Fri, 23 Nov 2007

Multics source reveals le jetteur des gazongues

The Multics operating system project started in 1965, the last host running it was shut down in 2000, and last week its code was open sourced. It was and still is a very influential system. The site gathers a wealth of information on Multics and lists those who contributed to it.

I have been lucky to encounter Multics when a student and experimented with this OS while learning about computer science. Even though students were only supposed to use tedEmacs soon became my favourite editor (I eventually got a fast modem with a throughput of 1200 bits per seconds so that I could use Multics Emacs from home as well as when at the University). One amusing defect I encountered was a reproducible way to crash Multics Emacs so that it would fill the screen with the word ‘pgazonga’. This word stuck in my mind.

Ten years later, while working at EXE Magazine, I got in touch with Bernard S Greenberg, the author of Multics Emacs, to eventually ask him ‘Do you remember this word? Does it have any meaning?’ Here's Bernie's reply as published in the September 1996 issue of EXE Magazine:

Mais certainement!

This will require some familiarity with Lisp. I doubt it ‘filled the screen’ with it, it probably mentioned it in an error message.

Lisp supports a facility called catch/throw, which effects a nonlocal transfer of control, from an active environment to a calling environment, aborting all called environments in between. The form which invokes this looks (in Maclisp) like this:

(throw value foobar)

and the form

(catch (do-this-here) foobar)

returns either the value of (do-this-here) or the value of value when the throw above is evaluated someplace within the execution of (do-this-here).

The symbol foobar (in this case) is known as a ‘catch tag’, and is used to associate catches with throws.

Now for the specifics:

‘Gazonga’ is a comic-strip phony-Italian word probably dating from the 30's or 40's. It might have occasionally shown up in my childhood (born '50) in old movies or comics. It has no meaning as far as I know, except it sounds Italian and colourful. Perhaps somebody might say it to accompany a punch in the nose or other crude violent act, the wave of a handkerchief over a magician's hat, or some other situation appropriate to a talismanic utterance. It is what today would be called ‘Manga word’ in Japan.

In Multics Emacs, the catch tag for ‘top level’, ie, the command loop, was ‘gazonga’. I probably chose this term because it evoked an onomatopoeic sense of a speedy projectile being shut downward, in this case, control, from the deep levels of Emacs execution to the top-level command loop. It should never have been visible to anyone, even extension writers, because the primitive (command-abort) was provided to throw it, and it's no one's business who catches it.

Multics Emacs, like its author, is very fond of foreign-language terms and expressions (language being one of my life-long interests), and included a panoply of functions (let alone code comments) borrowing from German, Latin, and French, but most of which (but not all!) were invisible to the extension writer (let alone end-user). A documented variable (der-wahrer-mark) was even, as can be seen, (inadvertently) in incorrect German syntax (should be ‘die wahre’).

So the internal function that threw to command level, that threw gazonga, as it were, was named jetteur-des-gazongues, the latter being what I assumed the reasonable translation of this non-term into French.

Now when the minibuffer was up, and some command caused an abort, ie, called (command-abort), this normally would be caught by the minibuffer, so that editing in the minibuffer could continue – the minibuffer's recursive command level would set up a recursive (catch ... gazonga) that would trap these aborts.

But in those days it came to pass that this was found not to be adequate - when you type ‘control g’ to abort out of the minibuffer, you do not want it to be caught by the recursive catch. So for this, I invented ‘les petites gazongues’, the ‘p’ is for ‘petites’, and hence ‘pgazonga’ – the ‘petites gazongues’ were continued ‘smaller’ and more agile than the regular ones because they deftly slip through a catcher of ‘regular’ gazongas, such as the net set up by the minibuffer, and sink all the way down to the bottom, ie, top command level (pardon the upside-down confusion, Multics was highly ‘stack oriented’, ie, top of stack = more levels into code). So control-G invoked the function jetteur-des-petites-gazongues to throw back to top level.

