FORTH

I only know two good FORTH programmers.

One is Chuck Moore.  I met him once (he was doing chip design for Toshiba or something at the time).  Interesting, smart guy.

The other one wrote a bunch of Finnegan’s control software (for their line of mass spectrometers).  He was pragmatic about the language and its limitations.

Every single other use of FORTH that I have seen has been a disaster.  The unfortunate fact is that the people attracted to this language seem to be the ones least able to write good solid code in it.  Let’s see: Several disasterous attempts at video games at Atari, some early “hardware bringup” utilities (that didn’t catch some low-level timing problems because FORTH is nowhere close to native speed, despite what you might hear to the contrary), some other projects that I have mercifully forgotten.

With that said, I think that everyone should write a variant of FORTH at some point in their career; it’s simple to implement, and has some interesting and quite practical ideas for working in a primitive environment (e.g., “pages” instead of a complex file system, a ubiquitous built-in assembler, a scoping system that at first seems too simple to possibly work).  It’s a slick system as long as you don’t try to misapply it.  Writing your own version is an easy way to get it out of your system.

(I really will have a response to the “Why are we still using C” question.  You’re not going to like it 🙂 )

 

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2 Responses to FORTH

  1. Go Forth and Multiply says:

    A long-lost friend of mine, a long time ago, was once working on a Missile Command game for the Atari ST, and had developed a commercial outline processor application for the Mac, both written in Forth. While I’m hardly qualified to judge, the top-level code read like a story, and it was a total trip to look at – and his software worked as far as I knew at the time. He was hooked up with Mitch Bradley (of ForthMacs ‘fame’). Anyway, I suspect there are a few good Forth programmers. (I was never one although I still have my Forth book.)

    The rest are probably acolytes or altar boys in the Church of Forth.

  2. landon says:

    A picture of the stereotype in my head about FORTH addicts: 40-something, unkempt personal appearance, slightly crazy look around the eyes, and a religious fevor of “Of *course* FORTH can do that better than anything else on the planet, and I’ll have it done quicker, too!” [Two weeks later they’re still tweaking, muttering about some other guy’s code not working up to snuff, and once they get *that* working the rest will be a piece of cake, just a little more debugging…]

    Well, you can flame out like that in any language. I saw one guy fired for doing a bunch of stuff — about six months’ worth — in Oberon, surprising everyone in the group he was working in (I view failures like this as failures of management, not technical foul-ups). There are probably similar stories going back to the days of Ogg and the Mastodon-driven Cuneiform Punchcard Automata.

    I’ll dig up the photo of me looking like the Unabomber, sitting cross-legged in front of an original 128K Mac, desperately trying to program the stupid thing in MacFORTH [I wound up selling the Mac].

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