Algol 68: Informal Introduction and more

Cover of Informal Introduction to Algol 68Several years ago I began an archival collection for the Algol family of programming languages: Algol 58 (originally known as the International Algorithmic Language), Algol 60, and Algol 68. I began looking for implementations of Algol 58 and Algol 60. Since then I’ve also found information (including, in some cases, source code), for many Algol 68 implementations.

I’d like to announce the return of a very useful Algol 68 resource: a scanned copy of Informal Introduction to Algol 68, posted by permission of coauthor Charles H. Lindsey and copyright holder IFIP. This is the revised 1980 reprint of the second (“completely revised”) edition of 1977. For convenience, I’ve also posted separate files containing the large fold-out Table of Contents and the appendix of Syntax Charts.

This book, together with Marcel van der Veer’s modern Algol 68 Genie implementation and the extensive documentation accompanying it (including a hypertext version of the Revised Report) provide an excellent way to study Algol 68.

In addition to the above-mentioned, a number of other people have contributed to the overall Algol archive project. I’d like to single out Neville Dempsey for his dedication to spreading knowledge of and appreciation for Algol 68.

50th Anniversary of LISP 1.5 Programmer’s Manual

Cover of LISP 1.5 Programmer's Manual
I just noticed that August 17 was the 50th anniversary of the LISP 1.5 Programmer’s Manual by John McCarthy, Paul W. Abrahams, Daniel J. Edwards, Timothy P. Hart, and Michael I. Levin. On that day in 1962 it was published as a bound report of the Computation Center and Research Laboratory of Electronics of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was also published by MIT Press — perhaps simultaneously — and is still in print. A second edition was released in 1965; the only difference that I see comparing tables of contents is the addition of Appendix I: LISP for SHARE distribution.

This was of course the first book on LISP. It is a reference manual rather than a textbook, but many people managed to learn LISP from it, and a number of people managed to implement LISP from it. Today ACM’s Digital Library lists 327 citations for it, and Google lists about 23,900 hits. I’m pleased to say that #1 on Google is the authorized PDF at my History of LISP archive at the Computer History Museum.

Through the generosity of several people, the History of LISP archive includes not only the book but also several versions of the underlying source code:

If you’re resourceful and you’d like to actually run the system described in this book, you don’t need an IBM 7090 or a time machine; the SIMH simulator package and the files and information here are sufficient; scroll down until you find “Running Lisp 1.5 in the SIMH IBM 7094 emulator.”

Harold V. McIntosh and his students: Lisp escapes MIT

In today’s wired world, people will start experimenting with an interesting new programming language shortly after it appears on a hosting service. But things took longer in the early days of Lisp. McCarthy’s famous paper[1] on Lisp was presented at a conference in May 1959 and published in CACM in April 1960, by which time a system with an interpreter and compiler was running on MIT’s IBM 704; the paper notes “A programmer’s manual[2] is being prepared.” Gradually copies of Lisp were requested by other IBM installations (the system was ported to the 709 and then the 7090). Modifications were often required to adapt it to a particular hardware configuration or operating environment and it was several years before Lisp was adapted to other kinds of computers. Without the internet or “social networking”, the propagation of ideas depended even more heavily on people. The physicist Harold V. McIntosh was one of the first to spread Lisp beyond MIT.

Continue reading “Harold V. McIntosh and his students: Lisp escapes MIT”

Remembering Jim Gray

Jim Gray’s professional contributions to the theory and practice of transactions, databases, and scientific applications of large databases, coupled with his teaching, mentoring, and warm friendships made a tremendous impact on the world. When he failed to return from sailing his 40-foot sloop Tenacious around the Farallon Islands on January 28, 2007, it was a devastating blow to family, friends, and colleagues alike. Despite a series of extremely thorough searches by the Coast Guard, by his friends, and by his family, no trace of him or his boat were ever found, which meant he could not be declared legally dead at that time. The ambiguous loss suffered by his wife and family meant his disappearance was especially difficult to recover from. After the legally-mandated five-year waiting period, a court recently granted a petition by his wife Donna Carnes to have Jim declared dead as of January 28, 2012. As Donna indicates in this NY Times interview, the waiting followed by the court order have led to a sense of closure for her.

