementation business consolidated 
(and as, e.g., CDC, which was a big APL backer, went belly-up).

My experience is to the contrary, namely, that plain APL programmers 
became a disappearing breed, but scientists and financial analysts and 
actuaries who were not at all primarily programmers use(d) APL.
>> 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.

You'd be surprised (or perhaps not) at how many mathematicians, 
scientists, and engineers I know say about Mathematica something that 
many have said about APL: that it's too hard to learn and too strange 
and unfamiliar, i.e., either unlike traditional mathematical notation or 
unlike FORTRAN and a certain CAS that's a glorified, enhanced FORTRAN.

>> 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 -... were all 
>       _immensely_ more limited and more expensive 20 years ago, 

So far as I am aware, the primary reason for APL's success was that 
those who programmed in it were (and are!) so much more productive than 
those who programed (and program) in other languages.  Even back then, 
it was programmers who were the limiting factor, not computer resources.

Murray Eisenberg                     murray at
Mathematics & Statistics Dept.
Lederle Graduate Research Tower      phone 413 549-1020 (H)
University of Massachusetts                413 545-2859 (W)
710 North Pleasant Street            fax   413 545-1801
Amherst, MA 01003-9305

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