Monday, February 29, 2016

Getting Started with E-Prime, Chapter 1: Objects

When I first opened up E-Prime, the experiment builder, I was struck by how colorful it was: the thumbnails of flags, hourglasses, computer screens; the blocks of code in shades of blues, greens, and grays; and, especially charming, the outline of a little purple man running, a cute way to represent the "run" button - yet to develop associations of errors, troubleshooting, and failure. Always watching, always waiting, perpetually frozen in running profile, was the little purple man, future inhabitant of future nightmares.

All of these colors led me to believe that E-Prime was a friendly software package for the non-programmer, and that it would definitely not lead to feelings of worthlessness, frustration, and eating an entire Sara Lee cake. However, I was proved wrong when I had to make an experiment more complicated than displaying the words "Hello," "Goodbye," and possibly loading a video file of a dog burping. (This can be found with your E-Prime installation under My Experiments/DogBurp_Demo.es2.) Which is how I came upon the E-Prime documentation.

The documentation for E-Prime is big. I recommend printing it, stapling it together with an industrial-sized Kirkland stapler from Costco, and feeling its heft. Or, if you prefer not to print it, open it up in a word processor and see how the scrollbar shrinks to the size of a tic-tac. In both cases the feeling is the same: This thing is Big. Huge. Biggest thing ever.

And then there are the words - the words! Words like object, procedure, list; context, attribute, trial; dimension, property, sphincter, photosynthesis. For someone with no coding background, this is a strange argot - words familiar in everyday life, but hopelessly confusing when trying to build an experiment. No wonder so many graduate students lose faith, drop out of school, and, instead of pursuing the invigorating career of a researcher spending the majority of his life in front of a computer, they wind up in some dull, unexciting job, such as professional gambler or hitman.

I don't want you to suffer the same fate. This is the start of my own documentation for E-Prime: An alternative to the Youtube videos posted by PST, the company that spawned E-Prime, and its bastard, slack-titted gorgon half-sister, E-Basic. I find those videos well-meaning and sometimes informative, but incomplete. After all, they were made by the programmers of E-Prime - they didn't have to slave away at it, suffer for it, like you and I did! This is my perspective from the other side; recognizing the typical pitfalls awaiting a new programmer and how to avoid them, along with how to make E-Prime submit to your will. The solutions are not always elegant; the coding will infuriate; but, if you watch the videos, you just might get the answers you need. No school this afterlunch, but education certain, with Andy as teacher.