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J | Chasing Men Who Stare at Arrays

Archive for the 'J' Category

Picking up gear

Getting ready for tomorrow! Cool old cameras on display at Joe Sutherland Rentals



In the Beginning

Well…  It looks like the short video I am showing next week in Toronto will contrast how both APL and J got started.  This audience already understands the connection between J and APL and will get a little more depth and a little less closure.

Eric Iverson talks about how J started and Dr Brooks talks about where APL began.


The iPhone, J & me

I love my iPhone.  It was the best Christmas gift ever, even better than the filing cabinet on Valentines day.  So, I am interrupting the princess report to mention I now have J on my iPhone.  Of course, many in the Community already know from twitter that I was interviewing Eric Iverson yesterday so that I can make a video to show at his J conference in July.

Thanks to Liz Giddons, I have live action shots of my first experience trying out J on a computer.















I am proud to report that the demographics on my Youtube channel have shifted in the last month to where the female readership has climbed to 16% up from many too many months at 2%. I don’t really understand why, but it sure makes me smile.


J, July and Solidarity

I’d like to start today by drawing your attention to what promises to be the APL Array Language Family event of the year – The J Community/Conference 2012 right here in Toronto, this July 23 & 24, 2012.  If you want to rub shoulders with Array Language Rock Stars, this is the conference to attend.

J conference July 23/24, 2012

Eric Iverson 2012

J Conference planning w/ Eric Iverson 2012

Further, 2012 is a special year because it is the 5oth anniversary of the publication of Dr. Kenneth Iverson’s seminal text A Programming Language which ultimately lead to his Turing Award, the “nobel prize of Computing”.  In honour of this important milestone, Eric Iverson and Liz Giddens, the J conference organizer, have asked that I let you know that you are specially invited attend the The J Conference Banquet to celebrate the larger legacy of Ken and his colleagues, even if you choose not to attend the conference. (Note: the early bird ticket price is up now, so I encourage you to get your ticket, while there are still tickets available).

What’s else is happening?

2011 dished out a little more than I could handle but that’s to be expected.  This is, however, why we’ve been so quiet this year on the blog. We’re in the back room, pushing things along quietly…  For example, the interview with Dr. Fred Brooks has been transcribed and the transcriptions are now under review by our subject matter experts.

I also applied for a fellowship grant from the ACM. I didn’t win the fellowship, however the application process connected me with the ACM History group.  And in spite of my extremely awkward and painful debut where I made the biggest public email faux pas I have ever made, the group is warm and welcoming.   Nathan Ensmenger, as one example, is generously sharing some of his articles with me. He has developed an interesting analysis of how computer programming transformed into a male dominated profession, when it didn’t start out this way.   I am writing about this documentary in the context of my own programming career for the ACM-W newsletter which is why I am looking at the research on gender in computing.

As a side note, working on this article is making me miss programming, which is a bit of a surprise.

Nathan Ensmenger also has an interest in film and contributed to Tops Secret Rosies, a documentary film about the women who did the ballistics calculations during WWI and were recruited to program the ENIAC – the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer  in the 1940’2.  This experience gives him a special appreciation of the challenge set before us here with this documentary – how does one visualize an abstract construct like a computer programming language? 

This is just a taste of what’s going on behind the scenes.  Keep the faith. I hope to see everyone in July, if not sooner.


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…


August 6th, 1991 – Guest Ken Lettow

Editor’s note: The first time I met Ken Lettow face to face was when he showed up at a meet-up for the film in NYC with a stack of Computer History books.  He brought them to share with unbridled enthusiasm.  Right on! He even offered to let me borrow them take them home to Canada!  Then and there, I knew: Here’s a Jedi Knight! 

– Catherine

Where were you, August 6th, 1991?

Twenty years ago today, the 1991 APL Conference was in full swing at Stanford University in Palo Alto California. Nearly 400 APL’ers from around the world attended, making it one of the most well attended APL conferences in history.

