Beauty Is Our Business: A Birthday Salute to Edsger W. Dijkstra (Monographs in Computer Science)
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This book contains fifty-four technical contributions in different areas of endeavor, although many of them deal with an area of particular concern to Dijkstra: programming. Each contribution is relatively short and could be digested in one sitting.
Together, they form a nice cross section of the discipline of programming at the beginning of the nineties. While many know of Dijkstra's technical contributions, they may not be aware of his ultimate goal, the mastery of complexity in mathematics and computing science. He has forcefully argued that beauty and elegance are essential to this mastery. The title of this book, chosen to reflect his ultimate goal, comes from a sentence in an article of his on some beautiful arguments using mathematical induction: " Product Details Table of Contents.
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Clever's Wonder Wheels series Birthday Monsters! You hear your door come crashing down—those birthday monsters are in town! I was not quite certain just what topics we might discuss, but Professor Dijkstra soon solved that problem. After some very short preliminaries he stood up and provided me with a lecture on his thoughts on the subject, striding up and down in my office. It is not at all clear to me just who interviewed whom. Tony Hoare, himself a Turing Award winner and pioneer but not a student of Dijkstra's , told of their first meeting, which exemplifies the discipline of programming that Dijkstra espoused see Dijkstra :.
The first time I visited Edsger in Eindhoven was in the early Seventies. In the computing center at which the system was running I asked whether there was really no possibility of deadlock. They then input a program with an infinite recursion. After a while, a request appeared at the operator's console for more storage to be allocated to the program, and this was granted.
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At the same time they put a circular paper tape loop into one of the tape readers, and this was immediately read into buffer file by the spooling demon. After a while the reader stopped; but the operator typed a message forcing the spooler to continue reading. At the same time even more storage was allocated to the recursive program.
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After an interval in which the operator repeatedly forced further foolish storage allocations, the system finally ground to a complete halt, and a brief message explained that storage was exhausted and requested the operator to restart operations. So the answer was YES; the system did have a possibility of deadlock. And secondly, that this was the very first time it had happened.
I concluded that the THE operating system had been designed by a practical engineer of high genius. Having conducted the most fundamental and far-reaching research into deadlock and its avoidance, he nevertheless allocated scarce resources to ensure that if anything went wrong, it would be recognized and rectified. And finally, of course, nothing actually ever did go wrong, except as a demonstration to an inquisitive visitor. David Gries remembered that Dijkstra's main contributions have been in programming methodology, and that he was one of the founders of IFIP Working Group 2.
On the other hand the remembrance indicated that Dijkstra is not infallible:. During that summer week, Edsger, slightly short of breath while climbing a steep hill during an outing, said he did not believe that programming as a field of research would last another ten years-fifteen at the outside. Wad Turski says it is a pity that he did not challenge Edsger with a bet at the time, for he would have won.
Turski was hesitant to bet because he had just lost a case of cognac: almost a decade earlier, at a New Year's party in Moscow, Turski bet a Russian scientist that man would not set foot on the moon before December 31, , so Wad had just lost that bet by five months! An unsubstantiated anecdote illustrates to what lengths people go to get the upper hand on Edsger:.
After Carel Scholten had built one of the early computers at the Mathematical Centre [Mathematisch Centrum, Amsterdam], Edsger claimed that nobody could write a shorter routine than his for some problem, and he offered a free meal to whoever could beat his routine quite a bold bet for a Dutchman. He lost his bet, because Carel Scholten secretly added an instruction to the machine just so that he could write a shorter program!
Thus, Edsger lost his one and only bet! Dijkstra watchers, be they students of his lectures, or lecturers who have had him in the audience, are often perturbed by his lecturing and listening activities.
Oh no, there's been an error
Students are irritated by his habit of pausing between sentences to think about what he is to say next. Asked about it on one occasion he pointed out that English is not his native language and he picked up the habit early in his using the language. As the speaker drones on, Edsger will become displeased at something, or begin thinking about something the speaker said.
The body will rise, the sandals will come off, and the walking at the back of the room will begin. The unsuspecting new lecturer will continue blithely on. A more experienced lecturer will suspect and begin to worry. If he can contain himself, Edsger will wait until the end of the lecture, but sometimes he just has to interrupt. A snort will erupt, the nostrils will flare, the chin will elevate, and out will come an inspired, amazingly logical and eloquent, commentary.
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Both parties will emerge pleased, one for having vanquished stupidity, the other for having evoked the commentary and for the understanding they have gained. In the long run, this supreme effort of abrasion has polished the understanding of both. McIlroy recalls only once that an eruption went supercritical.
Unfortunately, the verbal outburst was saved for the end, and when it came, it lacked all divine inspiration: "This stuff makes me sick! Understanding was nonetheless polished, and two years later Dijkstra had taken up the topic himself. David Gries Cornell University was one of the recipients of "on-line" coaching during a lecture:.
My own experience with lecturing before Edsger took place in Marktoberdorf. It rests on the fact that in some languages notably Fortran , the equality symbol and the assignment symbol are the same, and many people say "x equals e" when they mean "store the value of e in x," or "x becomes e. I was lecturing along, when I said "x equals e" meaning an assignment of e to x. From the back of the room came a loud "becomes," and then a stunned silence. Finally, I gathered my wits and said, "Thank you, Edsger, for correcting me.