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Full Text (Subscribers Only Article) (4, Informative)

Richardsonke1 (612224) | more than 10 years ago | (#6399881)

GOTO considered joyful
On his proto-blog archive, the words and spirit of the late computer scientist Edsger Dijkstra live on, inspiring new generations of geeks.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Rachel Chalmers

July 9, 2003 | considered harmful: adj. [very common] Edsger W. Dijkstra's note in the March 1968 "Communications of the ACM," "Goto Statement Considered Harmful," fired the first salvo in the structured programming wars ... use of such titles has remained as a persistent minor in-joke (the 'considered silly' found at various places in this lexicon is related).

That entry in Eric Raymond's edition of the Hacker's Dictionary was my first encounter with pioneering computer scientist Edsger Wybe Dijkstra, but thanks to the dedicated work of volunteers at the University of Texas at Austin, it was very far from my last. These volunteers maintain the massive and growing EWD archive. It's a tremendous and erudite proto-blog, the extraordinary record of an exemplary life, and it's one of my favorite places on the Web. A year after his death, a computer scientist who devoted himself to teaching people how to think is still on the podium, delivering gem after gem of insight.

Born in the Netherlands in 1930, Dijkstra was a witty and thoroughly engaging writer in his nonnative English ("I have learned to be very suspicious of ideas I cannot express well in both Dutch and English," he noted, late in life. "As nice as it is to have the union at one's disposal, it is wise to confine oneself to the intersection.")

Over a 40-year period that began in the early 1960s, Dijkstra wrote prolifically on timely and compelling topics: from his experience of the evolution of universities on both sides of the Atlantic from the post-WWII era to the beginning of the 21st century; to meditations on the science and art of teaching; to incredibly rich and detailed accounts of his own intellectual methods (don't miss EWD 666: "A problem solved in my head," which contains the endearing aperçu: "Goldbach's Conjecture -- I had never thought that I would ever use that!")

Like entries in a modern weblog, many of the informal pieces collected in the EWD archive were never published in any traditional sense. Instead they were copied (and later photocopied), numbered sequentially from EWD 0 (sadly lost to history) to EWD 1317 ("From van IJzeren's correspondence to my aunt & uncle," written a few months before his death in August 2002) and circulated from the greedy hands of one computer scientist to another like Eastern European samizdat or fourth-generation copies of the Lions books.

For years I have been dipping into this priceless archive (or at least its English language subset; is there a great Dutch-English translator out there who would do the world the incalculable favor of translating the rest?) and I have yet to scratch the surface of its treasures. But I continue to follow the trail; the archive is redolent of the spoor of Dijkstra's intellectual evolution, the physical evidence of a great mind thinking aloud. A fine, clear light shines through it all, the light of intelligence unmarred by any particular arrogance or egotism -- the set of personal qualities I tend to think of as integrity.

Dijkstra is at his iconoclastic best on, for example, academic hypocrisy:

"Today's mathematical culture suffers from a style of publication, in which the results and the reasoning justifying them are published quite explicitly but in which all the pondering is rigorously suppressed, as if the need to ponder were a vulgar infirmity about which we don't talk in civilized company."

Or the relationship between programming and mathematics:

"Programming is one of the most difficult branches of applied mathematics; the poorer mathematicians had better remain pure mathematicians."

Or the truth itself, however unpalatable:

"French science is poisoned by politics."

One particularly apposite piece (EWD 696) is titled "Written in anger." What's illuminating about it is what rouses Dijkstra's ire: those who try to simplify or abstract away the innate difficulty of solving problems. The particular occasion of his anger is a 1978 Ph.D. thesis recommending the use of "easily managed graphic display systems" for designing computer programs. Dijkstra calls the suggestion "the most severe disservice to program design that I can imagine." He explains:

"Most people, including mathematicians, are amateur thinkers in the sense that they have not been taught how to think effectively. They have not been told to throw the crutch away and as a result, have never learned how to run."

The crutch in this context is the use of visual imagery. Dijkstra makes various good arguments against the use of images in thinking about geometry and mathematics and programming (diagrams are invariably overspecific, for example, and in set theory may be actively misleading.) He concludes:

"A major component of learning how to throw the crutch away is the 'unlearning' of the use of pictures. (And 'unlearning' is very difficult, as your past remains your past: the only thing you can do is superimpose a new past on top of the old one, and pray that the more recent past will be dominant.)"

This is a remarkable argument, not least from a European who came of age in the aftermath of 1945. What Dijkstra rejects is oversimplification. What he demands in its place is something like direct confrontation with the problem, as nearly as it can be defined. He's perfectly willing to acknowledge how extremely difficult it is -- both at a professional and at a personal level -- to grapple with the world's complexity so profoundly; and yet he is not prepared to settle for less, either in his students or in himself.

Reading Dijkstra's account of a January 1974 meeting in Albuquerque, N.M., at which he turned out to be the main and only attraction -- a prospect that frankly terrified him -- made me envy the participants.

"I was very afraid ... people come with such utterly unrealistic expectations that one is bound to disappoint them ... In order to save the situation I used the first half of the morning to display all my misgivings, all my feelings of uncertainty ... I felt that honesty alone could save me."

As an eight-year veteran of computing and programming conferences, academic and otherwise, I can only imagine how charming and beguiling such a humble confession must have been -- all the more for coming, as it did, from a man already world famous for his contributions to computer science. Not surprisingly, then:

"What happened during that one-man show of five days is unbelievable and exceeded my wildest hopes ... once they picked up the rules of the game they inspired me to an extent that I have not experienced since a long time and I am perfectly willing to believe the many participants that told me on the last day that this week had been a unique experience."

The rules of what game? What was it that Dijkstra was trying to teach? As these excerpts suggest, it was only nominally the teaching of programming. Indeed, many self-styled "educators" in today's world of "information technology" would scarcely recognize it as teaching programming at all.

