Monthly Archive for May, 2010

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.


APL’s Brat Pack


I’ve had my head down, working away at my Accounting duties for days and days and days!   And then I figured out how to move this damn blog so I can host it myself, which I’ve wanted to do for months.   So, I moved it.  In other words it no longer “lives” at WordPress. 

Sorry folks, you’ll need to set up your feeds again.  And Boy, that took a lot of fiddling.  I hope it was worth it.

So, I’m under pressure to give you some good stuff, as it’s been almost two weeks since I’ve posted anything at all.

Lucky for me, both David Allen and Michael Berry turned up in Toronto last week.  Both these guys cut their baby teeth while programming in APL back in the 70’s and 80’s. When other kids were out washing dished, they were digging in to real time computing.  And guess what?  They’re doing really well now.

Michael Berry

Michael’s family was moved around by IBM in the same herd as my family.    And the truth is,  I had my first heart break when our families got separated, not so much from losing contact with Michael, himself, because he was much older, but his sisters! My first impulse, when this all began was to run and go find them in California.

David Allen

David Allen

And so, the first thing I did was to call David up and say, I’m coming to Palo Alto, can I crash at your place? He said, yes!   And came to my talk at the Computer History museum and helped me out by running the camera.  I think Larry Breed still thinks he’s my camera guy, instead of CTO!


My father never told me

Maybe I should change the title of my story.  Maybe something like: All the Cool Things My Father Never Told Me is more like it.

Yesterday, my father and I are debating in email whether it is Ok for me to say “IvSix” for Iverson Six in my movie trailer.  The exchange goes like this:

Hi Cath. The DVD is pretty cool. But something I forgot to mention after I saw it online is that Ken didn’t come to IBM in 1960 to start a group called IVSYS. That was the name Phil and Larry gave the 7090 batch interpreter written in Fortran that I converted to run on the 7040 at Alberta. (IVerson SYStem). I might have a manual and maybe even a source listing. The first implementation predated that and was called PAT (Personalized (or maybe Personal) Array Translator) done by Herb Hellerman. I think I have a copy of Herb’s paper.

I of course reply, I’m saying “IvSIX for Iverson’s Six.

My dad, of course, responds, There were more than six.

I can’t very well say, The six guys who are in the 10 year anniversary photo for I don’t know what reason, EVERY TIME.   I’m telling a story!  Jeepers.

Then comes the punch line.

By the way, in those days I was considered a mathematician and taught a few college-level classes. Benoit Mandelbrot worked in the next corridor and I helped him learn APL. Which he used to develop fractals…


This is pretty cool news, if you ask me.  Even if he isn’t 100% sure about the fractal bit.


It ain't no Taj Mahal

“Why are we here again?” Alison asked.

I have to admit,  the building is humble looking.  It is, luckily, also quite close to Alison’s family restaurant, Hummus, where she and her husband are introducing Israeli food to West Philly.  So, she had no problem finding it and taking me there.

And I was sincerely glad to see the building which once housed IBM’s Philadelphia Scientific Center.   I must have been there in the past.  At least once.  And I wish I could report that my heart swelled with recognition upon our arrival.  But I can’t.  I didn’t. There was nothing.  Nada. Not the tiniest memory. Oh.

Hmmmm…. I’ll need to ask my dad about this.  I have very clear memories of an IBM machine room in New York, maybe this is because from my child perspective the computer was a bigger than a HOUSE.  It made a really strong impression. I must have been four years old.

Anyway.  I went.

I made a swift return to Swarthmore, PA too.  My mum and I are still arguing about whether or not the Iverson’s had a place in the town at one point, or if they were located in a near-by town the whole time.  In my video trailer I say they were there, along with the Lathwells and the Berrys.

I took care of their cats when they were out-of-town!  Did I teleport? Is this false memory syndrome?  Of course, I should just ask them.


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