Son of Devil's Advocate, June 2004

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Son of Devil's Advocate

Stan Kelly-Bootle

Picture of Stan Kelly-Bootle

FAT Cats and Slim Cases

I hear that Microsoft are set to flex their patented muscles to protect their "legal" claim over the "long-filename" format as used in Windows. This seems yet another of the many overt and covert ploys by the Redmond Raptor to decelerate (overturn?) the Linux bandwagon. The idea, of course, is to block or confound those Linux developers who must "exploit" the long-name FAT (File Allocation Tables) mystique in applications that offer Linux- Windows interactions. Such applications have surely widened the Linux market, but Gates does not see them as increasing Microsoft's market! What are usually called "seamless" inter-OS operations may well become "seamful," frustrating Hamlet's famous line: "Seams, madam? Nay...I know not seams" (act 1, scene 2).

The complications of combining Microsoft licenses with the open world of "copy left," not to mention the rumour that IBM may have prior claims on the FAT format from their 1970s System 1, are girding the loins of the fat lawyers. Billable hours loom ahead. If John Edwards fails in the 2004 VP election, I've no doubt he may be tempted to join the contingent fray, on either side. The IT FAT cats have deeper pockets (and Redder Hats?) than the Medical Miscreants. Stay tooned.


My April 2004 SODA rashly examined the US intellectual melting pot. I was intrigued by the absence of WASPish surnames among the hundreds of prize winners in the annual Intel college science contest. Regular and esteemed correspondent Anne Butzen urges caution, based on her own multicultured kith'n'kin:

    "Dear Stan,

    ... [as you hinted] gauging ethnicity by surname can be misleading, and I just remembered a perfect example:

    A young lady of mixed Finnish and Sicilian ancestry marries a Mexican-American, whom we shall call Mr. Rodriguez. In the course of a rather rocky marriage they produce seven children; eventually they divorce and the lady marries an Irishman whom we shall call Mr. O'Keefe, because that is his name (he is the first cousin of my late mother-in-law). In addition to siring nine more children he also gives his surname to several of the stepchildren. One of the latter marries a Korean woman named Camilla Joe and has four children, the youngest of whom is named Liam. So Liam O'Keefe (who will no doubt grow up to be a physicist) is of Korean-Mexican-Sicilian-Finnish descent but hasn't a drop of Irish blood in him."

    And to further confound the genealogy, my ould singing and boozing comrade, Dominic Behan (of whom, more anon), would proclaim the ditty "The Irish were Egyptians long ago." Or vice versa, as the balls of Jamesons dictated.

    Where Am I?

    For some reason, the BCS (British Computer Society) started receiving enquiries about my whereabouts and continued existence. Having determined that they were not from the IRS, I replied. BCS readers were relieved (one hopes) to see the following in the Bulletin:

    Stan Kelly-Bootle lives

    Dear Editor

    Tony Newman asks, where is Stan Kelly (Letters, March 2004 issue)? This is a good question, and one often posed by the taxman.

    I think I am uniquely qualified to answer.

    A visit to offers links to my current and archived Devil's Advocate columns which appeared monthly in Unix Review from May 1984 until that magazine folded in 2001.

    Thereafter it became SODA (Son of Devil's Advocate) hosted by SarCheck (now Aptitune), and after a painful break for surgery, my ramblings are renewed as ROSODA (Return of the Son of Devil's Advocate).

    I have fond memories of making after-dinner speeches/songs for the BCS in the 1960s and 1970s (one session of which I have on a battered audio-cassette), plus several articles for Computer Weekly.

    I would welcome nostalgia-swaps via

    Stan Kelly-Bootle

    Editor's note: Thanks go to David Barron, Jim Gray, Ursula Martin and Leonard Will for their letters on Stan Kelly-Bootle's current activities.

The BCS, by the way, is almost but not quite as ancient as the ACM. You can tell by the name: Association for Computing Machinery. Many have called for an updated title, or even a complete onomastic redesignation! But that quaint "machinery" tells a story. The ACM goes back to the 1940s when "Computers" were the people, mainly unsung heroines, who checked the ENIAC output using comptometers and similar electomechanical desk calculators. The aforementioned Dominic Behan would introduce me at folk concerts as the "Chocolate Machine Salesman," and my sharp revenge was to introduce him as "Brendan's Big Brother." I wonder if Dominic ever carried out his threat: "Kelly, my next novel will have yeh as a character called Edgware O'Toole." When I stressed the Irish part of my Anglo-Irish heritage, he dubbed me a "social climber."

