Son of Devil's Advocate
The Ould Sod calls. No, not me Uncle Jack who rusts in peace in the Anfield Bone Orchard. But isn't it the Land of My Putative Fathers that beckons? Tim, the son of my first-born Edmund Paul is marrying a fine Welsh lass called Angharad on September 25. Both are Master Chefs, so a heavy table is ordained: Welsh Rarebits, hot-buttered scone, and brimming sconce-bowls. The clan will descend on an unsuspecting Abertawe (Swansea to the Sais) for a rare total gathering. The Devil's Advocate on the Pontarfynach (Devil's Bridge). Knots to be tied and tied again, songs to be sung go-leor, absent members (only the death-excuse valid for no-shows) to be toasted with "The Parting Glass."
My grandsons Sam and Crispin Coxon (via daughter Michele's fruitful womb -- see www.nakedchrist.co.uk) learnt English as a Foreign Language at the Welsh School in Meifod, Powys. Crispin will recite the Welsh poem he wrote in memoriam to my daughter Anna Clare who died suddenly in Geneva in 1985. She awaits me in Highgate Cemetery, as does the stern-black-marbeled Karl Marx who urges "Workers of All Lands UNITE!" a few yards to her right. Also carved in immutable stone is Karl's famous "Philosophers have hitherto interpreted history. Our job is to change it."
Y Nefoedd Wen (White Heavens Above!) -- Sospans will bubble over on the hob, and, take heed: the moggie from next door will be after scratching our Johnny-bach. Us mixed Anglo-Gaels have a rich folksong and Dylan-bardic repetoire, from "My Grandfather's Clock," the now-inappropriate "The Praties They Are Small," "The Ould Triangle," all the way to a final "The Pikes Will Be Together At The Rising of the Moon."
Will Ye No Come Back Again?
Not a question I can answer with certainty at the moment. I do have a return air-ticket from London Heathrow to SFO. I will spend at least three months in the diverse family bosoms. With the help of my youngest son, David Russell, I will soon be back on the Internettoyage via the latest wireless broadband t'ingy. By the time you read this I should be at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay tooned.
Meanwhile, to placate my grieving SF fans, some farewell DOs (and DON'Ts) are unfolding this weekend (September 18-20). A sort of rehearsal for the Wedding?
Boxes of mainly books, videos and CDs are being assembled in several categories. Some for friends (Hilda Leefeldt, Andrew Goodwin, Doug Meritt et al) to dip into; others destined for the local Richmond and Mill Valley public libraries; yet more to be stored or shipped to the UK.
Again, I'm finding half-forgotten favorites, including some I don't remember writing! Is the A²D² (Adult Attention-Disorder Disability) catching up on me? Or, is the A²D² (Adult Attention-Disorder Disability) catching up on me? They say that each day you lose a million...er...whatever...
When on the brink of bemoaning my disintegrating LibLob, I think, well, things were much worse that day in Alexandria. Recall G. B. Shaw's play? Cleopatra rushes to tell Caesar "They are destroying the Memory of Mankind!" He replies "A shameful Memory -- let it burn!"
Among the re-found treasures are The Golden Trashery of Ogden Nashery, which rates highly in the risible titles' league.
Naughty classics include "Priapea -- Poems for a Phallic God," (Translated and edited by W. H. Parker, Croom Helm/Methuen, 1988) from which I quote with some trepidation:
Nolite omnia, quae loquor, putare
Please do not think that everything I say
Those Roman scandals. Yet, they seemed to have varied our "Three
Checking on the residual value of my Software Engineering staples: how are the vogues surviving? Whither Yourdon, Brady Gooch, and Crad Box? How goes eXtremely Agile Recycled Anti- Patterns. Quick re-scan of Pete McBreen's Software Craftsmanship -- The New Imperative, Addison-Wesley, 2002. Still valid after two long years: the ancient craftsman-journeymen-apprentices hierarchy. Called the "Sitting Next to Nelly" methodology in the Industrial Revolution. My birth certificate lists my father's occupation as "Journeyman Plumber." He did ascend to Craftsmanhood as we grew up bare-arsed -- eventually earning as much as 4 quid a week to keep our butties buttered.
"What was the colour of yer father's 'ur?
"What was his calling, did he have a trade?
"What kind of ciggies did yer father smoke?
"What did he leave you in his final Will?
"And will we ever see his like again?