I recently wrote a summary of Jim’s life and career for the updated ACM Turing Award web site; it includes links to related articles from the 2008 Tribute held for him at U.C. Berkeley and also photographs supplied by Donna.


Jim Gray with former colleagues of the CAL Timesharing project at U.C. Berkeley, Golden Gate Park, April 1974
Here I’ll note a few of my personal memories of working with Jim, who I met at the University of California in the late 1960s, when he was a computer science graduate student, and I was an engineering undergraduate and part-time employee of the campus computer center. Jim served as an informal advisor to me on course work, and he was also my manager for a time on the CAL Timesharing System project. Jim was a knowledgeable, patient and enthusiastic advisor. There were few boundaries between Jim’s professional and social life. I will never forget going walnut picking with Jim, who stood on the roof of his VW bus to reach the walnuts, and then easily repaired the dent in the roof by pushing upward from below.


Franco Putzolu, Jim Gray, and Irv Traiger at IBM San Jose Research, circa 1977
Jim and I worked together again a few years later at IBM San Jose Research (now IBM Almaden). After working with John Backus (whom Jim had introduced me to) on functional programming for about 15 months, I joined Jim on the System R team. By then Jim was well into his work on the transaction abstraction — creating a unified approach to the interrelated problems of concurrency control and crash recovery — which led to his 1998 ACM Turing Award. I took over some of the transaction management code, designed the crash recovery component, and wrote a multiprocess debugger which we used to test and debug the lock manager. As always, Jim was an enthusiastic and generous collaborator; I’m very proud of being a coauthor with him and six of our System R colleagues of the paper “The Recovery Manager of the System R Database Manager”.

I don’t suppose I’ll ever stop encountering subjects causing me to say to myself, “If only I could talk to Jim about this.”

The First International LISP Conference (1963)

If you thought the 1980 LISP Conference was the first Lisp conference, you were wrong. The 1980 conference was organized by Ruth E. Davis and John R. Allen and was held at Stanford University, with sponsorship by Stanford, Santa Clara University, and The LISP Company. It led to the biennial ACM-sponsored Lisp and Functional Programming Conference. But more than 16 years earlier, the First International LISP Conference was held at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in Mexico City, from December 30 to January 4, 1964. No proceedings was published for the conference, but I have been able to assemble some information about it.

Continue reading “The First International LISP Conference (1963)”

More ALGOL history papers

As the ALGOL programming language enters its sixth decade, its interest to historians seems to be increasing. I’ve recently added additional citations to the “Papers on the history of ALGOL” section of the History of ALGOL web site:

  • Edgar G. Daylight. From Mathematical Logic to Programming-Language Semantics — a Discussion with Tony Hoare. Journal of Logic and Computation (to appear).

    Section 2.3 covers Hoare’s Algol work at Elliot.

  • Edgar G. Daylight. Pluralism in Software Engineering: Turing Award Winner Peter Naur Explains. CONVERSATIONS. Issue 1, Volume 2011, Lonely Scholar, 2011.

    Part I of this wide-ranging interview covers Naur’s work on Algol 60, including the DASK and GIER implementations. He also makes a few remarks about Algol 68.

  • Pierre Mounier-Kuhn. From universal project to sunken culture : Algol in France. SHOT / SIGCIS Workshop 2011, Cultures and Communities in the History of Computing, Cleveland (OH), 6th November 2011. PDF

Herbert Stoyan Collection finding aid and catalog online at CHM

In July 2010 I wrote about the collection of Lisp and artificial intelligence documents that Herbert Stoyan donated to the Computer History Museum. Today I’m glad to be able to announce that the finding aid is online at CHM and the Online Archive of California. Additionally, more detailed descriptions about the items in the collection has been added to CHM’s online catalog, which can be searched here. (For example, try searching for MACLISP.) I’ve added scanned copies of many items from the collection to the History of LISP web site (which is also hosted by the CHM). I’m open to suggestions for scanning additional items from this collection. Also, if you have historical Lisp items that are not in the Stoyan collection, please consider donating them to CHM.