Of course, the were supposed to be caught by top level, and that's how it was all supposed to work. The bug you are somewhat belatedly reporting is almost certainly some esoteric case (during startup, perhaps?) wherein the catch for petites gazongues (pgazonga) was not set up, and a throw to that tag failed to find a catch, and hence the error that you probably saw.

Have I made myself perfectly clear?

Reader Robert Sproat contributed the following additional etymological data (found ‘utterly fantastic’ by Bernard Greenberg) in the October 1996 issue:

Bernard Greenberg's letter explaining the pgazonga message in Multics Emacs was fascinating and amusing, but Bernard might care to know, as a self-confessed language buff, that ‘gazonga’ did not originate as a comic-strip phoney Italian word from the 30's or 40's. It's cod German and dates from the First World War.

In the same way that homecoming Tommy Atkins Franglaised countless French idioms (eg, ‘ça ne fait rien’ into ‘San fairy Ann’), he changed Jerry's exclamation of Gezundtheit! when someone sneezed (roughly our ‘Bless you!’) to ‘Gazonga!’ or, more commonly, ‘Gazonka!’, ‘Gazonks!’ or even ‘Bazonka!’ This has long since died out of colloquial English but used to be very widespread and survived for many decades.

As late as 1960 or so in darkest South Pembrokshire, my mate's seventy-something Grandad would still merrily cry ‘Gazonks!’ if you sneezed near him, And at around the same time, Spike Milligan published a poem starting:

Say Bazonka! every day!
That's what Grandma used to say

Hardly IT-related, but interesting, ja?

Forward to November 2007, when the source of Multics is released, including that of Multics Emacs and one can start to hunt gazonga, pgazonga, gazongues and petites gazongues in the source tree:

Small historical note: since these events, ‘gazonga’ has evolved in some idiolects to mean ‘Incredibly large, voluptuous breasts’. As evidenced by the fact that this code (and 1996 reportage) were unremarkable at the time, it was not common parlance as that then.

(Another software archeology spelunking I've been involved with for close to twenty years is open sourcing Microsoft's original Basic 4K.)

First published on 2007-11-14; small historical note added on 2007-11-23; typo corrected on 2015-08-29 (h/t to Kitt).

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Thu, 15 Nov 2007

Oppose any extension to the pre-charge detention period - lobby your MP

act If you haven't already done so, write to your MP to ask him/her to oppose attempts by this government to increase further the pre-charge detention from its current 28 days period.

CAMPACC has published a model letter to help you ask your MP to give an undertaking not to vote for the renewal or extension of any ‘anti-terror’ powers (such as the extension of the detention without charge from 28 days to 56 days or possibly even 90 days, post-charge questioning of ‘terror suspects’, the creation of a new criminal offence of seeking ‘information which could be useful for terrorism’, travel restrictions for ‘suspects’, and the collective punishment of families of convicted terrorists). This effort is part of a national campaign bringing together many diverse organisations to oppose current anti-terror laws as well as their extension:

The government is planning yet more ‘anti-terrorism’ measures, which will go to Parliament in a new bill in October. This ‘anti-terror’ bill reinforces a trend beginning with the Terrorism Act 2000, whose broad definition of terrorism criminalised normal political activities, potentially on the basis of suspected ‘association’. This law was followed by three more in 2001, 2005, 2006; these multiplied extra police powers (e.g. arbitrary stop-and-search), punishment without trial and treatment of ‘suspects’ as guilty, thus bypassing due process. Together these laws have normalised detention without trial under various guises, such as control orders and immigration rules, whereby the accused never see the evidence against them.

Below is the email I sent to my MP on 2007-09-13 and her reply (in italics) sent on 2007-10-26:

When we met at Portcullis House early December 2005, we discussed the compromises you find are necessary as part of our political system. One specific example we discussed was your support of the compromise to extend pre-charge detention of suspects from 14 up to 28 days hence successfully defeating the 90 days amendment.

