Copyright ©2006 by Paul Niquette, all rights reserved.
The Verb "Sofware"
|Excerpts from e-mail messages in 2000 from Emil Borgers, an eminent figure in programming from the fifties onward...|
in 1957 were never called 'software engineers' and I corrected anyone who
tried. I remember being insulted by its use --- an annoyance really.
The common phrase 'to software around it' was how the term was used the most, much to my dismay -- basically, by engineers who had no more room for components (or money in the design budget) and wanted to slip the problem into someone else's domain (mine). Today, with processing speed as it is, 'software-arounding' things is normal but in those days it was not often a wise choice.
|In 2006, another colleague from the fifties responded to my request for recollections about adventures with early computers. Bill Paine was the programmer who wrote the bit-by-bit simulator for the RW-300 on the Univac 1103A and then became a regional sales manager for TRWP.|
the sifting through the shards of early 'computerdom' a modern archeologist
finds...a lot of dust. There must be a better use of time in one's
final remaining years! Churchill wrote his History of the English
Speaking People in his later years.
PN: How much do you recall about 1957 and the first international sports car rally in the U.S. -- and the "Ralliac"?Paine: The idea for entering the rally was mine, and I invited you to be my partner. The Ralliac was conceived by you when I explained the need for mastering on-board real-time calculations required in a sports car rally. The main goal was to finish an initially unknown course, hitting unknown check points at the exact times specified by the rally designers. Therefore it was critically important that the rally team (driver and navigator) have accurate real-time information on time and distance traveled.
The Ralliac was designed to produce the critical mileage information using pulses generated by a magnet on a wheel passing the 'read head' mounted closed by. Precise timing would be supplied by clock circuits within the Ralliac.
Sports car rallies were international events in those days. They often lasted 24 hours and represented a total distance to be traveled of many hundreds of miles. There would be dozens of contestants. Counting the planning and checkpoint staffing for the rally, there must have been many other people spending a great deal of time in addition to the rally contestants.
Our planning for the first application of the Ralliac included its installation in a new car donated by a local dealer...
PN: As the "hardware" guy, my assignment called for me to provide a demonstration at a Beverly Hills luncheon sponsored by a certain Renault dealer. All I had at that time was one printed circuit board. It was populated with advanced electronic components like diodes and transistors and was just small enough to fit in your jacket pocket.Paine: We never entered the rally due to circumstances beyond our control, as I recall.
PN: Right you are, Bill. The rally was suddenly cancelled by the sponsor. European contestants were caught in mid-ocean with their sports cars covered with cosmoline.
The Confusing Term: "Programming"
|Exerpt from e-mail messages in 2006 from Stu Schy, colleague at TRW Computers, commenting on passage in Part 2: "The word 'programming' was serviceable enough, of course. Renaming it 'software' did more to assure my reputation as an eccentric than to illuminate computer technology."|
the early 1960s, a group of us from TRW Computers attended a meeting at
CBS headquarters in New York prior to the contract signing for an automatic
switching system for the CBS network using the RW-300. There were
a number of CBS VPs there. One of the CBS people asked "What do we
do if we change from a CBS type fade to an NBC type fade?" This referred
to how running overtime was handled. I answered, "We can handle that
with a small change in the program (meaning the timing subroutine.)
At which, one of the men at one end of the table took the cigar out of
his mouth, stood up, pounded his fist on the table and said, "No one is
messing around with my programming!"
He was the CBS VP for Programming. This was one of a number of incidents that taught us the need to hire people from the industries we hoped to serve if we wanted to speak their language. We did get the contract. Some time later, a CBS technician said to me "Hey, you bastard, you cost me my job! Now, how about giving me one?" I said, "That's fair." and we hired him. After a few months, he used the expertise he learned at TRWC to get a much better job at CBS as Manager of Computer Operations.
