An Interview with Ed Schoonover

Ed Schoonover

ES = Ed Schoonover

GAM = George Michael

GAM: We're going to interview Ed Schoonover. The date today is 7/27/96. Ed, I'd like you to begin, by telling us where you went to school, how'd you get to the Lab, and so on.

ES: OK, I attended Western High School in Washington, D.C., and two days after graduating went into the Navy. I was in the Navy for two years on the USS Rochester, a heavy battle cruiser, and the battleship New Jersey, where I became a radar operator. Following that, I came back and went to George Washington University, in Washington D.C. I started out in Civil Engineering and rapidly discovered that wasn't my forte and switched over to Mathematics. I didn't graduate from GW. I had to go back to work, so I worked at Riggs Bank while going to GW and then went to work for the United Mine Workers Welfare and Retirement Fund which, at that time, was under John L. Lewis. I went into business data processing where I spent about two years. In December of '53 I came to California, following a young lady I'd met, Barbara Campbell. We were married in December of that year. I worked for American President Lines, which I enjoyed very much, but all my experience had been in Remington Rand equipment and data processing tabulating. They had Reminton Rand equipment, but they were switching to IBM. My job was to switch some units from Reminton Rand to IBM. A job came up at Pacific Intermountain Express (PIE) in Oakland where they were still using the Remington equipment and so I took that job. That was a sorry mistake because the guy in charge was a nut. Anyway, that's another long story. But it wasn't very long until they decided to switch to IBM as well. I was getting lots and lots of experience with IBM equipment and, in the meantime, looking for another job. I hadn't been very successful in doing so when, finally, I went out to Hayward to the unemployment office; we had moved to Fremont. I met with some very nice people at the unemployment ofice and told them my story, how I was unhappy in the job I was in and had recently come from Washington D.C. They suggested that I go to the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Livermore. I hadn't the faintest idea where that was, but I did call and make an appointment. During this time, we had our first child, Roberta, so Barbara, Roberta, and I rode out to Livermore. On the way out I said, "Hey, wait a minute, this is out in nowhere." But I went, and at the gate, I was met by Sid Fernbach, who took me inside, interviewed me, and hired me on the spot. Which was another good feeling.

I started at the Lab as a computer operator. When I finally came to the Lab to work, I was supposed to come back for some tests. To this day, I don't know how they did it, but when I came back to the Lab they had my badge. I often thought maybe it was my Navy experience and coming from Washington D.C., but it was there waiting for me so I was able to start work pretty quick. If you remember, Pat Gray waited two years for his badge.

GAM: Yes, and some waited longer than that.

ES: At the time, the computer operation staff consisted of one person during the daytime, two at swing shift, and two at owl shift. They needed someone on owl shift, so that's where I started. Tad Kishi was in charge of the computer operators at that time, and I worked for about five or six months before Sid Fernbach showed up and said, "Ed, we like what we see, we want to try you as a programmer." So I started in, scared to death, but I got to know the engineers. Working at night is when you meet the engineers; it seemed like, that's when they were out there doing their thing. I want to mention right now another person that I think you should interview. A gentleman I hold in the highest regard, Jimmy Dimmick.

GAM: Oh yes, I have him on my list.

ES: He was something else, because even back in those days he was helping me.

GAM: What year was this now?

ES: May, 1955.

GAM: So that meant we had some IBM equipment installed.

ES: Yes, in fact I started to work on the 701.

GAM: OK, the 701 Flake.

ES: It was one big sucker with tubes, and the engineers would come in and look at the ends of the tubes and they could tell what was going on. Anyway, I switched from operations into programming. I'll have to back up a little bit, working the owl shift I was there all by myself. Here's this huge machine, I'd never seen anything like it before and I was scared half to death. People would leave me instructions; one night I went in to work and, at 2 a.m., I was supposed to put this code on, but I couldn't read the instructions—it was just a scribble. So, I decided I would wait until the individual came in. I couldn't waste machine time but, at 2 a.m., the individual didn't show up. Well, I was fit to be tied, knew I was going to be fired, scared to death, and who shows up fifteen minutes late, but Hans Brujnes. So I chewed him out. That made an impression on a few people I guess because, shortly thereafter, I was asked to be a programmer by Sid and put on Hans Bruijnes's staff. That was in the days when Chuck Leith was one of the physicists leading the use of our computers. I can't remember, but there were a whole bunch of physicists, mathematicians that Hans and I were doing programming for, that were assigned to this, and it was a SNEGG code. So, it wasn't long before we started automating it, which was a lot of fun. I was in charge of converting the machine language to FORTRAN. This is when Hans and I first got involved with monitors. We fully automated the code, the graphics and all that kind of stuff. Then Sid came over and asked me if I would take over FORTRAN—it was this up and coming thing. A fellow had it but he was going to leave the Lab and Sid wanted to know. So, Hans and I went over to Pleasanton for a milkshake and Hans said, "Ed, I don't think you should do this. I think you should stay with us—I don't know if you are capable of doing this." That's all he had to say, so I went back and said I'd take it. >From then on, it was a lot of fun. We always did our own programming and our own systems work and it wasn't too many years before we did our own FORTRAN. We Fortraned FORTRAN in Fortran. In the meantime, I was taking some courses at the University of San Francisco and a couple at San Jose State. I never took any at the Berkeley Campus, but I took a number of math courses at the Lab. So I was able to continue going to school that way. Sid hired me, of course and, after FORTRAN, I became a supervisor. More and more of the activity was systems oriented, and I got involved more with systems people and keeping the systems going and helping people when they ran into problems. That was a lot of fun and I was involved in that for a number of years and had a group.

