Paolo Amoroso's Journal


I finished implementing the commands of Stringscope, the string listing tool I'm developing with Medley Interlisp.

After Sort, Reset, and Exit I wrote the code for Min Len, Find, and Get. I also added the new command Info to show in the prompt area some statistics about the strings. Coding the other commands gave me the idea and Implementing Info seemed easy, so I did it.

Now Stringscope looks like this, with the prompt area attached to the top side of the main window and the menu at the right side:

Window of the Interlisp program Stringscope with an advanced version of the command menu.

I renamed the menu item Set threshold to Min Len as the former was too wide and stood out. Min Len is more consistent with the documentation and code of Stringscope. In addition, I centered the items instead of aligning them flush left. This is the more idiomatic way most traditional Interlisp programs and system tools lay out menus.

To explain how the commands work I recorded a screencast that walks through the features and input validation of Stringscope.

I demonstrated the program by opening and interacting with two binary files, the DOCTEST.TEDIT document created with the TEdit rich text editor and the program's compiled executable STRINGSCOPE.LCOM. I also threw in some invalid data as input to show input validation in action.

After writing the code of the commands I realized Stringscope grew to support all the features I initially planned, plus a couple more I thought of along the way.

Medley Interlisp seemed overwhelming and intimidating at first but it was too much fun, so I pressed on using and studying the system. The effort paid off and now I can not only find my way around, but also create a small yet complete program with a GUI. This is a milestone to celebrate.

It's probably time to ship version 1.0 and start thinking of how to improve Stringscope and its design.

#stringscope #Interlisp #Lisp

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I'm having a lot of fun working on the commands of Stringscope, the string listing tool I'm developing with Medley Interlisp.

I implemented the Sort menu item with its subitems Ascending and Descending, as well as the Reset item. I added also the Exit item for quitting the program, a low-hanging fruit that just required calling the CLOSEW window manager function for closing the main window.

The main window of Stringscope, the command menu, and the prompt area now look like this:

Window of the Interlisp program Stringscope with an early version of the command menu.

The commands didn't require too much new code. I take it as a sign the foundation is solid, or at least not too shaky. And Interlisp's powerful menu system made things easier. But there's some code duplication I'm not satisfied with that will need refactoring.

The next commands to implement are the ones that take input from and output to the prompt area: Get, Find, and Set threshold.

#stringscope #Interlisp #Lisp

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I'm enhancing Stringscope with a permanent command menu and a prompt area. The menu, an item of which holds a submenu, attaches to the right side of the main window, the prompt area to the top of the main window above the title bar. This is what the main window looks like now:

Window of the Interlisp program Stringscope with an early version of the command menu.

This way of arranging menus and secondary windows by attaching them to a main window is typical of Interlisp programs with a GUI. The system supports this design with functions like the ones I used, CREATEMENUEDWINDOW to create and attach a menu and GETPROMPTWINDOW for doing the same with a prompt window.

The menu comprises these initial items and subitems:

  • Get: reads the strings of a new file
  • Find: searches for strings matching a specific text
  • Sort: sorts the strings in the following order
    • Ascending
    • Descending
  • Set threshold: changes the minimum length of strings
  • Reset: redisplays the strings read from the current file

The prompt window is an area for displaying status messages and receiving user input such as the name of a new file to read.

So far the Stringscope code sets up the menu and the prompt window. The menu handling function, however, is just a stub that prints to the main prompt window the selected menu item.

The next step will be to implement the commands the menu calls.

#stringscope #Interlisp #Lisp

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I moved the Stringscope project infrastructure from a GitHub gist to a full repo. The gist is now unmaintained and links to the repo.

Announcing my new Interlisp project Braincons I motivated setting up its infrastructure as a repo with a number of reasons boiling down to convenience. Code is still readble despite the formatting Interlisp encodes, source files no longer need conversion, and a full repo is more flexible. I moved Stringscope to a repo for the same reasons.

#stringscope #Interlisp #Lisp

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Reporting on the implementation of new commands for Stringscope I noted my confusion on why File Manager building commands such as (CLEANUP 'STRINGSCOPE) sometimes don't write to a file the compiled Lisp code.

It turns out this occurred when loading Stringscope with FILESLOAD, which loads a compiled file if available. So, even after modifying the Lisp source, the File Manager somehow skipped the compilation step as it assumed the file was up to date. Loading Stringscope with LOAD instead, which pulls the source, is usually enough to make CLEANUP write the compiled file.

It's a step forward. But I still don't understand why (CLEANUP 'STRINGSCOPE) or (MAKEFILE 'STRINGSCOPE 'C) don't always compile to a file when the source is edited in memory.

#stringscope #Interlisp #Lisp

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I continued working on Stringscope, the string listing tool I'm developing with Medley Interlisp. I added the function STRINGS to print the strings to the primary output stream rather than in a new window, as well as an Executive command that does the same.

