Just ran across a picture of Bob Abbott, who died last year… I knew him for close to 20 years… and he was a great man, I shall miss drinking with him, arguing with him, talking with him… but mostly I’ll just miss him.

I also found a treasure of an interview here, which I’ll also put below (links never last…) you can find a bit more about him on the net.  I really wish I could have known him better… we always think there’s more time.  At the least I should have taken a better picture of him!



An Interview with Bob Abbott

Bob Abbott

BA = Bob Abbott
GAM = George Michael

GAM: Today is the 14th of February, 1995, and we’re going to interview Bob Abbott, who started at the Laboratory many, many years ago. So, we’ll start. Bob, can you tell us where you came from and what was your training, and so forth, before you got to the Lab?

BA: I graduated from UC Berkeley, with a B.S. in mathematics, at the end of the winter semester. The semester began in 1952 and ended in February of 1953. Then I looked for employment from February until I was hired by the Lab. As I recall, I started work on the 6th of April, 1953.

As was the practice then, we were in the “cooler” for an interminable length of time. A number of other people arrived in the cooler while I was there. For instance, George Michael, Bob Price (who went on to become CEO of Control Data Corporation), John Hudson, and Bob Cralle. I can’t remember any other names readily, but it seems to me there were five or six of us in the cooler.

GAM: Do you remember Merritt Elmore or Steve Himes?

BA: No, I don’t remember them being there; probably because I was out of the cooler before you were.

At that time we were in the hospital barracks of the old Livermore Naval Air Station. The cooler was located in the barracks. It was where they kept uncleared personnel. The rest of the barracks area was cleared, that is to say, classified. When I finally got my clearance it turned out that we were in the officer’s wing of what had been the hospital. This was originally semi-private rooms, with two hospital beds per room. Each room shared a communal bath with the semi-private room next door.

The office configuration put two people per semi-private room, with a one person office in between. This was the communal bathroom. We used to refer to the people in the bathrooms as being “in the can.”

We stayed in that barracks for a long time, many years. There was a sun porch at the end where the patients used to sit and recover from whatever their ailments were. It became simply office space. It had a lot of screens. The windows could be opened, and every so often you could actually get a little breeze in the summer time.

I started working on the UNIVAC 1. The Lab’s UNIVAC was the fifth computer off the UNIVAC production line. The UNIVAC production line was the first attempt to mass produce computers. My first assignment was an inventory program, which established a database of spare parts for UNIVAC maintenance purposes.

I set up a program to keep track of the parts-on-hand, and their dollar value. It wasn’t really an inventory program by today’s standards in that it didn’t monitor current levels of inventory with automatic re-ordering and all of that. It was a rather simplistic inventory system.

In those days, programming was not at all like it is today. Each of us was given a copy of the C-10 code, which was published by UNIVAC. It probably wasn’t even thirty pages in length.

The C-10 Code simply listed the instruction set of for UNIVAC. It also contained a simplistic chart of the timing cycles of the UNIVAC (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta time). Gamma and delta time was when the instructions were executed. Alpha and beta time took care of stepping from one instruction to the next instruction, and initializing the instruction execution process.

The C-10 code was the only training we received. The drill was: Read the C-10 manual; Write a program. That was the way everyone started.

It was not an assembly language. This was machine code, consisting of a letter (A for add, S for subtract, M for multiply, etc.), and an address. Addresses ranged from 000 to 999.

The UNIVAC contained 1,000 words of 12-characters each – 60 bits per word. The machine’s architecture used Excess-3 notation – a binary arithmetic wherein zero was represented by the binary three.

Remington Rand offered a card punch for the UNIVAC, but the Lab never bought one. The UNIVAC punched card format was completely foreign to the IBM card format The UNIVAC card holes were round; the IBM card, the holes were rectangular. The UNIVAC card had ninety columns on a card; the IBM had eighty columns on the card. The method of representing alphabetic and special characters was totally different in both card formats.

While the UNIVAC tapes were metallic, IBM tapes were plastic. They weighed a ton!

In those days everybody wore sandals to emulate our fearless leader, Sid Fernbach. If you wore sandals, you did not want to drop a UNIVAC tape for fear it would remove a toe. Everybody knew to jump into a feet-wide-apart stance immediately when a UNIVAC tape was dropped.

My first weapons assignment was a program for the physicist Michael May, who later became the Lab Director. It was a particle attenuation code: (1) Pick a random number representing a particle of a particular weight and composition; (2) Pick another random number representing the distance traveled before colliding with another particle; (3) Pick three random numbers and calculate three random direction cosines which specified which direction the particle went after the collision; etc.

The random number generator was “seeded ” by the “Harold Brown Number.” Harold Brown was one of the Lab’s pioneers, who also became the Laboratory Director. He was asked to pick a number to start the random number generator. Since all random number generators eventually degenerate to zero, it is important to pick a good starting number so as to get a long run of random numbers before the string degenerates to zero. The Harold Brown Number was good for a very long run.

The Laboratory invested heavily in verifying that the random number generator was, indeed, random. John Hudson wrote a number of programs, each of which judiciously checked for equal distribution of paired numbers, three of a kind, four of a kind, five of a kind, straights, and all combinations of successive digits. The purpose was to validate the random number generator. John Hudson’s programs would be executed whenever the UNIVAC was idle for even a few minutes. The Harold Brown Number did, indeed, produce usable random numbers.

GAM: Harold was at the Laboratory from the very beginning.

BA: Yes, he was one of the bright spots. As I recall, he picked the number by going through the phone book and cobbling a couple of phone numbers together.

I ran innumerable parametric studies on Mike May’s problem We discovered that, under certain circumstances, the random number generator would exhaust itself and start over again from the Harold Brown Number. No matter how long you let the problem run, it would simply produce answers which were a multiple of the answers produced by the first exhaustion of the random number generator. It took us about ten days to figure that out.

When I moved off of the Mike May program, I wrote a series of slightly more elaborate programs. One day I was tasked to set up a new hydro code. This was for a physicist named Gene Goldberg. For some reason, I decided to name it RAMSES. There was a tradition of naming programs after Greek gods and other mythical pesons.

Gene took unusual offense at this name. I think he kept getting it confused with the name of a popular prophylactic of those years. He could never bring himself to say the name. He would walk in and say, “I want to run my code!” And I would tease him by saying, “Which code is that?”, to try to get him to say it. He would never say it. The closest he would come would be to point to something in my office that had the name on it.

At some point, our fearless leader, Sid Fernbach, decided that we computer folks should do some things to benefit the Business Office of the Laboratory. And so the Business Programming Group was established. That wasn’t its proper name, I can’t remember the correct name.

I was the Group Leader. I reported to Sid, although Bud Wirshing exercised some supervisory control over the project. But the truth was that we were really trying to convince Lab management that they should invest in computing. As such, Sid wanted to know what was going on at all times so that he could continue his lobbying efforts to get the Lab to move forward.

After a whole lot of wheedling, we were finally allowed to sink our teeth into a personnel application. It not only kept personnel records, but also maintained salary and wage records. It was used by Laboratory management to develop, what was known in those days as, Change Notices. These were multi-colored, multi-carbonated paper forms. They showed your old salary, your old job classification, your new salary, and your new job classification. A Change Notice was required in order for anything relating to salary or job classification to move forward.

I held a contest to select a name for the Personnel Application. As I recall, the prize was a Milky Way candy bar or maybe even a pack of Wrigley’s Chewing Gum. Computation Department really got into the spirit of it. Quite a number of names were suggested. “Lineup” was chosen as the name for the Personal Application.

This was the first use of a computer as a business tool at either the Livermore or Berkeley labs. Consequently, this program was little more than a replacement of the existing manual, paper-based system. It was definitely not an attempt to re-engineer the business process. Then again, this was the maximum that could be sold to Laboratory management. It was also the practice commonly used in the business at that time.

It is also interesting to note that back then, there was the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, Livermore. The same upper level management team operated both Labs. The management team was located at Berkeley. Whatever management structure was at Livermore was really like a regional office of the system on “The Hill in Berkeley.” My “customer” for this application was really the Berkeley Business Office.

It took a great deal of effort on the part of Sid Fernbach for the Business Office to even let us do this project. Since they didn’t really believe that this would work. Our first assignment was to do wage Change Notices for the laborers at both Labs. This was particularly significant in that the Laborer wage structure was the most difficult of all Change Notices. Laborers had hourly rates for up to five different pay scales depending on which job categories were used in the course of each day. As an example, a Laborer could work at 3-4 different pay scales during the course of a single day.

Furthermore, the Lab used a “Step Chart.” All salaries, whether a flat raise or a percentage raise, were adjusted according to the steps on the Step Chart. This meant that whatever salary was decided upon, it had to be adjusted so it was one of the steps on “The Step Chart.”

So it was that first set of Laborer Change Notices was a real test. We developed an algorithm, which compared each hourly rate against the Step Chart. We then modified the specified rate according to the nearest step on the Step Chart.

One of my duties, as the person in charge of Business Data Processing, was to go to “The Hill” in Berkeley and make the necessary genuflections to assure everybody up there that they were still in control. They needed assurance that we were simply carrying out their orders.

The Hill even brought in an efficiency expert named Les Turner. He was unfamiliar with computer procedures so he turned out to be a real pain to get anything done. He caused a great many problems. He worked his way in to the point where everything new, even a change in a form for ordering paper, had to go through his hands. That was probably okay, but everything just slowed down. Nobody could get anything done, because he took so long to review and approve. He questioned everything whether it needed review or not. Management finally gave up on him and was in the process of terminating him. But he asked them to let him learn something about computers. To make a long story short, I ended up with having him in my group at Livermore. Boy, talk about a pain!

I will never forget the first time Les came out to Livermore to meet me – the Director of Business Processing. At that time, I was sharing an office with Bill Carr.

GAM: Big Bill Carr?

BA: Yes, Big Bill Carr. There was also another fellow, Ed Miller. You may recall that at that time, we were located in the World War II officer’s wing of a hospital building. Originally, the Officer’s wing had semi-private rooms, with 2 beds in each room. Every 2 rooms shared a common bathroom. Since neither Bill nor I smoked, we shared the remodeled semi-private room. We gave the private room (the former bathroom) to Ed Miller. Ed was a smoker.

Thus, when the persnickety and very formal Les Turner came out to visit me, he couldn’t understand our “living arrangements.” He walks in, takes one look at the situation, and starts asking questions. He looks at Bill Carr, and Ed Miller, and asks a whole series of questions:

“Do you Bob report to Bill? Does he report to you? Do you report to Ed Miller, the guy in the private room? Does he report to you?”

Although I answered “no” the first time, he just kept at it. It became increasingly uncomfortable. When Bill happened to go out of our shared office, Les wanted to know if either Bill or Ed were in charge of the personnel project. I said, “No, I’m in charge.” He then asked why Ed has a private office. I replied that it was because Ed smoked!

This just caused him to start with the questions all over again. I don’t think Les Turner ever understood our reasoning. To him, I was supposed to have the private office because I was in charge of something.

The Lineup Project ran for 2-3 years. It was about then that The Hill began to acquire business computers, so they took things over. That was fine with me.

