Friday, May 27, 2011


Green letters, 10″ screen, a keyboard overlaid with Greek, written and compiled from right to left, and you say geeks don’t dream?
     A programming language named APL for (drumroll) A Programming Language. ι, that’s a vector; ι5, there’s (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
     For a Waterloo mathie, steeped in jokes like “Why can’t Typhoid Mary bear Sir Edmund Hillary’s children?”,* ι5 was a subroutine’s worth of Cobol in two characters, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis’ QED, the universe in a grain of sand. Häagen-Dazs in a tuck shop full of stale fudgsicles.  

* Ya can’t cross a vector with a scalar.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.


  1. For the record, I too have used APL, for a computer simulations course with the Geography department at U of T, but my reaction was far less rhapsodic than yours. In fact, and I suspect this will appall you, but once I discovered how I could modify the syntax, I did whatever I could to make APL look as closely as possible to all the other languages I had to use.

  2. Well, I didn't last long in computing; disliking subroutines was an omen. Reading about APL for this post, I was thinking probably its main appeal (besides the linguistic one) is that it's a spectacular failure, like Charlotte Corday.


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