TweetFollow Us on Twitter

March 93 - THE VETERAN NEOPHYTE

THE VETERAN NEOPHYTE

TOWER OF BABBLE

DAVE JOHNSON

[IMAGE 061-063_Neophyte_rev1.GIF]

I recently started learning MacApp. (I know, I know, I can see you shaking your great shaggy collective head, chuckling to yourself, asking where I was three years ago when MacApp was still news. Let's just say I'm a late bloomer.) People weren't kidding when they said that the learning curve is long and steep. They also weren't kidding when they said that it's absolutely worth it.

For me, it was a double whammy: learning MacApp and transitioning from THINK C to MPW. (See, if I'd only learned it in the MacApp 2.0 days I could have used THINK Pascal, but noooo, I had to wait till now.) I've been using THINK C for virtually all my programming since 1986 or so. Using MPW for my own little exploratory projects would be like calling in a highly trained, ultramodern, rapid- deployment mobile emergency medical team to remove a splinter from my thumb. The job would get done, and beautifully, but it'd be an absolutely colossal waste of time, effort, and expense. Frankly, I'd rather just have a good pair of tweezers.

But alas, if I want to use MacApp (and I do!) the days of coding on my PowerBook 100 in the backyard with loyal hounds lolling at my feet are gone for good. Now I need 16 MB of RAM minimum and atleast40 MB of hard disk space (120 to be really comfortable). And I'm not even going to mentionMacApp compile times; it hurts me too much.

But all that's really just logistics and can be gotten used to pretty quickly. The real difference is in the very nature of my interaction with the machine: It used to be that when I'd think of something that needed doing, I'd just go do it. It was like building a machine from scratch, piece by handcrafted piece. Now, using MacApp, when I think of something that needs doing I conduct massive, cross- referenced searches through megabytes of source code to figure out where it's already been done, because no doubt somebody already thought of it, or something very much like it, and implemented it better than I ever could. It's as though I'm running around on top of a giant, humming machine that stretches to the horizon on all sides, hunting for just the right place to reach down into the dark recesses, pull up a live, vibrating cable, and splice in my little special-purpose unit. Often I've spent an hour hunting around for the right place to insert some code, only to discover that to do what I want I just need to set the value of some out-of-the-way Boolean deep inside an object's remote ancestor.

Well, I could ramble forever about my learning experiences, but those of you who've been there know all about it, and those of you who haven't probably don't want to hear it. But this is the first time since I discovered the Macintosh and switched from FORTH to C that thefeelof programming has been completely transformed for me. It occurred to me that the fact that programming is the kind of thing that canhave a feeling to it is noteworthy. Programming computers is an activity unlike any other. It's a human-machine interaction, but because the machine is very special, interacting with it is also very special. Programming has a depth that other machine interactions don't, so it can assume qualities not normally associated with the operation of machinery. It can be a creative act, akin to building an intricate, glittering crystal clockwork out of gossamer strands of pure thought; and it can also be formidable drudgery, a mountain of mind-numbing details, endless in their intricacy, interrelatedness, and total irrelevance to the real task at hand. These are not normally the kinds of things you'd say about operating your dishwasher or toilet.

Computers are something truly new on earth. They're machines that can simulate any other machine; they're somehow potentiallyeverymachine in one. A well-known computer luminary put it this way:

It [the computer] is a medium that can dynamically simulate the details of any other medium, including media that cannot exist physically. It is not a tool, although it can act like many tools. It is the first metamedium, and as such it has degrees of freedom for representation and expression never before encountered and as yet barely investigated. -- Alan Kay, "Computer Software,"Scientific American, September 1984.

Other machines are physical extensions of ourselves; they let us sense and manipulate our physical world with more power and flexibility than we can by ourselves. But they're justphysicalextensions. Computers, though, manipulate and embody abstractions and symbols; they operate on patterns of electrical activity, on imagination, on mindstuff. If you can imagine a machine or a medium in detail, you can program a computer to simulate it. So programming computers is much, much more than telling them what to do -- it's telling them what to be.

