Part 4 - (Opearting Systems)
What kind of operating system is used by a Real Programmer? CP/M? God forbid - CP/M after all, is basically
a toy operating system. Even little old ladies and grade school students can understand and use CP/M.
Unix is a lot more complicated of course - the typical Unix hacker never can remember what the PRINT
command is called this week - but when it gets right down to it, Unix is a glorified video game. People don't
do Serious Work on Unix systems; they send jokes around the world on UUCP-net and write adventure games
and research papers.
No, your Real Programmer uses OS/370. A good programmer can find and understand the description of
IJK305I error (s)he just got in h(er)is JCL manual. A great programmer can write JCL without referring to
the manual at all. A truly outstanding programmer can find bugs burried in a 6 megabyte core dump without
using a hex calculator. (I have actually seen this done.)
OS is a truly remarkable opearting system. It's possible to destroy days of work with a single misplaced space,
so alertness in the programming staff is encouraged. The best way to approach the system is through a
keypunch. Some people claim there is a Time Sharing running on OS/370, but after careful study I have come
to the conclusion that they were mistaken.
Part 5 - (Programming Tools)
What kind of tools does a Real Programmer use? In theory, a Real Programmer could run his programs by
keying them into the front panel of the computer. Back in the days when computers had front panels, this
was actually done occasionally. Your typical Real Programmer knew the entire bootstrap loader by memory
in hex, and toggled it in whenever it got destroyed by his program. (Back then, memory was memory - it
didn't go away when the power went off. Today, memory either forgets things when you don't want it to, or
remembers things long after the're better forgotten.) Legend has it that Seymore Cray, inventor of the
Cray I supercomputer and most of Control Data's computers, actually toggled the first operating system
for the CDC7600 in on the front panel from memory when it was first powered on. Seymore, needless to
say, is a Real Programmer.
One of my favorite Real Programmers was a system programmer for Texas Instruments. One day he got a
long distance call from a user whose system had crashed in the middle of saving some important work. Jim
was able to repair the damage over the phone, getting the user to toggle in disk I/O instructions at the front
panel, repairing system tables in hex, reading register contents back over the phone. The moral of this story:
while a Real Programmer usually includes a keypunch and lineprinter in his toolkit, he can get along with just
a front panel and a telephone in emergencies.
In some companies, text editing no longer consists of ten engineers standing in line to use an 029 keypunch.
In fact, the building I work in doesn't contain a single keypunch. The Real Programmer in this situation has to
do his work with a "text editor" program. Most systems supply several text editors to select from, and the
Real Programmer must be careful to pick one that reflect his/her personal style. Many people believe that
the best text editors were written at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center for use on their Alto and Dorado
computers. Unfortunately, no Real Programmer would ever use a computer whose operating system is
called SmallTalk, and would certainly not talk to the compuetr with a mouse.
Some of the concepts in these Xerox editors have been incorporated into editors running on more reasonably
named opearting systems - EMACS and VI being two. The problem with these editors editors is that Real
Programmers consider "what you see is what you get" to be just as bad a concept in Text Editors as it is
in women. No, the Real Programmer wants a "you asked for it, you got it" text editor - complicated, cryptic,
powerful, unforgiving, dangerous. TECO to be precise.
It has been observed that a TECO command sequence more closely resembles transmission line noise than
readable text. One of the more entertaining games to play with TECO is to type your name in as a
command line and try to guess what it does. Just about any possible typing error while talking with TECO
will probably destroy your program, even worse - introduce subtle and mysterious bugs in a once working
For this reason, Real Programmers are reluctant to actually edit a program that is close to working. They
find it easier to just patch the binary object code directly, using a wonderful program called SUPERZAP
(or its equivalent on non-IBM machines). This works so well that many working programs on IBM systems
bear no relation to the original FORTRAN code. In many cases, the original source code is no longer available.
When it comes to fix a program like this, no manager would ever even think of sending anything less than a
Real Programmer to do the job - no Quiche Eating structured programmer would even know how to start.
