[TUHS] Windows roots and Unix influence (was Re: Happy birthday, Ken Thompson!)

Steve Johnson scj at yaccman.com
Mon Feb 5 15:37:53 AEST 2018

I have the greatest respect for Ken and Dennis, but I think their
drive for simplicity was partly the result of the exceptionally tiny
memories we all had to LIVE with.  You had to keep it simple or else
it wouldn't fit!  Every feature you added took memory that might have
been more usefully employed in another way.  So we all learned to
worship Occam just to get things done.  

I remember Dennis started out at one time to build a "real" optimizer
for C, but by the time he had built the necessary data structures he
had no room for the algorithms, or even enough data to be useful... 
And, while writing yacc, I came in one day to discover that it would
no longer compile.  Dennis had added the 'register' keyword and it
turned out that one of my yacc functions had completely filled the
symbol table.  I had to rewrite it to use one fewer variable name! 

When we got a VAX, especially when paging became available, it felt
like being released from prison.  My experience is that the problems
involved in making a program faster are often quite interesting and
fun to work on.   But the problems making things fit in a small
space are, IMHO, really deadly.

Now things are a million times bigger and it feels like chaos has
become the accepted model for how we live...  I see it particularly
with the error messages I get from programs like Python and Git. 
They seem to have two modes.  One mode gives a large amount of arcane
data (e.g., a stack trace of 20 functions, none of which are
documented) and then the error message is something like "insufficient
frabulation" which is meaningless to me) or they appear to be quite
user friendly and spell out the steps to make progress, but use words
like "fix" and "resolve" that don't translate into anything concrete
for a casual user.

There are huge advantages in having a shared frame of reference and
vocabulary, especially with co-workers.  But in our field things have
become so fragmented...   This is particularly an issue with start
ups -- people come from different environments and a lot of time is
spent simply learning how to communicate with each other...


----- Original Message -----
 "Robert Brockway" <robert at timetraveller.org>

"The Eunuchs Hysterical Society" <tuhs at tuhs.org>

Mon, 5 Feb 2018 10:06:58 +1000 (AEST)
Re: [TUHS] Windows roots and Unix influence (was Re: Happy birthday,
Ken Thompson!)

. . . .

 This speaks to the "great man" theory of history. This posits that 
 history would have been different if a great person had died before
 moment in history. Eg, Winston Churchill was hit by a car when
 New York City in the 1930s. He looked the wrong way before trying to 
 cross the road. What if he had died? Would WW2 have turned out 
 substantially differently?

 The alternative is to presume that a niche exists in to which a
 (or in this case an operating system) will step to become great.
 this alternative view, if Winston Churchill had died in the 1930s (or
 UNIX had not been developed) an alternative would have filled that
 Maybe we'd all be talking about TOPS20 now :)


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