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Film Synopsis | Chasing Men Who Stare at Arrays

Film Synopsis

I was raised in a unique society by people who accept significantly different ways of thinking, challenge the status quo and as a result, created an invention that subtly changes the world.  An no one knows about it.  And a Canadian started it all…

I want everyone to know about it.

The Synopsis

A programming Language will be a feature length documentary profiling the history of APL and its derivative languages, beginning from APL’s inception in the early 1960s.

This direct cinema documentary will probe the successes, failures and idiosyncrasies of one of the worlds least understood programming languages still in use today. Through the intimate perspective of an original implementer’s daughter, we’ll scrutinize the language itself, its Canadian roots, how it is used and the unique community which surrounds it, revealing how the original vision of its founders, with their dedication to language, human commuter interaction, tools for thinking, and strict aesthetics are alive and well today.

While other themes will emerge during the development and production, we believe our primary themes will probe APLs contribution to science, computer science and international finance.  We will also pay close attention to how the language was branded and marketed over the past 40 years, exploring the tension between aesthetic and commercial pursuits.

The film is primarily set in Canada, the United States, the UK and Denmark, with some scenes in relevant locations throughout Europe.

See also More on the script

 

This direct cinema documentary will probe the successes, failures and idiosyncrasies of one of the worlds least understood programming languages still in use today.  Through the intimate perspective of one of APL’s original implementer’s daughter, we’ll scrutinize the language itself, its Canadian roots, how it is used and the unique community which surrounds it, revealing how the original vision of its founders, with their dedication to language, human commuter interaction, tools for thinking, and strict aesthetics are alive and well today.

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14 Responses to “Film Synopsis”


  • I am not sure about “science” but we used APL extensively at IBM Hursley for the mechanical engineering design of the first hard disk drive where the operating mechanism was all in one enclosure with a rotary actuator – the architecture that is used by every disk drive currently in production.

    We wrote a set of programs to optimise the geometry and various aspects of the mechanics. The geometry engine was such that the design was parametric, something that was not possible in CAD programs until the 90’s. This was one reason I gave up on designing disk drives. If you wanted the layout for a new one you just put in a few new numbers and you were done.

  • Nearly 30 years ago, I had the great good fortune of being introduced to the world of fixed income mathematics through APL…what a great way to start.

    The basic formula for the price and duration of a bond was a single, and not at all complicated, APL expression. My career in the bond market blossomed from there and actually took me away from programming in a formal setting, but the synergy of thinking of fixed income math using APL syntax never left me to this day.

    I believe there are many similar stories where the worlds of APL and capital markets overlap from broker/dealers, risk managers, researchers, and traders. I know of at least one PHD who used APL privately at J.P. Morgan.

  • I’m focusing in two areas, for the moment.

    I’m thinking about the “tool of thought” theme and so I’m spending a fair amount of time reading about thinking in general. And tied to this idea is how we communicate and express our ideas, thoughts and feelings.

    My hunch is that there was some parallel work about thought going on at Harvard in the 1950’s that seed some important ideas, maybe into the air or water, about language and thought, but I haven’t proved anything really. Maybe a trip to Boston will be fruitful.

    And I’m thinking about the “APL community” especially with respect to decision making and working collectively. Are we more or less successful at working together than other groups of people? Is consolidated power and money the ultimate criteria?

  • Yes. I’m sticking with tools of thought.

  • Catherine!!!
    I know I’ve told you before that this is really exciting to watch unfold. Being the daughter who is woefully ignorant of the APL world, I am looking forward to understanding more of Dad’s work.
    You go, girl!

  • aprogramminglanguage aprogramminglanguage

    Jody,

    It’s for your kids too, of course.

    xxx

  • Any discussion of the uses of APL, I believe would be incomplete 🙂 without a mention of my father’s work using APL as a means to teach Greek to divinity students. Working originally with 2741 terminals, he even custom designed a type ball to render Greek and English. And, conveniently, he lives in Toronto.

    Some background is on my blog:

    http://lymanhurd.blogspot.com/2010/05/greek-tutor-project.html

    but you should feel free to send me email if you want more information.

  • aprogramminglanguage aprogramminglanguage

    Lovely contribution Lyman, thank you.

    When do I get to meet your dad?

    When I get home later I’ll add your link to my grand index!

  • Hi Catherine, You may not remember, but my first wife Mimi and I babysat you and Jody when your parents went off to Woodstock. We later visited your mother when you lived outside Philadelphia.
    After leaving IBM I returned to Canada and spent 27 years at Queen’s where I developed Q’Nial in conjunction with Trenchard More. Although it never reached the success of J and other APL-related languages, it is still recognized as being a member of the array languages family.
    I wish you great success with your project. Feel free to contact me about my work if it is relevant to your project.

  • aprogramminglanguage aprogramminglanguage

    Mike! You’re right, I don’t remember you and Mimi babysitting. But oddly, I remember the name Mimi.

    Another array language I didn’t know about! That’s fantastic.

    Are you still in Kingston?

    I’m so happy you’ve written. It just so happens that I shot a little interview with my dad when the APLBUG folks in Mountain View asked me to speak to them last year when I decided to do this. And guess what? My dad tells this story about buying Cadillacs from Adin for $50 & $100 bucks and then selling one to you. He goes on to mention that you spent a fortune to get that car certified in Canada.

    So far, I’m using the clip in my demo to show that I mean business. It makes the Canadians, at least, laugh.

  • aprogramminglanguage aprogramminglanguage

    Mike! I LOVE PEI! Gotta get back there! I’ll have to ask my new Executive Producer if I can go…

    (Ooops… Did I say my new Executive Producer?)

  • Originally posted on Vector’s blog: http://vectoreditor.blogspot.com/2010/06/film-synopsis.html

    From:
    Rosedale Film Ventures, Ltd.

    Re: A Programming Language (The Men Who Stare at Arrays)

    I’m very pleased to accept your invitation to participate in this project as Executive Producer.

    I’m impressed with the extraordinary uniqueness of the subject matter and your lifelong involvement in it. Your passion for the topic and the people associated with it is a huge asset. I particularly like your exploration of the genesis of APL and its eventual impact on the growth of computer languages.

    More importantly, I’m excited about the way that you’re bringing out the human element of the story. I can see that this will be a film that can evoke emotional connection as well intellectual understanding of an “invention” that is the source of powerful changes in the human condition, and the world. It is an invention not unlike the printing press, which overturned centuries-old power structures and brought enlightenment to society.

    I’m delighted to be working with you and I look forward to making this landmark film.

    Sincerely,
    Barry Pearson
    President, RFV
    barrypearson@rogers.com
    http://www.ironroadthemovie.com

  • > My hunch is that there was some parallel work about thought
    > going on at Harvard in the 1950′s that seed some important
    > ideas, maybe into the air or water, about language and thought,
    > but I haven’t proved anything really. Maybe a trip to Boston
    > will be fruitful.

    Benjamin Lee Whorf was from Winthorp Massachusetts — he died in the early 1940s. I guess you know about him?

  • Linda D. Misek-Falkoff

    Very much interested in following your posts.

    Language certainly has a soothing effect, or let’s say a simplifying effect, calming concerns for complexities beneath or beyond.

    Were it exclusive and exhaustive across the tool-task-base perhaps we all could sleep through the nights – finessing Hamlet’s words on troubled dreams.

    With very best wishes and *respectfuly interfacing,* LDMF.
    Thanking Catherine.

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