I might make a comment about the LINEUP Project. Employee numbers, as used at the Lab, were a function of the alphabet. The university had painstakingly developed an alphabetic sieve. Well, with a name like “Abbott” my personal and salary records were right up near the front of the file. The LINEUP staff quickly adopted the practice of using my records for all of their tests. I had to get over whatever feelings of insecurity I might have had of others knowing my salary. Those were the days when salary was a big, deep, dark secret around the Lab.

The end of the LINEUP Project also marked the time that Livermore really began to expand its own computational posture.

GAM: What was this time frame? Can you remember the year, perhaps?

BA: Well, actually, I can narrow it down considerably. It had to be that Lineup started probably about 1956, and ran for maybe three years. When I left the Lineup project, the PDP-1 came into the picture.

GAM: That would be 1960 or ’61?

BA: I think it must have been 1958 or 1959. I remember four things, in terms of my responsibilities after leaving weapon codes. First there was Lineup; then there was the DEC PDP-1; followed by the IBM 1401; and finally then there was the CDC 6600, and GOB. GOB was completed sometime around 1965, because I left in ’66, or something like that.

The PDP-1 was a lot of fun. It was purchased simply as a vehicle for converting from one medium to another.

We went to Maynard, Massachusetts, to the home of Digital Equipment, Corp. I stayed there from March to May, an awfully long time, living in Concord, Massachusetts. We worked at night and on weekends, checking the PDP-1 out.

I wrote great gobs of software from the operating system to the Utilities. The Utilities could convert anything from one medium to any other medium. In other words, everything needed to make the silly thing run in the first place. It was really a utility tree to which you could attach the various utilities.

When it finally passed all of its factory acceptance tests, it was shipped to the Lab, reassembled, and ran another set of acceptance tests.

The PDP-1 was loaded with I/O devices. A high-speed card reader; an IBM card punch; a paper tape punch; a paper tape reader, which resembled a bat when it ran, we called it the Bat-Wing Reader; 2 UNIVAC tape drives; 2 IBM tape drives; a high-frame-rate camera that could be used both for making film as well as for reading film; a high-speed printer; and finally, it had the George Michael mobile eyeball.

GAM: Yes, and also it had the direct view CRT.

BA: Well, that’s what I meant by the mobile eyeball. The PDP-1 was quite an undertaking. It had more memory, more I/O devices than any other PDP-1. It was somewhat crippled in that we were using I/O devices that were really pushing the state-of-the-art at that time.

As an example, the card reader was supposed to be rated at 2,100 cards per minute. I don’t think you can find a 2,100 card-a-minute reader even today. Not that cards are even used anymore, but I don’t think there ever was one above 1,400 to 1,600 cards per minute.

GAM: That was the Uptime card reader. It was outrageously fast then.

BA: You are exactly right! It was the Uptime card reader but it spent most of its time down. It was manufactured somewhere in Colorado.

It was really a crude-looking device. It had a long input card tray, and a long output card tray. Other than that, it just didn’t look like anything else. It was two long card trays with a reading mechanism in between. Even today it reminds me of a helicopter. A helicopter always makes me wonder what it will look like when they finally perfect it.

During the acceptance test at Livermore there were a number of problems with the card reader. Because of the problems, I had built a test mechanism into my programs. The test mechanism could vary the speed of the card reader. I could slow it down to one card per minute, or speed it up to 2,100 cards per minute by setting the delay time between consecutive reads. The delay time was controlled through the sense switches on the console.

The variable speed was the only way we could make it work until the manufacturer was able to tune it properly. The sense switches were like an accelerator pedal. I could make it go from “tick – tick – tick” to “vrrr-rrr-ooom”!

During the acceptance test, the Uptime salesman was feeling good, because we were in the last few minutes of the continual read test for the card reader. He had even gotten his cigar out, and was chomping on it. I backed-up to the PDP-1 console, put my finger on the most significant bit of the Sense Switch array, and just flipped it off and on right quick. Of course, that made the card reader hiccup. It scared the pants off the salesman! He even dropped his cigar on the floor and accidentally stepped on it before he realized that I had been simply playing a small joke on him. He did not think it was so funny.

GAM: I remember there would be a fountain of cards coming out when that thing malfunctioned; up in the air-eight feet or so!

BA: Yes, that’s right.

I was in Maynard, Massachusetts from February until May, with only a few opportunities to return home while checking out the PDP-1. We stayed over in Concord, Massachusetts at the famous Concord Inn. We lived there almost the entire time. The only times we had to move out were because there were some tradition-bound affairs with reservations into the next century. We’d go to a “Ho-Jo” (Howard Johnson) for the weekend, and then move right back into The Concord Inn.

The Concord Inn still has this great little postage-stamp bar. The liquor laws of Massachusetts were such that you could buy all the drinks you wanted, but at 2 o’clock the hotel closed and locked the serving portion of the bar, with all of the liquor inside. People were free to finish their drinks and then leave, even if it took until noon the next day to finish. Since we used to work from 4 or 5 o’clock in the evening until 1 or 2 in the morning, this was very convenient for us. We would typically roll in there about one o’clock in the morning, order a bunch of drinks, and sit there. We would debrief each other, take notes, make plans, and so on. Sometimes it would be four or five o’clock in the morning before we’d go to bed. We had a grand old time!

The others in the group were Lloyd Mish, who we called “Old Mish-Mash.” The last I heard he was in Phoenix, working for General Electric, as I recall. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him. Then there was Barbara. You remember, the woman that lived way up Vasco Road, in a house that she and her husband built with their own two hands?

GAM: Oh, Barbara Schell. Well, there also was Dorothy Monk. Do you remember her?

BA: Yes, Dorothy came into the picture later. Barbara spent some time with us in Boston. She didn’t stay nearly as long as Lloyd and myself. Lloyd and I were there for the duration.

The camera on the PDP-1 had a high frame-rate. I don’t remember the number of frames. Fairchild Camera, of Los Angeles, manufactured it. That damn camera was not light tight!

GAM: Well, one of them was 30 frames a second. But the first camera we had on the PDP-1 was built by Vought.

BA: You are right! That was the non-light-tight camera.

GAM: That was a terrible camera.

BA: If it was a camera, it was supposed to be light-tight by definition. How on earth they could build such a thing? We had to put the camera in a dark room just to use it. The inside of the room was painted a flat black. Everything in the room was black; there were no reflective surfaces whatsoever. There were double curtains over the entrance to the room. The door had to have a double edge on it so that it sealed itself whenever the door was closed.

BA: At any rate, the whole idea behind the PDP-1 was that you could prepare a tape on the UNIVAC or an IBM machine; bring the tape over to the PDP-1 and print the tape; punch cards; write another tape; or make a movie. The camera also had the property that, with a split plenum in front of the lens system, you could either make movies or you could put film in there and read the film. This was not the mobile eyeball. This was the original eyeball; simply a…

GAM: A flying spot digitizer. That was the eyeball that Hardy and I first proposed. The mobile eyeball, which never really worked, came slightly later.

BA: A computer-controlled spot which was directed through a lens system, striking a photomultiplier. Gray scale could be read off of the photomultiplier. You could judiciously scan a film frame from 0,0 in the upper left-hand corner down to 4095,4095 in the lower right-hand corner of the Cathode Ray Tube (CRT). To demonstrate the potential of this medium, we used to digitize the Mona Lisa, and assign some algorithm to reproduce the gray scale. We would then use the plotter to produce a new Mona Lisa, having gone through the system and back out again. Oh boy! Oh joy!

GAM: I should add that Phil Peterson while at MIT’s Lincoln Lab also invented an eyeball, and he scanned a slide of the Mona Lisa that was played back on a 30 inch Cal Comp plotter. Copies of that playback circulated all over the country.

BA: You are correct, I even have one of those hanging in my house to this day.

GAM: The PDP-1 was located in the same building as was the original UNIVAC I. But, by then, the LARC (Livermore Automatic Research Computer) was there in its building next door.

Was it your opinion that the PDP-1 was nice to program?

BA: All DEC machines were easy to program from my point of view.

GAM: Yes, I certainly agree with that. That’s what you want.

BA: Now, if you weren’t a real programmer, then it was not a nice machine. It had a neat interrupt structure, even though it was limited compared to, say, the interrupt structure of a VAX today. Interrupts on the PDP-1 weren’t vectored, for instance. Each time the PDP-1 received an interrupt, you had to go service it. That meant you had to determine which one of the many devices caused the interrupt. Whereas, in a vectored interrupt, you know which one it was, and you’re automatically transferred to the I/O drivers servicing that particular interrupt.

So, going on, my next assignment was, in essence, to repeat some of the functions of the PDP-1 on the IBM 1401. The 1401 was IBM’s answer to the universal input-output device. It came into being because of the Batch Monitor which was the operating system O/S on the IBM main frames of that time period (e.g., 704, 709, 7080, etc.). Using the 1401 to put cards on tape made for faster input to the IBM mainframes. Similarly, going from tape-to-card or tape-to-printer provided faster output without slowing the Main Frames down. The Batch Monitor was Hans Bruijnes’ special domain.

The Lab’s 1401 was an early model 1401. Its serial number was less than 100. Tens of thousands of 1401s were manufactured. The low numbered 1401s were actually different from the others. Changes were made in the hardware of the later 1401s. As I recall, the add instruction, as well as some other instructions, were changed.

The 1401 became a huge seller for IBM. There was a program named Report Generator (RPG). The commercial sector loved RPG. When the 1401 came to the end of its time, the commercial sector wrote 1401 simulators to run on IBM 700 and7000 series as well as on the IBM 360 line. I’m willing to bet that there are 1401 simulators running on IBM machines even today. Many companies lost the original source code but continued to rely on RPG output to run their companies.

My approach to getting the 1401 ready was to write a 1401 simulator that ran on the IBM Main Frames. The simulator let me use the 1401 assembly program. Then, I wrote all of the card-to-tape, tape-to-this, tape-to-that utility programs. The simulator allowed me to debug assembly errors and certain first order errors of execution.

Prior to receiving our 1401, IBM put a 1401 in its San Francisco office for customer use in preparing for delivery of their 1401s. The Lab was given some small number of hours on this 1401. I wanted one hour right off the bat. After all, my simulator showed everything to be working. The hour of time would be used for assembling and check-out. Then I would return to Livermore, tweak whatever needed it, and I would be ready for delivery of our 1401.

An entourage of hangers-on accompanied me to San Francisco. They needed an excuse to drink some beer at Schroeder’s German Restaurant. Bud Wishing, Ed Miller, and three others went with me. It was one grand boondoggle. Especially since I was the only one who was going to do some work. For the record, they were all working on the 1401, even though they did not know how to turn it on (neither did I, for that matter.)

So, there I am, trying to do business with these guys hanging around. To make matters worse, the IBM data center manager is a great big Asian fellow. He wants to meet this idiot who wants a whole hour of 1401 time for his first shot. “Don’t you know everybody else takes five minutes for the first shot. The machine is very fast. You are going to bomb out on an error in the first minute of time!”