For the array language community, excitement ran high for a variety of reasons. First, it was the 25th anniversary of APL. Second, a large Russian contingent was in attendance. A few Russians gave APL talks, while others began planning for the APL conference to be held in St. Petersburg the following year. This was two years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The J programming language also played a large part in the conference, just 14 months after its introduction to the world by Ken Iverson and Roger Hui at a Toronto APL SIG meeting.

Many of the immortal figures in the array language community presented papers on J. Donald McIntyre presented his talk called Mastering J, while Ken Iverson, Roger Hui and Eugene McDonnell gave a presentation on Tacit Definition. Roger Hui and Bob Bernecky gave a talk on Gerunds and Representations, and Ed Cherlin gave the presentation Pure functions in APL and J.

IMHO, the most interesting and funny presentation was the panel, “Is J a dialect of APL?” I say interesting, because I think it reveals some of the attitudes of the APL community towards J at the time, and funny, because the defenders of J made it so.

In its early days, J seemed to cause some level of consternation in the APL community. Many APL’ers seemed downright disturbed that Ken Iverson invented a new language that eschewed many of the things they had grown to love about APL (the lovely APL symbols etc.).

Jonathan Barman and Anthony Camacho’s reports on this panel (see Vector Vol. 8, No. 2, pgs. 76-80) provides an entertaining account of the speakers’ comments:

Eugene McDonnell – The question (“Is J a dialect of APL?”) is irrelevant. Surely proponents of J would not be thrown out of the APL community.

Phil Benkard – This is a political decision, but political decisions affect our lives. Many aspects of J are different from APL. Functions are referred to as Verbs, box is different from nesting, hook and fork are new in J, and strand notation is different. No formal decision can be made today, but what political decision should be made?

Joey Tuttle – Who cares if J and APL are different? Hopefully new insights will come from J and SAX which will enhance APL.

Richard Nabavi – …The academic view of a language is different from the commercial view, and sometimes the best solution does not win…The main objective should be to reduce the dialects of APL so that it can be promoted to a wide audience, and can be standardized. Will there be a J92 conference?

The first J conference was J96 with 123 attendees and 12 papers presented [Remembering Ken Iverson].

Bob Bernecky – APL and J ideas need to be disseminated to the larger world of computing, and it does not matter which language is used. The character set inhibits APL. J is more compilable that APL, and has a simpler syntax. The semantics of J are totally regular. Several mistakes were made in APL, and J is a new start where these mistakes have been rectified. J is not a dialect of APL, it is a functional language.

Garth Foster – Don McIntyre took a long time to learn J. Perhaps J is a successor of APL, but may not be a success.

J was introduced 14 months prior. What constitutes “a long time”?

Phil Benkard – The APL2 syntax is simple, and the syntax and semantics are separated. There were mistakes in APL. It was disappointing that there was nobody present at the last standards meeting representing the Sharp APL or J community.

Ed Cherlin – It is interesting that we are discussing the question at all. Why is this the one topic we want to argue about? Papers on J have been accepted at this conference and will continue to be accepted.

Bob Bernecky – Surely APL’ers will not drum out the J community. The popularity of APL and J will only increase if we all aim to publish articles in the big circulation magazines and journals.

Donald McIntyre – APL conferences without Iverson would be like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.

Now one that makes me smile:

Ken Iverson – The dictionary of J contains an introductory comment that J is a dialect of APL, so in a sense the whole debate is Ken’s fault! He is flattered to think that he has created a new language.

All in all, a pretty interesting day in array language history.



Happy Birthday APL!

1 Cleanspace is from APL2, courtesy of Jon McGrew.


The Language Slapdown, Programming Language, that is

The main topic of November’s monthly J users group meeting (NYCJUG) was The Language Slapdown.  Jedi Knight, Devon McCormick (in the photo on the right),  agreed to represent the array programming language J in this battle of the brains.  He called upon the group to provide feedback.

Sadly, the Slapdown was canceled, but not before I fell in love with the idea.  Why? Because I can’t think of a better way to channel all that ferocious energy that separates programming language aficionados from each other.

The passion behind programming language debates is truly exceptional, and perhaps a little incomprehensible to the rest of us.  I mean, really.  To paraphrase Dave Thomas, It’s easier to work with someone in China than with someone who knows a different programming language.

