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Chapter 2: Teaching Logo Something New

Logo commands such as FORWARD and BACK are called primitive procedures. They are words that Logo already knows. Part of the power of Logo is that you can add new words to the language and then use them as if they were built-in. You might think that drawing a square is such a simple thing that Logo should already know how to do it. Type:

SQUARE is not in Logo’s vocabulary yet, but this chapter will get you started in writing your own procedures, beginning with SQUARE.

What is a Procedure?

A procedure is a set of instructions that is given a name that describes it. It’s an abstraction from the low-level details that define how it works to a higher-level expression of the idea or concept of what it does when you run it.

Why Define a Procedure?

It’s much easier to type a one-word procedure name than to type all of the instructions that would do the same thing. Would you rather type SQUARE or REPEAT 4 [FORWARD 100 RIGHT 90] every time you want a square? Procedures also help you to organize a large project into smaller parts that work together to achieve a goal. Making changes is easier, too. If you wanted to change the square to 50 turtle steps, modifying the procedure definition is much easier than making changes to each occurrence of the REPEAT instructions.

When to Define a Procedure?

Any time you find yourself typing the same sequence of commands over and over again, you should consider defining a procedure. It will not only save you typing time, but also help you to better understand what you are doing now and to more easily recall what you did later. Procedures are helpful when explaining your work to others, too. Defining a procedure is so simple that you’ll often do that before even typing out a long sequence of commands.

Naming a Procedure

A procedure name is one word that should describe what the procedure does so that you can easily remember what it’s for. A word in Logo can be just one character, but that’s not usually good for a procedure name

  • you’re likely to forget what the procedure does. A word can also be very long but that’s not good either - after all, part of the reason to use procedures is to save typing. The procedure name should be simple and related to the action performed, the design drawn, or something else that helps you to remember it. SQUARE is a much better name than EQUILATERAL.RECTANGLE. (The . is just another character in Logo; it’s often used like this for names that would otherwise be hard to read.)

TO Defines a Procedure

The TO command is a special form of Logo instruction. While you’re typing at the keyboard, TO followed by a procedure name opens the Define a Procedure window. (Later on, you’ll see that TO defines procedures as they are loaded from a file into the Logo workspace.) Since you’re going to be the teacher now, think of the Define a Procedure window as a special chalkboard where you’ll write today’s lesson.

To teach Logo how to square, type:

There are three text boxes in the Define a Procedure window but we only need two of them for now. The Procedure Name text box is automatically filled in with the procedure name SQUARE. Press the Tab key (or click with the mouse) to move the cursor into the Commands text box. This is where you type the instructions that make a square, just like you did in the Listener window. Go ahead and type

and then press Enter. Nothing happens.

The instructions you type in the Commands text box are remembered for later - not run immediately like they are in the Listener window. That’s what a procedure definition is - the plan of what to do when asked.

Click the Define button and you’ve just taught your first lesson! Logo lets you know that it knows about SQUARE by displaying a message in the Listener window.

Using Your Procedure

Once defined, your procedure is just like a Logo primitive procedure. Just type its name to run it. Type:

You’ll never have to type REPEAT 4 [FORWARD 100 RIGHT 90] again! Any time you want a square, just type SQUARE. Here are some suggestions for using your new SQUARE procedure. Try them out and then use SQUARE in your own way.

  • A square is four lines and four turns. But, what is four SQUARE and four turns? Type REPEAT 4 [SQUARE RT 90] and see what a square of squares looks like. Change the numbers for REPEAT and RT to see what other interesting things you get.
  • Make a diamond. (A diamond is really just a square that’s turned sideways a little.)
  • See if you can draw a pentagon with squares.
  • Make a stack of squares.

Procedure Input

All of your squares are 100 turtle steps on a side because that’s the way you defined it. What if you want squares of 50 turtle steps? You could change the FORWARD 100 to FORWARD 50 but then, what if you wanted bigger squares again later? You’d have to change it back to FORWARD 100 again. This would get old in a hurry.

You could teach Logo how to make smaller squares by defining another procedure. It would have to have a different name, BOX for example. Then you could draw a big square with SQUARE and a small square with BOX. This solves one problem but creates another!

Suppose you wanted squares of 20, 50, 80 and 100 turtle steps on a side? What names would you use to tell which was which? You could use names like SQUARE20, SQUARE50, SQUARE80 and SQUARE100. You can easily tell which square is which, but what are you going to do if you want to make squares of 200 different sizes? Define 200 different procedures with 200 different names? Absolutely not!

A square is a square no matter how big or small it is. The only difference between them is the input to the FORWARD command, but how can you replace that number with any number you want, any time you want, without changing the SQUARE procedure or making a lot of similar square procedures? It’s simple - use an input to SQUARE so you can just type SQUARE 100 or SQUARE 50 or use any number as the actual input.

An actual input is the input you give to a command or procedure when you actually run it, like the number 100 in FORWARD 100. An actual input is also called an actual parameter or actual argument.

