J Paul Morrison

Paul is a British-born Canadian computer programmer, and the inventor/discoverer of flow-based programming (FBP). He is the author of Flow-Based Programming: A New Approach to Application Development, whose second edition is now on sale (as of 2010), in paperback and ebook (Kindle and epub) format.

Paul was born John Paul Rodker, in 1937, 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.  David Rodker, 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 has always been a bit of a mystery, but Paul recently developed a theory that Rodker is a name derived from a place, like a number of more common Jewish names such as Berliner, Krakower, etc. Following that model, Paul guessed there might be a town named Rodka somewhere in central Europe, and it turns out that there is indeed a town that had that name at one point. It is now in Romania, and its official name is now Rădăuți. 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."

This has now been corroborated by Oliver Rodker, Paul's half-sister Joan's grandson, who says his grandmother told him this several years ago.  This fact adds a fascinating footnote to the family's history. Interestingly, Sonia Cohen, Joan's mother, 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 World War I. He went on the run and was arrested and imprisoned in April 1917. John died in 1955, while Paul was still at university; John was fluent in French, writing regularly for a French literary magazine, and 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 sorely missed.

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 Marshfield in 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) and Irish-English ancestry (Stanger Smith), and brought Paul up to be proud of his Scottish ancestry. She also claimed a connection with Ulf, brother-in-law of King Canute, as her paternal grandmother was an Ulph, which is a Latinized form of the same name (via Ulphus).

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.

Owing to the circumstances of his mother and father's divorce, Paul knew very little about his Ashkenazi Jewish half, although he was told that his pyloric stenosis (at about the age of 5-6 weeks, and successfully operated on) 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!

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 won a scholarship to Eton College, where he was therefore entitled to be called a King's Scholar. At the age of 15, for some unexplained reason he was forced to specialize in Classics (he was actually trying to decide between maths and science at the time).

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 was therefore able to go straight on to 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 missed out on several years of science, but was resolved not to do any more Classics! Anthropology and Archaeology proved to be a perfect fit with his interests, and science was not a prerequisite, so he was able to spend an extremely enjoyable 3 years learning how to recognize Neanderthal skulls and hearing about the Kachin from someone who had actually lived among them. In between Eton and Cambridge, 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 actually 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), during which he was lodged in the country. 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 taste".  He also made friends from all over the world, and was introduced to the Nigerian community in London by Patrick Mbanefo (later Chairman of Guinness Nigeria), 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". 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.

In 1963, Paul got married (in Trinidad, West Indies) and moved to Poughkeepsie, NY, in the US, to work on compiler design, followed by a stint working on general systems architecture in a group led by the British computer scientist Tony Peacock. At this time Ted Codd of the same group was developing the concepts behind relational databases. During this period, Paul designed and developed what he believes to have been a precursor to 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 in Tony Peacock's group, 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 the current VSAM product, which is based on very similar design principles.

Soon after moving with his family to Montréal, Québec, in 1968, some other ideas flowered into what is now called Flow-Based Programming (FBP), 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 went live in the mid-'70s, on an IBM model 168 computer. Almost all of the batch part of this system was implemented using FBP, and at least one of these programs was still running in production as of the end of 2013 (almost 40 years later).

In 1976, Paul transferred to Toronto, retiring from IBM in 1992, and is now an independent consultant, living in picturesque Unionville, Ontario.  His son and daughter-in-law live in New York City, where they are Managing Director, Business Development, and CEO, respectively, of Grok Education Services. 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, initially using Java and C#, and more recently C++ supported by Boost, using Lua as a scripting language. The FBP implementation called NoFlo is creating a lot of excitement in the IT community, so Paul feel that FBP's time has finally come!

Paul also spends time communicating and worrying about his chosen country (Canada), the planet, and the human species in general. He is 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 on matters that interest him.

Enthusiasms

Programming languages and development methodologies, linguistics, space flight and science fiction, West African, Caribbean, Latin, and Indian music (Paul played percussion with a Latin band at Cambridge, and then later played the güiro 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 in London, he was a member of the Asian Music Circle, and was also a member of the British Interplanetary Society, whose president at the time was the distinguished writer and visionary, Arthur C. Clarke.

Among the formative influences in his life, he would like to acknowledge his wife, his mother, many of the concepts of Christian Science (one of his teachers was "Fougasse", the noted British cartoonist), the Dragon School, Eton College (some positive effects, in an unintended sort of way), "Recovery", and of course Cambridge University - in Paul's unbiassed opinion, the finest university on the planet!

Publications

  • 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 Development, Van Nostrand Reinhold, NY, 1994. ISBN 0-442-01771-5. Now out of print, but available second-hand. It is also available in full on the old FBP web site. Ed Yourdon kindly added this book to his list of cool books.
  • Flow-Based Programming, 2nd Edition: A New Approach to Application Development, CreateSpace, 2010. ISBN 1-451-54232-1

Contact Information


@
email: paul.morrison rogers.com

Blog: J. Paul Morrison

Twitter: @jpaulmorrison

LinkedIn: J. Paul Morrison - LinkedIn


Link to Flow-Based Programming web page.

Link to Flow-Based Programming Google group web page.