Last Orders

Poor Dom lived in Brendan's cruel shadow, as he himself reveals in "My Brother Brendan" (Four Square Books, 1966). Brendan lived but 41 rousing years, while the younger Dominic survived for 61. Guess who drank and whored the most? Close call. And here's me k-nudging 76. When Brendan told his doctor he was working on a novel and some short stories, the doctor said "If I was you, Mr Behan, I'ld concentrate on the short stories!"

Both left great legacies of songs, books, and plays. Someone rightly call the sparring brothers "the most alarming combination since assault and battery." Time and the critics have been kinder to Bren's "Hostage," "Quare Fellah," and "Borstal Boy" than to Dom's "Teems of Times and Happy Returns," "Posterity Be Damned," and "The Public World of Parable Jones." The Joycean "dear dirty Dublin" influence pervades, of course, and doryphores will be delighted that Dominic (thinly disguised as the writer Parable Jones, never quite remaining sober enough to finish his biography of James Joyce) never the once puts that spurious apostrophe in "Finnegans Wake." And weren't they the wittiest drunks ever to cadge a double ball of the malt?

When I did a gig (danced a jig?) at the Royal Festival Hall with Seamus Ennis, Ireland's champion Uillean piper, he ordered two triple Jamesons at the RFH bar, then turned and asked "And what are you having, Stan?" A great evening, as they say, was vomited by all.

Now the teems of times are a-changing. The Republic of Eire leads India as the beneficiary of US outsourcing. A little-known factoid that John Kerry must not forget in wooing the Irish- American vote.

Joyce's "Ireland sober is Ireland stiff" and "Ireland, the sow that eats its own farrow" are fading profiles. Bejaz, yeh can no longer puff a ciggy at de bar in peace, and the pubs are dispensing dem pagan rubbers. One of the Durex vending machines bore the slogan: "Product meets all the requirements of the British Standards Institute." To which some bold boyo has scrawled "And so did the f***n' Titanic." Another blow against cruel Albion and the Ulster shipyards.

Who Wrote The Bible?

Well, for the Hebrew scriptures, there's Richard Friedman's aptly titled Who Wrote The Bible? (Summit Books, NY, 1987).

For those fighting the Hacker Fascist Invaders, the best Bible is Bob Toxen's Real World Linux Security -- Intrusion, Prevention, Detection, and Recovery (Prentice Hall PTR, Open Source Technology Series: ISBN 0-13-046456-2) now in its second edition. My enthusiastic championing is, God's honor, unrelated to the fact that Bob is one of my dearest friends, from way back when there were only two flavors of UNIX, East (AT&T) and West (UC Berkeley). "You say Skism and I say Shism...Skism! Shism! Shism! Skism! -- let's call the whole thing off?"

With a dash of the inventive exegesis found in postmodern theological scholarship, one might match up Intrusion, Prevention, Detection, and Recovery with Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.

Next Month: My IBM days in London, Dublin, and Paris. And why Dubya pronounces it "Nucular."

Column-Data-Mining from 15 Years Ago

UNIX Review June 1989 -- Devil's Advocate Stan Kelly-Bootle --written 04/19/89

There's a Bob Plato to see you, sir...

Entries are seeping in for my 1989 Inanity/Profundity Contest (details in my April 1989 column). Since I have been persuaded to bar myself from competing ("Don't!" reasoned the Editor), I take delight in reporting a wonderful profundity that I spotted this week, not as an entry but simply to remove it as a candidate. Yes, I know, spiteful dogs in mangers and all that, but that's the way the column crumbles. So, don't submit the following:

"We never hire people with Business or Marketing degrees. They don't know anything. They don't know anything that's not commonsensical...If someone had a Masters in Philosophy, I would much rather hire them for my sales force."

(Interview in MicroTimes, 4/17/89, with anonymous spokesperson for Software Ventures.)

