Saturday, November 19, 2005

Apocryphal Story?

I heard this story about Rabin a couple of years after he and then I left QMW. Perhaps someone can tell me if its apocryphal or not, or perhaps it was someone other than Rabin? I never remembered to ask him about it. Either way its a lovely "hacker" story - where "hacker" should be read as "master of things to do with computers" rather than its other negative interpretation.

In 1993-1994, the main workstations that students used were SunOS boxes with 68020 processors. Rabin and the rest of us in the graphics group were always looking for faster processors to run our calculations on - this in the days when SGI workstations were still few and far between because they were so expensive. So where to find this extra compute power? The workstations were running jobs over night anyway and we had no time-sharing system in the department.

This was a common problem, but someone, Rabin perhaps, had discovered that there was a faster processor available - on the printer! The laser printer had a 68030 processor, and for a short time this was one of the fastest compute machines in the department. So someone was encoding their jobs as Postscript and sending them to the printer to "execute" - the output being printed on the piece of paper. So some print jobs were suspiciously taking a very long time to come out!

Perhaps someone who knew Rabin better at the time can correct this - I only really knew him well after we had left QMW. In case anyone think this story a bit too unlikely, take a look at this URL - a working raytracer you can send to your Postscript printer.

Postscript Raytracer


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