An Interview with Jim Dimmick
JD = Jim Dimmick
GAM = George Michael
JD: As of the 7th, I am 79 years old.
GAM: Really? Oh that's wonderful. Today is May 2, 1997 and we are going
to interview one of the great persons who came to the
Laboratory because we had IBM equipment. This is Jim
Dimmick. Jim, why don't you tell us when and how you
got to the lab and what you worked on initially.
JD: OK, I came out with another fellow and I can't remember who he was,
but we came out when the IBM 701 was installed. I was
not part of the 701 world, but I wanted to see it. I felt that
things were moving too fast, and I was not a part of it and,
therefore, I would come out and witness this. I'd heard
about it a lot, and I'd worked with people who did
computations, Joe Brady for one. He and I
worked together on the IBM 602A. He did things with
the 602A that just baffled me, that's the only way of
putting it. And so I asked him. He had trouble with the
machine and I was aware that, with electronic machines,
you really could bias them. He would operate them at
different voltages. So I looked at the
blueprints for this mechanical machine, the mechanical
relays and all the rest of it, and decided there were power
supplies that I could make adjustments on. There were
three different voltages, and if I ran it at the three voltages
with the test pack, with a little bit of luck, it would fail on
one or two voltages that were not being used. So I did this
and sure enough, it failed.
GAM: Where was this?
JD: This was at Cory Hall in Berkeley. He and Dr. Cunningham were
in a little building, oh, a block away I suppose, and Joe
would show up and run decks of cards through this 602A
for hours, and hours, and hours, and hours. This is card
machine speed, and slow card machine speed at that. But
when I got through, I discovered I had voltages adjusted
that would not fail with the test deck. Joe came in, ran his
work, and found no errors with his work.
JD: Just the way life should be.
GAM: Yes, yes.
JD: I think that's when our fast friendship was formed. This was the
electrical engineering departmentI can't remember what
they called it then. The building was Cory Hall, and the
name of the person will come to me in a moment, who
was the chief honcho there.
GAM: What year was this, do you remember?
JD: Yes, let's see, we'll figure it out. This had to be 19...
JD: Early 1950s.
GAM: Well, yes, Joe came to the Lab in 1952, so it was prior to that.
JD: That's right, and I'm getting that date by when my first wife decided
she'd had enough of me. This is a real movement point. If
you think you've learned something about life before
that, you've got a surprise coming. So, this had to be
1953 probably. Heavens name, what was the electrical
GAM: Well, the only one I knew was Bill Wattenberg.
JD: No, no, no, anyway, his name will come to me eventually. At that
time, the only electronic computers I could see anywhere
had to do with the Electrical Engineering Department
having decided that they needed a computer.
JD: By God, if you're going to be in this thing, you gotta have an
electronic computer. And so they built their own and,
unfortunately, they didn't understand what kind of
solder to use, and I did not feel it was my place to tell
them how to build a computer, so I didn't straighten them
out. It would have been a great friendly thing to do.
In the meantime, I went to a school in Poughkeepsie where I
supposedly learned how to repair one of the keypunches
that was new. And, always, when that happened, a class
was given a tour of the building in IBM style, that's the
way they did it. So, I got upstairs following
an instructor, who showed us a room that was absolutely
mind boggling. It was full of several hundred IBM 727
tape drives. These are the big things. I don't know who
ordered them, but they were ordered with the idea that
there were going to be a lot of IBM 701s and 702s and
704s built. The reason I say that I don't know who took
that chance and ordered them, is that it wasn't terribly
obvious that they were going to be a successful machine.
But, that wasn't how it was. Somebody had the right idea
and understood that if we, IBM, didn't do it, somebody
else wouldPhilco, or whoever. So, I went back home and,
within weeks, I was told to go back to Poughkeepsie
again. This time to study the innards of a computer, and
this time I enjoyed it.
I had been in radio work for years and years. I had
become a radio repairman in 1937, just out of high school.
I got involved with ham radio at the same time, and this
saved my soul, although it had kind of funny times
getting there. When I was drafted into the Army, I was
sent to Fort Ord for basic training. There was a young
man and I saluted him properly, because he was a
corporalwhat else would you do, if you are a brand new
private? He gave me a test. He said, "Here's a ten
question test." Do you use rosin-core or acid-core solder?"
And I said, "That's easy, you use rosin-core solder" and
he said, "No." And the next question was, "Do you clean
your soldering iron with sal amoniac or do you wipe it
with a cloth?" and I said, "That's easy also, you wipe it
with a cloth" and he said, "No." And I realized then that
we are not on the same wave length and I said to him,
"These are simply not so." And he was so irritated that he
took his ten questions, open on the clip board, and held it
up for me to see that it was marked "Radiator Repair." If I
had gotten smart with that guy, he would have had me in
a motor pool in no time at all, and I would have been lost.
