Archive for October, 2008

No MOVE to freeform

Monday, October 27th, 2008

One of the more interesting things about freeform RPG, at least currently, is its support of the MOVE/MOVEL RPG operation codes. It doesn’t.
For those not so familiar with RPG, MOVE (move right) and MOVEL (move left) are codes that you will find in almost any standard RPG program. What do you do with them?
You can:
1. Move a string into another string. If the target string is smaller, the move ends with the filling of the string. For example, assuming the field MONTH as a 9-long string with value “NOVEMBER” and a 5-long string RESULT:  MOVE MONTH RESULT results in ‘MBER ‘ ; MOVEL MONTH RESULT result is ‘NOVEM’. If the smaller field is MOVEd to the larger, what is left remains unchanged (unless the move is given a code (p) which causes it to be filled with blanks). If RESULT was ‘NOVEM’, MOVEL ‘123′ RESULT would produce ‘123EM’
2. You can MOVE strings to numeric fields, and strings to numbers. In this case, the system will try to convert the string to numbers; this is no problem, especially if the string is already a number.
3. Move strings and numbers to DATE type fields (which RPG can manipulate with other techniques, such as adding a month to the date), and vice versa.
In fact, 14 pages in the RPGIV manual is devoted to examples of how to use the MOVE opcode. (As we said above, MOVEL just starts from the left. Almost as many pages are given to MOVEL).
You would think at first that IBM would want to use this code, in view of its widespread use and of its power. Syntax would not be an issue; I deliberately did not attempt to put my example above in fixed format, just to show how obvious the syntax was.
But, what does the IBM manual say about MOVE? To quote:
“Free-Form Syntax: (not allowed - use the EVAL or EVALR operations, or built-in functions such as
To this list I would add %SUBST(substring), at least.
I can think of no practical reason why the implementers did not simply allow MOVE into freeform. Perhaps it’s because I’m just an ignorant junior college grad, from when they didn’t even have CompSci courses in JC. Since I am not a computer science major, to me the implementation would be a snap; when the compiler sees “move field1 field2;” in freeform, do exactly the same thing you would if you saw MOVE FIELD1 FIELD2 in fixed format. (Copy the compiler code! What a revolutionary idea!)
I, for one, think the problem is ideological. MOVE (along with its cousins) is too powerful a code. Since high school grads (like me) know how to use it, it obviously is too difficult for CompSci graduates to understand; you must replace it with another opcode (EVAL) and one or more of at least 12 BIFs listed above. Makes it easier. Yeah, right. We must make it simple so the ignorant Java programmers can understand. Pardon me while I get ticked off by intellectual condescension. The compiler writers are evidently trying to pry us away from an operation they feel is somehow inferior. Never mind that it works reliably, precisely, and elegantly.
Never mind that you have to be very careful how you use the BIFs, since you might not end up with the exactly equivalent result. You wouldn’t have to bother if you didn’t change it in the first place. Multiply this by the millions upon millions of MOVEs and MOVELs that likely exist in existing code, and you begin to see the problem.
The code will almost certainly be longer and likely more complicated if you attempt to convert the code. You would think brevity would be prized, since it seems such a virtue when it goes the other way, when they come up with a BIF that seems to do the job more succinctly than its fixed-format equivalent. Apparently here, they are not shooting for brevity; and I find it hard to see how they enhance the clarity of the code by avoiding MOVE.
Frankly, if they are trying to promote the use of freeform, I think they are shooting themselves in the foot by not implementing MOVE. From what I have read on the RPG forums, the lack of MOVE support stands in the way of easy freeform conversion. The fixed-to-freeform converter cannot handle it, so a /END-FREE must precede it, dropping the code back into fixed-format. Many other opcodes can be handled more or less elegantly using BIFs; not using MOVE in freeform often ends up forcing the programmer to use some Rube Goldberg BIF to try to salvage the situation.

I can only wonder why they are taking an ideological stand on this subject. “Dumb” is the nicest word I can think of with reference to their decision.

Am I Getting Lazy?

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

It has been too long since my last post. What’s going on? Well, for one thing, I’ve done a couple of articles for (a bit of shameless self-promotion here) , on “recovering data from a dead computer“  and another on “natural language processing” - text-to-speech and speech-to-text software.  I’m actually getting paid for my writing; and though I’m getting paid less than minimum wage (on an hourly basis) for doing it, it really is neat for your writing ability to be recognized.

But I haven’t really been all that busy writing those things. It’s kind of hard to explain. I think the problem is that I have convinced myself that everything I write must be a work of art, with detailed logic, clever phrases, and quotations. After the first flush of enthusiasm for the blog wore off, I found it not so easy to write through the brain fog that envelops your mind when you are tired at the end of the day. I have the energy to read my e-mail, surf my favorite web sites, but not enough to sustain several hours of determined composition.

But I should know better. Over and over again through the years I have read that the best way to write is to just sit down and do it. If you don’t feel like two hours of writing, do 15 minutes. That’s why this program I work with has a draft mode- what I write doesn’t immediately have to go to the Web. Just do it.

So I will try to do better. Just getting a new computer at work generates some enthusiasm. Things that took prohibitively long before now can be done so quickly. As a result, I have been enhancing and cleaning up the program and file cross-reference program I have written at work. I can track, in a nested fashion, what programs call what programs; and within a program I can click on a file name and get a file description or even display the file itself, scan the text for strings, and other neat stuff.  When it took well over an hour to generate the files necessary for the program, and now the files can be generated in under two minutes- that just gives you more of a feeling of power.

I was receiving the Web statistics on my various posts, and I found it very interesting that the articles that seemed to generate the most interest involved, in some fashion, freeform RPG. Even though I myself am not a big fan of it, it may be interesting to pursue that topic further in future posts, perhaps in a less dismissive way. I still believe in the validity of my arguments, but it may be worthwhile to analyze it to see why people are intrigued by it.