My Mentor: Dan Gerlough
|While conducting my researches for this memoir, I received an e-mail message on March 24, 2001 from Walter F. Bauer, a renown figure in the early history of computers. His recollections about Dan Gerlough stirred up my own memories. I replied the same day. Let this exchange serve as a tribute to Dan and to his enduring contributions to traffic engineering.|
In reading [the draft], I couldn't help recalling my contacts with Dan
Gerlough. In 1960 Dean Wooldridge [the W in TRW]
got the idea to start a traffic control business (project). I was
chosen to start it.
PN: Coincidence Alert: During that time period, Walt, I was also with TRW, on a consulting assignment in air traffic control at the fledgling FAA at the National Aviation Facility Experimental Center (NAFEC) in Atlantic City, so I did not know about the [vehicular traffic control] initiative.Bauer: The idea was to apply electronics and modern analysis to the emerging traffic problem, especially the freeways. I got a basic understanding of what was going on in traffic control technology, travelling around the country and talking to the cognoscenti.
PN: Ironically, just last month [April, 2001], I attended a "brown-bag" luncheon in San Francicso put on by one of my colleagues at Booz Allen Hamilton. Our firm has a consulting contract with Caltrans and other highway jurisdictions for -- well, suffice it to say, I have no doubt that you would find the technical means for characterizing traffic congestion, and the remedies are all familiar enough. The Law of Unintended Consequences prevails universally. There is a tangle of conflicting interests that impede solutions, if indeed solutions there be (apart from bicycles, of course).Bauer: Not long after starting, I heard about Dan and his project at UCLA. I convinced him to head up the traffic control group in my department at TRW. We got some prestigious traffic control contracts, and developed a road sensor.
PN: At UCLA's ITTE in 1953, a couple of us, with Dan Gerlough's approval and mentoring, invented an electric wheel sensor, using a rubberized tape with sinuous metal conductors inside, to replace the pneumatic tube contraptions of that time. We placed them in pairs across traffic lanes, separated by a yard, and, with an electromechanical timing device, we were able to classify speeds, thus solving what I called the "density-lock deception" [flow-rates measured with single-point detectors will decrease with congestion tricking the analysis into thinking congestion is clearing out]. My guess is that your sensor was the "embedded loop"; if so, it is still in use today -- also deployed in pairs, but, alas, often not connected to any recording devices, due to budget constraints.Bauer: But our best claim to fame was applying the RW-300 for intersection traffic control. The computer handled some 50 intersections around Dodger Stadium. It was the very first time a computer had ever been employed for automatic traffic control! I wonder if any historian would be interested in that.
PN: One quasi-historian is interested; that's for sure. More coincidence, Walt. I was involved about a year later with an awkward, non-computerized system at Scantlin for controlling clusters of intersections around the Los Angeles Coliseum.Bauer: Post Script: I remember many discussions in 1961 with traffic engineers on the subject of on-ramp metering. We were ready to install, but they rejected it out of hand. It wasn't until about 10 years later that on-ramp metering became a reality. And now it's commonplace. The idea, as you well know, is that when density passes a critical stage, volume drops off precipitously.
PN: So do I. At that "brown bag" on traffic congestion last month, Walt, I saw a slide depicting a venerable scattergram -- that plotting of double-valued flow-rate versus speed (a horizontal "V" -- remember?) and got tears in my eyes.
Exchange with Ray Stanish
|One student at Los Angeles Tech and later a close friend, Rig Currie, did act on my behalf by writing an e-mail message to another student, Ray Stanish. Nice try, Rig.|
|October 27, 2000
All the time I worked at TRW, I don't recall hearing the term "software."
I left TRW to become a Professional Public Speaker.
I started out with the talk "Atomic Energy - Peasant Style" but soon thereafter
developed one I called "Giant Nincompoops" -- about computers obviously.
I presented that talk off and on for 10 or 15 years, and I don't recall
during all that time ever using the term
So, I have no idea when I became aware of it or the source.
Sorry, I can't help you, Paul. I would've been glad to if I could. I always had high regard for your brains and your 'way-out-in-front knowledge of computers.
It's been a pleasure to have known you and to have learned from you.
|October 29, 2000
Thanks for your message, Ray.
