Wednesday 7/08/2002Dijkstra, father of structured programming, is dead. A sad day.

Wednesday 7/08/2002

Dijkstra, father of structured programming, is dead. A sad day. On my first programming job, on practically the first day, my new fellow coders were curious about my experience (very limited) and skills (patchy). "You know about Dijkstra?" I was asked, and when I replied in the negative that was all they needed to know. Emergency remedial programming books were procured, and I obviously absorbed enough of them quickly enough to be allowed to carry on. One of Dijkstra's many skills was phrase coining. A favourite of mine was 'deadly embrace', where two processes running on a multi-tasking system end up waiting for each other to produce a result before continuing. When, later in my career, I was working on a 386-based networking OS, I perpetrated at least two of those (resource contention, don'tcha know), and I was delighted to learn more about it. Today, I get asked to write a quick obituary for the chap, and I look up deadly embrace to make sure I've got my facts right. This leads me to the Hacker's Dictionary, a fine online document covering huge amounts of informal computer history... including, I discover, the smoot. A smoot is a unit of length, created in 1958 at MIT. An undergraduate, the estimable Oliver R Smoot, Jr, was laid on Harvard Bridge -- no, not like that -- and used to measure out the length. It was 364.4 smoots long, and the markings are regularly renewed to this day. They do that sort of thing a lot at MIT, you know. Curious as to the whereabouts of Oliver R Smoot, Jr. -- it's not a name, one feels, that's too common, even in America -- I ask the mighty Google. It turns out that Mr Smoot is now the chairman of the American National Standards Institute, the group responsible for measuring and defining more things than Adam. Predestination sometimes seems the only explanation... obviously, a life made to measure.