Whatever happened to …


… Alice Pascal?

This goes back a ways.  It came to mind this week with my interview with Peter McAsh. He claimed that a great moment in Computer Science was with Alice.  It brought back great memories to me, in the name.  However, we were talking two different things. His reference to Alice was the product from Carnegie Mellon University.  This is a good choice; it’s a terrific 3D programming environment with lots of benefits.  The CSTA Conference regularly features sessions on Alice.

But, that wasn’t the Alice I was thinking about.

The programming language that came to my mind was Alice Pascal.  In the 1980s, Ontario schools had access to the Icon computer.  There were programming options available, the two biggies for the classroom being Watcom BASIC and Watcom Pascal. Since the Icon ran on QNX, you could also program in C+.  Periodically, we would get newly licensed software for the computer and one that came along was Alice Pascal.

Now, if you’re a beginning Pascal programmer, you know the problems with the language.  It was very particular about syntax and a missing semi-colon could spoil your entire day.  The summer before I taught Pascal the first time, I really had to get up to speed, so I purchased Turbo Pascal from Borland and the greatest programming book ever Oh! Pascal.  It didn’t prepare me entirely for the Alice environment since Turbo Pascal needed to have its content compiled before running, whereas Alice Pascal was interpretive and more suitable for the classroom.  Even more appropriate, Alice Pascal took care of the syntax for you; throw up an IF statement and Alice Pascal showed you the formatting, characters, and even the indenting for readability.

I loved it for introductory programming.  It was a DOS program so we had to set up an environment where it would run. I’d long since forgotten this until Peter jogged my memory.  I just had to go looking for it.  And, guess what?  I found it.  The original author has a page devoted to it here. An old review was also included in an Atari resource here.

But, the coolest thing was that you could download it in a ZIP file!  I’m on it.  I couldn’t get over how small the file was and how quickly it landed on my computer.  Try to do that with any modern programming language.  I unarchived it, did a virus scan, and then ran it.  I got a new message from Windows 10 – I wasn’t authorized to run this program.  Why?  Hmmm.  It’s probably a 32bit program and my Windows is 64bit.  So, I rebooted and landed in Linux Mint and was going to run it using the Wine environment.  Failed there too.  Rats.

Then I remembered my Windows tablet.  It’s running the 32bit version of Windows 10; surely it will run it.  That’s when the problem became clear.  Alice Pascal was actually a 16bit program.  But, this time Windows was helpful and offered to do some installation so that I could run it.  And it did!

screenshot-2017-03-04-at-10-17-46

Memories came back.  I had to check it out.  There were some sample programs included in the package.  Neat.

Starting a new program showed how easy it was to use in the classroom.  It really was comfortable to learn; you could focus on problem solving and not get wrapped up in the rules for statement construction.

screenshot-2017-03-04-at-10-18-06

Look at all that punctuation! So many chances for error if you had to type it manually.

The only catch is that the environment isn’t touch friendly (whoever thought of touch programming in 1985) so you have to navigate with cursor keys and fill in the blue blanks to create your program.  I painfully wrote a program to display the numbers, squares, and cubes from 1 to 10 for old times’ sake.  (Another bit of learning ensued – how to get Function keys on a tablet!  Then, I forgot to save it…)

For this Sunday, I’d like to hear your thoughts on my walk backwards in computing time.

  • Have you ever programmed in either of the Alices?
  • There’s a great deal of jargon and name dropping in this post – BASIC, Pascal, Borland, Icon computer, QNX, DOS, 64bit, 32bit, 16bit, C+,  compiler, interpreter, syntax, ZIP file.  How many of these provide memories for you?
  • Have you ever bought a programming textbook?  What would you consider the best one for you?

Please take a moment and share your thoughts via comment below.

Do you have an idea or thought that would be appropriate for my “Whatever happened to … ” series of blog posts. They can all, by the way, be revisited here.

Please visit this Padlet and add your ideas. I’d love for it to be an inspiration for a post!

OTR Links 03/05/2017


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.