In a pivotal essay, EWD 473, written in 1975, Dijkstra explicitly rejects the acquisition of laundry lists of programming languages (in his day, FORTRAN, ALGOL 60, COBOL; today's equivalents might be Java, Perl, C++). He calls such courses "driving lessons" and snipes that "no one tells [the student] that all those bells and whistles -- those so-called 'powerful features' -- belong more to the problem set than the solution set."

How disconcerting is that? Take away pictorial aids, take away the very programming languages, and what on earth is left to teach? Dijkstra's reply is more disconcerting still.

"I shall confine my attention to the difficulties of solving intrinsically hard problems."

Dijkstra tried to teach his students how to think. Characteristically, he immediately acknowledges the difficulties involved, defines his terms, and narrows the scope of his inquiry. He's not talking about neuroscience. He's not talking about writing poetry. He's talking specifically about reasoning -- a term he uses to describe formal manipulations: think of arithmetic in primary school, algebra in secondary school, and symbolic logic in college. This kind of reasoning, he admits, is very demanding, and so he calls for a preliminary step aimed at reducing the amount of reasoning required.

This preliminary step is what he calls "pondering." It's so unfashionable even to talk about it, he laments, that many mathematicians can't describe how they do it -- which means, in practice, that they don't even understand how they do it. The notion that the ability to ponder is not innate, that it could be known and taught, is laughed off or worse: "experienced as a threat upon their ego."

What is a poor computer scientist to do?

"Suppose you stop teaching results and solutions, but start to solve problems in the lecture room and that you try to be as explicit as possible about your own pondering. What will happen?"

Well, most likely, all hell will break loose. But if you're lucky:

"The need to get some sort of verbal grip on your own pondering will by sheer necessity present your ponderings as something in which, as time progresses, patterns will become distinguishable. Once you have established a language in which to do your own pondering, in which to plan and to supervise your reasoning, you have presented a tool that your students could use as well, for the planning and supervision of their reasoning."

Geek that I am, I find this passage incredibly touching. It's the combination of Dijkstra's searing integrity and his humility and willingness to make a complete ass of himself, by actually standing up and pondering aloud in front of his students, for their sake, that gets me every time. I wonder if the success of the scientific method does not depend on exactly this combination of integrity and humility? Dijkstra doesn't just advocate it. He models it.

It took me a while to realize it, but thanks to the EWD archive volunteers, my envy for the participants at the 1974 conference in Albuquerque is redundant. Reading the archive offers the same experience. Brilliant as the content is, the performance is better still. In my master's steps I trod, where the snow lay dinted; heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed. "Ah," you begin to think, "so that's how he did it!" or even, as a tiny spark ignites somewhere inside you: "Maybe that's how I could do it..." Dijkstra's great gift, it would seem, was to inspire (tempt?) others, not to replicate his own feats of mind but to attempt their own.

Chronologically, the EWD archive may qualify as a proto-blog; qualitatively, it's what the very finest blogs aspire to be.

The EWD archive is a priceless cultural artifact of the computer age. To its maintainers I say, wholeheartedly: Thank you. To anyone who has ever cared about programming or teaching or simply thinking hard and well about difficult problems I say, ardently: GOTO.

Re:Full Text (Subscribers Only Article) (3, Funny)

mirko (198274) | more than 10 years ago | (#6399908)

This can't be : it was supposed to be manuscript, not typed !? :)

Re:Full Text (Subscribers Only Article) (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400094)

Salon asks for help [slashdot.org]

Another slashdot karma whore.

Re:Full Text (Subscribers Only Article) (-1, Troll)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400169)

Programming is one of the most difficult branches of applied mathematics; the poorer mathematicians had better remain pure mathematicians.
(1) He obviously can't tell the difference between pure and applied mathematics and
(2) How come all the loser mathematicians who can't hack it end up becoming programmers?.

I've never had much respect for Dijkstra. I have even less now.

Re:Full Text (Subscribers Only Article) (1)

pe1rxq (141710) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400265)

After your post I don't have much respect for you either.... Your first statement has no arguments and the second has nothing to do with his statement.. he never said lesser mathematicians wouldn't program, he said they shouldn't program....

Jeroen

Re:Full Text (Subscribers Only Article) (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400267)

(2) How come all the loser mathematicians who can't hack it end up becoming programmers?.(2) How come all the loser mathematicians who can't hack it end up becoming programmers?.

Because programming is a brain-dead job. You're just writing instructions for a computer to do the real work. Mathematics has nothing to do with programming or else we wouldn't have so many perl/php script kiddies these days. Case in point, slashdot. I hardly think Rob is a mathematician.

Re:Full Text (Subscribers Only Article) (0, Flamebait)

EnderWiggnz (39214) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400293)

your an idiot.

he's right, you know... this is applied mathematics, and its a much harder problem than people realize.

Re:Full Text (Subscribers Only Article) (1)

autopr0n (534291) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400296)

(1) He obviously can't tell the difference between pure and applied mathematics and

Well, obviously you havn't either. If you think Dijkstra is wrong, tell what the diffrence is and why he's wrong. Don't just spout off like an idiot.

Bio (5, Informative)

Arthaed (687979) | more than 10 years ago | (#6399882)

Here is a brief bio on Edsger Dijkstra [webopedia.com].

Political Statement Here: (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6399996)

Individual [slashdot.org] tries to impose his fascist views onto others. Please help the Foundation for Freedoom of Speech on Slashdot (FFSS). Thank you.

Why is LINUX Open Source Slashdot community RACIST (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400029)

Pray tell exactly how many people of color are allowed in this community. Please name one if you can. Why are you so segregated? I am sick and tired of sickly pale unwashed hippie white boys contributing everything! You losers are racially insensitive and in dire need of some diversity training. Are you listening MALDA?