I did a couple of things, looking back on this, that I really got a kick out of. This involved FORTRAN and I programmed two things that I always thought were really good. I don't know if they ever went very far but I wrote a flow chart program that would take your FORTRAN code, flow chart it and, amazingly enough, point out a lot of errors. Because lines would just run off into nowhere and from that I wrote another program that I tried publishing—it never got very far—that was called "Auto Debug". Do you remember "Auto Debug"?

Ed Schoonover
GAM: Barely.

ES: This was when we had the 704 or 709, Norm Hardy and I used to talk about the strange instructions they used to have, like the "Branch Trap". They had an "Enter trap transfer" mode and this was a unique command that you never saw too much, not even in systems work, but when you said "Enter trap transfer" mode, what it would do is interrupt most transfer type commands and go to a fixed address. Then you could say, "do something". Well, I thought about this and I said, "Hey, I could use that". When you went into the Auto-Debug, which is the name of the program, you said, "Call Auto-Debug" and the first thing it would say is "enter-trap transfer mode" and set up all the conditions for the debug. You'd go back, answer the questions and, say, when does this number go to zero, or anything you wanted to ask it, and then it would give you an automatic memory dump, transfer back and take off. Then we were able, and this is the unique thing, trace backwards from where you were to where you started. That was one of my crowning achievements I think.

GAM: But you couldn't get it published?

ES: No.

GAM: Did they have any reason why?

ES: No, I didn't push it that hard. I sent it in and they sent it back. I don't think people understood it; it's hard to say. But it was a fun thing to do anyway.

GAM: Did you write a Lab report on it?

ES: Oh, yes, I got lots of recognition around the Lab on it.

GAM: Well, so that would be in the Lab archive, right?

ES: It should be, both Flow Chart and Auto-Debug.

GAM: I'll check.

ES: As for who my supervisors were, I guess it was Tad Kishi when I was in operations, and then later Hans, until I became a supervisor myself. Then later on I worked for different people.

Let's see, favorite computers. What amazes me is I look at my computer that I have at home, which is three or four years old. It's nothing like the computers they have out now. When I look at the 701 or the 704, they were the world's biggest, fastest, computers and they are nothing like we have at home. It's unbelievable. I think my favorite computer was the IBM 7094.

GAM: That was a nice machine, no question.

ES: There was lots we could do with it, and Sid had put me in charge of switching over from the 94's to the 3600's. During this time, I'd been working with Jimmy Dimmick. We had a code and we'd get time on the two machines. On one machine, we'd get a divide check and on the other one we wouldn't, this really blew our minds. Jimmy was persistent and, let me digress for just a minute, when we got the first 3600, we were having all sorts of trouble with the tape drives. They would get tape checks all over the place, things just weren't working, codes would be running for an hour and all of a sudden be blown off because of the tapes. So, I asked Jimmy if he would go look at them and he was very unwilling. He said, "That's CDC, I'm IBM". I said, "All I want you to do is just go over and look at this thing." Jimmy would go over and put his thumb up on the drive and it would run. The spindle was off.

GAM: Say that again louder.

ES: He put his thumb up on the inside of the drive, and he would tell it was wobbling a little bit, so he put his thumb on it and it would run perfectly.

GAM: The magic Dimmick thumb.

ES: Magic Dimmick. Anyway, I got him on this problem with the divide check on one machine and not on the other. Of course I had to prove it, and he said ok, he would be in that night and he would check over a whole bunch of stuff. I came in the next day and he said, "I found your problem" and he held up a little light bulb. The light bulb was burnt out on one of the machines. That's why we weren't getting the check.

GAM: Oh, it was burnt out and it didn't tell you?

ES: That's right, and we didn't have any in stock, so he had to go downtown and get one. Do you remember Jack Gonzales?

GAM: Oh yes, he was a brilliant, brilliant guy.

