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Bumble Sort: College Prank or Cold War Weapon?

By John Scribblemonger, Editor-in-Chief

The man who invented the microcomputer tutorial 20 years ago and remains an superlative programmer/designer has hit the Tog’s recommended-consultants list. What Tog has characteristically left out is the dirt on Mr. Eisenberg. He may be “responsible” now, but not so 25 years ago, during his college career. I feel it is only right you should know the whole truth.

Mr. Eisenberg is, according to highly-placed sources, the inventor of the nefarious “Bumble Sort.” As any student of computer science history can tell you, the Bumble Sort algorthm was simplicity itself:

  1. Pick two elements at random from a list and swap them.
  2. See if the swap coincidentally resulted in the entire list being perfectly sorted.
  3. If not, go back to step one.

(Actually, it was a little less than simplicity itself. Mr. Eisenberg first fed his source code through his patented "pessimizing compiler," further reducing its performance. He was later to make his millions by selling this compiler to the Microsoft OS team.)

This procedure might have worked if step 2 tested to see whether the pair flip actually improved the ordering, but no such test was involved—a given pair flip had an equal chance of improving or degrading the overall sort. As a result, the list ending up in the right order was about as likely as the French suddenly adopting English having "found it a far more sensible language."

Mr. Eisenberg first unleashed this mindless sequence on the unsuspecting people at one of this nation's major computer centers, the University of Illinois in Urbana. The small program quickly brought the vast array of Control Data super-computers to their knees, preventing hundreds of struggling undergrads from performing critical research.

Mr Eisenberg would have us believe it was an accident, and so we might, except for one minor detail: Mr. Eisenberg ran the program repeatedly, without modification. Night after night, week after week, right up until the night he was almost caught.

Apologists for Mr. Eisenberg's actions are quick to point out that the Bumble Sort, later slipped by CIA agents into Russian military defense computers, was pivotal in bringing the Cold War to an early end. I suppose that's something, and I could probably find it in my heart to forgive him except for one thing: Mrs. Scribblemonger was one of those students at the receiving end of his childish prank, as a result of which, instead of a sheepskin, she ended up with a spit sink: She's now a dental hygenist, pulling down 24.5K a year.

If you would still like to hire the man Tog has described as "the most awesome coder I know," click J. David Eisenberg's Home Page. However, don't have him design his own sort routine.

[Note from Tog: Much of what John has reported above is true, but he kind of slipped from reality here and there. No evidence exists that the bumble sort actually shortened the cold war, and, as anyone who knows her could tell you, Mrs. Scribblemonger was destined to be a dental hygenist from the get-go. We now know that all Microsoft software is run through a pessimizing compiler, but we don't know whether they are using David's design. The part about David being an awesome coder is all true.]

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