The Loony Bin ( loonies@bloodaxe.demon.co.uk )
Sun, 5 Jan 1997 05:35:09 +0000

Hiya People...

More UNIX for you...

Wishes & Dreams...


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***                 THE LOONY BIN                   ***
***           loonies@bloodaxe.demon.co.uk          ***
*** Archive: http://eleceng.ukc.ac.uk/~pjw/loonies/ ***
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*******************Internet Goddess********************

  ------- Forwarded foolishness follows -------

In an announcement that has stunned the computer industry, Ken Thompson,
Dennis Ritchie and Brian Kernighan admitted that the Unix operating
system and C programming language created by them is an elaborate prank
kept alive for over 20 years. Speaking at the recent UnixWorld Software
Development Forum, Thompson revealed the following:

"In 1969, AT&T had just terminated their work with the GE/ Honeywell/
AT&T Multics project. Brian and I had started work with an early release
of Pascal from Professor Niklaus Wirth's ETH labs in Switzerland and we
were impressed with its elegant simplicity and power. Dennis had just
finished reading 'Bored of the Rings', a National Lampoon parody of the
Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy. As a lark, we decided to do
parodies of the Multics environment and Pascal. Dennis and I were
responsible for the operating environment.

We looked at Multics and designed the new OS to be as complex and
cryptic as possible to maximize casual users' frustration levels,
calling it Unix as a parody of Multics, as well as other more risque
allusions. We sold the terse command language to novitiates by telling
them that it saved them typing.

Then Dennis and Brian worked on a warped version of Pascal, called 'A'.
'A' looked a lot like Pascal, but elevated the notion of the direct
memory address (which Wirth had banished) to the central concept of the
language.  This was Dennis's contribution, and he in fact coined the
term "pointer" as an innocuous sounding name for a truly malevolent
construct. Brian must be credited with the idea of having absolutely no
standard I/O specification: this ensured that at least 50% of the
typical commercial program would have to be re-coded when changing
hardware platforms. Brian was also responsible for pitching this lack of
I/O as a feature: it allowed us to describe the language as "truly

When we found others were actually creating real programs with A, we
removed compulsory type-checking on function arguments. Later, we added
a notion we called "casting": this allowed the programmer to treat an
integer as though it were a 50kb user-defined structure. When we found
that some programmers were simply not using pointers, we eliminated the
ability to pass structures to functions, enforcing their use in even the
simplest applications. We sold this, and many other features, as
enhancements to the efficiency of the language. In this way, our prank
evolved into B, BCPL, and finally C. We stopped when we got a clean
compile on the following syntax:


At one time, we joked about selling this to the Soviets to set their
computer science progress back 20 or more years.

Unfortunately, AT&T and other US corporations actually began using Unix
and C. We decided we'd better keep mum, assuming it was just a passing
phase.  In fact, it's taken US companies over 20 years to develop enough
expertise to generate useful applications using this 1960's
technological parody.  We are impressed with the tenacity of the general
Unix and C programmer. In fact, Brian, Dennis and I have never ourselves
attempted to write a commercial application in this environment.

We feel really guilty about the chaos, confusion and truly awesome
programming projects that have resulted from our silly prank so long

Dennis Ritchie said: "What really tore it (just when AIDA was catching
on), was that Bjarne Stroustrup caught onto our joke.  He extended it to
further parody, Smalltalk.  Like us, he was caught by surprise when
nobody laughed. So he added multiple inheritance, virtual base classes,
and later... templates. All to no avail. So we now have compilers that
can compile 100,000 lines per second, but need to process header files
for 25 minutes before they get to the meat of "Hello, World".

Major Unix and C vendors and customers, including AT&T, Microsoft,
Hewlett-Packard, GTE, NCR, and DEC have refused comment at this time.
Borland International, a leading vendor of object-oriented tools,
including the popular Turbo Pascal and Borland C++, stated they had
suspected this for a couple of years. In fact, the notoriously late
Quattro Pro for Windows was originally written in C++. Philippe Kahn
said: "After two and a half years programming, and massive programmer
burn-outs, we re-coded the whole thing in Turbo Pascal in three months.
I think it's fair to say that Turbo Pascal saved our bacon". Another
Borland spokesman said that they would continue to enhance their Pascal
products and halt further efforts to develop C/C++.

Professor Wirth of the ETH institute and father of the Pascal, Modula 2
and Oberon structured languages, cryptically said "P.T. Barnum was
right." He had no further comments.