Archive for Steve Jobs

Dennis Ritchie 1941-2011

Posted in Books, R, University life with tags , , , , , on October 29, 2011 by xi'an

I just got the “news” that Dennis Ritchie died, although this happened on October 12… The announcement was surprisingly missing from my information channels and certainly got little media coverage, compared with Steve Jobs‘ demise. (I did miss the obituaries in the New York Times and in the Guardian. The Economist has the most appropriate heading, printf(“goodbye, Dennis”); !!!) Still, Dennis Ritchie contributed to computer science to extents comparable to Steve Jobs’, if on a lesser commercial plane: he is a founding father of both the C language and the Unix operating system. I remember spending many days perusing over his reference book, The C programming language, co-written with Brian Kernighan. (I kept trying programming in C until Olivier Cappé kindly pointed out to me that I was merely translating my Pascal vision into C code, missing most of the appeal of the language!) And, of course, I also remember discovering Unix when arriving at Purdue as a logical and much more modern operating system: just tfour years after programming principal components on punched card and in SAS, this was a real shock! I took a few evening classes at Purdue run by the Computer Department and I still carry around the Purdue University UNIX Pocket Guide. Although I hardly ever use it, it is there on the first shelf on top of my desk… As is The C programming language even though I have not opened it in years!

So we (geeks, computer users, Linuxians, R users, …) owe a lot to Dennis Ritchie and it is quite sad both that he passed away by himself and that his enormous contribution was not better acknowledged. Thus, indeed,

for (i=0; i<ULONG_LONG_MAX; i++)
    printf("thanks a lot, Dennis")

Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

Posted in Travel, University life with tags , , on October 7, 2011 by xi'an

I bought my first Apple in May 1983, it was an Apple IIe computer, just out from the factory, and I spent most of my savings on the [approximately 13,000 francs] 8K machine. Then most of my summer programming in Pascal games and algorithms. (I even had a special suitcase built by my brother-in-law to carry the thing back and forth between Paris and Normandy, on the train! An early version of the portable computer.) This Apple computer did run most of the simulations for my thesis on the James-Stein phenomenon, running for days and days, the top lid often removed to let the heat out.

In 1991, I brought an Apple Macintosh IIc back from Purdue. I remember that the custom officer in the airport was so clueless about computers that he asked me whether the RAM was under 64K or not. I used this second Apple computer at home for writing my first books and for logging to the Paris 6 mainframe by shaky modem connections, but not for computing apart from some Mathematica formal calculus. (At that time, CREST still did not have Internet and I had to rely on the rudimentary Minitel…) Then in 1996 we bought a PowerMac that was so pleasantly efficient (a NeXT would have been even better but the cost was just too high without a research grant!) that we kept using it till 2000 or 2001 (when my then young son ruined the CD reader by stuffing all his color pen into the slot). At that point, I had moved to exclusively using Linux and laptops, so there was little point (and even less money) in buying Macs, and it is only three years ago that I tried using them in conjunction with an Ubuntu system, not a perfect combination but smooth enough for my own purpose and idiosyncrasies… (Plus the guaranty of reliable material and hardware.) Thus, a long and still going relation with Apple computers. Hence a sincere salute to Steve Jobs for his vision and charisma in keeping the technology and innovation ahead of the crowd over these 35 years.

(Counterpoint #1: I am always wary of the easy trend to turn individuals into geniuses without accounting for their environment: Mr Jobs was head of a huge company with an army of engineers, designers, publicists, &tc. and they contributed to the success of Apple, the more as the years went on, I presume. So I have more trust in the law of large numbers than in black, gray, or white swans. Nonetheless, it can be argued Apple would not have impacted our daily life the way it did without Steve Jobs. An exception to my rule above.)

(Counterpoint #2: Apple is a commercial company. That it delivers fairly good products and keeps an innovative research policy does not absolve it from corporate flaws. Nor does it exclude other high tech companies from delivering other types of innovation.)

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