Category Archives: open-source

All the Computer You Need, for Under $240

I am writing this on a computer I got for under $240. It’s an Acer Chromebook 14 (CB3-431). I paid $220 to Newegg for a refurbished model, and $20 for an extra year of warranty coverage.

By the way, the Wirecutter speaks highly of Acer Chromebooks, saying they are the best budget models.

I am also writing this post using Xubuntu Xfce. This is thanks to the program Crouton from Google. It lets you run Linux as a tab in the Chrome browser, so you can easily drop from ordinary Chrome mode into Linux, and back! It is a brilliant use of Linux’s “chroot” capability.

I find this magical. If not magical, it’s certainly cheap.

I do all my coding on Linux and publish it via Github, so I don’t need much local storage.

A couple of years ago I paid about $1300 for a Google Chromebook Pixel LS (Ludicrous Speed). I just sold it for about a $1000 on ebay. I think I got more than I expected because Google recently announced they won’t be making any more Chromebooks with the word Google in the name. (I think this to protect the brand association of Chrome with Google’s phones.)

What I definitely find magical is that when I got the Pixel LS, I got three years free use of 1 terabyte of storage for Google Drive. I took advantage of this by uploading ALL of Mozart’s music from a set of 120 CD’s I got a few years back.

I use the Clementine music player on Linux. I just opened it up, and noticed that I can connect to my Mozart music on Google Drive.

Open Source is wonderful. It provides a way for we programmers to take care of each other, from operating system kernels to compilers to browser tabs to Mozart.

And all for free.


SPITBOL Man page now available

Craig Wright kindly submitted a Unix manual page, spitbol.1, that I have just added to the x32 and x64 repositories at

Thanks Craig!

Using VirtualBox to Run SPITBOL on OSX

I just resumed work on maintaining SPITBOL since the release of the OSX version in June 2015.

Turns out that was more than enough time for Apple to change the basic C-compiler/library tool chain so SPITBOL can no longer be built.

Though I will try to fix this as time permits, in the interim I suggest OSX users try VirtualBox, which supports running Linux on OSX. For example, I was able to install Linux Mint, my preferred Linux distort, on OSX in a short time, with no glitches. I was also able to compile the latest version of SPITBOL with fixes for DATE() and the elapsed time function (systm.c)


PS: I also tried Parallels Desktop for Mac. It works, but offers only limited graphics resolution for OSX. VirtualBox does a much better job, and it is free, while Parallels Desktop isn’t.




FRIBBLE, a SPITBOL program to play word games such as Word With Friends, now available

The FRIBBLE project is pleased to announce its first release V17.1.30, available at Fribble Project.

FRIBBLE is written in SPITBOL, and uses a brute-force approach, trying all possible moves, to play WWWF.

Fribble can be run in three ways: to play against itself, to play against you, or to help you play a game with a foe, with Fribble finding your moves.

The code speaks for itself. Speaking for my self, I can say that I have never had more fun writing a program than I have had writing FRIBBLE.

FRIBBLE is also my first program inspired by an election.

I was an obsessive follower of the recent presidential election, spending more time than I care to admit on Twitter, reading blogs, listening to podcasts, and so on.

After the election, looking for a more productive and entertaining form of amusement, I started playing Words With Friends, an online version of Scrabble. My foe was a fellow IBMer and friend who said he was quite good at WWF.

Indeed he is. We have played many games and I have yet to beat him. Often his score is 50% higher than mine.

Soon after I realized I was unlikely to ever win a game against him, I though of using my programming skills to see if I would write a program that could play WWF.

Fribble, representing just over two months of the most fun I have yet had writing a program, is the realization of that goal.

What has made the writing of Fribble such fun is the realization that it is as close to an ideal demonstration of SPITBOL as I have yet seen. Everyone knows about games such as Scrabble and WWF, and dealing with strings, words, lines of text, dictionaries, and all that such games involve, is the perfect grist for SPITBOL’s mill.

Though the program is largely done, I plan to continue work on it by using it as a way to teach SPITBOL as a first, or at least early, programming language.