Of course, all this philosophical and poetic mumbo-jumbo crashes to the ground when faced with reality. Try telling my friend Michele -- who wrote an entire book on her Macintosh SE and just recently realized that she can use Standard File dialogs to navigate her hard disk -- that her computer "has degrees of freedom for representation and expression never before encountered." Yeah, right. Admittedly, the computer is much more fluid-seeming to programmers than to users (someday, hopefully, a moot distinction), but there's still a large discrepancy between the promise and the realization. Computers still feel more like erector sets -- lots of hard, inflexible little parts -- than like clay.

Boiled down to its thick, syrupy essentials, computer programming is quite simply the creation and communication of detailed instructions. The creation is the really exciting part, and is (or should be) the main task. But the communication is what really defines the experience of programming; it's the part that has afeelto it.

All this touchy-feely talk smacks of natural language. Are programming languages really just another class of natural languages? Is that why programming can feel so rich? I found a great book that addressed this very question (among others):The Cognitive Connectionby Howard Levine and Howard Rheingold.

Programming languages and natural languages do indeed have deep similarities, and share essential features found in any language. They're both sets of abstract symbols that have meaning only by mutual agreement between communicating parties. They're both open-ended: they have an underlying structure and system of rules that allow an infinite variety of correct sentences to be constructed. (Even more remarkably, any correct sentence can later be deciphered by anyone who knows the language, even though they've never seen that sentence before.)

Linguists say that a language has three parts: phonology, syntax, and semantics. Phonology is the way a language is turned into sounds, and is irrelevant to programming languages since they're never spoken. Syntax is the set of rules that specify how the parts of the language -- words and phrases -- are put together to form sentences. Programming languages obviously have strict and unforgivingsyntax. But syntax by itself is an empty shell, telling us only whether a sentence is well formed, not what it means. That's the function of semantics.

Ah, sweet semantics! This is where the rubber meets the road, linguistically speaking, and where significant differences between natural languages and programming languages begin to appear. Howard and Howard illustrate one big semantic difference between natural languages and programming languages by comparing their dictionaries. (Dictionaries are, in a sense, the embodiment of a language's semantics.)

Natural language dictionaries are written in natural languages, so the language must be rich and flexible enough to describe itself. When you look up an English word in Webster's, you get a definition written in English. This is only possible because words in natural languages can have more than one meaning.

Programming language dictionaries, on the other hand, are never written in a programming language. When you look up the definition of a Pascal word, the description is written in English (or Portuguese or Swahili or whatever), not Pascal or C++ or LISP. Unfortunately, the duplicity of meaning that allows a natural language to describe itself opens the door to paradox and self- contradiction, something programming languages can't tolerate.

But there's another, even more apparent semantic difference between programming languages and natural languages. As the Howards so aptly put it:

. . . although philosophers and linguists have struggled for centuries to give precise meaning to the word "meaning," you don't need a degree in either discipline to realize that what constitutes meaning for a programming language is dramatically different from what constitutes meaning for a natural language.

Semantically, programming languages are only a sort of horribly stunted subset of natural languages, because the world they describe -- the operations of computers -- is only a sort of horribly stunted subset of the natural world. So "conversations" in a programming language aren't conversations at all; they're one-sided and one-dimensional commands whose conversational interest is on a par with the instructions on the back of a shampoo bottle: Lather, rinse, repeat.

We are, of course, in the infancy of our relationship with computers, still drooling and babbling experimentally most of the time. Look at MacApp: compared to other available methods of programming the Macintosh, it's astoundingly elegant and streamlined, but even MacApp's most vocal devotees don't want to stop there. Far from being the end product of the evolution of programming, MacApp is only one of the first teetering steps toward more natural and more fluent communication with computers.

A big question is whether our interactions with computers willever be totally fluent, where fluency means the complete subsumption of syntax, so that we can go directly from meaning to expression with no conscious effort. Some people insist it will happen, that there's a future of instant, effortless communication with computers, a wide and crystal clear pathway between us and them, but somehow I can't buy it. I suspect that instead, computer communication will just get more and more like natural communication.

Fraught with misunderstanding and misinterpretation, blocked by its implicit awkwardnesses and incompleteness, human language is nevertheless rich beyond depth. Its infinite flexibility allows it to carry and contain the full spectrum of human thought and feeling, and provides a ground for endless creativity. Indeed, there is an intense joy to using language --anylanguage -- well. If we get only half as far with our computers as we have with our words, we'll have come a very long way indeed.

