Feeds

Edsger Dijkstra: RIP

Pioneer and wit

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Dutch computer pioneer Edsger W Dijkstra has died, aged 72.

Over forty years, Dijkstra enriched software with many concepts, often expressed with such wit and clarity they make your teeth hum.

He most famously proselytised structured programming, but his work battled against an electronics industry that "solved no problems, only created new ones."

Revisiting his 1972 Turing lecture two years ago, Dijkstra wrote: "Computing's central challenge, viz. 'How not to make a mess of it', has not been met." He illustrated this with a parable.

Dijkstra described how he entered the field, before there was a recognizable field to enter:-

"In 1955 I took the decision not to become a theoretical physicist, but a programmer instead," he wrote.

"I had concluded that of theoretical physics and programming, programming embodied the greater intellectual challenge," he explained.

Two years later, however the Dutch marriage registrar refused to accept programmer as a profession, and instead put "theoretical physicist" he explained in his Turing lecture [480k PDF].

But Dijkstra shunned credit for his most famous, and overused aphorism: "considered harmful". He had this to say:-

"In 1968 the Communications of the ACM published a text of mine under the title "The goto statement considered harmful, which in later years would be most frequently referenced, regrettably, however, often by authors who had seen no more of it than its title, which became a cornerstone of my fame by becoming a templace: we would see all sorts of articles under the title 'X considered harmful' for almost any X, including one titled "Dijkstra considered harmful."

"But what had happened? I had submitted a paper under the title "A case against the goto statement, which in order to speed up its publication, the editor had changed into a 'Letter to the Editor', and in the process he had given it a new title of his own invention! The editor was Niklaus Wirth".

In his love letter to the genius of the Netherlands, Brilliant Orange, David Winner cites the Dutch sculptor Jeroen Henneman explaining the simplicity and elegance of a match-winning Bergkamp pass: "One moment the pitch is crowded and narrow. Suddenly it is huge and wide."

Edsger Dijkstra , who devised a single source Shortest Path Algorithm [more][animated applet], would have appreciated that. ®

Related Links

EWDs: Edsger Dijkstra manuscripts collection [10MB]
University of Texas, Austin: notice
EWD home page at University of Texas, Austin

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
Netscape Navigator - the browser that started it all - turns 20
It was 20 years ago today, Marc Andreeesen taught the band to play
Sway: Microsoft's new Office app doesn't have an Undo function
Content aggregation, meet the workplace ... oh
Do Moan! MONSTER 6-day EMAIL OUTAGE hits Domain Monster
Customers freaked out by frightful service
Sign off my IT project or I’ll PHONE your MUM
Honestly, it’s a piece of piss
Return of the Jedi – Apache reclaims web server crown
.london, .hamburg and .公司 - that's .com in Chinese - storm the web server charts
NetWare sales revive in China thanks to that man Snowden
If it ain't Microsoft, it's in fashion behind the Great Firewall
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.