Daily Archives: April 3, 2009

On the Difficulty of Building a SETL Compiler From Scratch

I had my first — and hopefully not last — phone conversation yesterday with Guido von Rossum, the creator of Python.

I said during the call that I was going to write a SETL compiler from scratch, and that I hoped I to finish the project by the end of this summer.

Guido said he thought it would be a difficult project, and wished me well.

Guido, I’m done!

Python is a subset of SETL.

The Python compiler is the compiler of that subset.

Thus, the following script defines a compiler for the same subset of SETL:

cp $1.stl $1.py
python $1

How to Build Your Own SETL Ubuntu 8.10 Linux Desktop Computer for About $250

[ First published as How to Build Your Own SETL Ubuntu 8.10 Linux Desktop Computer for About $250 on April 3, 2009]

It is recommended, but not required, that you do your work on the SETL project using a computer that you have built yourself.

See Building your own Linux Ubuntu computer using the ECS GeForce 6100SM-M motherboard for instruction on how to build your own computer. [1]

You should get all the components from Newegg. See On Buying and Building Hardware: Break a Leg with Newegg

Here are the recommended components:

  • AMD Athlon 64 X2 5400 Brisbane 2.8GHz 2 x 512KB L2 Cache Socket AM2 65W Dual-Core black edition Processor – Retail
  • Kingston 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory – Retail
  • APEVIA ATX-CW500WP4 500W ATX Power Supply – Retail
  • Antec Three Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case – Retail
  • As I write this post, these components can be bought for just over $250. There is a *very* powerful computer. [2]

    You can use any keyboard or mouse. I strongly recommend a “Unicomp” keyboard. They can be had for about $60. Lacking that I recommend the Kensington 64365 Black 104 Normal Keys 8 Function Keys USB Wired Slim Keyboard – Retail, which costs $30.

    I have at hand a comparable machine, so I will not get one now.

    An additional advantage of building your own SETL computer is you will then be able to report on performance information that can be shared with others. Each such machine will serve as a benchmark.


    1. The first post about building your own Ubuntu desektop is my most popular to date, with 13,600 of the 153,000 views to date.

    2. It is left as an exercise to the reader familiar with hardware to determine the earliest year this computer would have been ranked among the world’s one hundred fastest supercomputers. I would venture a guess that the date is in the 1990

    Ask For The Gift Of A Name

    To a first approximation, the lower someone’s social and economic class, the more names they know.

    For a proof, you need only pay attention the next time you are in a diner, a Dunkin ‘D or other coffee shop that is not Starbucks, or stop to buy food on the street, and so forth.

    You will find that the clients and service staff know each other’s names. Each has offered the other the gift of their name, and has received in return an equally precious gift in the form of the name of person they asked.

    You will also find that that who the hopefully few who don’t know the names of the employees serving them are obviously wealthier than those who do.

    I have come to realize that I have been guilty of expecting people to serve me without knowing their name, and I now appreciate that to do so is to dishonor them.

    I have thus committed to get to know as many of their names as I can, and have made some progess.

    Each name is a precious gift.

    It starts a relationship.

    Often the name itself suggests a story. For example, one of the owners of the Millwood Deli is named Margaret, the name I would have had I born a girl, “Margaret Susan.”

    Another, at the bagel store in Bedford Hills, is named Heather. It is an unusual name. The last person I knew with the same name was the sister of a classmate in high school, and I told that to Heather. Heather also has a wonderful smile. She also speaks Spanish, so I told her that my oldest daughter, Alison, has the middle name “Sonrisa.” She smiled, for “sonrisa” means “smile” in Spanish.

    So ask for the gift of name.

    Not only will you receive a name in return, I bet you will also get a smile.

    Protect and Serve

    Yesterday I approached several individuals who I know wore badges as part of their work. Four work at the Federal Courhouse in White Plains, New York.[1] The others work for the Chappaqua Police Department.

    After introducing myself, I said to them

    Thank you for your service.

    Just five words. No more, no less.

    I suggest each and every one of us should personally thank those who serve and protect us as often as we can. It takes only a few seconds to give this heartfelt thanks, and it will mean a great deal to them.

    It will make their day. Every one will probably tell their familar later in the day that someone took the trouble to thank them for their service, and they felt quite proud when they received that thanks.

    I asked the Chappaqua officers how long they had been protecting and serving us, and how many times someone not on the job had thanked them for their service. Twenty-four years, fewer than twenty times; four years, hardly ever; several years, not once.

    These words are more than just the thanks from a client, for when you say them you will be acting as a volunteer on behalf of your fellow citizens who are also volunteers, giving credit where credit us due.

    The key word of course is “service.” You don’t say “Thank you for doing a good job,” or “Thanks for helping out.” You just thank them for their service.

    They who protect and serve us value few things more than service. That word defines their job, their character, and their life.

    That is why the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard are called the “Armed Services.” Their members serve at the highest level. They willingly put themselves in harm’s way.

    These words are also due all who help to govern us. Almost thirty years ago I served on a Federal Jury in New York City. It was a minor drug case, yet the Federal attoney was very good rendering service, and so called to the witness stand more than one officer from the DEA (Drug Enforcement Adminstration.) I knew each worked at a very difficult, life-threatening job, for a wage that was little more than marginal, yet as each spoke it was evident that they were among the best we had. Though as a juror I could not thank them, I said to myself in silence that we all should be profoundly grateful that they had taken as their means of service a profession that was as difficult as it was dangerous.

    The Fallen Soldiers gave us the greatest possible gift — their life — in service to their countrymen. Almost all, including SSgt. Kyu Hyuk Chay have received disgracefully little recognition for their ultimate sacrifice.


    1. See The IBM Research December “List”

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