Re:Why is LINUX Open Source Slashdot community RAC (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400063)

Miguel de Icaza is a fucking NIGGER HISPANIC ASIAN!

What about (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6399885)

Dykes Stra?

First post with a lesbian screed!

Compelling? (2, Funny)

mao che minh (611166) | more than 10 years ago | (#6399905)

That was a mighty gracious tribute to a mere blog. I understand that it is a very old blog, but honestly, who really cares? It's poorly selected stories like these that are dragging Salon down. I'll never pay for a website that bothers to publish such boring material.

Oh wait......*

Re:Compelling? (3, Insightful)

garcia (6573) | more than 10 years ago | (#6399969)

you really need to RTFA and his documents first.

As a person only vaguely interested in CS I can say that I was more intrigued by the fact that he hand-wrote his documents, gave personal notes about what he was feeling at the time (my note [slashdot.org] about what pen-type he was using), which are all VERY interesting to me.

For me, these little things are far more interesting than what topics he happened to be discussing.

His "blog-like" notes are probably better to read than JoSchmoe049169666420's because they are coming from very well-known professor who was in touch with the CS academic community.

That's my worthless .02 at least.

Re:Compelling? (1)

JewFish (315210) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400087)

my note [slashdot.org] about what pen-type he was using


Your "note" is not about then pen-type, but simply asking what type of pen. There is a difference, you don't know jack about what type of pen he was using and are only asking to see if anyone else can post a "note" about his pen-type. I also would find it interesting to see what type of pen he wrote with, for his handwritting was unique.

Re:Compelling? (1)

garcia (6573) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400123)

are you a troll? I guess you are. If you read the previous "note/comment" you would have found another link to a specific document that he wrote.
In that document, if you scroll to the bottom and READ (apparently you don't), you would find that he notes exactly what pen-type he was using at the time.

Re:Compelling? (0)

jpu8086 (682572) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400184)

a mere blog? seems like we got a psych major in here or something. calling the writings of the true god of operating systems "a mere blog" is a crime against humanity. sir, your mouth is a weapon of mass destruction.

seriously, UT Austin put up those notes a long long time ago (i think last year), soon after djikstra's passing away. it's sad when salon puts a tribute to that a year later...

Subscription not necessary (4, Interesting)

Blitzshlag (685207) | more than 10 years ago | (#6399909)

You could change the expiration on the temporary cookie they give you to get perminent access. Of course, this would be illegal.

Re:Subscription not necessary (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6399985)

Only in the United Corporations Of America my friend...

Re:Subscription not necessary (1, Offtopic)

no reason to be here (218628) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400138)

In most civilized countries of which I know, fraud (i.e., falsifying information to get access to goods and/or services to which one is not normally entitled) is illegal.

Re: Subscription not necessary (0, Troll)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400308)


> In most civilized countries of which I know, fraud (i.e., falsifying information to get access to goods and/or services to which one is not normally entitled) is illegal.

But falsifying information to justify the invasion of another country is OK.

Re:Subscription not necessary (5, Insightful)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400159)

> You could change the expiration on the temporary cookie they give you to get perminent access. Of course, this would be illegal.

I was winding myself up to sneer, but then I realized that this would be [circumventing] a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under [Title 17] [warwick.ac.uk].

While we're at it, remember that "No person shall [...] offer to the public [or] provide [...] any technology [...] or part thereof that is primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under [Title 17]."

Citizen, remain at your console while the Secret Service analyzes the case against you and decides your guilt and an appropriate punishment.

Re:Subscription not necessary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400225)

Not illegal, just immoral. A bit like this is immoral [mongfish.com].

Can someone shed more light on his misc. info? (4, Interesting)

garcia (6573) | more than 10 years ago | (#6399911)

Does anyone know if he routinely let people know what type of pen he was using when he wrote that particular document? Here's [utexas.edu] one of the ones I found.

Why did he do this? For his own personal notes on which pens were good (I guess important if you are frequently writing things).

Why did he use pens and not electronic formats? For a CS person that surprises me.

Re:Can someone shed more light on his misc. info? (4, Insightful)

CoolVibe (11466) | more than 10 years ago | (#6399963)

Dijkstra had a very distinctive and very readable handwriting. It certainly influenced mine. I don't know which pens he used, but I do agree there is something about writing stuff by hand. For one, you write slower than you think. And it can be a really meditative experience putting words to paper by hand.

Re:Can someone shed more light on his misc. info? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400132)

Dijkstra did go slighlty overboard on the writing though, inventing his own ink to ensure a balance between ink that would last a long time without fading, and ink that was smooth and beautiful to write with.

Keeping his shopping lists and post-it for a future generation does border on the egotistical though ;-)

I seem to remember a story where Dijkstra would have his secretaries print out e-mails, which Dijkstra would hand write a reply to, and in some cases the secretary would type it back into a replied e-mail!

Writing is meditative, however taking it to his extremes would lead to stress I'd have thought!

Re:Can someone shed more light on his misc. info? (0)

Captal (687904) | more than 10 years ago | (#6399974)

There is something to be said about actually holding a pen/pencil while writing. I personally think that I come up with more creative writings when I'm not on the computer because I have more time to think.

In fact, when I write poetry it is almost always written and edited with a pencil. I feel that it's more personal- especially if you're giving it to someone else.

Re:Can someone shed more light on his misc. info? (1)

minus_273 (174041) | more than 10 years ago | (#6399977)

dont know how much he is a CS person or more a math person

Re:Can someone shed more light on his misc. info? (1)

no reason to be here (218628) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400058)

Since CS is (or at least should be) learning how to apply known algorithms to problems and the development of new algorithms to solve problems, CS should be very similar to math, and computer scientists ought to seem fairly similar to mathematicians. Most early CS people, as I understand it, were math people with an interest in computers.