Absolutely correct, and I hope it leads to a mass exodus from Wharton to the UCB Philosophy faculty. I immediately envisaged a sales call by Bob Plato to peddle Sun's new SPARCstation. After swapping a few naughty jokes ("So this guy says to Socrates, 'Up to what are you tonight?' And Soccy says, 'Protagor-as, get it? Protagor-ASS!'") the demo continues:

"When we claim, my beloved prospect, up to 400,000 2-D vectors per second and up to 175,000 3-D vectors per second, we are surely moving dialectically from perceptual belief to partially warranted belief. For observe the monochrome shadows on this screen (color is extra, that is to say, the rabble on the Agora is forever craving some new titillation and must learn to put their drachma where their desires reside), observe, as I was saying, the extrinsic manifestations of a deeper reality. A gray slice of flat, gray pie, indeed, but observe as it slowly rotates, and imagine the instrinsic sales statistics which it so desperately seeks to represent. We deliver Mondays and Thursdays. How many can I put you down for?"

Le Système D

Speculation as to whether C's successor will be called D or P is now inoperative. The mooted P, of course, stems from the third letter in the famous sequence BCPL (if this is not famous for you, ask your Dad). The next big, pointer-free, gotoless, hyperfriendly version of C will be called D. As my mother used to say "Be told!" Calls for suggestions regarding the elicitation of ideas for scheduling a preliminary document formulating the preparation of a draft statement of intent to create a working group to study the establishment of an ANSI-D committee are being urgently considered. Your input on how these calls should be circulated... [We get the point. Please proceed. Editor].

Although we will miss all those clever C puns (see this column long time passim), rest assured that the switch to D will not restrain the creative wards of the advertising asylums. Expect to read that Rabbie Burns is about to "Lay me doon and D," or that the differential "D brand-X by D brand-Y is large and positive."

The D solution came to me during my daily, furtive browse of Merde Encore! by Geneviève (vachement bien illustré par Michael Heath), published by Atheneum- Macmillan, 1986. The book, subtitled The real French you were never taught at school, is a follow-up to Geneviève's successful Merde! (1984). Both books are essential to those who, like me, want to know what their French-speaking spouses are really saying. This reminds me of a true story. A friend of mine from Liverpool proved to be wildly successful in his amatory adventures during trips to France, although I knew he had scarcely studied the language. He explained that he got it all from a sauce bottle: "Ah ma cherie, vous êtes un mélange des fruits orientaux et d'épices mysterieuses..." He explained that he soon learned to drop the bit about "excellent served with cold meat."

Meanwhile, back in the Merde Encore!, Geneviève explains that la démerde is the art of being resourceful, of always landing on one's feet, of being able to recover from being "dans la merde." The skill is highly prized in France and has become known as Le Système D. I don't know of a concise English equivalent, which is strange when you consider that the artform is quite universal. The relevance to the C language needs no further elaboration. It is worth noting that "merde" is not exactly polite, but then again, it's not quite as impolite as the direct English translation. Often in France, it arouses no more concern than, say "Oops" or "Damn" would over here. The swings in linguistic good taste are well illustrated if you compare 1 Samuel 25:22 in the King James and NEB translations (see "Coarse Language" by Harvey Minkoff, Bible Review Volume V, #1, April, 1989)

Bis! Bis!

Before I leave La Belle France, I wish to record my thanks to Cedric Thomas, a UNIX activist from Paris whom I met during Uniforum. My wife Iwonka and I spent some time with Cedric discussing how to translate "hacker" into French. The best we came up with was "hacker," pronounced "ack-air," or possibly "pirate," for "mauvaises hackers." I was pushing for "bricoleur" derived from "bricolage" (pottering) which in turn comes from "bricole" (originally a medieval catapult, now a petty job). A bricoleur is more of a handyman than a hacker but both words seem to have an overtone of slighly demonic tinkering. I have not encountered it yet, but I assume there must now be a female species: une bricoleuse. My attempts to influence the French lexicon are supported by a Georges Brassens song called "le Bricoleur" with its catchy refrain : "Boîte à Outiles" (Tool Box), a phrase which is naughtily ambiguous in the song, but which now has undeniable UNIX connotations. The song relates the trials of a woman married to a bumbling handyman who brings his tool box to bed every night. For Michael Marcotty and other Brassens fans out there, I quote

"A l'heure actuelle, il fabrique,
"Un nouveau système électrique
"Qui va permettre à l'homme enfin,
"De fair' de l'eau avec du vin
"(Boîte à Outils,
"Boîte à Outils);
"Mais dans ses calculs il se trompe,
"Et quand on veut boire à la pompe,
Il nous arriv' d'ingurgiter
"Un grand verre d'électricité.