Here's a book I'll keep forever, for old friend Eric's sake:
The Cathedral & The Bazaar -- Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolution, Eric S. Raymond
Foreword by Bob Young, Chairman & CEO, Red Hat, Inc. Blurb says: "Already, billions of dollars have been made and lost based on the ideas in this book."
Do I hear subsequent cries from those Linux pioneers who failed to benefit from the Red Hat IPO?
How useful are the epigrams abounding as Eric goes boldly into upper-case:
SMART DATA STRUCTURES AND DUMB CODE WORKS A LOT BETTER THAN THE OTHER WAY ROUND.
ANY TOOL SHOULD BE USEFUL IN THE EXPECTED WAY, BUT A TRULY GREAT TOOL LENDS ITSELF TO USES NEVER EXPECTED.
THE NEXT BEST THING TO HAVING GOOD IDEAS IS RECOGNIZING GOOD IDEAS FROM YOUR USERS. SOMETIMES THE LATTER IS BETTER.
OFTEN, THE MOST STRIKING AND INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS COME FROM REALIZING THAT YOUR CONCEPT OF THE PROBLEM WAS WRONG.
Some are dangerously near Peter Fellgett's generic recipe: "Place the dry ingredients into a clean bowl. Add liquids as appropriate. Stir thoroughly and COOK UNTIL DONE."
Or as Larry Constantine says: "Good software design demands knowledge, skill, and discipline." (UNIX Review, Feb 1991)
A Poem to Conclude
George Jansen kindly sends me some apt verses to ponder as I set out for England. An invaluable prize if you can name (i) the poem and author (ii) the Queen upon whose heart the word "Calais" was "tattooed." (iii) BONUS: identify at least one woman whom the poet found "chilly."
"England! with all thy faults I love thee still,"
I like the taxes, when they're not too many;
Our standing army, and disbanded seamen,
From TWENTY MAD YEARS AGO when AT&T were into Computers!
UNIX Review - Devil's Advocate - July 1984
The world according to Stan
This is the second of my reader-friendly columns. Owing to the wonderful advances in CAD (Computer Aided Delay) and the publishers' cranky deadlines, it is being penned before any feedback on my June contribution, positive or otherwise, has hit either me or my fan. Rumor has it that the jury is out to lunch and refuses to come back.
However, some of my colleagues who follow that branch of Statistics and Measure Theory known as Baseball assure me that I can already claim a streak. In BASEBOL, a streak is a fundamental two-dimensional data type of the form [integer N, boolean B], where N is the length and B is the type of streak, with values 1 for "winning" and 0 for "losing." The BASEBOL Standards Committee has yet to assign a value for "ties," but a decision is promised before the ALL* break of 1997.
At any rate, I hereby claim a [1.X] streak, with X to be determined. "Way to go! Hang in there!" I hear you cry. Yet your sarcasm is misplaced -- I have made that quantum leap away from the null-streak. Move over Mencken! Cool it Caen! Resign Royko! My [1.X] is the stuff that dynasties are made of.
Last month, I left you as the IBM/AT&T battlelines were being drawn. As you may have heard, UNIX REVIEW successfully outbid NBC for exclusive news coverage of the conflict, so I hasten to assuage your natural curiosity. "O For a Muse of Fire," indeed, for the events I am to unfold are momentous, cosmos shattering and unreported elsewhere. First, though, let me invoke the copious pen of James Michener to trace the roots of the war which entwine deeply within the corporate compost of the past.
Shortly after the Big Bang, silicon appeared, and then from the swirling galaxies the Earth was formed, bringing algae, dinosaurs, primates and inventors like Alexander Graham Bell.
It is 1873, and we find Bell busy perfecting his prototype telephone. One day, in a blinding flash of prophecy, he realized that Information Processing would need both Communications and Computing. Further, Bell reasoned, Computing would need a flexible multitasking, portable Operating System...but, wait, he thought, one thing at a time: let's get this damn phone off the hook first.
Nervously, he dialed his first number ever, no mean feat in those pre-directory days, and lost his only dime. The dour, inventive spirit is undeterred by such setbacks: Bell immediately dashed out to the nearest 7-11 for change. His diary for that day tells us, "Good progress with the coin recovery mechanism, but perhaps the answer lies in some form of encoded credit card." Experience had, of course, taught Bell to confine these fertile speculations to his diary and deaf-mute housekeeper.