Re:Can someone shed more light on his misc. info? (4, Funny)

utahjazz (177190) | more than 10 years ago | (#6399993)

Why did he use pens and not electronic formats? For a CS person that surprises me.

One of my profs said he was giving a speach at Dijkstra's school. He wanted to make sure Dijkstra didn't attend (apperently Dijkstra was an asshole), so he sent out the announcement via email only. This ensured that Dijkstra would never get the announcement, as he did have a computer.

Re:Can someone shed more light on his misc. info? (2, Interesting)

JewFish (315210) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400049)

I call bullshit.


This ensured that Dijkstra would never get the announcement, as he did have a computer.


How does having a computer ensure that you will not get email? All the professors at my school have said nothing but kind words about the man (although they have only mentioned him post-mortum). The professors that I am talking about also know the man and never mentioned cowering in fear of him, or trying to hide from him.

Re:Can someone shed more light on his misc. info? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400090)

I call retard.

The poster clearly mean't to say he "didn't" have a computer. Meerly a typo.

Re: Can someone shed more light on his misc. info? (4, Interesting)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400122)


> One of my profs said he was giving a speach at Dijkstra's school. He wanted to make sure Dijkstra didn't attend (apperently Dijkstra was an asshole)

I don't know about 'asshole', but he certainly qualified as a curmudgeon. Famously, if he was at a talk and the speaker put up a slide that had more than one color in it, Djikstra would interrupt and ask what the different colors meant. (I actually had an opportunity to see him do that once.)

I have repeatedly heard rumors at second and third remove to the effect that at least some of the CS faculty at Texas found him "very divisive", but the rumors never told me what the context was. Decisions at faculty meetings, I would guess.

But it shouldn't surprise anyone on Slashdot to hear that some CS geniuses have a contrary streak.

Re:Can someone shed more light on his misc. info? (4, Insightful)

no reason to be here (218628) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400008)

Well, he started writing in the 1960's, so it was pretty non-trivial to fire up your computer and peck away at a keyboard in some very primitive text editor with (if one were lucky) a tiny amber monochrome display. At the point he started writing his JOURNAL (sorry, i just fucking hate the word "blog"), pen and paper was the easiest, most reliable, and most expediant option (also remember that at that time, mathematicians and engineers were still using slide rules). By the time word processing became a more viable option, he was entrenched in the habit of keeping a paper journal. Furthermore, until the advent of the portable computer, if you wanted to write in your journal regardless of where you were, pen and paper was the only option. Personally, I'd like to see more people keep pen and paper journals; one can tell a lot about people from their handwriting.

Re:Can someone shed more light on his misc. info? (1)

geekmetal (682313) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400009)

Why did he use pens and not electronic formats? For a CS person that surprises me.

Maybe becuase he did his work before the 80s when personal computers became popular and hence writing on a paper was more convenient? maybe..

Re:Can someone shed more light on his misc. info? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400129)

Ever try to type a proof?

Re:Can someone shed more light on his misc. info? (3, Interesting)

eli173 (125690) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400200)

Does anyone know if he routinely let people know what type of pen he was using when he wrote that particular document? Here's one of the ones I found.


Why did he do this? For his own personal notes on which pens were good (I guess important if you are frequently writing things).


IF he did track what pen he was using, I can think of one possible reason. It was mentioned that these were photocopied and re-photocopied to several generations. During that process it won't be readily apparent what pen he used... but it might show that some pens gave text that withstood the degredation of copying better than others. If the papers that were written with, say, thick pens were the easiest to read 4 copy generations later, he could make a point to use thick pens in the future.

Just a thought. :)

Re:Can someone shed more light on his misc. info? (1)

phigga (526030) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400262)

It surprised me too, at first...

I would assume that as a mathematician (he wasn't just a CS guy), writing proofs is much easier with the pen than it is with the keyboard. IANAMathematician, but when I was in school, I'd constantly be picking up the old writing stick to do my brainstorming for math classes.

Maybe that has something to do with it. Maybe it's just what he feels most comfortable using...Eddie Vedder (of Pearl Jam fame) still uses an old, beat-up typewriter to put his lyrics on paper.

Re:Can someone shed more light on his misc. info? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400307)

at the time, ed was the only text editor available.

PROPZ TO THAT FAGGOT, KLERCK (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6399920)

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MOD PARENT UP! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400160)

it happend 2 me

Is Dykstra still relevant today? (1, Troll)

Jack Wagner (444727) | more than 10 years ago | (#6399922)

Lets face it, all one has to do is take a quick look at the demand for certain skill sets on the net to get a pretty good feel for what's relevant today and I'm not sure c++ is anywhere on that radar screen. Most of my work as of late has been all Java and c#, with some legacy C programming done (on low level systems only of course, nobody would pay someone by the hour to have app level work done in C these days)

Sometimes I wonder when I hear people complain about how the CS industry tends to shun the old timers when the truth is that a lot of these old timers are trying to hang on to legacy technology like C++ or perl when the industry has moved onto bigger and better things.

If I've learned one thing it's that in IS/IT/CS you either adapt and move on or you end up doing tech support on the midnight shift. Plain and simple. I think Fred Brooks touched on this in his book "The Mythical Man Month" when he said that computer programming will never be a mature field because to excel in it you must always be changing your language focus.

Warmest regards,
--Jack

Re:Is Dykstra still relevant today? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6399970)

computer programming will never be a mature field because to excel in it you must always be changing your language focus.

Unless you're programming on military projects...

Re:Is Dykstra still relevant today? (1)

Blitzshlag (685207) | more than 10 years ago | (#6399992)

If you look at sourceforge, the largest number of projects being developed in any one language are C++. C++ may not be the most active language for new developments, but there is still great demand for maitenance to the vast pool of existing C++ systems out there.

