[FoRK] Niklaus Wirth 80th Birthday Symposium

Dave Long dave.long at bluewin.ch
Thu Feb 20 11:11:13 PST 2014

Congratulations to the ETHZ for putting together a great program to  
celebrate Niklaus Wirth (call by name? or call by value?)'s birthday.

The day started with memories of the Algol-68 process, followed by  
Vint Cerf musing about bitrot, Carroll Morgan about the promise of  
(in)formal methods (will have to try Dafny sometime; Morgan claims  
that if your implementation fails to meet a spec, current model  
checkers are capable of automatically generating counterexamples and  
are much lighter weight than full on theorem provers), Hans Eberle on  
pushing bits in the simplest way possible (to the point where the  
chip-to-chip interconnect becomes simply capacitance and proximity!),  
Clemens Szyperski on QBE in Excel (for those who still chase the  
grail of end-user programming), Michael Franz (for our UCI  
contingent!) with whom the times have caught up: the old "thin  
binaries" have turned into customized/randomized per-end-user  
executables (in which Three Letter Agencies apparently have great  
interest), Martin Odersky on the future of types in Scala, Bertrand  
Meyer in his kinder, gentler, (more Swiss?) incarnation almost saying  
nice things about C++ while demonstrating how Eiffel has managed to  
evolve without losing its character, Kathleen Jensen on the  
tribulations, opportunities, and above all serendipity of a SCruzian  
hippie chick coming to 1970's Zürich to do computers, and the pièce  
de résistance, Niklaus Wirth showing off his latest hack: a port of  
his old Oberon system to a microprocessor of his own design,  
instantiated on a cheap FPGA sample board (to which he added a CF  
disk, but didn't see any need of expanding the stock 1M onboard  
memory.  Speaking of hippies, on a Brandian Computer Bum note, his  
1970's hemispherical mouse has remained to provide a constant  
reference size in the pictures as the size of his computing systems  
have shrunk from mini-under-the-desktop to behind-the-monitor  
Raspi'ish format).

I asked Wirth if he was able to provide library source in Oberon  
instead of assembly in the recent version of the book because the  
hardware had gotten faster faster than he could make it slower with  
software, and he replied, no, mostly he understood the problems and  
could express himself much better now than he could the first time  
around.  Truly inspirational.


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