[TUHS] In Memoriam: J.F.Ossanna

Earl Baugh earl.baugh at gmail.com
Thu Nov 29 03:57:48 AEST 2018

I don't know if this was just me, but the inner geek in me first thought
was  "How did the pictures turn out"? :-)
(the second thought was "Joe is now a hero to me" even thought I didn't
meet him... and this sounds sooo much like what
I've done with other geeky friends in college,  etc... ).

An example today, I got a Bluetooth water bottle (as part of a reward for
something at work)
and when I set it up it needed a firmware update, which I thought was cool
(and my wife just rolled her eyes...). :-)


On Tue, Nov 27, 2018 at 11:50 PM Ken Thompson via TUHS <tuhs at minnie.tuhs.org>

> another joe:
> echo 1 was a 100 foot balloon that was
> launched into space  in the early 60s. this
> was the first satellite that was easily visible
> to the naked eye.
> joe wrote a set of fortran programs that
> tracked the orbit of echo and calculated
> the direction to look from a point on earth.
> to do this, he had to learn fortran and
> orbital dynamics.
> the programs were used to point antennas
> to send emf from california. bouncing off
> echo and received at bell labs in
> new jersey. thus, thanks to joe, echo was
> the first communications satellite.
> by the time i came to bell labs (1966) the
> program, azel, for azimuth/elevation, was
> expanded to track planets, moons, satellites,
> etc. moreover, it tracked the shadow of the
> earth cast by the sun (night). it could predict
> within a few seconds when echo would wink
> on or off as it passed through the shadow.
> a version of azel was maintained all the time
> i was at bell labs. we used it to predict
> eclipses, transits, occultations etc. when
> we first got a voice synthesizer, the day's
> predictions were spoken at 5pm in case
> there was anything interesting.
> anyway, at 5pm on june 8, 1983 the voice
> announced an "occultation of mercury"
> for early the next morning.
> no one had heard of such a thing. it was
> extremely rare. mercury had to be at
> about its max elongation; the moon had
> to be only a few hours old (or young);
> it had to be dark; the moon and mercury
> had to be above the horizon; and lastly,
> the moon had to occult mercury.
> we all (me, lee mcmahon, dennis ritchie,
> rob pike, and bob morris) frantically tried
> to verify that it was real. it was, but it
> would only be about 5 degrees above
> the horizon facing right into new york city.
> not a chance. we all went home.
> later that night we were writing to each
> other and calculating that in an airplane
> at 10,000 feet, the event moved up to 10
> or 15 degrees above the horizon. also,
> in an airplane, we could avoid nyc.
> so at 3am, we (me, rob pike, rae mclellan)
> went to the airport equipped with cameras
> and binoculars. we flew north as high as the
> plane would go. we might be the only
> people in the world who have seen an
> occultation of mercury. thank you joe.
> On Tue, Nov 27, 2018 at 6:57 PM, Larry McVoy <lm at mcvoy.com> wrote:
> > 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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