RECOMMENDED READING

  • The Cognitive Connection by Howard Levine and Howard Rheingold (Prentice-Hall Press, 1987).
  • Scientific American, September 1984.
  • The Happy Birthday Present by Joan Heilbroner, pictures by Mary Chalmers (Harper & Row, 1962).

DAVE JOHNSON recently bought some Crash Dummies and peripheral equipment. These are little "action figures," modeled after real crash dummies, that fly apart in various ways upon impact. You can buy a car to crash them in, crash dummy pets (named Bumper and Hubcat), crash dummy babies in strollers or car seats, crash dummy pedestrians, and even a crash dummy torture chair with straps and clamps and cranks to pull the dummies apart more slowly, one limb at a time. Dave is convinced that if he preserves all the parts in their original packaging he can sell them for some huge amount of money in the future, or at least that's how he's justifying the expense. *

Dave welcomes feedback on his musings. He can be reached at JOHNSON.DK on AppleLink, dkj@apple.com on the Internet, or 75300,715 on CompuServe.*

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Tinderbox 7.0.0 - Store and organize you...
Tinderbox is a personal content management assistant. It stores your notes, ideas, and plans. It can help you organize and understand them. And Tinderbox helps you share ideas through Web journals... Read more
1Password 6.5.5 - Powerful password mana...
1Password is a password manager that uniquely brings you both security and convenience. It is the only program that provides anti-phishing protection and goes beyond password management by adding Web... Read more
Apple Remote Desktop Client 3.9 - Client...
Apple Remote Desktop Client is the best way to manage the Mac computers on your network. Distribute software, provide real-time online help to end users, create detailed software and hardware reports... Read more
Art Text 3.2.2 - $49.99
Art Text is graphic design software specifically tuned for lettering, typography, text mockups and various artistic text effects. Supplied with a great variety of ready to use styles and materials,... Read more
WhatRoute 2.0.15 - Geographically trace...
WhatRoute is designed to find the names of all the routers an IP packet passes through on its way from your Mac to a destination host. It also measures the round-trip time from your Mac to the router... Read more
Sparkle 2.1.1 - $79.99
Sparkle will change your mind if you thought building websites wasn't for you. Sparkle is the intuitive site builder that lets you create sites for your online portfolio, team or band pages, or... Read more
Dash 4.0.1 - Instant search and offline...
Dash is an API documentation browser and code snippet manager. Dash helps you store snippets of code, as well as instantly search and browse documentation for almost any API you might use (for a full... Read more
TextSoap 8.3.2 - Automate tedious text d...
TextSoap can automatically remove unwanted characters, fix up messed up carriage returns, and do pretty much anything else that we can think of to text. Save time and effort. Be more productive. Stop... Read more
Apple Remote Desktop 3.9 - Remotely cont...
Apple Remote Desktop is the best way to manage the Mac computers on your network. Distribute software, provide real-time online help to end users, create detailed software and hardware reports, and... Read more
Paragraphs 1.1.4 - Writing tool just for...
Paragraphs is an app just for writers. It was built for one thing and one thing only: writing. It gives you everything you need to create brilliant prose and does away with the rest. Features... Read more

