Friday, November 18, 2022

Fred Brooks, RIP

 Fred Brooks, Jr., the manager of IBM's S/360 project, died yesterday at the age of 81. The S/360 line of computers revolutionized the computer business, providing models ranging from the small to the large, all capable of running the same software--and for that matter capable of running the software of a prior IBM line. The S/360 line also established (or helped to establish) the eight-bit byte as standard. Brooks summarized what he had learned from the project in The Mythical Man-Month. My copy of the 25th anniversary edition is by now 27 years old. (It is also lent out, which may be the case with many copies of such books.) And he wrote an influential, or at least frequently quoted, essay "No Silver Bullets" about the challenges of software production.

The Computer History Museum has an interesting interview of Brooks by Grady Booch.


Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Doris Grumbach, RIP

 This week, the New York Times carried an obituary of Doris Grumbach, who died on November 4, at the age of 104. The obituary states that Ms. Grumbach wrote six memoirs, published between 1991 and 2000. She had even by then many years to cover. The obituary also lists several novels.

Her long-time partner was a bookseller. I'm fairly sure that Ms. Grumbach owned a piece of a bookstore in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC, a store I looked into once more than forty years ago. How I would have known that she owned it, I can't say. I thought that she had reviewed books for The Washington Post in those days, but if so, the Times lumps the Post in with "many other publications."

Friday, November 4, 2022

The History of His Parish

 Whispering Gums discusses nonfiction, and asks why we read it. A passage from Thoreau's journals, dated March 18, 1861, offers a partial answer:

You can't read any genuine history--as that of Herodotus or the Venerable Bede--without perceiving that our interest depends not on the subject but on the man,--and on the manner in which he treats his subject and on the importance he gives it. A feeble writer and without genius must have what he thinks a great theme, which we are already interested in through the accounts of others, but a genius--a Shakespeare for instance--would make the history of his parish more interesting than another's history of the world.

This is fair--I would hesitate to ready anyone else's four hundred pages about week of canoeing, but am happy to have read Thoreau's.

On the other hand, there is no end to the making of books, yet the supply of genius is limited. Of the nonfiction--history, biography, memoir, other--that I have read in the past year, one book was a biography of a genius, Erasmus, none were by geniuses. But some offered history I didn't know, or thoughtful reflections on a life, or amusing accounts of some topic.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

A Flood and Some Books

 From the stairs this morning I saw condensation on the window and transom of the front door, which I would not have expected in October. A large puddle on the kitchen floor explained this, and I roused my wife to start on the cleanup while I went to turn off the water at the main shutoff valve. (The valve is awkward to reach, and stiff to turn.) The water clearly came from the dishwasher. The dishwasher had caused no problems in eighteen years, but made up for that overnight. The plumber tells us that the failure is in the dishwasher, not in any connection to it.

The basement had its own puddle, aggravated by fallen drywall tape and drywall debris. After some mopping, I hauled wet rugs into the backyard. One remained on the steps for some time until drained enough to be manageable. We will need to bring in someone to do serious drywall work.

One bookcase suffered. The books were swollen, so that it was difficult to extract the first couple from each shelf. Not all the books were affected, maybe eight of every ten, and those that were varied from a little damp to quite wet. Some are probably not salvageable. I don't know whether the bookcase itself will still be usable, for it is of veneer over plywood.

Had I been asked whether I wished to discard any of the books on the three shelves, I'd have probably said, No, why? Yet now the question for some is whether I'll replace them, and there the answer sometimes is No. I found Leszek Kolakowski's God Owes Us Nothing tremendously interesting, but do I need to review the theological history of Jansenism? Perhaps not. I have probably looked into John Lukacs's The Last European War within the last year or so, but will I replace that? Maybe not. On the other hand, I do want to have copies of An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris, The Last Puritan, and some others that suffered damage.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022


About twenty years ago, I settled on a barbershop near work. The barbers then working there were mature, one having served in the U.S. Army in WW II.  He must have been born no later than 1928, therefore he must have been seventy-four or seventy-five when I first met him. The other had graduated from high school the year I was born, so he was about ten years younger.

The barbershop has since changed hands. The current owner told me today that she will be seventy-nine in December. I remarked that the veteran must have worked at least until he was eighty. She said that in fact he worked until he was ninety--though I don't think this can have been full time.  She said also that a lot of barbers work until quite old. Her explanation was that many of them have few friends to spend time with upon retirement. Perhaps so. It seems the sort of work that would be hard on one though, requiring one to stand while working, yet not yielding the benefit of steady walking.


Friday, October 14, 2022

Last Words

 A footnote in Philippa Foot's Natural Goodness give alternative versions of William Pitt the Younger's last words:

William Pitt the Younger's last words may have been, "Oh, my country! How I leave my country!", but in a different report, "I think I could eat one of Bellamy's veal pies." See Lord Roseberry, Pitt, p. 269 and Appendix D.

 An essay in Simon Leys's The Hall of Uselessness is called "Tell Them I Said Something", after the purported last words of Pancho Villa in front of a firing squad: "It can't end like this: Tell them I said something." The account that Leys gives seems unlikely, for Villa died by gunfire, but in an ambush, and probably hadn't the time to say much of anything. Pitt's friends, though, may have done well by him in telling what he might have said.

John Adams seems to have come up with admirable last words: "Jefferson survives." But they just missed being correct, for Jefferson died a little earlier on the same day, July 4, 1826,

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

The Zoo Loop Trail

 The trail skirting the Zoo tunnel reopened sometime last week. I discovered this on my run Sunday, and was delighted. Bypassing the tunnel by following the Klingle Road path was fine, if one was energetic enough for the hill. Running through the tunnel was OK, only the sidewalk was narrow and one had to squeeze around bicyclists and other pedestrians.  But the level trail is better than either.

I had run on this stretch of path on and off from about 1981 until it was closed for repair in 2016. I had never known that it had a name, and perhaps it didn't. A sign designates it as the Zoo Loop Trail, and gives its length as .5 miles. I'd have guessed it to be nearer a third of a mile.