Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Song of Myself

With sincere apologies to Walt Whitman, I commend to you an autobiographical sketch recorded with Shawn Wildermuth in late December 2013 as part of his “Hello World” series of developer interviews.
It covers my early years as a Knucklehead Programmer which was kind of like Wolf of Wall Street minus the money, blow, and hookers.
Shawn and I do have a darned good time talking about programming in the 70s/80s (APL, big iron, life before PCs and RDMS), people who changed our lives, and what we can do to nurture the developer community.
Go subscribe to Shawn’s series so you can listen to a great cast of developer characters talk about how they got started in this game.
I wonder if Shawn will interview himself :-)

Extra links

Shawn included a few links on his page but I thought you might like a few more with my memories attached.

Steve Dunwell

Steve Dunwell, the IBM Fellow, lead architect and manager on the pioneering STRETCH computer is remembered in this article, “Return of the prodigal son: the rehabilitation of Steve Dunwell”. His passion for educational computing made my introduction to computing possible at a time when “computers in the schools” was almost inconceivable.  

APL – A Programming Language

APL, my first programming language and my source of income for two decades. Here is Conway’s Game of Life in a single line of “write once, read never” APL: Look Ma! No Loops!
We loved it.  We owned our own 16Kb slice of an IBM/360. No overseers. No types, No compiler. Cult language. We rocked.
My first “computer” was actually an IBM/360 connected by a private telephone line and acoustic coupler to this 2741 terminal, a modified Selectric typewriter.
clip_image001 The Selectric Typewriter printed with a typesphere that rotated and tilted for each letter before striking a ribbon and the paper behind it (see video). IBM made a special typesphere to print those weird APL characters: clip_image002 My first green screen terminal was a 3270 display. It was roughly the size of a foot locker and must have weighed  more than 50 pounds. The manual was over 100 pages. The character set was IBM’s own EBCDIC; ASCII was an option but I don’t remember seeing ASCII actually installed. A bigger, heavier color version arrived with the 3279 some years later:  

History of the Relational Database

I talked some about the early history of the Relational Database when it was fresh and exciting and how it had to overcome the predominate database architectures of its day (architectures we’d now categorize as “NoSQL” ). Did you know that it was invented at IBM by E.F. Codd. and that IBM suppressed it for almost a decade? Read all about it in this fascinating interview with C.J. Date.  It’s a PDF. You’ll learn that Codd wrote an early relational database query language in APL (p.28) and that he hated SQL.  

Community Memory

I talk briefly about my time at Community Memory one of the earliest experiments in social networking. The first Community Memory terminal, at Leopold's Records, Berkeley, CA, 1973. Photo taken by and for the Community Memory Project, first published in the Resource One Newsletter, April 1974, and originally posted to the web in 1996 by Mark Szpakowski The technology was a bunch of teletype terminals in Berkeley laundry mats and record stores, connected by phone lines (no internet). What fascinates me to this day was how CM’s vision of social change through social networking both did and did not happen. You get some sense of that from this BBC article “Hackers and hippies: The origins of social networking” And that’s enough of that!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"kind of like Wolf of Wall Street minus the money, blow, and hookers."
- Do you mean the scenes at the beginning when the dude joined that micro stock company after the stock crash? ;) Surely weren't any blow or hookers there.

BTW, I haven't heard of APL yet. Interesting language.

(Typo in the first sentence: "WIldermuth", the I is capital)

- Csaba