[Top][All Lists]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[Groff] FW: Re: Joe Ossanna (fwd)

From: Ted Harding
Subject: [Groff] FW: Re: Joe Ossanna (fwd)
Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2001 09:58:28 +0100 (BST)


I have just had the following response from Dennis Ritchie,
to whom my query found its way.

Many thanks to Andy Koenig for passing it on in the first place,
and to all the rest of you who contributed.

I think the following would read well as a formal obituary notice,
and I'm most grateful to Dennis Ritchie for his trouble.

Best wishes to all,

-----FW: <address@hidden>-----

Date: Wed, 20 Jun 2001 22:40:53 -0400
From: address@hidden
To: address@hidden
Subject: Re: Joe Ossanna (fwd)

[botched your address first try--resending.
I also CC'ed to Koenig and Kernighan on the first attempt]

 > I am trying to find out a bit about the life of
 > Joseph Ossanna.
 > He was one of the original "Club" who worked on
 > the early development of UNIX, and he especially
 > led the early development of troff out of roff
 > (apparently being particularly responsible for
 > introducing programmability). There is quite a lot
 > of information around as to what he _did_ by way
 > of devloping all this software.

 > However, there is very little about his _life_.

I got your message to the Groff list via Andy Koenig, who offered
it to Kernighan, who bumped it to me.

I don't even have the obvious biographical facts (DOB, DOD),
but Joe had a fairly long and varied career at Bell Labs.
His death (via heart attack) was premature at 50 or so.
At the time I arrived, he was much involved with our participation
in the Multics project, particularly its I/O system (he's coauthor
of one of the original papers referenced and visible at

Before that he seems to have been first involved in signal processing.
There are records of technical memos with titles like
GAIN CONTROL SYSTEMS" (from 1961).  He was also involved in
astronomical things like satellite-tracking, and was part of
the team that kept track of the first Echo satellite (the passive balloon
that was the first bright artificial satellite).  This included, I gather,
writing programs to direct the antenna that would send or receive
radio-bounces from it.  He kept this interest up,
and fairly early Unix versions included his program that took satellite
orbital elements and converted them to timely notification of where to
look for a visible satellite.

By the time that Unix was starting, his interest had shifted somewhat
towards text-rendering and its underlying technology, first
hard-copy terminals and how to deal with them, and then of course
the nroff/troff work.  This will of course will be what he's remembered
for in the larger world, and it was influential not just because
its immediate successors survive, but because one sees ideas
from it in related contexts.

Locally, he's equally remembered as an early-adopter and
proponent of Unix,  and as a facilitator--that is helping to
argue for and then buy odd hardware, e.g. our first PDP-11, then
our earliest phototypesetter, and fun gadgetry like the Votrax
voice synthesizer.  He was also always the one to whom  we
ran when something (e.g. the PDP-11) didn't work, because
he would deal with DEC field service, or when the dial-up lines
didn't work, or when we wanted to order something, because he could
write (and justify) purchase orders.

I don't have many details of his life outside of work, except
that he hailed, I believe, from Detroit, had a wife and several

        Dennis Ritchie

--------------End of forwarded message-------------------------

E-Mail: (Ted Harding) <address@hidden>
Fax-to-email: +44 (0)870 167 1972
Date: 21-Jun-01                                       Time: 09:58:28
------------------------------ XFMail ------------------------------

reply via email to

[Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread]