Strange Computer Languages: A Hacker’s Field Guide

Why do we build radios or clocks when you can buy them? Why do we make LEDs blink for no apparent purpose? Why do we try to squeeze one extra frame out of our video cards? We don’t know why, but we do. That might be the same attitude most people would have when learning about esolangs — esoteric programming languages — we don’t know why people create them or use them, but they do.

We aren’t talking about mainstream languages that annoy people like Lisp, Forth, or VBA. We aren’t talking about older languages that seem cryptic today like APL or Prolog. We are talking about languages that are made to be… well… strange.


We have to start at the beginning. INTERCAL. This was started as a joke in 1972 and the acronym is purportedly for Compiler Language With No Pronounceable Acronym. There was no actual implementation, though, until around 1990. Now there are two: C-INTERCAL and CLC-INTERCAL.

Since INTERCAL is a parody, it makes some very odd choices. For example, bitwise operators like AND operate with two arguments, but one of the arguments is reversed. That is, the top bit of one operand matches the bottom bit of the second operand. In a nod to social convention, there is a modifier known as PLEASE that you should sometimes use when, for example, reading data as in “PLEASE READ IN.” If you don’t use it often enough, the compile will fail warning you that the program is insufficiently polite. However, if you use it too often, you’ll also get an error that your program is excessively polite.

Originally, the implementation used EBCDIC, so it uses some characters that don’t appear on conventional 7-bit ASCII systems. This forced some character substitutions and now, with Unicode, some versions will allow the old-style characters if you prefer them. The INTERCAL manual renames nearly all the special characters for further confusion. A single quote is a “spark” and the equal sign is a “half-mesh”. Only the ampersand remains unscathed.

Want to know more? Be careful what you wish for.

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Monitor For Bedridden Patients Aims To Improve Care

One of the joys of being a Maker and Hacker is solving problems and filling needs. When you can do both, well, that’s something special. [rodrigo.mejiasz]’s project surely fits into that special category of solving a problem and filling a dire need with his Bedridden Patient Monitor.

While [Rodrigo]’s project page does not specify his motivation for creating this project, one only needs to look as far as their local hospital ward or senior care facility to understand why this device is so wonderful. Healthcare workers and caregivers are stretched paper thin, and their attention is being constantly interrupted.

This is where the Bedridden Patient Monitor comes in. A healthy person can reposition themselves if they are uncomfortable, but bedridden patients cannot. It’s not just that a bedridden patient is unable to get out of bed, but that they are unable to move themselves without assistance. The result is a great amount of pain. And if left unchecked, pressure sores can be the result. These are not only extremely unpleasant, but an added danger to a patients health.

The Bedridden Patient Monitor steps in and provides not just an egg-timer like alert, but helps caregivers track a patients position in bed across even several working shifts. This ensures a continuity of care that might otherwise be easy to miss.

The beauty of this build is in its application but also its simplicity: it’s just an Arduino Mega, a TFT shield with its Micro SD card, and the touch screen itself. A few LED’s and a buzzer take care of alerts. A thoughtfully configured interface makes the devices use obvious so that staff can make immediate use of the monitor.

Makers have a long history diving into the medical field, such as this stab wound treatment device that won the Dyson award in 2021.

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The SHA2017 Badge Just Keeps On Giving, This Time It’s A Solar Monitor

Regular readers will know that we have covered the world of electronic badges for many years, and nothing pleases us more than seeing an event badge having a life afterwards rather than becoming a piece of e-waste. Thus we were especially pleased to see [Angus Gratton]’s use of a SHA2017 badge as a solar output monitor, over four years after the event.

The SHA badge used an ESP32 as its processor, and paired it with a touch keypad and an e-ink screen. Its then novel approach of having a firmware that could load MicroPython apps laid the groundwork for the successful open source firmware project, meaning that it remains versatile and useful to this day.

The solar monitor simply grabs time-series information from the database used by his web graphing system and displays it on the e-ink screen in graph form, but the interest apart from the use of the badge in his treatise on MicroPython coding. He makes the point that many of us probably follow unconsciously, writing for full-fat Python and then fixing the parts which either don’t work or use too many resources on its slimmer cousin. Finally he powers the device from an old phone charger, and shares some tips on controlling its tendency to reboot on power spikes.

It’s almost a year ago that we showed you a SHA badge being used as an environmental sensor.

Thanks [Sebastius] for the tip.