To reflect this work I updated the Stringscope code and documentation hosted on a GitHub gist, describing also the function EXTRACT.STRINGS as part of the interface. The code in the gist is intended for publication and can't be loaded as is into Interlisp.


In addition to the same arguments as STRINGSCOPE, i.e. a file name FILENAME and the minimum length MIN.LEN strings must have, STRINGS accepts a third optional boolean argument NEWWIN. By default NEWWIN is NIL and makes STRINGS print to the primary output, otherwise the function opens a new window and works exactly like STRINGSCOPE. In fact, STRINGSCOPE is now just a wrapper that calls STRINGS with NEWWIN set to T.

STRINGSCOPE and STRINGS return a window if the functions open it otherwise the primary output stream. In case the input file can not be opened or contains no strings, the functions return NIL and print a warning to the prompt window.

Interlisp functions that create or manipulate a window usually return the window itself as their value, so I adopted a similar convention.


An early version of STRINGS duplicated a lot of the code of STRINGSCOPE for opening the input stream, checking for errors, evaluating some forms with the stream bound to a variable, and closing the stream. I factored that boilerplate into the macro WITH.INPUT.FILE:

                           &BODY BODY &AUX (RESULT (GENSYM))
                           (VALUE (GENSYM)))

         (* Opens an input stream to FILE and evaluates the forms in BODY with the stream 
         bound to STREAM. Returns the value of the last form in BODY, or NIL if FILE can 
         not be opened.)

          (if ,RESULT
              then (SETQ ,STREAM (CAR ,RESULT))
                   (SETQ ,VALUE (PROGN ,@BODY))
                   (CLOSEF ,STREAM)
                   (RETURN ,VALUE)
            else (RETURN NIL))))

The Executive command STRINGS

The reason I implemented a function like STRINGS that prints the output to the console is I wanted to try out creating an Executive command.

Also known as a listener in other Lisp environments, an Executive is an Interlisp window that provides a read-eval-print loop. In addition to Lisp expressions, an Executive accepts commands with a non-parenthesized syntax such as DIR (the equivalent of DIR on MS-DOS and ls on Unix) or CONN directory (cd directory on MS-DOS and Unix).

So I defined the Stringscope Executive command STRINGS that works exactly like the function STRINGS but takes only the file name and the minimum length arguments:


The macro DEFCOMMAND defines an Executive command and is really easy to use, here's the definition of STRINGS:


The STRINGS command is just a wrapper that calls the function STRINGS with appropriate arguments.

Compiling Stringscope

I initially run Stringscope compiled but it was time to start using the File Manager commands for compiling the code, (MAKEFILE 'STRINGSCOPE 'C) and (CLEANUP 'STRINGSCOPE). However, these commands apparently compile only in memory and don't write a compiled file like (TCOMPL 'STRINGSCOPE), which I have to call manually.

The File Manager is an Interlisp subsystem conceptually similar to the Unix tool Make. It's a collection of tools to notice, keep track of, and write to files the code changes to a Lisp system under development.

Another confusing aspect of compilation is when I load Stringscope with (FILESLOAD STRINGSCOPE), I get a warning I don't understand concerning a comment in the macro WITH.INPUT.FILE: Warning: Possible comment not stripped. I actually see the compiler couldn't strip a comment from the compiled code to save space, but not why.

Further development

Some of these new features were on my initial roadmap, others emerged while coding and using Stringscope.

Since this is an exploration and learning project, going forward I'll go with the flow and implement what I need or find interesting, and consider the initial roadmap more like a source of ideas than an action plan. Which is the kind of exploratory development Lisp supports and makes enjoyable.

#stringscope #Interlisp #Lisp

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After encountering Medley Interlisp I set out to learn the system, as I'd like to contribute to the project and use Medley Interlisp as my primary development environment.

Along with reading the documentation and playing with the system, I started a programming project.

I wanted to create something small that carries out a limited but useful task. My goal was to familiarize with the Medley Interlisp development environment, tools, and process through developing, optimizing, documenting, and sharing an Interlisp program.

I hoped to build a prototype with basic functionality I could finish quickly to have something to play with and extend. Blame instant gratification, and Lisp's productivity.

So I wrote a program I called Stringscope as a nod to the Masterscope program analysis tool of Interlisp.

The program

Stringscope is a tool to display a list of the text strings contained in a binary file, i.e. the sequences of printable characters longer than a minimum threshold of 4 characters. The program is similar to the Unix tool strings.

This is the output window of Stringscope:

Stringscope, an Interlisp program to list the text strings in a binary file.

The above screenshot is a crop of the full Medley Interlisp desktop:

Medley Interlisp desktop with the output and source windows of Stringscope, a program for listing the text strings in a binary file.