But, his answer to that was, what else do you say when
you have an answer like that? Oh, spelled O-H. And he
looked at his book again and said, "OK, here's another
ten questions," which I answered properly and, a day and
half later, I was in a radio repair organization, the first one
on the West Coast.
GAM: Radio repair, not radiator repair.
JD: Radio repair, not radiator repair, the two don't mix.
So, there had been a guy, a little short fellow, who had
said to me, before I allowed myself to be drafted, the very
idea of being drafted, for God's sakes, what's the matter
with you, "I can make you a Corporal at the end of 12
weeks of basic training. And I said, "No, I'll have to think it
over, but I don't think I'm going to do that. I'm not going
to join the National Guard, which is what he was part of."
So, I let myself be drafted, and short of almost having
gotten into a motor pool instead of into a radio repair
outfit, I was happy. For 12 weeks, I could yell at the top of
my voice and tell the other guys how to march and at the
end of the 12 weeks, I was a Sergeant, for God's sake.
Just like that, they had the ratings to give out, and they
gave several Sergeant's ratings, and I got one of them.
And, within another week or two, the Lieutenant and I, a
big, tall, lieutenant drove down to Camp Roberts, and I
din't know what we were there for. We were in the motor pool down
there, and he said, "Just wait here, I'm going to go find
whomever we're supposed to see." Later, I saw him
coming back through the motor pool, through the cars,
and I could see he was with somebody, but I had no clue
who it was. Well, it was the corporal who had tried to get
me into the National Guard. He looked at me with my
sergeant's stripes, and I think at the instant he saw me he
realized that I'd done the right thing and he'd better start
moving. Actually, he became a lieutenant, in no time at all,
by going to OCS, I would never have done that. So, that's
how I got caught up in more radio work, and that led to
wonderful things like being sent with a Signal Repair
Unit to Melbourne, Australia. The military police there
needed communication. I was told, "OK, go ahead and
install this FM communication set in a military police
vehicle." So, three guys came out in that vehicle, I didn't
know who they were or what they were, but I put the
radio in, there was nothing to that. Then we had to go out
and test it. We drove all over Melbourne, it's a city the
size of, well I don't know that it was as big as San
Francisco, but certainly the size of Oakland then. And
finally they said, "Well, it's about time to try this thing
out." So, they took the microphone, and I think to myself,
"OK, I'm going to witness the testing of this radio." Well,
they handed the microphone to me. I had enough sense
not to pinch the button on it, but I told them, "I have no
idea what you're expecting of me, and I don't know what
I'm supposed to say to this radio operator downtown at
the police station." "Well, say the same thing you would
at home." And so I stop and think, "OK I've listened to,
and enjoyed listening to, the Los Angeles Police
Department, even up in Sacramento. And finally I said,
"Uh, Melbourne Police, this is car ..." "Oh," I said, "What
car are we?" and they had to think that through. So, they
decided we were going to be car 100. "What car are we?"
"Oh we are going to be car 100." "OK, this is car 100,
would you give me a time check please?" and let loose of
the button. Everything was quiet, it stayed quiet and I'm
thinking to myself, "The damn thing isn't working" and
they started laughing. These three cops started laughing
and they didn't stop. And finally, the radio came alive
and said, "It's ten minutes of midnight. Thank you car
100." Big deal! Great roaring laughter. Well, what I didn't
picture was another group of people waiting around the
police operator, waiting for this first Yank call to come in
and, of course, he didn't know what the hell to do with it.
What's the Goddamn Yanks doing now? First, they run off
with the women and now they are running off with the
police cars! Well, life continued to be like this. It was really
a wonderful experience. And, when I came home, it was
with an Aussie bride, who saw the light and took off
eventually. And that was ok tooI long since have
GAM: What year did you come home?
JD: 1945. I was actually on furlough, and was discharged a month
before VJ Day. I had been in the Philippines a month
before that, and could have been transferred to Japan and
would have seen some of the things you have seen. I
think it's probably just as well. After I got out of the army,
I went to school and then went to work for IBM. I didn't
think I'd stay there, but I had too much fun.
GAM: When you got to the Lab it was 1953 or 1954?
JD: Well, it was more like 1955 because the IBM 701 had been in for
a while, for two or three years. I never learned to repair it.
But, I did have the experience of seeing the failure of that
machine because of the sun shinning through the South
Windows onto the Williams Tubes.
GAM: Ah, yes, do you remember Ernie, the guy with the peg leg?
GAM: I got a Williams Tube from him when we got rid of the IBM 701, and
it's now in our collection at the Computer Museum and
History Center over at Moffett Field.
GAM: Well, Cunningham got a 701 with a core memory, and it
made all the difference in the world to its reliability.
