Daily Archives: October 17, 2006

On Steve O’Grady’s post: “Where to Innovate? Let Others Make the Call”

Steve O’Grady’s post Where to Innovate? Let Others Make the Call includes a few comments about IBM’s alphaWorks site, the site where IBM makes new technology available so users can give it a go:

If that doesn’t work, however, what’s left? While I don’t disagree with Carr entirely – focus from an innovation standpoint is indeed a good thing – I would argue that Darwin should have the final say. I just spent a couple of hours learning the broader history of IBM’s alphaWorks project, and one of the clear lessons is that outsourcing the task of judging an innovation’s merits has unexpected benefits.

According to one of the talks today, Lou Gerstner’s first two questions regarding alphaWorks were first, what about people stealing our intellectualy property (addressed via license), and second, how do we make money (the answer was: I don’t know). My answer to the second question would be that the function – and value – of alphaWorks is simple: it divorces the valuation of innovation from such threats as internal politics and the Innovator’s Dilemma. By the simple act of allowing, even encouraging, outside input, alphaWorks – like open source (see Derby, nee Cloudscape) – makes the process of innovation at once more democratic (note the small d) and Darwinian (note the big D).

Is alphaWorks the perfect – or only – answer to the problem? I’m guessing you know the answer to that. But if I a.) worked for IBM, and b.) was charged with the task of determining which of my innovations was likely to prove important, I’d sure as hell want help from the outside world.

As I’ve said many times it was the release of Jikes on alphaWorks back in April 1997 that led us on the path to success. Though we had gotten some attention inside the IBM firewall it was only because of the attention that we got outside the firewall that IBM management began to pay serious attention to our work.

When you think about, alphaWorks is in the “hello world” business. Each of their new technology posts, say for NewWidget, is a question: “Hello world, what do you think about our NewWidget technology?” The answers can range from “Who cares?” to “Ho-hum” to “Best Widget I’ve ever seen!” and so forth. Indeed, the key part of the answer if whether there are more “!” responses than “?” response. For example, in our case the response was, “Jikes! Yikes it’s fast!”

This reminds me of an exchange reported in one of my favorite books, “The Book of Amazing Facts” by Jerome S. Meyer. My copy is the 3rd printing, copyright 1950. There is an entry called “The Shortest Letter and the Longest Sentence Ever Written.”
It says in part:

Victor Hugo almost set the world’s record for short letter writing. A month or so after the octavo edition of Les Miserables was published he wrote to his publisher the following:


Victor Hugo

Hurst & Blackett, the London publishers, not to be outdone by the master, produced the world’s shortest letter when they wrote back to Hugo on the firm’s letterhead:


and did not sign it. Nobody could write anything shorter that would convey any meaning.

But just to prevent anyone from getting the wrong idea about Victor Hugo, we repint here what we believe to be the longest sentence ever written — by Hugo himself in Les Miserables. This enormous single sentence contains 823 words and is about 4,500 times as long as the letter he wrote to his publisher:

THE LONGEST SENTENCE — 823 WORDS — 3 PAGES — From Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables:

The son of a father to whom history will accord certain attenuating circumstances, but also as worthy of esteem as that
father had been of blame; possessing all private virtues and many public virtues; careful of his health, of his fortune,
of his person, of his affairs, knowing the value of a minute and not always the value of a year; sober, serene,
peaceable, patient; a good man and a good prince; sleeping with his wife, and having in his palace lackeys charged with
the duty of showing the conjugal bed to the bourgeois, an ostentation of the regular sleeping-apartment which had become
useful after the former illegitimate displays of the elder branch; knowing all the languages of Europe, and, what is
more rare, all the languages of all interests, and speaking them; an admirable representative of the “middle class,” but
outstripping it, and in every way greater than it; possessing excellent sense, while appreciating the blood from which
he had sprung, counting most of all on his intrinsic worth, and, on the question of his race, very particular, declaring
himself Orleans and not Bourbon; thoroughly the first Prince of the Blood Royal while he was still only a Serene
Highness, but a frank bourgeois from the day he became king; diffuse in public, concise in private; reputed, but not
proved to be a miser; at bottom, one of those economists who are readily prodigal at their own fancy or duty; lettered,
but not very sensitive to letters; a gentleman, but not a chevalier; simple, calm, and strong; adored by his family and
his household; a fascinating talker, an undeceived statesman, inwardly cold, dominated by immediate interest, always
governing at the shortest range, incapable of rancor and of gratitude, making use without mercy of superiority on
mediocrity, clever in getting parliamentary majorities to put in the wrong those mysterious unanimities which mutter
dully under thrones; unreserved, sometimes imprudent in his lack of reserve, but with marvellous address in that
imprudence; fertile in expedients, in countenances, in masks; making France fear Europe and Europe France!
Incontestably fond of his country, but preferring his family; assuming more domination than authority and more authority
than dignity, a disposition which has this unfortunate property, that as it turns everything to success, it admits of
ruse and does not absolutely repudiate baseness, but which has this valuable side, that it preserves politics from
violent shocks, the state from fractures, and society from catastrophes; minute, correct, vigilant, attentive,
sagacious, indefatigable; contradicting himself at times and giving himself the lie; bold against Austria at Ancona,
obstinate against England in Spain, bombarding Antwerp, and paying off Pritchard; singing the Marseillaise with
conviction, inaccessible to despondency, to lassitude, to the taste for the beautiful and the ideal, to daring
generosity, to Utopia, to chimeras, to wrath, to vanity, to fear; possessing all the forms of personal intrepidity; a
general at Valmy; a soldier at Jemappes; attacked eight times by regicides and always smiling; brave as a grenadier,
courageous as a thinker; uneasy only in the face of the chances of a European shaking up, and unfitted for great
political adventures; always ready to risk his life, never his work; disguising his will in influence, in order that he
might be obeyed as an intelligence rather than as a king; endowed with observation and not with divination; not very
attentive to minds, but knowing men, that is to say requiring to see in order to judge; prompt and penetrating good
sense, practical wisdom, easy speech, prodigious memory; drawing incessantly on this memory, his only point of
resemblance with Caesar, Alexander, and Napoleon; knowing deeds, facts, details, dates, proper names, ignorant of
tendencies, passions, the diverse geniuses of the crowd, the interior aspirations, the hidden and obscure uprisings of
souls, in a word, all that can be designated as the invisible currents of consciences; accepted by the surface, but
little in accord with France lower down; extricating himself by dint of tact; governing too much and not enough; his own
first minister; excellent at creating out of the pettiness of realities an obstacle to the immensity of ideas; mingling
a genuine creative faculty of civilization, of order and organization, an indescribable spirit of proceedings and
chicanery, the founder and lawyer of a dynasty; having something of Charlemagne and something of an attorney; in short,
a lofty and original figure, a prince who understood how to create authority in spite of the uneasiness of France, and
power in spite of the jealousy of Europe, — Louis Philippe will be classed among the eminent men of his century, and
would be ranked among the most illustrious governors of history had he loved glory but a little, and if he had had the
sentiment of what is great to the same degree as the feeling for what is useful.

“Hello World” and Twit-messaging

I began my post e-mail take 2: You get to e-mail; I don’t in discussing how to manage an open-source project:

What I find most interesting are the tools available now that either didn’t exist back then or weren’t widely used … or were widely used and I didn’t know about them:

  • Blogging software
  • wikis
  • content management systems (CMS’s)

I view this blog as part of the open-source-volunteers project, a project I am trying to run as an open-source project. Though e-mail remains the fundamental mode of communication amonst open-source developers, I find e-mail has its limitations. For example, back in June I read over 1500 e-mails posted to the humanitarian-ict mail list. [1] I found there was a wealth of information but it was scattered over many e-mails. I prepared what I call a “mail list sampler” of those messages and posted it to the ReliefSource wiki.

I think blogging offers an interesting alternative to e-mail in that all the posts are grouped by sender, and when you read someone’s blog you read not only their posts about the topic that drew you to the blog, but what they have to say about other topics.

So I undertook an experiment to see if I could build a community using only blogging, and not using e-mail. To do this I came up with what I call TWIT-Messaging-Protocol-V1 (TMP v1). A TMP message is a blog post in which the title has the form “sender HELLO receiver. The content can amplify on the message but is not required. To send a TMP v1 message is to post a blog entry in this form. You know it has been received when the receiver, or someone you now knows the receiver, posts a comment to that blog posting. For example, I have already sent and received one such message; see Dave Shields HELLO Steve O’Grady, and Steve’s comment therein. I also received another TMP v1 message when Steve’s colleague James Governor posted a comment to another of my posts asking if I would be willing to participate in a Redmonk podcast.

There was one TMP v1 message I planned to send, but have held off. I will post it shortly, a TMP v1 message to Tom Friedman. I realized that if I send such a message to Tom the ultimate reply would be for him to write a column for the New York Times that contained the text “Tom Friedman HELLO Dave Shields.”

And that got me to think about how I could send a TMP v1 message to Bill Clinton. I’m in the small group of people who have shared a stage with President Clinton AND with rms himself. But I realized it was impossible to expect that Bill would log into my blog. However, there was another way, and that takes us to TMP v2.

