Computer Memories (continued)
Supposedly not even Bill Norris, the founder of CDC, was supposed to go there without an invitation. But then to some of us that is just a challenge.
I bought airplane tickets for each of us, and rented a car to get from the Chippewa Falls airport to the CDC office and research lab. Since this was far out in the countryside, and this huge computer used a lot of electricity, someone told me to follow the thick electric wire strung up on the poles. That got us there as advertised. I went to the office and told them we were there for the demonstration. They replied, "What demonstration?" but then got someone out of bed to come over to show us around.
All went well until we returned to the head office in Minneapolis. I was practically dragged into the office of a top Vice President who demanded to know why I hadn¹t asked for permission before taking that trip. I asked, "What would you have said if I had asked permission?" When he almost shouted that his answer would have been, "No," I said that is why I didn¹t ask.
A BUSY WEEK
I remember one special week of travel. I spent Monday at a conference in Long Beach, California, then at midnight, with my boss, caught a plane from Los Angeles to Boston, arriving there at breakfast time. We drove to a computer software office on the outskirts of town and spent all day Tuesday discussing some kind of mathematical system that required computers bigger than any that existed in those days, and maybe are still not available today.
They were trying to design a mathematical cube, defined as billions of points, each identified by three addresses. The idea was that an object (a missile, a ship, or an airplane) could be defined in this cube, so that if the cube was sliced in any direction, at any point, each and every wire, bolt, tube, and piece of metal would appear as if you really did in fact cut the missile, plane or ship at that exact place.
At quitting time we drove back to the Boston airport, flew to New York City, then drove to a motel out on Long Island. Noon found us speeding to the airport to catch a plane to Washington, DC, where we spent the afternoon discussing Optical Character Recognition equipment with Jake Rabinow, who held the early patents for that system. That evening we rushed to the airport to catch a flight to Minneapolis. After escorting a prospect (who flew in from California for the day) to several demonstrations and discussions all day Thursday, we returned to Los Angeles that night. What fun!
ROCKETDYNE, SECOND TIME
When North American Aviation purchased several IBM 360 Systems computers, instead of the Control Data system I was trying to sell, Rocketdyne hired me (the second time) to place the detail order, build the facility, then install $10,000,000 worth of computer equipment from IBM. I can say, without fear of contradiction (because that IBM salesman was elderly, 30 years ago) that I knew more about the IBM 360 systems, than the IBM people located there. The IBM sales manual included such details as a specific part number for the color of the tape take-up reel on a tape drive. By the time I was done, the order I placed, for (I think) a 360-65, a 50, 2-40s, and 2 or 3 model 30s was the most detailed sales order they had ever received.
Next I worked at Informatics Inc., a software company, where I sold programming and consulting services. My daughter Linda worked there a few years later. The company had been founded a few years earlier, by people who I knew, at least a little.
After a couple of years the Vice President who hired me at Informatics, was transferred to another job. The new Vice President brought in "his" people from his last job. Two years later, when that VP and his people were fired, he and his crew had sold less dollars worth of contracts than I had sold in the couple of years I worked alone.
THE LINEAR ACCELERATOR
I made sales calls (trying to sell software and programming services) at the Stanford Linear Accelerator near Stanford University in Palo Alto and had no more idea what was going on, then I had when I visited Brookhaven, years earlier. Interstate 280 crosses over the mile-or-so-long Linear Accelerator that is sort of like a cyclotron, except it is straight, rather than circular.
LAW ENFORCEMENT TELETYPE SYSTEM
Several times I visited an early version of a store and forward communication system, called the LETS, or Law Enforcement Teletype System, located at the Highway Patrol in Phoenix. Instead of a computer, in those days they had old-fashion teletype machines that could receive a message over teletype lines, then punch paper tape at 10 characters per second. Each paper tape (about an inch wide, and sometimes they were yards long), was then taken to one of the dozens of machines, and the message was sent to the proper city. At any one time there might have been hundreds of paper tape messages, waiting to be transmitted to a variety of destinations. This system was almost impossible to control and operate.
