G. R. Moves to Georgia

The mischievous spirit of modern computing

Posted on by

When I arrived at the Murray Hill facility for my first day as an employee of Bell Labs, my ID badge wasn’t ready. When Dennis Ritchie realized this, he giggled and disappeared for a few minutes. He returned with a badge in his hand.

On it was a photo from the 1984 film Gremlins with the name “G. R. Emlin” printed across the top.

In the early days, Bell Labs used the first two initials then the last name on all official documents. I wore my snarky homage to an earlier time with pride.

While my stay at the Labs was short, my time there was important. I spent my day-to-day with the Plan 9 operating system and quickly viewed it as a capstone created after many years of operating system research. The Labs gave modern computing much more than most people understand.

They gave us the modern programming languages, both in semantics and syntax. We use curly brackets { } as grouping characters because Ken Thompson did it first. If you look at any programming languages popularity list on the web, the topmost languages are all C-like.

And of course, today’s operating systems are Unix-like. Linux is a Unix copy. BSD is an evolution of actual Unix, and even Windows has bent toward the Unix way of doing things. All this traces back to the Labs.

When I was there. the group consisted of about about 60 people. The names included Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, Brian Kernighan, Doug McIlroy, Peter Weinberger, Norman Wilson, Tom Duff, Rob Pike, Dave Presotto, Sean Quinlan, Bart Locanthi, Sean Dorward, and many more. This is only a random selection from a group that created a great deal of modern technology.

Many of them also worked on the Plan 9 operating system. Plan 9 is the basis of Coraid’s products as well as its development environment.

Truth be told, over the years I have continuously gotten grief for using it. From folks who have only been in the business for a few years to folks who have no real understanding of what an operating system is, everyone has pressured me at times to “get with the modern world” and change to a never-ending list of alternatives, from Linux to OSX to BSD to Solaris. Over time, the alternatives change, but I keep being productive with Plan 9. It remains the pinnacle of the research on operating systems done at Bell Labs.

But all those Bell Labs folks are gone now. They’ve all moved on. A lot of them are at Google, such as Ken and Rob, who, along with Robert Griesemer, developed the excellent Go programming language. Dennis passed away in 2011. He is greatly missed by many. The last of those Plan 9 people left the building a few years ago.

One employee left a little early, though. For over sixteen years, Mr. Emlin has been the official admin contact for coraid.com. He moved down south where he’s happiest working with the original software that was invented by those amazingly brilliant folks in Murray Hill. So far he has enjoyed his shift to Mint Juleps and iced tea. I suspect he’ll be with us preeminently.

(The beautiful photo of the Bell Labs atrium is by s o d a p o p. CC BY 2.0.)

About the Author

Brantley CoileInventor, coder, and entrepreneur, Brantley Coile invented Stateful packet inspection, network address translation, and Web load balancing used in the Cisco LocalDirector. He went on to create the Coraid line of storage appliances, a product he continues to improve today.

Affordable, reliable, logical storage.

Coraid Etherdrive SRX™ software transforms simple hardware into high-performance Ethernet block storage at 10x price/performance advantage over Fibre Channel and iSCSI. Now shipping with new hardware, Coraid EtherDrive SRX now supports text/email notifications, 4K Advanced Format disk drives, VMware ESX 6.0/6.5 and more.

Get Started Today

←Previous | Blog Archive | Next →