[TUHS] In Memoriam: J.F.Ossanna

Larry McVoy lm at mcvoy.com
Wed Nov 28 12:57:39 AEST 2018

As a long time roff fan (I still use it, yes, I've learned LaTex, I much
prefer roff), I'm hugely bummed that Joe left us so early.  I feel like
there would be more fun stories, like Ken's story.

If I remember correctly, he wrote the first (Unix *) version of roff in
PDP-11 assembly, right?  Granted, PDP-11 assembly is perhaps the most 
pleasant assembly ever, but it is still assembly.  Roff is a non-trivial
program, I can't say that I've every written anything remotely that big
in assembly (the only thing I'm proud of is writing swtch() in VAX, 68K,
and some other CPU that I can't remember, but that was tiny, hard to get
right, but tiny).  I've got mad respect for what he did, I feel like the
whole roff thing doesn't get enough respect.  It wasn't just roff, though
that started it, it was pic (I *love* pic), eqn, all the other filters
that go down to roff.  For lmbench I wrote my own grap like tools 
because grap wasn't open source.

I was talking to Marc Donner, a Morgan Stanley techy (since moved on
to google and who knows where) about why I liked roff.  At the time
I had built webroff which took roff -ms input and made websites.
Marc pointed out that the reason I liked roff was, for the most part,
it didn't say how to do something (that was buried in the macros),
it said what you wanted to do.

Ken, if you have more Joe stories I'd love to hear them, I feel like
I missed out on a cool person.

(*) I know that nroff was "new run off" and it came from somewhere,
MIT?  Some old system, but it wasn't invented in Unix.  That said,
I've never seen docs for the previous system and I kinda think Joe
took it to the next level.  If you haven't studied the docs and
written macros, you should.  It's a pretty neat system.

On Tue, Nov 27, 2018 at 03:08:36PM -0800, Ken Thompson via TUHS wrote:
> joe was much more than that. he knew how
> to play the system. example:
> out of whole cloth, he invented a form to
> order a teletype and opx (bell labs extension)
> installed in the home. he then filled out the
> form for each of the unix-room dennisons.
> there was a phone call from a confused
> clerk, and then we all got teletypes and
> data sets at home. as an aside, the opx
> came with free watts (long distance which
> was very expensive in those days.)
> On Tue, Nov 27, 2018 at 1:47 PM, Dave Horsfall <dave at horsfall.org> wrote:
> > We lost J.F. Ossanna on this day in 1977; he had a hand in developing Unix,
> > and was responsible for "roff" and its descendants.  Remember him, the next
> > time you see "jfo" in Unix documentation.
> >
> > -- Dave

Larry McVoy            	     lm at mcvoy.com             http://www.mcvoy.com/lm 

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