C++ dead???? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400019)

Damn!! I haven't finished mastering C++ and now you tell me it's dead. So where does that leave C. I guess that it is dead too.

Ok then. I'm off to learn Visual Basic and C#. Oh, one more thing. Can you tell me how to get VB and C# running on my Linux, Mac, Solaris, HP-UX, SGI, machines? I can't figure it out.

Re:C++ dead???? (0, Redundant)

stud9920 (236753) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400250)

If you know about Linux, Mac, HP-UX, SGI (I think you meant Irix), maybe VB is not the right language for you.

Re:Is Dykstra still relevant today? (5, Informative)

Berzelius (558040) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400023)

Dijkstra was the 1972 recipient of the ACM Turing Award, often viewed as the Nobel Prize for computing. He was a member of the Netherlands Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society. He received the 1974 AFIPS Harry Goode Award, the 1982 IEEE Computer Pioneer Award, and the 1989 ACM SIGCSE Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computer Science Education. Athens University of Economics awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2001. In 2002, the C&C Foundation of Japan recognized Dijkstra "for his pioneering contributions to the establishment of the scientific basis for computer software through creative research in basic software theory, algorithm theory, structured programming, and semaphores". From: http://www.cs.utexas.edu/home/news/articles/index2 002/ewdobit.html I can't imagine him being important today, can you?

Re:Is Dykstra still relevant today? (1)

JSkills (69686) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400024)

Hey well if you're working with C# and Java, then I guess we should all make sure to follow your lead then huh?

Perl and C++ "legacy technology"? I guess I'm headed for tech support on the midnight shift ...

Ever hear of OSPF (3, Insightful)

alen (225700) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400026)

I heard it's still pretty popular in the routing of traffic on the internet.

Re:Is Dykstra still relevant today? (1)

Keyser_Lives (543481) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400039)

I think Dijkstra's significance wasn't so much his implementations in c++, but as the article says, he taught people how to think, as well as the implementation, which just happened to be C++.

So while Dijkstra's work in C++ might not be as relevant today as it once was, the abstract, or idea behind it, is still relevant, not the implementation.

Hmm, bit garbled, too much coffee too early. Back to bed, methinks!

Re:Is Dykstra still relevant today? (2, Interesting)

pdbogen (596723) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400041)

Well, Dijkstra's Algorithm is pretty relevent, but I don't see what that has to do with what's "on that radar screen". And, in any case, to more properly address your comments- Java is slow, and laughed at. C# is Microsoft (I.e., not open) and less than portable. Furthermore, a lot of CS work is maintaining software, and all the Java knowledge in the world won't help you with the fifty-thousand line FORTRAN program you're getting paid to maintain.

Also, C++ and, as one of your responders aptly noted, Perl are not "legacy technology"- Just because something is old doesn't mean it's out of date. I won't pretend to be qualified to properly extoll the virtues of C++, but if you're really curious, I'm sure you could e-mail one of the C.S. profs here, bs at cs.tamu.edu (Bjarne Stroustrup).

Re:Is Dykstra still relevant today? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400050)

/me looks at the C course he is teaching...

35 students.. /me looks at the next C course he'll be teaching...

25 students and 2 months for applications before the course starts.

Yup, c is long dead......

Re:Is Dykstra still relevant today? (2, Informative)

David Frankenstein (21337) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400054)

If you honestly believe that Dykstra's relevance has anything to do with C++, then you missed the boat. Dykstra's work is still important because of his *algorithmic* work. C++ has nothing to do with it.

And in any case, what do think most of those applications on your computer were written in?

Algorithms? (3, Insightful)

TrekkieGod (627867) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400084)

Dijkstra developed some very efficient algorithms, and algorithms span all computer languages, even if I were to agree with you that C++ and perl are no longer used...which I don't.

What comes to mind right at first is Dijkstra's Shortest Path Algorithm [tokushima-u.ac.jp]. And hey, look...that page has java programs. In fact, take a look at a Java applet [toronto.edu] to better understand the algorithm.

Re:Is Dykstra still relevant today? (4, Insightful)

jejones (115979) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400095)

Yes, Dijkstra is still relevant. That you should think he has anything to do with C++ is strange, and makes me wonder whether you're familiar with Dijkstra's work at all. Take a look at EWD 1243, and you'll see that he thought it was just another one of the messes pushed as the savior of us all. I dare say he'd say the same for Java and C#, which will be the legacy technology of tomorrow.

Dijkstra's work on writing programs so as to be confident in their correctness from the start is very relevant--how much do you think people would be willing to pay for an OS written that way?

Re:Is Dykstra still relevant today? (5, Informative)

arivanov (12034) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400115)

Yes he is.

You have entirely missed the point.

If you know math and language theory the actual language you currently know does not matter. Language is a tool. You can learn to use a new tool in a matter of weeks if not days. Math is the knowledge on how to use all of the tools, not just the particular shiny one that has just been produced last week.

After learning 5 or 6, the next one comes in a matter of days. Been there, seen that, trying to do it.

This has not changed since Dykstra and ain't going to change. Ever. This is the fact known as the 5 times salary difference between the factory floor and the chief designer office.

It is a fact of life, it exists in all industries and it is here to stay.

Actually, Asimov has described this brilliantly in one of his novells. Read "Profession". It is thy best novell he ever wrote.

Re:Is Dykstra still relevant today? (2, Insightful)

nullp0inter (687739) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400173)

Maybe your comment was intended to be a troll, but if you think C++ and perl are no longer relevent you're deluding yourself Doctor Burns. Maybe you have moved on to more "bold and beautiful" things but C++ and is still widely in use, for much more than just the tech support night shift. Just because you aren't using them does not make them, or Dijkstara's writings which are not specific to any programming language, irrelevant.

