[TUHS] Fred Grampp

M Douglas McIlroy m.douglas.mcilroy at dartmouth.edu
Fri Mar 12 01:06:32 AEST 2021

In all that's been written about the Research Unix players,
Fred Grampp has gotten far less coverage than he deserves.
I hope to rectify that with this post, most of which was
written soon after his death.


During Fred's long career at Bell Laboratories, his coworkers
were delighted to work with him, primarily because of his
innovative and often surprising ways of attacking problems.

Fred's unique approach was by no means limited to work-related
matters. Fred arranged an annual canoe-camping trip on the
Delaware River replete with nearly professional grade fireworks.

He also arranged a number of trips to New York City (referred
to as culture nights) which included, among other things,
trips to the planetarium and visits to various tea rooms.

To his friends at Bell Labs, Fred Grampp was a true original. He
knew the urban community of small, scrabbling business
as well as the pampered life of industrial research in the
country's greatest industrial research lab. And he brought
the best of each to his approach to work.

In his father's hardware store, Fred learned on the front line
what "customer-oriented" meant--a far cry from the hypothetical
nonsense on the subject put forth by flacks in a modern PR
department, or by CEO Bob Allen thinking big thoughts on the
golf course.

Fred ran the computing facilities for the Computer Science
Research Center. He had his finger on the pulse of the machinery
at all hours of day and night. He and his colleague Ed Sitar
rose early to pat the hardware and assure that everything was
in order just as had been done at the hardware store. The rest
of us, who kept more nerdish hours, could count on everything

Packed with equipment, the machine room depended on
air conditioning. Fred saw this as a threat to dependable
service. As a backup, he had big galvanized barn fans installed
in several windows--incongruous, but utterly practical. And
they saw actual use on at least one occasion.

Fred cooked up ingenious software to sniff the computers'
health and sound alarms in his office and even by his bed when
something was amiss. When a user found something wrong and
popped into Fred's office to report the trouble, more often
than not he'd find Fred already working on it.

With his street smarts, Fred was ahead of the game when
computer intrusion began to become a problem in the 1970s.
He was a real white-hat marshall, who could read the the bad
guys' minds and head them off at the pass. With Bob Morris,
Fred wrote a paper to alert system administrators to the kinds
of lapse of vigilance that leave them open to attack; the paper
is still read as a classic. Other sage advice was put forth
by Fred in collaboration with G. R. Emlin, who would become an
important adjunct member of the lab, as several TUHS posts attest.

Quietly he developed a suite of programs that probed a
computer's defenses--fortunately before the bad guys really
got geared up to do the same. That work led to the creation
of a whole department that used Fred's methods to assess and
repair the security of thousands of computers around Bell Labs.

Fred's avocations of flying and lock-picking lent spice to
life in the Labs. He was a central figure of the "computer
science airforce" that organized forays to see fall colors,
or to witness an eclipse. He joined Ken Thompson, who also
flew in the department air force, on a trip to Russia to fly
a MIG-29.  Ken tells the story at cs.bell-labs.com/ken/mig.html.

Fred's passion for opera was communicated to many. It was
he who put the Met schedule on line for us colleagues long
before the Met discovered the World Wide Web. He'd press new
recordings on us to whet our appetites. He'd recount, or take
us to, rehearsals and backstage visits, and furnish us with
librettos. When CDs appeared on the scene, Fred undertook to
build a systematic collection of opera recordings, which grew
to over two hundred works. They regularly played quietly in the
background of his office. To Fred the opera was an essential
part of life, not just an expensive night on the town.

Fred's down-to-earth approach lightened life at Bell Labs. When
workmen were boarding up windows to protect them from some major
construction--and incidentally to prevent us from enjoying the
spectacle of ironworkers outside. Fred posted a little sign
in his window to the effect that if the plywood happened to
get left off, a case of Bud might appear on the sill. For the
next year, we had a close-up view of the action.

Fred, a graduate of Stevens Institute, began his career in
the computer center, under the leadership of George Baldwin,
perhaps the most affable and civic-minded mathematician I have
ever met. At the end of one trying day, George wandered into
Fred's office, leaned back in the visitor chair, and said,
"I sure could use a cold one about now." Fred opened his window
and retrieved a Bud that was cooling on the sill.

Fred lived his whole life in Elizabeth, New Jersey. At one
point he decided that for exercise he could get to the Labs by
train to Scotch Plains and bike from there up to Bell Labs--no
mean feat, for the labs sat atop the second range of the
Watchung Mountains, two steep climbs away from Scotch Plains.
He invested in a folding bike for the purpose. Some days
into the new routine a conductor called him out for bringing
a bicycle onto the train. Fred had looked forward to this
moment. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a timetable
and pointed to the fine print: bicycles were prohibited with
the exception of folding bikes.

Originally dated October 25, 2000.  Lightly edited and three
paragraphs added February 22, 2021.
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