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Happy Un-Birthday Rich

January 29, 2021


Still going strong

Richard DeMillo just turned 74 years old the other day. Happy Birthday Rich, and many more.

Today I want to wish him also a happy un-birthday.

Recall an un-birthday is celebrated on any day that is not your birthday. It was created by Lewis Carroll in his 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass.

I aways liked the concept of un-birthdays. Probably only a mathematician like Carroll could think of this—every set {S} has a complement {\bar{S}}.

Quest for Correctness

Rich and I started our work together over four decades ago. A central theme of our work was correctness. We were concerned That programs might not work as planned. At the time it was not obvious that this was a major theme of our joint work. But looking back now I can see that it was.

We wrote several papers on correctness, from various angles.

{\bullet } Our work on practical approaches to program testing. The main paper was Hints on test data selection: Help for the practicing programmer by Rich DeMillo, Fred Sayward in 1978. This was part of our work on the mutation program testing method.

{\bullet } Our On the importance of checking cryptographic protocols for faults by Dan Boneh, Rich DeMillo in 1997. This showed that incorrect crypto systems could be attacked much easier than correct ones.

{\bullet } Our Social processes and proofs of theorems and programs by Rich DeMillo, Alan Perlis. This was paper argued against verification technology as the main way to make programs correct. Was attacked as wrong then, and probably still viewed as wrong by many.

{\bullet } Our Probabilistic Remark on Algebraic Program Testing 1977 By Rich DeMillo. And in Information Processing Letters. See how we missed the boat on this important result.

Other Quests

Rich has done much besides his research, that covered much more than just the above papers. He has had a long successful career that has two paths. He was a leader in industry and in government. At Hewlett-Packard Company he served as the company’s first Chief Technology Officer. He also held executive positions with Telcordia Technologies (formerly known as Bell Communications Research) and the National Science Foundation.

He was and still is a leader in academia. He is currently Distinguished Professor of Computing and Professor of Management at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He was the John P. Imlay Dean of Computing at Georgia Tech for six years. He is now the Chair of the new School of Cybersecurity and Privacy in the College of Computing.

Open Problems

See this for some earlier remarks on Rich.

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