Archive for the 'Nuts & Bolts' Category

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Where there’s light…

One of my most beloved programming mentors, who is very shy and might just kill me if I put his name here, once told me a parable about a drunk man looking for his lost key under a streetlight.  The punch line, of course, is that the drunk lost his key in a dark alley, however, he’s looking for it under this particular street light because this is where he can see.

The moral of the story is that we all naturally tend to look where we can see.  Therefore, if you want to find your key, you need to be fearless in dark alleys and you must carry a very strong light saber in your back pocket.  And it certainly helps to travel in packs (or prides).

Next week is a big one for all of us:  Gitte and Morten are in North America, Minnowbrook kicks off another season, and winter is easing into Canada…  This morning I’ve been rewriting history a little, correcting typos and removing the names of potential collaborators announced too soon.  And so, this project moves along.

The ironic thing is that these days, when I feel more lost than ever in this endeavor,  Barry, my Executive Producer, assures me everything is really starting to come together.  Thank goodness, someone has vision.

And what never ceases to amaze me is the growing number of views for The Origins of APL – 1974.  The current count is 4,134!  And the excerpts from Ken Iverson’s memorial in Toronto is at 575 views!

That’s more than enough to keep me going.

For those of you invited to Minnowbrook this week, a toast:  May the force be with you.


Up, down, all around. And York! And Greek!

In case you hadn’t noticed, the narrator of this blog isn’t really me; she’s a voice that I made up.  I mean, it’s me and not me both at the same time.  You’re just going to have to trust that there’s shit going on in my life that you don’t want to know or maybe I don’t want you to know, more to the point… anyway… whatever.

Why am I telling you this?  Because as of today, it’s officially not just me.  I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’m a fairly error prone creature and I can’t spell to save my life.  So, with a deep sigh of relief, I hired an editor.  Heee Heee

So, that’s Super Cool News Item Number 1.

Super Cool News Item Number 2 is that Eric Iverson is coming over for lunch tomorrow and bringing old VHS tapes!!!  Of what???  I dunno.  Of who????  Well, Ken, of course.  I hope you’re jealous because I feel like the luckiest woman on the planet right about now.

Super Cool News Item Number 3!  It finally sunk into my thick skull that York University! Right! Here! In! Toronto! Actually! Has! APL! History! as a mandate!!!!!!  WHAT?  HA!  So, I’m heading up there on Tuesday.  Hoorah!

And if that wasn’t enough.  Wouldn’t you know,  it turns out Greek nouns, with their Masculine, Feminine, Neutral, Singular, Plural, Nominative, Genitive, Dative and  Accusative forms are a fine practical example of an array, that can actually be explained to.. well… other humans.

John Hurd, the lovely man I went to meet last week,  is remarkably comfortable with a camera pointed at his face.

Can you guess where all of this is going?  Ta Da!


Monkey see, monkey do

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, while I am obsessively logging everything, all my research to date, in a series of Open Office documents whose structure, unsurprisingly, resembles a relational database (hint, hint); Godzilla is boning up on his array programming vocabulary. He’s reading Jeff Boror’s, Q for Mortals if you must know.

Never fear, he and I are on our dogged mission to understand this subject from the match stick to the forest, even when the chips are down.

And speaking of match sticks, I’m going to make one of those observations that’s likely to irritate some of you. The thing of the thing is, that while we are super ready to talk about nuances with the various array language implementations in minutia detail or fight each other to the death over the nitty-gritty theoretical points, when I ask, Ok, but what can I DO with an array language? OR What IS a parallel processing problem? I’m sorry to say, that up until now, there has been what seems to me to be a stunned silence within the community.

Happy, happy me sees a steady stream of really cool applications and ideas coming in at this moment. I can’t wait to pick the best of the best for the ‘Top 10 Cool Things you can do with an Array Language’ page coming soon to this site!

And while I’m on the topic of interesting array language problems, yesterday I got to meet Hans Wobbe, an IPSA gent from the 1970’s who’s located right here in Toronto.  He’s thinking about the global Address Management problem.  And he’s so keen about arrays, he calls the world wide web, The Array.

Personally, I think he should have borrowed The Matrix which does, after all, have that stellar Canadian cast.  You see,  because the movie was so successful, ‘matrix’ has achieved high ranking in the commons and will likely make archetype status long before ‘array’.  And where this gets really yummy, is that the allusion opens doors to play with all kinds of metaphysical ideas, like the 6th dimension,  for example.  But that’s jut me.

Back to Hans and The Array.  Yesterday he gave me a precious gift; an education on Address Management and a tiny insight into who is interested in address data other than the post office.  And the answer is everybody who has a stake in either land or money. Not to mention the folks interested in time and space.



Watch out, Batman.



When I began this project, I calculated that 375 people in the whole wide world would give a damn about the story of APL and its descendant Array Languages.  I based this number on my own magic formula: roughly 500 IPSA Employees in its heyday.  I can count on 75% of them to be interested in a story that must inevitably include them.

Imagine my surprise when I figured out that the Origins of APL video I posted on myspace is much more popular.  In fact, it has received 4,ooo views since I posted it over a year ago.   Exactly 4,000, as of this moment. Merci, Bashyal at LtU.

Fri 13th - Survey Visitors by Country % of 600 counted

Fri 13th - Survey Visitors by Country % of 600 counted

Oh shit.

Pardon my language,  I mean: WHAT?

Given that we’re talking about the whole wide world, these stats are not earth shattering or what a rapper would bring in, but man oh man, am I excited.

