“And I think that I still can much better than most
produce blood curdling noises to bring on the ghost”
T.S. Eliot - Cats
APLers meet once a year, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot’s beautiful Cats. They do enjoy singing and dancing and also various kinds of conversations under the sunlight as well as the moonlight, under the skies of a European capital, or of an American venue. In addition to the glorious annual APL conference, more and more geared towards Array based languages in general, there are the user group meetings like the one organised every year in Orlando by APL2000. And if that wasn’t enough, several more local meetings take place, like the popular Scandinavian seminars, which attract people from all over Europe. While APLers are traditionally regarded as lone wolves who prefer the company of a single-malt whisky and would rather code the Chrysler payroll system in what they consider the most effective way of working, that is the one-man team, nevertheless they seem to love the sharing of knowledge, techniques, discoveries, at least with the other fellow APLers, who are more likely to understand them.
Certainly the pace of changes has so drastically increased that, sometimes, a yearly conference seems not to be enough for a deep and profitable exchange to happen. This is where, once again, the Internet can be helpful. On the ’net, many discussion groups devoted to the most exotic languages exist where people can give and ask for opinions, present a difficult problem hoping to find help, or simply idly wonder about the beauty of a tricky piece of code. J’s discussion forum is a mail-list, monitored but not moderated by the guys at JSoftware, very alive and rich of detailed exchanges about interesting topics. K’s is also a mail-list with a somewhat smaller participation, proportioned to the minor spread of the language. APL’s official discussion forum is a UUNet newsgroup called comp.lang.apl, available on most news servers and, I believe, also replicated as a mail-list.
Notwithstanding the worldwide spread of APL, it’s somewhat disappointing to see that comp.lang.apl (C.L.A. for the intimate) is almost a wasteland where the occasional post on-topic only generates a couple of replies before the silence falls again. Large newsgroups like comp.lang.perl can be so noisy and crowded that they very quickly become impossible to stand: 500 and more messages per day are hard to follow for all but the most dedicated souls and the natural consequence is to consider them a waste of time. comp.lang.apl is at the other side of the spectrum. That’s the one thing I don’t quite understand: accepting the fact that even APLers consider valuable the exchange of information, then why don’t they make more use of the newsgroup? I agree that at times UUNet newsgroups can be intimidating: there exist barons who think they are in charge of the group and would censor the occasional newcomer, verbally when lacking most powerful means, for any however trivial disrespect of the so called rules of the forums, scaring them away. Experience taught me that it’s easier to ignore those barons and give a hand to the unlucky newcomer so that he feels at ease and remains: kindness is stronger than the sword. I also agree that most APLers are so busy with their business that they don’t find it’s worth spending the time even only to read what other people have to say. After all, somebody already said before me: APL is such a powerful tool and weapon that we should keep it secret and be the only ones to benefit. But somehow I think that real occasions are being missed here.
When the J mail-list was created, because somebody felt it was inappropriate and off topic to discuss J in the official APL forum, comp.lang.apl almost died because the most active people all followed the J crowd. Somebody will also be a bit upset by the heavy J content of this issue of Vector. There is good news and bad news: the good news is that next issue should be much better balanced, but the bad news is also that the most prolific authors are J minds and it’s hard to maintain a high APL content if the only submissions we receive are about J. Even before becoming the editor of Vector (a letter I sent that was published years ago it’s the proof), I’ve always supported J because I thought it was a real mind opener, which would improve my APL awareness. Array thinking is a state-of-mind that can be stimulated by different sources. I hope you agree with me. Since Vector remains the journal of the British APL Association, though, it would be nice to see a bit more APL content
Last time, I announced that A+ was going to be released to the public in an Open Source version. Just to remind you, A+ is an APL dialect developed at Morgan Stanley with a Sharp APL flavour to it; Open Source means that not only the executable is available for free, but the complete source code is at your disposal, whether you want to learn about the dirty inner workings of an APL interpreter or you intend to customise it for a special need you might have. If you are interested, the official Web page of the project is http://www.aplusdev.org/. The documentation by itself is well worth a visit. The only drawback for me is the absence of a Windows version: only Unix is supported, especially as far as the GUI front-end is concerned. The BAA is debating the feasibility and the need of an at least partial port of the interpreter to the Windows platform. We will keep you informed.