JD: That's right. He got the 701 that had been out at the Lab, and I can
remember it being installed. Ted Ross was the engineer
for it and I forget all the trouble we had. I don't know
whether Joe Brady had anything to do with the discovery
that the sun would shine through that window at a
certain time of the year and make it fail. But, it started
failing, once a day, and it would go out completely until
the sun moved. I don't know who found that out, but that
was a neat job as far as I was concerned.
GAM: So, the first machine you worked on, then, was the 704?
JD: Right, exactly.
GAM: Nice tube machine.
JD: That's right, just hundreds of tubes. I was in my glory, and the thing
that I did, that nobody else really had the guts to do, was
to go around and tap the tubes. Because I'd been doing
that for years, I was careful so others didn't see me
tapping the tubes. But, I could find out which tubes were
causing the machine to fail by simply tapping them.
JD: Eventually, of course Shockley invented the transistor.
Is that right?
GAM: Well, Shockley was involved with it, yes, at Bell Labs. Actually, lots of
people like to say that, with the hundred million dollars
that the Government poured into the research area, maybe
it was the Government that invented the transistor.
JD: They invented the source of money anyway.
GAM: Great. Anyway, they certainly were looking for it.
JD: Yes, well anyway, that's another story. But, Ted Ross and I decided
we had to get involved with this, so we bought the
cheapest transistors we could buy and we made an
oscillator. And we turned it on, and it oscillated as it
should have, and made the tone, and we invented the Ross
Effect, which was holding your fingers on the oscillator,
on the transistor, and making the frequency change. You
may hear differently, but that is, as far as I'm concerned,
the Ross Effect.
GAM: Well, that's great, but by virtue of you having been here when the 704
got uncrated, you were involved with all the machines
that IBM delivered to us from then on.
JD: That's right, exactly. Until they started un-delivering them. But that's
how I spent my time on the Photostore all during the
70s. And, when the last year of the 70s came, that was
when somebody called me up and said I could retire. And
I didn't have any trouble at all saying yes; I was ready to go.
GAM: Well, you understand, that, nationally, you have the reputation that if
you hadn't been around, the Photostore would have been an abject failure.
JD: Well, it was fun, it really was. The thing that surprised me about it, in
circuitry, was that they used Digital Frequency
Control, where you change the frequency so that an
oscillator will track the bits of stuff on the film. That way,
you have a fun plaything for the engineer because he can
make adjustments and watch the scope and see how fast
the thing is tracking. He can also watch and see the pulses
of energy coming from the reader tube, in other words,
the photoelectric tube, and make the data come in at the
right rate so it can be read and, most important of all, so
that it can repair glitches in that signal. And that was the
reason that machine almost never sent out a message grossly in error.
GAM: Well, there were two. The other reason was that it had this error
correcting code on it which accounted for 30 per cent of
the memory capacity, but who cared, given we had more than 1012 bits.
JD: Yes, that's right.
GAM: I used to tell visitors that, when the Lab put the Photostore on line, it
doubled the on-line memory of the planet earth.
JD: Yes, that's right.
JD: And operating memory.
GAM: Yes, and it worked, and it worked beautifully. As you remember
things now, what were parts of the Photostore that caused you
a lot of trouble? There must have been one weak thing or
something like that? I mean, was it the electron beam
recorder or the little factory that developed the chips or
JD: The little factory that developed the chips. The thing that used to
worry me was that one of us would get killed because it was
surrounded by high voltage. Well, not high, just a
hundred and fifty or two hundred volts AC, and good
back up for that, so if you did accidentally get
one hand into the stop solution and the other on some
piece of metal you could do yourself in. So, that was the
single biggest problem, keeping it clean enough so that it
wasn't a danger to itself as well as the people working on it.
GAM: Whose idea was it to put the surfactant into the wash water?
That made the Photostore really usable here, whereas
you remember, at the National Security Agency site, they
didn't do that and...
JD: I didn't know that story.
GAM: You went back there and tried to make their thing work, didn't you?
JD: No, I got as far away as LASL, and even that was a kind of funny
GAM: Well, tell it.
JD: Well, I was called and told to take a call at Los Alamos. So, I
saluted and headed for the airport. The last thing I did
before I got on the plane was check in and see what
they wanted me to do. They still didn't know, exactly, what
they wanted me to do, but finally they said, "Get on the
airplane." So, that takes care of that, at least for the
moment. So, I got into Albuquerque and I had never
been in New Mexico before. Well, that isn't so, but that's
another story. Anyway, I got to the airport and
rented a car, but before I did that, I called the office, yet
again, in Oakland, and they still didn't know what I am
supposed to do, but they say, "OK, rent the car and go on
up to Los Alamos. So I did, it was a pleasant drive.
GAM: It was a long one.
JD: A long one, and I got up there and made some more telephone calls.
