A passage. What am I going to do with this torch?

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From: Eirikur Hallgrimsson (eh@mad.scientist.com)
Date: Wed Dec 27 2000 - 14:24:29 PST


I just got word that the mentor of my programming skills passed away.
I accidently inherited a copy of his book "The RSTS/E System
Programmer's Notebook" at my first real, non-menial, job. It was a
photocopy of an offset-press original that was printed by the Digital
User's Society. It was a labor of love for him. He was working in
Digital Software Support at the time. It contained the system calls
(and examples of their use) that I used to get single-character input
for my graphics animation input on plain old text terminals. It
taught a lot about the I/O system, the system data structures, and
the scheduler--things that the few books on applications programming
at the time definitely did not cover.

I basically taught myself systems programming out of that book and
the source code for all the utility applications which came with
RSTS/E. The RSTS/E installation process involved compiling the
utilities from source!

I got email from a friend about Martin's passing and I thought about
where he would have known Martin.....well, it was one Summer when
they were both working for me. One of the more interesting reversals
in life, Martin working for me. He studiously avoided becoming
managerial, and actively sought interesting projects where we often
intersected. This surprised me greatly the first time it happened. I
had the experience of meeting my 'hero' and finding out that he was a
real person, quirky, sometimes cranky. That was a heck of a team we
had going there for a while on the Digital Mac-connectivity stuff.

Martin was in his early sixties (I think) and looked to be in his
prime when last I saw him. He was one of those rail-thin runner
types. He'd beaten some form of leukemia, just before he came to work
in my group ("No, this isn't the cool shaved-head look, this is the
eek-my-hair-fell-out look!"). He was a wonderful guy, and we had a
lot in common, but we never really were friends. He was a FoRKish
person, a voracious reader, translator from the Swedish (of racy
movies, way back when), avid runner (and timekeeper for the Boston
Marathon when he was living here), etc. I could make a joke case that
the drunken Swedish accent of the early DECtalk (and later Apple)
speech synthesis software was a joke of Martin's.

While at Digital, Martin was working evenings on a free C compiler
for DEC systems. Open Source before its time. I learned my first bits
of C from some of his example programs, when I was trying to program
my 64K (!) PDP-11 home computer, running RT-11.

It's possible that another FoRKer may have known Martin via the small
world effect, or through his work at Apple.

I guess I've got the torch, now. I want to work with people like
Martin again, and I want to pass on some of what I've learned.
Knowing Martin kept me humble, and I wonder just what it is that I
have to pass on. He passed on a clear love of what he was doing,
without ever saying much about that in words.



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