Annoying octal notation
Hendrik van Rooyen
hendrik at microcorp.co.za
Mon Aug 24 17:22:39 CEST 2009
On Monday 24 August 2009 16:14:25 Derek Martin wrote:
> In fact, now that I think of it...
> I just looked at some old school papers I had tucked away in a family
> album. I'm quite sure that in grammar school, I was tought to use a
> date format of 8/9/79, without leading zeros. I can't prove it, of
> course, but feel fairly sure that the prevalence of leading zeros in
> dates occured only in the mid to late 1980's as computers became more
> prevalent in our society (no doubt because thousands of cobol
I was one of those COBOL programmers, and the time was around the end of the
sixties, running into the seventies. And the reason for leading zeroes on
dates was the punched card, and its handmaiden, the data entry form, with a
nice little block for every character.
Does anybody remember key to tape systems other than Mohawk?
> programmers writing business apps needed a way to convert dates as
> strings to numbers that was easy and fit in small memory).
> Assuming I'm right about that, then the use of a leading 0 to
> represent octal actually predates the prevalence of using 0 in dates
> by almost two decades.
Not quite - at the time I started, punch cards and data entry forms were
already well established practice, and at least on the English machines, (ICL
1500/1900 series) octal was prevalent, but I don't know when the leading zero
octal notation started, and where. I only met it much later in life, and
learned it through hard won irritation, because it is a stupid convention,
when viewed dispassionately.
> And while using leading zeros in other
> contexts is "familiar" to me, I would certainly not consider it
> "common" by any means. Thus I think it's fair to say that when this
> syntax was selected, it was a rather good choice.
I think you give it credence for far more depth of design thinking than what
actually happened in those days - some team working on a compiler made a
decision (based on gut feel or experience, or precedent, or whim ) and that
was that - lo! - a standard is born! -- We have always done it this way, here
at company x. And besides, we cannot ask our main guru to spend any of his
precious time mucking around with trivia - the man may leave us for the
opposition if we irritate him, and systems people do not grow on trees, you
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