Archive for the 'Canada' Category

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.


Hélène Falardeau

As far as I understand it, Tom Gibson gave Hélène the best send-off ever.  And what I see from Twitter is that there are a few of you out there who know Tom.  As for me, my efforts to not be extremely sad, are not working…  Yet.

This is a reposting of Tom’s letter, which Terry Huff sent out on the Toronto Data Services Division listserv.

From: Tom Gibson []

Sent: Sunday, October 16, 2011 4:53 PM
Subject: Hélène Falardeau


Apologies for the “form” email, but it occurred to me while creating this obit for Hélène for the newspaper that many of you may miss it, so I have included it here. At the bottom of this email is a link to lovely blog post (and picture) from where Hélène last worked in Vancouver.

Please forward or post this to anyone you know who might have known Hélène.

Thank you. Tom


Hélène Falardeau died in her Vancouver home on Saturday October 8, 2011. She left us happy, at peace, and surrounded by those she loved and who cherished her.

Born in Montreal in 1951, Hélène moved to Toronto at age 14. She was very much the cool and protective older sister to brother Marc and sister Ann (Gosleigh), whom she adored. Hélène later worked in administration for companies such as Upjohn, Mercedes-Benz, the Quebec Government and Reuters. Hélène’s love of reading likely blossomed while working at Coles Bookstore during high school when she brought home Agatha Christie books to help then 13-year-old Marc learn to speak English. One summer Hélène worked as hiring coordinator for the then fledgling Cirque du Soleil the first year they came to Toronto. Other summers Hélène worked as an EKG technician in Chicago while staying with her dear friend Martha. It was during her high school years that Hélène’s “French-English-ness” took shape, and which is so much a part of her. Moving from Montreal to Toronto in the mid sixties, Hélène saw The Beatles in both of their Canadian concerts (1965 Montreal, 1966 Toronto) … one of those screaming girls right up front. Many in Toronto will remember Hélène through her work at Reuters where as Manager of Administration she was known for organizing spectacular Holiday parties, her amazing doodles (the beginnings of her artistic career), and adorning the walls with wonderful artwork. Hélène had style. In October 1998 Hélène moved to Nelson BC to be with Tom Gibson and be stepmother—friend she would say—to Chris and Danielle. Hélène worked in the art supply department at Cowan’s. It was in Nelson that the art inside Hélène emerged, and in a BIG way. Work from her first pen and ink show at the Glacier Gallery surprised many. Who expected such imaginings from a “little old lady from Toronto” (her words)? As an artist she created lifelong friendships with other Nelson artists who encouraged her (“go bigger”), and she earned acclaim for several art series (kimonos, slips, escapades, …). Several more shows, and colour, followed in her eight years in Nelson. Then to Vancouver with Tom. Yaletown, overlooking False Creek, in a very different but active and vibrant life. In Vancouver Hélène had fun working part time at Matchmaker for Hire in Vancouver. A Toronto-lover, it took her a few months to say “now I get Vancouver.” A couple weeks before Hélène died she added, “I love our home here.”

Hélène died from a cancer that struck her dramatically in the summer of 2007. The grace, dignity and resourcefulness with which she faced cancer is a remarkable but perfect expression of who Hélène is, and is something the many who love her can now find comfort in embracing. Please join us in celebrating Hélène’s life on Saturday, October 22, 2011 from 1-4pm. We are pleased to be able to host our celebration of Hélène at the Harrison Gallery, located at 901 Homer Street in Vancouver. In lieu of flowers please consider donating to InspireHeath, a Vancouver-centred, integrated cancer care organization who have helped Hélène in many ways ( Or just purchase a happy and bright, cut-flower bouquet to celebrate Hélène’s life in your home. Hélène would have liked that.


Here’s the blog post. Click the picture in it to see a beautiful picture showing Hélène after her hair started to grow back after chemo in 2008. The photo in the obit piece was taken in Vancouver in 2010.


York, MCM70 & the angst of being there first

Since April, Uncle Bob has been prodding me to venture north, to York University to meet a true blue APL scholar, Zbigniew Stachniak.  So, on Tuesday, I finally did.

It turns out York has a lot of reasons to be interested in APL.  They wrote one, for starters.

Stachniak’s research includes a careful analysis of the successes and ultimate failure of MCM, a Canadian company who came out with the first personal computer in the 1970’s which happened to run APL.  As Stachniak demonstrates, being first, especially when it comes to innovation in technology, is hard and MCM went bankrupt in the 1980’s.

York houses a Computer History Museum which is shepherded by  Stachniak and Scott M. Campbell from the University of Waterloo, whom I’ve put on my radar to track down.

Stachniak is now turning his gaze towards I.P.Sharp and is particularly interested in the “APL community’s” views and attitudes towards micro computing in the 1970’s.

The more I learn about us, the less comfortable I am in generalizing about views, but that’s a puzzle for another day.

In any case, he has a boatload of photos inherited from the folks at Soliton, so I had the pleasure of seeing many of the old guard in their youth, which is, quite frankly how I remember everyone anyway.

Oh, and he’s a little reluctant to show me some of the photos.  Just when I was beginning to fear there would be no competing with the sex, drugs and rock and roll featured in The Social Network!

But seriously, Stachniak was able to interview Ken twice before he died and for this, he deserves a medal.

Thank goodness someone was thinking.


An amazing occurrence of good sportsmanship

I’m completely exhausted and running late! But yesterday was so exciting I can barely sit still and I’m burning to share.

Last night, I had dinner with Morten Kromberg and Eric Iverson. Now I can boast that I witnessed everything good in the meeting of great minds.  Seriously.  It was such a special treat.

And here we have the tickler, these two camera-adverse gentlemen, played my game and let me tape with Flip!  Rock on!

P.S. I’m singing at the top of my lungs to early Fleetwood Mac playing on Youtube as my movie encodes.  Everything is just fine.


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?


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