TITLE: Can I Have Your Autograph?
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: July 19, 2004 10:52 AM
DESC: being a fan of a computer science superstar
I am preparing to teach our undergraduate algorithms course this fall for
the first time. My last involvement with this side of an algorithms was
as a graduate assistant at Michigan State. This course is much different
than my usual focus on programming (object-oriented and funtional mostly)
and programming languages, so preparing for it is fun.
As I've been reading, I've come across Robert Floyd's name many times,
and whenever I do I am sure to track down the reference and read yet
another paper. I always enjoy them.
It occurs to me that I am a big fan of Robert Floyd. To be accurate and
objective and scientific, I suppose that I should say that I am a big fan
of Floyd's work, but that's not what it feels like. It feels more
personal than that.
My attraction to Floyd dates to my discovery of his Turing Award lecture.
At the time I was still flush with the idea of elementary patterns, and
Floyd's lecture seemed to advocate patterns as a teaching and learning
mechanism--not in so many words, of course. The same lecture also
encouraged programmers to rewrite their working programs from scratch
once they understood the solution well, so that they could isolate the
key concepts of the solution. That sounded like refactoring to me.
Floyd's goal wasn't just a better program, though, but also a better
Lately I've been admiring his papers on sorting networks and random
sampling. I've also stumbled across some of his early papers on
programming languages, only to discover that, according to Knuth, Floyd
developed "the first syntax-directed algorithm of practical importance"
and wrote "probably the best paper ever written" on the syntax of
programming languages. Simply amazing.
Now, Floyd is not the only superstar whose work I admire in this way.
Alan Kay and Ward Cunningham are two others. I read everything they
write and try to grow in the ideas they share.
When I was growing up, I had posters of my favorite sports stars hanging
in my bedroom -- Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Walt Frazier, George McGinnis.
These days, I find myself wanting to post quotes from my favorite
computing stars on my office door. In part, I do this so that students
can learn from them. But I think I also do it for me, because I am
a fan of these guys and enjoy being a fan.
I hope that there isn't anything wrong with that.