Ian Sharp Quotations and Anecdotes


A selection from APL Quotations and Anecdotes.


Born in Dublin, 1932, Ian Sharp graduated in engineering from Cambridge University, spent four years in OR for United Steel Companies. In 1960 he came to Canada and became chief programmer responsible for software development at Ferranti-Packard, Toronto. In 1964 he formed I.P. Sharp Associates.

Canadian Datasytems, 1970-02


I.P. Sharp Associates was founded by the FP6000 programming team and one other in 1964. Directors: Ian Sharp, Roger Moore, Ted McDorman, and Don Smith; three others: David Oldacre, Brian Daly, and James McSherry. The preceding seven joined in December 1964 at various dates. In spring 1965, David Butler, an engineer from the non-FP6000 part of Electronics Division, joined. Butler was more interested in military business than any other employee.

Ian, Brian, and Jim McS painted the new office at DeMarco Building at Keele & Lawrence.

— Roger Moore


Roger Moore was returning from the US to Canada. The customs officer at the border questioned him about some boxes of punch cards in his possession. Roger avoided further complications by explaining to the officer that the punch cards were used rather than new.

— Ian Sharp


How I got my job at IPSA. It began with a conversation between me and a headhunter.

Me:  I want to work on compilers.
Me:I want to work my own hours.
Me:I don’t want to have to wear a suit.
Me:I don’t care what it pays.
HH:There is only one place in town like that.

I interviewed with Ian, who seemed satisfied, but he told me, “You’ll have to talk with Roger.” He made it sound as if Roger was some sort of demigod. Which was not far from the truth. I was led to an elfin, rumpled-looking character who was smoking a cigarette and staring and muttering at a listing. Roger Moore.

I introduced myself and said Ian had sent me over about the compiler job. Roger was more interested in the problem than in me, I think. I got frustrated sitting there, while he smoked and muttered and looked at the code, so I asked him to explain the problem to me, then pitched in. I don’t recall what we were looking at; it was probably the IPSCOBOL compiler code. After an hour or so, I said I had to leave to go on another interview, so I asked him where we stood on the job. “Oh, oh, yeah, I guess we can use you.”

Generating IPSCOBOL test cases was part of the job. The more interesting part was analyzing the compiler output for correctness. Both of those tasks screamed for automation, which led to my learning APL.

— Bob Bernecky, Zoo Story: How the SHARP APL Development Group Got Its Name,
Dyalog User Meeting 2016, 2016-10-05


It was early in my first week at I.P. Sharp in Ottawa when Ian Sharp arrived for a visit. Ian’s standard modus operandi was to sit with employees in silence until they spilled whatever was on their mind. It was a great way of finding out what was really going on in the company. This day was no different, and I was searching for something to say. Since I had never seen APL before, I asked Ian whether there was an APL course coming up soon. He responded there was one scheduled the next week. When I asked if I could take it, Ian responded, “You’re giving it!” I was a highly motivated learner, to say the least. It was perhaps the best course I ever gave, as I was certainly at no risk of cramming too much information into the course.

— Lib Gibson


Lower Canada College in Montreal was fortunate enough to have been introduced to APL when John Brown, then head of the Mathematics Department of the school, met Ken Iverson at an IBM conference in the late 60’s. John excitedly brought IBM’s APL to the School, and this was later replaced by a connection to SHARP APL (then APL Plus). Everyone used the same account number, and so had access to everyone else’s information. Some people, including myself, started to reason about how one could protect workspaces and files (when these were released in 1970) from prying eyes. We started to think beyond (workspace) locks and (file) magic numbers, and this led to techniques for monitoring application security, trapping snoopers, encrypting data, hiding programs, etc.

The first Mailbox (the term “e-mail” hadn’t yet been coined) was developed by Larry Breed at STSC during a period in time when IPSA and STSC collaborated on many language and environmental features. Larry’s Mailbox was actually the world’s second electronic mail application that I know of, the first having been written in 1971 by Frank Bates III of Mobility Systems. Frank’s application demonstrated the efficacy of communication through this medium, but was not a robust, commercial application and was not secure. In early 1972, Larry set out to build something that was.

There was something appealing about trying to break into a messaging system. For one, you can learn a lot trying, and even more when you’re successful. Additionally, Larry had introduced some novel changes into the APL interpreter to allow name masking, and this made the allure still greater—even mysterious. After having penetrated numerous other applications running on the mainframe, it wasn’t hard to convince myself to try to break into the Mailbox. I did this successfully on many occasions, using a variety of techniques that I developed. Each time, I would report what I had done to David Keith, branch manager of the IPSA Montreal office, and eventually that hole would be plugged and I’d move on to find a new one. Years later, Larry told me he was late for the annual STSC Christmas party in 1972 because he was busy fixing my latest reported vulnerability.

One Saturday in 1973, I recall being at the School browsing through everyone’s messages when I came across one written by David Keith about a confidential sales prospect. The message was addressed to Ian Sharp and a few senior managers in the company. It went on for some time about the nature of the opportunity and the likely next steps in securing it. In conclusion, David reiterated the confidentiality of the matter and, almost prophetically, added “that goes for you snoopers at LCC, too!” It was a mirthful moment.

