[TUHS] BTL summer employees

Jon Steinhart jon at fourwinds.com
Mon Aug 3 05:05:03 AEST 2020

Robert Diamond writes:
> I was one of those high school employees, but worked year-round on weekends
> and full time in the summers into college. I came from the Explorer’s
> Club (scouts). Walter L. Brown of the Radiation Physics deptartment hired
> me mainly as a sysadmin on his lab’s PDP 11/45. (I still have all the
> manuals!). I also did some coding for him - one project I remember was doing
> some sort of processing of raw data from a magnetometer on the Voyager-1
> spacecraft. I also worked for Steve Bourne re-writing some FORTRAN code
> into C.
> I would use the terminals in the Unix room typing my school papers using
> troff, printing them out on the phototypesetter, and presenting them in
> a Bell Labs white cover. I got to chat with Brian and Dennis and Doug
> (hi Doug!) and others often.
> I remember having lunch downstairs in the cafeteria and learning to play
> GO and having conversations with random employees that blew the mind of
> this teenager. I remember Steve Marcus showing me his speech synthesizer
> and speech recognition system, playing with a Unix system running in a
> box the size of a toaster oven, going to talks that mostly went over my
> head but still learning a huge amount, wandering those long hallways and
> peeking into people’s labs, ogling at the Cray in the computer center, etc.
> Those years created a future for me: I worked at AT&T (Long Lines and
> International) and Sun Microsystems, and still use Unix every day at Two
> Sigma (a quantitive hedge fund with a huge Unix infrastructure).
> Not sure I made any lasting contributions, but it left a lasting impression
> on me.
> Rob

I wasn't claiming to be authoritative on who got to be summer students; it was
just my observation based on who I ran into.  I do remember some other kids in
there but not sure how it happened or what became of them; Heinz may know.  My
first summer a group of underprivileged kids from Newark was brought in.
It mainly sticks in my mind because one of them was terrified because the
computer was so much smarter than he was, so someone (Hal Alles?) tasked him
with programming a PDP-11/10 via the front panel switches which gave him a
completely different perspective.

My experience as similar to Robert's.  Computers were slow in those days, and
so while I was waiting I would wander around and poke my head into doors where
I saw interesting looking stuff and ask people what they were doing.  Two that
really stick out to me were discovering the UNIX room, of course, and also
Max Matthew's music lab.

Like Robert, I'm not sure that I did anything timeless but I learned lots of
amazing stuff from some of the smartest and strangest people that I ever met
and it changed my life.

Not sure how it would have played out had I thought about trying to go there
after college.  My summer jobs were all software even though I was an EE because
hardware projects couldn't be finished in a summer.  I grew up with very
provincial parents in New Jersey and had never really been anywhere until I got
a summer job in 1976 for Tektronix in Oregon.  The great outdoors were so much
greater than back east that I never even thought about being anywhere else.

Oh yeah, does anyone have an early 1970s BTL phone book?  I've been trying to
remember someone's name.  Our lab moved to 7C-217 when buildings 6 and 7 were
completed.  Would appreciate it if someone could tell me who else was on that
side of the hall to the right of the lab if facing the lab door from the hall.
I seem to remember that there was another lab that had the SS1, the department
stockroom, and a few more offices including Dave Weller's.  I think that our
department's terminal room was across from Dave's.  Anyway, would really like
to know the names of the folks in those offices because there's one person that
I wanted to acknowledge in my book, and I've been fixing mistakes for another
printing and would add it if I could.


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