I wish that I had a team of Neurologists at my disposal, because I’m starting to amass anecdotal evidence that one of the reasons the programming language debates are so strangely polarized is simply because the various languages reflect different modes of thinking.  And these different modes of thinking loosely reflect a diversity of wiring in human brains.

One of the many reasons, both personally and politically, that I am publicly aligning myself with The Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership, Inc.(GRASP) is that it is an organization which publicly promotes awareness about a constituency of humans who are demonstrably wired in a unique way.  It is a huge mental leap to figure out how to communicate when you can’t make assumptions about the other person in the conversation, based on your own way of thinking.  The bottom line is that it takes education, awareness and practice to effectively communicate with someone who is wired differently than you are.

I challenge you to go think about this for a few moments.

So, the notion of a Language Slapdown should bring to the surface some different ways of thinking.  And besides, it’s a Slapdown so everyone is there to get slapped.

I’ve pretty much decided that the acrimonious battles between programming language followers are a mild curiosity in general.  When you dig down to the details, they border on tedious and boring, so for now, I plan to ignore them.

I will go to a Slapdown, though, given the opportunity.  And that’s Kenneth Lettow on the left, listening to Devon’s presentation.

So, if I plan to sidestep the great programming language debates, what’s next? I’m trying to figure out, with the help of some guest writers in the pipes: How are the array languages being adapted to the modern world?

Stay Tuned.


New York confessions

Picture this: a crowded reception at the American Folk Art Museum on West 53rd street in New York City.  I am at an annual celebration and, so you get an idea of the atmosphere: close your eyes and name 3 New York investment institutions.  They’re here.

I’m not very good in crowds, but having attended this event last year, I know a few people.  Happily, this is a friendly gathering.  Not only that, there’s a tremendous amount of excitement about my project; the folks here are almost as keen as I am about this whole thing.

I’m sailing through this trip like a dream.  On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to meet the elusive and busy Joel Kaplan.  One of the top ten scores of the year.  I wanted to meet him because I need someone to talk about the rise and fall of APL in New York in the 80’s.  Joel was right in there.  So, of course, my game is to figure out what kind of film presence he is going to have. What luck!  The guy is a natural.  Confident, funny and expressive.  This is going to be a riot!  I have found the perfect representative, 100%.  And now I can say I know Joel Kaplan. Ha!

Thank you Bubba, for the introduction!

So, here I am, at this fantastic party and I’m doing my best, but still struggling to feel comfortable.  I see Joel, a bit away from the crowd talking with two really smart looking young women. Women! Apart from the crowd!  I want to be over there!

True to my Canadian heritage, I make my way over to Joel and company:  excuse me, I’m sorry, excuse me, please, excuse me, I’m sorry… hi.

Scanning their name tags, all I can read at first is Harvard.  Ok.  That’s not so strange, we’ve infiltrated Harvard before. I explain my mission in code, I’m working on a documentary about this technology.

Joel said, she knows about APL; which should have tipped me off.  But, alas, it didn’t.  The conversation still a bit awkward, I’m trying to decipher through the noise, what  this 20-something woman is asking me, while at the same time wondering how on earth she knows so much about the array language community.

Finally, I reach over and remove the blond curl from her name tag.  It’s Natasha Whitney.  Natasha Whitney! Oh! Oh!

Well.  Then.  I apologize and start again.

Your grandfather, I tell Natasha, introduced my father to Ken Iverson in the 1960’s.  Wow.

Of course I mention the J meeting I attended the night before.  Natasha is curious about how J was started.  And that’s a legendary story which involves her father, Arthur Whitney, so I ask Joel to tell his version. Everyone has a version of this legend, and I’m collecting them.

Then we walk into the crowd to hear her mother, Janet Lustgarten, give the keynote speech for the night; and I say, You know, your mother has the best how-was-J -invented story I’ve heard yet – and you should ask her about it, because, you are in it.

Congratulations Kx for another fine year, and thank you for including me in your celebration.


Happy Eight

Thanks Roger! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numbers_in_Chinese_culture#Eight


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