You may remember that I found this difficult to understand as these are not abstract compromises, they deeply affect the lives of individuals who have not been charged, and hence by definition are innocent. Gareth Peirce and Louise Christian both wrote at the time about how even 14 days or less in Paddington Green affect the mental health of detainees.

Gordon Brown has stated that he intends to propose a further extension to the current 28 days pre-charge detention period, and the police, via the ACPO, has even suggested they are keen for indefinite detention.

28 days is already the longest period of pre-charge detention of any western country. The case has not been made to even justify keeping this period as long as 28 days nor for extending it further. Extending this period will further erode our civil liberties and increase the likelihood of innocent persons to be detained without charge for over a month.

I urge you to publicly reject calls for extension of the pre-charge detention and vote against any such proposal that may be included in forthcoming Bills.

As we discussed at the time, I feel the 28 day limit to the detention period prior to charging to be a necessary compromise. I was very vocal about this issue at the time, sponsoring an amendment to limit the period of detention to 28 days rather than 90 days. I can, furthermore, assure you that I feel no need to extend the period at this point in time.

I also call to your attention a different issue: the de Menezes family is currently represented in the UK by four of Jean's cousins and one of his friend. The procedures around Jean's killing are delayed. The inquest will not start until after the health and safety procedure, for instance. Justice4Jean has indicated that the Home Office may not renew the visas of these five individuals. Ensuring they are welcome in the UK for at least the full duration of all the procedures surrounding Jean's killing is a very small gesture that must be done towards this grieving family.

I would be grateful for you to make representation to the Home Office so that Jean's four cousins and one friend's visas are extended and they can represent his family in all these legal proceedings.

I was concerned to hear about the issue surrounding the visas of those representing Charles de Menezes in the UK but will write to the Home office to enquire about this situation. I will be back in touch when I receive a reply.

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Thu, 08 Nov 2007

Stockwell One report eventually published

Stockwell One – the report of the investigation into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by the Indpendent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) – has eventually been published.

The report was introduced by a statement from NicK Hardwick, IPCC chair.

[...] There are two very stark images from the now infamous CCTV coverage of Stockwell Station.

The first is of Jean Charles de Menezes entering the station, wearing light summer clothing, picking up a paper and going to get his train.

The second, just over a minute later, shows police officers running down into the depths of the station, into what I am sure they believed was deadly peril, the first passengers, alarmed by the arrival of police officers, were hurrying to escape in the other direction.

Neither Mr de Menezes nor the police officers are diminished by us remembering the tragedy of one and the heroism of others on that day.

Let me be clear what the trial was not about. It was not about the split second decisions that the firearms officers had to make when they confronted Jean Charles de Menezes in that tube train - nor indeed just about the death of Jean Charles de Menezes himself, terrible though that was.

The questions the trial did address and indeed the ones the public were asking in the aftermath of the incident were these:

'If they thought he might have a bomb, why was he allowed twice to get on a bus and then on the tube?' 'If they thought he didn't have a bomb, why did they shoot him?'

Nor must there be any attempt to blame Jean Charles de Menezes himself for his fate.

He did nothing out of the ordinary.

He looked over his shoulder as he walked to catch his bus; he got back on his bus when he found Brixton tube station was closed; he texted his friend; he hurried down the final few steps of the escalator when he saw a train was already on the platform; and, like other passengers, he got to his feet when police officers burst onto the train. These actions may have been misinterpreted by police officers hunting a suicide bomber but they were entirely innocent.

The priority for the police service now, and those responsible for the police, is to do everything possible to ensure the mistakes made on 22 July 2005 are not repeated. [...]

The report Stockwell One – Investigation into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell underground station on 22 July 2005 is in three parts:

Some related posts:

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Sun, 04 Nov 2007

Record number of Section 44 stop and search by the Met in 2005/6, less than half a percent arrested in connection with terrorism

The Ministry of Justice has just published the Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System 2006 for the financial year 2005-2006. In addition to giving ‘statistical information on the representation of [Black and Minority Ethnic] BME groups as suspects, offenders and victims within the CJS’, this report always includes detailed data on stop and searches conducted that year.

