(urth) "The Computer Iterates the Greater Trumps" and Swedish cover

Dan Rabin wolfe-lists at danrabin.com
Tue Feb 14 13:30:28 PST 2006

Jesper Svedberg points us to "The Computer Iterates the Greater 
Trumps", and says,

>Hope it's of interest.

Very much so!

I particularly note that, despite Wolfe's reported claims of 
ignorance of computers, the notation in the poem is close enough to 
the classic FORTRAN programming language to have been written by 
someone acquainted with the language.

The statement

Do 1969 I = 1, 22

would mean to repeat all the statements up to the one labeled 1969 
with the variable I ranging from 1 to 22.  There is a label "1969" at 
the end of the poem.

I take the printing of the variable name as the digit "1" to be a 
misprint--the use of "I" as a count variable is a *very* strong 
convention in FORTRAN.

DEMENSION Trumps(21) is a play on the FORTRAN statement

DIMENSION Trumps(21), which declares an array Trumps having 21 elements.

The variable N is set to 22 - I on each iteration, so it counts down 
from 21 to 0.

Indeed, when N reaches 0, an error is reported, corresponding to the 
unnumbered Tarot Greater Arcana card "The Fool".

The poem conflates the description of the iteration with the report 
of its execution, and also identifies the array variables named 
"Trump" and "Trumps" in accordance with the syntax of English (but 
not of FORTRAN).  That's OK--it's a *poem*.

Another minor nit is that, since the array name "Trumps" begins with 
a letter other than I, J, K, L, M, or N, its contents would be 
assumed to be floating-point numbers, but Wolfe flashes his official 
poetic license at the computer-room door to have the elements come 
out as English verse.

I conjecture that Wolfe's remarks about computer ignorance may apply 
to use of the recent personal systems as very general tools, and that 
he was actually acquainted with FORTRAN programming in the early 
1960's in the course of his engineering practice.

   -- Dan Rabin

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