John Backus, 82, Computer Sci Legend

The New York Times has posted an obituary for John Backus. All recent computer science graduates have been exposed to John Backus’ work with BNFs, making him a legend like Djiskstra. John Backus makes up the Backus in the Backus-Naur duo. I admit that I did not remember Backus as the creator of Fortran, but the article discusses the importance of his Fortran work, which introduced new methods to make working with machines easier for people.

I find myself trying to make it easier for hardware engineers to work with a software interface. Here’s a description of a programming language in Backus-Naur form that I just wrote up:

statement ::= variable_declaration “;” | expression “;”

variable_declaration := type variable_name | type assignment

expression ::= addition | subtraction | assignment | operand

assignment ::= variable_name “=” expression

addition ::= expression “+” expression

subtraction ::= expression “-” expression

operand ::= numeric_constant | variable_name

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