I didn’t post last week. It was Canadian Thanksgiving and I spent more time in the kitchen than at my keyboard.
Yes. Canadian Thanksgiving is different from American Thanksgiving. Although not so different for the turkey. Though I wasn’t cooking turkey, personally.
Anyway. I didn’t post last week. I was busy not cooking turkey. So this is a little late. But better lute than chenda, as the minstrels might say. Well, they might if they’d ever been to India, anyway :-P.
On October 08, Dennis Ritchie died.
I know. Dennis who?
There's no need to feel bad. I work on a floor full of technos and geeks, and only 2 in 11 I asked knew who he was. Who he actually was the man who originally wrote the C Programming Language. He was one of the two people (the other was Ken Thompson) who created the Unix operating system. And without Unix, there would have been no Apple as we know it, since the Apple operating system is largely based on a form of Unix. So without Dennis Ritchie, a man even geeks and nerds may not remember, there would (probably) have been no Steve Jobs.
Yes, that Steve Jobs.
But if none of that means anything either? Well, that's fine too. No, really, it is!
That's not why I'm posting this :-P.
Dennis Ritchie, along with Brian Kernighan, wrote what is to this day (to me at least) one of the best written, most intelligible technical books I've ever read. It was 'The C Programming Language'. But it's OK. You can still not worry - I'm not going to quote any of it.
I'll quote something else :-P.
After Thompson and Ritchie created Unix, some time after, someone else wrote 'The Unix Haters Handbook'. Mostly in good fun, it was a compilation of postings about why Unix was a Really Bad Thing(tm). And those writing it wrote a Forward, supporting the book's aims.
And they offered Dennis Ritchie the chance to write an 'anti-forward'. All in good fun. Well, mostly in good fun.
He took them up on it :-). Still in fun, but with his own serious intent. And that’s why I’m posting this. Because technical genius though he was, he was someone else as well.
He was someone who could write :-)).
So here it is. His anti-forward. Remember, this is a technical writer. Not just a technical writer, a genius. RIP Dennis. I think we could use some more of you :-)).
To the contributers to this book:
I have succumbed to the temptation you offered in your preface: I do write you off as envious malcontents and romantic keepers of memories. The systems you remember so fondly (TOPS-20, ITS, Multics, Lisp Machine, Cedar/Mesa, the Dorado) are not just out to pasture, they are fertilizing it from below.
Your judgments are not keen, they are intoxicated by metaphor. In the Preface you suffer first from heat, lice, and malnourishment, then become prisoners in a Gulag. In Chapter 1 you are in turn infected by a virus, racked by drug addiction, and addled by puffiness of the genome.
Yet your prison without coherent design continues to imprison you. How can this be, if it has no strong places? The rational prisoner exploits the weak places, creates order from chaos: instead, collectives like the FSF vindicate their jailers by building cells almost compatible with the existing ones, albeit with more features. The journalist with three undergraduate degrees from MIT, the researcher at Microsoft, and the senior scientist at Apple might volunteer a few words about the regulations of the prisons to which they have been transferred.
Your sense of the possible is in no sense pure: sometimes you want the same thing you have, but wish you had done it yourselves; other times you want something different, but can't seem to get people to use it; sometimes one wonders why you just don't shut up and tell people to buy a PC with Windows or a Mac. No Gulag or lice, just a future whose intellectual tone and interaction style is set by Sonic the Hedgehog. You claim to seek progress, but you succeed mainly in whining.
Here is my metaphor: your book is a pudding stuffed with apposite observations, many well-conceived. Like excrement, it contains enough undigested nuggets of nutrition to sustain life for some. But it is not a tasty pie: it reeks too much of contempt and of envy.