Archive for the 'APL/J/K The Movie' Category

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Lettow on Brooks honouring the 90th anniversary of KEI’s birth

As they say in rock and roll, “You can’t always get what you want… but you just might find you get what you need…”

When Ken Lettow asked me if he could swing down to North Carolina for my interview with Professor Fred Brooks,  I answered with a resounding and emphatic, “NO!”

You gotta love Ken.  Persistence is his middle name.  He then proceeded to convince me that he would not bring havoc to my film set and in fact, he would make himself useful.  And a short training session later…   I have a  sound engineer and set photographer all in one enthusiastic bundle  of a subject matter expertise.   In short, a much appreciated helping hand.

In honour of the 90th anniversary of Ken Iverson’s birth Ken Lettow sent out a wonderful account of our adventure to North Carolina to the J-Chat forum:

As [KEI and Prof Brooks] developed course material for the class,  Ken began to formalize the notation that came to be known as APL, the “the blackboard version” as Eugene McDonnell once so aptly put it.  Their collaboration ultimately resulted in the publication of two books, Ken Iverson’s “A Programming Language”,  in 1962 and “Automatic Data Processing” by Iverson and Brooks, published in 1963.  They also became lifelong friends during this period.

You can read Ken’s  full text here.  He’s also posted a great set of photos.

Happy holidays everyone.  May the Force be with you always.

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It’s APL’s Birthday! Or is it?

Last year we discovered that the first APL workspace was saved November 27, 1966 at 18.53.59. (GMT); the excitement of this momentous event pulling the guys away from home and the American Thanksgiving holiday.  Today we know that this evidence isn’t 100% the truth…  it’s more like 99.7% truth…  According to an eyewitness account from my dad history has been slightly amended… if only by a few seconds!

Should today be APL’s official birthday?

It just so happens that 2012 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of that one little book, “A Programming Language“. THE one little book, that Harvard deemed too small to launch its author, Kenneth E. Iverson into a tenure track position.  Harvard sent Ken packing! It wasn’t until much later that Ken’s work and this one little book was recognized by the world,  winning the Turing Award which is recognized as the “highest distinction in Computer science” and the “Nobel Prize of computing“.

The moral of this story?

Do it right and do it well.  Happy Birthday APL!

 

Many thanks to Rick Procter who reminded me about the significance of 2012 earlier this fall.

 

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J, K & NC (+ J Conference 2012)

I have a Stats exam next week and because I really should be studying, I thought I’d drop you a quick note.

First, a special announcement: the J folks are planning a conference RIGHT HERE in Toronto July 23rd  &24th 2012.  Come one! Come all!

The J-community has really stepped up to the plate in terms of financial and in-kind labour for this documentary project.  Let’s face it folks, unless you’re Fred Brooks, Arthur Whitney or Eric Iverson, or a dozen or so other stars, wanting to be in the documentary doesn’t do much for me.  

I expect you noticed I was in Chapel Hill last month.  Luckily, Roger Hui alerted me to the fact that The University of North Carolina has a programming gem in their freshman class who, at all of 18, has already made a splash in the J programming forums. Welcome Marshall Lochbaum, and his former high school math teacher Henry Rich (pictured above).

And of course, less obvious was my visit to NYC to see for myself what amazing work is going on at Kx.  If you haven’t watched the video of our Simon Garland in action (with moderator Tom Groenfeldt) you’re missing the cutting edge.

 

OK!  Off I go… Exam prep is really not that bad… or so I keep telling myself…

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One for the road

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The APL Array Language Video Blog!

The second vlog is now up and ready for you to see. It is a special conference edition, that showed live in Boston on Monday, Oct 3, 2011.

My apologies for the extra “click”. Videos on the landing page, even from Youtube, kill load times and then clunk, down goes your Google ranking. (If that sentence is not English, what is it?)

So, the vlog now has it’s own page, in a Youtube “player” that will also allow you to see past vlogs, should you so desire.

Enjoy. Good Day.  And thanks so much for watching.

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It’s a Vlog!