Edgar Daylight on Dijkstra

The latest addition to the “Papers on the history of ALGOL” section of the History of ALGOL web site is this paper about Dijkstra’s involvement in proposing and implementing the recursive procedure as an ALGOL 60 language construct:

  • Edgar G. Daylight. Dijkstra’s Rallying Cry for Generalization: The Advent of the Recursive Procedure, Late 1950s–Early 1960s.

In a section on Future Work near the end of the paper, Daylight notes, “Research contributions of Gödel, Carnap, Turing and Tarski have been studied and documented over and over again by logicians and philosophers themselves. Computer scientists, by contrast, have yet to commence with similar work concerning the ideas of their fathers: Dijkstra, McCarthy, Hoare and others. This, in turn, explains my motivation to write this paper.” Daylight, who is a post-doctorate researcher in the history of computing, has set up the blog-style web site Dijkstra’s Rallying Cry for Generalization as a way to report on his ongoing research into Dijkstra’s writings, including the E. W. Dijkstra Archive at the University of Texas and additional materials Dijkstra’s family donated. Daylight is off to a good start. He welcomes suggestions for improving his blog, and notes he’ll be adding photographs of Dijkstra soon.

In that spirit, I offer the following photograph, taken at the 1973 Marktoberdorf Summer School, of instructor Dijkstra and student McJones. Dijkstra’s subsequent trip report (EWD385) mentions my friend Dave Redell (who took the photograph) and me because we served as “intelligent terminals” in an “interactive programming session”.

E. W. Dijkstra and Paul McJones at Marktoberdorf Summer School, 1973

Gordon Bell: “Out of a Closet: The Early Years of The Computer [History] Museum”

Update 1/1/2016: Gordon Bell has made an archive of materials from The Computer Museum available at

The institution now known as the Computer History Museum began in 1975 as a closet-sized exhibit in a Digital Equipment Corporation building, grew into The Computer Museum located on Boston’s Museum Wharf, and finally metamorphosed into its current form and location. In a fascinating technical report, Gordon Bell describes this long and interesting history, in which he and his wife Dr. Gwen Bell have played such important roles.

It was only recently, Bell notes, that “Software was finally added to list of things collected, such as the history of FORTRAN including original source code.” The FORTRAN collection to which Gordon refers is here; a catalog search of FORTRAN-related items in the museum’s archives is available here.

Bell gives a list of some two dozen “Mona Lisas” in the collection, all hardware artifacts. He concludes this section by saying “Regrettably, I omit that hard to see, hard to describe, essential software from COBOL, FORTRAN, and LISP, various Operating Systems, and on through Visicalc, and the Relational database.” I strongly agree with Bell about the importance of collecting and displaying such historic software. I’m glad to be able to point the previously-mentioned FORTRAN collection, and to similar collections for LISP, ALGOL, and C++. Others have assembled extensive collections on, for example, the Multics and Unix operating systems, PDP-10 systems and applications, and many more. Two of the earliest relational database management systems, Berkeley Ingres and IBM System R, have been preserved but are not yet easily accessible. For the most part, these collections are aimed at a more scholarly audience; I hope they will serve as source materials for future exhibits for a wider audience.

LISP historical archive web site reorganized

The History of LISP web site launched back in 2005 as a single web page running some 40 pages when printed; it covered many of the best known Lisp implementations. Over the years, the web site approximately doubled in size, leading several people to politely suggest breaking it up into smaller units. I’ve finally taken the time to do that. The organization roughly follows that used by Steele and Gabriel in their 1992 HOPL II talk, and I’m still making minor adjustments. It would be nice if a web site dedicated to historical archives would have stable URLs, but I think the new organization will be appreciated by people mostly interested in one or two specific implementations. I have not changed the URL of any “content” (PDF or archive file).

Thanks again to the many people down through the years who have patiently answered my questions, supplied copies of source code and documents, and allowed me to post copies.

Elements of Programming video

On November 3, 2010, we presented a lecture on Elements of Programming to the Department of Electrical Engineering Computer Systems Colloquium (EE380) at the Stanford University. While we both take responsibility for the contents, Alex Stepanov lectured. A video of the lecture is online at Stanford; eventually it will also be available via YouTube and iTunes.

Update 7/11/2012: The video made its way to YouTube and iTunes. By the way, the abstract (with a link to the slides) is here.

Robert L. Patrick on eMuseums

Bob Patrick is a friend of mine who entered the computer field in 1951, and whose hands-on experience running programs on an IBM 701 led him to conceive of the architecture for the General Motors/North American Monitor for the IBM 704 computer. (Bob described this work in a 1987 National Computer Conference paper. Other aspects of his extensive career are discussed in his recent Annals of the History of Computing paper and in a 2006 Oral History.)

For a number of years Bob has been involved in volunteer activities at the Computer History Museum, and recently he organized his thoughts on how museums can use the web to present technology, in the form of this article: “Museums in the Computer Age: meeting the challenge of technology“. Bob invites comments on the article via email at

SDC: Q-32 Lisp, Lisp 2, and three more; Lisp 1.5 Primer

Lisp’s birth and infancy was at MIT, but it began spreading to other places when John McCarthy went to Stanford and other project members graduated and moved on. At about this time, a project began to develop a new language, Lisp 2, that would extend Lisp to include ALGOL-like syntax, type-checking, and numeric, string, and array data types. The project was a joint development of two “think tanks”, Information International, Inc. (III) System Development Corporation (SDC) in Santa Monica, California.

The host computer for the Lisp 2 project was the AN/FSQ-32/V, a one-of-a-kind prototype built by IBM for the Air Force as a potential replacements for the SAGE AN/FSQ-7. Before the Lisp 2 project began, an innovative compiler-only implementation of Lisp 1.5 on the Q-32 was done by Robert Saunders and his colleagues.

Through the kindness of Jeff Barnett, who was one of central contributors at SDC, the History of LISP web site now includes scanned copies of the Lisp 2 source code (with annotations by Jeff) and a number of documents, including the complete TM-3417 series documenting a planned (but not completed) port to the IBM System/360. A few other early memos were previously available online as MIT Project Mac memos. Additional memos will be soon be available via the Stoyan collection.

After the Lisp 2 project was terminated, the Q-32 at SDC was replaced with an IBM System/360. The researchers still wanted to use Lisp, so Jeff Barnett and Bob Long implemented a Lisp 1.5 for the System/360. Again, Jeff loaned a copy of the original manual and also wrote new notes.

Speech understanding was a major research area for many people at SDC, including Jeff. As building blocks for the speech research, he worked on two more Lisp or Lisp-like systems:

  1. A small Lisp for the Raytheon 704 used for speech capture and low-level processing.
  2. The Crisp Lisp 2-like system for the IBM System/370.

Jeff has provided modern notes for both, and for Crisp both the original documentation as well as slides from a recent talk he gave.

Finally, another offshoot of the Lisp 2 project is the book LISP 1.5 Primer by Clark Weissman. It began as a tutorial to help SDC researchers learn Lisp, and in 1967 was published as a book by Dickenson Publishing Company, Inc., of Belmont, California. The book has long been out of print and the copyright reverted to Clark; he has given his permission for a PDF of the book to be posted on the History of LISP web site.

Update 11/26/2010: Updated URLs to reflect reorganization of

Herbert Stoyan’s Lisp collection at CHM

Last winter Herbert Stoyan very generously donated to the Computer History Museum the extensive collection of Lisp and AI materials he assembled in the course of his extensive study of Lisp and its history: manuals, technical reports, papers, books, listings, magnetic media, and even two Scheme chips.

