[TUHS] in defense of SNOBOL, APL (and Icon) (was Re: Dave Cutler (was Re: Re: Happy birthday, Dick Hustvedt!)

Charles H. Sauer sauer at technologists.com
Thu Feb 22 13:25:29 AEST 2018

[I’ll bring this back to AIX so as to not be straying too far from Unix.]

I learned SNOBOL in an undergraduate programming languages course at UT-Austin. 

When I went to Yorktown in 1975, I brought with me a queueing network simulation program, APLOMB, that I wrote in Fortran. I thought of APLOMB as almost incidental to my dissertation (chapter VI at http://technologists.com/sauer/CONFIGURATION%20OF%20COMPUTING%20SYSTEMS%20-%20AN%20APPROACH%20USING%20QUEUEING%20NETWORK%20MODELS.pdf <http://technologists.com/sauer/CONFIGURATION%20OF%20COMPUTING%20SYSTEMS%20-%20AN%20APPROACH%20USING%20QUEUEING%20NETWORK%20MODELS.pdf>).

The group I joined in Yorktown was very interested in APLOMB. I was encouraged to enhance it considerably, which I did, continuing with Fortran, in spite of wishing I was using a language with support for structured data types, pointers, etc.

One of my colleagues, the late Martin Reiser, had developed a numerical package, QNET4, for solving a subset of the queueing networks considered by APLOMB. Martin was adept with APL and designed QNET4 in APL, but subsequently maintained a PL/I version in parallel with the APL original. I never did much more than play with APL, though I think I had a Selectric ball for APL and may have had a 3277 with APL (IIRC, APL was an optional extra).

It soon came to pass that we wanted to put APLOMB and QNET4 under one roof and the combination became RESQ (http://web.archive.org/web/20130627040507/http://www.research.ibm.com/compsci/performance/history.html <http://web.archive.org/web/20130627040507/http://www.research.ibm.com/compsci/performance/history.html>), based on extending QNET4 and cobbling it with the Fortran APLOMB.

RESQ was very well received. Our management bemoaned the kludgey implementation, wishing APLOMB was in PL/I, convinced that getting APLOMB into PL/I would be an enormous effort.

Remembering my pleasant course experiences with SNOBOL, I used SNOBOL to create a Fortran to PL/I translator of sorts. I think it took me less than two weeks to write the translator, use it with APLOMB and begin working with the all-PL/I version of RESQ. Management, Martin, Ed MacNair (other primary RESQ developer), and I were all thrilled.

One of SNOBOL’s creators, Ralph Griswold, created a somewhat analogous but less syntactically intimidating successor, Icon (https://www2.cs.arizona.edu/icon/ <https://www2.cs.arizona.edu/icon/>). When we in AIX development bemoaned all the code that still existed as PL.8, I remembered the SNOBOL experience and prototyped a PL.8 to C translator in Icon. Dave Farber of ISC (not the CMU Prof. Farber) enhanced it and it was used to assist in getting the PL.8 code to C in AIX.


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