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Country thievery and small arrays

Ken Iverson's copy of ALGOL 68

Klout reminds me this morning that my “influence”  has dropped 50%.  I guess this is what happens when one doesn’t participate in cyberspace these days, you get an automated email: “Hey!  YOU’RE not the cool kid!” Yikes.

The truth is I’m so busy, I can’t believe it. I got into that Statistics class I was hoping to avoid because last week it was full.  It’s still full, but now with me in it.  Damn. That’s good.  Right?

Fortunately, I had the foresight to hike up to Manitoulin Island to visit my dad on his new farm before it all began. The farm is not actually new, he moved up there two years ago, but this was my first venture.  If you’re wondering why it took me so long look at the map.

So, while I was there, dad worked.  I did nothing except wander around and photograph small and wild things.  And try to capture the moon and clouds. And poke around in his private business.  I brought back his journals from 1966 to 1977 among other bits and bobs.  And it turns out that my dad is perhaps a bit of a book thief, so I now own a couple books which previously graced the libraries of Ken Iverson and Adin Falkoff.

Incidentally, Sage, the infamous cat in the box loves country life and slept at my feet while I was visiting.

Now it’s back to the rate race.  Hey! Up my Klout!  I wanna be the cool kid again!

(Just kidding. I know it’s not Klout that makes me cool.  To borrow from Manuel Simone, it’s intellectual badassness.)

 

 

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Daunting VIP interviews, Cat lady trigonometry and light!

Good cinematography is all about catching proper light will expertly balanced gear.

One of the uncomfortable consequences of the subjects I usually film is that they have a better handle on basic math than I do.  Not that I suck, but often my thinking-through process is slower than theirs.  One can see that internal gears are at work. I noticed a very well controlled twinge of impatience in one instance when I was mentally working out the angle for a light.  In other words, I need to practice a lot before I go out in the field.

Today I’m gearing up for some VIP interviews in the fall, literally.  I haven’t been satisfied my lighting system so I bought a new reflector.

And spent the evening testing it on my trusty models, Nichi and Nanna.

I want to be able to capture a richness of colour in people’s personal environments.

Light and cameras are all about getting the triangle just right.

Testing was going more or less fine, until the reflector came floating down on poor Nichi’s head.  At which point I switched and aimed the sun beams at Nanna.

 

 

 

 

 

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Docs, housekeeping & the long haul

Organising my research material in Scrivener, a writers programThe big plan for the summer was to get my research 100% completely organised.  All this information is floating around in my head  and it is making a little crazy, to be perfectly honest.

I’m about 80% behind schedule.

Documentary film making is about as opposite to the finance world as you can get.  I’m adjusting to the time frames.

There is progress, but I’ve given up on the predicting side of things.  When will this end?   I don’t know.   And, yes,  I do feel a slight panic when I think about it.   I will, however, eventually figure out how to finish what I’ve started.  It’s a matter of pride.

What you see in the photo above is my new hope.  Scrivener is a writing program a thoughtful Array Jedi Knight passed to me. It’s WORKING!  After spending 2 1/2 years trying to figure out how the hell am I going to keep track of this… this… mess! Scrivener and the filing cabinet I got for Valentines day may do it.  What a huge relief.

These tools are driving a more introspective phase of the project. I’m sifting, evaluating and thinking.  And journaling with more commitment now that I have a way to integrate my daily thoughts with the volumes of material I’m wading through.

On the networking front, I met some people at Hot Docs this year who have already catapulted me light years forward, and they don’t even know it. Howard Fraiberg, for example, insisted that I join Docs, which I did do.  This gives me access to people across Canada who have been slugging it out in the documentary film business for decades.  And I’m privy to their conversations. Awesome.  There’s evidence I’ll live to tell the tale!  And the work! An endless stream of inspiration. This week, I fell in love with A Work in Progress, Frederic Bohbot’s new project. Look!

 

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Jaxon and me on Falkoff’s one liner

The following is adapted from email conversations with Greg Jaxon, a Compiler Engineer from Illinois, USA who studied at Syracuse University.  He is an active contributor to the APL LinkedIn online forum and it turns out he met my dad at Minowbrook in 1980. I needed a little help to conclude my, “Where were you…” miniseries, and Greg graciously stepped up to the plate.

