Of Bliss, Barney Miller, and Parsers

Let’s define some terminology:

Bliss is a language developed at Carnegie-Mellon University, and used extensively at Digital Equipment Corporation on their 36, 32, and 16-bit platforms. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BLISS

Barney Miller — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barney_Miller — was a comedy about police detectives in New York City.

Parsers, at least those used with computers, simplify a steam of data into simpler elements. In the case of utilities, a parser waits for you to enter commands like show users and translates that command into an action, so the computer system can list the users logged in.

One of the positions I held at Digital Equipment Corporation was to port an existing boot ROM console program from one hardware platform to another. This was back in the days, when many computer architectures were being designed and blasted out onto chips.

Our console was written in Bliss and VAX MACRO assembly language. The console’s parser, the part of the console that interpreted and executed commands, printed data, and told you if the command worked or not, was the parser. It was written in Bliss macro language, part of the Bliss language.

Bliss macros were feared, revered, loved, hated, and drove a lot of solid and not so solid programmers just plain nutty. Some Bliss programmers used Bliss’ macro language to make Bliss look like other languages like C and DEC BASIC. Most of those programmers had moved on one way or the other.

Learning Bliss and Bliss’ macro language in particular could alter a programmer’s view of how computer and even life itself should transpire,¬† not always a good thing. After fully learning how this console worked¬† by becoming proficient in Bliss macros, my boss proclaimed, “Great! Now, we’re going to have to spend a year re-training you to do something useful.”

Working on the parser was satisfying, but one of the most difficult projects I ever had.

As to Barney Miller, on one episode, the owner of House of Mugs filed a police report, because his store has been robbed. The detectives made fun of his store, because he only sold mugs. The owner was played by a wonderful character actor. I always liked his store name.

To commemorate all the console work, I had a little desk sign made up. Those are the kind of signs you see from time to time. They often contain someone’s name and title, like:

Susan J. Smith

Director of IT

My sign said something different. It said

House of Consoles

Parsers A Specialty

I had another desk sign made up 16 years later denoting “Data Processing Department Lake of Fire Division”, but that is a story for another time.


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