"Mon Dieu, quel bonheur!
"Mon Dieu, quel bonheur
"D'avoir un mari qui bricole
"Mon Dieu, quel bonheur!
"Mon Dieu, quel bonheur
"D'avoir un mari bricoleur!
"(Boîte à Outils,
"Boîte à Outils)

(Le Bricoleur, Georges Brassens (c) Ed. Intersong - Paris.)

The "bonheur" changes to "malheur" in the final chorus.

Cedric and his colleagues in Paris have produced an hilarious spoof UNIX magazine called "Tribunique," (Vol 0, #1 is for Avril, 1989!) supposed to be the Journal of ABUT (Association Bidon des Utilisateurs Turbulents). I wish I could tell you the price and how to obtain a copy; the address on the cover may also be a joke: 19, rue de Lorraine - 92240 Malakoff, tel: (+33)(1) A guaranteed source would be: Cedric Thomas, P.A.C., 65 rue Desnouettes, 75015 Paris, France. With Ken Broadhurst's help, I hope to translate or at least annotate those parts of Tribunique that deserve a wider audience.

C Incantations

Whenever I write malloc() in C, I feel that I am addressing some bloodthirsty Canaanite god: "O Malloc, grant us 256 bytes...sacrifice to follow!" And try chanting dieeeeeetomsbin! dmsbintoieeeee! to rouse the odd banshee.

MUMs Spell Relief

More Multi-Use Mnemonics, some from readers with thanks:

GAG: from Springer-Verlag: A practical compiler generator (sent by Mike Allison of Monterey, CA). I presume the acronym is based on German words with little regard for the export market. Mike also suggests the word "diastasis" for deconcatenating a file. Well, it is arcane enough, but maybe too short to catch on.

OSF: Operating System of the Future!

CD: compact disc; certificate of deposit; corps diplomatique

HP: Houses of Parliament (also a brown sauce with saucy French words on the label!); Hewlett Packard;

APL: Analogue Private Line; also: Ken Iverson's favorite language.

NEC: Nippon Electric Company; the US National Economic Council -- good grounds here for a merger to avoid this ambiguity.

MS: Microsoft and Multiple Sclerosis

BASIC: The Basic in Ogden's Basic English stood for British, American, Scientific International, Commercial long before the BASIC language emerged from Dartmouth (Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code). At one time I thought that the B in BASIC stood for Basic leading me to wonder if there is, or should there be, a special name for acronymns in which the first word equals the whole? [GNU = GNU is Not UNIX; and VISA = VISA International SA, are other examples that spring to mind -- added skb 07/31/2004]

IDEs: Integrated Development Environments; c.f. Beware the IDEs of Microsoft.

CP: Canadian Pacific; Communist Party; Cursor Position (text); Current Position (graphics -- useful coincidence or damned nuisance?); Control Punch, Control Program (archaic IBM)

Here's My Beef

I have occasionally given a plug for MODUS, the Modula-2 Users' Society. I must now reluctantly withdraw my support until they can induct a staff with some semblence of organizing ability. Little things like putting members' checks into their bank account and sending out promised journals. My renewal check sent in August 1988 is still uncashed, and I've heard similar complaints from others. I'ld tell Old Nick, but he don't care!

[Looking back, I see I failed to plug my Modula-2 Primer (Howard W. Sams & Company, 1987). Too late, now, alack, but with the miracle of abebooks and Amazon, copies ("slightly foxed; some yellow highlighting; cat-sick on page 38; otherwise 'as new'") may still be available for $2.95 plus $19.95 p&p. Note added skb 8/16/2004]

Punctuated Equilibrium

Only one letter this month on punctuation. Mike Firth of Dallas, TX found our sibling journal AI Expert doing precisely that against which I was warning!: Listing BASIC strings with spurious commas in a context (extracting words from a text) stressing the need for precision in defining words and strings.

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 2004.
Portions © copyright Aptitune Corporation 1997-2004, all rights reserved.
This column is sponsored by Aptitune Corporation, makers of SarCheck. The opinions of Stan Kelly-Bootle are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Aptitune Corporation. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.