My father never told me

Maybe I should change the title of my story.  Maybe something like: All the Cool Things My Father Never Told Me is more like it.

Yesterday, my father and I are debating in email whether it is Ok for me to say “IvSix” for Iverson Six in my movie trailer.  The exchange goes like this:

Hi Cath. The DVD is pretty cool. But something I forgot to mention after I saw it online is that Ken didn’t come to IBM in 1960 to start a group called IVSYS. That was the name Phil and Larry gave the 7090 batch interpreter written in Fortran that I converted to run on the 7040 at Alberta. (IVerson SYStem). I might have a manual and maybe even a source listing. The first implementation predated that and was called PAT (Personalized (or maybe Personal) Array Translator) done by Herb Hellerman. I think I have a copy of Herb’s paper.

I of course reply, I’m saying “IvSIX for Iverson’s Six.

My dad, of course, responds, There were more than six.

I can’t very well say, The six guys who are in the 10 year anniversary photo for I don’t know what reason, EVERY TIME.   I’m telling a story!  Jeepers.

Then comes the punch line.

By the way, in those days I was considered a mathematician and taught a few college-level classes. Benoit Mandelbrot worked in the next corridor and I helped him learn APL. Which he used to develop fractals…


This is pretty cool news, if you ask me.  Even if he isn’t 100% sure about the fractal bit.


11 Responses to “My father never told me”

  • Pretty cool news?! You bet it is – I can’t believe he’s only just told you.

  • Sam, there’s LOTS I didn’t know.

    And, to be perfectly frank, even some stuff I shouldn’t know!

    What’s that story about Pandora and her box?

  • Gee? Remember what I said when you were here? You know, “Show me your stuff but don’t be surprised if I don’t understand ANY of it?” I do, however, recognize the word “fractals,” even if I can’t tell you what they are…so I think this is big, right????xoxoxoxoxo

  • Dear Steph,

    Benoit Mandelbrot is an American/French mathematician and a Lithuanian Jew born in Warsaw in 1924. He is most famous for his fractal geometry, but he has also worked on problems in applied fields such as economics, which makes him even more interesting. Many organisations call him their own, including Yale University and IBM.

  • …so now I know! 🙂

  • Hi Kathy, the remark about Benoit Mandelbrot learning APL and perhaps what influence it may have had on him brings to mind one of my hobby horses.
    What are the progenies of APL? I mean the different mathematical systems and products whose ideas or form could be traced back to APL influence.

    An example:
    The symbolic package Mathematica’s similarity with APLish notions made me wonder if there was a common root somewhere. I queried Wolfram on this and it seems he answered in the affirmative.

    Another requiring some investigation:
    The origins of SQL and the relational database, the early papers of C J Date on ideas of a query algebra use a notation with some interesting similarities.

    The think I’m perhaps getting at here is that besides a unique programming language APL was also an intellectual movement and the influences of that movement are still with us.

    As a final teaser a remark attributed to Bill Gates (yes, that Bill Gates) that early in his career he was interested in pursing APL but saw better commercial possibilities in a different direction. Alas.

  • Great comments Hal! Thank you.

    I think you are right.

    Coincidentally, my friend Lisa sent me a copy of our horoscope this morning. It indicated that I should be working on hidden things. Since almost everything I am doing at this moment is right here, out in the open, I immediately dismissed it. But maybe there’s something in that silly thing. Maybe, this whole project is really about sleuthing out APL’s hidden influences, and sharing them.

  • I hadn’t heard about the APL connection with Bill Gates before, so did a bit of rummaging on the net. This page recounts an interesting couple of comments in a 1979 interview:

    “As part of the March ’79 APL article, I interviewed Bill Gates by mail. Amongst the things he wrote: “APL will see an incredible increase in popularity because it will be exposed to so many people. To date, it has been an expensive language to use and is almost never introduced to first time computer users. APL’s strengths assure that a significant percentage of personal computer users will adopt it as “the language”. However, it is not the ideal first-time language and has some limitations of its own. BASIC will continue to dominate in this role, although specialized languages will be supported by personal manufacturers. Microsoft will introduce APL on the TRS-80, Exidy Sorcerer, Interact-One, Nascom and NEC TK-80 in 1979″.

    Microsoft seemed to be seriously pursuing APL: “Microsoft APL has all the features of IBM APL/SV APL except that the I/O and shared variables are handled differently [… some more technical details…]”

    To put this in perspective: “Microsoft now employs 14 full-time technical people, and has moved to new and bigger offices in Seattle, Washington, as well as purchasing a DEC 2020 for in-house development.”

    It might be worthwhile to see if the public library has a copy of that issue (Mar 79) of Electronics Today.

  • Catherine,
    A search of Google Books for “APL Bill Gates” gets a surprising number of hits. I thought “The Road Ahead” had an account of Bill Gates spending a summer working on APL, much to Paul Allen’s chagrin. But my Google-Books search of “The Road Ahead” for “APL” comes up empty.

    Don’s quotation from “Electronics” is great!

    I’ve also heard that Wolfram has been generous in giving a lot of credit to APL as an influence to Mathematica.

    MATLAB also shows the influence of APL, but I don’t know who the people are. Curtis

  • Who’s gonna put in the call to Mr Gates? (Just kidding, I will)

    Guess what? I turns out that the father of my Audio Engineer is pals with Mr Mandelbrot! He has a fancy last name too, so I’ll keep you in suspense for now. Though, I’ve left bread crumbs!


  • That’s the spirit Don! Thank you.

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