Paul was born John Paul Rodker, the son of John Rodker, writer, translator, and publisher, and the artist, Barbara Stanger McKenzie-Smith, in London, England. Paul's grandfather, David, together with much of his family, joined the mass exodus of Jews from what is now Poland, most likely to escape the pogroms of the 1880s, moving to England, where the family worked hard and prospered. Paul's grandfather, like a number of his family members, worked as a corset-maker. The first article in the Journal of the Utah Jewish Genealogical Society, Atsmi uVsari, Issue #24, Dec., 2010, describes the family's early days in England. As far as we know, all the Rodkers in the world are related - the name seems to have been invented for (or by) just this one family! There are now Rodker descendants spread from Vancouver, Canada, to Tasmania - it might be called the "Rodker diaspora"!
The origin of the name Rodker is a mystery, but I recently came up with a theory, which Patrick Monson, a member of the Utah Jewish Genealogical Society, agrees is plausible: namely that Rodker is a name derived from a place, like a number of more common Jewish names such as Berliner, Krakower, etc. On that basis, I guessed there might be a town named Rodka somewhere in central Europe, and it turns out that there is a town which was called that, and which is now in Romania. Its official name is now Rădăuți, and it is approx. 750 km from Warsaw. Interestingly, Wikipedia says "A Jewish community was present before the Habsburg takeover, and is attested to have been overseen by a starost. Many Jews fleeing the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria (as well as other Habsburg areas) from intense persecution and anti-Semitism during the Middle Ages settled in Rădăuţi. The community was allowed a degree of self-administration, and witnessed a period of prosperity and cultural effervescence during the 19th century." If this is the origin of the name Rodker, it would add a fascinating footnote to the family's history. Interestingly, Sonia Cohen, the mother of John Rodker's oldest daughter, danced under the name Sonia Rodka.
There is a long and interesting article about John Rodker on Wikipedia, mentioning, among other things, that he was a conscientious objector during the war. John died in 1955, while Paul was still at university; John was awarded the Légion d'Honneur posthumously by the government of France for his services to French literature.
You can walk the Rodker family tree, or at least the part we have figured out, by clicking on the Rodker database, and entering a name to search on, for instance John Rodker, or Paul Morrison, and clicking on Ok. The software also supports other search criteria and relationship calculations, and even lets you change your preferred language. This is all powered by the GeneWeb program developed by Daniel de Rauglaudre at Inria, France. Merci, Daniel!
Paul's mother was a painter, mostly doing paintings on commission, and a number of her paintings are hanging in various country houses all over England, and also in the US. A family tree which includes Paul's mother and many of her ancestors is being maintained by one of Paul's second cousins, Howard Smith, based in Australia. It now goes back 9 generations on Paul's mother's side (to one Thomas Stanger, ca. 1610), and can be accessed starting at Barbara Stanger McKenzie-Smith.
Paul's mother was trained at the Perse School and the Slade School of Art, and as a young person was involved in the Bloomsbury Group. One of her closest friends was the lithographer, Trekkie Parsons, who became the longtime lover of Leonard Woolf, Virginia Woolf's husband, after Virginia's death. Paul remembers being taken to see Leonard at his house in the country. He was also told that Moura, Baroness Budberg, was asked to be his god-mother, as she was a friend of the Rodkers, but Paul has no recollection of actually meeting her, although his half-sister, Joan Rodker, who was sort of the family archivist, knew her well.
Sadly, both of John's daughters have now passed on: Camilla Bagg
died on December 1, 2007. She was
the second-born of John Rodker's three children, but the first to pass
on. Together with Nathalie Blondel, she edited a book about her mother,
Mary Butts. John
Rodker's first daughter, Joan Rodker,
passed away peacefully on Dec.
27, 2010, at the age of 95 after a brief illness. She will be
Paul was born in St. John's Wood, London, UK, just before the start
of World War II. Soon afterwards, he was shipped out to
Gloucestershire. The only thing he can really remember about Marshfield
is seeing the city of Bath, 8 miles
away, burning on the horizon (Paul would have been about 5 years old
then), and seeing Mummers
perform on the village main street, as they had been doing regularly
since mediaeval times.
