Monthly Archives: June 2012

SPITBOL/Linux V3.8.1 Now Available

I promised the first release of SPITBOL for Linux by the end of the month.

Here you go:

SPITBOL/Linux git


You can follow the project as @spitbol at twitter.


The SNOBOL Chance in Hell Software License

A few days ago, while working on SPITBOL, I looked up Wikipedia’s SNOBOL entry. While perusing it I came across a section about the history of the name SNOBOL that was new to me. It linked to a blog post by Dave Farber, one of the creators of the language WORTH READING Wikipedia entry on SNOBOL — the TRUE story NOT Wikipedias. I found it immensely amusing.

By the way, when I mentioned this to my friend Peter Capek, he said the story was new to him also, and that he knows Dave Farber. (No surprise there — he knows EVERYBODY.)

I smiled, and moved on. But I’ve just found a way to make use of that charming story, so here we go…

As part of my work on SPITBOL I’m putting together a “library” of documents and example programs: github daveshields/spitbol-library.git.

I’ve started with files obtained from Mark Emmers exellent SNOBOL site, via FTP.

All of these files have been available from the site via anonymous (available to anyone) FTP for at least a decade, some for more than two decades.

Mark either wrote the sample programs or obtained permission to distribute them, but as yet there is no license associated with them.

I plan to include the appropriate license language — most likely two-clause BSD — as time permits, but I see no reason not to put them out now.

However, I know folks are more comfortable with some license language, so until further notice here is license in effect for the examples:

You may copy, distribute, or alter this code as you see fit. It has been freely available for over a decade.

Thus, we are confident there is a SNOBOL Chance in Hell that trouble will come your way by doing so.

Would OSI approve this? I’d like to think so, but I won’t put them to the test.

SPITBOL Status and Plans

Yesterday I sent the following note to many of my colleagues at LinkedIn, to let them know of My Software Sabattical and my plans now that is over.

Dear Colleague,

As you may — or more likely may not — know, I haven’t had much of web presence for almost three years.

The sabbatical is now over, and I’m back coding, so here’s a short note about recent work.

I am now the maintainer of SPITBOL. Mark Emmer kept the project going for over 25 years. He’ll still be involved, but not as the maintainer.

SPITBOL/Linux will be posted shortly. Mark did most of it: I just tied up some loose ends. This will be the first release of SPITBOL for Linux, and the first SPITBOL update/release of any kind, in over a decade.

The code will soon appear at Github daveshields/spitbol-linux, hopefully before July 1. I’ve also created a twitter account, so you can follow @spitbol for news and such. I’ll be using twitter instead of the usual mail list(s).

The first release is for Linux with 32 bit words, 8 bit characters. I’ve been using Ubuntu 12.04. The port for other Unices should be straightforward.

My current plans include the following:

  • Convert from gas to nasm as assembler for 386
  • Clean up translator from Minimal to assembler
  • Port to iOS
  • Provide 64 bit word, 8 bit character, versions
  • Provide 16 bit character versions, i.e., support Unicode
  • Consider port to Arm
  • Investigate use of lua as basis for development of apps using Spitbol
    for both iPhone and Android

In case you’re not familiar with Macro SPITBOL, it is one of the most amazing programs I have ever seen, a true software tour-de-force.

The work of Professor Robert B. K. Dewar of New York University and the late ProfessorAnthony A. P. “Tony” McCann of the University of Leeds, Macro SPITBOL is written in the Minimal assembly language, an assembly language for an abstract machine carefully defined to allow efficient implementations on actual hardware.

By efficient I mean “very, very efficient.” You have to use it to appreciate its speed.

SPITBOL is a minor extension of SNOBOL4. With the release of SPITBOL/Linux I hope to spur renewed interest in one of the original — and still one of the most original in its power and elegance — programming languages.

SNOBOL4 has maintained its charm and power for over fifty years now. It would be good for more folks to know about it and use it.

Apart from its charm and power, working with Macro SPITBOL — either as implementor, user, or both — provides more fun than any other programming language/project I can think of.

Spitbol for Linux Coming to Github

As I noted in my previous post, I took a ‘software sabbatical,’ that is an extended vacation from serious programming, starting in September 2009.

The sabbatical is over, and I’m back coding away.

My first goal is to finish the port of Macro Spitbol to Linux. Mark Emmer sent me a tarball with his latest work in early September, 2009.

It turns out he had basically got the job done. I found a few errors, mostly due to the need to download some appropriate libraries to enable gcc and gas to compile the generated code correctly.

Further work on Spitbol for Linux will continue at Github daveshields/spitbol-linux.

I am able to buid a 32-bit spitbol executable that can translate the Minimal source to assembler.

However, I still need to add the GPL license info to the source files, and do some tidying up.

I hope to post code within a week or so, and will let you know via this blog when it is available.


Software Sabbatical: September 2009 to June 2012

I parted ways from IBM as a full-time employee at the end of February, 2009. I was brought back a few weeks later for a part-time gig working on a compiler design. That lasted until early September 2009.

I then decided to take a break from programming. Having put the bread on the table working as a programmer and research scientist for over forty years, I stepped back from my terminal to see what life was like on the other side.

Life was good — it still is.

I felt no urge to do any serious coding until recently, when one of my children suggested an interesting software challenge. Since attacking it will mainly involve lots of string processing, and to help bring my programming skills, such as they are, back up to snuff, I have decided to begin by resuming work on the port of Macro Spitbol to Linux.


I’ll write about that effort in the next post.


In any event, hope to see you soon on github.



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