Barry Mailloux was a pioneer in the field of computer programming languages. He obtained an MSc in Numerical Analysis from the University of Alberta in 1963 with a thesis titled Numerical Solution of Differential Equations. Possibly eager to demonstrate that his work on differential equations hadn't left him totally without programming skills (just kidding), he and two other individuals, Peter Csontos and Ron Davis, implemented a tape-based job monitor (i.e. a simple operating system) for the University's IBM 1620 Tape System.

Barry went to Amsterdam's Mathematisch Centrum in 1966 to study under Van Wijngaarden. As a student of Wijngaarden, he became heavily involved with a project to define a language to replace Algol 60 (as the project neared completion, the language was given the name Algol 68). He and John Peck, on sabbatical from the University of Calgary, were the only full time participants on the committee.

Barry's primary responsibility on the committee was to ensure that the language was implementable. Although a notoriously complex language to compile, Barry developed a four-pass compilation process for Algol 68. The results of his work were reflected in his 1968 PhD thesis titled On the implementation of ALGOL 68. When the long awaited(?) Report on the algorithmic language ALGOL 68 was published in 1969, the authors were listed as Van Wijngaarden (editor), Mailloux, Peck and Koster (the process leading up to the report and the report itself wasn't without controversy but that's a topic for a different writeup).

Barry returned to the University of Alberta in 1968 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computing Science. He continued to work on the Algol 68 language with the University of Alberta gradually becoming the worldwide focal point of Algol 68-related activity. There were problems with the original Algol 68 language and an effort was underway to try to resolve them. The Revised report on the algorithmic language Algol 68 was published in 1975 with Sintzoff, Lindsey, Meertens and Fisker joining the list of the authors of the original report.

Two of Barry's students, Chris Thomson and Colin Broughton, formed a company called Chion Corporation which ultimately produced a commercial-quality Algol 68 compiler called FLACC (Full Language Algol 68 Checkout Compiler). Barry played a significant role in guiding Colin and Chris through the intricacies of the language. Trivia point: the name Chion was selected from a computer generated list of pronounceable but meaningless "words".

Sometime during the 1970s, Barry was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Although the process was slow, Dr. Barry J. Mailloux eventually passed away as a result of the brain tumour on May 26, 1982 at the age of 42.


Personal notes

I first met Barry, or BJ as he was known to his friends, when I took a compiler construction course from him at the University of Alberta in 1977. By this time, the brain tumour had had time to have a significant impact on BJ although it didn't stop us from becoming close friends. I would often drop by his office to chat or we'd bump into each other on campus somewhere. His sense of humour was offbeat and he often had a very different way of looking at things.

Here are a few personal recollections:

  • About halfway through the final exam in the compiler construction course, he distributed lollipops to the class. I was to later adopt this practice when I lectured at the U of A in the early 80s.

  • I was running out of virtual money in my computer account one night so I sent the following message to BJ:
    Dear Dad:

    No mun. No fun. Your son.
    -Danny

    P.S. Please send money.
    BJ's response was:
    Dear son:

    Proverbial son spend too much money. Come home son.
    He also added more virtual dollars to my account.

  • For some reason, I would often use the phrase "allocate core" when I talked about allocating memory. BJ would always respond with something like "Core? What core? This computer doesn't have any core."

  • Many students found BJ's last name difficult to pronounce. He had this little presentation that he'd make at the start of each course. He'd write his last name on the board and say that it wasn't really all that hard to pronounce.
    m a i l l o u x
    He'd then explain that the two l's canceled each other out:
    m a i     o u x
    Next he'd explain that the o was canceled by the x:
    m a i       u
    I think that he'd then explain that the correct way to pronounce mai was my and replace the mai with my:
    my          u
    He would then step back, point at the board and repeat the correct pronounciation - my-u.

  • My conversations with BJ gradually became less technical as the brain tumour started to really affect him. We still remained friends and had many truly excellent times.

  • I last saw him in the hospital during a visit with Chris and Colin (see above). Although his body was still alive, BJ was gone. His body died a week later.

Sources

  • A History of ALGOL 68 by C. H. Lindsey (one of the authors of the Revised Algol 68 Report); a chapter in a book called History of Programming Languages by Thomas J. Bergin and Richard G. Gibson; Copyright © 1996 ACM Press; ISBN 0-201-89502-1
  • The Department of Computing Science: The First Twenty-Five Years (a history of the University of Alberta's Department of Computing Science) by Keith Smillie; December 1990
  • personal recollections

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