Re:Is Dykstra still relevant today? (5, Insightful)

Cpt. Fwiffo (42356) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400249)

I think you are very much mistaken there.

I study CS @ Eindhoven University, where he came and teached a lot(his and his compatriots were good in programming methodology: http://www.win.tue.nl/pm/ - horrible looking webpage) Trust me, it shows. Most of the 'hardcore' faculty members were friends/exstudents/what have you, and work the way he did. Dijkstra (and the folks at my faculty) did not bother himself with implementations of programming languages. Nor with what function to call for what. They all strive to understand the nature of the problem, and from that they try to derive the solution.
That's a totally different approach to programming, which is a *lot* of work. However, it shows in areas where simplicity is key. There is a reason why Dijkstra used Semaphores (what do you think Java uses?). Or have you ever seen a good proof of Peterson's Algorithm? (I know Feijen and van Gasteren gave a generic derivation in 'On a Method of Multiprogramming', but that's just me having had to read it because it's part of my study there, of course. A book which delves into seemingly simplistic problems, but then gathers a framework which can tackle much bigger problems then you would expect.)

The problems for single-process computing are easy. For those of you who program in them, I'm not trying to critisize or anything (I personally know that it's still damn hard from time to time), but there are no synchronisation problems, for one. To ensure that these are all systematicly handled you'd really want to have a proof that nothing can go wrong. Java and exceptions? Fine, it's just a way to get away with bad programming. There are a lot of places where you simply cannot get away with dirty programming: you don't want your car to deadlock going at 90 MpH, now would you? You want to be absolutely positive that it will *never* happen. THat means having either done extensive testing (which you can only hope it was sufficient), or having formal proof that it cannot go wrong.

That is why Dijkstra held himself to the 'very hard problems'. The easy ones you can mess up with and still have not too much problems. The hard ones are problematic if they fail.
He did not believe in cluttered code. Everything should be there for a reason, should be proven to be there and exactly there for a reason.


"If I've learned one thing it's that in IS/IT/CS you either adapt and move on or you end up doing tech support on the midnight shift. Plain and simple. I think Fred Brooks touched on this in his book "The Mythical Man Month" when he said that computer programming will never be a mature field because to excel in it you must always be changing your language focus.


To excel in Computer Programming you must be so smart as to be able to tackle the really hard problems. That means tackling problems on the problem field. You don't need languages for that, you need proof. Languages are but a tool for describing a solution and verifying your proof. Some languages describe easier then others, yes, but the solution is the same.

I can write a C to Haskell to C++ to Prolog to Java compiler. Pretty straightforward too. The languages are the same. You just don't want to see the spaghetti which comes out of a program once I'm through with it. And that's the reason why you use a specific language for a solving a problem: some languages simply are much easier to express the solution in.
However, that does NOT solve the problem, it merely makes it easier to program a solution understandibly.

Dijkstra was above all a scientist, and thus had to convince the scientific community of his ideas. This normally is done by using formal methods which describe both the problem as the solution in such a away that they can be easily understood.

That is still the holy grail for may solutions: how can they be written such that they can be understood more easily.

But I'm starting to rant here...

GOTO is DYING (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6399926)

Fact : GOTO is dying


It is official; Salon.com confirms: GOTO is dying One more crippling bombshell hit the already beleaguered GOTO community when IDC confirmed that GOTO market share has dropped yet again, now down to less than a fraction of 1 percent of all servers. Coming on the heels of a recent Salon.com survey which plainly states that GOTO has lost more market share, this news serves to reinforce what we've known all along. GOTO is collapsing in complete disarray, as fittingly exemplified by failing dead last in the recent Sys Admin comprehensive networking test.



You don't need to be a Bjourne Stroustrop to predict GOTO's future. The hand writing is on the wall: GOTO faces a bleak future. In fact there won't be any future at all for GOTO because GOTO is dying. Things are looking very bad for GOTO. As many of us are already aware, GOTO continues to lose market share. Red ink flows like a river of blood.



GOSUB is the most endangered of them all, having lost 93% of its core developers. The sudden and unpleasant departures of long time GOSUB developers Jordan Hubbard and Mike Smith only serve to underscore the point more clearly. There can no longer be any doubt: GOSUB is dying.



Let's keep to the facts and look at the numbers.



JMP leader Theo De Raadt states that there are 7000 users of JMP. How many users of BRANCH are there? Let's see. The number of JMP versus BRANCH posts on Usenet is roughly in ratio of 5 to 1. Therefore there are about 7000/5 = 1400 BRANCH users. RETURN posts on Usenet are about half of the volume of BRANCH posts. Therefore there are about 700 users of RETURN. A recent article put GOSUB at about 80 percent of the GOTO market. Therefore there are (7000+1400+700)*4 = 36400 GOSUB users. This is consistent with the number of GOSUB Usenet posts.



Due to the troubles of QBASIC, abysmal sales and so on, GOSUB went out of business and was taken over by VISUAL BASIC.NET who sell another troubled OS. Now VISUAL BASIC.NET is also dead, its corpse turned over to yet another charnel house.



All major surveys show that GOTO has steadily declined in market share. GOTO is very sick and its long term survival prospects are very dim. If GOTO is to survive at all it will be among OS dilettante dabblers. GOTO continues to decay. Nothing short of a miracle could save it at this point in time. For all practical purposes, GOTO is dead.



Fact: GOTO is dying

Timothy Considered Gay (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6399927)

Re:Timothy Considered Gay (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6399955)

How could someone bearing the name "Timothy" be straight?

Re:Timothy Considered Gay (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400177)

by doing "it"(and/or sex) with your mom?

Geeks Shmeeks (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6399928)

Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,
über alles in der Welt!
Wenn es stets zum Schutz und Trutze
brüderlich zusammenhält!
Von der Maas bis an die Memel,
von der Etsch bis an den Belt!
Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,
über alles in der Welt!