A formal input is used in the definition of a procedure. It is a temporary container with a name chosen by you. A formal input is also called a formal parameter or formal argument. It is also called a variable because its contents can change or vary. To add an input to your SQUARE procedure, type:

The chalkboard is displayed just as you left it when you defined SQUARE earlier. Click in the List of Inputs text box and type SIZE. The name of an input can be anything you want, but just like a procedure name, it should describe what it’s for. Since it’s the size of the square that will be different each time, SIZE is a good name.

Press the Tab key (or click with the mouse) to move the cursor into the Commands text box and replace the 100 input to FORWARD with the name SIZE. When you run SQUARE later on, SIZE will be automatically replaced with the actual input you give to SQUARE. Click the Define button to save the new definition of SQUARE.

Now you can draw squares of any size you want with just the SQUARE command in the same way that you can draw lines of any length you want with the FORWARD command. Just remember to give SQUARE an input (an actual input, that is).

Modify other procedures to use an input or create new procedures with inputs to draw different shapes. If you are very careful, you can quickly create a new procedure from the definition of another procedure that has a similar pattern of commands. For example, drawing a triangle is similar to drawing a square - both use the REPEAT command with FORWARD and RIGHT. The only differences are the number of times to repeat and the number of degrees to turn.

You can call up the chalkboard with the SQUARE definition and then change the Procedure Name entry to TRIANGLE, change the 4 to 3, change the 90 to 120 and then click the Define button.

Procedure Input is Local

SIZE is a local variable for SQUARE. Local variables are temporary - when SQUARE is finished, SIZE no longer exists. Type:

Each time a procedure with a formal input is run, a new temporary variable is created in the procedure’s local environment - a kind of private workspace area in memory. The actual input value is assigned to the variable and the variable is used while the procedure is running. When the procedure ends, its local environment is no longer needed, so the memory area is released (or freed) for use by other procedures. No matter how much memory your computer has, it is a limited supply. Fortunately, Logo does this memory management for you automatically to keep your workspace (the global environment) from getting cluttered.

More Input

Your procedures can have more than one input, just like the REPEAT command. For example, a procedure to draw a rectangle would need two inputs because the opposite sides are usually of a different length. The illustration shows a definition for RECTANGLE. Go ahead and define RECTANGLE. You’ll notice that the Define a Procedure window has been stretched to allow for the longer lines; just click and drag an edge to adjust the size.

If you give RECTANGLE the same value for both of its inputs, what will it draw? If one procedure can completely erase another procedure’s drawing, then both drawings must be the same thing. Can you visually prove that a square is a special case of a rectangle?

Defining a Shortcut

A shortcut (or abbreviation) is an alternative name for a command or procedure. Many Logo commands have shortcuts, such as FD for FORWARD and PC for PENCOLOR. You can define your own shortcuts with the ALIAS command. It takes two words as input: the first word is the name of the original command; the second word is the name you want as the shortcut. Type:

Now you can use REC in place of RECTANGLE. It will save some typing while you’re exploring interactively. Don’t get carried away with shortcuts - longer descriptive names are still important for making your ideas clear.

Combining Procedures

A supervisor is a person in charge of other people who are called subordinates. The supervisor directs the activities of the subordinates so that a project runs smoothly. A similar arrangement happens when you combine procedures to do a complicated drawing. A super procedure is in control of subprocedures. In a way, your SQUARE procedure is a super procedure. It controls the actions of FORWARD and RIGHT with the REPEAT command to accomplish the job of drawing a square.

A rather simple example is to draw a house of a given size by first constructing a square frame and then adding a triangle roof. You can define the super procedure HOUSE even though the subprocedures FRAME and ROOF have not been written. Of course, if you try to run it, you’ll get an error message.

The frame is just a square, so you can define FRAME easily. It may seem silly to have a FRAME procedure since all it does is draw a square. However, this is another case of procedure abstraction - a frame is part of a house, but a square is just a square. Use a name that more clearly identifies the purpose of the procedure. You could use ALIAS in this case because FRAME is nothing more than SQUARE, but that’s not a good idea. Later on, you could change the design in the FRAME procedure, but you could not change the design of the alias.

The ROOF procedure has to do more than just draw a triangle. First, the turtle has to “climb” to the top of the frame and then rotate just enough to make the triangle sit flatly on the square. These preliminary adjustments are called a transition. To complete the roof, the turtle should be moved back to where it started - back on the “ground” and pointing in the same direction. That is accomplished by doing the opposite of each transition step in the reverse order.

Putting the turtle back where it started makes it easier to make a sequence of shapes. Try making a row of houses. Make a map of your neighborhood. Are all the houses the same size and color? You can put a nameplate on each house with the TURTLETEXT command (TT for short). It takes either a word or a list as input and displays the contents in uppercase starting at the turtle’s location. The text is always displayed so you can read it properly, regardless of the turtle’s heading. Since the text is “drawn” in the Graphics window, it uses the current pen mode. If the pen is up, then nothing appears.