Monthly Archive for July, 2010

An amazing occurrence of good sportsmanship

Morten and Eric 00m 47s 300x168 An amazing occurrence of good sportsmanshipI’m completely exhausted and running late! But yesterday was so exciting I can barely sit still and I’m burning to share.

Last night, I had dinner with Morten Kromberg and Eric Iverson. Now I can boast that I witnessed everything good in the meeting of great minds.  Seriously.  It was such a special treat.

And here we have the tickler, these two camera-adverse gentlemen, played my game and let me tape with Flip!  Rock on!

P.S. I’m singing at the top of my lungs to early Fleetwood Mac playing on Youtube as my movie encodes.  Everything is just fine.


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Bleeding Forehead in the dog days of summer


dogdays1 300x199 Bleeding Forehead in the dog days of summerI had a big think this morning about whether or not I should expose some of the tougher aspects of this endeavor.

My inner voices, of course, are of two minds,

“Don’t scare them off ,” says Conservative-Me.

“It’s a better story if there are battles to win,” say Consequences-Be-Damned.

The story wins.

I failed my exam last night.  And it’s my own fault. I knew from the beginning it wasn’t going to go well.   The school even gave me the option of pulling out, but I thought, get the credit over-with. So, not only did I not, get the credit over-with,  I got an expensive lesson about story telling and my first ever academic failure.  From an Accounting class… this burns.

My problem was that I could not connect with the subject.  I didn’t care.  I couldn’t find a shred to hang from in the delivery.  I need that connection.  The teacher was bored, so I was bored.  And this, in fact, is the exact caution I am getting from my writing team.  You’re telling a story about a technology, this is difficult.  Make it human.  Give people a reason to care.  The scary part is that all I really have is my life and my experiences to share, and I can assure you, they are not all nice.

In that spirit, I have to say, that the successes with this project so far are many and I’m most impressed by how the readership of this blog has flourished beyond my wildest imagination.  After weeks and weeks of having just three loyal readers, and I’m pretty sure I know who you are, I can now boast about my views per month, especially with such an esoteric subject.

My challenges?  It’s just starting to sink in how long a haul this is going to be.  And I’m having second thoughts about exposing my life and my family.  And rejection is always tough, and this month there has been two big disappointments, the German APL conference committee doesn’t support the project and my first research grant application was rejected.  Ouch.

I’m hopeful about today, though, believe it or not.  Barry and  Ian will be her in three minutes for a story meeting!  Hooray!  We’re working on the script!!!!  AND I get to have dinner with Morten Kromberg AND Eric Iverson!

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Eeeek! Sharks! Oh… naked Austrian guys

What surprised me, was not everyone at Cross Media TO talking about the Old Spice guy; what did catch my attention was that my mother sent me an email about him a few days later.  The world must be changing, because there was a day when only naked women attracted so much attention.  And that was last month.

It just so happens that last week I realized, what many of you probably already know, that there is a whole pack of super hot Array Language Jedi Knights in Austria.  What’s even better is, some of them are under 40 and will take their clothes off in cyberspace. Or at least their Avatars will, which is good enough for me.  So, I’m poised and ready to start my very own campaign.  Do you think I should ask them first? They’ve put out an awesome APL family tree.

I went to Cross Media TO to check out all the cool projects and to ask people if they needed help with their project budgeting, because I really do want an iPad, so I’m coming out as a junior Accountant.  Ta Da! Catherine, Project Budget Especialista. For some reason I just started humming, “A spoon full of sugar, helps the medicine go down…”

Anyway, Adrian Carter from Shark Teeth Films, showed an iPad demo that rocked.  Just another film production company?  Nope. It turns out, they’ve set-up this cool work-flow iPad application.  The program allows their customers to review animations and approve them from afar.  The down side?  Adrian reports, It’s still working with technology, with all the complications that go along with it.  You need to re-boot from time to time.

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And then again, there’s Helvetica

What I love about Helvetica is how well Gary Hustwit brings out the personalities of the designers.  The disagreements between the post-modernists and the modernists remind me of the two great Array language debates: Index origin and the APL characterset.


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Not invented here! Oh, Canada!

ohcanada1 300x199 Not invented here! Oh, Canada!Last week Ian, my video editor, and Barry, my Executive Producer, asked me to write them a couple of pages about what the Array Programming Language meant to me throughout my life. The idea is to tell the APL story from my very personal perspective, so that people can identify with the history and people involved.

My story begins, of course, with my father’s choice to join Ken Iverson at IBM and relocate his young family from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to Mount Kisco, New York in 1966.

And guess what?  The forces that drove us so far from home are still in play today.  Lawyer, Suzanne Dingwall Williams writes this week: Is Canada the Worst Consumer of it’s Own Invention?

So, you see, you can look at APL’s sad fate in Canada today as not so much a failure inherent in the language itself, but something deeply part of our Canadian character.  “Go make a mountains of dough on Wall Street!  Not here!”  Brilliant. And yes, that’s sarcasm.

I know most of you reading are from outside of Canada, and when I speak about my story being the quintessential Canadian story, it draws blank looks.  But here it is… the world can thank Canada for driving away it’s brightest and thereby turning us into World Citizens.  And I say this without malice.

