Dennis Ritchie -- An Appreciation


S

Steve Summit

[I haven't posted here in quite some time, but I should
definitely post this here. It's also on the web at
http://www.eskimo.com/~scs/dmr.html .]

I'm a programmer, and just about always have been.
My favorite programming language is still C, and my favorite
operating system is still Unix. Dennis Ritchie was, of course,
jointly responsible for both. So I have definitely lost a
personal hero and, to the extent that I can claim I've learned
from his work, a mentor as well.

It's been said that Unix killed research in operating systems.
I find I don't mind, because Unix is just about perfect.
It's said that you have to keep updating your skills in the tech
world, but I've been programming professionally in C and Unix for
more than 30 years now, and I don't expect to have to switch anytime
soon. In a field that does tend to burn down and reincarnate
itself at least once every five years or so, those two wonderful
little programming systems have proved remarkably durable.
(And they *are* little, which is one of their underappreciated charms.)

Just about everybody of a certain era in programming probably
considers Dennis a hero. The tech world being a bit more
gregarious and less stratified than (say) Hollywood, Dennis was
delightfully approachable. It was always a thrill to see a post
from dmr in a Usenet newsgroup, the more so if it was in response
to one of your own posts, the more so if he agreed with you.
And if you got an email out of the blue -- well, that was
*really* one to be treasured. But you didn't have to wait; any
random hacker out there on the net could send an email to dmr,
and he'd often reply. (I know this because he once thanked me --
another email to treasure! -- for being able to save time by
simply pointing supplicants to the comp.lang.c FAQ list I'd
compiled.)

Random reminiscence: it's a USENIX conference, sometime in the
mid-90's. There's a session on copyright and other intellectual
property issues, and as always happens when computer types
discuss this topic, there are a bunch of flamboyant statements
being made about how copyrights and patents on software are
Evil, information wants to be free, etc., etc. One commentator,
objecting to the possibility that too-strict copyrights might
stifle progress, solemnly opines that he doesn't want to be
stuck using 20 year old software. But sitting right in front
of me happens to be Dennis Ritchie, who calls out in a rather
commanding voice, "But you all do!"

I'd like to say I'll miss him not only as a mentor but as a
personal friend, but I only met him once or twice, so I can't
honestly say that. But I can say this: every time I simply type

r = read(fd, buf, 13);

to read 13 bytes from a file without worrying about its record
structure, Dennis Ritchie lives. Every time I pipe something to
grep rather than having to eyeball it for a pattern I'm looking
for, Dennis Ritchie lives. Most importantly, every time I have
the pleasure of writing (or using!) a software tool that's
wondrously small and simple, that does one job and does it well,
Dennis Ritchie lives.

In fact, that's not a bad epitaph. Dennis Ritchie: he did one
job, and he did it well.

Steve Summit
2011-10-13
 
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U

Uno

[I haven't posted here in quite some time, but I should
definitely post this here. It's also on the web at
http://www.eskimo.com/~scs/dmr.html .]

I'm a programmer, and just about always have been.
My favorite programming language is still C, and my favorite
operating system is still Unix. Dennis Ritchie was, of course,
jointly responsible for both. So I have definitely lost a
personal hero and, to the extent that I can claim I've learned
from his work, a mentor as well.

It's been said that Unix killed research in operating systems.
I find I don't mind, because Unix is just about perfect.
It's said that you have to keep updating your skills in the tech
world, but I've been programming professionally in C and Unix for
more than 30 years now, and I don't expect to have to switch anytime
soon. In a field that does tend to burn down and reincarnate
itself at least once every five years or so, those two wonderful
little programming systems have proved remarkably durable.
(And they *are* little, which is one of their underappreciated charms.)

Just about everybody of a certain era in programming probably
considers Dennis a hero. The tech world being a bit more
gregarious and less stratified than (say) Hollywood, Dennis was
delightfully approachable. It was always a thrill to see a post
from dmr in a Usenet newsgroup, the more so if it was in response
to one of your own posts, the more so if he agreed with you.
And if you got an email out of the blue -- well, that was
*really* one to be treasured. But you didn't have to wait; any
random hacker out there on the net could send an email to dmr,
and he'd often reply. (I know this because he once thanked me --
another email to treasure! -- for being able to save time by
simply pointing supplicants to the comp.lang.c FAQ list I'd
compiled.)

Random reminiscence: it's a USENIX conference, sometime in the
mid-90's. There's a session on copyright and other intellectual
property issues, and as always happens when computer types
discuss this topic, there are a bunch of flamboyant statements
being made about how copyrights and patents on software are
Evil, information wants to be free, etc., etc. One commentator,
objecting to the possibility that too-strict copyrights might
stifle progress, solemnly opines that he doesn't want to be
stuck using 20 year old software. But sitting right in front
of me happens to be Dennis Ritchie, who calls out in a rather
commanding voice, "But you all do!"

