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100 Years of Grace Hopper

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  • Women (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 09, 2006 @12:35PM (#17174540)
    It figures. One of the wordiest (is that a word?) programming languages was invented by a woman. Talk talk talk. :-)

    I couldn't resist.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 09, 2006 @12:35PM (#17174542)
    Even though you died in 1992, Happy Birthday to You!
    • You don't get it: people celebrate anniversaries of the start of a war, an earthquake, a tsunami. The birth of the woman who invented COBOL fits perfectly this tradition. Of course some people don't believe COBOL was actually invented, but evoked from hell instead.
  • by davidwr (791652) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @12:37PM (#17174560) Homepage Journal
    Seriously. Learn some legacy skills, you'll need them to help your future employer maintain their legacy stuff or migrate it.

    COBOL programmers are retiring fast, in 5-10 years expect a mini-boom for this skill set as those who didn't migrate before Y2K decide it's finally time.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by novus ordo (843883)
      "The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offence."
      -Edsger W.Dijkstra

      (when you mentioned 5-10 I just couldn't resist :)

    • From the Tao of Programming: http://www.canonical.org/~kragen/tao-of-programmin g.html [canonical.org]
      Each language has its purpose, however humble. Each language expresses the Yin and Yang of software. Each language has its place within the Tao.

      But do not program in COBOL if you can avoid it.

    • How about not learning legacy skills? Then all you have to do is wait a few years, watch all the old programmers retire, and all the companies still stuck in the stone age go out of business. Then we can go and get a job doing something actually enjoyable.
    • "...maintain their legacy stuff or migrate it."

      As the old saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Junking Cobol at financial institutions would be akin to nuclear facilities junking Fortran. The thought of a nuclear power plant junking Fortran for VB/C# in .NET running on a Microsoft platform should cause nearby property values to plunge like a rock.
  • Try this [archive.org] instead.
  • by camperdave (969942) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @12:41PM (#17174592) Journal
    The only way I could code my way out of a wet paper bag in COBOL would be if my life depended on it (and I had a few COBOL programming texts in the bag with me). All I remember about COBOL is that it is long winded... as per its alternate acronym expansion: Considered Obsolete Because Of Length.
  • And while I'm sadly not related (or perhaps just not very closely related) to Grace Hopper, it's still neat that someone else with that somewhat unusual last name is in computing. :-)

    I have a point system for what people think of when I mention my last name:

    • Dennis Hopper [wikipedia.org]: Not that I dislike Dennis Hopper or anything, but mentioning a famous contemporary actor is just too easy and makes me think the person is likely someone who gets way more from pop-culture than they should. -1 point
    • Edward Hopper [wikipedia.org]: Oo
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by PsyQo (1020321)
      Yes dad, that's cool and all, but there are also loads of people making fun of our name.

      Greetings,
      - Hip
    • by Dun Malg (230075)

      And while I'm sadly not related (or perhaps just not very closely related) to Grace Hopper, it's still neat that someone else with that somewhat unusual last name is in computing.

      There are 10742 "Hopper" entries in the white pages in the United States. You do not have an unusual last name-- it's just not common like Johnson or Smith. It ranks 827th out of over 88,000 names in the US, more common than Stein, Fitzpatrick, and Nielsen. My last name shows 314 matches, and I know a dozen of them as relatives. I don't even show up in most name databases. I have an unusual last name.

    • What I think of is a spout-on-stilts used to fill a truck or train car with granulated substances such as coal, grain, or sand.
    • My first thought is Doc Hopper, the villain of "The Muppet Movie".
  • by Anonymous Coward
    She not only debugged the problem but documented the bug in her notebook.

    Look at the bottom of this page. [navy.mil]

    • by 0racle (667029)
      "First actual case of bug being found"
      This shows that they did not coin the term, as they would not say that this was the first actual but, it would have simply stated they found an error caused by a bug.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @12:53PM (#17174722) Homepage Journal
    Someday we'll look back at the rigid grid of orthogonal rows/columns of database tables with the same pity with which we look back the character grids in which we coded COBOL programs.

    Practically all of COBOL was replaced by the printf() command. Which is still the ultimate target for most programs written today, even if the printf() is wrapped in some higher level output function. I'm looking forward to all of all database and relations someday residing in a single invocation with a comprehensive, yet simple interface. Probably a flowchart.
    • Yes to your first comment, no to your second. I dont see how in the world printf could even touch COBOL.