P.S. Now Ian and Barry want me to draw a family tree of all the APL related languages.  Come to think of it, Alex Bochannek, APL’s currator at The Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley asked me for the same thing a year and a half ago. Time to get on that! You APLers out there, will help. Yes?


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The Jedi unite, brilliant misfits

NYC201006Meetup 300x199 The Jedi unite, brilliant misfitsMeeting new people and learning about what cool things are happening now in the array language community after my decade hiatus is completely awesome.

And this picture has it all.  Here you see Jordan Tirrell, an up and coming J programmer with veteran Jon McGrew, who I quote once and a while, especially when he makes a good joke about nothing.

Jordan is extra lucky, not to mention smart, because he gets to occupy the spot under Ken Lettow’s wing, after studying with Cliff Reiter at Lafayette College.  This must be great fun, because Ken, who I also just met on this trip to NYC, rocks! Here’s what he wrote me about 10 days ago:

BTW,  on Sunday I went to the bookstore and bought the book “The (mis)behavior of Markets, a fractal view of Financial Turbulence” by Benoit Mandelbrot & Richard L. Hudson.  If you get to interview Mandelbrot you should definitely read this book beforehand.  I could not put it down.

In addition to the main theme of the book, Mandelbrot drops little nuggets about his time at IBM which I think you might find interesting.  Example:

It was 1961.  I had been working a few years at IBM’s main laboratory up the Hudson River from Manhattan.  It was a  surprising place for a pure scientist.  The company had re-tooled itself from a manufacturer of mechanical tabulating machines to a pioneer of electronic computers; and for that task, it had staffed up a large laboratory by including a number of brilliant misfits who were allowed to pursue every imaginable topic.  Some were obviously related to computers, but many not.  I, a recent arrival from France, was working on a new use for computers: economics.

Brilliant misfits!  I love that description.  It is mind bending to think of the talent that resided at IBM at this time, Iverson, Mandelbrot, Brooks, Backus etc.

I’m glad I don’t have to give an award to the most helpful on my trip to NYC because it would be a three-way tie between APL, Q and J folks.  And this Totally Rocks!

And Ken, I love brilliant misfits too! The book arrived today! Hooray!

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We could never reach the stars…


misbehaviour1 300x199 We could never reach the stars...…without ZERO, my hero.

I know, I know… inside jokes suck.  So, here’s the scoop.

Most people my age, who also grew up in the United States of America, and even some Canadians know exactly what I’m up to.

Right, Ken?  icon smile We could never reach the stars...

In fact, I’ve finished Hero Zero, and am now singing along to Three is a Magic Number…

Three is a magic number
Yes it is, it’s a magic number
Somewhere in the ancient, mystic trinity
You get three as a magic number
The past and the present and the future
Faith and hope and charity
The heart and the brain and the body
Give you three as a magic number

- Three is a Magic Number , Lyrics by Bob Dorough from School House Rock!

If you’re observant, you’ll notice I received more than three treasures this week from Amazon.  And of course, I’m thinking, THIS is the BEST job in the WORLD!

Before I get to the real point of my note to you today, I’ll name drop… just a little.   When I wrote to Dennis Shasha, about what I’m about to tell you, he replied:

The key question is how to broaden the interest.
In my Natural Computing book, I frame this approach as a manifesto.
Maybe some polemical approach could make it work.
Otherwise, there is the problem that it looks like some older guys
making inside jokes.

Manifesto?  Hmmm…. I better order that book! And that was BEFORE my trip to NYC where Janet Lustgarten told me a story about  Dennis’ powerful influence on Q, APL’s very successful descendant…   I REALLY better get that book!

Now for the best, coolest, extra special news.  My official core team is growing.  Ian Pearson has joined the project as editor and Barry Pearson will lead us forward as the Executive Producer.  I’ll say more about Ian later, because thanks to him, I scored Barry!

barry1 300x199 We could never reach the stars... What I LOVE about Barry, is that in the 1970′s his film, Paperback Hero, was the first of three films that established the Canadian film and television industry – proved to us that we can make our own films.  He’s a pioneer, too!!!!

(The other seminal Canadian films from this era are Nobody Waved Goodbye and Goin’ Down the Road).

And then of course, there’s the fact that Barry’s latest film, Iron Road, was released in theatres and television in 2009,  starring Peter O’Toole and Sam Neil.

This is what Barry says about me!  icon smile We could never reach the stars... And if you recall My father’s favourite Ken Iverson saying  from Dad and my Box you’ll realize Barry’s note contains a profoundly good sign.

So here we go!!!   If three is a magic number,  I’m totally ready to rock!

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The outer limits of vintage technology

I love this tag line so much it gets it’s own post.  And maybe one of you in the UK made your way to Bletchley Park with the 1999 others attracted to the first vintage computer festival ever held in the UK.

Rupert Goodwins of  ZDNet UK took photos and wrote about it. Gallery: The outer limits of vintage technology

440443 610 405 The outer limits of vintage technology


Another relic of the days of big iron, this small modern circuit board is emulating an IBM System/360.

One of the kings of mainframe design, the S/360 was in production from 1964 to 1978 and was highly successful in business, science, engineering, government and research. It introduced a whole range of concepts familiar to this day, including the 8-bit byte. While it once filled rooms and cost fortunes, it can now be built by enthusiasts as a configuration file that configures a sliver of silicon smaller than a penny.

- Rupert Goodwins

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