Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

There's so much interesting prior work!

I really enjoyed this paper “A Taxonomy of Simulation Software: A work in progress” from Learning Technology Review by Kurt Schmucker at Apple. It covered many of my favorite systems.


It reminds me of the much more modern an comprehensive "Gadget Background Survey" that Chaim Gingold did at HARC, which includes Alan Kay's favorites, Rockey’s Boots and Robot Odyssey, and Chaim's amazing SimCity Reverse Diagrams and lots of great stuff I’d never seen before:


I've also been greatly inspired by the systems described in the classic books “Visual Programming” by Nan C Shu, and “Watch What I Do: Programming by Demonstration” edited by Alan Cypher.



Brad Myers wrote several articles in that book about his work on PERIDOT and GARNET, and he also developed C32:

C32: CMU's Clever and Compelling Contribution to Computer Science in CommonLisp which is Customizable and Characterized by a Complete Coverage of Code and Contains a Cornucopia of Creative Constructs, because it Can Create Complex, Correct Constraints that are Constructed Clearly and Concretely, and Communicated using Columns of Cells, that are Constantly Calculated so they Change Continuously, and Cancel Confusion


Also, here's an interesting paper about Fabrik:


Danny Ingalls, one of the developers of Fabrik at Apple, explains:

"Probably the biggest difference between Fabrik and other wiring languages was that it obeyed modular time. There were no loops, only blocks in which time was instant, although a block might ’tick’ many times in its enclosing context. This meant that it was real data flow and could be compiled to normal languages like Smalltalk (and Pascal for Apple at the time). Although it also behaved bidirectionally (e.g. temp converter), a bidirectional diagram was really only a shorthand for two diagrams with different sources (this extended to multidirectionality as well)"

We could go back farther with Sutherland's SketchPad (early 60s) and Smith's Pygmalion (mid 70s).

There are also a lot of disparate visual programming paradigms that are all classed under "visual", I guess in the same way that both Haskell and Java are "textual". It makes for a weird debate when one party in a conversation is thinking about patch/wire dataflow languages as the primary VPLs (e.g. QuartzComposer) and the other one is thinking about procedural block languages (e.g. Scratch) as the primary VPLs.

Absolutely, their important work foreshadowed and inspired so much great stuff. Also Douglas Engelbart's NLS pioneered many of the ideas of visual programming.

I think spreadsheets also qualify as visual programming languages, because they're two-dimensional and grid based in a way that one-dimensional textual programming languages aren't.

The grid enables them to use relative and absolute 2D addressing, so you can copy and paste formulae between cells, so they're reusable and relocatable. And you can enter addresses and operands by pointing and clicking and dragging, instead of (or as well as) typing text.

Some people mistakenly assume visual programming languages necessarily don't use text, or that they must use icons and wires, so they don't consider spreadsheets to be visual programming languages.

Spreadsheets are a wildly successful (and extremely popular) example of a visual programming language that doesn't forsake all the advantages of text based languages, but builds on top of them instead.

And their widespread use and success disproves the theory that visual programming languages are esoteric or obscure or not as powerful as text based languages.

Other more esoteric, graphical, grid-based visual programming languages include cellular automata (which von Neumann explored), and more recently "robust first computing" architectures like the Moveable Feast Machine.



Robust-first Computing: Distributed City Generation (Moveable Feast)


>A rough video demo of Trent R. Small's procedural city generation dynamics in the Movable Feast Machine simulator. See http://nm8.us/q for more information. Apologies for the poor audio!

Programming the Movable Feast Machine with λ-Codons


>λ-Codons provide a mechanism for describing arbitrary computations in the Movable Feast Machine (MFM). A collection of λ-Codon molecules describe the computation by a series of primitive functions. Evaluator particles carry along a stack of memory (which initially contains the input to the program) and visit the λ-Codons, which they interpret as functions and apply to their stacks. When the program completes, they transmute into output particles and carry the answer to the output terminals (left).

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact