My love affairs with stories and coffee shops are both well known. So you’ll understand why I couldn’t resist but to take Dan McKay’s blog post whole.

Check out his blog when you’re done here, folks. It’s something special.

I love unlikely connections, and the transition from folding paper to matrices on IBM mainframes at least feels like a fairly unlikely one. I was asked to do an origami exhibit at the West Nyack Library over in Rockland (southernmost county on the west side of the Hudson river in New York), which I feel I must first confess did not come together well. Sandy from the library was very nice and supportive about this, but I am alreadt looking to the fall when I may get another chance to pull off the real deal. The actual exhibit aside, as I was making it I had some occasions for weekend folding. That’s not entirely true. I had a crushing weight of occasions for weekend folding and there were times where, with my rafter-stuffed apartment, I realized that I’d either have to spend half my day cleaning to allow me the space for the work, or I could usurp a table at Starbucks. I often did the latter.

On one such visit, after a couple hours’ sitting and folding in relative silence, a woman began to have some trouble with the Starbucks wifi. In giving her a bit of advice, I learned she was Dr. Linda Misek-Falkoff. First of all, she is a Ph.D employed by the Communications Coordination Committee for the U.N.. Second, that she was a researcher at IBM in the 50s. Too cool. Further, her husband just happened to be the Adin Falkoff who worked with Kenneth Iverson to implement the APL matrix-oriented programming language.

I’ve since taken a look at APL, and of course my actionscript matrix class is a little bit like looking at an XML version of a database table in comparison. The language does use non-ascii symbols that make it a little difficult to adopt for the average developer. Yet its influences on some of the most advanced mathematics computing of today, like MATLAB and Mathematica, are significant and recognized. I quite enjoy opportunities to get a personal perspective into the roots of modern computing.

Further, it was just so nice to talk to someone who can speak a little bit of my language. At my work, there are no other developers. My friends aren’t developers. I have no professors with whom I’m close. I’m painfully isolated in that sense, and any conversation with a knowledgeable individual is like a feast to the starved for me.

I guess I just don’t get out enough, but that sequence of events was amazing to me. I could never have expected temporarily cluttered living space and an origami installation to lead to a new subject for a linear algebra project and a maybe even some new friends. Perhaps that says I should take more chances in general, but I’m definitely spending more time in coffee shops.

Dan Mckay


7 Responses to “Idiosyntactic”

  • Hi, thanks for sharing the story. It’s great to hear from someone else who has enjoyed the beauty of both the visual and mathematical. Our paths are roughly inverse in that I came to a love of mathematics as an evolution of my approach to the visual arts. I guess, however it progresses, if you get the chance to enjoy both, one can’t help but open the gate a little wider.

    Incidentally, I’ve got a follow-up to that article here . Mr. Falkoff is older and I didn’t want to be too forward in asking for an interview just for that class’ sake. I think I may have been the only coder in it, professor included. So, I took it on myself to write a matrix manipulation class (as3) with no model save the practices we had learned – & … . I suspect that it’s thoroughly inefficient, but I learned a lot and had fun.

    While I didn’t want to tax Mr. Falkoff for the limited ends of course presentation, I’d think a film on the history of APL would be far more worth the contact. Drop me an email if this is something you would like to pursue, and I can look up Dr. Misek-Falkoff’s contact information – I never spoke with Adin. She was very nice and I’m sure she would love to support such an endeavor if he’s up for it.

  • aprogramminglanguage aprogramminglanguage

    I expect you’re completely right about the Falloffs. I can say with confidence that they do support this project!

  • John McKay spoke of “unlikely connections”. Since APL is such a small world, I believe that all connections are likely in the APL world. For example, did you know that the “Eoin Whitney” that Dick mentioned at 4:58 of your video “Dad & My APL Box”, was Arthur Whitney’s father?

  • That was Dan McKay instead of John McKay. Sorry about that.

  • The real world connections are certainly getting weird! I have many stories to tell…

    But for now, I’ll relay just one. When I emailed Sir Arthur in The Beginning asking if he knew that his dad had indirectly introduced my dad to APL, he replied:

    and your dad ran a fast 440 in high school?
    47 seconds?”

    The funny thing is that we’ve never actually met. At least not as adults.

  • Wow, Roger Hui! And I had just been working out a Sudoku solution sets algorithm this weekend. Hmm, coding it in J would be a great way to get into the language. I’m sure it won’t be anything like the solver posted on Vector, but I enjoy the challenge and leaning experience of finding an initial solution w/o reference.

  • aprogramminglanguage aprogramminglanguage

    There you go Roger, a fan and new recruit. Just like that!

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