Classic programming

Eric Christopherson echristopherson at
Fri Aug 7 14:08:58 CDT 2015

On Fri, Aug 7, 2015 at 1:16 PM, Rich Alderson
<RichA at> wrote:
> From: Eric Christopherson
> Sent: Friday, August 07, 2015 9:18 AM
>> Is there a subset of this group for people who like to program in
>> languages or language implementations or libraries that are no longer
>> in common mainstream use? Or other groups for such a thing?
> As others have noted, there are a lot of subjective unstateds in your
> basic question.

Yeah, I guess I left it wide open, didn't I? I'm not sure I could
really narrow it down, since different spheres do use different
things, and (as in the case of Fortran and the Lisps) some quite old
languages are still being used, and still evolving, in niches. But my
question does include those two language families as well, especially
the older implementations of them. Now that I think about it, though,
I'm not sure whether C should qualify as an example; implicitly I was
thinking it was far too mainstream (being the basis of Unix and much
of Windows, plus tons of applications); but it is also fairly old and
curmudgeonly, and allows you to do dangerous things like mess about
with pointers.

I think maybe the scope of this question probably depends a lot on the
scope of the person asking it. I've only worked with microcomputers,
so things like COBOL and RPG (while I'm sure they are available on
micros in some form) are completely out of my ken. And I'm under 40,
which means there are plenty of things I haven't heard of; but also
that many things that I *have* heard of before the 1980s BASIC home
computer heyday are sort of exotic and interesting.

As for my interests, I started with Commodore BASIC and 6502 assembly.
I'm still interested in 6502 (and to an extent x86) assembly, but I
sort of feel like I got enough out of Commodore BASIC and don't feel
the need to revisit it. Then again, since I'm a wishy-washy sort, I
remember my dream of writing a compiler for it. And I'm slightly
interested in GWBASIC and QBasic, since I haven't quite "worn them
out" yet in my mind. I spent a long time trying to like C++; it was
hard going (perhaps because the differences between C++ and C were
fuzzy in my mind then). I was using DJGPP and Turbo C++ 3 back in
those days; I've installed both in DOSBox but so far haven't had time
to play with them much. Then finally I moved on to various scripting
languages, and now I just pick up a little here and a little there of
different things. (I love how interpreted languages on modern hardware
run so much faster than compiled or hand-coded assembly programs in
the old days.)

A few years ago I developed quite an interest in PostScript, and
through it discovered Forth and bits of other stack-based languages.
I'm looking forward to getting a SunOS system (someone has agreed to
set me up in the near future) so I can use PostScript as part of the
NeWS operating system. I'm not sure why that system (which uses PS for
all [local] front-end code, and whatever you like on the backend)
seems so cool to me; it's basically the same way web apps work, only
with PS instead of JavaScript, but still I want to try it.

I don't like Forth as much as PS (doesn't seem as elegant), but it
does have its charms, and slowly I'm digesting it and learning its
conventions. It's nice that it's easily implemented on a small system.

Finally, I'd like to actually learn Logo some day too. Back in grade
school they would regularly sit us down and have us draw squares with
the turtle, but no actual programming, which makes me sad and a little
angry now -- Logo is a lot more than RT 90 FD 100! (I'm trying to
remember if they even taught us how to repeat a set of instructions;
I'm certain they never said anything about creating functions.)

To Brian L. Stuart: What separates MCPL from CPL and BCPL? I'm not
finding much about it, although it looks like it has the benefit of
nice pattern matching.

> I do a lot of my daily programming in PDP-10 assemblers, usually Macro-20
> but when working on WAITS it's FAIL and on ITS it's MIDAS.  In addition,
> I occasionally program in MIT TECO, to keep my hand in as the maintainer
> of the original EMACS (RMS said so).

Ah... text editors are another big interest of mine. That's very cool.
I should check TECO out some day.

> One project got sidetracked by an operating system that is too modern:
> The DECsystem-1070 (KI-10 processor) is running Tops-10 v6.03A, in which
> executable programs are created in .EXE format.  Even the most recent
> version, 7.05, can execute programs in the older form (two segment files,
> a .LOW and a .HGH or .SHR depending on sharability of the high segment
> code).  This affects the use of an old FORTRAN compiler to implement a
> vintage on-line game, DECWAR, in which the .SHR segment is writable, and
> each player's stats (up to 12 players at a time) are kept there.
> What I have to do, when higher priority projects permit, is to install a
> copy of the linker, and probably Macro-10 as well, from v5.03, which came
> before the .EXE file format was defined.
> A year earlier, to get the KI-10 going, I had to program in PAL on our
> PDP-8/e to add capabilities to PIP10, because the 8/e was the only system
> in the museum with working DECtape drives which could read and write on
> PDP-10 format DECtapes.
> So yeah, not a lot of mainstream use of the languages involved, and yeah,
> I like doing it.  That's a good thing, because otherwise my job could be
> deadly.
>                                                                 Rich

        Eric Christopherson

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