He goes on and on. I’m trying to keep my spirits up. My “doo-wah girls” (the hangers-on) all saying: “Don’t worry about it. Bob can handle it.” All the while they are laughing it up. None of this is doing any good towards helping the data center manager’s temper. After all, he worked for IBM. In those days, IBM did not have much of a sense of humor.

Finally, its my turn on the machine. My first step is to assemble. I had lots of programs. I assemble them all without a hitch. The Asian dude is standing there waiting for me to fail. When everything assembles, he’s really disgusted.

So now I go into execution. The program bombs out right away. The Asian guy and his buddies are just falling out all over the place, all the while saying, “See, I told you so.” Even though we were about 15 minutes into our time; even though everything had assembled, without exception; he is still yucking it up. He says he is going to cancel out my time, and that I can call him next week to reschedule.

I ask that my time not be canceled. Until our time had passed, I considered it to still be mine. I asked if there was an office where I can do some debugging. He said, “Take all the time you need. Ha-ha.”

While I am figuring things out, my Doo-Wah girls are bugging me to hurry-up because it is getting close to lunch-time. Somebody suggested that they leave me alone so that I could get it done. My ever-loving friend Bud Wirsching says: “No, he works best with some background noise. He likes the noise!” The yucking continued.

Suddenly, I grab the printouts, and charge out of the office. The Doo-Wah girls are right behind me saying: “This ought to be good.” I burst into the Asian guy’s office. He looks up, and says, “Want to cancel the rest of your time for today? Ha, ha, ha!” Some of the IBMers as well as the Doo-Wah girls are all crowding into the office to see the show.

I had two questions. He says, “What are the questions?” I said: “Does this 1401 have the multiply-divide feature? The smile disappears from his face, and he says, “Yes.” I said: “My second question is: Is the multiply-divide working today?” His face fell as he said, “No.” I said, “Thank you. You may do what you wish with the rest of the time.” And we all left for Schroeder’s German restaurant to drink beer.

The next week, when I returned for the rest of my time, the Asian guy was nowhere to be seen. He didn’t want to be bothered. All of my programs ran perfectly.

GAM: Do you remember when you released FORTRAN on the 1401?

BA: No, I didn’t have anything to do with that.

GAM: You did so, because you sent a memo around where, interlarded in the memo was the phrase, “practice coexistence…… practice coexistence.”

BA: I remember that! I remember that! You’re right!

GAM: Yes. And down at the end of the memo it says, “Coexistence means don’t call Bob Abbott.”

BA: I do remember that! But when I say it didn’t have anything to do with it, what I really meant is, it was IBM’s FORTRAN.

GAM: I understand.

BA: And all I did was make it available if anybody was dumb enough to use it, they could use it!

GAM: Right.

BA: There was COBOL, too, but nobody used that.

But to go back a few years, when I was still programming the UNIVAC. There was good old “Creepy Crawly”, Bob Cralle, who always contrives to let you know that he’s just a little bit smarter than you are in whatever it is he’s talking to you about. He and I got into a flap about something. It had to do with debugging. He said, “Well, you can’t tell where you are without looking at the Program Counter.” And I said, “Oh, no, that’s not true.”

After some discussion, we made a bet. I don’t remember all of the details, but as I recall, I was quite sure that I could tell where a UNIVAC program had stopped, without benefit of the Program Counter. Cralle wanted to bet me a dollar that I couldn’t.

We went into the UNIVAC room. We each put up a dollar on top of the UNIVAC the console. Cralle started one of his programs. I stood on the back side while he stood in front of the console. He stopped the computer. Still behind the console, I asked for the contents of the Add Register, the Multiply-Divide register, and two other registers whose names I can’t remember. I also asked for his code. As I came around to the front of the console, he put his hand over the Program Counter to hide it from me.

I examined his code closely while referring to the register contents. After a few minutes, I said, “You stopped here.” Well, by golly, that was exactly where it had stopped. But, true to the recognized Cralle form, he immediately asked me which instruction it had stopped on. After all, I should not be allowed to be exactly correct. He had to be at least a little bit superior.

The question was valid, since the UNIVAC held two instructions per word. I cheated a little bit in that I peeked at the console out of the corner of my eye. Even though his hand was still covering the Program Counter, I could see the Cycle Counter that read Beta Time. So I told him it had stopped on the second instruction. He had to pay me the dollar.

As you will recall, the UNIVAC’s time cycles were Alpha Time, advance the Program Counter;; Beta Time, decode the instructions and fetch the memory references; Gamma Time, execute the first instruction; and Delta Time, execute the second instruction. I don’t think he knew much about the Cycle Counter.

I think it was the only time I ever got the better of Cralle.

How about one more story about the UNIVAC? One time there was a labor strike. One of the labor unions went on strike. They threw up picket lines and signs. No union person would cross the lines. This presented a strange problem to the Lab. You will remember all too well, that Livermore water in those days tasted terrible. This applied to the whole town and area as well as to the Lab. Most people used bottled water to drink and to cook with. Livermore Valley well water contained an overabundance of metallic salts, and other unattractive tastes.

At the Lab, there was a specialized need for deionized water. Actually, there were two different plumbing systems at the Lab. One system piped well water, while the other system piped deionized water. The UNIVAC was a refrigerated, water-cooled computer. Refrigerated water circulated through the walls of the UNIVAC. As you will recall, the UNIVAC was big enough to walk in. We used to keep our lunches in there, because it was the only cold place at the Lab. If you opened the door to the UNIVAC, you would see little bowls of potato salad and other lunch makings sitting there on the floor of the UNIVAC.

Back to the water problem. One of the feeds off of the deionized water piping system went through the UNIVAC, providing the basic refrigerant.

When the union went on strike, the deionized water trucks couldn’t get through. Plant Engineering was desperately trying to conserve what little bit of deionized water they had left. So, somebody threw the switch that fed Livermore well water to the UNIVAC.

After a couple of days, the UNIVAC dropped power. I mean, it just went “splat” in the middle of somebody’s program execution. In those days, and still today, around big machines, when power drops, everybody runs to the computer room to see if they can help. A power drop is always an operational disaster. Everybody heard the cry, “Power drop!” The computer room immediately filled up with people.

Usually, the engineers would check a few things, throw the switch, and everybody would go on about their business. When they threw the switch, it ran for about three minutes, and crashed again. They tried a few more times with the same results. Finally, it reached the point where throwing the switch failed to bring any power on line at all. I mean, it wouldn’t even hold power.

So, then, they had to pull a complete diagnostic. When that failed to reveal anything, they started tearing the UNIVAC apart. Although the UNIVAC did indeed consist of removable modules, the darn modules were two or three feet long, with huge knurled-handled screws that screwed the boards into the back frame.

It was noticed that there was a grayish deposit around the terminal points where the modules connected into the back plane. Somebody thought to send a sample out for analysis. As it turned out, the grayish deposits were metallic salts. The salts were electrically conductive thereby grounding the power out. The analysis also showed that the salts were from Livermore well water.

Well, how the hell did that happen, they asked? Where did the well water come from? The answer led them to the culprit down in Plant Engineering. The switch was reset, and the UNIVAC water system was flushed out. Even with the switch back in the correct position, the problem remained as to how to cleanse the UNIVAC of the conductive salts.

In order to get rid of the deposited salts, they decided to give the UNIVAC a bath! Chemistry came over with tubs of dilute hydrochloric acid, and tubs of distilled water. Everyone pitched in, donning rubber aprons and gloves. The modules of the UNIVAC were dipped in the dilute hydrochloric acid, then dipped in distilled water, dipped it more distilled water, air-dried with compressed air, scraped with steel brushes, and then put back into the UNIVAC. Every board was taken out of the UNIVAC, washed and put back! It took three days.

GAM: Do you remember when the bolt of lightning hit the power supply? It blew every grasshopper fuse in the machine!

BA: Yes. Do you recall the early weapons development days? I took over the one-dimensional hydrodynamic codes from Jules Mercell? Do you remember Jules Mercell?

GAM: Yes, I remember Jules Mercell.

BA: Let’s call the code names A, B and C. We used to take eight-hour runs for a hydro-code. Sometimes we even had to tend the run. I endured a lot of 4 P.M. to Midnight or Midnight to 8 A.M. runs. During the winters, everything would run fine until about 5:30 or 5:45 A.M. Then, people in the town of Livermore began to get up, turn their lights on, turn on their coffee pots, and plug in their toasters.

If you were to watch the circular graph that plotted power flow into the computer, you would see a gradual power decline. We would stand there many a morning hoping that our program would complete its cycle before 7:30 A.M. By 7:30 A.M., the power would drop, if it dropped at all.

Sid finally got a motor-generator set to eliminate the power fluctuations to the UNIVAC.

GAM: Yes. I remember that was one of their great motivations for setting up a dedicated power station at the Lab.

BA: Yes, indeed. Here we are recalling stories of the old UNIVAC days. I seem to remember a particular person during those early Lab days. Val something. Val Christian! Was that the guy’s name? Do you remember somebody by that name?

GAM: Yes.

BA: He believed that anybody could write programs. Specifically, you didn’t need a degree. Now let’s remember that this was the early-days in computing (1956?). Compilers had not yet been invented. Today is different. His concept sort of works today.

Val managed to convince somebody of his belief that he could train anybody to program. So, he set about hiring high school graduates for training. To make a long story short, his project failed, but the Lab was stuck with Val’s hires. My good friend, Sid Fernbach gave one of Val’s hires to me. I was supposed to make use of her on Lineup.

She was quite attractive and knew it, but she wasn’t able to get things done; she always had special problems. I wasn’t able o get her to do any work, much less even get to work on time.

When I complained about not having enough staff, Sid countered that he had assigned this person. When I said she was not useful, he finally told me what I had to do. He said that I had to either “use her or lose her,” that is to say, get rid of her. Fire her. Otherwise, I was stuck with her. I think that was the first time that Sid got me to fire somebody, but it was definitely not the last time.

So, I documented her work products and habits; when she came to work; and when she left work. I would set objectives, that is to say, deliverables, and a date by which she should get them done. I would ask her to set a date. Whenever she set a date, I would say, “Now, take into account that, your broken leg’s mending, and you have go to the doctor,” or something to do with whatever her current problems were.

I would negotiate a date that was comfortable for her. Then I’d say, “Well, why don’t I give you another week beyond that?” I would write that date down in my bound, Laboratory notebook, in her presence, so she could see me writing it down. As you know, when properly used, a bound notebook with numbered pages constitutes a legal document.

Finally, I would give her another week beyond whatever due date we had negotiated. When that date came due, I would go and ask her for the deliverable. The deliverable, whatever it was, was never ready.

I did this 3-4 times. Then I summarized it and showed it to her. I indicated that this would never get her a raise, that she really owed it to herself to resign and seek another job. I gave her a month’s time off, with pay, to hunt for a job.

She got a job as an executive assistant to some fellow at one of the DOE contractors in Las Vegas. Her job included traveling with this person to cities around the United States, going out to the Nevada Test Site, and whatever other duties that were perhaps not specified in the job description. She was making more money than she was making at the Lab, with much less work than what she was doing at the Lab.

