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Re: Letters of "Recommendation"

Jeff Adler <>

The items in this post are excerpts from a book called
LIAR: the Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous Recommendations.
(Sorry, I haven't been able find the author's name via the online

Jeff Adler
Math Department, University of Chicago

From!!rpg Mon Jun 21 15:40:07 1993
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          21 Jun 93 15:40 PDT
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	id AA02522; Mon, 21 Jun 93 15:39:26 PDT
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 93 15:39:26 PDT
From: "Richard P. Gabriel" <>
Message-Id: <>
Subject: System Qual
Status: RO

A friend noticed the following message pass through the wires recently and
thought it looked familiar:

   Dated: 2 September 1982

   1 Pick from the following pictures the one which most accurately represents a
       A. <a picture of a Cray-1>
       B. <a picture of a S-1 Mark IIA>
       C. <a picture of a DEC 2060>
       D. <a picture of a 3 foot spool of coaxial cable>

   Answer: D.

with the explanation:

    I stashed this away while reading an ARPA bulletin board in school a decade
    ago.  It was posted by a Xerox PARC hacker (you know, the guys who invented
    EtherNet) as a test called "the systems qual."

I wrote this fake system qual in May of 1982. The context was that I
was at the CS department as a research associate at Stanford when
several grad students failed the system qual which that year was given
by Keith Lantz. These particular students were trying to do
dissertations in timesharing. At the time it was possible to fake
e-mail from anyone you wanted, and so I posted a message (reproduced
below) from Lantz to ``protest'' the ``computational correctness''
that the distributed computing community was apparently trying to
establish. I kept my identity secret for fear that Lantz - at that
time a relatively powerful force in CSD - might retaliate.

I think now the heat is probably off, so you can attribute the message
to me.  To my mind, the header of the message is as good as the test
itself. Note that the ^O is the standard ascii glyph for a lower case
beta in the Stanford ascii character set we used at SAIL. Lower case
beta was used by our mail system as a means to show the start of a
message and to identify a line that would appear in the table of
contents of the mail file - the idea was to indicate the sender and
the header. Gene Golub was chairman of CS at the time; ``John'' is
John Hennessey. The odd characters in Sue Owicki's question are
other SAIL characters corresponding to mathematical quantifiers, set
membership, etc.

31-May-82  2046	Lantz@Mt-St-Coax (WireNet)  	Systems Qual
Mail-from: COAXNET host SU-8080 rcvd at 19-May-82 2039-PST
Date:  9 Apr 1982 1837-PST
Subject: System Qual
cc: Reid at WIRE-CITY
Remailed-date: 19 May 1982 2030-PST
Remailed-from: Keith A. Lantz <CSL.LANTZ at SU-COAXIAL>
Remailed-to: Mail-Server at SU-SHASTA-COLA
Remailed-date: 19 May 1982 2030-PST
Remailed-from: Mail-Server <MAIL.SERVER at SU-SHASTA-COLA>
Remailed-to: Mail-Server at MT-ST-COAX
Remailed-date: 19 May 1982 2030-PST
Remailed-from: LANTZ-MAIL-SERVER
Remailed-to: Lantz-Bit-Bucket at SU-SHASTA-COLA
Redistributed-To: SU-BBOARDS@SCORE
Redistributed-By: Lantz at Mt-St-Coax
Redistributed-Date: 20 May 1982
Redistribution-from-Header <LANTZ at SU-SCORE at SUMEX-AIM at MT-ST-COAX>
Forwarded-by: MAILSER@SCORE
Forwarded-to: BBOARD at SU-AI
Forwarding-Date: 20 May 1982

In response to the message sent  18 May 1982 1341-PST from GOLUB@SU-SCORE

It seems odd that you are upset that there are several people who have
failed the systems qual for the last time, and from the amount of mail
flying about the last few days I suppose we'll have to do something about
this.  Nothing can be done until John gets back in town (Thursday) so
you'll just have to sit on the edge of your seat.  But here is a sample of
some of the questions we asked on the qual, just so you know we were fair:

1. Pick from the following pictures the one which most accurately represents
a computer:
	A. <a picture of a Cray-1>
	B. <a picture of a S-1 Mark IIA>
	C. <a picture of a DEC 2060>
	D. <a picture of a 3 foot spool of coaxial cable>

Answer: D.

2. What is the limiting factor on the speed of paging on modern computer

Answer: the number of meters of coax between your 8080 and your floppy disk.

3. Name 100 advantages of personal machines over timesharing machines. Name
1 advantage of a timeshared machine over a personal machine.

