Sunday, January 27, 2013

dennis ritchie

I wrote my first C program in 1986. In 1988 I was an instructor in C. I taught advanced computer graphics and helped the artificial intelligence lab (the Winnifred Asprey Lab) AI students get their hands around LISP. But mostly I helped people with C. We had been BLUDGEONED by arrogant professors that PASCAL was the way. I hated PASCAL. I hated PASCAL so much I pretended I liked LISP. Then i learned PROLOG and was in desperate need of salvation when I learned C and suddenly for the first time computers worked. I had to write some C++ code at my last job back in 2011 so thats 25 years of C programming I’ve done in one way or another. A quarter century of work all began by a man largely forgotten and ignored by the industry because he passed at the same time that Jobs did. But he did so much more. Our lives are a million times more changed by Dennis Ritchie than by Jobs you just don’t know it. His work isn’t sexy you can’t put his work in your pocket and you can’t explain it to people who watch the Kardashians, but his work changed our world.

It’s really hard to explain the world of the old days of computing to those who weren’t there to see it and it’s as if we all had computers growing out of our butts. We sat at machines that when you typed into the computer typed onto paper. When you finished you had that long roll of paper that showed everything you did. Why did we type on paper? Well because that’s what typewriters did. Later they had TV screen things that had no graphics at all just green on black. There was this heavy thing called a Tektronix display that cost like twenty grand and it did graphics in bright green. Few of us knew how to use it.

In the end all those cell phones all their communication happens in C and it happens on operating systems written in C and they talk to your printer on a driver written in C and that is powered by a power station that uses control software that is written in C. And when we compile Java we get ByteCode which then is interpreted by a program… written in C.

Thank you Dennis you will be missed.

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