[TUHS] Happy birthday, John Backus!

Noel Chiappa jnc at mercury.lcs.mit.edu
Wed Dec 5 00:43:06 AEST 2018

    > From: Toby Thain

    > He made amends by being early to recognise that problem, and propose
    > solutions, in his 1977 ACM Turing Award lecture

Actually, I'd consider a far bigger amend to be his work on Algol 60 (he was
one of the main contributors), which Hoare so memorably described as "a
language so far ahead of its time that it was not only an improvement on its
predecessors but also on nearly all its successors".

AFAICT, although Algol 60 itself is no longer used, basically _every_ modern
programming language (other than wierd, parallel ones, etc) is heavily
descended from Algol 60 (e.g. C, via CPL).

As for FORTRAN, it's worth recalling that it was originally for the IBM 704,
which was their very _first_ commercial computer with core memory! And not a
lot of it - early 704's came with a massive 4KW of main memory! So the
compiler had to be squeezed into _very_ small space - and it reportedly did an
excellent job of emitting efficient code (at a time when a lot of people
thought that couldn't be done, and so were hostile to the concept of writing
program in HLL). And the compiler had to be written entirely in assembler, to

Which brings up an interesting query - I wonder when/what the last compiler
written in assembler was? I gather these days compilers for new machines are
always bootstrapped as cross-compilers (an X compiler for the Y machine is
written in X, run through the X compiler for the [existing] Z machine, and
then run though itself, on the Z machine, to produce binary of itself for the
Y machine).


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