APL QUOTE-QUAD: The Early Years
Anyone who has ever “volunteered” to produce a newsletter can sympathize with both the tone and the form of this quotation. Some typos leap off the page after you’ve struggled for days — alone and with few resources other than your own time and commitment — and the cussed thing has already been printed! Being a volunteer editor is a lonely business, at best.
Newcomer to the APL community may not realize that APL Quote-Quad predates the formation of any recognized or “organized” APL user group in the computing world at large. In fact, APL Quote-Quad provided the first means of written communication for APL users outside of IBM, and this homespun newsletter was definitely a germinal element in the organization of APL users under the aegis of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). Before ACM’s Special Interest Group on Programming Languages (SIGPLAN) changed its bylaws in 1972 to permit the creation of technical committees, and the subsequent formation in 1973 of STAPL (SIGPLAN Technical Committee on APL), there was only an APL Committee existing under the SHARE Interactive Systems Project.
It all began in 1968 when APL was released by IBM as a Type III (contributed) program in the SHARE library. When the APL Committee was organized at the winter meeting of SHARE in Los Angeles, Garth Foster of Syracuse University offered to edit and distribute a “modest newsletter” to provide a means of communication. He named this circular SHARE*APL\360 and expressed the hope that “SHARE would be raised to the power of APL\360”. We should note two aspects of Foster’s initial attitude: 1) he was thinking about the power * of APL, and 2) he printed 100 copies of the first newsletter, although he mailed out all of about 35.
The modest publication which began with an equally modest circulation culminated four years later in Volume III, Number 5 which enjoyed a distribution of 400-500 copies. What started out as an informal newsletter eventually became the “voice of APL” when STAPL was formed and assumed the responsibility for publishing APL Quote-Quad for an organized APL community. APL Quote-Quad — The Early Years is a collection of the first 14 issues, many of which are no longer available. This anthology is rich in APL history — particularly from a user’s point of view. These informal papers provide a capsule history of the early struggles of the APL community to share information, to get organized, and to provide a formalized forum for APL.
Foster’s paper, “The APL User Community — Its Roots” (APL Users Meeting Proceedings, Toronto, October 6, 7, 8, 1980 Sponsored by I.P. Sharp Associates Limited) documents in considerable detail how SHARE*APL\360 evolved into APL Quote-Quad as well as the events that were taking place at the time. Not included, are some behind-the-scenes anecdotes which deserve attention in order to understand what it took to produce the first 14 newsletters. For example, it is probably not widely known that an anonymous benefactor donated $100 in response to the editor’s plea for “interest, support and contributions” in the very first issue!
The sheer mechanics of printing and distributing a newsletter containing terminal output generated on devices in considerable need of adjustment presented a tremendous challenge to Foster and subsequent editors, A.T. McEwan and D.W.A. Watson of Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario. Contributors frequently supplied material in a form which could not be reproduced even in the loose format of the newsletter. Retyping these contributions often introduced errors which managed to get into print. And, there were problems, too, with reproducing APL expressions and functions: the light italic APL font would consistently break up during the multilith process used to print the newsletters.
The general production scheme observed in those early years involved the editors reviewing contributions, writing editorials and producing camera-ready copy. The newsletters were printed by staff in the Engineering Department at Syracuse University. The early mailing list was maintained on an APL system, and address labels were printed out on terminals with pinfeed platens. Work-study students at Syracuse helped to assemble the newsletters while Garth Foster and his family pasted the labels on each copy by hand.
As with any volunteer effort, certain details of bookkeeping managed to fall through the cracks. Foster remembers that batches of letters requesting newsletters, address changes and other information disappeared by dint of turnovers in secretarial help and just plain oversight. Tracking down and correcting errors of omission was frustrating and time-consuming.
The survival of the original publishing effort owes a lot to the dogged efforts of the first editors. It took considerable dedication to APL for Foster, McEwan and Watson to continue publishing with few resources and consequent “production disasters”. Nowadays, Garth is willing to reveal the chagrin he felt when meeting the president of I.P. Sharp Associates Ltd. for the first time. It seems that Ian Sharp seized the occasion to casually mention that his name was not spelled with an “e”at the end of it, a practice APL Quote-Quad had been faithfully observing for a number of issues.
In addition to the usual problems involved in publishing any periodical, the editors of the early newsletters also endured the agonies of editorial decisions and the frustrations connected with trying to provide truly informative content for a community starved for information. This is revealed in a comment in the editorial in Volume III, Number 1, June 11, 1971, “Surely Larry Breed is not the only person prepared to reply to queries on APL?”
However, all was not grim in those early years, and one gets an insight into the sense of humor which still abounds in the APL world. The Great Inner Products Contest was announced in the January 15, 1971 issue. Readers were encouraged to submit their “favorite and most expressive use of the inner product”. Among the so-called rules of the competition:
Volume II, Number 6, March 17, 1971 reveals that the APL community could meet challenge with characteristic tongue-in-cheek:
Not all was fun and games, however. Mike Jenkins introduced the new matrix inversion primitive, domino, to the APL community in Volume III, Number 4, February 10, 1972. This landmark paper is often referred to, and can still be used today to gain insight into this function. And domino can be used in interesting and mysterious ways, too. At the [APL82] meeting in Heidelberg, Timo Seppälä of TMT-Team Oy, Helsinki, was asking people if they knew the shortest expression for computing the average of a vector. (Think about it and then look for the answer at the end of this introduction.)
It’s a testimony to his early belief in the “power” of APL that Garth Foster still gets queries about APL Quote-Quad though he has not been officially involved with its publication since 1972.
APL PRESS takes pleasure in reprinting these first 14 newsletters which provided a valuable service to the APL community. We must remember that these volunteer efforts offered the only means of written communication for APL users in the “old days”. In addition, these informal papers continue to contribute something even more worthwhile to APL as it exists today: the contain the only written summaries of the early APL conferences and workshops which took place in the days before proceedings were published as a matter of course.
APL PRESS is grateful to G.H. Foster, A.T. McEwan and D.W.A. Watson for permission to reprint these issues. We also thank Larry Breed (IBM), Garth Foster and Gene McDonnell (I.P. Sharp Associates, Inc.) for making their personal collections available for reproduction.
Arlene E. Azzarello
The shortest expression for computing the average of a vector V is V⌹V=V . (!)
Originally appeared in as the introduction to APL QUOTE-QUAD: The Early Years, APL Press, Palo Alto, 1982-11.