Paul's mother was of Scots (she was a MacKenzie)
ancestry (Stanger Smith), and brought Paul up to be proud of his
Scottish ancestry. Owing to the circumstances of his mother and
father's divorce, he knew very little about his
Polish-Jewish background, although he was told that his pyloric
stenosis (at about the age of 5-6 weeks, and successfully operated
was a Jewish inheritance. Much later in life, he found out about
the extensive Rodker clan - he has calculated that at one point he had
56 2nd cousins!
Paul's last name was changed to Morrison after his parents' divorce and his mother's subsequent marriage to Edward A. Morrison III, an American citizen who signed on with the Royal Air Force, and eventually reached the rank of Wing Commander towards the end of the war (WW II). In 1941, he and a number of other airforce officers and airmen were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery, determination and resource during raids on enemy warships.
For about 10 years after the end of the war, Paul's mother and
step-father lived in Middlesex (now part of greater
London). From there they moved to N. Wales, to
the area around Dolgellau, Gwynedd. They had one son, Thomas,
Paul's half-brother, who is a mining engineer, now living in Vancouver,
B.C., Canada - so both of Barbara's sons wound up in Canada! She and
Edward are buried in
the village of Llanelltyd, N. Wales.
During the war years Paul was educated by various governesses (some younger and some older!), and after the war was over he was sent to the Dragon School, a well-known boarding school in Oxford, where his lifelong interests in languages and science fiction got their start. He would like to recognize the impact his brilliant science teacher, Gerd Sommerhoff, had on his life - Gerd pioneered what was really an early form of computer-based training using cards, and imbued his students with a love of science which has stayed with Paul all his life. From the Dragon, Paul went on to Eton College as a King's Scholar, where he specialized in Classics (under protest!).
At this time, the U.K. still had 2 years' compulsory National Service, which could be done before or after university. Paul opted to serve it beforehand, but was turned down due to flat feet and skin problems (rather to his relief!). He therefore went on to spend an extremely enjoyable 3 years at King's College, Cambridge, getting his MA in Archaeology and Anthropology, specializing in Social Anthropology. This subject was recommended to him by the then provost of King's, Noel Annan, as he had been forced to specialize in Classics at the age of 15, thereby missing out on several years of science - the subject proved to be a perfect fit with his interests, and science was not a prerequisite. In between Eton and university, he spent a summer at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, dabbling in Sumerian, general linguistics, Impressionism and a bit of topology. (By the way, if all those "Kings" sound a bit repetitious, Eton and King's College were both founded by the same king, Henry VI.) In spite of all this education, Paul considers himself largely self-taught!
By the way, for those of you unfamiliar with the English boarding-school
system, this meant that, from the age of 9 until he was 21, Paul never
lived with his mother and step-father for more than a few weeks at a
time - and of course before the age of 8, there was the War (WWII). In
fact the longest continuous period during which he lived with them was
from the age of 21
until he moved
out to live on his own!
English boarding schools are famous for their horrendous food, so it
was at Cambridge that Paul discovered, by way of the Chinese and Indian
restaurants there, that (to paraphrase Peter Mayle) "food could have
He also made friends from all over the world, and was introduced into
the Nigerian community by Patrick Mbanefo (later Chief Mbanefo), and
the Sinhalese community by Arjun Deraniyagala and his friends. He
also played in a small Latin band while at Cambridge, and enjoyed jazz,
Scots dancing, Indian music, and reading on the "backs" (the grass
verge beside the river Cam). One friend at King's who left a
strong impression was the brilliant and courageous South African
anthropologist and activist, John (Jan) Epaminondas Laredo. He
died suddenly in 2000, and Paul always regretted not getting back in
touch with him before it was too late.
After leaving Cambridge in 1958, he decided to make a move into the newly emerging computer business rather than become an anthropologist, and joined IBM (UK) in January, 1959. This means that, around the end of 2009, he realized he could boast that he had been programming computers continuously for 50 years (some sort of record, surely?)! The first computer he programmed was an IBM 650 - 2000 10-digit words of memory on a rotating magnetic drum (technically his first computer was a LEO, but that was just an aptitude test)! He eventually worked for IBM for 33 years in 3 countries - initially in England and the US, but for most of his career with IBM, in Canada.
Around 1967, while in the US, he developed what seems to be a precursor of IBM's VSAM access method by combining the ideas of compressed indices and "look-aside stacks" (now usually called "caches"), both of which were being worked on at that time by colleagues of his, with the concept of the "balanced tree", now called "B+ tree" (which he had read about, and then modelled in APL). He implemented much of the code which managed this data structure for IBM's internal Engineering Information System, and it proved very powerful (and long-lived). It is not clear to what extent this work influenced VSAM, which has very similar characteristics.
