Problems of Symbol Congestion in Computer Languages

Chris Jones cjns1989 at gmail.com
Fri Feb 18 08:50:11 CET 2011


On Fri, Feb 18, 2011 at 12:43:37AM EST, John Nagle wrote:
> On 2/17/2011 6:55 PM, Cor Gest wrote:

[..]

>> At least it should try to mimick a space-cadet keyboard, shouldn't
>> it?

>  I've used both the "MIT Space Cadet" keyboard on a Symbolics LISP
>  machine, and the Stanford SAIL keyboard. There's something to be
>  said for having more mathematical symbols.

Really..? Wow..! I only every saw pictures of the beast and I was never
really convinced it was for real.. :-)

> Some programs use a bigger character set.  MathCAD, for example,
> has a broader range of mathematical symbols on the input side than
> ASCII offers.  They're not decorative; MathCAD has different "="
> symbols for assignment, algebraic equivalence, identity, and
> comparison.

Out of curiosity, I played a bit of APL lately, and I was amazed at how
quickly you get to learn the extra symbols and their location on the
keyboard. Had intergrating the basic concepts of the language been that
easy, I would have been comfortably coding within a couple of hours.
I was also rather enchanted by the fact that the coding closely matched
my intentions. No overloading in this respect. Not that I'm an APL
advocate, but who knows what programming languages will look like in the
not-so-distant future.

>     I've previously mentioned that Python suffers in a few places
> from unwanted overloading.  Using "+" for concatenation of
> strings, then extending that to vectors, resulted in undesirable
> semantics.  "+" on arrays from "numpy", and on built-in vectors
> behave quite differently.  A dedicated concatenation operator
> would have avoided that mess.

And the worst part of it is that you get so used to it that you take
such matters for granted. Thanks for the eye-opener.

> C++ has worse problems, because it uses < and > as both brackets
> and operators.  This does horrible things to the syntax.

.. from a quite different perspective it may be worth noting that
practically all programming languages (not to mention the attached
documentation) are based on the English language. And interestingly
enough, most any software of note appears to have come out of cultures
where English is either the native language, or where the native
language is either relatively close to English.. Northern Europe
mostly.. and not to some small extent, countries where English is
well-established as a universal second language, such as India. Always
struck me as odd that a country like Japan for instance, with all its
achievements in the industrial realm, never came up with one single
major piece of software.

cj



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