As I recall, it was 18 months before you could enter her office without smelling some perfume residue! Those were back in the days when we were still in the hospital barracks.

GAM: Yes, Building 161.

BA: The Lab was a lot of fun in those days. A lot of work was done. People stayed late at night and worked on weekends, because the work was both fun and interesting. Everyone was learning so much. The horseplay was ingenious.

The offices in the enlisted men’s wing of the hospital consisted of metal and glass partitions, metal to the waist and glass up above. The glass did not extend all the way to the ceiling. At about 1/3 of the distance along the wing was a horizontal partition which went almost all of the way up to the ceiling. That partition also had a metal door in the center of the hallway. With that one exception, the hallway ran unobstructed down the center of the entire wing, with offices on both sides.

We purchased a big, rubbery, wiggly spider from a magic-joke store. We then set up a labyrinth of eye hooks screwed into the hallway ceiling on both sides of the metal door. The spider was tied to one end of a thin black thread and raised to the ceiling in a position which was blind to anyone walking through the door. The thread was then passed through the eye hooks, down along the outside wall of one of the offices. A counter weight was tied to the office end of the thread. Marks were made on the wall for the counter-weight positions corresponding to the spider (1) at ceiling level, and (2) at eye level of anyone walking through the metal door. False threads were strung through the remaining eye-hooks to misdirect anyone trying to trace the other end of the spider thread.

A specific protocol was established: When a person, walking down the hallway, reached a certain point just before passing through the metal doorway, someone in the office on the far side of the door would casually address a remark to another person on the spider side of the door. The remark would contain a key phrase. Upon hearing the key phrase, the counter-weight would be moved from spider-rest down to eye-level. The person walking through the door would let out a loud yelp or some other four-letter word. We would all fall about with laughter.

GAM: You scared them pretty good.

BA: Yes! All of this was just fine until one day, Bob Mainhardt, an assistant Manager was leading a group of dignitaries on a tour. The phrase-giver looked up just in time to see that someone was passing the critical hallway point. The key phrase was given even as the giver returned his eyes to his work without bothering to recognize whoever it was that was going through the doorway.

The spider was dropped; Mainhardt let out an, “Oh, my God!” and hit the floor! The spider was retracted. We all stood up to see what had happened. We had never had such a violent reaction. Mainhardt was as white as a sheet. The dignitaries were attending to his prostrate form.

When he finally recovered, Mainhardt didn’t appreciate our little joke not one little bit. He stood there staring up at the ceiling, trying to figure out who was guilty. Because of our misdirection, he couldn’t tell who had done it. But that was the purpose of all the hooks in the first place.

GAM: Right.

BA: He came back later that day after the dignitaries had left, and he said, “You guys have quite a little fun fest here, don’t you?” And it wasn’t too long after that that he forced all of us to move. I’m sure he had found some administrative justification, but we really did have lots of fun.

GAM: I remember the spider.

BA: Do you also remember John Kimlinger? And also Bill Carr? We put signs up on their doors. One sign said “Honest John, Used Car Dealer.” The other door said “Honest Car, Used John Dealer.”

GAM: You had one sign on Nevin Sherman’s glass partition, too. It said “Slothus Americanus.”

BA: Yes! And in those days, everybody commuted. I shouldn’t say everybody, but at least seventy-five percent of the Lab employees commuted. The rule of thumb was, thirty miles or one hour’s drive. If it was beyond those limits, then people didn’t commute.

There were many, many carpools. All of them were full of scientists with an hour to kill. Inevitably, the carpools engaged in the playing of games of one sort or another. In our carpools, we used to pose problems of a scientific nature: physics, math, whatever. The rules were that you couldn’t use paper and pencil, and you could only work on the problem while in the carpool.

You could think out loud, or discuss the problem, or whatever. All solutions had to be put forth there in the carpool. It was just a way of passing the time of day.

One of the problems proposed, I’ve forgotten who posed it. The problem statement was:

Assume that automobile traffic is flowing smoothly at, say, sixty miles an hour (the speed really didn’t matter). Each car was separated, front and back, by the legally allowed safety space from its nearest neighbor. The lead vehicle comes to a panic stop. All following vehicles come to a safe panic stop without crashing into each other. The question was, “What is the velocity of the stop wave as it proceeds in the negative direction along the freeway?”


We worked on that for some extended period of time. I think we even infected other carpools with that particular one. They, too, were working on it. The carpools were a constant source of enjoyment and good humor, bon hommie, and all of that.

There was a great incident involving one of the carpools. This had to do with an old barn near where the one room schoolhouse used to be. The place would be opposite where the Livermore Airport is now. Year after year, this barn became more and more weathered. They never seemed to paint it. Also, year after year, it leaned a little bit farther to the right, but it never seemed to fall down.

The carpools took to making annual bets as to the date that the barn would fall down. Each person in each carpool picked a date. I have forgotten whether the bet was a nickel or a penny. Each year the bet was renewed. This went on for some years. The darn thing seemed to never fall down.

Finally, one morning, it was down. Since it hadn’t been down during the previous evening’s commute, it must have fallen during that night.

On the morning of the barn’s demise, the driver of one of the carpools, a mechanical engineer named “Red”, won the barn bet in that carpool. On the way home that evening, Red stopped his carpool by the roadside next to the fallen barn property. Without saying a word, Red got out of the car, and seemingly strolled aimlessly back and forth, in the twenty yards between the road and the barn, looking intently at the ground, and kicking occasionally at the grass.

Finally, Red bent over and picked up a sledgehammer. He returned to the carpool, opened his trunk, threw in the sledgehammer, got back in, and drove off, all without saying a word.

There were always the jokesters in the carpools. There was a fellow who we were talking about just the other day, Bob “Creepy” Cralle.

Creepy Crawly, ever the intellectual, contrived a little prank. He hypothesized one day that the guards didn’t know what they were doing at the Lab. To prove this point, he traded badges with Bob Pexton. They went through the gate, after showing their badges to the guard. In those days the main gate was in Building 162, the old Administration Building.

The entering procedure was to hold out your badge to the guard. The guard held one corner of the badge while comparing the picture on the badge to your face. The guard would then release the badge, you walked through the turnstile, and went on about your business. The guards were trained to check general facial characteristics. The distance between your eyes; the shape of your ears; the length of the ears compared to your cheekbone. All of this was in contrast to actually examining the picture and your face.

Bob Pexton went through the turnstile first, with Cralle’s badge. Then Cralle went through with Pexton’s badge. As soon as he had taken two steps inside, he said in a loud, casual voice, “Hey, Bob! You must have my badge, because I have yours!” All hell broke loose.

GAM: Well, you know, one time Sid’s future wife, Leona Schloss, and Glenn Culler exchanged badges, and they got through, too!

BA: I never heard that one before!

Cralle was quite a prankster. He got his carpool embroiled in something one day. They were traveling at the speed limit, when a cop went past us. His red light was not turned on. Furthermore, he appeared to have no apparent destination. In other words, the cop was speeding.

Cralle, always on a quest for justice or, to correct injustice, was really irritated that the police could speed and get away with it. So, he sped up. He must have been driving in his carpool that day. They motioned the cop over to the side of the road. The cop stopped.

Cralle jumps out and asks the cop where he’s going, was he responding to an emergency, and so forth. When the cop replied, “No,” Cralle proceeded to place him under citizen’s arrest, and wanted to file charges, and all of that. Of course, Cralle was prohibited from driving his carpool for several weeks thereafter.

GAM: Great story.

BA: Cralle was always so opinionated. Did you noticed that quality about him?

GAM: Well, he’s a very opinionated guy, there’s no question. He certainly knows a lot, so you can’t take that away from him.

BA: Oh, no. You can’t just argue with him on principle. You have to be right.

GAM: You have to be at least as informed as he is, or close to it. Look, Bob, we haven’t talked about RISOS yet. We talked a little bit about GOB.

BA: Before we get to RISOS, do you remember SHARE?

GAM: Certainly!

BA: SHARE was organized as an organization of IBM customers. They could come together and share knowledge and problems both among themselves and with IBM. IBM sponsored the group and provided the venue and amenities necessary for such a convention.

Share determined to define the standard IBM machine. In establishing a standard IBM machine it meant that software, even though there were not software providers like they are now, stood some chance of being transferable to someone else’s machine. This primarily meant subroutines as compared to applications.

At any rate, SHARE made up the standard. The original standard was expressed as some amount of memory, two channels, 8 tape drives, a printer, and so on. The only problem was that only one standard machine was ever purchased. Everybody else bought bigger machines.

Phillips Petroleum, in Barttelsville, Oklahoma, bought the only standard computer. The Board of Directors at Phillips got involved in the decision to buy their computer. When the request to buy a computer came through, the Board demanded to know what they should be buying. They found out about the SHARE standard, and refused to buy anything beyond that. It wouldn’t run anything, because nobody wrote for the standard!

Bob Hughes, commonly referred to as Bob Huge, was involved in SHARE. He was called Bob Huge because he is physically large. He was big enough to be offered a tryout as center on the Cleveland Browns right out of college. He turned it down. Bob likes his body just the way it is. Even though Western Reserve scrimmaged with the Browns, there was no way he was ever going to walk across the street from Western Reserve and try out. This was back before Case and Western Reserve were joined together.

Bob Hughes should have a place in history, by the way. He went to the first meetings of the IBM machine users’ group. They were struggling for a name. And the discussion for a name went on and on. Finally, Bob couldn’t stand it any longer. He was out of patience with the length of the discussion. So he said, “I don’t understand what the problem is. All we want to do is SHARE.” And that became the name!

GAM: Oh, that’s great!

BA: Yes, he gave SHARE its name. It wasn’t a committee who named it! Bob named it.

GAM: Good. The father of SHARE.

BA: Did you know that?

GAM: No, I didn’t know that.

BA: Bob Huge went to New York City on the 701. And I guess Hans was in that crowd, and some other people whose names I’ll never remember. But there was one guy who was California born and bred. I don’t remember his name, but he was going to “New York City.” He showed up at the airport with his luggage. It consisted of a brown Safeway paper bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a spare white shirt. He was dressed in his khakis, and in the other white shirt, shoes, and socks. Going to New York City.

Well, Bob Hughes, having spent time back east, knew damn well what he had to do to be accepted in New York City, and that included going early so he could rent himself a blue serge suit. He also bought a pair of shoes, and some white shirts and ties.

This, of course, was totally foreign to the Lab. Everyone wore sandals and Bermuda shorts, and whatever the hell was close to the front of the closet that day. But Bob knew how to get along in New York City. So, there he is traveling with this ragtag group from Livermore. The ladies were in “wash dresses,” as compared to “dressy” dresses, marching in and out of IBM World Headquarters in the financial district of New York City.

To illustrate this absurdity, on day one, they walked into IBM to use time on the IBM computer, which was prominently displayed in the ground-floor window. It had windows on two sides so everybody could see this marvelous product. IBM took one look at that group and drew the blinds. As a matter of fact, whenever they were on the machine, the blinds were closed, so nobody could see these uncouth individuals who didn’t know how to dress!