Soon after moving with his family to Montréal, Québec, in 1968, some other ideas flowered into what is now called Flow-Based Programming, and in the early '70s he joined the IBM team helping to design and build the Bank of Montreal's "Mech" on-line banking system, an innovative, forward-looking, 24/7, system that eventually (by the mid-'70s) was handling around 5,000,000 customers.
In 1976, Paul transferred to Toronto, retiring from IBM in 1992,
is now an independent contractor and consultant, living in
Ontario. His son and daughter-in-law live in New York
City. In 2004 they spent several months in Beijing, and have
a web site describing their experiences, called The
Sino File. While there, Paul's son also developed a prototype
of a language for developing reliable,
scalable, distributed applications, called Eleven. Paul's
daughter, son-in-law and grandson also live in Ontario, about 35
minutes' drive from his home.
Paul is now working full time on trying to spread the word about Flow-Based Programming, mostly using Java and C#, in between worrying about his chosen country (Canada), the planet, and the human species in general.
Paul is now taking a stab at writing a blog - it has really turned out to be more about politics (Canadian and global) and the environment (and the occasional medical update) than about Flow-Based Programming, but Paul may change his mind later! Paul uses LinkedIn to manage his professional contacts, and emits the occasional tweet - but at this point (early 2012) admits he hasn't yet found his Twitter "voice"!
Paul inherited a children's reference book dating from the
that was owned by the
above-mentioned John Smith's son, also named John Smith, called "A
Museum for Young Gentlemen and Ladies - 15th Edition", which was
apparently very popular in its
time. A copy of this was among a set of books that one Jane Barnes was
arrested and sentenced for stealing, in 1783. She was fined 1 shilling
and imprisoned for six months in the house of correction.
This book was apparently never digitized, so Paul has now done
and the result can be found at A
Museum for Young Gentlemen and Ladies.
It has also been uploaded to Project Gutenberg,
where it is now available in HTML, epub and Kindle formats. In case you
were wondering, the "ſ", "ſ" -
"long s" - has only been preserved in the Table of Contents, so as not
to interfere with text searching.
During his time at IBM, Paul worked on database systems, programming languages, rapid prototyping, natural language support and text retrieval systems. During his long career with IBM he always felt that it is vital for the IT industry to find a better way to develop applications, and that it is even more important for applications to be built so that they are maintainable, to cope with changes in the business requirements and processing environment. Over the years he came to realize that none of the approaches currently in use in the industry have provided that necessary level of improvement, and that in fact there are fundamental reasons why this should be so.
Around 1970, he discovered what he and others have come to believe is an extremely significant technology for increasing programmer productivity and producing more robust, reusable and maintainable code. This new approach eventually came to be known as Flow-Based Programming and is described in his 1994 book, Flow-Based Programming: A New Approach to Application Development (see Publications below).
A new edition has just come out (2010), including information about the Java and C# implementations, as well as the diagramming tool (DrawFBP), several sections contributed by Mike Beckerle, CTO of Oco Inc., on their experience using FBP concepts on truly humongous amounts of data, plus a whole new chapter on software projects that have appeared in the last 15 years and either build on FBP, or have strong similarities to it.
It describes an approach to developing applications, not in terms of the old von Neumann paradigm, but based on the concept of multiple asynchronous processes communicating by means of data streams, which in some ways is even older! An application is viewed as a system of data streams being transformed by processes, rather than a single "dumb" actor doing one thing at a time until all the data is processed. This requires a paradigm shift which profoundly changes the way the developer has to look at applications, and, although this concept is similar to concepts current in the area of distributed and parallel systems, up until now it has not been recognized that it is also an extremely productive approach to improving programmer productivity and application maintainability.
Surprisingly, systems built this way actually perform better than those constructed using conventional techniques. Paul and his colleagues used this concept as the basis for a number of software packages, which are described in Paul's book. The Mech system, referred to above, uses an early version of these concepts which in fact has proven to be extremely robust, and has been in continuous use processing millions of transactions a day, for 30 years now (as of 2007) - large business systems are constantly changing, and the kind of modular structure that is central to Flow-Based Programming provides both the flexibility needed for this process to be successful over time, as well as a number of ways of tuning the system for optimum performance.