The Stringscope window shows the output of feeding into the program a word processor document as input. At the right of Stringscope is the TEdit rich text editor with the same document loaded. TEdit writes binary files that contain text and formatting commands, some of which are seen at the bottom of Stringscope window's. The largest window on the desktop shows the source code of Stringscope.

The scroll bar along the left edge of Stringscope's window is a small win I'm proud of.

The Medley Interlisp windowing environment doesn't automatically repaint program-created windows. So I had to figure out how set up Stringscope's window to repaint its content and make it scrollable. I managed to find the right code snippet in the Interlisp Reference Manual and repurposed it.


Stringscope first needs to be loaded by evaluating this Lisp expression, which assumes the file is in the current directory:


Next, the program is launched by evaluating:


where FILENAME is a file name and MIN.LEN the optional minimum length text strings must have. The default is 4 characters but is user-configurable by changing the global variable SSCOPE.MIN.LEN.

The function STRINGSCOPE opens the input file and feeds the resulting stream into the EXTRACT.STRINGS function, which runs a state machine that recognizes strings and adds them to the output. After receiving the returned list of strings, STRINGSCOPE prompts the user to create a window and sets it up to display the output and respond to repaint and scroll events.


I developed Stringscope on my Chromebox with Interlisp Online, the cloud version of Medley Interlisp accessible from a browser via the noVNC VNC client.

Coding with the SEdit structure editor was smooth and highly productive.

As an image-based environment, in Medley Interlisp the code in memory may be saved to permanent storage by dumping the full memory image. But sources are usually saved to external files by the File Manager that's conceptually similar to the Unix tool Make. The File Manager is a collection of tools to notice, keep track of, and write to files the changes to a Lisp system under development.


So far I ran Stringscope on small inputs but I eventually want to process larger files which may require optimizing the code with Spy, the main profiling tool of Medley Interlisp.

To get a feel of Spy I instrumented STRINGSCOPE, soon realizing the profiler collects a lot of unnecessary data related to window and system functions that have little influence on the overall running time. So I'll focus the analysis on EXTRACT.STRINGS which performs the I/O, manipulates the data, and does most of the processing.


A lot of the digital documentation that ships with Medley Interlisp and user-contributed software was written with TEdit, the system's versatile rich text editor.

I'd like to use it to write the documentation of Stringscope but TEdit is not fully usable yet. The arrow keys don't work, a showstopper for non trivial text editing. The restoration and modernization of Medley Interlisp is under way and the issue will eventually be fixed, but I'll have to defer natively documenting Stringscope until then.

In the meantime these notes on my blog will have to do.


Another major goal of Stringscope is to share my work and get feedback from experienced Interlisp developers.

Interlisp code is stored in “symbolic files”, Medley Interlisp jargon for source files. However, symbolic files are databases rather than traditional source files and they aren't usually edited directly. Instead, code is edited in memory with SEdit and the File Manager takes care of writing and updating symbolic files when the code is modified.

Although symbolic files are text files, exporting and publishing them involves some preparation and adaptation.

First, with Online Interlisp the files need to be downloaded from the cloud. Next, they may need some cleaning.

Symbolic files contain control codes for syntax highlighting and prettyprinting to render different text sizes and attributes such as bold. See for example the Stringscope code in the above screenshot of the desktop.

This is an effective way of presenting code in the environment. The downside is many Lisp symbols are wrapped in sequences of control codes that encode the formatting, which look like spurious characters in ASCII viewers and editors. Moreover, some Interlisp symbols, such as the left arrow , have the same ASCII code of the underscore character _.

I manually downloaded Stringscope's symbolic file with the noVNC file manager of Online Interlisp, pasted it into a text editor to strip the control codes, pasted the cleaned up code into a GitHub gist for publication, and replaced _ with .

The result is acceptable. But this quick solution is not adequate in the long term as it doesn't scale, and the code can't be directly loaded into Medley Interlisp.

I'll think about how to automate the download and sharing of symbolic files, likely via GitHub. A repo is handy also for hosting PDF files obtained by printing symbolic files to PostScript files in Medley Interlisp and converting to PDF. The PostScript output preserves the text formatting and is easier to read.

Further development

Stringscope is an ongoing project and there's still work to do starting from what is missing, such as profiling and documenting. Another step is to compile the program, as I ran it interpreted so far, making sure the latest compiled binary is loaded.

I'd also like to extend Stringscope with new features such as user interface controls and options for sorting the output, filtering it by string length, and rescanning the input with different minimum string lengths. And it shouldn't be too difficult to call Stringscope from the FileBrowser when a file is selected.

Finally, I want to allow other Lisp programs and functions to call Stringscope to receive the raw output for further processing. In Medley Interlisp, pretty much every piece of code is a building block other code may access and use, so I want Stringscope to contribute too.

Above all, I want Stringscope's evolution to help improve my proficiency with Medley Interlisp.

#stringscope #Interlisp #Lisp

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