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Herman J. Woltring
06-04-1991, 09:50 PM
Dear Biomch-L readers,

With a number of Biomch-L readers active programmers in Unix and C, I think
that the following item received this morning from the Risks Forum Digest
warrants redissemination on our list; however, I'd rather not have a debate
on *this* issue, considering the original source's time stamp. Whatever the
veracity of this item, I'm glad that I'm just an oldfashioned Fortran user.

Sincerely -- Herman J. Woltring.

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Date: Tue, 4 Jun 91 11:41:50 PDT
From: horning@Pa.dec.com (Jim Horning)
Sender: Risks@CSL.SRI.com (RISKS Forum Digest, Vol. 11, Nr. 79, Tue 4 Jun 91)
Subject: CREATORS ADMIT UNIX, C HOAX

T h e V O G O N N e w s S e r v i c e

Edition : 2336 Tuesday 4-Jun-1991 Circulation : 8466

VNS TECHNOLOGY WATCH: [Mike Taylor, VNS Correspondent]
===================== [Littleton, MA, USA ]

COMPUTERWORLD 1 April

CREATORS ADMIT UNIX, C HOAX

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 April
Fools 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 just started working with an early
release of Pascal from Professor Nicklaus 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
hilarious National Lampoon parody of the great Tolkien `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 system 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. Then Dennis and Brian worked on a truly warped
version of Pascal, called `A'. When we found others were actually
trying to create real programs with A, we quickly added additional
cryptic features and evolved into B, BCPL and finally C. We stopped
when we got a clean compile on the following syntax:

for(;P("\n"),R-;P("|"))for(e=C;e-;P("_"+(*u++/8)%2))P("| "+(*u/4)%2);

To think that modern programmers would try to use a language that
allowed such a statement was beyond our comprehension! We actually
thought of selling this to the Soviets to set their computer science
progress back 20 or more years. Imagine our surprise when AT&T and
other US corporations actually began trying to use Unix and C! It has
taken them 20 years to develop enough expertise to generate even
marginally useful applications using this 1960's technological parody,
but we are impressed with the tenacity (if not common sense) of the
general Unix and C programmer. In any event, Brian, Dennis and I have
been working exclusively in Pascal on the Apple Macintosh for the past
few years and feel really guilty about the chaos, confusion and truly
bad programming that have resulted from our silly prank so long ago."

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 Pascal and C tools,
including the popular Turbo Pascal, Turbo C and Turbo C++, stated they
had suspected this for a number of years and would continue to enhance
their Pascal products and halt further efforts to develop C. An IBM
spokesman broke into uncontrolled laughter and had to postpone a
hastily convened news conference concerning the fate of the RS-6000,
merely stating `VM will be available Real Soon Now'. In a cryptic
statement, Professor Wirth of the ETH institute and father of the
Pascal, Modula 2 and Oberon structured languages, merely stated that P.
T. Barnum was correct.

In a related late-breaking story, usually reliable sources are stating
that a similar confession may be forthcoming from William Gates
concerning the MS-DOS and Windows operating environments. And IBM
spokesman have begun denying that the Virtual Machine (VM) product is
an internal prank gone awry.
{COMPUTERWORLD 1 April}
{contributed by Bernard L. Hayes}


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VNS Edition : 2336 Tuesday 4-Jun-1991