      There are aspects of COBOL that are still not available in present day lnguages.

      A super simple example is COBOLs ability to perform a pre-process, sort HUGE amounts of data, and then perform a post-process. Now, granted that was how things worked back then and is not done that way today. Today we just split it up into 2 programs and do some kind of sort in the middle, but the point is that COBOL had some
      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        OK, COBOL was more than printf(). For example, conditionals/branches/loops. Perl is like printf++. And does what you like with pre/postprocessing, like with the s/// function. I love Perl.

        I learned BASIC, then 6502 Assembly, then Pascal to get on the timeshare, then DCL, then forth, then COBOL to stay on the timeshare, then a dozen others (including CORAL, PL/I, x86 Assembly), then C, then C++, then Perl, then a dozen others (including Java and SQL).

        I wish I could do it all with a flowchart. Someday I will.
  • The article writeup says today is Grace Hopper's 100th birthday. What it neglects to tell you is that Grace Hopper died in 1992. So yes, today is the 100th anniversary of her birth, but I don't think many would consider it a 100th birthday.
    • Why those dirty rotters! Here I am thinking that Ms Hopper had lived to the ripe old age of 100, marvelling at the changes she would have seen, not only in the computing world, but in the world in general, only to find out that she died ages ago.
  • Of how something utterly deficient by design can just put the word 'business' in its name, and get phb's to chase it like fish after a dead worm. If someplace is in a crisis because it has to migrate its critical legacy COBOL application and can't find anyone to do it, well that's just too bad. Chalk another one up to darwin....
  • by Panaqqa (927615) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @01:04PM (#17174814) Homepage
    The university I went to stopped teaching it about 20 years ago, and most programmers of COBOL with much in the way of practical real world development experience retired long ago. In fact, a lot of them came out of retirement for a few months or a year prior to Y2K because the money offered was so good.

    Today, there are still COBOL jobs advertised, and they largely go unfilled. It could have something to do with the fact that there are so few people remaining with the skills, and something to do with the fact that many of them are with banks who are notoriously cheap on IT salaries. The few remaining good COBOL people on the market go into contract positions that usually begin at about $70/hour. I kid you not.

    It's a lot of typing, writing COBOL, and the code is at times boringly simple, but if someone is out of work and seriously looking for an IT position, learning it would not hurt. I predict there will still be some call for it 20 years from now.
    • My alma mater is still teaching a three-hour course. I hear they get headhunters from all over looking for people who know that language. http://www.pittstate.edu/ [pittstate.edu]

      IMO the language sucks massively and I felt dirty the first time I looked at code, but the prof (Dr. Cummings) makes it bearable (and that's a high compliment considering my opinion of the lang); I like her besides.
    • >In fact, a lot of them came out of retirement for a few months or a year prior to Y2K because the money offered was so good.

      That sounds liek the script to "Armageddon". I wonder if Bruce Willis is free.
  • by idlake (850372) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @01:04PM (#17174818)
    Designing a language that is simple to use and results in easy to read and easy-to-understand code is the right idea. For a first attempt, COBOL wasn't bad. But from a modern perspective, it has lots of problems. Also, COBOL (like Ada) incorrectly assumes that writing more text makes code clearer; it does not.

    The best designed language overall is probably still Smalltalk: it's easy to read, easy to learn, and was designed from the ground up with the idea of being used in an interactive programming environment. It also strikes a better balance between verbosity and expressiveness. Just about the only thing that Smalltalk got wrong was to use strict left-to-right evaluation for arithmetic expressions; a better compromise might have been simply to require arithmetic expressions to be fully parenthesized.
    • by Decaff (42676)
      Just about the only thing that Smalltalk got wrong was to use strict left-to-right evaluation for arithmetic expressions; a better compromise might have been simply to require arithmetic expressions to be fully parenthesized.

      That is because Smalltalk doesn't have arithmetic expressions - it only has sending messages to objects:

      2 + 3

      is sending the message '+' to the object '2' with the argument '3'.

      Introducing the idea of actual arithmetic expressions into Smalltalk would make it far more complicated.
      • by idlake (850372)
        That is because Smalltalk doesn't have arithmetic expressions - it only has sending messages to objects:

        2 + 3

        is sending the message '+' to the object '2' with the argument '3'.