Dungeon Rushers (Games)
Dungeon Rushers 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Dungeon Rushers is a 2D tactical RPG combining dungeon crawler’s gameplay and turn based fights. Manage your team, loot dusty... | Read more »
Blasty Bubs is a colorful Pinball and Br...
QuickByte Games has another arcade treat in the works -- this time it's a mishmash of brick breaking and Pinball mechanics. It's called Blasty Bubs, and it's a top down brickbreaker that has you slinging balls around a board. [Read more] | Read more »
Corsola and Heracross are the new region...
Generation 2 finally launched in Pokémon GO, unleashing a brand new batch of Pokémon into the wild. Even before the update went live people were speculating on how to catch elusive Pokémon like the legendary "dogs", Unknown, and whether or not... | Read more »
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (Games)
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: An epic adventure through a mysterious mountain filled with monsters, magic and mayhem! “...it looks downright... | Read more »
Fantasy MMORPG MU Origin’s receives a hu...
Developer Webzen are looking to take their highly popular fantasy battler MU Origin to the next level this month, with its most ambitious overhaul yet. The latest update introduces the long sought after Server Arena, new treasure dungeons, and much... | Read more »
RPG Djinn Caster (Games)
RPG Djinn Caster 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: SPECIAL PRICE 38% OFF(USD 7.99 -> USD 4.99)!!!A Fantasy Action RPG of far foreign lands! Summon the Djinns and rise to... | Read more »
Alto's Odyssey gets its first trail...
There's finally video evidence of Alto's Odyssey, the follow up to the 2015 App Store hit, Alto's Adventure. It looks just as soothing and atmospheric as Alto's last outing, but this time players will be journeying to the desert. Whereas Alto's... | Read more »
Last week on Pocket Gamer
What’s going on in the wider world of portable gaming? Each week we ask that question of our sister website Pocket Gamer. The PG team covers iOS gaming, just like 148Apps, but it also strays into the world of Android games and handheld consoles... | Read more »
Pokémon GO Generation 2 evolution guide
At long last, Niantic Labs finally unleashed the Generation 2 Pokémon into the wild. Pokémon GO trainers are scrambling to grab up this new set of 80 Pokémon. There are some special new tricks required to catch all of these new beasties, though.... | Read more »
The best new games we played this week
It feels as though the New Year got off to a creaking start as far as mobile games go, but that's changed over the past few weeks. The last few days alone have seen the debut of a number of wonderful games, so we thought we'd take the time to... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple’s New iPad Ads Don’t Address Pro Users’...
Apple launched a new tranche of iPad Pro TV ads last week addressing actual queries and challenges from the Twitterverse, albeit using actors for the visuals. That’s great. As an iPad fan and heavy... Read more
Free Verbum Catholic Bible Study App For iOS
The Verbum mobile app runs on Logos’ powerful Bible software and is an advanced resource for mobile Catholic study. The Verbum app surrounds the Bible with the Tradition. Verbum comes with 15 free... Read more
27-inch Apple iMacs on sale for up to $200 of...
B&H Photo has 27″ Apple iMacs on sale for up to $200 off MSRP, each including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 27″ 3.3GHz iMac 5K: $2099.99 $200 off MSRP - 27″ 3.2GHz/1TB Fusion iMac 5K: $... Read more
15-inch 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
Amazon has 2015 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pros (MJLQ2LL/A) available for $1849.99 including free shipping. Apple charges $1999 for this model, so Amazon’s price is represents a $150 savings. Read more
Apple refurbished iPad Air 2s available start...
Apple has Certified Refurbished iPad Air 2 WiFis available for starting at $319 including free shipping. A standard Apple one-year warranty is included: - 16GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $319 $60 off original... Read more
Apple refurbished iPad Pros available for up...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 9″ and 12″ Apple iPad Pros available for up to $160 off the cost of new iPads. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: - 32GB 9″... Read more
Apple restocks refurbished 2015 and 2016 13-i...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 and 2016 13″ MacBook Airs available starting at $759. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free: - 2016 13″ 1.6GHz/8GB/128GB... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro (Apple refurbished...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pros (MD101LL/A) available for $829, or $270 off original MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook... Read more
QuickerTek Announces 5TB Apple AC AirPort Tim...
QuickerTek Inc. has announced their new 5TB hard drive upgrade for Apple’s AC AirPort Time Capsule. By customer request, this upgrade also features six external antennas and offers the highest... Read more
Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs available f...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 21″ & 27″ iMacs available for up to $350 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. The following models are available: - 21″ 3.... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Manager *Apple* Systems Administration - Pu...
Req ID 3315BR Position Title Manager, Apple Systems Administration Job Description The Manager of Apple Systems Administration oversees the administration and Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Manager *Apple* Systems Administration - Pu...
Req ID 3315BR Position Title Manager, Apple Systems Administration Job Description The Manager of Apple Systems Administration oversees the administration and Read more
*Apple* Technician - nfrastructure (United S...
Let’s Work Together Apple Technician This position is based in Portland, ME Life at nfrastructure At nfrastructure, we understand that our success results from our Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.