If Grace Hopper is considered the mother of COBOL, Bob
Bemer should be considered the father. At an age (77) when most of us
will already have been retired a decade or more Mr. Bemer puts in 80
hour plus work-weeks as he undertakes the task of building a new
company, with a fearless new product, to help solve the Year 2000
problem. The name of his company is BMR Software Inc., and the name of
the product is Vertex 2000. |
Mr. Bemers accomplishments resonate so deeply one almost
assumes they have been with us always, snatched out of the ether by a
collective consciousness, instead of having been the creation of one
man. A short list includes:
- helped create COBOL
- coined the word COBOL
- invented the ESCape sequence
- created the PICTURE clause
- helped create and standardize the ASCII character set
- created the backslash
- helped create the 8-bit per byte standard
If there is no "silver bullet" in software Mr.
Bemers approach, to solving the Year 2000 problem, comes closer
than most (please see the following article for a complete report on
Mr. Bemers solution).
CR: Give us some of your background, if you would?
BB: I started out as a wartime mathematician for Douglas Aircraft.
In 1949 I got my first look at a computer working for the Rand
Corporation and never looked back. In 1958 I went to work at IBM. I
was IBMs chief of programming standards.
CR: What led to the creation of COBOL?
BB: The Department of Defense wanted a standard business language.
Charlie Phillips, myself, and others started CODASYL (Conference on
Data Systems Languages) to assist in the effort. This was in 1959.
Also, there was one improvement in hardware after another at IBM. The
opcode (operation code) structure changed every time. There was no way
we could build software for every machine going out. So COBOL was in
IBMs interest too.
CR: Was Univacs Flow-Matic the driving force behind COBOL.
BB: Flow-Matic was part of it. IBM brought to the table a language
called COMTRAN, short for Commercial Translator, that contained many
of the ideas found in COBOL. We had been working since 1958 on
COMTRAN. COMTRAN was a competitor to Flow-Matic.
CR: How did you arrive at the name COBOL?
BB: Cobol to me has a nice round sound - a lyrical quality (drawing
an imaginary hourglass in the air). The sound reminds me of a
CR: Are you saying that Cobol, the language that is often
considered the epitome of design by committee and bureaucracy, was
named with Venus de Milo musings in mind?
BB: Yes (laughing).
CR: I must say I've been programming for over 20 years in Cobol and
never heard that one. What did Grace Hopper have to say about your
BB: She just laughed and said okay.
CR: I hate to ask what some of the other names for Cobol could have
been. What led to the creation of ASCII?
BB: I surveyed the number of character sets and found 60. So I
helped form BEMA (Business Equipment Manufactures Association) which
was the beginning of the X3 committee which was tasked with the
responsibility to define a standard character set.
CR: Here you are helping create the ASCII standard and IBM remains
in the EBCDIC camp. Whats that all about?
BB: Originally IBM was supposed to move to ASCII. We had something
called a P-bit that would allow machines to run either ASCII or
EBCDIC. Learson was the CEO of IBM and he made the decision to stay
with EBCDIC. A terrible mistake.
CR: Tell us about the Year 2000 solution you have developed.
BB: Basically our solution derails date-field operations and data
at the object code level and puts a century with the date. The
synthetic CPU examines every possible date operation running through
the object code. For new data the century will be included, for old
data a windowing technique is used. Because only some of the bits in a
byte are used to store meaningful information the other bits can be
used to indicate a decade-century. The binary representation we use
handles packed as well as character data. The specially encoded
date-fields are called "Bigits". Comparisons and
computations between date-fields, with the included century, are then
calculated in a subroutine correctly.
CR: Your solution therefore does not require changing any source
BB: Correct. Vertex can be included as a library at compilation
time, or if the source code is not available, can be linked as object
code at run-time.
CR: What do you say to the naysayers, like Leon Kappelman, who
contend your solution will only take care of about 20-30% of the
BB: Our solution will solve 95-98% of the problem. We cant
fix programming errors. If your leap year calculation was flawed to
begin with, it will stay flawed. The time necessary to manually fix
most code is wasted. We have an automated solution. In addition, we
save significant amounts of time in testing, and are substantially
less expensive, about a third of the cost of other fixes.