The Story of Mel

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The Story of Mel is an archetypical piece of computer programming folklore. Its subject, Mel Kaye, is the canonical Real Programmer.

Story[edit]

Ed Nather’s The Story of Mel details the extraordinary programming prowess of a former colleague of his, "Mel", at Royal McBee Computer Corporation.[1][2] Although originally written in prose, Nather’s story was modified by someone into a "free verse" form which has become widespread.[3]

Little is known about Mel Kaye, beyond the fact that he was credited with doing the "bulk of the programming" on the 1959 ACT-1 compiler for the Royal McBee LGP-30 computer.[4][5] In Nather's story, Kaye is portrayed as being prone to avoiding optimizing assemblers in favor of crafting code to take advantage of hardware quirks, for example taking advantage of the rotation of the LGP-30's drum memory to avoid writing delay loops into the code.

The story as written by Nather involved Kaye's work on rewriting a blackjack program from the LGP-30 to a newer Royal McBee system, the RPC-4000; company sales executives had requested to modify the program so that the player has more winning chances, a request that Kaye reluctantly acceded to, but to his own delight, he accidentally changed the odds in favor of the dealer rather than the player.

Subsequent to Kaye's departure, Nather was asked to fix the bug. While examining the code, he found out that an apparent infinite loop had in fact been coded in such a way as to take advantage of a carry-overflow error, causing the loop to change itself into a jump instruction to the next part of the code. This impressed Nather so much that, out of respect, he gave up the task and reported that he could not find the bug.

History[edit]

The essay was originally published in the usenet news group "net.jokes" on May 21, 1983 by utastro!nather (the email address of Ed Nather at the time).[1][2]

The Royal McBee computers were developed and manufactured by Librascope, and the documentation written for the blackjack program was written by Mel Kaye of Librascope Inc. The August 1956 edition of the Librazette, the Librascope newsletter, contains a story about training on the LGB-30, and mentions that some Librascope application engineers were transferred to the Royal McBee payroll. Among the engineers named is Mel Kaye.[6]

There is a photograph on the front page of that issue showing that first class of neophyte LGB-30 programmers and the instructors, including Mel Kaye.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Raymond, Eric, ed. (1 July 1992). "The Jargon File, Version 2.9.10, 01 Jul 1992 (jargon2910.ascii.gz)". line 20505. Retrieved July 2014. 
     :The Story of Mel, a Real Programmer:
    =====================================
    This was posted to USENET by its author, Ed Nather (utastro!nather), on May 21, 1983.
  2. ^ a b Matt Crawford The realest programmer of all Newsgroup: net.jokes November 20, 1984.
  3. ^ The Story of Mel free verse version
  4. ^ "New Light on the Legend of Mel", 1 Jun 1994, alt.folklore.computers, Bill von Hagen
  5. ^ "In particular, Mel Kaye of Royal McBee...", FOLDOC, imperial.ac.uk
  6. ^ "Librascope Memories". The Librazette. Librascope Inc. 
  7. ^ "Mel Kaye in the first LGP-30 training class". the Librazette. Librascope Inc. 

Further reading[edit]