The Story of Mel

The Story of Mel

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

Contents

Story

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

According to the Jargon File appendix where the story may be found, Kaye is (or was) indeed a real person. In a FOLDOC document he is credited with doing the "bulk of the programming" on the Royal McBee LGP-30 computer. 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 the installation of a cheat code allowing the customers to always win the game, 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.

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]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b Matt Crawford The realest programmer of all Newsgroup: net.jokes November 20, 1984.
  2. ^ The Story of Mel free verse version

Further reading



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