Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Ithaca Address

On September 30, 1976, [1] I was asked to give the after-dinner speech at a workshop hosted by Cornell University to discuss the WOODENMAN version of the DoD's requirements for the language that eventually became Ada.

Let Prof. John Williams [2] set the stage:
Just after dinner on the first evening of the workshop, a tall gaunt and bearded man [3] rose quietly and moved toward the front of the hall. He looked tired and worn as though exhausted by his long arduous journey from the night before. As he turned to speak, a hush fell upon the room. And with a soft and solemn voice, he began,

"Four score and seven weeks ago,
ARPA brought forth upon this community a new Specification,
conceived in desperation,
and dedicated to the proposition
that all embedded computer applications are equal.
Now we are engaged in a great verbal war,
testing whether that specification, or any specification so conceived and so dedicated,
can long be endured.
We are met on a great Battlefield of that war.
We have come to dedicate a Proceedings of that Battle,
as a final resting place for those Papers
that here gave their Ideas that that Specification might live.
It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense,
we cannot dedicate - we cannot authorize -
we cannot enforce - this Specification.
The brave men, military and civilian,
who funded this Specification,
have authorized it far above our poor power to add or subtract.
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here,
but it can never forget what they did elsewhere.
It is for us the experts, rather,
to be dedicated here to the unfinished work
which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us,
- that from these honored Papers, we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion
- that we here highly resolve that these Papers shall not have been written in vain
- that this Specification, under DoD, shall have a new birth of reason
- and that programming
of common problems,
by common programmers,
in common languages,
shall not perish from the earth."
Updated 5/30/07: Corrected attribution of scene-setting remarks.

[1] Roy Levin commented: "I have trouble believing the date in the opening sentence."
To which I replied: "I had to keep the 'four score and seven' to make the source instantly recognizable. Woodenman was just a couple of years into the project, so I doubt I was wrong by more than a binary order of magnitude."
To which he replied: "I was referring to September 31."
So I fixed it.
[2] As later quoted by William A. Whitaker, Col. USAF, Ret.
[3] At that time I had had a beard for almost a decade, and it was still very dark. I was often told that I "looked like Abraham Lincoln." Now, I'm more often asked if I'm Amish.