Son of Devil's Advocate, Decmber 2001

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Son of Devil's Advocate

Stan Kelly-Bootle

Picture of Stan Kelly-Bootle

Aproval Would Be Follier

Over the years, since 1984 no less, of monthly Diabolical columny, some months have challenged me more than others.

Seasonable submissions such as Christmas and New Year can become predictably cliched, while a Thanksgivings column triggers yawning indifference from my many Non-USA readers.

Likewise, if I mention the Brit November 5th celebration, the Yanks will ask "Who's this Guy, Fawkes?" Well, the poor man was hung-drawn-quartered, even worse, in 1606 after the failed Gun Powder plot. He's a sortof Catholic terrorist hero insofar as he aimed to blow up a Proddy Parliament, yet he never attained real martyrdom insofar as the plot was an amateur, failed fiasco. We burn replicas of the Guy on BonFire night and as the flames grow higher and higher, we dance around his funeral pyre...but, pace Tom Lehrer, of whom later, I digress.

With a global multicultural audience, I must face the moveable feasts of Lunar calendars. A happy Ramadan, whenever. Repent now, avoid the Yom Kippur rush. O Ishtar, a Merry Isthmus. Incas: Hot throbbing, fresh-plucked hearts while supplies last.

Then there's the Soviet dates worth a vodka-slug or two. Swear that at an APL Conference in St Petersberg, our host proposed the toast: If Lenin alive today he would be 123 years, 3 months, 10 days, 30 minutes, 12 seconds old!" I'll drink to that.

April, though, is the cruellest month! Rival columns are bending in all directions, tempting to fool you with subtle mis- information.

Scientific American maintains this fine April Fools' tradition, such that the May edition is full of incensed letters saying, for example, "Surely the formula is e=mc² rather than m=ce²?"

But back to my December column following ecumenical traditions.

Grand Christmas Quiz.

Send answers to with a snail-mail address.

Wit exceeds accuracy.

First prize is "The Essential Ewan MacColl Songbook -- Sixty Years of Songmaking," (Oak Publications, 2001) signed by Peggy Seeger.

Two runner-ups: my "Computer Contradictionary," MIT Press.

1. When did Christmas and New Year fall in the same year?

2. When did Christmas and Hannukah fall on the same day?

3. When did Pancake Tuesday fall on a Wednesday?

4. Who was the last man to box Gentleman Jim?

5. Who played for Liverpool and Everton (soccer) on the same afternoon?

6. Who now occupies the chair vacated by Prof. N. Wirth at ETH?

7. Name the best software for testing/tuning UNIX system performance.

8. Who owns the "Marauders Map?" Hint: magic sans GPS.

9. Identify the following exchange:

a: Grandad, they say you are the greatest living Englishman? b: Yes, I am. Now bugger off.

10. Expand the acronym CORDIC.

11. What does Tom Lehrer rhyme with (i) chickens (ii) utensil?


A great prezzie for yourself or friends.

Membership of the MAA (Mathematical Association of America)

Many levels available with appropriate journals.

The current MAA College Mathematics Journal (Edited by Prof. Underwood Dudley) has a wondrous paper by David Strong: "Why It Might Seem That Christmas Is Coming Early This Year" The math is fairly simple but the derived perception of passing time as you get older is quite remarkable.


Lest you missed the sublime Tom Lehrer influence:

Christmas time is here by golly; Disapproval would be folly; Deck the halls with lotsa holly; Fill the glass, and don't say when...

Fifteen Years Ago

Devil's Advocate, UNIX Review November 1986 - Stan Kelly-Bootle

Disapproval Would Be Folly

In depressingly betinseled computer rooms throughout this mighty land, festive interrupts briefly still the spinning disks.

It is that sickening tide of the year when non-drinkers drink and drinkers drive, when the parsimonious bear gifts, and an uneasy pall of goodwill stifles our humanity. "For the DPM shall lie down with the Programmer, and the Systems Administrator shall lie down with All and Sundry!" (St. Presper's "Vaticinia o&3 Simulacraque" - unpublished doctoral thesis).

Sociologists and other soft-scientists, have devoted much ponderage concerning mankind's need for periodic flights from reality to fantasy. In my native Liverpool-Irish milieu, these occur every five minutes on average, accompanied by growing doubts as to the direction of flight, whereas with more staid cultures, such as the Rome of Nero or the Mets of New York, the frequency ranges from annual Saturnalia to septennial World Series' euphoria!