You see, I had no idea how many lives and careers and programming languages the APL story has influenced.

This is serious.

And if I  had actually grabbed the right type ball for my photo shoot with Godzilla last week, I’d be feeling like little miss smarty-pants, right about now.  But, alas, once again, this proves to be an ironically humbling road.

In any case, for better or for worse, this brings me to the survey, because this is all one big warm up for…. drum roll…. The results.

Friday the 13th of August 2010 Survey Results


Who looked vs who responded

Visitors (survey days only) = 621
Unique Visitors = 432
Survey Respondents = 46


In case that wasn’t enough information, here’s your APL trivia for the day – John McGrew told me in NYC that APL2 still carries APL’s birthday, which I promptly forgot and so from the other side of Canada, Roger Hui tells Array birthday stories.


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.


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?


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?  🙂

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!

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!  🙂 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!


NYC, I’m wandering home. Oh, Toronto!

I have to confess, I’m not too excited about going home.  Even though it’s between 33 and 34 degrees Celsius here in NYC.  And it’s only June.

Yesterday I walked around the Financial District with my big camera collecting “B-roll” for my demo.  I started the day at the World Trade Center to tape rush hour at 9am.  I felt a little too self conscious so close to Ground Zero, so I’m not thrilled with what I got.  But later my  foray onto Wall Street went pretty well, so… Good.

Now I’m off to catch my flight home to my somewhat rattled city – I mean, Yikes!  Toronto made the news in NYC twice since I’ve been away.  What!?!  An earthquake at 5.5 and riots.  RIOTS! ?


APL in the New Millenium

It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more.

– Sa’di

My friend, Scott Hall, will notice that I borrowed the Sadiq quote above from his Facebook post this morning.  It resonates with me on many levels today.  On the personal side, I’ve already had to apologise twice today for speaking too quickly, too soon & without the requisite precision. Ouch. TWICE.

In the mean time, I’m thinking about how serious and personal this project has become.   This feels a little like scope creep, which started innocently enough with who’s here and who’s willing to let me shove a camera in their face.    The answer of course, is me and my dad.

In any case, what jumped out at me when I wrote the application I mentioned last week for the film is a shift of voice that has occurred in the last year.  In other words, I’m using my own voice because, guess what folks, the story is getting more personal.  But don’t be scared.

I’m also relying on serendipity to pull me through the tidal waves of material which are coming my way.  I am emboldened by Denis Shasha’s essay on Michael  O. Rabin The Possibility of Chance, although I know full well, this is not the interpretation he had in mind.

But this does lead me to my next point which is that of the small treasures my father put into my box, APL Quote Quad Volume 29, Number 4 from June 1999, attracted my attention.  This issue attracted my attention because APL Berlin 2000: The Array Processing Language Conference for the Year 2000 is on the cover.  This year’s APL conference in September is also in BerlinAnd I really want to go!

It’s probably an appropriate moment to think about how much the world has changed in the last decade. Communication technology has been revolutionized, which is great for me, but how will this effect our coming together in person?  What will draw us together to face the rath of Eyjafjallajökull? Why can I just throw in a word like Eyjafjallajökull, and be confident that if you don’t know it, you’ll find it?

Now my trump card. The reason my father put this particular issue of  APL Quote Quad into my box is not because of Berlin.  It is not in my possession to make me think about the future, or what I’m doing or how I’m doing it.  This issue simply holds the obituary of  John C. McPherson and my father wants me to know about this man, a visionary really,  who championed APL at IBM in the very early days.

And that’s what I mean by serendipitous and personal.

And if you are part of the array language community, and you’re up on your obits, you’ll recognize the title of this blog post.  It is the title of perhaps Ken Iverson’s last article, I’m guessing here but Chris or Roger will know for sure, if it really was his last.

My hope is to encourage the relatively small APL family to mute their differences, and present a more united face to the programming world.

So, I’m here doing my part, knowing full well, this is not the interpretation he had in mind.


Average on my Mind

I mentioned to Gary Berquist when I saw him again last month in DC that I am using him as my poster-boy.  If you remember the old blog, he was on the side bar for quite a long time with his Did Ken Iverson Invent APL? slide.  Gary is a good APL citizen, this means he does heaps for the community, and  I like this.  And more to the point, he’s a very entertaining speaker and is good looking and puts good APL ‘sound bites’ up in Powerpoint.  Ha. A perfect post-boy.

Don’t worry folks, he signed a release, so this doesn’t count as stalking.  Not that I’m above stalking.

Anyway, to Menander to my point, I happen to notice last week that Hot Docs and CanWest are calling for submissions for documentary film development funding due by 5pm tomorrow.  Development in film lingo means research.

I don’t have all the pieces together yet for a rock solid application, but I’m going to apply anyway.  I’m sure it will take a lot of practice with these applications before I get my pitch perfect, so let the judging begin!

This means I’m working all night tonight, most probably… That’s OK, I can take it.

So, what I’m contemplating right now, is average.  I believe it was Andrew MacLeod who administered my very first official APL test.  He asked me to do averageAverage has the added advantage because most people know what is means.

At least they sort of know what it means.  To be honest, one of my shocking discoveries since I’ve launched myself into world outside of programming is how little people know about math. In fact, out here, I know a lot about math.  This is really PATHETIC.

Anyway today, I need to explain how the heck I’m going act as a translator or tour guide of the world of array programming.

The truth is, I do know how. And that’s why I’m thinking about average. 🙂

Now I’m off to do the explaining.


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