Archive for the 'Travel' Category

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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.



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Enough said

I’ve said enough on the matter. For now.



It took forever to get through immigration and I’m having a really bad hair day (sorry Monica) – BUT AMERICA HERE I AM.

You can follow this little story on twitter #arrayStories


Not all those who wander are lost

Good day, Everyone.

It’s the count-down….  Tick, tick, tick….

Ten days left in the semester, then I’m free from school for the summer!  Once finished, I’ll only have to worry about paid work and, the films.

I’m procrastinating and relaxing before tackling the inevitable Variances. As in Sales Quantity, Market Share, Market Volume: those guys. And I decided to drop you a quick note.

At the same time, I’m thinking about another project.  You see, it’s tackling smaller scale creative works that keeps me sane while chasing Leviathan.  You won’t get to see most of them because they are private things, but in this case Artist Tazeen Qayyum asked for a story. A woman’s story.  About womanly things… and maybe a man, we’ll see.  In any case, my tiny contribution will become part of something bigger, that the public gets to see in June.  I think this is pretty cool.

Tazeen’s project and her work lead my thoughts to this journey we’re taking together.  Because your support comes, sometimes, in completely unexpected ways and often from far away.  It’s the tiniest of gestures, like a wink in Twitter, that make me feel inspired to share what’s on my mind.  And right now, I’m thinking about Tolkien.

Here is a poem for you to ponder right along with me.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

All that is gold does not glitter, Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954),
The Fellowship of the Ring & The Lord of the Rings.

(This post is dedicated to CA, CL, KL & SG)


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.


Unstitched in Brooklyn!

I really had a fantastic time in New York.  Before the trip, my executive producer Barry Pearson gave me some sagely advice.  Don’t forget you’re visually talented. He’s talking about what Ken Iverson once called, all that art school.

The truth is I can become unstitched by the way a ray of sun hits a single leaf and then spend hours taking photographs trying to catch it. Light can be elusive and as such, presents a great challenge.

So, with Barry’s advice in mind, I spent a good afternoon in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden chasing beams of light.

Indeed, I cannot resist saying, the squirrels are very friendly!


Circus news

I’m back home and am burning to share another New York story.  It starts like this…

On my way to lunch with Joel Kaplan, I’m getting into the elevator on the 27th floor of this absolutely stunning Park Avenue building.  Along for the ride are Adam Jacobs and Robert “rOml” Lefkowitz, two veteran APL programmers from New York, both of whom I’m meeting for the first time.  Joel launches into techno-talk, reminiscing about something or other.  Then he stops and apologizes, he feels he’s being rude.  I don’t know how much of the technical side you understand.

I explain that I worked as an APL programmer for years and then I say… Yes, I did technical work until 2001 when I ran off to join the circus.

Then, with complete and utter sincerity Robert says, Oh really, which one?

That stopped me. What just happened? I wonder.

Joel jumps to the rescue, I think she means it figuratively. And I do.  He looks at me and says, he thought you meant it literally, his wife trains kids for the circus. At this point, the woman standing next to me isn’t even trying to hide that she’s laughing her head off.

Real life circus experience;  and the guy even knows how to juggle!  I’ll bet ten bucks that by the time I get to the principle photography on this bloody film, he’ll be doing that behind the back act he performed for us.

Ah… isn’t life sweet?  A circus act for my film. Literally.


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.


No plan B

I’m getting ready to travel again.  This time, I’m not revealing my destination.  In fact, I can count the number of people who know where on one hand, and I’m related to most of them.  Mystery!

Not really, I’m lying. No mystery.

Honestly, I desperately need a little time and space to think things through.

My travel routine is pretty typical:  ticket, passport, wallet – check!  Except, the night before…    every. single. time. I. fly…    I experience this period where I feel like I’m a sister from another planet.  At that moment, I panic:  what are you doing? I say to myself…  I can’t believe I’m going.  If you’ve been with me here for a while, you’ve probably begun to detect the pattern.

This time, it has started prematurely and I’m trying to comprehend why.

Maybe because during my last adventure, my cat almost died from some mysterious illness; had I not cut my trip short for an unrelated reason, that would have been it for her.

But no, that’s not it.  And I do think I know what it is:  there is no plan B.

Before I even knew what was happening, I said this out loud to an actual person this week.  I admitted it.

After such a colossal wipe-out this summer, rather than do the rational thing and get rid of plan A, I dumped my Plan B.  In fact I trashed 3 or 4 of them. Now I have none.

I’m totally focused on plan A: my evil plan.

Oh, I did notice that not everyone is comfortable with my use of ‘evil’…  But that’s a segue for another day.

My wise and supportive companion said:  You’re making a commitment.


Curses! Damn! RATS! Bloody Hell!

Whew!  That felt good. Now, I’m off to have my run through the woods, because Jedi must be very fit.


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