Stoyan has been involved with Lisp for four decades. In the early 1970s he implemented Lisp using only Berkeley and Bobrow as a reference, and this system became the basis for all artificial intelligence work in his native East Germany. In the late 1970s he became interested in the history of Lisp, and published the book LISP – Anwendungsgebiete, Grundbegriffe, Geschichte (Akademie-Verlag, Berlin, 1980) about Lisp and its history. In 1981 he emigrated to West Germany and began a career as a university professor; by 1990 he became Professor of Artificial Intelligence of the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. He also wrote the two-volume Programmiermethoden der Künstlichen Intelligenz (Springer, 1988) about artificial intelligence programming. (For more details, see his speaker biography from the 2007 International Lisp Conference.)

In addition to his first book, Stoyan has published a number of papers on the early history of Lisp, including:

The Herbert Stoyan Collection on LISP Programming (Lot X5687.2010) is quite large (105 linear feet, 160 boxes), and the Museum is currently in the throws of construction for the major new exhibit Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing. But through the combined efforts of staff and volunteers, the collection will be organized and made accessible, with portions scanned and available online. To get a taste of the depth and breadth of the collection, see Stoyan’s LISP Bibliography and searchable LISP-Museum. [Update 2015/01/10: the searchable version is no longer available.]

The arrival of this collection at CHM fulfills a dream that began for me in 2005 as I began work on History of LISP and first contacted Herbert Stoyan to timidly suggest he might contribute scans of selected items from his collection to CHM. His response — that he would be retiring in 3 years and needed to think about a permanent home for his collection — encouraged me to think that CHM might be the recipient. To get here from there, many people played important roles. At the risk of forgetting someone, I would like to thank Alex Bochannek, Grady Booch, Elizabeth Borchardt, Richard Gabriel, William Harnack, John Hollar, Paul Jabloner, Al Kossow, Karen Kroslowitz, Sara Lott, Bernard Peuto, Len Shustek, Dag Spicer, Herbert Stoyan, Kirsten Tashev, and JonL White. In addition, CHM volunteers John Dobyns and Randall Neff have labored to survey, pack, and catalog portions of the collection. (Additional volunteers would be welcome!) [Update 2015/01/10: Cataloging of the collection was completed in 2011.]

Update 2015/01/10: Stale links to Stoyan’s web sites replaced with Internet Archive Wayback Machine versions. Added link to finding aid for the Stoyan collection.

Whetstone ALGOL

Part of my motivation for starting on an ALGOL project was that Brian Randell recently obtained permission from the copyright holder to post an online copy of ALGOL 60 Implementation at CHM. This book, which he and Lawford Russell published in 1964, provides a detailed description of the ALGOL 60 compiler (known as Whetstone ALGOL) they developed for the English Electric KDF9 Computer. In January, Brian gave a talk “Reminiscences of Whetstone ALGOL” at a joint meeting of the BCS Advanced Programming Group and the Computer Conservation Society recognizing the 50th anniversary of ALGOL 60; see here for more on Whetstone. In particular, the Whetstone Algol resurrection team notes: “We now have the Walgol Translator re-keyed from a dog-eared listing, in the main, by Brian Wichmann, Graham Toal and Roderick McLeod. David Holdsworth has written an assembler and a rough-and-ready emulator. Bill Findlay is in the process of implementing a properly-enginered emulator.”

Update 3/10/2020: Bill Findlay contacted me to say: “You might be interested to know that the emulator mentioned [above] is in good working order. Not only does it run the Whetstone system, it now also runs the Kidsgrove optimising compiler for KDF9 Algol as well. The latter was restored by a team including one of its original authors, David Huxtable.  See:

Also corrected (again) links to

Update 7/11/2012: corrected URLs for ALGOL 60 Implementation at Software Preservation Group website and “Reminiscences of Whetstone ALGOL” at

Update 9/22/2010: corrected URL for Whetstone at Software Preservation Group website.