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Marco Fabbri
Worked at Accurate Srl
Attended Ingegneria Informatica - Università degli Studi di Bologna
Lives in Cesenatico
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Marco Fabbri

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People objected that there was no Exit item on the main menu for the mpx program that put windows on the Blit; see (which mistakenly says it implemented cursor addressing when turned on - as if!) and It seemed unnecessary, since you could just power cycle. Why clutter the menu? (Those were simpler times.)

After hearing too much complaining, I decided to implement Exit, but did it a special way. Late one night, with help from Brian Redman (ber) and Pat Parseghian (pep), I cranked out a set of trivia questions to drive the Exit control. Answer the question right, you can exit; get it wrong, you're stuck in mpx for a little longer. To make this worthwhile, the questions had to be numerous and hard, and had to be verified by the machine, so the quiz code included a little pattern matcher. It also had to be tiny, since the machine only had 256KB and the display took 100KB of that. (Those were simpler times.)

The response was gratifying. I'll never forget seeing someone, who shall remain nameless, a vociferous complainer about the lack of Exit, burble with excitement when he saw the menu item appear, only to crumble in despair when the question arrived. I forget which question it was, but it doesn't matter: they're all hard.

The questions were extended by lots of suggestions from others in the Unix lab, and then in 1984 they were handed out as a bloc in a trivia contest at the USENIX conference in Salt Lake City. To quote an observer, "The submission with the most correct answers (60) was from a team comprising David Tilbrook, Sam Leffler, and presuambly others. Jim McKie had the best score for an individual (57) and was awarded an authenticated 1972 DECtape containing Unix Version 2. Finally, Ron Gomes had 56 correct answers and received an original engraved "Bill Joy" badge, which once belonged to Bill himself, from Sun Microsystems." That score of 57 was so impressive we hired Jim a little later, but that's another story.

How much Unix trivia do you know? Test your mettle; the questions appear below. This may be one of the hardest quizzes ever to originate outside of King William's College.

I've disabled comments because people will just send in spoilers. If you want to discuss or collaborate, do so elsewhere. I'll publish the computer-readable, pattern-matching answers here in a few days.

Good luck, and may your TU-10 never break your 9-track boot tape.


