Dennis Ritchie has died after a long illness. He was 70; two years younger than when my own father died.
When I joined Bell Labs in 1994 I was very excited that I would be on the sysadmin team that served computer scientists such as Dennis Ritchie. Many of my favorite textbooks were written by people that would now be my users. On my first day, however, I was told that I shouldn't ask Dennis, or anyone, to autograph a book: they didn't like that.
This was disappointing. I had many books I had hoped to get autographed. None more than my original copy of The C Programming Language, also known as "The K&R Book".
My copy of K&R was well-used and worn. I had read it over and over. In high school they taught Pascal but I knew that C was must more interesting and taught myself the language. C had only recently escaped the labs and there weren't many resources for learning it. I taught myself it as much as I could considering I was in high school and had no access to a computer powerful enough to run a C compiler. I was surrounded by 8-bit machines (Apple II, Commodore 64, Atari 800).
I collected languages like other kids collected baseball cards. C was beautiful, simple, power, and expressive. It was the opposite of the languages I learned before it: BASIC [Apple, C-64, TI-99/4A, GW-Basic, Simon's], Pascal (UCSD P-System, Tubro, assembly languages (6502, 68000) plus odd languages like COMAL. It was like "the perfect assembly language". If you knew machine code / assembly language you appreciated C infinitely more... in ways I can't express in words.
It was an exercise in self-control that when I left Bell Labs seven years later none of those books were autographed.
I'll close with one anecdote and one thought.
One day I was in my boss's office. The phone rang, he answered it. He listened for a moment and then replied, "Yes, I'll send one right away." He hung up and turned to me to say, "Normally when a user calls to say that their monitor isn't working I ask the usual questions about whether or not it is plugged in, connected right, and so on. But since that call came from the inventor of C and Unix, I think we can just send him a new monitor." We had a good laugh.
I should have fucking asked him for his autograph.