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Mel Kaye

Mel Kaye

In programming folklore Mel Kaye is an archetypical Real Programmer. Kaye was formerly a programmer at Royal McBee Computer Corporation. Ed Nather’s The Story of Mel details Mel’s prowess at programming. Although originally written in prose, Nather’s story was repeatedly distributed by email — the resulting wrapped lines were taken to be free verse, and were kept in this form at many sites.

According to the Jargon File appendix where the story may be found, Kaye is (or was) indeed a real person. In a FOLDOC document he is credited with doing the "bulk of the programming" on the Royal McBee LGP-30 computer. In Nather's story, Kaye is portrayed as being prone to avoiding optimizing assemblers in favor of crafting code to take advantage of hardware quirks, for example taking advantage of the rotation of the LGP-30's drum memory to avoid writing delay loops into the code. The story as written by Nather involved Kaye's work on porting a blackjack program from the LGP-30 to a newer Royal McBee system; company sales executives had requested the installation of a cheat code allowing the customers to always win the game, a request that Kaye reluctantly acceded to, but accidentally changed the odds in favor of the dealer rather than the player. Subsequent to Kaye's departure, Nather examined the code and found out that an apparent infinite loop had in fact been coded in such a way as to take advantage of a carry-overflow error, causing program control to shift past the loop to a jump instruction.

The essay was originally published in the usenet news group "net.jokes" on May 21, 1983 by utastro!nather (the then email address of Ed Nather).

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