Development log of a life-long coder

Using SectorLISP for Project Euler

I'm trying to write code in 100 different programming languages. Day (ahem) 2: SectorLISP!


Ever since discovering SectorLISP (a minimal Lisp that fits in a boot sector), I've wanted to give it a spin. And it did not disappoint! It was both beautiful and painful.


Things I missed while using SectorLISP:

Mercifully, I was using the "friendly" branch of SectorLISP, which at least included an obvious and idiomatic way to implement recursion via DEFINE.

Now, obviously, the list above is not meant as a complaint. SectorLISP is a minimal Lisp, so I was expecting for it to support only the bare minimum. Rolling your own integer representation and using recursion for iteration are part of the fun!

Having said that, there was one unpleasant surprise: because SectorLISP was designed to run on ancient hardware, it has a miniscule memory budget (correction: the PC BIOS always starts executing the boot sector in 16-bit mode, so this limit is "natural"). There is only space for (I think) at most 8,192 cons cells. Without tail call optimization and iteration, several of my attempts at printing decimal numbers ran out of memory.

It took several attempts, but I eventually found that using unary encoding for numbers (i.e. "n" is encoded as a list of length "n"; for example (QUOTE (T T T)) is the number 3) resulted in the simplest code with the least consing--but only when the numbers are small! For larger numbers, I saved space using 32-bit binary (two's complement) with the least significant bit first.