A couple of months later, David Bonyun of I.P. Sharp, then System Librarian and in charge of all public libraries, contacted me and asked if I would write a new Mailbox that was functionally similar to the existing one but “Leslie Goldsmith proof”. Doing this would certainly bring to bear all that I had learned about trying to protect data at LCC.

My first version of 666 BOX was written as a part-time activity in the late summer of 1973. IPSA did not have access to the source for the version they had been running, so it was written from scratch. Although it underwent many significant changes over the coming years, dramatically increasing its capacity and later introducing cross-domain message transfer, I’m not aware of any successful attempts to penetrate it.

— Leslie Goldsmith


It came time to negotiate the remuneration for the mailbox work. Ian Sharp offered a fixed sum; Leslie Goldsmith countered with a royalty approach of one penny per message. The negotiations demonstrated the financial acumen of both parties: if Leslie had prevailed he would eventually have received several orders of magnitude more than the fixed sum.

— Roger Hui


My career in APL started as a summer student at IPSA Calgary in 1975, where Arthur Whitney was a summer student the year before. On my first day on the job Ian Sharp happened to be visiting, and the whole office went out to lunch with Ian. During lunch I expounded on matters far and wide. Ian watched me for a while, then turned to Lib Gibson, IPSA Calgary branch manager, and asked, “Isn’t Arthur Whitney coming back with us this year?”

It was years before I realized that I had been put down.

— Roger Hui


McDonnell in APLdom

        Santa Teresa, forgive us our sins.
        Help us remember the light that wins.
        Console us and guide us this fateful day,
        For Gene McDonnell is going away.

When lapses in logic bedevil your traces,
The father of sticks will lighten your strain
By helping you master the wide open spaces
That fill up the place where you should have a brain.
With a quick, deft mastery logical
And a manner serene, pedagogical,
He cleans out the colons and mops up the commas
And clears up the thinking and eases the pain.

        Santa Teresa, forgive us our sins.
        Help us remember the light that wins.
        Console us and guide us this fateful day,
        For Gene McDonnell is going away.

Keeper of consoles, time-sharing master,
Leader of fights for the good and the true,
Help us to face our appalling disaster:
A world without logic, a world without you.
Stay us with carets, stay us with APL,
Help us to think in the Iverson way.
You, who survived in the city of scrapple,
Help us survive in the deep, dark, South Bay.

        Santa Teresa, forgive us our sins.
        Help us remember the light that wins.
        Console us and guide us this fateful day,
        For Gene McDonnell is going away.

Sharper than serpent’s tooth, Sharper than swords,
Sharp is the pain that we feel in our hearts.
Sharp his associates, Sharp his rewards,
Dull is our prospect when he departs.
Our blessings go with thee, O friend tried and true.
May the path that you take lead to happier scenes.
But know that we all will be thinking of you,

                    The APL Crew,
                    Itty Bitty Machines

        Santa Teresa, forgive us our sins.
        Help us remember the light that wins.
        Console us and guide us this fateful day,
        For Gene the Sharpie has gone away.

— Michael Montalbano, on the occasion of Eugene McDonnell
leaving IBM to join I.P. Sharp Associates, 1978-11-16,
The I.P. Sharp Newsletter, volume 7, number 1, Jan/Feb. 1979


A constant source of irritation was the universal attitude of all telephone companies to the idea of electronic mail. It was regarded as a huge threat to the considerable income that they all derived from Telex traffic. Telex was an ultra-low speed communication system among Teletype terminals. The service was introduced in the mid 1940s as the solution to all corporate data transmission requirements. No significant improvements or upgrades were made to that service over the next 30 to 40 years. The first real threat came with the advent of electronic mail, or at least that was how electronic mail was perceived. The first reaction of any monopoly to a perceived threat is to ban it outright, and that is more or less what the telephone companies of the world did. As a company we had no serious intention of offering a general inter-company communications facility that might have competed with Telex. We were mainly interested in an internal communication system among employees and a mechanism to communicate with our customers. Assuaging paranoia was almost a full time job and was probably the subject of more meetings around the globe than any other single issue.

We never did succeed completely in allaying suspicion, and many phone companies were sure that we were eating their Telex lunch, even though they had no evidence of it. As a gesture of goodwill, we modified our Email software so that it was not possible for one customer to communicate with another, but that was largely a waste of time since they did not really believe that we had done that. In Germany the Bundespost invented a tariff which they said we must apply to all Emails and send them money each month. Since we did not have revenue from electronic mail in Germany, we never sent them “their share” and eventually the issue atrophied.

It was of course the proliferation of computers and private corporate networks which caused the erosion of Telex use. More and more people started to use electronic mail and the telephone companies were simply over-powered by the tidal surge of individual as well as corporate usage. It is doubtful that as many as 1% of the present population of Email users has any idea that just a few short years ago the whole thing was illegal.