His financial backers were growing restless. "He's a rum one, and no mistake," they mused. "Keeps coming back for more seed money. Twenty dollars a week in nickels and dimes."
Bell pressed on, though. driven by reports that his rivals were getting closer. His diary entries were becoming brief and frantic. "Am going crazy! Heard ghastly voices today say, 'The service you have reached is uninvented at this time.' Then got three busy signals! Who? How? Perhaps the answer lies in some form of clandestine tapping device?"
By 1876, Bell had ironed out most of the gremlins and felt ready for his master stroke: the birth of teleprocessing. During his first public demonstration of the telephone, he was going to propose a merger between his fledgling Bell Telephone Company and IBM, or to avoid blatant anachronisms, IBM's precursor, CTR (Computing Tabulating-Recording Corporation) in Endicott, NY.
His famous proposal echoed round the world: "Watson, come here! I want you!"
The world cheered the first-ever telephone call but had no understanding of its profound significance: nor until now, was T.J. Watson's reaction ever revealed. Watson simply grunted. "No. You come here." and hung up. They were never to meet. The golden chance had slipped away. They each took separate roads, built separate Romes. And the rancor of that brief altercation smoldered for a hundred years...
It is 1981. Peter Drucker writes, "IBM is at a point where its product is becoming the 'wrong' product...even AT&T, despite the intelligent management of its monopoly, is now at the point where its product is the 'wrong' product."
The two giants, thus eyeing the other's domain with growing envy, had reached their respective positions via radically different routes. AT&T's monopoly had been "thrust upon it" but carried the increasingly irksome burden of regulation, especially in the form of consent decrees against competing outside the communications arena.
On the other hand, IBM's effective monopoly in computers, which it had always hotly, expensively and successfully denied in the courts, had been gained the hard way, namely by outselling every dwarf on the block. It had even made significant incursions into AT&T's preserve by acquiring CML Satellite Corporation and Rolm Corporation.
Consider, then, two of life's most risible ironies (see my forthcoming book, Life's 50 Most Risible Ironies: IBM's predominance is the result of Bell Labs' technical innovations (the work of such pioneers as Stibitz, Shannon, Bardeen, Brattain, Shockley...) and NCR's marketing finesse (inherited and honed by T.J. Watson, Sr. via marketing masters Patterson and Flint). Also, IBM's monopoly extends to anti-antitrust legal expertise, leaving AT&T defenseless against US Government plans to dismantle Ma Bell's Gang.
It is 1983. At a secret AT&T facility, a marketing consultant brought in from Drano Inc., is addressing a newly formed sales team.
"I have some good news, some not-so-good news and some thoroughly depressing news. The good news is that, at long last, we are free to compete outside the telephone business. Compete? Oh, yes, let me spell that out for you on the chalkboard."
"The not-so-good news is that others can now compete with us in the telephone business, so come on fellas, eh? Let's pull our socks up before we're flooded with cordless junk from Outer Mongolia."
"The depressing news is that your board has decided to go for the big one. Yes, friends, we are going to sell computers, and whichever way you shuffle that pack, let's face it, we'll be up against IBM. Need I warn you that IBM is the most cunning, subtle force in corporate history? Take its devious reaction to our impending attack on its citadel. It had the brazen effrontery to offer us manufacturing and marketing rights to the IBM PC Jr., exclusive and free of charge! Your board, quite rightly, rejected this Trojan horse maneuvre. No sir, we need no outside help in screwing up a product. Next, to confuse the public, it rushed out versions of our beloved UNIX."
"This ploy will fail, gentlemen, because we have developed a can't-fail promotion to bring UNIX to millions of housewives across the nation -- housewives, the soft belly of the marketplace, completely ignored by IBM! In conjunction with Del Monte Foods, we are offering substantial discounts and free gifts. Open your brochures to page 12. There you'll find a delighted couple that has just clipped their 50th fruit salad label. If you read the caption, you'll find that he is screaming, 'We have won the Bourne Shell special!' while his wife coyly whispers, 'Yes, and I get a free weekend with Steve!.
It was at this point that a grim-faced spy from IBM slipped out of the room.
The confrontation can be examined in broad, abstract terms as the archetypical struggle between Good and Evil, or as James E. Olson, vice chairman of AT&T might have put it, between Engineering and Marketing. Such grandiose dialectics, however, do not reveal the human face of the Second Civil War, with its countless daily glories and follies. I know...because I was there!