The first thing they said was that they wanted me to come
back home, and I said, "That's fine." "No" they said, "call
so and so at Los Alamos." So I did that, and I never did
really work on that machine. Somebody had made an
adjustment on the machine so that the recording beam
was not adjusted absolutely correctly and, if you were
able to adjust the reader so that it didn't care that it was
not adjusted correctly, it would actually read in spite of
this glitch in the recording thing.
GAM: Yes, ok.
JD: And if you looked at the chip with the microscope, you could see that
all you had to do was spread out the reader beam so that
it would not get confused about what it was looking at
and would be able to follow the thing and send the data
to it's electronic circuit so that it would get the right speed
and so on. But, at the end of the week, they weren't sure
what to do. And so I said, "Let's consider this a meeting,
myself, and two or three others, to decide whether I can
go home and visit with my wife this weekend. So, we did
that and I was on the plane the next morning, on my
way back to Oakland. I think that I learned something. I
think that the people who repaired the machine down
there, or took care of the machine there, felt stabilized and
it really was a matter of something I've always enjoyed,
namely putting my hand on somebody's back and saying,
"OK, it's OK folks, you're all right".
GAM: Calm down!
JD: Calm down, and so that took care of that. I never went out again on a
call on that thing.
GAM: Well, all I know is, from the statistics collected here, there
and elsewhere, that our machine at Livermore was
reliable, compared to the others.
GAM: We used to call it the Photosnore because it was down a lot.
JD: There's another subject. I've learned, within the week, how to control
GAM: Oh, yes?
JD: Betty is very appreciative of it.
GAM: I'll bet.
JD: Instead of all the pills and Jerry Rice things and all this, I ended
up going down to Dom's Surplus and getting a piece
of plastic that would raise my head up so I no longer
snore. Isn't that nice?
GAM: That's great.
JD: Anyway, I don't even wake myself up anymore, which I used to do.
Back to the PhotosnoreI had never heard that by the way.
GAM: What, the name for the Photostore?
GAM: Well, I suspect that was probably from the users. I don't know who
first used the term. But, there were two things that
contributed to the success of the Photostoreone is Jim
Dimmick, he kept the store running, and the other
was Garret Boer, who gave us a really decent software environment.
JD: Ah, if you'd asked me who I was gonna name for that person, it was
Garretthat's right. That is absolutely true.
GAM: He did an absolutely magnificent job on the software.
JD: I guess he's still around, I've seen him recently.
GAM: Oh, yes.
JD: He lives in the neighborhood. And I hope that the good stuff that he
came up with is still useful, because it really was a
JD: Now, the other thing that I appreciated, that went into the Photostore
system was the CRTs that hung in various offices,
showing what the status of the machine was. If I was out
taking care of some other small machine, which I
occasionally did, I could look up and see how things were
really doing, and I knew I didn't have to wait for a call. I
could see that the damn Photostore was down and I
would say, "Excuse me folks, your key punch will take
care of itself for a little while, and I will go take care of this
machine and make it work right."
GAM: Yes, the show channel on the TMDS was a nice thing, a status display
everybody could look at. I don't know who all did
it, but I do know that Bob Judd was involved with getting
it up on the display.
Did you have any direct dealings with Sid?
JD: Well, occasionally, I really liked the guy, I thought he was wonderful,
but I was also very careful not to stumble in front of him.
He had a tremendous sense of humor, I don't know
whether you ever heard the story of Al Fram? Ed
Schoonover may have told you about it.
GAM: Yes, but please, you tell it.
JD: I think that Al had gotten the idea, by overhearing Sid talking to
somebody, that if some IBM thing doesn't work by a
certain time, out it goes. So Al got on the phone and he
was reporting all this to the office. I don't know who the
manager in Oakland was, but he was gertting this report
from Al. And Al was not only telling the story, but he was
imitating Sid; completely, talking out of the side of his
mouth the way Sid did.
Suddenly, Al became aware that Sid was standing behind
him. And, Sid appreciated this tremendously. Al turned
and got out of there as fast as he could. But then
Schoonover said to Sid, "You've gotta go back and tell
him it's OK." Because, by now, Al was ready to hang up
his hat and get the hell out of there. Oh, gosh.
GAM: Well, Fram was a very funny person, and knowing how he was makes
this story all the more appealing. And yes, Sid went back
and said it was OK. Everybody had a good laugh out of it,
one of the nicer little things. I remember where it took
place; it was in that building where the 701 used to be.
GAM: I think that it was unusual that you got to stay at the Lab so long.
Ordinarily, IBM rotated the Customer Engineers around,
outside of the project, and put them in other places,
because of the experience they gained having worked at
the Lab, and they wanted to get some of that experience
into these other installations.
JD: And I'm sure you've heard that "IBM" means, "I've been moved".
GAM: Oh, I've never heard that! Great.