— Ian Sharp, I.P. Sharp Associates and the Telephone Monopolies, 2005


Probably the most interesting case involved a large customer in Copenhagen, who approached the national phone company with a request that they needed local dial connections in all the locations where they had subsidiary companies, which included North America, the Far East, Australia, Japan and numerous locations in Europe. They needed such a network in order to remain competitive in their very competitive world. The phone company told them that such a network was currently beyond their capability, but could well be available at some time in the future. So with only a minor push from the Danish government, the phone company agreed to the temporary installation of our full software system including communications, pending the availability of a locally-provided solution.

As a face saver the national PTT would like to be paid for all traffic in each direction on the line between the customer’s site and our office in Copenhagen. We agreed to that, and since the PTT had no means of measuring that traffic, we offered to do it for them and provide the monthly information that they needed in order to bill us. We did that, but no invoice was ever received.

— Ian Sharp, I.P. Sharp Associates and the Telephone Monopolies, 2005


Joey Tuttle keeps meticulous records of his e-mails and has a way of quickly and accurately finding old messages. His reputation in this regard was such that sometimes Ian Sharp would ask Joey for copies of old messages in which Joey was either the sender or a recipient. Precise dates in this collection are made possible mostly because Joey was able to retrieve the relevant messages.

— Roger Hui


In early 1988 a new Toronto city by-law required that every company establish a smoking policy, consisting of designated areas on the company premises where smoking is permitted. (And if no smoking policy can be agreed upon, then no smoking is permitted on the premises.) After much discussion at IPSA, the designated smoking areas were some common rooms and Ian Sharp’s office. When Ian heard of this, he bristled at the idea of his office being an exception and asked to have it removed from the list.

— Roger Hui and Joey Tuttle


In the 1980s the IPSA head office was located in the Exchange Tower in downtown Toronto. Security was tight since the Toronto Stock Exchange was in the same building. At night and during weekends, you had to show a security badge to the guard and sign in to gain entry. One guard became noted for refusing entry to Paul Reichmann, the real-estate magnate, because he did not have a security badge. I spoke to the guard about it, and he told me that he was quietly told to not do that any more WRT Reichmann.

I guess in this regard Reichmann is no Ian Sharp because the quietly-told instruction was not countermanded. I know this because I witnessed Reichmann gaining entry with just a smile at this same guard.

— Roger Hui


Excerpts from a presentation to the IPSA50 party, 2014-10-05.

•   Remember the 80s? When our line to Europe was 9600 baud? I have 2000 times that bandwidth to my house. The 80s. When Joey saved 9 years of email in 82 megabytes. Now we get that in a day.
•   I remember when Jane and I had a business meeting in Winnipeg. IPSA’s famous frugality dictated we share a hotel room. Jane arrived after me, unlocked the door and called out, “I’m coming to get you!” It was the wrong room. A man wearing only a towel took one look at this willowy redhead and responded, “I certainly hope so!”
•   I remember asking Arthur Whitney to wear clean, ironed pants and shirt for an important demo. Arthur blew them away. When I thanked him for dressing properly someone said, “Didn’t you notice he had NO SHOES?” You have to be VERY explicit with programmers.
•   I remember arguments with Eric that he consistently won — even though I was consistently RIGHT!
•   And I remember Roger. His office with six feet of printouts — totally redundant, because Roger with his photographic memory knew Every. Single. Line. Of code. There’s the legend of Roger in a Regina bar realizing he’d forgotten his house key, and drawing it for a locksmith to cut a replacement. It worked.
•   I remember Roger advising a customer to connect pins 4 and 7 on their 3705. The uneasy customer called the IBM development team. “Who told you to do a stupid thing like that?” “Roger Moore”. “Oh well that’s OK, Roger knows more about this device than we do.”
•   I remember one night a customer phoned the London office for APL help, was given a quick solution, and asked, “Who is this? I want to mention you to the boss.”
“My name is Ian Sharp.”
“Wow, must be handy to have a name like that.”
“It is,” Ian replied without further elaboration.
Fred Perkins got a laugh the next morning.
•   I remember people urging Ian to dump a painful, overdue Morgan Stanley project. There was no contractual penalty. But we gave our word, said Ian. That was the end of that.
•   Ian didn’t stand on policy; he operated on trust. When I applied to Sharp, I asked about sick leave. Ian looked perplexed. “When you’re sick, you stay home.” I persisted. “How LONG can I stay home?” Even more perplexed, Ian said, “Until you’re better.”

— Lib Gibson, IPSA50, 2014-10-04


And then there’s Ian. The heart of the company.

A 21st century company waaay back in the last century. Relatively flat and widely dispersed, I.P.Sharp was held together by electronics and camaraderie. And Ian.

The company was blind on race, creed, colour, nationality, sexual orientation, and eccentricity. And gender. I left IPSA with a suspicion that discrimination against women was a myth. Yeah. Right.

— Lib Gibson, IPSA50, 2014-10-04


IPSA. Didn’t we have a blast. Thank you, Ian. RIP.

— Roger Hui

Compiled and edited by Roger Hui.

created:  2010-09-18 12:00
updated:2021-07-20 08:05