Well, Bob Hughes, of course, was the only one in a shirt and tie. So, everybody assumed he was the leader, and everybody always went to him for anything dealing with this group, even though he was not the project leader. They just assumed he was, because he was the only one who knew how to dress.

To further illustrate how far in left field these people were, both men and women, really could not go into many restaurants dressed as they were. It wasn’t that a suit and tie was so much de rigeur, but it was required that you dressed a certain way. So, they had to eat in the cheap joints. Bob, of course, would have nothing to do with them. He always had some excuse. He never told them what was going on, because he knew that they would not understand. He’d leave the hotel before they did. He would get his own cab. He would not go anywhere in the time vicinity of those people.

The group also had to up to Poughkepsie, to use time on another IBM machine. I think what actually happened was World Headquarters decided that they didn’t want this ragtag group around anymore. So they shipped them off to Poughkeepsie.

This meant they had to go to Grand Central Station and take the train. Again, being from Livermore, and not knowing the way the rest of the world works, these people formed a human chain and passed the luggage from the hotel to the cabs, and then from the cabs into the station. Then they took turns marshaling the luggage (including tapes, card decks, and manuals). In other words, it was more than any one person could handle.

BA: Even if every person carried a maximum load,, there was still too much stuff. Bob, of course, was already on the train in another car. You should get Bob to tell you about that trip. He had nothing but contempt for the entourage. In his rented blue serge suit!

GAM: Rented, blue serge suit! Oh, this is a great story.

BA: Bob certainly knew what he was doing. The final blow came the group was forced to put their luggage into baggage car. They had refused all Red Cap help. But the railroad rules were such that they had to have luggage tags on everything placed in the luggage car. Red Caps had to be used for this purpose. The head Red Cap let them know, in no uncertain terms, that Red Caps had to load the luggage, or no train ride today!

In spite of this, the group assisted in handing the luggage to the Red Caps who put on the luggage tags and loaded the luggage. Then the group generously collected some pennies, nickels, and dimes to give as a tip. The Red Cap looked at it and said, “Well, I don’t know what you want me to do with this, but you owe the railroad more money!” It turned out that the railroad charged twenty-five cents per bag for the tags. Even though they argued with him, they had to pony up that money and, of course, no tip for the Red Caps, because they didn’t think it was right.

As a point of information, the railroad required that Red Caps buy the tags from the railroad, and then resell them to the passenger.

Bob Hughes had already settled himself in another car, away from these country bumpkins.

GAM: The only person I can think of who would show up with a bag for his luggage would be Norman.

BA: It wasn’t Norman. I distinctly remember that he was not a part of that group. He wasn’t even at the Lab at that time.

GAM: That’s true. He came in ’56 or so.

GAM: Well, there were similar stories when the guys first went up on the first 7090 or something like that. You know, the Livermore Ragtags show up, and they proceed to rape the machine.

BA: Yes! Oh, yes. The card reader story.

GAM: Yes!

BA: Yes, I remember that! I wasn’t there, but I remember that. The card reader broke down. The IBM engineer strolled over to the telephone to call the repair people. The Lab crew had the skins off and the guts of the card reader laid out on the floor before the engineer could finish the phone call! Before he could finish protesting, they had it fixed and running again. IBM just didn’t know what to do with a customer who repaired the card reader.

GAM: Well, you know, it was just wonderful you could do things like that then. And I must say, it was generally agreed that we knew more about the machine than the salesmen did.

BA: And apparently all the operators, too!

GAM: That’s quite true. Norman and I used to sit and read the logic drawings in the big books that they have.

BA: Yes, I used to do that on the UNIVAC. I was disenchanted with the IBM stuff.

GAM: That was fun to learn how they did stuff, you know?

BA: Oh, hell, I took the UNIVAC logic course given by Lou Nofrey. Sometimes I would have to assist on an engineering maintenance shift before I could get my production time on the UNIVAC. I could hang probes with the best of them, and did!

GAM: Well, the UNIVAC used nylon fishing line for the tape servos and stuff like that. It was a little beyond me. I didn’t like all that stuff. I could barely S.C.I.C.R., as we called it. Do you remember that?

BA: Yes. Those were good times. After the PDP-1 and the 1401, I decided that I needed a six-month vacation from work. Today, that work would identify me as a system programmer, but then the term had not been invented. My vacation decision was not shared with anyone. I simply decided that I would avoid the next round of Sid’s hardware acquisitions. This was a unilateral decision by myself.

GAM: An Abbott decision.

BA: By Abbott! So, Abbott is off hiding from Fernbach, because Abbott knew that the CDC 6600 was going to be purchased. Even though I was free, I just did not want to work on it. I didn’t want Sid to know that I was free. So, I was doing busy work. I would go up on the hill. I would do anything to appear busy. I was really just busy disappearing.

Then I heard that CERN (Compagnie Europa Research National) had bought a 6600. My child-like reasoning went something like this: “CERN is buying a 6600. A CDC 6600 User Group would be formed. CERN would eventually host the User Group. Therefore, if I get the 6600 assignment, I could go to Switzerland.”

I suddenly became visible to Sid. Every chance I had, I was in his face.

You’ve got to understand, all of this is for naught, because Sid was going to do whatever he damn well pleased in the first place. But I was trying. I was out there! I’d walk so that he would be able to see me from his office. I was maintaining high visibility!

GAM: High visibility?

BA: At my not being busy. Well, as it turned out, it really didn’t matter, because Sid was going to come looking for me anyway. I have often thought that I acted silly.

GAM: Well, I was sort of involved in the decision to do all that, you know, of picking on you. We had spent quite a bit of time finally getting Sid to buy into the concept of Octopus, and he told me later on, “I expected it to fail.” And, because of that, he was willing to assign a crew to do it. Then, you know, you can’t be yelling at Sid because it failed. I mean, they tried their best!

Well, he was just dead wrong. Just dead wrong!

BA: He certainly was.

GAM: So, he picked you.

BA: He picked me. Then I had the problem that I didn’t know what it was, or what to do about it. I hadn’t been in any of the early discussions, so I couldn’t ramp up to speed. And the briefing that Sid gave me was almost short of nothing. He gave me very few instructions. But one of the instructions was that I was not allowed to write any of the software. He made that very clear. I was supposed to supervise them and manage, and whatever staff was given to me was supposed to write software.

That caused me a great deal of trouble. After all, I was a programmer, and I liked to program. But I wasn’t allowed to write this software. Instead, I was instructed to hire some fresh college graduates.

As I recall, there was Jenny, and Ed Nelson, and there was one other-brand new face.

GAM: Clifford Plopper?

BA: Yes! Plopper! I remember now! Golly, you’re good at this recalling bit! Clifford Plopper, that’s right. And there was Shigeru Tokubo.

GAM: And you had Fraser.

BA: And Fraser Bonnell, that’s right. None of them had worked before as programmers. So, this was my crew. In the beginning, I did not have any Lab veterans. It wasn’t until after we had proven that it would work that I got any veterans.

That crew was so green behind the ears that they didn’t know any better. They even tried to convince me to use Pascal for the project!

They believed whatever I said! I even said something like that to Sid. He said, “That’s why I gave them to you. They don’t know any better. They’ll do whatever you tell them.” Whereas with older, more mature people, would have argued about this and that. But these guys didn’t know to argue, so they just did it!

GAM: Yes. Oh, they did very well.

BA: The project began with Norman Hardy handing me a piece of paper, 8-1/2 by 11 inches. It had maybe ten lines written on it. It contained his, and your, concept of the Octopus. That was as blue sky as it could be! I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times I read that dumb sheet of paper. I just could not understand what it meant! I had absolutely no idea of what to do!

The project began with visits to the two existing attempts at developing a time-shared system. I visited Corbato, Fernando Corbato at MIT.

BA: Fernando, who married “Izzie,” Isabelle Blanford from the Lab.

BA: I toured his facility, spent three days, talked about all the problems they had when they were developing Project Mac. Following that, I went down to System Development Corporation and talked to Guy Dobbs.

BA: Guy’s assistant was a woman that I had hired for the Lab. I interviewed her at Howard University on a recruiting trip. Evelyn Andrews, that was her name. She married a fellow named Nelson d’Andre DuBois. He was a grandson of a famous person in Black History: W.E. B. DuBois. Nelson was coming to California to take his doctorate in mathematics at Cal. That was why she wanted to work at the Lab. After she graduated from Howard, they got married. He returned to Cal, and she began working at the Lab.

GAM: I remember her, too.

BA: She worked for the Lab for a little while. Then she moved on, to southern California after her husband finished his Ph.D. She was working for Guy Dobbs at System Development Corp. I had not met Guy before my visit. He and I become good friends.

Some people thought that Guy and I resembled each other. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times that people have come up to me and started talking, thinking that I was Guy. The same thing happened to Guy. It was really weird! Although both of us were Black, and both of us wore glasses, I saw no resemblance, and neither did Guy.

Guy had built a time-shared system on an ANSQ-32. As I recall, that was a militarized version of a UNIVAC 1103. Both Corbato and Dobbs used magnetic tape for their secondary storage. Tapes were the best they had. It made their systems incredibly slow.

Quite apart from the fact that I did not know what I was doing, my problem was quite different. The question was whether to rely on the new and untested magnetic disk. A company named Bryant brought this new at the time technology to market. The doubting Thomases, especially those at the Lab, questioned whether the Bryant could be relied upon for swapping.

Although it had been engineered and tested, there really was no experience in terms of mean free time between failures of reads on a Bryant disk. The only previous disk experience had been an RCA affair whose reliability was nonexistence. It was so bad, that they reduced its capacity in half by doing dual reads and writes in order to achieve a degree of reliability. Even then, the RCA wasn’t particularly reliable.

GAM: Did we have one of them? I don’t remember.

BA: Oh, no, no, no, no! The Bryant was the first disk for the Lab. I even visited RCA, who was building computers in those days, somewhere in southern California. I talked to them about their disk, which even they admitted was unreliable!

I finally decided that either the disk worked or it didn’t. And if it didn’t work, it was not my problem.

GAM: Sort of true.

BA: The only examples of a time-shared system were Corbato’s Project Mac that was defunct, at that time, It ran on an IBM 7090 at M.I.T.; and Guy Dobb’s ANSQ-32 at SDC.

GAM: No, Corbato had a Paragon 940, the SDS (Scientific Data Systems) 940.

BA: No, no, no. Time sharing on the 940 was way after GOB came up.

GAM: You’re right. You’re right.

BA: Oh, two or three years after GOB came up.

GAM: So, you had CTSS at MIT.

BA: No. No. Project MAC had been dismantled.

GAM: That was GOB.

BA: No, sir! MAC had been dismantled, and CTSS or whatever you’re telling me about…

GAM: What year are we talking about? CTSS was first, then MAC.

BA: I’m sorry. Okay, CTSS had been shut off and was not running when I went to visit Corbato.

GAM: Okay, that’s possible.

BA: And the system that they were going to replace it with was probably two years away.

GAM: That was the General Electric thing.

BA: No! No. Corbato did the-whatever that first one was-on an IBM machine.

GAM: 7094 with a special, dual-core memory.