JD: I had to work very hard to stay put. I didn't work to
make the stock go up, or anything like that, I worked
because I enjoyed the people who were around, to hear
the latest joke going around, from Cralle and any number
of other people. I don't know whether Schoonover ever
told you about when he and I went to talk to one of the
CDC people. We spoke to the Control Data people about
the fact that tapes written on the IBM and CDC
computers were not interchangeable. This had nothing to
do with mass storage. This was the 704, and if the tape
heads were turned slightly, you would no longer be able
to get good data off the tapes.
So Ed says, "Well, you've got to tell the Control Data guy and I
thought to myself, "Dammit, Ed, it is not my role in life to
correct them. This is precious data, if they can't fix the
Goddamn thing so it'll run, why then..." At any rate,
eventually, the guy asked me, "Well, how much force do
you have to use to turn the head enough to read
the data correctly?" You haven't heard this story?
JD: I said, "This much." He nearly fell over, because I'm
pushing on his shoulder.
GAM: Well, as I remember this whole thing, we found that we could not
interchange tapes between the IBM machines and the CDC machines.
JD: That's right.
GAM: And, one of the things was that the inter-record gaps had to be
adjusted, because the CDC record gap spec was not as
tight as IBM's, so we made the record gap an inch instead
of three-quarters of an inch and it made the problem go
JD: I didn't know about that.
GAM: Well that's what I'd heard.
JD: Yes, and that's probably so. Because that was an easily-adjusted
thing. Do you know that one of those CDC guys works as a
salesman at Good Guys?
GAM: Yes, yes, I remember that.
JD: OK, anyway, he's still works there. Occasionally, I see him. If I need to
know something that I think he knows... Are you aware
that, in the business of making a tape drive or a high fi set,
if you make a totally transistorized tape reader, or an
ordinary CD reader, or whatever, that people are not as
happy with it as when you put vacuum tubes on top of
the chassis? Are you aware of this?
GAM: No, really?
JD: That if you walk in and see this beautiful black box with six radio
tubes on top of it, it's brand new and you ask the guy,
"Come on, tell me what gives. What are you guys doing?"
Transistors may be wonderful, but he says, "If we put the
tubes up there, they sell much better."
JD: Well, it turns out that transistors make the sound crisper, but who
recognizes what real sound is nowadays, and when
you're young, 18 to 22 or whatever, you're not happy
with crisp transistor sound. You think it has to be
JD: So you don't argue with them. Now the real problem is you need
JD: So where do you go for those? Russia. They still make them.
GAM: They do, huh? Aren't we making such tubes in this country?
JD: Nope, at least not that I was able to find out.
GAM: Oh, that's amazing.
JD: I suppose we do in amateur radio, I'm not sure. But I'm not really in
amateur radio anymoreI am with the little two meter
hand held things, but I can't get on the air without the
lady next door losing her ability to watch the soaps. And
that has been something that I have not been able to
change, and so I don't get on the air.
GAM: Well really, that's just a matter of one of the major harmonics of your
JD: That's right, that's right, but it's there and she loses the ability to
listen to that soap and...
GAM: That's bad.
JD: That's bad, that's right. Although I've had one suggestion about
how to handle it: Give her the phone number of the FCC
office in Washington, the one with the menu, "If you have a
touch tone phone, please touch 1 now."
JD: They say that, by the time she worked her way though that, she'd have
forgotten where she was. Well, I haven't done that, and
her husband works for the Lab, and he's done a good job
out there, and so I just let things slide.
GAM: So, all things considered, you ended your career in late 1979
JD: That's right, October 31.
GAM: And you started it at the Laboratory in about 1953.
JD: That's right.
GAM: So that's a generous tour of duty.
JD: That's right, and I enjoyed the people. I loved the people out there.
GAM: It was a great, great Laboratory then.
JD: That's right.
GAM: Did you work on the Data Cell at all?
JD: No, that was Marlton's job. I used to watch him work on it. I tried
to take jams out of it, and I was all thumbs, and I think
maybe the reason I didn't do well on it is I didn't want to.
And they werewhat's the word for something that's
JD: Ubiquitous, they were ubiquitous.
The strangest call I ever had was from one of the major corporations
in Silicon Valley, up the peninsula a little ways, where
somebody had a tape drive and they couldn't make it
load. They had a controller for it and everything. They'd
done all these good things, and so I was sent over there
and drove across the proper bridges and into San Mateo
County, found the right person and was taken into the
room where the machine was sitting, connected to God
knows what. I said, "OK, I guess you're going to
have to show me what you're talking about." So, the guy
got out a reel tape and loaded it backwards. End of story.
I had him sign my slip and I was out the door before I
even saw what was going on in the place.
GAM: Oh, wow!
Well, you consider the work on the Photostore was the
best stuff you were doing? You worked on all the other
machines, the computers?