This is called "Job Security".
Some programming tools NOT used by Real Programmers:
- FORTRAN preprocessors like MORTRAN and RATFOR. The Cuisinarts of programming - great for making
Quiche. See comments abobe on structured programming.
- Source language debuggers. Real Programmers can read core dumps.
- Compilers with array bounding checking. They stifle creativity, destroy most of the interesting uses of
EQUIVALAENCE, and make it impossible to modify the operating system code with negative subscripts.
Worst of all, bounds checking is insufficient.
- Source code maintenance systems. A Real Programmer keeps his code locked up in a card file, because
it implies that its owner cannot leave his important programs unguarded .
Part 6 - (Real Programmer at Work)
Where does the typical Real Programmer work? What kind of programs are worthy of the efforts of so
talented an individual? You can be sure that no Real Programmer would be caught dead writing
accounts-receivable programs in COBOL, or sorting mailing lists for People magazine. A Real Programmer
wants tasks of earth-shaking importance (literally!).
- Real Programmers work for Los Alamos National Laboratory, writing atomic bomb simulations to run on
Cray I supercomputers.
- Real Programmers work for the National Security Agency, decoding Russian transmissions.
- It was largely due to the efforts of thousands of Real Programmers working for NASA that our boys got
to the Moon and back before the Russkies.
- Real Programmers are at work for Boeing designing the operating systems for cruise missiles.
Some of the most awesome Real Programmers of all work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
Many of them know the entire operating system of the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft by heart. With a
combination of large ground-based FORTRAN programs and small spacecraft-based assembly language
programs, they are able to do incredible feats of navigation and improvization - hitting ten-kilometer wide
windows at Saturn after six years in space, repairing or bypassing damaged sensor platforms, radios, and
batteries. Allegedly, one Real Programmer managed to tuck a pattern-matching program into a few
hundred bytes of unused memory in a Voyager spacecraft that searched for, located, and photographed a
new moon of Jupiter.
The current plan for the Galileo spacecraft is to use a gravity assist trajectory past Mars on the way to
Jupiter. This trajectory passes within 80 +/-3 kilometers of the surface of Mars. Nobody is going to trust
a PASCAL program (or a PASCAL programmer) for navigation to these tolerances.
As you can tell, many of the world's Real Programmers work for the U.S. government - mainly the Defense
Department. This is as it should be. Recently, however, a black cloud has formed on the Real Programmer
horizon. It seems that some highly placed Quiche Eaters at the Defense Department decided that all Defense
programs should be written in some grand unified language called "ADA" ((C), DOD). For a while, it seemed
that ADA was destined to become a language that went against all the percepts of Real Programming - a
language with structure, a language with data types, strong typing, and semicolons. In short, a language
designed to cripple the creativity of the typical Real Programmer. Fortunately, the language adopted by
DoD has enough interesting features to make it approachable - it's incredibly complex, includes methods
for messing with the operating system and rearranging memory, and Edsgar Dijkstar doen't like it .
(Dijkstar, as I'm sure you know, was the author of "GoTos Considered Harmful" - a landmark waork in
programming methodology, applauded by PASCAL programmers and Quiche Eaters alike.) Besides, the
determined Real Programmer can write FORTRAN programs in any language.
The Real Programmer might compromise his priciples and work on something slightly trivial than the
destruction of life as we know it, providing there's enough memory in it. There are several Real Programmers
building video programs at Atari, for example. (But not playing them - a Real Programmer knows how to
beat the machine every time: no challenge in that.) Everyone working at LucasFilm is a Real Programmer.
(It would be crazy to turn down the money of fifty million Star Trek fans.) The proportion of Real
Programmers in Computer Graphics is somewhat lower than the norm, mostly because nobody has found
a use for computer graphics yet. On the other hand, all computer graphics is done in FORTRAN, so there
are a fair number of people doing graphics in order to avoid having to write COBOL programs.
- to be continued. -