Re:Geeks Shmeeks (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6399978)

Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit,
für das deutsche Vaterland!
Danach lasst uns alle streben,
brüderlich mit Herz und Hand!
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit,
sind des Glückes Unterpfand
Blüh im Glanze dieses Glückes,
blühe deutsches Vaterland! ;-)

Re:Geeks Shmeeks (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400089)

Deutsche Frauen, deutsche Treue, deutscher Wein und deutscher Sang! Sollen in der Welt behalten, ihren schönen alten Klang! Und zu edler Tat begeistern, unser ganzes Leben lang! Deutsche Frauen, deutsche Treue, deutscher Wein und deutscher Sang!

Never heard of him (-1, Troll)

stud9920 (236753) | more than 10 years ago | (#6399973)

is he apparented to Craig Dijkstra of Don't Copy That Floppy fame ?

Re:Never heard of him (0, Offtopic)

grennis (344262) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400102)

I used your troll generator for my "Goto is Dying" post. Do you like it?

Re:Never heard of him (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400196)

I like your troll generators, man. I've noticed 2 bugs however:
  1. The "found dead" generator doesn't use the correct indefinite article with the nationality. It will always use "an".
  2. Strings containing escape characters like ' will come out escaped with backslashes.

Statement I don't agree on (5, Insightful)

errl (43525) | more than 10 years ago | (#6399980)

The article states that Dijskstra has said:

"Programming is one of the most difficult branches of applied mathematics; the poorer mathematicians had better remain pure mathematicians."

I do not agree with this. I mean, in pure mathematics there are not much to think about besides mathematics. Programming includes many other aspects, for example creativity. So if you are a poor mathematican but have other qualities that are needed for programming, you would have an easier time doing programming than pure mathemtaics I think.

Re:Statement I don't agree on (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400045)

I don't agree with you. I mean, you're obviously a homosexual. In homosexuality, there are not much to think about besides men's asses. Heterosexuality includes many other aspects, for example meeting girls. So if you are a homosexual but have other qualities that are needed for heterosexuality, you would have an easier time doing heterosexual stuff than pure homosexual shit I think.

Re:Statement I don't agree on (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400117)

Actually, he is right. For a given value of right. What you are doing when you program may seem simple to you, but mathematically it is incredibly complicated - but you don't notice that because the problem is being treated as a programming problem rather than a mathematical problem in your brain. Good programmers tend to be good mathematicians but they often don't realise it because they haven't been taught maths properly - conventional maths may even be challenging for them, but I've found that this is the result of the way they look at maths as a result of badly thought out corses that try to fit all kinds of brains into one structure.

I've never found someone who is truly bad at maths to be any good at programming, or a good programmer who - with help to change the way they look at maths - to be useless at maths.

Re:Statement I don't agree on (2, Insightful)

errl (43525) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400183)

I do see, and understand, your point. Maybe my point needs some clarification.

I think too that good mathematicans very often make good programmers and the other way around. The problem I see with Dijkstra's statement is that he says (as I understand it) that poor mathematicans would do better pure mathematicans than they they would do programmers. However you see it, there is more mathematics in pure mathematics than there is in programming. And thus if you have other qualities needed in programming, but you are not very good at maths, you would make a better programmer than pure mathematican (though maybe not a very good one at either). I hope that makes my point a bit clearer.

Re:Statement I don't agree on (2)

jason0000042 (656126) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400278)

Pure mathematics does require creativity. If it didn't it could all be done by computer. But some times coming up with, say, an utterly logical, but new, proof requires a degree of inspiration that most people don't ever experience. I sometimes wish I had the attention span and discipline do be creative in that way.

I'm not sure if the blog analogy is that accurate, (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6399994)

It's not accurate, because that would make the material self-important, tedious, badly written nonsense.

LINUX Open Source Slashdot are RACISTS (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400004)

Exactly how many brothers are allowed in this community? Why the total lack of African-Americans and people of cover? You sickly pale hippies disgust me. Get a life losers.

Re:LINUX Open Source Slashdot are RACISTS (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400030)

I must agree with this post. As a gay black man, I would like to see all slashdotters form a line and take turns chocking on my beautiful cock.

Re:LINUX Open Source Slashdot are RACISTS (0, Flamebait)

turgid (580780) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400044)

How can you tell what colour someone is at the other end of a web browser?

Re:LINUX Open Source Slashdot are RACISTS (-1, Flamebait)

turgid (580780) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400199)

This is not "flamebait", it's what's known in enlightened circles as a rhetorical question. On slashdot, of course, it goes completely over the heads of the moderators.

Re:LINUX Open Source Slashdot are RACISTS (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400174)

Nigga, please. What about Rob Malda? Spics are allowed in our community.

Salon.com (3, Informative)

Orne (144925) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400036)

Funny, and I thought Salon [yahoo.com] was the one dying...

"Salon has a history of significant losses and expects to incur operating losses in the near future. For the year ended March 31, 2003, Salon had net losses attributable to common stockholders of $5.7 million and had an accumulated deficit of $82.3 million." -- SEC Annual Report

Re:Salon.com (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400217)

"accumulated deficit of $82.3 million"

How does a website lose $80m? It can't all go on bandwidth!

Wife swapping??? (5, Funny)

tvm662 (232083) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400067)

There is some saucy stuff in there that he's written about wife swapping [utexas.edu] and you thought CS was dull.

Tom.

Re:Wife swapping??? (4, Funny)

notque (636838) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400176)

There is some saucy stuff in there that he's written about wife swapping and you thought CS was dull.

Now all we need is a p2p program for that, and we're set.

George W. Bush, president, dead at 84 (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400147)

I just heard some sad news on talk radio - president of the United States George W. Bush was found dead in his Washington command post this morning. There weren't any more details. I'm sure everyone in the Slashdot community will miss him - even if you didn't enjoy his work, there's no denying his contributions to oil whoring. Truly an American icon.