JD: Well, The 704 series and 7090, the 7094. Do I have that right?
GAM: Well, 704, 709, 7090, the 7094, and the Stretch, the 7030.
JD: I never worked on the Stretch, although I was actually trained for
two weeks on the Stretch in Kingston, NY. You
know more about the Stretch than I do. While we were there, I
suppose Sid had something to do with it, but, at any rate,
it was discovered that the Stretch really had stretched
some parameters a bit far. So, a major question was, how
much you were going to pay for it and so on. And, what
happened next, before I went back there for that school,
and I had not yet met Garth Huebner and all those people
yet. But, they were in the class which Marlton and I
attended. Before I had left here, I had talked with Chuck
Broughten about methods of communicating so we
would understand each other. I think it's OK to tell this
story. But, at any rate, he would write a letter to me
depicting as part of the letter what was going on back
here at the Lab. Chuck and I agreed thatm if there was some message
that was supposed to be sent that he would depict a
cartoon of something and this would tell us how things
were going. Well, anyway, at ten o'clock in the morning
or so, a young lady walked in with some mail for us.
GAM: Back there?
JD: Yes, back there, this was in Kingston, not Poughkeepsie.
She handed the mail to the instructor and the
instructor looked at the letter and handed me my letter
and it was from Chuck. I had mixed feelings about
just ripping it open at that instant, but I really was
curious to see what was in that letter. So, I carefully got
it open and looked at the letter. Marlton knew about this
arrangement, and I looked at the letter and here was a
picture. It was a picture
showing a Customer Engineer under water, going
down, with bubbles coming up. And maybe the
Stretch was also somewhere next to it.
But, at any rate, it was obvious we had to rethink
where we were. I was on my way back to
Livermore the next day and I was fairly happy about
GAM: Well, here's what happened actually. Do you remember Von Holdt?
GAM: I believe it was he who discovered that the Stretch was not able
to produce the speeds that we were expecting.
JD: Oh, OK.
GAM: And Sid took that and tried to cancel the contract, as the Computer
Sciences Corporation had cancelled their contract. They
were going to buy a bunch of Stretchs, remember?
But the Stretch wasn't going to be as fast as had
been promised, which was to be 240 times or so faster
than the 704. So, IBM said (to Sid), "We think you are
not doing the calculations correctly, so we'd like the
chance to send out a team of mathematicians and
programmers to see if we can improve the algorithms
you're running. So, Sully Campbell came out heading
this group, and he had about seven people with him.
They spent something like two weeksthey had been
specially cleared, so they could look at our big codes.
And, at the end of two weeks, he said, essentially, "I have
to say that there's nothing wrong with what you're
doing, you're doing it better than what we thought
could be possible, and yet we don't see any increase in
speed. They finally decided the speed difficulties were
because of mismatches between program architectures
and the "look ahead" unit, and things like that, but rather
than let Sid cancel the thing, IBM adjusted the pricing
in very special ways. They essentially lowered the
Stretch CPU to a hundred thousand dollars, but
the peripherals maintained their original costs. It still
cost a dollar a bit for the memory, and so Sid said,
"Well, I'll buy two Stretch CPUs", but they
wouldn't sell him two. Sid was very, very clever that
Anyway, our official opinion about the Stretch is that it paid
for itself, and more, by being able to turn some designs
around during the 1962 Christmas Island operation. So,
in that sense, it was a success. Its biggest problem was
that it didn't really have all the software it needed.
JD: Well, there's a point. We had to learn to write software with
many millions of words. To me, that's one of the many
remarkable things that is still going on. What was it,
that Von Neumann said? "We can do all these things
with two thousand words of memory."
GAM: Yes, he said less than two, and he was right. And Edward Teller,
when I interviewed him, made that comment that when
we got the LARC, we had ordered thirty thousand words
of memory on it and Von Neumann said, "That's too
much, you don't need that much." Edward said, "I was
too smart to disagree with him." But, when I got back to
the lab, I called him up and asked him, "Can you come
out and visit us?" So, he came out and basically what
they said to him was, "Well, Johnny, if you're a Von
Neumann, you can get along with Four Thousand words
of memory, but all the ordinary people need thirty
thousand words and maybe even more. Von Neumann
withdrew his objections.
JD: Isn't that nice. And that's right on the nose.
GAM: Well, even he hadn't plumbed the depths of what does it mean to
do arithmetic over a huge mesh. And what is this
constant movement of data in and out with these
inadequate memories. Now, I think that, though it's a
story not yet told, the development of very large codes
as was done at the Laboratory, for whatever reason, was
fundamentally different from the stuff that goes on in
colleges and ordinary little businesses. They have big
codes, but they don't sweep through the entire data sets
all the time; they'll be looking at a data entry or they're
proving a number theorem problem or something like
that. So, what we did with large-scale problems, was
quite different from what was ordinarily done with
computers and I think that made quite a difference.