        It does exactly the same thing in Python, C++, and C#, yet those languages have regular operator precedence. How you define operator precedence is unrelated to how arithmetic is implemented at the object level.

        Smalltalk simply chose left-to-right operator precedence for consistency with its other message patterns; while consistency i
        • by Decaff (42676)
          It does exactly the same thing in Python, C++, and C#, yet those languages have regular operator precedence. How you define operator precedence is unrelated to how arithmetic is implemented at the object level.

          Sure, but Smalltalk is a simpler language. It does not have operators - only messages. The distinction is only required when you introduce additional syntactical complexity.

          Smalltalk could easily have defined "2 + 3 * 4" to mean "2 + ( 3 * 4 )". Or, it could simply have disallowed "2 + 3 * 4" altoge
  • by deitrahs (449087) <brian@NOsPaM.techrat.com> on Saturday December 09, 2006 @01:08PM (#17174842)
    one of the few things i have on my "i love me wall" is one of her nanoseconds, framed with a letter from the admiral to my mother (whom she was trying to encourage into a career in computer science). now that i have a daughter of my own, who is already quite geeky herself, i counterbalance the pop culture effect with stories about women like grace hopper.

    more girls - and hell, more boys for that matter - need to learn about people like her.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LifesABeach (234436)
      I think I am the only who ever publicly addressed Admiral Hopper as Admiral Grace. It was 1981, she was speaking at North Island Naval Air Station. She made a comment about how desktop computers would be more powerful than the current 1980's IBM 360 Mainframe computers, (this WAS the big dog in those days for mortals like myself). After the presentation, I had the chance to ask her why she thought mainframes would be on desktops, her reply was, "Because of the variety of computers being developed today a
  • by Bananatree3 (872975) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @01:10PM (#17174868)
    the art of COBOL, and what an art it is. I am sorry no young grasshoppers have taken up this valuable language.
  • My first computer related job out of school was to create and teach a first year COBOL course. I remember it well Identification, Data, Environment and Proceedure divisions.
  • COBOL, LISP, FORTRAN (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Frumious Wombat (845680) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @01:22PM (#17174968)
    Be sure to pay homage to the inventors of the other two ur-languages; Alan Backus, and John McCarthy. Without them, we'd still be programming in assembler, and there probably would be only a world-wide market for 5 computers.
    • *sigh* John Backus. Apparently my theoreticians and programmers got crossed this morning.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Kjella (173770)
      Be sure to pay homage to the inventors of the other two ur-languages; Alan Backus, and John McCarthy. Without them, we'd still be programming in assembler, and there probably would be only a world-wide market for 5 computers.

      First of all, it's John W. Backus not Alan Backus. On the timeline here, the "5 computers" prediction was made by an IBM chairman in 1943. Even long before there was computer languages as such (Fortran 1957, Lisp 1958, COBOL 1959), there was orders of magnitude more than 5 computers. No
  • Learn Cobol! It's the only way to live forever.

    You see, in the future mankind will have the ability to revive deceased people. That's why so many of those future-nuts have their bodies frozen: they think they'll be revived. But why would the people in the future do that? It's bound to be expensive, and it's not as if there will ever be a people shortage.

    That's why you should learn Cobol. To be irreplaceable not just now, but also in the year 9999. And in the year 99999. And in 999999...

    Learn Cobol, for j

  • ... Time for you to leave.
  • Grace Hopper is ranked Rear Admiral Grace Hopper in the US Navy; the guided missile destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) is named after her.

    http://www.hopper.navy.mil/Page.htm [navy.mil]

    Ben
  • COBOL = (Score:3, Funny)

    by larien (5608) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @01:43PM (#17175130) Homepage Journal
    Completely Obsolete Business Oriented Language...

    That said, I work in a company which still runs a lot of COBOL code - a bank, funnily enough. I think banks are about the only people still using code written in the 70s *sigh*

    • by jbolden (176878)
      Outside of banks, insurance companies.... how many companies were doing large scale computerized accounting in the 1970s?