A TMP v2 message has one of the forms:



However, I realized TMP v1 had some limitations. It required that the receiver post a comment, and also allowed no way for someone else to vouch that a message had been received. And this suggested an additional kind of TMP v2 message, one that would someone to confirm that the receiver knew I had sent the message:


For example, one response to “twit-dave-shields-hello-steve-ogrady-tiwt” could be “twit-james-governor-confirms-twit-dave-shields-hello-steve-ogrady-tiwt.”

And if I know that someone knows about a message, say because I sent them e-mail, I can confirm it myself; for example,

But the real advantage of TMP v2 is that no blog comments need be posted. I can either look at the receiver’s blog for a confirmation, or I can use search engines to see if a message has been confirmed. For example, this provides a way for someone to acknowledge a TMP v2 message to Bill Clinton without his having to reveal his e-mail address.

I can search the web for the state of all my TMP v2 messages by a search on “twit-dave-shields-hello.”

“Hello World” and programming

The first program every programmer writes when learning a new programming language is the one that prints out the string “hello world.” Here are examples:

Welcome to the ACM “Hello World” project. Everyone has seen the Hello World program used as a first exposure to a new language or environment. We are attempting to collect examples for as many languages and related programming environments (shells etc.) as possible.

Wikipedia: Hello world program

The Hello World Collection: “Hello World” is the first program one usually writes when learning a new programming language. This collection includes 296 Hello World programs in many more-or-less well known programming languages, plus 47 human languages.

The Hello World Project.

How the way people code “Hello World” varies depending on their age and job.

Copyright (c) 2006 by David Shields. Licensed under the Apache License 2.0 (However, the parts from wikipedia are under GDFSL.)

“Hello World” through the ages

This is the first of a series of posts on “hello world,” the most ubiquitous of computer programs. But before we get to that, here are some examples of “hello world” through the ages.

Genesis, Book 1:

[1] In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
[2] And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
[3] And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Genesis, Book 2

[19] And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
[20] And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.
[21] And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
[22] And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
[23] And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

[1] And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.
[2] And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.
[3] And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,
[4] As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.

[1] And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
[2] And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
[3] And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.
[4] Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.
[5] And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you,
[6] And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.
[7] And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?

From the Bible, Luke 23:

23:33 And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.
23:34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.
23:35 And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.

Book I of Homer’s Odyssey:

TELL ME, O MUSE, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide
after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit,
and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was
acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save
his own life and bring his men safely home; but do what he might he
could not save his men, for they perished through their own sheer
folly in eating the cattle of the Sun-god Hyperion; so the god
prevented them from ever reaching home. Tell me, too, about all
these things, O daughter of Jove, from whatsoever source you may
know them.

The Koran does not contain the word “hello” but there are numerous instances of “greetings,” including:

And verily, there came Our Messengers to Ibrahim (Abraham) with glad tidings.They said: Salam (greetings or peace!) He answered, Salam (greetings or peace!) and he hastened to entertain them with a roasted calf.

A Shakespeare concordance reveals that the Bard didn’t use the word “hello” but there are several instances of “greetings:” [1]

Romeo And Juliet,Act III, Scene V,Capulet’s orchard

I will omit no opportunity
That may convey my greetings, love, to thee.

The Winter’s Tale,Act V, Scene I

By his command
Have I here touch’d Sicilia and from him
Give you all greetings that a king, at friend,
Can send his brother: and, but infirmity
Which waits upon worn times hath something seized
His wish’d ability, he had himself
The lands and waters ‘twixt your throne and his
Measured to look upon you; whom he loves–
He bade me say so–more than all the sceptres
And those that bear them living.

All’s Well That Ends Well.Act I, Scene III

Why, Helen, thou shalt have my leave and love,
Means and attendants and my loving greetings
To those of mine in court: I’ll stay at home
And pray God’s blessing into thy attempt:
Be gone to-morrow; and be sure of this,
What I can help thee to thou shalt not miss.

King Henry VI, Part III,Act III, Scene III

From worthy Edward, King of Albion,
My lord and sovereign, and thy vowed friend,
I come, in kindness and unfeigned love,
First, to do greetings to thy royal person;
And then to crave a league of amity;
And lastly, to confirm that amity
With a nuptial knot, if thou vouchsafe to grant
That virtuous Lady Bona, thy fair sister,
To England’s king in lawful marriage.

Antony and Cleopatra. Act IV, Scene V

Go, Eros, send his treasure after; do it;
Detain no jot, I charge thee: write to him–
I will subscribe–gentle adieus and greetings;
Say that I wish he never find more cause
To change a master. O, my fortunes have
Corrupted honest men! Dispatch.–Enobarbus!