Anyway, Sid was not able to buy two Stretchs. But,
we had the one, and we made it pay for itself. And, as
you know, when it got surplused, talk about unbalance,
Lowell Wood bought the most of the main frame, but
not the memories, for three thousand dollars, He didn't
buy the entire machine, he bought the CPU, the logic
unit. Someone else bought the typewriter, you know the
golf ball typewriter, for six hundred and fifty bucks
whereas Lowell paid only three thousand for the entire
computer, except they didn't sell him the memory
because those were still usable on the 7094's.
JD: Oh, that's right, 7302 memories.
GAM: Yes, I remember Norman taking me in and showing me, we could
peek into the little window there, we found the right
cores to watch, and we watched the bubbles coming off
the thing because it was being cycled too frequently.
GAM: Norman Hardy, a genius.
JD: That's right, that's absolutely true. He was one who used to show
up in the middle of the night as we finally got a
computer running and would have the first program to
drop in to test it out, to see how it worked.
JD: Remember the 780? The 780 was the large CRT.
GAM: Yeah, the direct view.
JD: The direct view CRT. He had built
a one-card program to run this view of a sign. He took
the card over to a 011 card punch and he plugged a hole
and brought the card back over and dropped the card
into the card reader. But, while he was gone, John
Delong had gone back behind the 780, pulled out two
wires for vertical and horizontal and reversed them.
Norm brought his card back and dropped it into the card
reader, hit the start key, turned around and instead of
doing this, or whatever he expected it to do it was going
the other way.
You could see all these wheels turning in Norm's head.
They completely described what had been done, what
had happened, and it's no different than the story of, I
don't know whether Bob Cralle did it, or who did it,
who fixed up the display device, so that when Norm
would write in numbers...I'm sure you've heard this
GAM: Yeah, I was involved with it. It was on the dd80, and the demo was
using our light pen, to show handwriting recognition.
JD: Oh, OK, fine.
GAM: That blew him away too.
JD: That's right, and I was in the room when that happened. You could
see the wheels turning for that one too. What did the
display say? I think it said "That's Norm Hardy."
GAM: It said, "By God, you are Norm Hardy; Hi Norm!".
JD: Ah, dear.
I always loved my Australia experience. I spent three
years in downtown Sidney, working on the eighth floor
of a ten-story building called the Grace
Building. And, as far as I know, we're talking about
Grace Shipping Line. I wandered around, had a
wonderful time. At lunchtime, I would go down onto the
main drag. It was a big wide street called Martin Place,
and I would eat at a restaurant down there, Purdium,
and then come back to the office, eventually, and turn
out a few more bits of work, which was ordering, not
computer parts, but radio parts. As an example of one
of the more exciting few minutes, I was walking
through Martin Place, and heard fast footsteps behind
me and decided it might be a good idea to turn around
and see what was taking place. What I saw was two
Aussie MPs, Military Police, chasing an Aussie
soldier who, I suppose, was AWOL. As he ran through
the crowd on this lovely spring day, he would dodge
behind people and move around and so on. The two
soldiers chasing him couldn't make any progress
because, as he went through the crowd, the crowd would
step out of the soldier's way and into the way of the
military police at the same time saying, "Go it, Aussie."
In other words, helping him escape. That was just one of
many experiences. There was a bookstore I loved to go
into. It was D-Y-M-O-C-K. So, I would buy books there that I had no
way of getting home, except there was a nice math
book that I purchased and, in the math book, was a slip
of paper I never looked at it until very recently, and it
was signed out to Sergeant D-Y-M-O-C-K. And that
was the first clue I ever had that "Dimmick" might be
pronounced some other way or spelled some other way.
I was on the internet and here was their ad, and I wanted
a certain book and so I ordered it from them, and it came
about two or three months later. It was the first time I
really made the Internet mine. Since then, why, I can
make mistakes, but I can't do any wrong.
GAM: You didn't go any further into the way you spell Dimmick?
JD: Well, in Scotland, I'm told there are lots and lots of Dimmicks. I've
never really checked up.
GAM: It would be intriguing to follow up on.
JD: One thing I have done is VON. Do you know what VON is? You
probably do. Voice On Network. It turns out that, on
VON, there are various chat rooms, the usual thing, and
there is also a ham radio list with call letters from all
over the world. I put my call letters down and the first
thing you know, one of these pictures comes to life and
some guy's there with his call letters and we have a
QSO. QSO being the ham radio equivalent for a chat.
It's one of the Q codes. I've talked on that, probably, two
dozen times. The closest one is in San Francisco.
