EWD611, Edsger Dijkstra, 1976
My subject should be very simple, for it is only the difference between the orientations of computing science at two sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
I chased this up while looking for Alan Kay's rebuttal "On the fact that most software is written on one side of the Atlantic Ocean" which I couldn't find. I was struck by these passages:
My first visit to the USA, in 1963, was the result of an amazing invitation from the ACM. Without the obligation to present a paper I was asked to attend —as "invited participant", so to speak— a three-day conference in Princeton: for the opportunity of having me sitting in the audience and participating in the discussions, my hosts were willing to pay my expenses, travel included! As you can imagine, I felt quite elated, but shortly after the conference had started, I was totally miserable: the first speaker gave a most impressive talk with wall-to-wall formulae and displayed a mastery of elaborate syntax theory, of which I had not even suspected the existence! I could only understand the first five minutes of his talk, and realized that I was only a poor amateur, sitting in the audience on false pretences.
I skipped lunch, walking around all by myself, trying to make out what the first speaker had told us. I got vaguely funny feelings, but it was only during the cocktail party that evening, when I had recovered enough to dare to consider that it had all been humbug. Tentatively I transmitted my doubts to one of the other participants. He was amused by my innocence. Didn't I know that the first performer was a complete bogus speaker? Of course it was all humbug, everybody in the audience knew that! Puzzled I asked him why the man had been invited and why, at the end, some of the participants had even faked a discussion. "Oh, on occasions like that, we just go through the motions. IBM is one of the sponsors of this conference, so we had to accept an IBM speaker. He was given the first slot, because the sooner that is over, the better." I was flabbergasted.
This vividly reminds me of the first time I attended an ACM conference on programming languages! Though it's amazing to think that back in the golden age there would be just one bogus talk :-)