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The Tortuous Path of Early ProgrammingIn the perpetual darkness more than two miles below the surface of the North Atlantic a submersible sled slowly traced the alpine contours of the ocean bottom in the summer of 1985 Named the Argo after the ship in which the legendary Greek Hero Jason sought the Golden Fleece the 16-foot-long craft resembled a section of scaffolding flung on its side and stuffed with equipment Powerful lights sonar Video cameras Far above arrayed in front of a video screen in the control room of the US Navy research vessel Knorr Members of a joint French-American scientific expedition intently watched the images transmitted by the submersible as it was towed above a desolate landscape of canyons and mud slidesAfter 16 days of patient search A scattering of metallic debris appeared on the screen followed by the unmistakable outline of a ships boiler A jubilant cry arose from the scientists The ocean liner Titanic sunk 73 years earlier with more than 1500 of its 2200 passengers on board had finally been foundThe quest for the remains of the Titanic in the crushing depths of the sea was a remarkable application of computer technology as exotic in its means as in its venue Not least of the keys to the successful outcome was the agility of modern computer programmingArgoss ensemble of sonar lights and cameras was orchestrated by an array of computers that each programmed in a different computer language The computer on the unmanned Argo itself was programmed in FORTH a concise but versatile language originally designed to regulate movement of telescopes and also used to control devices and processes ranging from heart monitors to special-effects video cameras The computer on the Knorr was programmed in C a powerful but rather cryptic language capable of precisely specifying computer operations The telemetry System at either end of the finger thick Co-ax cable connecting the vessels which in effect enabled their computers to talk
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