I'd like to say I'll miss him not only as a mentor but as a
personal friend, but I only met him once or twice, so I can't
honestly say that. But I can say this: every time I simply type

r = read(fd, buf, 13);

to read 13 bytes from a file without worrying about its record
structure, Dennis Ritchie lives. Every time I pipe something to
grep rather than having to eyeball it for a pattern I'm looking
for, Dennis Ritchie lives. Most importantly, every time I have
the pleasure of writing (or using!) a software tool that's
wondrously small and simple, that does one job and does it well,
Dennis Ritchie lives.

In fact, that's not a bad epitaph. Dennis Ritchie: he did one
job, and he did it well.

Steve Summit
2011-10-13

I usually read you as a hard copy.

Cheers,
 
D

Dann Corbit

C is close enough to the hardware to allow me to avoid writing assembly
in order to keep a program fast. Yet C is abstract enough to write
complicated ideas in a symbolic way in order to make the code easy to
maintain.

C is the mother of the modern OO languages like C++ and Java.

My first programming language was Fortran IV. My second programming
language was PL/1. But C (while the 3rd programming language that I
learned) was the first programming language that I loved.

And I am really, really hard to please.

There are some programming giants. Donald Knuth, W. Richard Stevens,
and Dennis Ritchie top my list. How about yours?
 
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B

Bill Davy

Dann Corbit said:
C is close enough to the hardware to allow me to avoid writing assembly
in order to keep a program fast. Yet C is abstract enough to write
complicated ideas in a symbolic way in order to make the code easy to
maintain.

C is the mother of the modern OO languages like C++ and Java.

My first programming language was Fortran IV. My second programming
language was PL/1. But C (while the 3rd programming language that I
learned) was the first programming language that I loved.

And I am really, really hard to please.

There are some programming giants. Donald Knuth, W. Richard Stevens,
and Dennis Ritchie top my list. How about yours?


That "Programming Pearls" guy.
Bill Wolf (for "Design of an Optimising Compiler")
Aho, Weinberg, Kernighan (AWK)
Kernighan (Di-Troff, and much else)
Per Brinch Hansen
Tony Hoare
 
M

Malcolm McLean

There are some programming giants.  Donald Knuth, W. Richard Stevens,
and Dennis Ritchie top my list.  How about yours?
Ada Lovelace was not only the first programmer, she also understood
what programming was and what a computer could and couldn't do. So
she's got to be on the list.

I'd also add Cooley and Tukey for the fast Fourier transform.
 
K

Kleuskes & Moos

Ada Lovelace was not only the first programmer, she also understood what
programming was and what a computer could and couldn't do. So she's got
to be on the list.

I'd also add Cooley and Tukey for the fast Fourier transform.

Niklaus Wirth wasn't mentioned yet. Alain Colmerauer and David Warren for
their work on Prolog and the WAM.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
_________________________________________
/ Thousands of days of civilians ... have \
| produced a ... feeling for the |
\ aesthetic modules -- /
-----------------------------------------
\
\
___
{~._.~}
( Y )
()~*~()
(_)-(_)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
J

Jorgen Grahn

C is close enough to the hardware to allow me to avoid writing assembly
in order to keep a program fast. Yet C is abstract enough to write
complicated ideas in a symbolic way in order to make the code easy to
maintain.

C is the mother of the modern OO languages like C++ and Java.

My first programming language was Fortran IV. My second programming
language was PL/1. But C (while the 3rd programming language that I
learned) was the first programming language that I loved.

And I am really, really hard to please.

There are some programming giants. Donald Knuth, W. Richard Stevens,
and Dennis Ritchie top my list.

I don't know Stevens as a programmer, more as an explorer/teacher.
He's on my top lists, but not this one.
How about yours?

The rest of Bell Labs, up to and including Stroustrup.

/Jorgen
 
P

Patrick Scheible

Dann Corbit said:
C is close enough to the hardware to allow me to avoid writing assembly
in order to keep a program fast. Yet C is abstract enough to write
complicated ideas in a symbolic way in order to make the code easy to
maintain.

C is the mother of the modern OO languages like C++ and Java.

My first programming language was Fortran IV. My second programming
language was PL/1. But C (while the 3rd programming language that I
learned) was the first programming language that I loved.

My exposure was Basic, Pascal, C, then various assembly languages and
other languages. C was my favorite for a long time. And while I have
other favorites now, they were invented after C.
And I am really, really hard to please.

There are some programming giants. Donald Knuth, W. Richard Stevens,
and Dennis Ritchie top my list. How about yours?

Here are a few more:

Robert Sedgwick, for clear and cogent explanations of algorithms.
Ralph Griswold (RIP), creator of Snobol and Icon.
Daniel Murphy, primary creator of TOPS-20, the first modern timesharing
OS.

-- Patrick
 
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F

Frederick Williams

Dann said:
There are some programming giants. Donald Knuth, W. Richard Stevens,
and Dennis Ritchie top my list. How about yours?

There is one of those whom I would exclude. I would add (in no
particular order) Tony Hoare, Charles Moore, Bertrand Meyer and John
McCarthy.
 
8

88888 dihedral

I recommend the Winograd's Fourier transform programs for 1 D DFT not covered by the Oppenheim nad Schaifer's text books, and programs of the Nussbaumer polynomial transform for multidimensional DFT.
 
