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So, I was watching an old "classic" gangster movie, New Jack City, the other day, and while watching it, I noticed some dialogue I hadn't noticed before, about 44 minutes into the movie:

This kid's been bringing us business.
I'd like to take a shot at one of those computer terminals.
Can you program Pascal?

Now, I work as a developer, and even though I don't have experience with Pascal as such, I was wondering two things:
First, what on earth is a drug cartel doing programming Pascal?
And second, what is a drug cartel from 1991 doing programming Pascal?

Well, perhaps they did some very drug-related CRM programming, but why? And when the police storm the building, they are all rushing to remove the floppy disks only, which would be strange if the actual data was saved on hard drives.

It just stood out to me as a really weird thing to do at a drug cartel.

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    Why not program in Pascal? Turbo Pascal was very common in 1991. Also, are you sure they had a hard drive? They were much less common in 1991.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 12:53
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    Keep in mind that crack was created in 1984-85. Depending on where this scene lands in the movie, it may be well before the 1991 release date. Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 13:12
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    It was actually quite common to keep data on removable media and have the programs only on the HDD. Sneakernet was A Thing in 1991
    – Yorik
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 17:27
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    @Chenmunka Well, I guess the question is more concerned about "why program at all in a drug cartel business?" and not so much about Pascal in particular (at least I hope so, as otherwise it would be quite a useless question).
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 17:34

5 Answers 5

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I believe this activity was meant to show the "new" way of doing business. Cutting edge meant computers, so whether or not anything they were doing was actually computer-related, they were implying that they were doing business "the new way" (my quotes). This is somewhat related to the Technology Marches On trope, but also IMO related that that scene in Juraissic Park where the girl is like, "I know this! This is a UNIX system!". And we're all amazed at the (now crappy looking) 3D interactive menu as it flashes by. In both instances, we are introduced to crazy new technology that few people understood at the time, so Hollywood can take liberties with it.

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    +1 I agree it was to show that Nino and his crew were running an old business in a state of the art way. It was meant to convey that they were organized and had their stuff together. Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 17:54
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First, what on earth is a drug cartel doing programming Pascal?

I think he was working on an accounting system

what is a drug cartel from 1991 doing programming Pascal?

I went to college in the late 1990s and a lot of colleges were teaching pascal at the time... Java 1.0 was release in January 23, 1996... Other popular options would have c, basic, cobol....

Well, perhaps they did some very drug-related CRM programming but why?

You could not download it from the app store. It is not uncommon for a business(illegal or not) making that kind of cash to use computers to keep up with suppliers, customers, debate and credit....

Sad truth is people think proprietors of illegal business don't use technology to maximize profit.

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    Could you tell us that makes you think same
    – Panther
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 16:41
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    Pascal was widely taught, as I recall, back in "the day" and would likely have been more recognizable to a wider audience than something like C or cobol. The tie-in to accounting is salient.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 17:59
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    Pascal in the 80s was considered to be kind of a "Latin" for programming languages - it was a universal language that required basic core competencies that would be useful in programming other languages. At least, that's what I was told in my AP high school programming class (which was a joke because the teachers were not especially programming-competent). Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 18:02
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    Addressing only the last sentence, back when I was a provider of THC-infused plants in the 80's, I used a Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet to help me to find out where I could make improvements to widen the profit margin. Pascal seems a bit overkill, but I supposed if you really wanted to go full-tilt you may as well include some personalized Accounting software. Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 12:42
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My experience matches others here.  In 1991, Pascal was taught in a supplementary programming course at uni.  (Also the very basics of Fortran, and another course used Simula.)

I learned C on my own, as that was just starting to gain currency as the common language we now know.  But I don't think it was too well-known outside of the Unix community then.  (The ANSI standard had only been around for 3 years, and there wasn't much portability or cross-platform software; each platform had its own community.)

IIRC, to a first approximation, Pascal may have been the most popular high-level language for general programming and application development (and even for OSs such as the original Mac OS).  COBOL was only for mainframes (despite the existence of Micro Focus COBOL), Fortran was for scientists and accountants, machine code was for games and low-level stuff, and LISP was for AI.  BASIC may have been better-known (due to its prevalence on home computers), and there were many other niche languages, but for serious programming Pascal was an obvious choice.

So if the movie was trying to show serious programming, then Pascal would have made good sense.

As for hard drives, they were very far from ubiquitous back in 1991 (though becoming so over the following few years).

And as for computers used in organised crime, see the following year's Sneakers, in which computer whizz-kid Ben Kingsley computerises and manages the finances of an entire organised crime group — “budget, payroll, money laundering, you name it”.

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And when the police storm the building, they are all rushing to remove the floppy disks only, which would be strange if the actual data was saved on hard drives.

Back in the day (god I feel old), storage sizes were limited on all devices. This meant that you relied on swappable media storage for data that you would only need sporadic access to. The memory on your machine would be reserved for things you use frequently.

The implication here is that you would store data on the removable medium, and you would store the program on the computer. As the program fills up a floppy disk with data, you'd swap out the floppy for a new one and keep the program running.

Today, storage is practically endless for non-audio-visual data, and we have started working with comparatively massive datasets that aren't always carved into discrete chunks. We also rely on the network (i.e. internet) for our main mode of data transportation.

All of these differences work against us wanting to use physical swappable devices for data storage, which is why you're assuming that the data must be stored on the machine's hard drive. Your assumption is correct today, but was not the case back then.

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Others have answered the first question.

As for the second, I can tell you about my experience at that time. I took the AP Computer Science test (both the A & B parts) circa 1989 and it was entirely in Pascal. The earlier versions of MacOS (Systems 1 - 7, so 1984-1996-ish) had Pascal interfaces and all the documentation for them was in Pascal. When Windows 3.1 came out, they also used the Pascal ABI for a lot of it. I actually had Turbo Pascal on both a DOS machine and a Mac around that time. It was realistic for a developer to buy a copy of Turbo Pascal and write software in it as depicted in the movie.

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  • When I went to sixth form in 1998, they were still using Pascal as the primary (and in fact only) programming language taught.
    – user25730
    Commented Jul 9 at 22:30

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