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January 27, 2004 4:06 AM   Subscribe

When I was in high school (91-95), I learned three computer languages -- BASIC, LOGO, and a third that I don't remember the name of.

It involved putting everything in nested parentheses, so you'd end up with some code that looked like this: (((object a)go to)object b)

I looked on google, and found something about LISP and SCHEME, but I couldn't find anything that would narrow it down a bit further. I know that we used a piece of software that would make certain we had the right amount of parentheses (by highlighting each closed parenthesis when we included it), and that the software ran on Macintoshes. We learned how to form graphics with the software -- circles within circles, that sort of thing.

Anyone know what it was? Because it's bugging me, and I kinda think learning that helped me later on in life with keeping track of nested tables and HTML in general.
posted by Katemonkey to Computers & Internet (19 answers total)
 
There really isn't much information to go on here, it sounds like LISP though. I know that PowerLISP had parenthesis highlighting.
posted by substrate at 4:35 AM on January 27, 2004


Sounds like Common Lisp to me, although SmallTalk would probably have been more appropriate given the platform and the graphics tasks. Re balancing parens, even emacs running on a PDP-11 could do this, over a decade earlier. Some simple Lisp constructs are shown here.
posted by cbrody at 5:11 AM on January 27, 2004


It definitely looks like it's Common Lisp, then. Thanks!

And as a completely random question, was this a good language to be teaching a bunch of teenagers?

See, my high school was in a bit of a weird position -- it was supposed to help women and minorities get into mathematics and science, but it was also being supported by the big aerospace industries in Los Angeles. So we were generally pushed towards becoming aerospace engineers and pushed away from computer science. Especially if you were female.

And if it turns out that this was a pretty valuable language to learn, then I'm going to have to rethink my stance on my high school and its computer classes. And if it wasn't, then it just gets lumped with the learning-of-DOS, Logo, and HyperCard...
posted by Katemonkey at 5:32 AM on January 27, 2004


scheme is a kind of lisp, so it's difficult to tell between them, and almost any editor that's used with them will highlight the parentheses.

this is quite recent (in lip terms - it's an old language), so i would guess you were using something fairly modern (there was avery famous lisp on macs called maclisp, but it was before your time). there's macintosh common lisp, which is a commercial product, but i doubt it's the kind of thing you'd use in high school. it's more likely that you'd have used a scheme (it's simpler language than lisp and popular for education). the most popular is perhaps dr scheme, and that has a graphical version (you mention drawing circles) called Mr Ed. so that's my best guess....
posted by andrew cooke at 5:41 AM on January 27, 2004


(didn't see your last post before posting mine).

it would be pretty unusual to teach common lisp to teenagers; scheme is more likely. either is a pretty cool language and useful to know.

incidentally, logo shares a lot of ideas with both languages and hyper card is considered a milestone in graphical interface programming, so your high school did pretty well. all those languages are a lot higher on the computing coolness ladder than c, java or basic (which they'd have been trying to teach you if they were just out for engineers).
posted by andrew cooke at 5:47 AM on January 27, 2004


They tried to learn me Modula-2 at university one semester.

Can't tell you if it is the same because I didn't pay any attention to it at all.
posted by Frasermoo at 5:59 AM on January 27, 2004


For whatever it's worth, the infamous Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs is an old intro comsci text out of MIT. It is very dry, and of contested relevance, but it is also a classic of the Scheme LISP dialect, and is taught to this day.

I mention this because the full text of the book is available on its site, and a series of video lectures given by the authors to the Hewlett Packard staff in the mid 80's are available as well. I believe there's some info at what's left of ADUni for their course on the book that imitated the MIT first year course.

It's probably a bit much for a high school comsci program, but I thought I'd throw that out there.
posted by tirade at 6:22 AM on January 27, 2004


(the "equivalent" to sicp for high school is probably How to Design Programs)
posted by andrew cooke at 6:27 AM on January 27, 2004


And as a completely random question, was this a good language to be teaching a bunch of teenagers?

Lisp is generally considered a good language to learn in that it teaches you interesting, useful things about programming in the abstract. Despite various attempts at commercial use (some more successful than others) it's still largely a purist's language. I'd compare it to Latin: you're unlikely to get a job with it, but it does set the foundation for a good many more practical pursuits and is a good way to get to know concepts and ways of thinking.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 7:26 AM on January 27, 2004


One area where lisp, or at least a very close derivative of it called SKILL is used is in electronic design. One of the main applications for custom circuit and board design, Cadence, is extended primarily through SKILL.
posted by substrate at 7:33 AM on January 27, 2004


Ah, LOGO... the turtle! Good times, good times.
posted by mkultra at 8:16 AM on January 27, 2004


I hated LOGO. I was in a gifted math program in 4th-5th grades, where we met for two hours twice a week. The first hour was lecture, the second hour was computer time. Part of that time was learning LOGO, the other part was playing nifty edutainment games. And of course you had to finish the LOGO assignment before you could go blow up enemy submarines with depth charges.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 9:24 AM on January 27, 2004


Wow, I am very impressed that they taught Lisp/Scheme at your high school. It's a great language to learn, much more useful than learning something like BASIC as a first language. I agree with IshmaelGraves.
posted by gyc at 10:19 AM on January 27, 2004


When did Lisp + Scheme start getting taught at high schools anyway? When I was in HS (class of '90), we learned BASIC. If you made it through that, you started Pascal.
posted by mkultra at 1:56 PM on January 27, 2004


My high school wasn't a normal high school anyways...

But I do have a lot more respect for my computer science teacher. Despite his complete inability to deal with the fact that the girls were doing a hell of a lot better than the guys in his class.
posted by Katemonkey at 2:22 PM on January 27, 2004


When did Lisp + Scheme start getting taught at high schools anyway?

Since the PLT Scheme group started their TeachScheme! project. (Well, really, much earlier than that: we had an AI course in LISP as early as the late '80s, and I'm sure there have been others before that at other schools. But the TS! project has recently been aggressively pitching Scheme and pedagogic Scheme tools to secondary-level computer science programs around the country.)

I concur with IshmaelGraves: teaching functional programming early on is a great way to get kids (or college students, or adults) thinking hard about computation and provably correct programming (data-driven design, contracts, etc.) before they fill their brains with C++ and Perl and other junk food. (In my experience, students of functional programming will tend to choose healthier options anyway: Java, python, and, you know, more scheme!)
posted by dsandl at 7:11 PM on January 27, 2004


Pascal was another common language for beginners years ago. Borland C and Borland Pascal were pretty much everywhere in that time period.
posted by stbalbach at 11:57 PM on January 27, 2004


Here's a cool chart showing the genealogy of computer languages:

http://www.digibarn.com/collections/posters/tongues/tongues.jpg

You can look at the roots of Lisp.
posted by mecran01 at 12:46 PM on January 28, 2004


Scheme is really fun. It is definitely useful. It is the language that is used to teach the first CS series at Berkeley, when you learn basic structures and recursion and things of that manner.

they use the SICP as well; and i can second tirade's assertion that it's a good resource (although i did drop out of the CS program and switched to art shortly after the first few intro courses, so what do i know?)
posted by fishfucker at 7:20 PM on January 31, 2004


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