|Mark Tarver was born
too many years ago to count in the
industrial town of Manchester. One of my
early memories include ruined houses
still left from the Blitz. I can also
just remember one of the last great smogs
(a wonderful vision, greyish-yellow like
catarrh from a smoker's lungs and thick
enough to tap on the window). I wanted to
go out and play in it but was refused.
This was my introduction to the
unreasonable world of adults.
family moved to Jersey where I grew up. I
experienced the Great Freeze of '63 and
Hurricane Betsy in '65. I wanted to go
out and play with Betsy too, but guess
what happened to that idea? My school
reports showed I did what I wanted at my
own pace and showed little interest in
competition. This was thought of as a
problem, although it seems to me to be
precocious wisdom. I followed in the
family tradition by being placed on
school probation (my brother was
suspended). Later I changed and the nadir
was reached when I went to Oxford.
I read philosophy at Reading
University graduating in 1978 with a
first and then going on to Corpus
Christi, Oxford. The college still sends
me expensively bound periodicals of
astounding dullness detailing the minutae
of college life. The last one showed a
picture of some ancient cloth which I at
first took to be the corroded underwear
of Oliver Cromwell. Expensively bound,
pretentious and utterly dull would well
describe Oxford. I took a Ph.D. at
Warwick and found my way into computing
by way of the BBC micro.
I had 32 KB of main memory
to play with. It was an invitation to
boldly go where no man has gone before
and I was in charge of the spaceship
equivalent of the Galileo shuttle. It was
great fun. From there it was a hop to
working in a software company and then to
the philosophy department at Leeds which
was investing in computers.
4 years old
in industrial Manchester; with the same
precocious attitude and suave dress sense
that I carried into later life.
I knew the
location of the little red switch at the back on
the computer that turned it on. Who would have
thought? Heads were turned. I had already solved
an outstanding open problem and so I got the job.
It was an invitation to mess about for two years
one person in the philosophy department who was
treated with disdain. He smoked continental
cigarettes and wore NHS granny glasses mended
with sellotape. His name was Gyorgy and he was a
Hungarian in exile. Gyorgy was unpopular because
he actually knew something about computers and
did not hide the fact, and because he wrote
impeccably grammatical English sentences that
really required the use of a bracket balancing
editor to read them. One famous example was his
seminar abstract which consisted of a single
sentence of 200 words.
Gyorgy wrote in Lisp and so I was hooked. We
competed for the attentions of the DEC-10
mainframe, a class act who bestowed her favours
impartially on both admirers. Gyorgy was infamous
in computer support for resource-hungry Lisp
programs that dimmed the lights whenever he ran
good times and of course they could not last. The
government got wind of the fact that we weren't
actually producing anything, but enjoying
ourselves and put a stop to it. After two years
of anarchy with Lisp, in 1988 I was sent to the
LFCS in Edinburgh for correctional training in
ML. Two years after that I returned to Leeds and
gave my talk on ML. The first slide was titled
is Programming in ML like Safe Sex?
you can't catch any bugs but it's not much fun.
But I liked
the idea of pattern-matching and borrowed this
for Lisp. Thus was taken the first step to Shen.
fun at first and then it too got very serious.
The department took the government directives
seriously and started to turn itself into a
'centre of excellence'. Finding myself
increasingly out of step with the fuhrer directives,
I left in 1999.
Then off to
America in 2002 and Stony Brook. I was an
instructor for discrete maths and given a deadly
book by a chap called Anderson as the course
text. Weighing the equivalent of bucket of lard
and about as digestable, it turned me off so much
that I donated it to a grad student and rewrote
the course. We used computer-assisted proof to
learn logic and these innovations seriously
annoyed the UG committee. My resignation was a
foregone conclusion but still remains, in my
view, a masterpiece of how to napalm your bridges
in style. It also contains a plea for making
computer science coherent and interesting. From
the ashes of that course was to spring Logic,
Proof and Computation.
At 56 what
I've learnt from life is that if you want to be
free, you have to work at it and make sacrifices.
Most particularly you have to beware people who
tell you that true freedom is giving them your
work and time for free. Remember if you're not
irritating somebody, you're not