ES: Unbelievable! He and only one shortcoming, he loved to gamble. He knew every card in the deck and he could memorize them upside down and backwards, but he didn't believe it so you could always play cards with him. He was unbelievable.

Ed Schoonover
GAM: He, Von Holt, Norman, and I were involved in this little business of permuting every bit in the instruction field and discovering all kinds of instructions that weren't in the manual. One of those was copy and add logical, great instruction.

ES: Oh yes, definitely.

GAM: You mentioned the monitor and that certainly occupied an enormous amount of the energies and resources at the Lab. So let's go back and pick on that a little bit. The monitor came from IBM and it was first on what machine, the 704?

ES: Yes. We took it and modified it. In fact, we just took the bare bones of what they had because we had been working on our own. As I mentioned, through the SNEGG code we had built up a system whereby you could add tapes, printers, punch cards, do all this kind of stuff automatically. So we took part of the monitor and started modifying and adding to it. But we used their system; it was equivalent to our system. When we expanded it, we had the full-blown monitor on the things—it worked out fantastically. Of course, that was in the days when we still had cards, you remember. So all the cards would be submitted, put on tape, and then put on the monitor, whereas before that, we used to walk over with our little decks in our hands. Doug Baird, a real tall fellow was with us on our team. He was a really shy guy—he ended up going to Berkeley.

GAM: Yes, what did you call his last name?

ES: Doug, I want to say Baird, but that doesn't sound right, but it was Doug. Real tall looking, six foot three or so.

GAM: Yes, I see him quite often when I go into Berkeley.

ES: Oh, really? Anyway, we had a deck that was six or seven inches that we would load in, and our tapes would go with it, and then we would run our production tapes or run the setups for production codes. Hans would always come over and say do this or do this, and I used to stand and run in place and he'd think I was busy. But, one time we got Doug. We made up a fake deck, same color cards, everything, and even wore them down a little bit and said, "we want you to walk over to the machine and just as you get near the machine, let them go and let's see what happens to Hans". Doug got over there and walks up and he froze, he couldn't let them go. We had some good times. I worked with Michael May. Chuck Leith was always an unbelievable individual, I thought. He'd have these teams and you were part of the team.

GAM: Sure. Were you still involved with the monitor when it moved from the old 704 version to IBSYS 790, I think that is where it started.


GAM: Yes, IBSYS that was the big IBM monitor system.

ES: No, at that point I was in FORTRAN. We went through several gyrations. What was his name? Hans sort of started out in systems work and then Kishi was involved in it.

I don't know whether you were ever aware of it, but Sid liked the hell out of you.

GAM: Oh, he did? I wasn't aware of that.

ES: He liked anyone that would stand up to him and you did that. I enjoyed the man thoroughly, and I got away with a lot too.

GAM: I remember one of the things that was annoying to me was when Hans locked up all the manuals. We would have to come down to your office and get you to open up the cabinets so we could get a manual out. The 709 manuals, as I recall, those brown and orange things. He was trying to get everyone to use the documentation, which had been produced to describe how to use the monitor that you guys had.

ES: Oh, OK, so they wouldn't let you add anything else?

GAM: Right, so we couldn't get the real machine manual. Well, there was a way, but it was annoying. He had a rationale for that, but I don't remember it ever being discussed.

ES: There was another piece of equipment that I really liked and that was the DD80.

GAM: That was a beautiful machine.

ES: Oh man, something else. What was the gal's name who ran the Radiation printer?

GAM: Mona.

ES: Mona! Mona Williams?

GAM: No, it wasn't Williams it was Millings. Sid was afraid of her.

ES: I didn't know anybody that wasn't—I was too.

GAM: She was really a tender-hearted person, and she kept the printer running. Well, there were a lot of interesting people there that made the place just sing. Mona was one of them. There was Mr. Egbert Gittens, remember him?

ES: Oh yes.

GAM: A very elegant gentleman. Whose ways were different from the other operators.

ES: Yes, poor guy. I went to Sid one time—I was really upset some people were picking on Egbert. Egbert would try to run one of the production codes or something and people would turn a piece of equipment off, or this or that, and he would get all rattled, and it just seemed to me that it wasn't fair. I didn't know what to do about, it so I went to Sid and I said, "Hey look, I'm complaining, I want something done". I could go into Sid's office and pound my fist, and he'd just sit there and look at you wearing a look of patient boredom. It wasn't easy to rile him. But I went in and I said, "I've got to be emphatic when I say this". I said, "Sid, I can prove that fifty per cent of the things that he's accused of are not true." Sid looked me in the eye and said, "What about the other fifty?" So that was it.

GAM: He was an interesting man. Well, I think we're finished for the moment. Thanks for your memories.