A later implementation, called DFDM, was developed by IBM Canada for the Japanese market, so that IBM could offer an IBM competitor to a number of home-grown Japanese dataflow products. It contains a number of powerful application development facilities, and also supports the Kanji character set. A number of licenses were sold in Japan.
In his research for his book, Paul has discovered that Flow-Based Programming (FBP) and its related concepts are constantly being rediscovered independently by different groups, both in business and in academia, and one of the chapters in his book attempts to bring together into one place a survey of a number of such systems, and to describe the similarities and differences between them. This can be accessed by clicking on Cognates . A much longer and more up-to-date list can be found on the FBP wiki.
One of his major motivations in writing his book was to try to start a dialogue going between the various groups pursuing these different but related research and development efforts. He would very much welcome feedback on his book and/or on these concepts in general.
Most of the dialog about FBP used to occur in the Flow-Based Programming Wiki (FBPWiki) - the active discussion now seems to have shifted to the FBP Google Group. Interested parties are encouraged to participate in the latter - the more ideas we can collect, the better!
Links to web site about Flow-Based
Programming, and new data flow
diagramming tool (DrawFBP).
The second (2010) edition of Paul's book "Flow-Based Programming" is now available from CreateSpace and Amazon.com - and now in ebook format on:
the book in
seconds from either of these sites. In neither case do you need
Kindle books can
also be read using Amazon's free Kindle reading applications for PC, Mac, iPad,
iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android devices. Apparently Amazon
has enabled Text-to-Speech for this
book as well - this is a really amazing technology!
version is in EPUB format, and is readable by Sony Readers, iPads,
Android, etc., as well as on your PC using an EPUB reader such as the
Another of Paul's concerns is the mismatch between the data types used in the real world and the data types supported by most programming languages. Most numbers in the real world have units attached to them - for instance, distances are in feet, metres or parsecs, bank balances and prices have to be in some currency, dates and times have to be relative to a given time zone, and so on, but most computer languages treat all quantities as if they were dimensionless. Most business values in computer applications do not even have an explicit precision, as floating point is not appropriate for them, so this knowledge is only held within the program code.A few years ago, one of the Mars landers was lost because of a mismatch in units, and there is the famous case in Canada of the so-called "Gimli Glider", which is well worth reading about as a cautionary tale! It is described in some detail in the web page called "Smart Data".
More recently (2000), a friend,
Denis Garneau, designed
a collection of Business Data Types for a Java business application,
Paul had the privilege of building the Java classes and methods. This
satisfying to him, as these classes provide the first real start at
these problems that he has ever seen, and, more importantly, that has
used in a real-life application. These Business Data Types
were posted to SourceForge in 2009 using the project name JBDTypes
Types. This will be extended as time permits. A page has also
been added describing a possible approach to taking advantage of
compile-time type-checking in the area of physical units - Physical Units. Feedback would be welcome!
Programming languages and development methodologies,
flight and science fiction, West African, Caribbean, Latin, and Indian
played percussion with a Latin band at Cambridge, and then later played
in one of the late, great Fela Kuti's first
bands, in England - probably the Highlife Rakers, although Paul doesn't
remember the name of the band); as many areas
of science, especially the life sciences, as he can keep up with.
During the period when he was living
he was a member of a branch of the Asian
Circle, and was also a member of the British
Society, whose president at the time was the distinguished writer
mother, many of the concepts of Christian
Science (one of his teachers was "Fougasse",
and perhaps Eton (some positive effects, in an unintended sort of
Finally, a shameless plug for the writings of a good friend,
from us too early - if you like
detective stories and science fiction, take a look at Checkmate Fiction by the
George Condon, or his thought-provoking, and often extremely amusing, blog, where he shared
his thoughts about politics, movies, and everything else - including
the moving last post.
Data Responsive Modular, Interleaved Task Programming System, IBM Technical Disclosure Bulletin, Vol. 13, No. 8, 2425-26, January 1971
Data Stream Linkage Mechanism, IBM Systems Journal, Vol. 17, No. 4, 1978
Flow-Based Programming: A New Approach to Application
1994. ISBN 0-442-01771-5. Now out of
print, but available second-hand. It is also available in full on the FBP web site.
Blog: J. Paul Morrison