The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tracking down a paper

So I want to read this paper:

META II: A Syntax-Oriented Compiler Writing Language.

Schorre, D. V.
In Proceedings of the 1964 19th ACM National Conference,
ACM Press, New York, NY, 41.301-41.3011, 1964. available as http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/800257.808896

Abstract:

Meta II is a compiler writing language which consists of syntax equations resembling Backus normal form and into which instructions to output assembly language commands are inserted. Compilers have been written in this language for VALGOL I and VALGOL II. The former is a simple algebraic language designed for the purpose of illustrating META II. The latter contains a fairly large subset of ALGOL 60.

The method of writing compilers which is given in detail in the paper may be explained briefly as follows. Each syntax equation is translated into a recursive subroutine which tests the input string for a particular phrase structure, and deletes it if found. Backup is avoided by the extensive use of factoring in the syntax equations. For each source language, an interpreter is written and programs are compiled into that interpretive language.

META II is not intended as a standard language which everyone will use to write compilers. Rather, it is an example of a simple working language which can give one a good start in designing a compiler-writing compiler suited to his own needs. Indeed, the META II compiler is written in its own language, thus lending itself to modification.

Tutorial: Metacompilers Part 1

It's available from the ACM but they want $15 for it. Seeing how FAU is just down the street from Chez Boca, I figure it'll be cheaper to obtain a copy there, especially since the Proceedings of the 1964 19th ACM National Conference is is in the library, on the third floor, call number “QA76.A8”, a familar section of the library (it's where all their computer science related materials are stored).

So I'm on the third floor of the library, looking around section “QA76.” I see books in “QA76.A6”, and then books in “QA76.A68” and “QA76.A88” which quickly followed by books in section “QA76.B1”.

Um … did I miss “QA76.A8”? A closer look and … um … a block of wood? What? Did someone really steal a book and replaced it with a block of wood? Oh, it's just a place holder for material that's only available via microfiche. Interesting, I've never seen that before. I keep looking, and no. There are no books in section “QA76.A8” although there is a small section of empty shelving where books in “QA76.A8” would be, if it wasn't an empty section of shelving.

Sigh.

I head back downstairs to the front desk, where they make an announcement that the library will be closing in thirty minutes, never mind the fact that their stated hours clearly means I should have six and a half more hours.

Okay.

I ask the librarian behind the desk about the Proceedings of the 1964 19th ACM National Conference. ``Yes, we do have it, but these missing fields,'' he said, pointing to some blank fields on the screen, ``aren't a good sign. It looks like they've never been referenced at all.''

``Oh.''

``Are you sure you were in the right area?''

``I believe so,'' I said, hoping the librarian would offer to help look for the material.

``Well, you could fill out a missing book report, or you could request an intralibrary loan.'' It was clear the librarian was not going to help me look for the material.

``I was just interested in reading the paper,'' I said.

``Well, as a student, you can fill out the missing book report to have the listing updated in the computer.''

``I'm not a student, although I used to attend.''

``Oh! Do you have an alumni card then?''

``Um ... no.''

``Oh,'' said the librarian. ``Then you can't fill out the missing book report.''

``Oh,'' I said. Thanks. ``I'll just go look around more for the book.''

Then back upstairs to the third floor.

The section I'm looking in, ``QA76.A'', appears to be mostly math related journals and periodicals. The actual computer books are two rows over, in the isle marked ``QA79.C'' even though all the computer books have ``QA76'' as part of their call number. And yes, halfway down that isle is the volume I am looking for, the Proceedings of the 1964 19th ACM National Conference. A quick look at my cell phone (for the time) shows I have twenty minutes to make a copy of the article. It won't take long to make a copy of an eleven page paper.

Seventeen minutes later …

Man was that horrendous. I wasted a minute trying to start the machine, only to realize I needed to select the paper tray before it would copy. Okay, then I find out it's only 10¢ per copy. That's good. But I can't find the copy. That's bad. No paper shot out of the front. Nor out of either side. It wouldn't come out the back—that would be stupid. The copy machine isn't complaining about a jam. But I can't find the copy.

I spend another 10¢ only to find a lack of copy, and a lack of indication that anything is wrong. I start looking all over the copy machine when I find where the copies come out—an alcove about halfway down the machine, hidden from view by the control panel, behind a sign that says “CATION: ELECTROCUTION HAZZARD—EXPOSED MAINS.” Lovely.

I then had to re-copy two pages due to bad placement of the journal on the copy bed. But I did it. With three minutes to spare before the library closed.

Sheesh.

But I have the paper I wanted to read! Woot!

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