Beauty is our business. A birthday salute to Edsger W. Dijkstra. (English) Zbl 0718.68004

Texts and Monographs in Computer Science. Berlin etc.: Springer-Verlag. XXI, 453 p. DM 98.00 (1990).
The articles of this volume will not be indexed individually.
As indicated in the title this book is a Birthday salute to Edsger W. Dijkstra on the occasion of this 60th birthday. The title Beauty is our business is taken from a quotation from one of the EWD’s: in EWD697 the master writes:... when we recognize the battle against chaos, mess, and unmastered complexity as one of computing science’s major callings, we must admit that “Beauty is our Business”,...
Edsger W. Dijkstra is the well known Computer Scientist and 1972 Turing Award winner who was the first to stress the need for the development of correct programs by means on systematic use of mathematical tools, rather than proving correctness of programs development before. Mathematics and logic being the one tool available for mastering the complexity of the field encountered in computing, and Dijkstra being a perfectionist in everything, it is not just a matter of finding formalisms for development guaranteeing the correctness of what’s developped, but also of finding those formalisms which people actually can employ, being powerfull, comprehensive, and comprehensible. Esthetics pops in a natural way. Once having selected the formalism this formalism should perform the job itself - Let the formulas do the work... In taking this position Dijkstra has shared the ranks of the formalists. He has moreover founded a school (at the technical University of Eindhoven) where entire generations of students are trained in deriving programs according to his principles, and experience shows that it works.
The current volume contains 54 short papers (numbered according to the style of the master from 0 to 53), which have been contributed by colleagues and/or (former) students. Between one quarter and one third of the contributions originate from his close associates at Eindhoven. Other contributions have been composed by famous people like Bauer, Bird, Broy, Gries, Habermann, Knuth, Kotov, van Lint, Turner, Turski and Wirth. Given the nature of the volume there exists no true common theme or subject, even though a large number of contributions involve reflections on or examples of Dijkstra’s program development methodology or his ideas on the use of predicate logic.
Ideally the book should contain short and transparent notes provoking the sudden insight that a complicated situation can be resolved on the spot by just hitting the problem with some ingenious formal tool. Such notes would prove the claim put forward by the title. Indeed such notes are present (cf. the contributions of Kruseman, Aretz and Post) but they represent a minority. For the larger part the contributions provide derivations and verifications, but I see no particular reason why I should consider them beautyful. Clearly other readers will find beauty in other contributions than those indicated by your reviewer; since beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and taste among humans differ it couldn’t be otherwise. The latter argument just shows that the quest for beauty is one which can never succeed.
What the book does provide is an impressive collection of simple, non- trivial but correctly derived algorithms and programs originating from various subjects in computer science, selected by the world community as a birthday present to the master. As such it is still nice to offer inhabitants of the rest of the world the opion of having a copy of this present in their library.
Included are a number of contributions which are not directly related to computer science. These include Braben (futurology), Albert J. Dijkstra (chemistry), Hehner (Foundations of mathematics), Helmberg (analysis), van Lint (coding theory), and Post (elementary geometry).
Readers who are interested in similar material (partly in Dutch) are referred to a similar bundle dedicated to Carel S. Scholten on the occasion of his honorary ph.d. degree at the Technical University Eindhoven. The bundle was prepared by a subset of the editors of the current book. Reference: W. H. J. Feijen and A. J. M. van Gasteren (eds.), Van oude machines en nieuwe rekenwijzen, Academic service, 1991, Schoonhoven.


68-06 Proceedings, conferences, collections, etc. pertaining to computer science
68Q60 Specification and verification (program logics, model checking, etc.)
68N01 General topics in the theory of software
00B30 Festschriften

Biographic References:

Dijkstra, Edsger W.