King Richard II,Act III, Scene I

My Lord Northumberland, see them dispatch’d.
[Exeunt NORTHUMBERLAND and others, with the
Uncle, you say the queen is at your house;
For God’s sake, fairly let her be entreated:
Tell her I send to her my kind commends;
Take special care my greetings be deliver’d.

Coriolanus,Act II, Scene I

[To VOLUMNIA and VIRGILIA] Your hand, and yours:
Ere in our own house I do shade my head,
The good patricians must be visited;
From whom I have received not only greetings,
But with them change of honours.

From Bach and Mozart: “Hello world. Here is more musical perfection.” [2]

From Beethoven, Symphony No. 5 (Beethoven): “Hello world. I have redefined the symphony.”

From Beethoven, who while then deaf could still speak to the world with his music: Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven). The choral ending is based on Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”:


O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern lasst uns angenehmere
anstimmen und freudenvollere.
Freude! Freude!


Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather let us sing more
cheerful and more joyful ones.
Joy! Joy!

Moby-Dick: “Call Me Ishmael.”

Alexander Graham Bell while inventing the Telephone: 10 March 1876 Bell transmits speech “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” using a liquid transmitter and an electromagnetic receiver.

Guglielmo Marconi radios “Hello, Europe:” On 17 December 1902, a transmission from the Marconi station in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada, became the first radio message to cross the Atlantic in an eastward direction. On 18 January 1903, a Marconi station built near Wellfleet, Massachusetts in 1901 sent a message of greetings from Theodore Roosevelt, the President of the United States, to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, marking the first transatlantic radio transmission originating in the United States.

1940 England to Europe:

The summer of 1940 brought an end to the BBC tradition of nameless newsreaders – at least for a time. The BBC explained that, in wartime, listeners “must be able to recognise instantly the authentic voice of BBC broadcasting”.

It was on the lunchtime news of 13 July 1940 that Frank Phillips became the first reader to identify himself. But concern persisted that, named or not, the newsreaders all sounded the same – and it wouldn’t be too hard for the Germans to imitate them.

Next came the realization that the three short notes and one long at the start of Beethoven’s Fifth echoed the Morse
code for “victory”. The V sound on drums immediately became the call sign of all the BBC’s European services.

1948 Harry S. Truman, “The Buck Stops Here”

March 1962: Caltech: “Hello dave, you have a four year full-tuition-plus scholarship.”

Fall 1962. Caltech: “Hello, Dave. You scored 4 out of 60 possible points in your first physics midterm. The class high was 12.” Dave to self, “This is going to be harder than thought.”

In March 1964 I saw a sign on a Caltech bulletin board offering a round-trip to New York for $60, as one of my classmates was driving home to Boston for spring break in his station wagon and wanted help with driving and paying for gas. I spent one of the most wonderful weeks in my life in New York city, staying with one of my high-school classmates who was at Columbia. I was so overwhelmed by NYC that within a few days I recall vividly vowing to myself that I would spend at least five years in NYC before I turned thirty.

I met my wife on February 21, 1967. Our life-long relationship began with our saying hello to each other. I remember the date because I learned later her birthday was the 20th, and we all know the 22nd is G. Washington’s birthday. We have been celebrating what we call out “meet-aversary” for almost four decdes, and if all goes well, will celebrate our 40th in Rome next February.

July 1996: Jikes correctly compiles “Hello world” program.


1. I had planned to include only one example from Shakespeare, but his language is so compelling that I kept on going.

2. The Morgan library in New York City has a wonderful collection of musical manuscripts: Mozart’s is notable for its clarity, Beethoven’s is much harder to read, as one can sense the titanic energy behind his creativity that led to his hammering the notes onto the page. There is a wonderful scene in the movie “Amadeus” Amadeus (1984) described by the critic Roger Ebert as follows:

Almost-great writers (Mann, Galsworthy, Wolfe) make it look like Herculean triumph. It is as true in every field; compare Shakespeare to Shaw, Jordan to Barkley, Picasso to Rothko, Kennedy to Nixon. Salieri could strain and moan and bring forth tinkling jingles; Mozart could compose so joyously that he seemed, Salieri complained, to be “taking dictation from God.”

3. Karin thought she would never see me again because I didn’t ask for her phone number. I didn’t ask for it because, using the circuitous logic of mathematics, I had learned that her roommate worked at Courant and so knew I could learn the number by asking her roommate. I was also inexperienced in using the phone because I grew up in a house without a phone. My mother said we didn’t have a phone because she didn’t want to miss any calls. Looking back I realize we didn’t have a phone because she couldn’t afford one. When I got to Caltech I had to ask my roommate how to use the phone to ask a girl our for a date — I was that inexperienced.

Copyright (c) 2006 by David Shields. Licensed under the Apache License 2.0.

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