BA: Fine, but they used tape for storage, which was the disaster, you see.

GAM: Yes.

BA: At any rate, there was no model that I could pattern anything after. Dobbs had a lot more to tell me than Corbato did, in spite of the high profile of the MIT project. Dobbs could talk to me about what really happened, versus what they were dreaming about. That is where Corbato’s was.

BA: I wanted to talk about what they had done, while Corbato wanted to talk about what they were going to do. Although I, too, wanted to know what they were going to do, I really needed a thorough analysis of what they had done. And I never got it from Corbato.

On the other hand, at SDC, I got everything. Even though I couldn’t apply any of it. First because of they lacked a disk, and I would have a disk. Second, because the hardware configuration of the single stream machines that they had used did not lend itself to thinking in terms of PPUs [1]. The CDC-6600 was a radically different machine and a radically different way of thinking about I/O.

GAM: Indeed!

BA: Anyway, I came back from all these travels, perhaps I should say travails, and still had no idea of what the hell to do! So I spent time just trying to think of what the hell to do, and how to proceed. I couldn’t even get started. I didn’t know how to start that project. I was really very depressed, and thinking about going to Sid and getting off of the project. I was really down.

About this time, we went into the Thanksgiving holiday. The day after Thanksgiving, I had to load my Volkswagen bus with my two school-age children, and my wife, and my Mother. We were bound for Macy’s Bay Fair in San Leandro.

I drove out to Macy’s with the car full of conversation. In the back of my mind, there was my problem. Nagging at me. How to approach this problem?

Then we arrived at Bay Fair, and I parked. It was like I’d been hit by a bolt of lightening: I suddenly knew what to do and how to do it! My family went shopping. I ran into the dime store, and bought a paper tablet. I went back and sat in my Volkswagen bus and drew the first flow charts for GOB [2]. My family shopped for three or four hours. I spent the whole time drawing flow charts!

GAM: That’s great.

BA: I knew instantaneously, once that lightning hit. Not all of the problems were resolved, but I knew how to proceed.

GAM: I understand.

BA: The key for me was to say to myself, “I’m sitting at a Teletype. I strike a key. What happens?” The answer to that question opened my eyes.

I mentally followed that teletype character through the wires, and into the PPUs. As an aside, you will recall that even today, when striking a key on any keyboard, the act of striking the key does NOT cause the character to appear on the carriage or on the screen. A processor processes the key strike and the processor then sends the command to display the appropriate character on the carriage or the screen.

In continuing to follow the course of the key strike, I conceived of software to process the character as it arrived at the PPUs and then into the CPU. I moved on to collecting a “message”, which is what I immediately called it: a message.

Then I sent the message response back; accumulated other messages; communicated with the CPU; started thinking about releasing the CPU to run; and had the PPUs doing this and that. It was beautiful!

I drew flow charts for I don’t know how many days. I wrote very high-level flow charts that day in the Bay Fair parking lot. The basic ideas were recorded.

Then I probably spent a month drawing what I referred to as first-level flow charts. The first-level charts were eventually given to the programmers after they were hired. I also began table definitions. I would name a table, and then write a paragraph or two about what it did, and what function(s) made use of the table. Later, I defined the meaning of each bit or byte in the table. That’s the way it came together.

I used the PDP-1. The entire specification was literally done on IBM cards. As you know, there were no word processors in those days.

GAM: Sure.

BA: I would print the cards on the PDP-1 printer. My reason was to avoid the crowd that was using the IBM 1401. Although I had written the systems for both machines, it was inconvenient to try to get in line for the 1401. I’d just go over and commandeer the PDP-1.

Of course, the rest of Computation Department began to tease me immediately. Since I had been given the Octopus assignment, the thought was that I could get Sid to buy me a new machine whenever I wanted one!

GAM: Well, you could have milked that for a little bit.

BA: Well, I tried to ignore it.

I need to give a great deal of credit to Fraser Bonnell. He developed the I/O on the PPUs. Bill Mansfield kept hanging around the project. As far as I was concerned, Mansfield was trying to destroy the project.

GAM: I don’t think he was trying consciously to destroy it.

BA: You’re right. But what he was doing was destroying.

GAM: Effectively, yes.

BA: I was glad to see him go. But Fraser really stepped in and took over all the I/O drivers. I gave him the beginning of the communication between a CPU program, and whatever the I/O structure was to be. He developed the I/O structure and wrote all the software for the PPUs. I had nothing whatsoever to do with the I/O other than at the beginning. Fraser and I spent a lot of time talking. so the system communication really worked. Fraser did a beautiful job.

While GOB was being programmed, I had to convince physicists to write applications that would use the system. And, believe me, that was a selling job! I became “Slick Willie.” I was forced to. I had to convince people that it would work. The whole concept of a time-shared or multi-user system was a very radical departure.

Another issue was the amount of memory I commandeered for GOB. There was a group of people screaming and hollering about my grabbing of the first thirty-two thousand words of core.

GAM: Let’s say 28K.

BA: That’s about right. I demanded all of the first 32K core. I demanded it.

GAM: Well, the machine was designed for that use.

BA: Hans wanted all132K for the Monitor. And I said, “Do what you want, but I’m taking it.” Indeed, his Monitor was incompatible with what we had done. After we were up and running, Hans had to change his Monitor so that it used GOB. He reverted to being one of the programs serviced by the round robin of GOB.

GAM: Ah, that I didn’t know either.

BA: The Monitor had to be rewritten. Oh, yes. How else do think the Monitor ran?

GAM: I thought he off loaded GOB?

BA: Well, in the beginning, he did.

GAM: Oh, yes.

BA: Before I gave up control of it, he had set up the Monitor as one of the ten active programs in the round robin. It was the only thing he could do. It was certainly reasonable to do it that way. He could run as many monitors as he wanted to. I could not have cared less. Besides, my intent was to turn the maintenance of GOB over to Hans. That was my plan.

GAM: A great plan?

BA: Returning to my missionary work, I had to convince not just the physicists, but also the heads of departments to let the physicists re-specify their programs. I would set up meetings with the major divisions. I forget their names: L Division, B & A, Divisions, and so on..

BA: I met with the group leaders, and physicists, and stood up there and took their slings and barbs. Trying to answer all of their questions. The questions were not always nice questions. Some of them were nasty questions, you know. Their anger was not…

GAM: I don’t think they were angry at you, you know; it’s just that this was something brand new. Heck; they fought FORTRAN just as vigorously.

BA: Well, the point is that I was the point man.

GAM: All right.

BA: It was imperative that I get at least two people to write programs.

GAM: Well, you had Charlie Springer, I think, who did some work.

BA: Yes, but I needed at least two. Look, I was testing something that’s going to run ten programs at a time, right? I needed more than one user.

GAM: Oh, I agree with that.

BA: So, I had to sell the concept of time-sharing. I would give a “sales pitch” to anyone who would sit still long enough to listen. I prepared a set of charts and viewgraphs. I was Slick Willie in the flesh. I was selling “wolf “tickets. That expression, in case you’re not familiar with it, means that if I can sell you on buying a ticket for a dollar on a dead wolf, I can sell you anything. I was selling “wolf” tickets big time.

GAM: Wolf tickets. That’s great.

BA: Fortunately, there were some people that listened, and therefore we were able to test the system.

Let’s talk a little computer science. What was interesting about GOB, even though it was a radically different system, was that it followed the same pattern of any system that I’d ever brought up. I mean, both the PDP-1 and the 1401. In the beginning, GOB wouldn’t run thirty seconds; and then it would run five minutes; and then it would run twenty minutes; and then it would run an hour. Even so, on some days it wouldn’t run an hour to save its life.

I remember one day standing in the room watching it crash, and not being able to do anything about it. It was literally shutting down before my eyes. There were all of these processes going on simultaneously, each one doing its own thing. You could see the processes breaking down, and suddenly the whole system goes “splat”!

It was fascinating! I knew what was going to happen next. I would look at this register or that table. My eyes would move from here to there. And then the whole system stops. And there was nothing I could do about it.

I remember there was one person in particular, who was particularly good at getting on my case. It was really just his frustration at not being able to get on with his work. But, boy, he could get to me. He would come to me and say: “I don’t know why I ever committed myself to this. You don’t know what you’re doing,” or “you can’t do this, and you can’t do that”, or “this is just like the programs you wrote you wrote for the 1401” and on and on.

Finally, GOB flew, and according to the bargain I struck with Sid, maintaining it beyond a fixed length of time was not my job.

BA: Hey, let’s change the subject. I want to go back to the PDP-1, and talk about the Mobile Eyeball. Oh yes, I want to talk about the Mobile Eyeball!

GAM: Oh, all right.

BA: This fellow George Michael, you may remember him George, decided that it would be a good thing to attach a mobile eyeball to the PDP-1. The Mobile Eyeball was literally a programmable television camera.

GAM: A flying spot scanner, and if it had worked it would have been a great way for producing inputs for the computers. There are such things available now, but then, it was a real turkey shoot.

BA: The intent was to acquire a device to read film that did not need a lens system coupled to a photomultiplier. That is to say, it would read film simply by looking at it. At any rate, after a Request For Proposal (RFP) was released, a division of Westinghouse was selected to manufacture this device. The Westinghouse division was located in southern California, somewhere north of Ventura as I recall. It was a long drive from LA airport.

The Lab required periodic visits to the manufacturing site to check on progress. George Michael made more visits than I did. As I recall, I only went once, maybe twice, prior to the acceptance test exercise. At any rate, as the time drew close to acceptance testing, we were beginning to see how badly this device would perform.

GAM: Yes. Well, the end result was that the device failed miserably. The only good thing to come out of it was that we learned lots about how to avoid being misled. For me personally, I learned that no matter how great an idea is and no matter how much one may want it, it takes real no-nonsense engineering to make it work. Wishing WON’T make it so.

GAM: It’s back to ARPA again.

BA: Yes. This was important in that when ARPA [3] approached the Lab to do computer security research, it was a carrot on a stick, with conditions.

BA: ARPA demanded approval of the Principal Investigator. Sid figured that the Lab didn’t have anybody that could pass muster. So, they flew my name past ARPA, unbeknownst to me.

I had already come across ARPA by the time the Lab approached me to return to the Lab, in two ways, which I was unaware of. One was that I had gone to work after the Research Data Facility for a company called Berkeley Computer Corporation, whose driving force was Mel Pirtle and some other super brilliant Ph.D.s from U.C. Berkeley who had been ARPA principal investigators.

GAM: They were on the GENIE project then.

BA: That’s correct, which was time-sharing on the SDS 940, and funded by ARPA. Since I had been a member of the Berkeley Computer Corporation, ARPA allowed that I had some credentials. The other point in Sid’s favor was that I had sat on committees with Feigenbaum from Stanford. He had written an Artificial Intelligence program. The only viable Artificial Intelligence program written up to that time – at least as far was I’m concerned. Feigenbaum was also an ARPA Principal Investigator.

GAM: Yes.