1. The source code motel: your source code checks in, but it never checks out. What is it?
2. Who wrote the first Unix screen editor?
3. Using TSO is like kicking a {what?} down the beach.
4. What is the filename created by the original dsw(1)?
5. Which edition of Unix first had pipes?
6. What is =O=?
7. Which Stephen R. Bourne wrote the shell?
8. Adam Buchsbaum's original login was sjb. Who is sjb?
9. What was the original processor in the Teletype DMD-5620?
10. What was the telephone extension of the author of mpx(2)?
11. Which machine resulted in the naming of the "NUXI problem"?
12. What customs threat is dangerous only when dropped from an airplane?
13. Who wrote the Bourne Shell?
14. What operator in the Mashey shell was replaced by "here documents"?
15. What names appear on the title page of the 3.0 manual?
16. Sort the following into chronological order: 1) PWB 1.2, b) V7, c) Whirlwind, e) System V, f) 4.2BSD, g) MERT.
17. The CRAY-2 will be so fast it {what?} in 6 seconds.
18. How many lights are there on the front panel of the original 11/70?
19. What does FUBAR mean?
20. What does "joff" stand for?
21. What is "Blit" an acronym of?
22. Who was rabbit!bimmler?
23. Into how many pieces did Ken Thompson's deer disintegrate?
24. What name is most common at USENIX conferences?
25. What is the US patent number for the setuid bit?
26. What is the patent number that appears in Unix documentation?
27. Who satisfied the patent office of the viability of the setuid bit patent?
28. How many Unix systems existed when the Second Edition manual was printed?
29. Which Bell Labs location is HL?
30. Who mailed out the Sixth Edition tapes?
31. Which University stole Unix by phone?
32. Who received the first rubber chicken award?
33. Name a feature of C not in Kernighan and Ritchie.
34. What company did cbosg!ccf work for?
35. What does Bnews do?
36. Who said "Sex, Drugs, and Unix?"
37. What law firm distributed Empire?
38. What computer was requested by Ken Thompson, but refused by management?
39. Who is the most obsessed private pilot in USENIX?
40. What operating system runs on the 3B-20D?
41. Who wrote find(1)?
42. In what year did Bell Labs organization charts become proprietary?
43. What is the Unix epoch in Cleveland?
44. What language preceded C?
45. What language preceded B?
46. What letter is mispunched by bcd(6)?
47. What terminal does the Blit emulate?
48. What does "trb" stand for (it's Andy Tannenbaum's login)?
49. allegra!honey is no what?
50. What is the one-line description in vs.c?
51. What is the TU10 tape boot for the PDP-11/70 starting at location 100000 octal?
52. What company owns the trademark on Writer's Workbench Software?
53. Who designed Belle?
54. Who coined the name "Unix"?
55. What manual page mentioned Urdu?
56. What politician is mentioned in the Unix documentation?
57. What program was compat(1) written to support?
58. Who is "mctesq"?
59. What was "ubl"?
60. Who bought the first commercial Unix license?
61. Who bought the first Unix license?
62. Who signed the Sixth Edition licenses?
63. What color is the front console on the PDP-11/45 (exactly)?
64. How many different meanings does Unix assign to '.'?
65. Who said "Smooth rotation butters no parsnips?"
66. What was the original name for cd(1)?
67. Which was the first edition of the manual to be typeset?
68. Which was the first edition of Unix to have standard error/diagnostic output?
69. Who ran the first Unix Support Group?
70. Whose Ph.D. thesis concerned Unix paging?
71. Who (other than the obvious) designed the original Unix file system?
72. Who wrote the PWB shell?
73. Who invented uucp?
74. Who thought of PWB?
75. What does grep stand for?
76. What hardware device does "dsw" refer to?
77. What was the old name of the "/sys" directory?
78. What was the old name of the "/dev" directory?
79. Who has written many random number generators, but never one that worked?
80. Where was the first Unix system outside 127?
81. What was the first Unix network?
82. What was the original syntax for ls -l | pr -h?
83. Why is there a comment in the shell source /* Must not be a register variable */?
84. What is it you're not expected to understand?
In computing, the Blit was a programmable bitmap graphics terminal designed by Rob Pike and Bart Locanthi Jr. of Bell Labs in 1982. When initially switched on, the Blit looked like an ordinary textual...
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Marco Fabbri

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We announced our self-driving car project in 2010 ( with a clear goal: make driving safer, more enjoyable and more efficient.

There’s much left to design and test, but we’ve now safely completed more than 200,000 miles of computer-led driving, gathering great experiences and an overwhelming number of enthusiastic supporters.

We wanted to share one of our favorite moments from some special research we conducted. Watch this video of Steve, who joined us for a drive on a carefully programmed route to experience being behind the wheel in a whole new way. We organized this test as a technical experiment outside of our core research efforts, but we think it’s also a promising look at what this kind of technology may one day deliver for society if rigorous technical and safety standards can be met.

A version of this video with audio captions is available here:
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Marco Fabbri

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Great tip from Shawn Blanc, tying together Dropbox, Yojimbo, Folder Action scripts, and a new-to-me iPhone app called QuickShot. ★
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Marco Fabbri

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"Google's just pulled the curtains off of its 'Solve for X' website, and it appears that Google is nearing the creation of a TED-like think tank that will focus on talks about radical technological ideas. The site describes the effort as 'a place where the curious can go to hear and discuss radical technology ideas for solving global problems'."
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Marco Fabbri

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Works best full-screen. ★
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Marco Fabbri

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Dopo questo post, intitolato “Italia, dove vai?“, e visitato da oltre 1000 persone, ho deciso di spendere qualche altro minuto per “elaborare” il concetto. La sintesi di questo post è: in Italia fareb...
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Marco Fabbri

