Firtst published in ACM Sigplan Notices,
Vol.33 No.2, Feb. 98, pg.31-33.
Published with the authors permission.
I've been fortunate to attend three EuroForth conferences since 1989: two in Germany and one in the UK. My personal feeling is that they just keep getting better and better every time. The latest conference was held in the quaint English setting of Oxford, England, from September 26th through 28th, 1997. MicroProcessor Engineering, Ltd. of Southampton was our conference organizer, and they did it right. Let me fill you in on some of what took place at this extraordinary meeting, things you probably wouldn't hear anywhere else!
Everything seemed to be within walking distance from our college, so we walked often and far. My wife Sandy and her friends enjoyed the shopping districts and took rolls and rolls of film of the ancient, gaudy architecture. My 12-year old son Kirk did much the same, but had to endure doing homework brought from the States (I have a memorable photo of him sitting in his dorm room at St. Anne's, working over his math while facing out onto the garden). I must admit, I've never seen so many Gothic towers, spires and domes all in one place. Fortuitously, the weather held mostly sunny or lightly overcast and cool, with a minimum of precipitation during the meeting.
I, of course, being the only physician in attendance, and fearing that my professional services as a Samaritan might be needed during the punting, elected to stay firmy on dry land in case of emergency. Unfortunately, no medical problems arose in the meanwhile, so I was forced to drink a truly wicked alcoholic punch excessively, while heckling the least accomplished punters from the dock. The other landlubbers did pretty much the same, so that when the punters returned and the food was served, we were more ripe than the melons.
One of the punt polers, who shall remain nameless at this time, suffered the inevitable consequences of a pole stuck in the fine mud of the river bottom. As his boat advanced, and the pole remained rooted, the sailor was pulled from the deck into the murky waters of the Cherwell. Splash! The punt's passengers at first tried to help him back into the boat, but the crazy rollicking motion of the punt during this maneuver scared them off and the hapless poler was abandoned (somewhat scornfully, the story goes). He had to wade to the shore and walk back to the feast, soaking wet, in the chilly Fall English air. This event colored his already scrappy disposition negatively for the next few days.
All attendees were fuddy-duddied-up in high costume and seated at two tables with a third (speaker's) table laid crossways at one end; from the gallery above, it clearly was the Greek letter pi. This was perfectly okay as the Greeks had no letter for "F", the first letter of Forth. This lays to rest the rumor that "Forth is all Greek to me" due to the obvious impossibility of the alphabet; but unfortunately still allows Forth to be linked to the dead Latin language, as the Romans invented the "F". I sometimes wonder if "Forth" had instead been named "Latin", if it wouldn't now be more popular overall?
In addition to five different fine wines, and a multicourse feast (including asparagus salad, salmon, pheasant, julienne vegetables, cottage potatoes, lemon torte, chocolate and biscuits), we were treated to rollicking tales of derring-do by our European Forth colleagues. One fable concerned the almost insurmountable difficulty of getting computer equipment into and out of the Czech Republic. The moral of this story was that if you have patience and plenty of money for bribes, no amount of bureaucratic hedging can stand in your way. Another conferee regaled us with a convoluted story of how brash entrepreneurial spirit (lying a lot), coupled with hardware and software knowledge (fooling around aimlessly), and eager employers (computer ignoramuses) can result in rapid advancement (promotion without merit) and future employment possibilities (getting laid off). There was much back- slapping and back-patting, with almost no back-stabbing evident at all (discounting of course the non-Forth world around us). In between these sagas there was the table talk with our nearby mates, which was ever entertaining. A brisk walk back to St. Anne's and this night was only a pleasant memory.
The bill of fare was impressively diverse and tasty, and my fish dinner was generous enough to feed a family. After eating everything in sight, we began to drink everything in sight, which is probably why we were the "survivors" (good nutrition). It's at times like these, with a full belly and too much alcohol, that one discovers why we are using Forth as our preferred computer programming language. My Australian friend found out that he was the only known Forth user in 500 miles; it will probably take him a long time to set up a local Forth Interest Group (FIG). My South African friend used a Forth- based business graphics package in the early days of PCs, and resorted to establishing his own Forth programming department when that package was no longer supported. An academic acquaintance appears to have chosen Forth as a kind of rebellion against the establishment, coincidentally filling a niche that no one else is likely to challenge for a long time. For every personality represented at the Trout that night, there was an equally fascinating story of how Forth became absolutely necessary to their way of life (sorry, folks, I was drinking only straight cola, I stayed sober and took notes. My request for blackmail payments is in the mail to you at this time).
EuroForth'98 will be held at the Dagstuhl Castle conference center in western Germany near Luxembourg in mid September, 1998. Built originally in 1761, the castle's construction used stones from an older ruin dating from 1270. It was rebuilt as a modern conference center in 1989.
Peter Knaggs told us about Forth's new status as an ISO standard in "A Truly International Standard".If you'd like a copy of the conference Proceedings, which include all of the papers, contact the organizers at:
Stephen Pelc described "A Portable Open Software Architecture for Industry", which might be described loosely as an industrial-strength Java alternative.
Martin Rand spoke of "TIDE: Exploiting Forth in a Windows Environment". TIDE is a Forth-based sustem for supporting banking terminals in Europe.
Paul Bennett outlined "Forth in Safety Critical Systems, Configuration and Certification", which made the case for a higher level of professionalism in Forth programming where health and safety are involved.
Malcolm Bugler also covered this concept in his paper, "Forth in Critical Care Environments", describing advanced techniques involved in the use of Forth for controlling a medical anesthesia ventilator.
I spoke on "Forth and Artificial Vision", describing my design of a four degrees of freedom robotic eye using a CCD camera as an imaging device, its object oriented Forth motion control programs, and routines for image manipulation (capture, contrast enhancement, area-of-interest viewing and data compression). The conference judges were kind enough to bestow on this presentation the "best paper" award.
MicroProcessor Engineering, Ltd.
133 Hill Lane, Southampton
SO15 5AF, UK