BA: He and I had many conversations of a technical nature. It turns out that some of his money was from ARPA, but I didn’t know that. So, when Sid put my name forth, ARPA went through their vetting process. Feigenbaum knew me, Pirtle knew me, and I had been a Principal Investigator with NIH. All of this said that I understand the structure and nature of funded research.

So Sid and Masson came after me to return to the Lab. They said had this interesting project they wanted me for.

It also helped that I had been the designer of the GOB Operating System. ARPA wanted a research project to investigate the security of computer Operating Systems.

BA: When I got back to the Lab, the first thing I had to do was to write a research proposal, with resume, and submit that to ARPA for review. I proposed Research In Secured Operating Systems, subsequently named the RISOS Project.

I spent almost two weeks pushing words around on pieces of paper to come up with the name RISOS. My reason for paying so much attention to the name had to do with the fact that I had learned that Washington, D.C. likes pronounceable, one word project names. That was what made the icing on the cake in Washington. A single, pronounceable name sells.

GAM: Yes.

BA: ARPA had wanted to give half the money to Rand.

GAM: Cliff Shaw? John Ellis?

BA: No. A bald-headed guy.

GAM: Oh, Keith Uncapher?.

BA: Yes, Keith Uncapher. He was in the early stages of planning ISI, the Institute for Scientific Investigation.

GAM: Yes. He was down at USC.

BA: But at the time, he was at Rand.

GAM: Yes, getting ready to go to USC.

BA: Right! Getting ready to start ISI. Rand was at ceiling. “At Ceiling” is the phrase that applied to all Federal Contract Research Centers (FCRCs). It refers to the amount of money Congress set as a funding limit for each FCRC for a given year. It also meant that DOD could not give that FCRC anymore projects until DOD suspended or eliminated enough projects to accommodate whatever funding was required for the new project. RAND was an FCRC along with MITRE, IDA, and a couple of others.

Because of the ceiling, ARPA was trying to do an end run by giving the money to Livermore, who would then subcontract to Rand. Therefore placing the project at RAND in spite of the congressionally imposed ceiling.

Well, for crying out loud, you couldn’t have done anything worse to the Department of Energy! They wanted the project, but they didn’t want to have anything to do with Rand. After all, it was Rand who released the Pentagon Papers, right?

GAM: Well, it was somebody who worked for RAND.

BA: I can’t remember the name of the person who actually released the papers.

GAM: I don’t know either, but I do remember the case. He released classified papers to the public.

BA: Yes, and then the fit hit the shan. Consequently, Department of Energy (DOE) was totally suspicions of the security at Rand. It took 60-90 days for DOE to play its waiting game. They knew darn well that ARPA had to give up the money or lose it. So, DOE turned their back on it, and started making unreasonable demands and all that.

The upshot of all the stalling was that finally the money was given to the Lab with no strings, even though I kept going down to RAND to negotiate a sub-contract for them.

When the ARPA deal was finally done, DOE had succeeded in placing three constraints on the project. First, RISOS was not allowed to hire any current, past, or future Rand employee. Second, RISOS was not allowed to affect security policy at any level within the federal government or even at the Lab. Third, RISOS was prohibited from doing anything of a physical security nature. After all, that was the domain of the Physical Security people!

The interagency politics had gotten pretty vicious! There I was, on top of the RAND excrement list. Uncapher was not too happy either, because the project would have given his unborn ISI a jump-start.

DOE Physical Security insisted on having control of RISOS. They did all project reviews. They either sent people to the Lab for reviews or I had to go to DOE. I had to physically appear every three months and give a report.

The reports included what my people were doing with their personal lives. DOE was afraid of what the RISOS people, my staff, might do if they were to leave the project. The reasoning was that since the RISOS staff knew hot to break into computers, they might become a threat to national security.

The mission of the RISOS Project was: (1) investigate the security features of all the major operating systems of the time; (2) maintain a posture of readiness to accept assignments to make unauthorized access to computers to be specified by DOD.

In words of one and two syllables, I was supposed to research computer security, and run a burglary team for DOD.

I remember getting a telephone call from some Pentagon scandal sheet, I mean not published by the Pentagon. You know how Washington, D.C. is? Anyway, someone was apparently publishing an unofficial Pentagon newsletter. I answered the phone, and the guy asks, “are you Mr. Abbott?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Is it true that the RISOS Project has been established by the Department of Defense to gain unauthorized access to computer systems?”

I said. “What?” Without breaking stride, he continued by asking: “Is it true that the RISOS Project has been established by the Department of Defense to gain unauthorized access to the computers of nations friendly to the United States?”

I’m going, “But, but, but…” He continues to ask questions in a rapid-fire manner without waiting for an answer while I continued to sputter.

The questions continued and just got worse. “Is it true that you have indeed gained unauthorized access to the computers of friendly nations?” “Is it true that your staff …” He just continued to go through his list of prepared questions. When he finished, he said, “Thank you.” He asked the questions; I never answered any one of those questions. I just sputtered along like a poor imitation of a motor boat.

I don’t know what he ever wrote. He never sent me a copy. But, he did put me on guard.

The task of staffing up for the RISOS Project had some pitfalls. My instructions from Sid were to hire people fresh out of college with a Master’s degree or better. The problem was that this was happening at a time when the Laboratory was going through its first ever RIF: Reduction In Force.

GAM: That puts it about 1972 or ’73?

BA: I was personally acquainted with people that were being let go. And there I was, hiring new people. The cover story was that these people were being hired on a temporary basis. When the RISOS Project was over, after one, maybe two, years, then these people would be let go. Therefore, it was not a job that regular Lab employees would want to transfer into. As I recall. That came from Bill Mason.

GAM: Well, that was put out, yes.

BA: Oh, listen, RISOS was a five-year project from the get-go. But of course, I was part of the overall game plan. The politics of the RISOS Project occupied almost all of my time during the entire five-year length of the project.

GAM: I understand. But, more important, is the technology that was developed, right?

BA: That is certainly true!

GAM: You had some very good people there,.

BA: Yes, yes. I was simply trying to emphasize that my function had taken on a role similar to that of Sid. After my stint at the medical research facility, I finally understood the down side of Sid’s job. Sid kept the monkeys off my back so I could get the work done. I was keeping the monkeys off of the backs of the RISOS staff so that they could get on with the work!

GAM: Well, I understand that, too. I came back and said the same thing to him when I came back from Haverford.

BA: That’s the point! You know, while we were at the Lab the first time,, we just could not understand what Sid was up to. And yet, as soon as we left, we learned very quickly that what he was doing was very necessary.

GAM: That’s right.

BA: Sid was giving the technical staff the greatest gift in the world, because he was out in front taking the heat! And that’s what I meant with my comments on the politics of the RISOS Project.

GAM: Well Bob, this is a good place to stop and I want to thank you for your most interesting memories. You have had a tremendous career, and your work at the Lab certainly puts you is the first ranks of the real Computer Pioneers.



This portion of the interview, while having less connection with Laboratory Computing, has relevance to the early history of computing. We begin with some details concerning the Mobile Eyeball.


BA: There was some guy whose name I can’t remember, who worked at the Lab as a programmer. He worked two offices down and across the hall from me. He had been hired as a consultant by Westinghouse to write the software that would drive the acceptance test of the Mobile Eyeball.

GAM: Mmm.

BA: This is a Lab employee, retained as a consultant to help Westinghouse get through the acceptance test! The minute I heard that, I did not know what to do! I mean, this seemed like some kind of heavy-duty conflict of interest. The guy was nice enough, and he’s got his own consulting gig going, and the whole thing.

Incidentally, when this guy left the Lab, he went to work for a movie studio in Southern California. He used his Lab-acquired knowledge to break in to the very early development stages of computer animation. If he stayed with it, I’m sure he’s made a fortune by now.

GAM: It could be. I don’t remember who it was.

BA: I don’t remember the guy’s name either. But I was very uncomfortable going down there to visit Westinghouse. You know, flying down, renting a car, driving out to Westinghouse only to talk to this guy, who I could see across the hall for free! It all seemed weird you know?

He was getting paid a consultant fee, and was simply doing my job for the Lab. I was not jealous about him being paid, but I was uncomfortable with the situation.

I talked to Jerome Russell and Bob Wyman, who were also on the project. Each of us had specialty areas of responsibility. Wyman’s area was the electronics of the Mobil Eyeball, and mine was the software. Jerome Russell was doing whatever it is was that Jerry did. I never did understand what it was until the day he did it.

GAM: He was our optics expert.

BA: You are exactly right. He was doing optics. But, I failed to understand what he was supposed to do until the day he did it. And when he did it, he did it with true Jerome…

GAM: Panache!

BA: You’ve got it! Jerome Algernon Gifford Russell! He did it, and man, what he did was beautiful!

But that is getting ahead of the story. During my inspection trips, I went down there to talk to this guy about the lack of software progress. Similarly, Bob Wyman and Jerry Russell did the same in their areas.

George, you were the “overall pusher.” I was always uncomfortable on those trips. Every time we went, this super salesman would descend upon us. He would talk to us about the Admiral who was the head of that Westinghouse division. Then he would talk about this guy and that guy. He would talk a blue streak, and by then it was 11:15, and he would say…

GAM: Time for lunch.

BA: You remembered! And I would say, “Well, can’t we go and look at the device?” The salesman would say: “No, well, they’ll be ready for you this afternoon. It will be better this afternoon.” Then we would go off to some country club, where the Admiral would make a grand appearance.

Then there would be a flood of alcohol, and a landslide of food. All of this amid sunshine and the golf course, and talk, and talk, and talk. About three o’clock we’d stagger back to the Westinghouse facility.

Whatever it was that we were supposed to see wouldn’t be ready yet. All day long, and we would still be in the reception and executive office area. The salesman would then announce that it was time for early cocktails! So we would go have cocktails. It took me two days after that first trip to get hip to the fact that we had been stalled. I was pretty naive in those days.

By the second trip, I was pushing to get in to and see something. They stalled again, but we finally got in to look at our Mobile Eyeball. It scared the bejabbers out of me!

GAM: I don’t blame you!

BA: And there sat this thing. The contract specifications called for some number of lumens, a thousand, no, a hundred lumens? Four hundred lumens? Some thing like that.

GAM: I don’t remember. But they had an enormous amount of light on the thing.

BA: Amen! In addition to the number of lumens required to light the object, there were also some specifications regarding the field of focus. The first time I saw the device they had 2,400 lumens of light placed from one to six inches away from the object. It was so bright that you couldn’t bear to even look at a piece of the white background. The Mobile Eyeball was maybe a foot away, if that.

GAM: Yes.

BA: The lights were so hot that one time while we were down there, the wooden frame started smoking!

GAM: Caught fire.

BA: That’s how hot it was. And it was supposed to be like a hundred lumens or whatever it was. I think the contract must have called for one hundred lumens. And in the middle of all of this here is the down-the-hall Lab employee on his consulting gig, writing software and making excuses to me about why the software wasn’t working.

When we finally got our first look at the Mobile Eyeball, all I wanted to do was leave! But of course the salesman wanted to take us to dinner again. I was so disgusted that I announced that I was going to my favorite Spanish restaurant. I didn’t care what you guys did, I just wanted away from there. I can’t begin to tell you, how disgusted I felt. I remember it very vividly. I wanted away from there.