During the early days of the so-called Phoney War, I recall wandering round the AT&T camp one evening sensing that morale was low. The ragged, ill-equipped volunteers, known as the Ma Belligerents, seemed no match for the slick, mechanized ranks of the Big Blue Brigade massed across the river. Rumors were rife, the rifest being that the US Government's peace overtures had collapsed, that IBM had hired the entire Senate, Congress and Department of Defense, and that the President had accepted a lifelong IBM fellowship. It was David and Goliath: sheep and lions, phone jacks and F1 fighters. AT&T's supply of ammo was down to a couple of antiquated shells brought in by the Berkeley Irregulars.
High above, twinkling and mocking, glided a CML satellite looking for intelligence but finding only despair. AT&T's counter- measures, two ragged, tetrahedral kites from the Bell Museum, summed up the wide gulf in technologies.
A pale rookie was chatting with his slightly less pale Sergeant as a plaintive harmonica vamped in the distance, "All Quiet Along the Poughkeepsie."
"What will you do when it's all over, Sarge? You know, supposin' we..."
"Don't you worry now, sonny, we'll win through."
"But I hear they've recruited the whole bleedin' CIA, coverts and all."
"Recruited? That's a laugh. Why, the CIA has been an IBM subsidiary since 1936. Know your enemy, lad. Know your enemy. Anyway, it's time you was turning in. Early start tomorrow. Phone jack drill at five."
"Lord, not again, Sarge...seems so useless against that lot."
We all looked across at the huge Big Blue encampment, ablaze with lights. We could actually see the crack T.J. Watson Senior Division lining up at the automatic time-recording stations and clocking off with their mag-stripe plastic ID cards. Again, the depressing disparity in equipment and logistical methodology stood out.
"God," whispered the Sergeant, "we could sure use some of that discipline. Take those Berkeley Irregulars, supposed to be our secret weapon. They're a real shower of starve-the-barbers, make no mistake. Bright bastards, granted, but they spend half their time arguing among themselves, echo this, echo that, day in, day out. What we need is a uniform command structure, and that takes discipline."
"Oh, I dunno, Sarge. Them Berkeley chaps have been through hell lately. Did you hear that some of them was captured, tortured, then released? I met one of them -- he was a vegetable, Sarge, a walkin' vegetable. He'd given them his name and account number, but they wanted his password. They turned real nasty, 12 hours of OS360, JCL and all -- the devils -- they reduced him to a zombie."
We shivered and fell silent. The rookie started sobbing.
"I never told you, Sarge, but I've got a...brother in...IBM. God, it could be him over there, third from the left, the big guy with a Mark III TNW on his shoulder. I tried to warn him. It broke my poor mother's heart. She used to tell him, 'Harry," she'd say, 'there's more to life than making quota in the General Systems Division.' Know what he said? 'I know that, Mum,' he said, 'but it's easier than making quota in the Data Processing Division.' And off he goes."
The Sergeant put a comforting arm around the rookie.
"There, there, lad. Don't fret. I know how you feel. I've got a sister with Intel...almost as bad, the way things are going."
As I moved on, the loudspeakers from across the river started up their midnight propaganda onslaught. It was the same strident performance, night after night, planned with all the precision of a new product launch.
"We are your friends," boomed the voice of Billy Graham. "We are your brothers. Lay down your phone jacks lest the Lord smiteth thee and tumbleth down thine telegraph poles...Opel three, verse four..."
And then the silky, siren voice of Armonk Rose arose, crooning, "Reach Out, Reach Out and Touch My Body! Just Cross the Line and I'm Your Gal!"
So the war of nerves continued until dawn when the IBM bombers swept in with impunity, dropping millions of PC-DOS floppies and forged Del Monte labels. It was a truly awe-inspiring display.
Next month: The Tide Turns.
For historical purposes, here is the original bio printed in 1984:
Stan Kelly-Bootle is a grizzled mainframer who worked on the pioneer EDSAC I at Cambridge University in the early 1950s. As founder/President of the LISA Moaners's Club, he urges more machismo and less user-mollycoddling in software. In spite of some r
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 www.sarcheck.com 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 http://www.feniks.com/skb/ soon due for its millennial update.
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Portions © copyright Stan Kelly-Bootle 2004.