When I was first getting started on it, and I had some
questions. Neither the guy nor I were able to really
make everything work the way we wanted it to. We'd
gotten to the point where Ma Bell had to be involved in
it. I realized that, since he was in San Francisco, it
wouldn't cost me too much to make a call to San
Francisco, so I unhooked the computer and hooked the
telephone back up again and asked for information. I
had the guy's name, because if you push the right button,
you find out what the guy's address is and everything
else, so I called him. He said, "Oh, you're the guy I
was just talking to". And I said, "What were we doing
wrong?" And, so, we discussed this and figured out what
was wrong and the next time I was on the VON, it went
much smoother. It wasn't too much later that I found myself
talking to a young man, he said he was 17 years old and
he said he was in Durban, South Africa. He was telling
me he was kind of disturbed about the kind of politics
that was going on in South Africa at that time. It was
never very smooth, but he told me he thought he would
go out to Australia. If you're up here you go "down" to
Australia, if you're in South Africa you go "out" to
GAM: See, there's a sense of handedness we have here.
JD: Yes, that's right, and, so, the last one I'll tell you about is a guy I've
been in regular e-mail contact with in Christchurch,
New Zealand. Here was a guy, a ham radio operator,
who was near Christ Church. I had him describe it to
me and I was really pleased. We had something to talk
about, not just the weather.
GAM: Or the gear you're using.
JD: Or the gear we're using. So I said, "Oh by the way, a very dear
friend of mine did some research during the last few
years, before her death, on how Livermore got its name.
This, of course, was Janet Newton. It came about
because of a British sailor by the name of Robert
Livermore jumping ship in 1835 in San Francisco bay.
He says, "That's interesting, that's interesting, that's
GAM: OK, let's hear the story of the dummy.
JD: The story of the dummy. Do you remember a cartoonist, Virgil
GAM: Yes, very much.
JD: There was one picture he had that I always loved, and it was of the
guy who had his Techtronics scope, I think it was an ad
for Techtronics, and he's trying to see a pulse of energy
on the scope, and he has reached right on through the
computer, and the squiggle is still on it's way, and he
hasn't reached it with the scope probe. Well, this really,
somehow or other, resonates with all my feelings of the
years I have spent with a scope probe watching the
shape of a pulse. You put energy into it, you wish it
well and so on, but you hope you will see it so you can
find out what is wrong with the machine. When we
unhooked one of the 704s, or was it the 70l? When we
unhooked this one machine, we talked and joked about
the amount of time we had spent looking at pulses with
a Techtronic scope and it was a sort of conversation
amongst us, you remember all the hours you've spent
JD: Somehow, the words escape me, I guess they came from me. We
had visions of actually opening up the machine when it
was received in Poughkeepsie and finding a guy in
there still holding onto a scope probe.
GAM: Yes, great.
JD: I went off to school on the new machine and, in the meantime,,,, I
heard that somebody had actually put a dummy into
that machine. I thought it was funny at the time, but I
didn't realize how it would be accepted and received at
the other end. There was no warning whatsoever, they
got the machine back there, opened it up, and here was
this body with a scope probe, the whole thing. At least
three VP types made a trip out to Livermore to have a
long conversation with us to be sure we didn't do that
again. Sid, when he finally heard about it, I think I told
him years later, laughed. You can imagine him.
I don't know that anybody lost his or her job.
GAM: Well, they shouldn't have.
JD: They shouldn't have, but God-O-Mighty, these guys were out for
blood. Now one more story.
JD: It had to do with the tours around the plant that each class received.
They went down through a sort of open area where
there wasn't very much activity, and shoved way back
in the corner was a 733. The 733, if you'll remember,
was a drum unit, about so big, great big drums go
around, and on the side of it was a sign where it was
from: "Livermore Radiation Lab." I think it was all
spelled out, and the fact that it was contaminated. I may
even have written on it "contaminated", not realizing
that it had a special connotation. And the thing had
been shoved way back there so nobody would get close
to it and get irradiated. So, we got that sign out of there.
Lithium Chloride is what was in it. It was from that first
air conditioner in the 701 Building.
GAM: Boy that is a long time ago. That's great.
JD: During my very first class in Endicott, a group of 15 to 18 of us
were being toured through 590 Madison in New York
City. We were upstairs where T.J. Watson senior's
office was, and when we were shown his office, one of
my fellow students had gone on in there and sat down
with his feet up on Watson's desk. I was behind him, so
I could see how he was using this desk. He didn't see
me do it, but I went out into the hallway and I started
towards the open door in the hallway that would look in
on him at that desk. I walked like this, scrape, scrape,
scrape, and I went on around the corner. He heard
that, and he couldn't get out of the chair because it was
leaned way back and his feet were on the table and he
couldn't do a thing. How wonderful.
GAM: That's great.
JD: OK, enough of IBM.
GAM: OK, well, we have run on, but it was fun. We'll stop here and let
me thank you for a truly interesting chat.
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