This report is no longer published by the Home Office on a page dedicated to the Criminal Justice Act 1991 Section 95, it can now be found on the CJS website and seems to be linked only from the What's New page. It is still being published very late.

Excerpt from Main Findings - Terrorism Act 2000: Tables 4.6-4.8 (p.26):

The number of stop and searches of pedestrians under section 44(2) [for which no reasonable grounds for suspicion is needed] nearly doubled between 2004/5 and 2005/6 with 19,064 stop and searches recorded in 2005/6. This increase was accounted for by the increase in use of the power in London. Use of the power in areas outside of London decreased by 19% between 2004/5 and 2005/6. In 2005/6, 61% of people stopped under section 44(2) were White compared to 74% in 2004/5 and 72% in 2003/4. The proportions for Black and Asian people fell to 11% and 21% respectively in 2005/6. In 2005/6, 59 arrests in connection with terrorism resulted from section 44(2) searches compared to 24 in the previous year and 5 in 2003/4. Arrests under non-terrorist legislation rose from 153 in 2004/5 to 212 in 2005/6.

Excerpt from Table 4.8: ‘Stop and searches’ of pedestrians under s 44(2) of the Terrorism Act 2000 and resultant arrests by ethnicity, selected areas, 2005/6 (p. 36):

Searches Arrests in connection with terrorism Arrests for other reasons
City of London 3,149 n/a 23
Metropolitan Police 11,407 49 148
Other areas 4,508 10 41
England & Wales 19,064 59 212

Comparing this data, for the Metropolitan Police, to that of previous years (more analysis in A pawn in their propaganda machine), you'll notice that the number of searches under Section 44(2) of the Terrorism Act 2000 more than doubled in 2005/6 compared to the previous year, but the number of arrests in connection with terrorism at 49 remains less that half a percent. And of these 49, only a few will be charged and even less convicted. (The coloured table cells show how my arrest must have been counted in these stats.)

2003/4 2004/5 2005/6
S44(2) searches (Metropolitan Police) 5,245 4,206 11,407
Arrests in connection with terrorism 2 (0.04%) 15 (0.36%) 49 (0.43%)
Arrests for other reasons 57 (1.09%) 51 (1.21%) 148 (1.30%)

This data confirms the abuse of Section 44 stop and search. As recently as last May, the Metropolitan Police Service reiterated how keen they are to keep (over)using these powers.

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Fri, 02 Nov 2007

Health and Safety trial of the Police in the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes

Very good coverage by the UK Liberty blog of the Health and Safety trial of the Police in the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes:

Health and safety trial has begun
Health and Safety 2 - [armed officers point gun at policeman and tube driver after shooting de Menezes]
Health and Safety 3 - chaos in the control room
Health and Safety 4 - a question
Health and Safety 5 - the case for the defence
Health and Safety 6 - that defence opening statement in full
Health and Safety 7 - concealed explosives
Health and Safety 8 - officers changed their minds
Health and Safety 9 - surveillance officer Ivor was wearing a rucksack
Health and Safety 10 - bus users should not get back on the same bus
Health and Safety 11 - lethal force
Health and Safety 12 - more from the surveillance team
Health and Safety 13 - operation had “no structure”
Health and Safety 14 - blame the victim?
Health and Safety 15 - de Menezes was identified as not being Osman
Health and Safety 16 - blame the victim part II
Health and Safety 17 - alleged manipulation of composite photo
Health and Safety 18 - what does contain mean? shrug
Health and Safety 19 - control room wasn’t noisy
Health and Safety 20 - de Menezes had to be stopped
Health and Safety 21 - I told them to stop him, not kill him
Health and Safety 22 - “I didn’t expect a suicide bomber to emerge”
Health and Safety 23 - closing arguments
Health and Safety 24 - guilty as charged

Some of the allegations are recapped in the fourth post:

A few related posts:

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