Perhaps you do remember that in 1957, TRWP (pronounced "twerp") was solemnly engaged in launching a new business development that called for marketing unfamiliar technology in a risk-averse business environment -- the earliest applications of small, primitive digital computers ("digitile computors") that would be put into service exerting absolute real-time control over safety-critical systems, including chemical factories, oil refineries, and nuclear power plants. "Closing the Loop," read the headlines.
Nothing to kid around about. Soft things need not apply.
Ten years later, Ray, I had the privilege of attending
a performance of "Giant Nincompoops" at a management club banquet at Scientific
Data Systems. I sat crimson-faced in the audience as the speaker
singled me out for recognition as the pedagogical source (LA Tech, remember?)
for the material being lampooned -- but not the comedic inspiration for
My own laugh-line in those days was not suitable for general audiences.
Imagine your wife complaining to her mother, "All he ever talks about is software."My memories are vivid for that time, Ray. Do you remember the "Million Dollar Order Party"? And the song you wrote based on IBM's company anthem?
We are loyal and true, Ramo-WooOther than in my class, there were really not many opportunities for you to have heard me say the word 'software'. In the middle of my tenure, just before TRWP moved to Beverly Hills, I broke daily contact with you and others and went off to consult for the fledgling FAA in Atlantic City, NJ, applying the RW-300 in -- gasp! -- air traffic control.
Well, while consulting for the FAA, I also wrote simulation software for the IBM 709 and commented with a straight face...
"After last night, I don't seem to have any more problems with my software."Being smirked at by IBM programmers in their Florsheims and striped ties kept me from smirking.
Computer Languages (Plural).
read your book on the word "software," and was very excited by it: I shall
make sure that everyone learns of your coinage, and correct those who remain
When ideas are named, as you no doubt realize, they act as seed crystals for inspiration, and only when something has a name can it become the subject of study, thought, and discipline. So if you hadn't come up with the name, all would have been different. I also think that it was important that it be a neologism because some of the stupid debates about the meaning of "knowledge" and "information" would not have gotten off the ground if the term had not been clearly different (as in "real-information" vs. "computing information").
I have spent some considerable time over the last few years trying to work out the origin of the word "language" in the sense of instructions for computers. The word programming is older, obviously coming from optimization and linear programming, but the curious sense of "language" used -- which has gotten all sorts of people into all sorts of knots by making them think of human languages rather than thinking of machine codes and symbologies -- derives from a minor, restricted use that was formerly considered arcane.
What we know of it is:
I would love for you to draw on your rich storehouse of memories and help me unravel this problem! Thanks anyway for your most illuminating work.
The mental exercise to which I was invited by this message proved unavailing, except that I am now all the more sympathetic to the difficulty faced by my friends and family in trying to respond to my queries about the word 'software' (when did you first hear it? learn its meaning? from whom?)hus, a lifetime being subjected to the use of the word 'language' in diverse contexts (the language of aviation, culinary language, the language of birds, the language of logic, of love, of storms, medical language, cowboy lingo, diplomatic language) has obliterated my recollections of its earliest application in the realm of computers.
The word 'lan·guage' has made a long but, I suspect, rapid metaphorical journey from its literal origins...
...to its appropriation for entities-without-tongues.Etymology: Middle English, from Old French langage, from langue, tongue, from Latin lingua.
1a. Communication of thoughts and feelings through a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures, or written symbols. b. Such a system including its rules for combining its components, such as words. c. Such a system as used by a nation, people, or other distinct community; often contrasted with dialect. 2a. A system of signs, symbols, gestures, or rules used in communicating: the language of algebra. b. Computer Science A system of symbols and rules used for communication with or between computers [emphasis added]. 3. Body language; kinesics. 4. The special vocabulary and usages of a scientific, professional, or other group: “his total mastery of screen language—camera placement, editing—and his handling of actors” (Jack Kroll). 5. A characteristic style of speech or writing: Shakespearean language. 6. A particular manner of expression: profane language; persuasive language. 7. The manner or means of communication between living creatures other than humans: the language of dolphins. 8. Verbal communication as a subject of study. 9. The wording of a legal document or statute as distinct from the spirit.
-- American Heritage Dictionary