SPITBOL-88 Now Available

The SPITBOL project is pleased to announce the availability of SPITBOL-88.

This is a “micro” version of SPITBOL-386 with all its functionality but with a much reduced memory capability.

It generates EXE files and is useful in situations where you wish to distribute a program that is capable of running on all MS-DOS platforms, from 8088 through Pentium.

The files were supplied by Mark Emmer, proprietor of Catspaw, Inc, in the form of the file SPIT88.ZIP, with file dates from the early 1990’s.

The program source for this version of SPITBOL is not available. Only executables are provided to compile and execute SPITBOL programs.

Demonstration and sample programs are included, licensed using a two-clause BSD license.

SPITBOL for OSX is now available

The SPITBOL project is pleased to announce that an implementation for OSX is now available, and can be found at

SPITBOL now supports the use of the gas (GNU as) assembler to translate the MINIMAL source code. This is now the default translator used for Unix and OSX.

Executable binaries:

./bin/sbl_osx OSX SPITBOL (64 bits)

./bin/sbl_unix Unix version (64 bits)

./bin/sbl_unix_32 Unix version (32 bits)


./docs/green-book.pdf The SNOBOL4 Programming Language, Griswold, et. al.

./docs/spitbol-manual.pdf SPITBOL User Manual, Emmer and Quillen

./demos demonstration programs from the SPITBOL User Manual

SPITBOL is licensed under the GPL (v2 or later) license. All code needed to build the system is included in this repository.

To build spitbol (./sbl):


make osx

make test_osx

make unix

make test_unix
See readme.txt for instructions on interpreting the test output.

SPITBOL file suffix .sbl now allowed: In Memory of Anthony P. “Tony” McCann

The original version of Macro SPITBOL, created in the early 1970’s, was the joint work of Robert B. K. Dewar and Anthony P. “Tony” McCann.

At Robert’s suggestion, I spent two weeks in March 1976 in Leeds, England, where Tony was a professor at the University of Leeds, to learn more about Macro SPITBOL, mainly to see if we could apply some its technology to help in porting SETL to new machines. I was accompanied by my wife Karin and daughter Alison.

Tony and his wife Olga were wonderful hosts.

Working with Tony was a memorable experience. He was a very modest and soft-spoken gentleman.

As long as I can remember, the default extension for SPITBOL source files has been “spt,” pronounced, as one might guess, as “spit.”

Tony preferred the extension “sbl”, pronounced like the name “sibyl.” (I just looked up the meaning of ‘sybil’ and learned that it means “a woman in ancient times supposed to utter the oracles and prophecies of a god.”

Soon after I started working on SPITBOL in 2009, I was able to track down Tony’s email address, and received the following letter in reply in May, 2009:

Hi dave,

I am still living where I was when you visited Leeds all those years ago, when SPITBOL was still a new and needy product! However Olga my wife died from a heart attack 6 weeks ago so I am planning to sell and move next summer to the nearby village of Menston where two of my daughters and their families live.

I have been retired for 7 or 8 years from the software company with which I worked after leaving Leeds University in 1988 – I wanted to program for the last part of my working career rather than be a senior departmental administrator and it all turned out very well.

I hope you are well and presume that you may have reached retirement or thereabouts.

All the best

I learned not long after from Tony’s son that Tony had passed away.

He was a wonderful man, just wonderful.

I have just extended SPITBOL so that the suffix ‘sbl’ can also be used for SPITBOL source files.

From now on, whenever I run an existing SPITBOL program, or write a new one with the suffix “sbl,” I hope that will remind me of Tony.

If you have read this post, I hope you will be so reminded.

Anthony P. “Tony” McCann: May his Memory be a Blessing.”

GCC: The First Compiler With Its Own Flag

While trying to look up some information about the gcc compiler, I did a search on ‘gcc flag -m’.

Here’s a picture of the results from Google:

Search results for 'gcc flag -m'.

Search results for ‘gcc flag -m’.

This is the first time I have ever searched for info about a compiler option (they are also called flags) and gotten a picture of a real flag.

Thing is, I can’t find the picture of RMS on the flag.

Go figure.

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