You might argue that each night brings blessed relief from the hurly-burly, but this is a passive escape, and one must be fully awake to enjoy one's dreams. In Sartre's "Huis Clos," the sleepless damned cannot even blink, a terrifying punishment when you think about it: being denied those regular respites from perceptory input. Is this the origin of the expression "My I/O is on the blink"?

It has been a mixed, trend-free year for the computing trade - the UNIX-Sun up, IBM down, Atari rising, Convergent converging (to zero?), Apple shining, Commodore at sea, Fairchild clipped and nipped, Eagle landing-belly-up, Motorola motoring, Intel segmenting, and the late Ma Bell wringing her hands.

Meanwhile, a million Apprentice Cloners keep on a-cloning while the Sorcerer sleeps. Perhaps IBM will wake up soon and do something more startling than juggle their price list. They could, for example, start cloning the Compaq 386. IBM have apparently threatened to drop the whole PC range if it becomes a mere "commodity." Most of us look kindly on fair-priced commodities in the sense of "useful articles of trade" whereas IBM seems to define a commodity as any item with a gross margin of less than 200% - but I digress!

With such a confused 1986 behind us I have no way of telling if your holiday will be spent celebrating victories or swilling away sorrows. Whooping or wailing, either way, my Christmas column plans to add or remove a smile from your pudding-stuffed faces! Depending on your mood you can skip the "+" bullets (good news) or the "-" bullets (depressing items).

First the bad news: my contribution to a grumpy Christmas is the following list of typos, growses and brickbats, gloatingly accumulated since December 26th 1985:

minus sign* "Sadly, many textbooks on programming start new programmers off on the wrong foot, by showing them this single line program on page 2:


I quote from page 32 of Jeff Duntemann's "Complete Turbo Pascal," (Scott, Forsman & Co, 1986). On page 4 of the selfsame book, we find:


BEGIN WRITELN('In the beginning God created Adam.'); WRITELN('--or was it Coleco?') END.

So presumably it's OK to start programmers off with a five (two?) liner - and one with doubtful semantics to boot. Jahweh actually enjoyed 25 verses of hectic fabrications (the physical universe to name but one) before getting round to Adam. And what is Jeff's question actually asking? Did God create Coleco? Or did Coleco create Adam?

minus sign* Niklaus Wirth writes that 31 MOD 10 = 3 in a letter aiming at clarifying errors in the original Modula-2 definitions of DIV and MOD (See Modus Quarterly #5 Feb 1986 page 6). I suspect that Einstein occasionally wrote c = mE^2 in fits of absent- mindedness.

minus sign* My "Most Disturbing Typo of the Year" award goes to Addison- Wesley, the appointed watchdogs for Knuthian metatypography. In their Fall/Winter Catalogue, 19861987 Vol 1 No 6, we read:


It is difficult to miss this line, since it is set in very large bold type. Addison-Wesley seem proud of this issue - they sent me three of the buggers!

minus sign* The "el" to "al" transformation is contagious, witness the widespread appearance of "kernal." UNIX Review readers will know that "kernel" derives from the Old English "Cyrnel", meaning small "Cyrn" (corn) or seed. This has not discouraged a company in Pleasanton, CA from calling itself KERNAL DATA SYSTEMS. As in the previous example, the error appears in a large fancy font; it is even embossed as if to proclaim "Engrave And Be Damned!" Perhaps there should be a typo-error scale where you multiply the mistake by the point-size, then double it if embossed? And what about a bonus for tattoos and spray-can graffiti? If we add a factor for visibility, the ultimate typo might be the reported sky-writing "Joan, Will You Mary Me?"

minus sign* An interview in "Design Graphics World" (October, 1986) was reported as follows:

"Speed must also increase," said Leesley. "Tomorrow's micro might eventually get up to speed with today's Krays."