My dad, incidentally, sends his regards from Manitoulin Island.  Though he still controls his farm house with his iPhone, he doesn’t miss the Internet connection. 

To give a little bit of context, I was born in 1965 to very young and idealistic parents who believed that the 60’s really were going to change things.  In 1966, IBM whisked my family off to NY, USA from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  We subsequently moved to the Philadelphia, PA, USA area and ended up living in a small college town called Swarthmore.

Greg Jaxon writes:

One non-programming thing that has always intrigued me about the “APL community” and which has been formative for me politically and personally is our early and frequent use of consensus decision-making.  Perhaps your Dad could start that thread of the story, since (as I understand it) the group at Philadelphia took on this Quaker practice to form the exact definitions in the first APL implementation.

On Day 1 of the X3J10 APL standards effort the topic of voting came up right away. As that work progressed we used a few unorthodox voting schemes to tease out where consensus could be found – a lot of preference ranking and approval threshold measurement. It was clear that the intellectual descendants of the first 6 had the same passion for getting the hive mind to function optimally – to not marginalize the difficult corner opinions, not to cave in to majority rule. I’m convinced this is why APL is so very good – it hasn’t compromised on anything important – instead it found and fixed all the problems until no more could be found.  It’s not just good enough to get by…

The Minnowbrook conferences also echo this emphasis on cooperative agreement. Trade Secrets come out of their closets there – mostly I think out of the sheer joy of meeting other live humans who understand the topics (these are the uber-geeks of an already too geeky computing subculture).

This got my attention.   Swarthmore is in the heartland of Quaker territory.  I was educated by Quakers.  And Greg must have read Adin Falkoff’s, The Design of APL.

I belong to the generation uncomfortably sandwiched between the boomers and their children.  My attitude is formed more from the dress in black, hard core music generation, than the Flower Child generation but I still have strong ties to the Quakers and have remained connected to them up here in Canada.   To my good fortune, I started programming APL as a teen and unlike many of my peers, I’ve had a career from the get-go.  But still, the irreverence of my generation stuck.  In other words, I’m a little cynical.

The first time I read Adin Falkoff’s, The Design of APL, the line about Quaker Consensus jumped right out of the text.  (like: WHAT?  Where the hell does that come from? Consensus? At IBM?) And as I move through this project, I am learning a lot more about business, I have been chipping away at 50+ years of Computer History, and naturally, my gaze falls upon the history of IBM.  Which is also American corporate history.  And patent history.  An intellectual property law history.  I’m still pondering… What on earth is a reference to Quaker process doing in an IBM publication?

Greg responds:

My history lesson on this: Penn was a Flower Child of a famous military officer; he joined the Quakers who were emphatically not the Church of England, nor easily governed by any hierarchical law. Through consensus they sought God’s natural Laws for their community. Penn acquired his North American woods to settle the King’s debt to his late father. But by the time he got with the English aristocracy programme, his Woods were full of Quaker hippies.

For many years he sent governors and magistrates and others to try to collect rents or taxes, and the resident Friends politely declined to impose these on themselves. So your Quakers were the original American libertarians struggling to understand God’s intention for human Law.

To find Harvard mathematicians (arguably in search of much the same kind of revelation) adopt this practice, is interesting.  To see it grow into APL, itself a quaint minority language with an uncannily natural place near the heart of Computer Science’s new fascination with parallel execution models, cooperating independent processes, and clean data abstraction,  … is perhaps a recurrent story in the history of ideas. Your Dad’s “shared variables” ideas combine “message passing” with “shared memory” approaches to parallelism, a synthesis sorely missing in modern parallel languages.

There… my contribution to a historical explanation, I can cite “Conceived in Liberty” by historian Murray Rothbard for this summary of the Quaker colonies.

Wow.  Now THAT gives me a lot to think about.  On this crazy filmmaking journey, I’m paying careful attention to the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, our culture and “progress”.  And by we, I also mean people, not just us.

And, sadly, this is the one year anniversary of Adin Falkoff’s death, the man who wrote those words about Quaker Consensus at IBM in 1973.

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