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I am no longer a part of Stack Exchange. I still have much literal and figurative stock in the success of Stack Exchange, of course, but as of March 1st I will no longer be part of the day to day operations of the company, or the Stack Exchange sites, in any way. It's been almost exactly 4 years since I chose my own adventure. In those four years, we accomplished incredible things together. Stack Overflow is now an enormous bustling city, a hug...
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Marco Fabbri

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Rob Pike originally shared:
I was warmly surprised to see how many people responded to my Google+ post about Dennis Ritchie's untimely passing. His influence on the technical community was vast, and it's gratifying to see it recognized. When Steve Jobs died there was a wide lament - and well-deserved it was - but it's worth noting that the resurgence of Apple depended a great deal on Dennis's work with C and Unix.

The C programming language is quite old now, but still active and still very much in use. The Unix and Linux (and Mac OS X and I think even Windows) kernels are all C programs. The web browsers and major web servers are all in C or C++, and almost all of the rest of the Internet ecosystem is in C or a C-derived language (C++, Java), or a language whose implementation is in C or a C-derived language (Python, Ruby, etc.). C is also a common implementation language for network firmware. And on and on.

And that's just C.

Dennis was also half of the team that created Unix (the other half being Ken Thompson), which in some form or other (I include Linux) runs all the machines at Google's data centers and probably at most other server farms. Most web servers run above Unix kernels; most non-Microsoft web browsers run above Unix kernels in some form, even in many phones.

And speaking of phones, the software that runs the phone network is largely written in C.

But wait, there's more.

In the late 1970s, Dennis joined with Steve Johnson to port Unix to the Interdata. From this remove it's hard to see how radical the idea of a portable operating system was; back then OSes were mostly written in assembly language and were tightly coupled, both technically and by marketing, to specific computer brands. Unix, in the unusual (although not unique) position of being written in a "high-level language", could be made to run on a machine other than the PDP-11. Dennis and Steve seized the opportunity, and by the early 1980s, Unix had been ported by the not-yet-so-called open source community to essentially every mini-computer out there. That meant that if I wrote my program in C, it could run on almost every mini-computer out there. All of a sudden, the coupling between hardware and operating system was broken. Unix was the great equalizer, the driving force of the Nerd Spring that liberated programming from the grip of hardware manufacturers.

The hardware didn't matter any more, since it all ran Unix. And since it didn't matter, hardware fought with other hardware for dominance; the software was a given. Windows obviously played a role in the rise of the x86, but the Unix folks just capitalized on that. Cheap hardware meant cheap Unix installations; we all won. All that network development that started in the mid-80s happened on Unix, because that was the environment where the stuff that really mattered was done. If Unix hadn't been ported to the Interdata, the Internet, if it even existed, would be a very different place today.

I read in an obituary of Steve Jobs that Tim Berners-Lee did the first WWW development on a NeXT box, created by Jobs's company at the time. Well, you know what operating system ran on NeXTs, and what language.

Even in his modest way, I believe Dennis was very proud of his legacy. And rightfully so: few achieve a fraction as much.

So long, Dennis, and thanks for all the magic.
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  • Accurate Srl
    Co-Founder / CTO, 2009 - 2014
  • Università degli Studi di Bologna
  • Cooperativa Bagnini di Villmarina e Gatteo Mare
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big boy sized startup founder and software engineer, seeking for a sustainable amount of chaos

Marco Fabbri is a big-boy-sized software engineer, quite passionate about philosopy (and everything could offer a huge amount of mind puzzling), everything reader, listener, and speaker. Sometimes long-distance running, swimming, weight-lifting or tai-chi practice bring him relief from mind-blowing activities. For longer relief periods he gets himself into skiing or free-diving.

He is an open-source advocate.

He has been a lifeguard.

  • Ingegneria Informatica - Università degli Studi di Bologna
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