    • >I think banks are about the only people still using code
      >written in the 70s *sigh*

      Not at all. Many serious users are still using code written in the late 50 and 60's. It's very common in the aerospace industry. Physics and mathematics hasn't changed since then, and some of of the code I see is FAR BETTER (clear, readable, and rigorously accurate) than most C++. We even have the original card decks for some of our stuff (although its been saved in files at this point). Ou
    • That said, I work in a company which still runs a lot of COBOL code - a bank, funnily enough. I think banks are about the only people still using code written in the 70s *sigh*

      The system that processes Medi-Cal (California's version of Medicaid) claims is also COBOL (though a lot of non-COBOL stuff handles the data before and after in many cases). Actually, lots of systems are COBOL. If you've got a stable, complex, mission-critical system that works well-enough, gutting it and reimplementing it from scratc

  • by ishmalius (153450) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @01:50PM (#17175230)
    "It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission."

    Didn't know that she said that.

    I have been quoting this for years. This is precisely the way to deal with any bureaucracy. Asking for permission is the most ridiculous thing to do when wanting to get something done. You are condemning yourself to days and weeks of memos, email, meetings, and PowerPoint charts. Better to just do it and get it done. Cut that Gordian knot. What a useful method of dealing with middle management.

    I just didn't know that she was the one who said it first.
  • Admiral Nanosecond (Score:4, Interesting)

    by conradp (154683) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @02:31PM (#17175792) Homepage
    Back in high school I attended a talk by Admiral Hopper where she passed around a wire about 30 centimeters long and explained to us "this is how far light, or any electromagnetic signal, can travel in one nanosecond." That illustration has always stayed with me, it helps to explain a lot of the limitations inherent in hardware now that CPU speeds have become so fast.

    For example, for a 3GHz CPU (.33 nanoseconds per clock cycle), electricity can only travel 10cm in one clock cycle. It's amazing that CPUs can do complex arithmetic when electrical signals inside the chip can only travel 10cm in that amount of time. Wonder why the CPU stalls when there's an access to main memory? Just look at your motherboard and gauge how far your memory is from the CPU, distance alone explains 4-5 clock cycles of the total delay.
    • by zenyu (248067)
      Back in high school I attended a talk by Admiral Hopper where she passed around a wire about 30 centimeters long and explained to us "this is how far light, or any electromagnetic signal, can travel in one nanosecond." That illustration has always stayed with me, it helps to explain a lot of the limitations inherent in hardware now that CPU speeds have become so fast.


      Through a vacum!

      When traveling through a media like copper or silicon you can only reach about 2/3 of that speed.

      Although I guess the point is
    • Maybe I remember wrong, it's been a long time since I heard/read about it, but I heard of a speech where she handed out those one-nanosecond wires (11 inches long, the way I heard it) to PROGRAMMERS to explain "Every time you waste a nanosecond light goes this far." This made it a "micro-manage your code for the highest execution speed" speech, which is the opposite of what a high-level language is for, to make the programmer more productive (in the amount of code he writes), and the code more easily human-
  • One of my CS professors in college said, "Did you hear they're making an object-oriented version of COBOL? It's going to be called 'ADD 1 TO COBOL'"

    ba-dum-bum.

    Seriously though, Admiral Hopper did a lot to advance computing in the early days, even if COBOL may seem like a step backwards to us now. :) There's a park [wikipedia.org] named for her somewhat near to where I live... I haven't gotten a chance to go check it out yet, but I'd definitely like to.
    • by iluvcapra (782887)
      One of my CS professors in college said, "Did you hear they're making an object-oriented version of COBOL? It's going to be called 'ADD 1 TO COBOL'"

      I'm pretty sure it needs to be ADD 1 TO COBOL GIVING COBOL (if we're doing the assignment). To be fair, compute COBOL = COBOL + 1 works too, though I hesitate to call it an improvement.

  • COBOL provided a way to write business apps from scratch. But increasingly business runs on commercial, packaged software (ERP) that is customized or configured to the specific business. For example, SAP and Oracle Applications.

    I think the companies that computerized early are more likely to be using home-grown software, probably written in COBOL. That is, companies like airlines, banks and power utilities.

    Buying an ERP system and customizing it provides much higher leverage than writing the app from scr
  • As far as I know, Grace is responsible for a lot of things beside COBOL, but one thing that stands out in my mind is that I was told during a university course that she wrote the first assembler. I'm not really sure about it, though; the wikipedia article doesn't seem to mention assembly language.
  • Let us also not forget that Admiral Hopper has a ship in the U.S. Navy named after her- the U.S.S. Hopper. It is an Aegis destroyer that is part of the Pacific fleet.
  • It's just that they write the functional equivalent of COBOL in VB, Java, C# ... etc.

