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Alan Perlis and APL is More Like French | Chasing Men Who Stare at Arrays

Alan Perlis and APL is More Like French

It’s interesting trolling the programming language forums where APL is sometimes referred to with unwarranted derision and in the past tense.  I actually start worrying that I am blowing someone’s cover when I say:  Wow,  still the underdog language out there silently kicking ass.

And I have to admit, I find the vehemence is just weird.  Maybe Ken peed on someone’s cornflakes and started some strange feud a long long long time ago, but that’s an almost impossible image on conjure up. I don’t get it.  Anyway…

What I’m winding up to here, is that there have been moments of validation and triumph all along this bumpy path, and Yale University’s Alan Perlis 1978 talk Almost Perfect Artifacts Improve in Small Ways: APL is more French than English represents  one of those moments.

I first learned about Alan Perlis from Dave Thomas, who spoke at a conference in Princeton NJ in 2009.  Thomas mentioned that in this 1978 talk, Alan Perlis talked about idioms in APL, and that these idioms actually were the first design patterns.

It turns out that Perlis also used APL to teach the introductory computer science course,  CPSC 221, at Yale around 1976-1984.

Well, now I have the audio tape of that 1978 talk by Alan Perlis.  Afraid playing it will destroy it, and dying to hear it,  I’m sending it off to the farm where my Dad will carefully digitize it.

I gotta say, it’s awesome holding that tape in my hands.


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4 Responses to “Alan Perlis and APL is More Like French”


  • Thanks fordoing this.

  • aprogramminglanguage aprogramminglanguage

    Thanks, Hank. I hope to meet you the next time I come to Philadelphia.

  • Alan Perlis taught APL at Carnegie-Mellon, in the S-601 course (second course in the Computer Science undergraduate sequence) in the Fall of 1970. There were a limited number of 2741s available, so punched cards were used (I wish I were kidding).

    When I asked AP (at the First Hopkins Symposium on the Role of Language in Problem Solving (1981, as I recall)) why he’d switched to LISP at Yale, he replied that it was much easier to organize team programming efforts in LISP than in APL.

  • aprogramminglanguage aprogramminglanguage

    Thank you for the comment, Dave. I consider myself a friend of LISP.

    And sadly, you can’t hear me giggle when I innocently say, “Whatever could he mean?”

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