CADD expert and compatriot Michael Leesley obviously said "Crays" but the reporter or typesetter "misheard." Extra black marks for errors in reported speech! Those of you familiar with the bloody, London underworld exploits of the Kray brothers circa 1960 will understand my little frisson at seeing their dreaded name in such an unexpected context.

plus sign* I am inclined to forgive this magazine, however, since the same issue's editorial declares:

"Now that computer vendors are settling on the UNIX standard, things will happen fast."

minus sign* My pettest peeve of 1986: The manuals that say "This program will run under DOS 2.0 or better" Does this exclude DOS 3.0? Does it include UNIX?

minus sign* My LEAOTY (Least Effective Acronym of the Year) for 1986 is WYSIWYG, which spells out to eleven audible syllables, compared with the seven syllables it replaces: What You See Is What You Get. Perhaps it is more successful in Polish, pronounced Vee-Zee-Veeg? (I refuse to repeat the joke about Polish Word Processing - the punch line is "How do I remove the Liquid Paper from the screen?")

plus sign* On the bright side, I entered the following syllogisms into my NL! SuperDeductor (see this column, UNIX Review, September 1986 issue):

WYSIWIG = What You See Is What You Get YGWYPF = You Get What You Pay For SIB = Seeing Is Believing

Of the nine dubious implications churned out by NL! my favorites are:

YBWYPF = You Believe What You Pay For YPFWYS = You Pay For What You See BIG = Believing is Getting

plus sign* My favorite quotes of the year:

"Committees can't even decide when to break for lunch." Hal Hardenbergh, creator of HBASIC (nee HALGOL) and the DTACK Grounded Newsletter.

"Coauthored by a recognized computer pioneer (Kelly-Bootle) and a principal of the AlphaMicro User's Society (Bob Fowler), the '68000, 68010, 68020 Primer' (Sams/Macmillan) is useful to experienced microcomputer programmers who want a quick introduction to the M68000 family." Donald Evan Crabb (BYTE Magazine, September 1986)

"These mothers can fly!" Advert for Ideal Micro Systems' mother-board.

"I was tired of 'near-letter quality'; now I'm tired of 'near- typset quality.' When will printers be good enough that their manufacturers don't have to apologize for their output?" Michael Swaine - Editor, Dr. Dobb's Journal.

plus sign* My prediction for a new market in 1987: Laptop Publishing.

plus sign* Most intriguing program sent to me in 1986:

execute X <- 'execute X' WS FULL

(Part of a letter from Edward Cherlin, Editor of APL Market News.) For the benefit of our typesetters, I have transcribed from APL cuneiform to ASCII keyword format. Next month I will tell you of my recent adventures with STSC APL - a wonderful break from Modula-2 and 68000 assembly!

plus sign* Major puzzle of 1986: Why does the RISC IBM PC-RT have more instructions than the CISC MC68020? Incidentally, my own RISC design is bogged down; I can't get the NOP to work.

plus sign* A Christmas bonus for all you CrossWord fans:

|1   |2   |3   |4   |
|    |    |    |    |
|    |    |    |    |
|    |    |    |    |

1=a review
2=a world!
3=a french roman nine
4=xinu (anag)
1= 'owards 'omophone?
2= cockney layers?
3= take 2 pair of sparklers?
4= dos cervezas, por favor!!

Before you all down tools for the holiday and rush to the bosoms of your nearest and dearest, I urge you not to forget your wives, husbands and children. By the way, my Emerging Technologies THESIX says:

spouse:- is not in the thesaurus - it would fall between "spot" and "spout"

Stan's bio:

Liverpool-born Stan Kelly-Bootle has been exposed to computing, on and off and vice-versa, since 1953 when, after graduating in Pure Mathematics at Cambridge University, he switched to impure post-grad work on the wondrous EDSAC I. After some trenching with IBM and Univac in the 1960s and 70s, Stan opted for self-employment as a consultant, writer, folk-song revivalist, after-dinner entertainer, and cunning linguist.

His monthly DA ("Devil's Advocate") column ran and ran in UNIX Review (aka Performance Computing) from 1984 until January 2000 (a date that will live in infamy) but lives on as SODA ("Son of DA") via the homepage devoted to UNIX performance.

The latest of his umpteen books are "The Computer Contradictionary" (MIT Press) and "UNIX Complete" (Sybex). More on his biblio- and disco-graphy can be found on soon due for its millennial update.

Stan welcomes reader reaction:

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Portions © copyright Stan Kelly-Bootle 2001.
Portions © copyright Aurora Software Inc. 1997-2001, all rights reserved.
This column is sponsored by Aurora Software Inc., makers of SarCheck. The opinions of Stan Kelly-Bootle are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Aurora Software Inc. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.