Adolf Hitler, dictator, dead at 54 (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400164)

I just heard some sad news on talk radio - Reichskanzler des Deutschen Reiches Adolf Hitler was found dead in the Wolf's Lair this morning. There weren't any more details. I'm sure everyone in the Slashdot community will miss him - even if you didn't enjoy his work, there's no denying his contributions to the jewish culture. Truly a German icon.

BREAKING NEWS man wakes after 19 years in coma (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400167)

http://www.yahoo.com/s/95703

Goatse him.

Call for volunteers (5, Interesting)

sheck (37769) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400171)

The EWD archive [utexas.edu] is looking for volunteers to convert the handwritten articles to google-able HTML. See here [utexas.edu] if you are interested.

The 'word' "blog",NEEDS TO DIE. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400181)

its awful. And does anyone even read them? Nobody cares about everyones little whiny rants.

Slashdotters descended from Dijkstra (5, Funny)

loonix_gangsta (517305) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400229)

Here's proof that Slashdotters are decended from Dijksta. Here's some quotes from document EWD498 "How do we tell truths that might hurt?". Note the problems that he faced in 1975 are similar to what we have today!

FORTRAN -- "the infantile disorder" --, by now nearly 20 years old, is hopelessly inadequate for whatever computer application you have in mind today: it is now too clumsy, too risky, and too expensive to use.

PL/I -- "the fatal disease"-- belongs more to the problem set than to the solution set.

It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration.

The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offence.

APL is a mistake, carried through to perfection. It is the language of the future for the programming techniques of the past: it creates a new generation
of coding bums.

Also the Microsoft-like problems that he faces with IBM. His disdain is clearly shown by labelling IBM the devil!

....

Many companies that have made themselves dependent on IBM-equipment (and in doing so have sold their soul to the devil) will collapse under the sheer weight of the unmastered complexity of their data processing systems.

We can found no scientific discipline, nor a healthy profession on the technical mistakes of the Department of Defences and, mainly, one computer manufacturer.

....

18th June 1975

Dijkstra - trolling since 1975 ;)

Right up the /. reader's alley... (1)

DangerTenor (104151) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400239)

I decided to pick one at random, and chose How "they" try to corrupt "us" [utexas.edu].
It's his discussion on an attempt by Microsoft to pressure his department into
using their products by offering fame and fortune (uhh... I mean graduate
fellowships). He was truly a wise man!

Fact : Rob Malda's sex life is dying (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6400268)

It is official; Netcraft confirms: Rob Malda's sex life is dying One more crippling bombshell hit the already beleaguered Rob Malda's sex life community when IDC confirmed that Rob Malda's sex life market share has dropped yet again, now down to less than a fraction of 1 percent of all servers. Coming on the heels of a recent Netcraft survey which plainly states that Rob Malda's sex life has lost more market share, this news serves to reinforce what we've known all along. Rob Malda's sex life is collapsing in complete disarray, as fittingly exemplified by failing dead last in the recent Sys Admin comprehensive networking test.

You don't need to be a Kreskin to predict Rob Malda's sex life's future. The hand writing is on the wall: Rob Malda's sex life faces a bleak future. In fact there won't be any future at all for Rob Malda's sex life because Rob Malda's sex life is dying. Things are looking very bad for Rob Malda's sex life. As many of us are already aware, Rob Malda's sex life continues to lose market share. Red ink flows like a river of blood.

Rob's penis is the most endangered of them all, having lost 93% of its core developers. The sudden and unpleasant departures of long time Rob's penis developers your mom and your dad only serve to underscore the point more clearly. There can no longer be any doubt: Rob's penis is dying.

Let's keep to the facts and look at the numbers.

Rob's ass leader the goatse man states that there are 7000 users of Rob's ass. How many users of CowboyNeal's penis are there? Let's see. The number of Rob's ass versus CowboyNeal's penis posts on Usenet is roughly in ratio of 5 to 1. Therefore there are about 7000/5 = 1400 CowboyNeal's penis users. Timothy's ass posts on Usenet are about half of the volume of CowboyNeal's penis posts. Therefore there are about 700 users of Timothy's ass. A recent article put Rob's penis at about 80 percent of the Rob Malda's sex life market. Therefore there are (7000+1400+700)*4 = 36400 Rob's penis users. This is consistent with the number of Rob's penis Usenet posts.

Due to the troubles of the Slashdot office, abysmal sales and so on, Rob's penis went out of business and was taken over by Michael who sell another troubled OS. Now Michael is also dead, its corpse turned over to yet another charnel house.

All major surveys show that Rob Malda's sex life has steadily declined in market share. Rob Malda's sex life is very sick and its long term survival prospects are very dim. If Rob Malda's sex life is to survive at all it will be among OS dilettante dabblers. Rob Malda's sex life continues to decay. Nothing short of a miracle could save it at this point in time. For all practical purposes, Rob Malda's sex life is dead.

Fact: Rob Malda's sex life is dying

Subject (3, Interesting)

Laxitive (10360) | more than 10 years ago | (#6400319)

I had the pleasure of going to a Q&A session with Djikstra hosted by our university CSClub. It was interesting - he talked about shortest path, algol, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

One of the major points he made before he left, and somewhat adamantly at that, was that software is so poor in quality nowadays because developers don't really bother to come up with formal proofs of correctness for their programs.

There was some back and forth from the audience on this point, with people wondering wether it was feasible for large pieces of software (e.g. OS kernels) to be proven, because of their size and complexity. He didn't seem to think that it should really be a problem, and attributed the lack of correctness proofs to laziness on the part of programmers.

It was an interesting talk.

No point to this post, really.

-Laxitive
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