K

Kaz Kylheku

There are some programming giants. Donald Knuth, W. Richard Stevens,
and Dennis Ritchie top my list. How about yours?

Dough Smith: Very nice work on the game Lode Runner for the Apple II circa 1980.

Philip Greenspun: http://philip.greenspun.com/narcissism/resume

This new resume doesn't have a lot details of the cool exploits that I remember
from a prior version. But I didn't know that Greenspun was one of the brains
behind PA-RISC.

``Helped architect, simulate and design prototype of HP's Precision
Architecture RISC computer. The prototype took two man-years to complete and
ran at VAX 11/780 speed in June 1983. This architecture became the basis of
HP's computer product line for 15 years and then became the basis for the
64-bit generation of Intel processors.''

That was in 1982-1983. He was only born in 1963. :)
 
R

Roberto Waltman

Dann Corbit said:
...
There are some programming giants. Donald Knuth, W. Richard Stevens,
and Dennis Ritchie top my list. How about yours?

Not sure if to call them "programmers", but ...

Add Niklaus Wirth, Edser Djikstra, Per Brinch-Hansen, Chuck Moore,
Alan Perlis (even if only for the humor,) Alan Kay.
 
A

AK

[I haven't posted here in quite some time, but I should
definitely post this here.  It's also on the web athttp://www.eskimo.com/~scs/dmr.html.]

I'm a programmer, and just about always have been.
My favorite programming language is still C, and my favorite
operating system is still Unix.  Dennis Ritchie was, of course,
jointly responsible for both.  So I have definitely lost a
personal hero and, to the extent that I can claim I've learned
from his work, a mentor as well.

Same here. In fact, I'm quite pissed at the press in my country, who
gave a front page tribute to Steve Jobs and not even a mention about
Dennis Ritchie.
It's been said that Unix killed research in operating systems.
I find I don't mind, because Unix is just about perfect.
It's said that you have to keep updating your skills in the tech
world, but I've been programming professionally in C and Unix for
more than 30 years now, and I don't expect to have to switch anytime
soon.  In a field that does tend to burn down and reincarnate
itself at least once every five years or so, those two wonderful
little programming systems have proved remarkably durable.
(And they *are* little, which is one of their underappreciated charms.)

Just about everybody of a certain era in programming probably
considers Dennis a hero.  The tech world being a bit more
gregarious and less stratified than (say) Hollywood, Dennis was
delightfully approachable.  It was always a thrill to see a post
from dmr in a Usenet newsgroup, the more so if it was in response
to one of your own posts, the more so if he agreed with you.
And if you got an email out of the blue -- well, that was
*really* one to be treasured.  But you didn't have to wait; any
random hacker out there on the net could send an email to dmr,
and he'd often reply.  (I know this because he once thanked me --
another email to treasure! -- for being able to save time by
simply pointing supplicants to the comp.lang.c FAQ list I'd
compiled.)

Random reminiscence: it's a USENIX conference, sometime in the
mid-90's.  There's a session on copyright and other intellectual
property issues, and as always happens when computer types
discuss this topic, there are a bunch of flamboyant statements
being made about how copyrights and patents on software are
Evil, information wants to be free, etc., etc.  One commentator,
objecting to the possibility that too-strict copyrights might
stifle progress, solemnly opines that he doesn't want to be
stuck using 20 year old software.  But sitting right in front
of me happens to be Dennis Ritchie, who calls out in a rather
commanding voice, "But you all do!"

I'd like to say I'll miss him not only as a mentor but as a
personal friend, but I only met him once or twice, so I can't
honestly say that.  But I can say this: every time I simply type

        r = read(fd, buf, 13);

to read 13 bytes from a file without worrying about its record
structure, Dennis Ritchie lives.  Every time I pipe something to
grep rather than having to eyeball it for a pattern I'm looking
for, Dennis Ritchie lives.  Most importantly, every time I have
the pleasure of writing (or using!) a software tool that's
wondrously small and simple, that does one job and does it well,
Dennis Ritchie lives.

In fact, that's not a bad epitaph.  Dennis Ritchie: he did one
job, and he did it well.

Amen...
 
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N

Nick Keighley

Ada Lovelace was not only the first programmer, she also understood
what programming was and what a computer could and couldn't do. So
she's got to be on the list.

there's some doubt about these claims. Some think she was just a ghost
writer for Babbage. She was rather over-rated as a mathematician too.
 
L

lovecreatesbeauty

C is close enough to the hardware to allow me to avoid writing assembly
in order to keep a program fast.  Yet C is abstract enough to write
complicated ideas in a symbolic way in order to make the code easy to
maintain.

C is the mother of the modern OO languages like C++ and Java.

I think C is just enough
There are some programming giants.  Donald Knuth, W. Richard Stevens,
and Dennis Ritchie top my list.  How about yours?

Dennis Ritchie is the one on my list
 
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L

lovecreatesbeauty

Same here. In fact, I'm quite pissed at the press in my country, who
gave a front page tribute to Steve Jobs and not even a mention about
Dennis Ritchie.

I read it on Google News and New York Times reported it.
 

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