There was a lot of complaints about this question, and we admit it was
intended as a trick. Several of the people who passed spent over an hour
trying to think of the advantage of timeshared machines.

4. What is the primary design consideration in designing a modern computer

Answer: How to maximize the ratio of coax to silicon.

5. What was the most important invention for modern computing?

	A. ECL and high speed logic
	B. Advanced cooling technologies
	C. Video Disks
	D. Cache memories
	E. Coaxial cable

Answer: E.

6. What is the most important function of a modern operating system?

Answer: the mail server.

7. What is the most important measure of the sophistication of a modern
operating system?

Answer: the complexity of the mail headers it produces.

8. What is the most reasonable power dissipation in modern computers:
	A. equivalent to a 2000 megaton nuclear device (e.g. CRAY-1)
	B. equivalent to the output of the Hoover Dam (e.g. S-1 MARK IIA)
	C. equivalent to a room full of toaster ovens (e.g. a DEC 2060)
	D. equivalent to a sexually satiated male mosquito in a room
	   at absolute 0 (e.g. a single board 68000 connected to 90 miles
	   of 300 ohm coax).

Answer: D.

(The next question is from Sue Owicki)
9. Define: A is `strongly hyperhyperimmune' if A is infinite and there is
no recursive f such that (u)[W(f(u))  A  empty] & (u)(v)
u  v => W(f(u))  W(f(v)) = empty].
	A. show that if A is strongly hyperhyperimmune then A has no
	   infinite retraceable subset.
	B. show that if A is strongly cohesive then A is strongly 

Answer: A - obvious; B - immediate corollary of A.

10. What are the design considerations in a modern display?

Answer: it must display 10^49352 points per inch and run at least at
2 baud (to support the new, high speed 8080's out on the market).

11. Describe the new generation of `supercomputers'.

Answer: the MC68000 is...

12. Name the institutions where the most progressive computer systems work
is being performed.

Answer: Bells Labs (C and Unix) because they are part of the phone company
and, hence, like copper wire; Xerox (Altos) because they have cornered the
world coax market.

13. What units are used to measure the performance of modern computers?

Answer: TIPS - Thousandths of Instructions Per Second.

14. (Methodology) Why is it that large computers (e.g. Cray-1) are no
longer of interest to systems people?

Answer: They run too fast to understand and to use coax effectively. Running
one of these computers on an ultra-high speed network (3 megabit net) would
swamp it.

15. Where are the reliability issues centered in modern systems?

Answer: UHF connectors.

16. Define a `large program'.

Answer: A program that is more than 1/2 a page long or that has fewer than
10 lines of declarations for each line of code.

17. How many programs have you written?

Passing answer:  < 10
Failing answer:  > 15
Conditional:	 10<=x<=15

18. What is the largest program that you have ever heard that a real
computer scientist has written?

Answer: A mail server.

19. Why is synchronization research better performed on small, modern computers
connected by a network?

Answer: The coax slows things down so much that you don't have to worry 
about deadlocks.

20. Some people say that extremely large programs (> 500 lines) require very
large computers. How do you answer them?

Answer: If they knew what they were doing they wouldn't need a large
machine. The fact that they write such large programs means they are doing
the wrong thing.

21. What should we do with people who believe in huge timesharing machines
that run like hell and who want to write gigantic programs?

Answer: Fail them on the systems qual.

From!!loofbour Wed Jul 14 08:20:40 1993
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          id aa26582; 14 Jul 93 8:20 PDT
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	id AA00324; Wed, 14 Jul 93 11:20:26 -0400
Date: Wed, 14 Jul 93 11:20:26 -0400
From: Nathan Loofbourrow <>
Message-Id: <>
In-Reply-To: soi!'s message of Wed, 14 Jul 93 4:30:01 EDT
Subject: Not attributed: "Moving COBOL into the 1980's"
Status: RO

"ADD ONE TO COBOL" was described in a posting to
alt.folklore.computers that later appeared in the (copyrighted!)
journal of ACM SIGPLAN. The original poster, at least, deserves credit.

   Date: Wed, 14 Jul 93 4:30:01 EDT
   Newsgroups: rec.humor.funny
   From: soi! (Christopher Small)
   Subject: Moving COBOL into the 1980's
   Keywords: smirk, computers

   Have you heard about the new object-oriented extension to COBOL? The ANSI
   committee has picked a name for it -- "Add one to COBOL giving COBOL."

   - Chris

   Christopher Small                   
   Software Options, Inc.                        ..!uupsi!soi!chris
   22 Hilliard Street                            vox: 617/497-5054
   Cambridge, MA 02138                           fax: 617/876-3417

(From the "Rest" of RHF)

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