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Allright. I mentioned last week that we had some more birthdays coming up.

Our first birthday is for something that caused quite a stir about a decade ago. You come in contact with it every time you touch an ATM or use a credit card. Guesses? Well, it was fifty years ago that Rear Admiral Grace Hopper saw her idea that computer programs could be written in a human readable language like English, rather than the zeros and ones of machine code, manifest itself in CoBOL. That’s CoBOL, the computer language, not Cobalt, the element. CoBOL stands for Common Business Oriented Language and is all about moving data in and out of ledgers, balance sheets, and cash flow statements. The name was selected at a committee meeting on September 18, 1959.

Micro Focus, the world’s leading provider of CoBOL development products, recently did a study in Australia that showed that people still use CoBOL at least ten times throughout the course of an average working day. Only eighteen percent of those surveyed had ever heard of CoBOL. CoBOL would have probably stayed behind the scenes if not for the Y2K scare. The issue here was that in 1959, computer storage was expensive and the change to the next century was a long way off. After all, if we were all zipping around in flying cars and jet packs, surely we wouldn’t still be using this language in 2009, right? Right?


With over two hundred and fifty billion lines of CoBOL in production, there are still a number of CoBOL programmers out there. I know that I took the last CoBOL class that the University of Houston gave in 1995 or 96, and some of my classmates went on to work on the Y2K problem here, then found work in poorer countries that couldn’t afford to update their non-Y2K compliant code until the premium on programmers went down on January 2nd, 2000.

With all the extra post-apocalyptic time these CoBOL programmers had on their hands, they were able to extend the CoBOL standard to include support for object oriented styles of programming, resulting in the COBOL 2002 Standard. It would have been funner if they had just called it CoBOL Oh Two.

Anyway, the next birthday belongs to the offspring of Ken Thompson, who was a programmer at AT&T subsidary Bell Laboratories in the summer of ’69. When his wife and young son departed for a month in August of 1969, he did what any young man in the summer of love did. He spent it in front of a keyboard and knocked out the Unix operating system. So while that’s not quite what every other guy was doing that summer, it still landed him an offspring that has gone on to spawn hundreds of little starnix operating systems all over the world. Unix didn’t really begin to take hold until it was ported to the PDP-11 minicomputer, a more powerful piece of metal than its previous home, the PDP-7.

Thompson soon teamed up with Dennis Ritchie, and, I’m going to steal a quote from ComputerWorld because they kinda nailed it with this:

“Thompson and Ritchie were the consummate “hackers,” when that word referred to someone who combined uncommon creativity, brute force intelligence and midnight oil to solve software problems that others barely knew existed.”

OK. So that’s the definition of a hacker. Crackers are different. If you’re good with accents, you can tell the difference.

I don’t know if there are any local geek birthdays coming up in Houston this month, but if you’re a geek and you have an October birthday, be sure to come out to the October Geek Gathering where the cast and crew of Technology Bytes will let you buy yourself a drink for your birthday, provided you’re of age. While the drink may cost you, Wifi connections to the web and general tech snarkyness are free for those celebrating a birthday this month or any other.

To gather with your fellow geeks, you’ll want to head to The Coffee Groundz at 2503 Bagby at McGowan this Friday, October 2nd. Parking is pretty open at seven, when people first start to show up, and gets a little more crowded after eight. There’s plenty of street parking, just make sure you don’t do it in front of the Coffee Groundz on McGowan, as they tend to tow. Just ask in IRC. Geek Gatherings are a place for people like us to get together to share news, ideas, stories, or sometimes just space, within comfortable reach of food, caffeiene, wifi and a solid assortment of adult beverages.

Laptops and gadgets are welcome, but not required. I’ll bring along some different incarnations of the Arduino for those who want to get their hands dirty with physical computing. I don’t know if Jay has messed around with his Arduino kit yet, Jay, but you could always bring it along in case anyone wanted to see what one looks like before its born.

Check our website, www.geekradio.com for details and directions to October’s Geek Gathering, as well as for some great pics of last month’s event.

If I get lucky with UPS, I may have an oscilloscope kit on hand that we can help bring into the world… Even if it doesn’t, I’ll still try to find an excuse to mix molten metal with general geekery, pending any applicable fire codes. I guess we’ll see this Friday.

Either way, that’s it for the birth of a language that just won’t die and that’s that for BarretTime.

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