CALIFORNIA LAW ENFORCEMENT TELECOMMUNICATIONS SYSTEM
While at Informatics I got a large contract to install two computers, one in Los Angeles, the other in Sacramento, connecting all of the law enforcement organizations in California, sharing files, and using the message "store and forward" concept. Several companies wanted to supply computers for this project. I had talked to the State people who were responsible for selecting the winner, (very quietly, I didn¹t dare let them know why I was asking the questions) and determined who I thought would win. I then went to that computer company and convinced them they were going to win, and said I wanted the contract to install the software and create the needed application programs on those computers. And I got the contract.
In Sacramento I also had contracts with the Departments of Education, Justice, and Highways, among others.
BANK OF AMERICA
While I had programmers working at the Bank of America in San Francisco, I discovered they had an excellent security system to protect computer information needed for the Bank's business, and customer records. At least it was excellent for those days. Every two or three hours they loaded magnetic tapes and disks containing all the important banking data, into one of several station wagons.
The drivers would each head out in different directions, just drive around, then return a few hours later. They felt if there was an earthquake, a fire, a riot, or whatever, the data would be available in one of the station wagons "out there somewhere." These days, separate computer systems many miles apart are connected by a communication networks. Everything is duplicated on computers located far from each other.
This reminds me of the problem of determining the "band width" needed to transmit a given amount of data, a given number of miles, in a given amount of time. In the early days, if there was a huge file to transmit, sometimes it was faster and cheaper to send storage media (tapes, disks) by 747, rather than use the rather slow communications lines of that day.
A friend insisted that I go to work with him at Scan Data Corp., selling Optical Character Recognition (OCR) equipment. I really enjoyed working with that equipment.
At an insurance company on Wilshire Blvd., the OCR System, that included a PDP-8 computer, was two inches longer than the elevator. We had to take the glass out of a fourth story window, and I have a photo of the system at the end of a cable, being lifted into the computer facility, high above Wilshire Blvd.
That system was used at the insurance company, at the telephone company, etc., to read paid bills. Perhaps half of the machine contained the paper feeder and transport portion equipment, and it could read one type font, called OCR A.
For a while I was the West Coast representative for Delta Data Inc., located near Philadelphia. In those days a keyboard and a TV-like screen cost $5,000 to $6,000, with no computer capability of any kind. Their West Coast office was installed in a bedroom in our house.
Somewhere about here I worked for Honeywell's Computer Division for a very short time, until they laid off most of the staff. That happened to me so many times, was it coincidence or contagious?
I then sold Computer Terminals for Harris Computer. The terminals were huge things that cost about a half million dollars. These were not a "screen and keyboard," they included a large printer, IBM card reader, perhaps a card punch, communication equipment, and other gadgets that would fill a small room. One of these terminals was installed at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and when they were adding an additional UNIVAC, the Harris company had major portions of a 1107 system available, that I sold and installed at JPL. That system was used to control satellites that are out in space.
THE CAT-SCAN COMPUTER
One of my terminals was installed at a company in Van Nuys, California. I never could understand what they were talking about, but they said they were going to replace the X-ray machine, and take better pictures, but without the radiation. Later I found they were one of the developers of the Cat Scan.
THE BICYCLE RIDING SALESMAN
I owned a little two-piece bicycle that would easily fit in the trunk of my car. I had computer systems installed at California Institute of Technology, and at the University of California, among other places. The parking on these campuses was far from the offices I needed to visit, so I brought the bike with me, put it together and rode across the campus, carrying my briefcase. Everyone got a big kick out of that, and it sure made it easier to call on the customers, and check on the computer systems.
CAL TECH EARTHQUAKE LAB
While I never installed a computer at the Earthquake Lab at Cal Tech, I did visit with them several times. If I remember correctly, their total computer power consisted of an LPG-30 which I remember nothing about, except it had a very unusual type of memory.
I¹ll let us in on a little secret. They haven¹t the slightest idea when the next big earthquake might happen, but they always say, "Within the next 30 years ..." I determined, and they laughed and agreed, that if they say "next year" people will panic, if they say "one hundred years" no one will pay any attention to them, and their project won¹t be funded next year. A thirty year prediction satisfies everyone.
My last "real job" in the computer business was selling Optical Character equipment for Scan Optics, a competitor to Scan Data, mentioned earlier. The last system I sold cost about $750,000.