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The One true Mel

A while back I blogged an entry about The story of Mel, a Real Programmer, a story which is nowadays legend in the circles of true nerds (like me 8-). The story was posted to a usenet newsgroup by Ed Nather in 1983. You can believe that it was 1983 because noone posts to usenet anymore. If they do, they don't call it usenet. Even if they do that they CERTAINLY don't give their email in UUCP form. (His UUCP email was, by the way, utastro!nather - so short! People would have chosen employers just to get an email like that!) Anyway, back to the story, which opens with the following paragrahs:

An article devoted to the macho side of programming made the bald and unvarnished statement, "Real Programmers write in Fortran". Maybe they do now, in this decadent era of Lite beer, hand calculators and "user-friendly" software but back in the Good Old Days, when the term "software" sounded funny and Real Computers were made out of drums and vacuum tubes, Real Programmers wrote in machine code - not Fortran, not RATFOR, not even assembly language - Machine Code. Raw, unadorned, inscrutable hexadecimal numbers, directly.

Lest a whole new generation of programmers grow up in ignorance of this glorious past, I feel duty-bound to describe, as best I can through the generation gap, how a Real Programmer wrote code. I'll call him Mel, because that was his name.

I first met Mel when I went to work for Royal McBee Computer Corporation, a now-defunct subsidiary of the typewriter company. The firm manufactured the LGP-30, a small, cheap (by the standards of the day) drum-memory computer, and had just started to manufacture the RPC-4000, a much-improved, bigger, better, faster -- drum-memory computer. Cores cost too much, and weren't here to stay, anyway. (That's why you haven't heard of the company, or the computer.)

The trouble was, no-one knew who Mel was! (Inquiring minds need to know these sorts of details...)

Well in 1994 a guy by the name of Bill von Hagen stumbled across some manuals referring to a programmer of the Royal McBee Corporation called "Mel Kaye" and asked "Could this be the one true Mel?". How exciting!

More recently, images have been published of some of Mel's hand written coding sheets (here and here). These images come from a guy called Robert Lilly whose first programming experience was on a Royal McBee LGP-30. He also posts some manual images. Further geeky details of the Royal McBee line of computers (including the full text of an LGP-30 Programming manual) can be found at this link.

Gee I love this stuff - it's in my genes. Maybe that's because both my parents were programmers! (Are you reading this Samuel ;)

07:31 AM, 24 Nov 2003 by Mark Aufflick Permalink

Google rank #3

We all love Mel, and it is with quite some honour that I find myself as the third highest Google rank when searching for "mel kaye of royal mcbee". I wonder if there will be anonymous geniuses (genii?) like Mel in the future. Probably not - he would have a blog for sure!

by Mark Aufflick on 05/29/04

Info on McBee?

Does anyone out there have information on the McBee Company? My mother worked for them in the early 40s, traveling the U.S. east of the Mississippi to train people in the McBee System. I would like to know what that system was (Did it involve a spindle and punch cards, which I later saw my mom use?) Does anyone know of a Mr. Freed at McBee?

by Unregistered Visitor on 07/03/05

www.pipl.com

> We all love Mel, and it is with quite some honour that I
> find myself as the third highest Google rank when searching
> for "mel kaye of royal mcbee".
Try looking him up on www.pipl.com This site is second in the "Web Pages" section.

Does anyone know where Mel Kaye is today? Is he still alive? Is there an international programmer public holiday in his honour if he has already passed away? :-)

Andrew Jackson
South Africa

by Unregistered Visitor on 06/08/09

Update on Mel...

Mel died in 2008 from liver disease. He is survived by his estranged wife. It's a sad story, but his later years were, unfortunately, not happy ones.

by Unregistered Visitor on 02/13/13

Correction...

His actual date of death was April 14, 2011.

by Unregistered Visitor on 02/13/13

Thanks for the update

Wow - thanks for the update anonymous commenter. Not the first time I've heard some sad news about someone I've been interested in via a blog comment sadly.

I found this corroborating evidence. A birth date of September 30, 1943 doesn't seem to match up though. While the LGP-30 lived for some time after it's 1956 release, this LGP-30 programming card is signed by M. Kaye and dated 1956. Seems odd that he would be employed as an LGP-30 programmer at the age of 13?

There's also a photo of Mel Kaye in the company magazine "The Librazette" dated August 1956 middle left, first page(via Wikipedia). Doesn't look 13 to me. Of course the records linked above could easily be wrong, just pointing out that my "corroborating evidence" doesn't check out.

by Mark Aufflick on 02/24/13

mel kaye that died in 2011

Is not the "original Mel kaye." That's my father, Mel kaye, who was a psychologist.

by Unregistered Visitor on 03/09/13

Thank you

Thanks anonymous commenter for your information, and sorry for your loss.

by Mark Aufflick on 04/11/13

Mel Kaye - additional info

If you follow the like to the August 1956 "Librazette" and go to the very last page, in the left-center column you'll see an entry headed with "Welcome". Look down under ENGINEERING-COMMERCIAL and you'll find an entry indicating that Melvin Kaye joined Librascope, Inc during July, 1956.

by Unregistered Visitor on 05/28/13

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