Edgar Daylight on Dijkstra

The latest addition to the “Papers on the history of ALGOL” section of the History of ALGOL web site is this paper about Dijkstra’s involvement in proposing and implementing the recursive procedure as an ALGOL 60 language construct:

  • Edgar G. Daylight. Dijkstra’s Rallying Cry for Generalization: The Advent of the Recursive Procedure, Late 1950s–Early 1960s.

In a section on Future Work near the end of the paper, Daylight notes, “Research contributions of Gödel, Carnap, Turing and Tarski have been studied and documented over and over again by logicians and philosophers themselves. Computer scientists, by contrast, have yet to commence with similar work concerning the ideas of their fathers: Dijkstra, McCarthy, Hoare and others. This, in turn, explains my motivation to write this paper.” Daylight, who is a post-doctorate researcher in the history of computing, has set up the blog-style web site Dijkstra’s Rallying Cry for Generalization as a way to report on his ongoing research into Dijkstra’s writings, including the E. W. Dijkstra Archive at the University of Texas and additional materials Dijkstra’s family donated. Daylight is off to a good start. He welcomes suggestions for improving his blog, and notes he’ll be adding photographs of Dijkstra soon.

In that spirit, I offer the following photograph, taken at the 1973 Marktoberdorf Summer School, of instructor Dijkstra and student McJones. Dijkstra’s subsequent trip report (EWD385) mentions my friend Dave Redell (who took the photograph) and me because we served as “intelligent terminals” in an “interactive programming session”.

E. W. Dijkstra and Paul McJones at Marktoberdorf Summer School, 1973

Gordon Bell: “Out of a Closet: The Early Years of The Computer [History] Museum”

The institution now known as the Computer History Museum began in 1975 as a closet-sized exhibit in a Digital Equipment Corporation building, grew into The Computer Museum located on Boston’s Museum Wharf, and finally metamorphosed into its current form and location. In a fascinating technical report, Gordon Bell describes this long and interesting history, in which he and his wife Dr. Gwen Bell have played such important roles.

It was only recently, Bell notes, that “Software was finally added to list of things collected, such as the history of FORTRAN including original source code.” The FORTRAN collection to which Gordon refers is here; a catalog search of FORTRAN-related items in the museum’s archives is available here.

Bell gives a list of some two dozen “Mona Lisas” in the collection, all hardware artifacts. He concludes this section by saying “Regrettably, I omit that hard to see, hard to describe, essential software from COBOL, FORTRAN, and LISP, various Operating Systems, and on through Visicalc, and the Relational database.” I strongly agree with Bell about the importance of collecting and displaying such historic software. I’m glad to be able to point the previously-mentioned FORTRAN collection, and to similar collections for LISP, ALGOL, and C++. Others have assembled extensive collections on, for example, the Multics and Unix operating systems, PDP-10 systems and applications, and many more. Two of the earliest relational database management systems, Berkeley Ingres and IBM System R, have been preserved but are not yet easily accessible. For the most part, these collections are aimed at a more scholarly audience; I hope they will serve as source materials for future exhibits for a wider audience.