Monday, June 26, 2006

Computer Architecture, Alan Perlis

Alan J. Perlis was not only a wonderful human being, an excellent mentor to many computer scientists, and a talented coiner of aphorisms, he was also a great storyteller. I remember one of his stories concerned computer architecture. I may not have remembered all the details exactly, but here is the gist:
When we were preparing to take delivery of the Bendix G-20 computer at Carnegie [1] a man dropped into my office and said he had some "architectural questions" about the new computer. Being busy, I handed him the programming manual and told him it would answer all his questions about the architecture of the G-20.

However, he returned a couple of days later, saying he still had some unanswered questions. So I handed him the hardware manual, and said that should cover everything that wasn't in the programming manual.

He returned more quickly this time, saying "I don't know why you gave me those manuals, but if someone doesn't tell me how much this computer weighs, I won't know how much bracing the floor is going to require!"
[1] Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University.


Comment by Blogger

Just a few words to let you know someone is out here reading! I retired recently from a Government job in computing of over 25 years. I was simply a non-technical manager of computer brains, so don't ask me anything hard!

Love your pieces, if for nothing else the historical significance.

Thanks for the documentation.

3:59 PM  

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