    I'm joking, but I'm not. I find that most programmers use this style of programming, sometimes throwing in a little inhieretence to make things look OO, until they get at least 5+ years under their belt. And sometimes not even then. Maybe if we required training Lisp or other such wierd programming language would they see the limitations of thier approaches and the flexibility, if they took advantage of it, of generics, tem
  • Most insurance, and transportation companies still use COBOl, as well as communications companies. (General Electric, AT&T, SPRINT, Disney, FedEx, Prudential, Aetna - just to name a few).

    The way I look at it, COBOL will still be around when I retire and that isn't for some time yet.

    And for those of you talking up all the other languages. Look to installed code value. Las tfigures I have are a bit old and dated, but still. In the early 90's some manager where I was at was crowing about 6$ billion in
    • in smaller embedded applications. Good C compilers are a godsend for DSP's and smaller 8 and 16 bit processors/microcontrollers, where the choices as short as 10 years ago were assembly or BAD C compilers.
  • Several posters have mentioned her rank. However, I think no has mentioned the fact she was the *first* female to achieve that rank in the US Navy and possibly the world. Considering the time and place in which she achieved this, she was probably both very smart and very tough.
    • Several posters have mentioned her rank. However, I think no has mentioned the fact she was the *first* female to achieve that rank in the US Navy and possibly the world.


      She wasn't. She was made a commodore in 1983 and a rear admiral in 1985. The first female rear admiral in the US Navy was Alene B. Duerk in 1972, and the first female line officer to reach the rank of rear admiral in the US Navy was Fran McKee in 1976.
  • by Iphtashu Fitz (263795) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @04:50PM (#17177434)
    When I was a sophomore in high school our school dedicated its computer lab to her. Her family had a summer place near where I went to school, and she came to the school for the dedication. As one of the geekiest computer people in the school I was chosen as the token pupil to be with her when pictures were taken, etc. I think she was 80 years old when that happened, and she was still sharp as a tack. Her official title at the time was Commodore, and I remember referring to her that way. I also recall her making some comments about programming, etc. that I think helped push me into a career of computer programming before I even realized it. I really wish I had known more about her at the time I met her since I probably would have paid a lot more attention...
  • Cobol is also largely self-documenting, another factor that helped projects live on longer than the careers of their instigators. Companies could start planning IT strategies that weren't tied to the lifetime of one product, or the wishes of one hardware manufacturer.

    That's funny - I've always heard the opposite about COBOL. In 1994, I was hired as a free-lancer by a big company that makes copiers. Their sales force had a problem - their system for pricing big copier installations was a mainframe-based ni
    • by Teancum (67324)
      That sounds to me much more like an old software system that has been hacked and prodded so much, with an initial lousy architechture design to boot, that any attempt to work on it tends to create more bugs than it fixes.

      I've been in that situation, and I've (successfully) advocated a full from-scratch rewrite with formal software engineering principles to design a well thought-out architechture.

      Of course that costs some serious money and manpower, but it moves some systems forward a full generation when do
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @06:20PM (#17178266) Homepage Journal
    COBOL was heavily influenced by Grace's languages, but COBOL itself was designed by a small committee.
         
  • COBOL's best feature (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bgspence (155914)
    COBOL had one language construct that I really liked, 'Move Corresponding.' Much of the work COBOL did centered around data record structures. The 'Move Corresponding' statement allowed you to move all the fields from one record to another whose names matched.

    No matter the order, just shovel the coal. Quite useful in its day.
  • "100 years of Grass Hoppers"?

    That would be really bad...

    Biblical, even...

  • And "Google Groups" is NOT Usenet.
    news:comp.lang.cobol [comp.lang.cobol]

    Sorry, surely some slashdotters have around since before I was reading about Usenet carried by Arpanet in Jerry Pournelle's Byte column, but some others don't seem to know the difference.
  • Back around 1981, Grace visited the University of Alberta. There was, of course, a big reception for her. At the reception she was talking to a group of people, and she mentioned that a number of professors at UofA had a hand in the early work on COBOL and why didn't they advertise it more?


    One friend of mine (unaware of her hand in COBOL), piped up "Perhaps because they're ashamed of it."

    Another friend quickly pulled him aside and explained the gaffe.

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