There are a lot of things about TableMaster that are dated, some of them painfully so. Some are things that I have to deal with as a programmer, such as the fact that TableMaster used to be two programs, not one, and there are some housekeeping issues raised as a result. (I was just dealing with one involving closing all open table files for .INCLUDE this morning) Some are matters of style and appearance; I’ve kept many of those for the sake of continuity and tradition, though the UI does look less Win3.1-ish than it used to. Some are simple practicality, such as my decision to continue using an .INI file (just like in the old days) instead of the Registry, so that TableMaster will be fully portable. But there is one that seems both quaint and, well, weird.
Specifically, I’m thinking of the terminology in the manual. For those of you who don’t remember it, or never saw it, I called keywords “verbs” and operands “nouns” because I was trying to make TBL less intimidating to people who weren’t really comfortable with computers, let alone the realization that what they were doing was actually writing a computer program.
But I decided on that terminology in late 1993, when I started writing what was to become the TableMaster manual. It’s over 20 years later now, and my audience has either grown up with computers or at least has had 20 more years to get comfortable with them. I don’t think anyone who reads the manual is really going to be put off by the fact that at TBL translation of a random gem table is, in fact, a simple computer program. So the terms “noun” and “verb” and all the rest of my circumlocutions look painfully dated now.
When I start updating the manual, I can go two ways with this: I can keep the existing terminology for nostalgia’s sake, which has the additional advantage of avoiding a lot of search-and-replace in the manual files (it’s several separate files). Or, I can update it to something that looks, well, less silly. Which, to be honest, would be almost anything. My gut feeling is to go with the latter, though I don’t know exactly what terms I’ll actually use. But that’s just what I think.
Y’all out there must have some ideas on the subject. If you’re an old TableMaster user from the 1990s, how much do you want it to look like what you remember from the Good Old Days? And if you’re just coming to this now, do you think I should modernize everything, including the terminology in the manual?
Another bit of nostalgia: I was looking at a Little Blue Card this morning, mostly because it fell out of the binder with the manual I’ve been using for some reference. A Little Blue Card is a user registration card, with installation instructions, the serial number/activatino code, and a card to mail in to let me know who you were. (by the way, about 50% of buyers did indeed mail in their Little Blue Cards — I still have a file of them packed away somewhere) It’s amusing because of some of the questions I asked, which were mostly about computer configuration. The choices for operating system, for instance, were MS-DOS, OS/2, Windows 3.x, Windows95, or “other.” I wanted to know about CPU speed, HD space, memory, even video type. It all looks kind of laughable now, when your average smartphone could blow the doors off the computer I first wrote TableMaster on. The answer to things like memory size is “far more than enough!” (there are a lot of things in my old code that were written the way they were to use memory most efficiently, because I couldn’t count on more than 640k) Ah, the Little Blue Cards.
Oh, and if you’ve ever wondered, yes, the name Table Building Language is indeed a back-formation from the .tbl extensions I used for table file names. In the beginning, I didn’t really think about it as a computer lanugage. And the earliest version wasn’t, really — it had no decision-making capabilities, no variables, etc. Even calling it a scripting language would have been a stretch. But with the addition of variables (eventually integer, real, and string), and various decision-making, um, verbs, such as .CHANCEOF, .IFYES, .IFNO, and so on, it slowly grew into a language, and I needed to call it something. So I played around with what I could make out of “.tbl” and came up with Table Building Language. I tend to assume most people figured that out a long time ago.
So … should I stick with “verbs” and “nouns”, call them “keywords” and “operands”, or something else? What’s your opinion?