Oral history of British science
Brooker, Tony (Part 7 of 14). An Oral History of British Science.
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Interviewee's holiday home, Hexham
Brooker, Ralph Anthony, 1925- (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 7: Remarks on joining Manchester to make the Mark 1 more accessible to the users, as MW and DW had achieved at Cambridge with EDSAC, AT's complicated approach to programming, TK's engineering outlook on computers. Remarks on purpose of Autocode to make floating point arithmetic and single level store easily available to users. [05:22] Comments on Autocode for Mercury: hardware floating point, complicating one level store arrangements, memory arrangement into chapters [cough] [mic crackle], larger memory size compared to Mark 1, scaling numbers. [12:24] Comments on Atlas Autocode: one level store problem solved in hardware, problems caused over rearrangement of pages in memory, TK's solution [mic crackle], result that user would be better using a higher level language than Autocode. [16:24] Comments on the compiler-compiler: [mic crackle] writing a rather obscure paper that was interpreted in a better known paper by an American academic; theoretical interest; [18:05] mathematical example of compiler-compiler applied to general expressions [mic crackle]. [23:40] Comments on coming up with idea of compiler-compiler to make Atlas easily usable with a variety of languages. Comments on ALGOL 58: difficulty of writing an efficient compiler [cough] and importance of finding a strict subset of the language; Tony Hoare's Quicksort sort, which required Brian Randell Whetstone compiler to run. Remarks on putting off Atlas programming language by developing compiler-compiler before Atlas Autocode, which was also used in Edinburgh. [29:44] Short story about being presented with an Atlas Autocode manual from Edinburgh on a recent trip to the USA, mentions Harry Whitfield's work at Edinburgh before his transfer to Brian Randell's group at Newcastle. [mic crackle] Remarks on branching in compilers. Remarks on Ferranti programmers Robin Kerr and John Clegg writing compilers. [34:15] Remarks on Atlas Autocode having limited uptake but compiler-compiler having wider recognition, mentions YACC, Yet Another Compiler Compiler. [35:56] Remarks on contact with computer service users, bouncing ideas off each other. Comments on year spent at IBM Yorktown Heights 1962-63: result of recognition of compiler-compiler and [mic crackle] knowing a Ferranti salesman who went to work at IBM; problems getting a visa due to being a communist years before, aid of Manchester consulate [43:57]; meeting individuals in the USA who found his Communist Party membership strange; prominent religion in the US; meeting a constant stream of people at IBM research; remarks on colleagues, one French who talked about de Gaulle [mic crackle], left wing Americans, Eastern European; finding America right wing. [49:45] Remarks on 1960's America and an English colleague. Description of IBM Yorktown Heights, designed by Eero Saarinen: no office windows, offices packed in like bees in a honeycomb, now a homeless hostel, [loud mic crackle] lights on 24 hours a day. [53:35] Comments on his work at IBM developing ABL - Another Bloody Language: simple language, ran on an IBM 7090, presented at a conference attended by MW, language not being adopted due to competition, anecdote about ideal place in any organisation being in the middle. Remarks on being offered the chance to stay on at IBM with a good salary, deciding sorting out a visa would be too much trouble and that it was easier growing old gracefully in university. [1:00:24] Remarks on returning to busy work on the Atlas at Manchester with Derrick Morris. Further remarks on not taking IBM job offer, IBM's building now being a homeless hostel.
Life story interview with computer scientist Tony Brooker