How did the work of Dennis Ritchie (1941-2011) influence you as a programmer? Of course, there are the obvious things (C, Unix). For me, the biggest thing (other than coding in C, on Unix, for years) was the writing style in The C Programming Language ("K&R"), which was remarkably terse and yet very clear.

Did you know that very early versions of C used i =- 2; as the syntax for subtracting 2 from i, instead of i -= 2? And the trouble of course is that then i =- 2 would have a different meaning from i = -2, a dangerous whitespace sensitivity. And if you find yourself nodding along with me, remembering this old syntax which never actually saw the light of day outside of Bell Labs, it's because it's reported at the very end of K&R, and you read that because K&R was so dang short that you ran out of things to read before you ran out of patience with the book, and that in itself is a testament to the bold, clean simplicity of the C language.

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    Is this a real question for meta? – genesis Oct 14 '11 at 5:00
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    Yes. I thought it would be respectful to take some time today to pause and reflect on a great man who passed away and why he was influential. – Joel Spolsky ModStaff Oct 14 '11 at 5:05
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    Okay. Do not think it has meant to be offensive. I just thought it could fit up for programmers/stackoverflow itself – genesis Oct 14 '11 at 5:08
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    Well you made me read his book, who has had more influence on me: you or him? – Ivo Flipse Oct 14 '11 at 5:18
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    Without him, obviously I wouldn't be the programmer pedantry nerd at work. – Johannes Schaub - litb Oct 14 '11 at 6:24
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    Is this not a question about the people on Stackoverflow!? – Johannes Schaub - litb Oct 14 '11 at 21:10
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    This is getting ridiculous - this question will be closed for the second time and probably reopened again right after. Does locking a post prevent close / reopen votes? – uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Oct 15 '11 at 6:10
  • @George: yes. But at this point, doing so is probably pointless. I re-opened (and deleted a fair number of comments) because the whole sour grapes "we're not getting a banner so let's piss on any other tribute" attitude of the closers and commenters disgusted me. But it doesn't appear anyone is interested in doing anything productive here, so might as well let the topic rest. – Shog9 Oct 15 '11 at 18:57
  • @Shog9: That's too bad. I was hoping to see some nice stories here. – uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Oct 15 '11 at 18:59
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    Wow, this is the best you can do @JoelSpolsky, after your last banner? Just wow. – Cam Jackson Oct 16 '11 at 22:39
  • @Shog9: seriously? You think off-topic question on MSO is the right place for this? – vartec Oct 17 '11 at 8:31
  • No, actually I think a big image featuring Professor Farnsworth is the classy way to go on this @vartec... But I'm fine with this too. – Shog9 Oct 17 '11 at 9:12

This tribute has a rather serious problem: as Dennis pointed out years ago:

Although we worked closely together on this book, there was a clear division of labor: Kernighan wrote almost all the expository material, while I was responsible for the appendix containing the reference manual and the chapter on interfacing with the Unix system.

If we're going to go into bits of personal history about Dennis though, perhaps I'll throw out one little bit from long ago on Usenet. The story starts with Clive D.W. Feather saying:

Dennis: please tell this person how wrong he is.

...and rather than giving Dennis time to reply himself, I jumped in with a post that started out:

It hardly seems necessary. A couple of quotes from the preface to the second edition should suffice:

Dennis added a reply saying:

Nowadays I can have other people do this for me, as later messages (Coffin, da Silva) did. (I suppose I better say :) just in case).

So, Dennis influenced me to quit using quotes from him to tell people they're full of garbage, as long as he was alive. Hopefully I can be forgiven for doing so now.

  • wow, you are a legend too then. – Engineer2021 Oct 14 '11 at 12:13
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    There are also practical jokes worth mentioning .. since this is closed. I'm not making light of his death, but that was just really darn funny. – Tim Post Oct 14 '11 at 21:05
  • @Jerry, Your links are down.......... – Pacerier Jul 2 '15 at 11:07
  • @Pacerier: Repaired (I think). You'd think even the current management of Bell Labs would realize it was worth preserving Dennis' home page, but you'd apparently be wrong... – Jerry Coffin Jul 2 '15 at 16:19
  • @JerryCoffin, That's why I always use web.archive.org and archive.is – Pacerier Jul 4 '15 at 11:52

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