The salesman was driving you, you had the salesman pick you up on that trip. I had had other business commitments prior to the visit. I’m trying to say, “George, let’s get out of here!” And you were hanging with the salesman. And you should have; that was your job, and you should have hung with him to straighten things out. It was just that, I wanted no more of Westinghouse that night.

I put it as politely as possible that I was going to my favorite restaurant. Unfortunately, I should have made the announcement with a greater degree of malice. Because the salesman said, “Well, we’ll join you!” The salesman was persistent in ignoring my negative vibes, even though I ceased to try hiding them. He knew what he was doing, and he knew what I was doing. I don’t think you were aware of what was going on, but he and I knew what was going on.

GAM: No, I wasn’t.

BA: In the end, I had to give him the restaurant address, and write down directions. Then I jumped in my car, and I drove away from there! It felt so good to be away from there. Once I was out of sight of the place I rolled the windows down and breathed some clean air.

I did not know what to do. I knew I had to go back and tell Sid what had happened and about this jerk salesman.

GAM: I’m remembering the names now.

BA: I went on in to my restaurant, and had a few drinks. You may recall that the restaurant was a Spanish restaurant, not a Mexican restaurant. It even featured a flamenco guitarist and Spanish dancers. There was even a little bar downstairs where the entertainment continued after the restaurant closed.

I felt confident that you, George, and that damned salesman would not make such a long drive. After all, it is some little distance from Ventura to West Los Angeles. But just as I was ready to be seated at a table, in you came with that…person.

By then, I was a lot more mellow than I had been during the day. I was even civil to the salesman. But what you did made me feel so good, I could have cried. As soon as the menus were delivered, you started. You got through the salad selection without much trouble. But even there, you debated aloud between a Caesar Salad and one with shrimp. The Caesar won out mainly because there were so many entrees featuring camerones (shrimp).

Then, of course, you had to discuss which wine to have with the salad. The salesman came through like a champ by suggesting that we pick both of the white wines you were considering.

The ordering proceeded with a truly great debate, by yourself, over which entree you should have. We finally decided that each would get something different so you could sample them all. But, the menu was very long, and the three of us could not cover the whole thing. Again the salesman came through again by suggesting that we order a fourth entree for the table.

You postponed the order for wine to accompany the entrees until later.

We started on our salads and the salad wines. About half way through your salad, you discovered that the oil in the Caesar Salad was rancid. After much discussion with the waiter, you decided that it would not do any good to bring another Caesar Salad. Instead, you chose to replace it with a different salad. I probably giggled at your slick maneuver to taste another offering at this very fine restaurant.

During our consumption of the entrees, you were again magnificent, discussing the different tastes, nuances, and their components. The salesman kept the wines flowing throughout this herculean effort. We had to order a number of wines to insure the proper accompaniment to the different entrees.

Of course, by this time, I had gleefully joined your “Fleecing of the Salesman.” George, you worked that salesman over to a fair thee well! I watched you do that, and I admired every bit of what you were doing, because I had nothing but malicious intent for that guy!

GAM: Frank Armbruster?

BA: I do not remember. But man, you really are good!

GAM: I don’t remember that evening!

BA: George, you ate at least three dinners that night, as well as pieces of two salads.

GAM: I don’t believe it.

BA: And a couple of desserts.

GAM: I don’t remember that.

BA: I can still see you sitting there, working your way steadfastly through those plates.

GAM: I’m ashamed of me.

BA: You should be!

GAM: Well, anyway, we came home and canceled that contract.

BA: No, we didn’t.

GAM: Yes, we did.

BA: Not yet! Not yet!

GAM: I know we canceled it.

BA: Not yet. I’m coming to the point of cancellation. I remember why it got canceled, and when, and everything.

The next time we went to visit that company, it was Jerome Russell, Bob Wyman, and me. You weren’t there.

GAM: Right. I thought Edward Franke was.

BA: No. The three of us, and that damned salesman. We told Sid about the LLL Programmer who was consulting for Westinghouse. As I recall, Sid did not want you to go back down there. He thought it would look better than if someone else went along to look at the situation. That was the first and only time that Jerry went. The same was true of Wyman. So, the three of us went down.

I told them about Armbruster. We allowed them to stall us during the morning. When he started the “let’s go to lunch” routine, we went to lunch. We flat out refused anything after lunch, and then the three of us left the Country Club. We had used our rental car, and followed him to the country club. We were not captives in his car. We simply got up and left. We went back to the Westinghouse facility.

When we finally went in to do the acceptance test, it was a disaster. I had problems with the software – it simply did not work. The guy had screwed up the software. My analysis of the manifested problems was that it could not be made to work. This was pointed out to Westinghouse.

Wyman picked the interface apart. It had a number of inconsistencies. He was very unhappy.

Jerome A. G. Russell got up and went to the blackboard in their conference room. He gave a mathematical proof that the camera itself could not work. He completely blew my mind. I remember from physics in college that there was something called Avogadro’s Number (6.023 x 10**23). I liked the name because it sort of rolls off you tongue. I didn’t remember then, and I don’t remember now, what the hell it is or what it’s useful for. At the time I didn’t try to.

Jerome proved that there was an insufficient number of particles hitting the receptor. It was based on Avogadro’s Number. That was the only time I have heard of any use of Avogadro’s Number. Hooray for Avogadro! Let’s hear it for Avogadro!

GAM: You are a real vampire.

BA: We were sorry to lose the device. We were not sorry to lose that company. We killed it three different ways from Sunday. We had a nice little party that night, just the three of us. We went back to that same Spanish restaurant. We were singing! It was so beautiful!

GAM: The idea of the mobile eyeball was a good idea, it still is. It’s in use now.

BA: That was never the problem. It was the way it was done.

GAM: Well, they didn’t have it designed correctly. They were operating on the wrong point in the photomultiplier’s amplification curve.

BA: Everything! Everything was wrong!

GAM: But Frank Armbruster was a snake oil salesman, okay?

BA: No argument!

GAM: He showed up at my door when I lived on Mitchell Court, and he was selling these little logic cubes that you could by, you know, Dr. Whozits Logic Problem Thing. He appeared.

BA: At any rate, my god we felt great! It was like somebody had released us from prison when we got out of there. What was funny is we admitted to ourselves, no one of us enjoyed what we had done. We knew it had to be done, and we knew the consequences of it being done. We understood that probably dramatically. We didn’t want to do it, but we had no choice, and we did it, and when we left there we felt like a weight had been lifted from our shoulders. And we had done a kind thing.

GAM: Sure. Actually, a letter was sent to them saying we would cancel with no penalties.

BA: They didn’t get paid?

GAM: Yes.

BA: And the division died.

GAM: Well, the Admiral left that company.

BA: Yes.

GAM: I think it was Vought, not Westinghouse. But we were using a Westinghouse division-Orthocon.

BA: No, no, no. It was a Westinghouse division. Yes, I know. It was owned by Westinghouse.

GAM: Oh, that could be. They bought Vought.

BA: Okay, whatever. But I know it was Westinghouse. But, no, Vought was the non-functioning camera.

GAM: The first camera. Yes, but they submitted the winning bid when the request for a quote came out.

BA: The thing is, I don’t remember Vought ever being mentioned in conjunction with a flying spot scanner.

GAM: That’s true.

BA: Shortly after the Westinghouse mobile eyeball experience, I left the Lab. 1966. I went over to the Pacific Medical Center, the Research Data Facility, which was created by Jerome A. G. Russell, the same guy on the mobile eyeball. He applied for, and received a grant from National Institutes of Health.

He and I applied our laboratory experience to the problems of medical science. It didn’t have anything to do with the Lab. Except that Shig Tokubo, Judy Ford, and Norma Hatton followed me over there.

GAM: Yes.

BA: When Bob Wyman wanted to work full time on his Ph.D., he asked me if he could work for me part time while he did his Ph.D. I hired him on that basis. Bob Wyman had been a Lab employee before that time. When he finished his doctorate, he went back to the Lab.

We used a number of different Lab people as consultants. John Raneletti, Doug Kent, and Chuck Cole, among others.

GAM: I remember going over there to talk to you about a diffusion calculation for blood being pushed up between two horizontal plates.

BA: Hmm.

GAM: I don’t remember what it was for now.

BA: I don’t remember that conversation, but is sounds like something we might have talked about. Jerry was the Principal Investigator on the grant. When I walked in the door, he said he’d only be there for two years, and then the Research Data Facility would be my problem. I didn’t believe him, but that’s the way it turned out.

We also used a Mechanical Engineer from the Lab as a consultant. His name was Red something. Red was the guy involved in the story of the sledge-hammer and the leaning barn.

One of the research projects at Pacific Medical Center was investigating reversible heart-blocking agents. That is to say, drugs that could be used to stimulate or otherwise affect the heart, but which could be reversed if it was required. In other words, the research focused on two-way drugs instead of one-way drugs.

This type of research involved the sacrifice of a white, virgin, albino rabbit, without frightening the rabbit. If the rabbit were to become frightened, it would chemically alter the heart and render it useless for research purposes. The sacrificing process began by cuddling the rabbit in your arms, petting it, then whacking behind the ear with a leaded stick. Then you cut the heart out, cut it into strips, attach one end of a strip against a stationary post, and the other against a strain gauge.

The entire device is immersed in a liquid bath. When the post receives an electric charge, the heart strip contracts. A drug that stimulates the heart is then run through the bath. Depending on the drug, it either stimulates or blocks the heart’s action.

The bath could then be flushed out with ringers solution, and the experiment is repeated with different dosages or whatever. The bath was hooked up to a PDP-7. At that time, there was no device that could be used under computer control to deliver milliliter doses.

GAM: A milli-liter?

BA: You couldn’t buy such things. Red designed the bath mechanism. His design delivered accurately calibrated quantities in milliiter ranges, into the bath.

GAM: Could be.

BA: This has nothing to do with the Lab other than the fact that it was a total Lab product. Everybody who worked on it was either at the Lab or an ex-Lab employee. Quite a few research papers came out of that project.

GAM: Perhaps, if you’ll permit it this way, it is a stimulating example of technology transfer.

BA: Amen! Forsooth! We also designed and constructed a computer-based system that performed physiological monitoring of patients who had just had open-heart surgery. Sixteen patients with fourteen leads per patient: a three-lead EKG; inspired oxygen; expired C02; arterial and venus pressure from in-dwelling catheters inside the heart; and all that good stuff. The sensors were running under control of an IBM 1800.

One of the things that happened while I was in San Francisco, and this is relevant to the Lab, is that when Jerry left the Research Data Facility, I became the Principal Investigator of the grant. This later led to my acceptance as a Principal Investigator for the DARPAS sponsored RISOS Project.



[1] The CDC-6600 had ten Peripheral Processing Units.

[2] GOB was not a casually chosen acronymn, It stood for “Generous Omnipotent Benefactor”, and had the additional advantage of being the Russian word for God, spelled backwards.

[3] U.S. Department of Defense, Advanced Research Projects Agency.


For information about this page contact: George Michael at tomdeboni@comcast.net

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