When I first began my scientific career at the Naval Research Lab, we had a Control Data Corporation (CDC) computer. Seymour Cray worked at CDC in the 1960s and these were the fastest supercomputers. In the 1970s, Cray left to found Cray Research. In 1964 the CDC 6600 supercomputer was launched and NRL had one. This was followed by IBM’s Advanced Scientific Computer (ASC) which competed with CDC. Input was on Hollerith cards or paper tape. Programs were submitted to the computer center and printed output was delivered after the program ran. All maintenance, backup and storage was handled by the computer center. As supercomputers grew more and more powerful, offsite computing was done via a terminal. Very nice. However, something was lurking in the background, the idea of a personal computer.
The Programmed Data Processor (PDP) developed by the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) pioneered the minicomputer industry. In 1970, the PDP-11 16-bit minicomputer was introduced to follow initial less powerful versions. The operating system was the basis for CP/M and MS-DOS. It was followed in 1977 by the VAX-11 (Virtual Address eXtension) a 32-bit minicomputer.
There was a move away from terminal use of powerful supercomputers costing roughly $800/hr to personally owned computers you could run 24/7. In the 1980s the IBM PC largely took over the small computer market and DEC was not able to compete. The beginning of the end!
In 1983, the PC introduced the world to Config.sys, Auto exec.bat and personal file management and backup, something formerly done by the computer center. This led to an enormous waste of time. Scientists were now spending more and more time administering their PCs instead of doing science.
This personal computer love affair is here to stay, but things are evolving back to using the PC as a PC, but also a terminal with a throwback to terminal computing known as the Cloud. Now software and personal data can reside on a remote powerful server, due to increased security.
I have had the incredible opportunity to work with some of the leading mathematicians of my generation. Nobel Laureate Dr. Jerome Karle, my supervisor at NRL, Dr. John Konnert, co-founder of RPG Diffusor Systems and Dr. Trevor Cox, my co-author of reference acoustical books. I have always been fascinated with mathematics, because it has been one of my most difficult subjects. I struggled with it in high school. In college and grad school, I took all of the required math courses and achieved good grades, but I always felt like I was speaking a foreign language, rather than developing the comfort and fluidity of speaking one’s native tongue.
It seemed incredible that a mathematician could work from basic principles, sometimes even inventing new math, to describe the physical world and the laws of nature. Eugene Wigner described this in his publication “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences”. John Tierney, a science writer for the New York Times, once wrote about mathematicians, “No matter how hard the practitioners of mathematics try to deliberately ignore the physical world, they consistently produce the best tools for understanding it”. The Greeks decide to study a strange curve called an ellipse and 2000 years later Kepler discovers it describes the orbits of the planets. In 1854 Bernhard Riemann conjectured it was not possible to draw two parallel lines ad infinitum and described curved space. 60 years later, Einstein announced that curved space-time was the shape of the universe. In the 19thcentury in Gottingen, Germany, Carl Friedrich Gauss discovered quadratic residue sequences and much more with no application in mind. In 1975 Manfred Schroeder used these sequences to uniformly diffuse soundwaves. The discovery of the Quark also intrigued me. Dr. Murray Gell-Mann working at Cal Tech, down the hall from Richard Feynman (both New Yorkers!), came to the mathematical conclusion that there must be an elemental particle, yet undiscovered, which he called the Quark, first used in Finnegan’s Wake, by James Joyce. One day he received a call from the Stanford Linear Accelerator describing a new particle they discovered. Upon further investigation, it turned out to be the Quark! He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1969. More recently Peter Higgs postulated from pure mathematics that the Standard Model required a force particle, which was called the Higgs Boson or GOD particle. Miraculously in 2012 it was detected at the LHC at 125 GeV. This unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics never ceased to amaze me!
As a musician, I have been intrigued with that portion of a song when the vocal transitions to typically an instrumental solo, that is until rap.
In the 1940s, during the big bands, the solo during a vocal performance was typically instrumental trumpet, clarinet, trombone, saxophone, etc. or piano. In the 1950s, during the Doo Wop era, it was the mighty Tenor Sax of Sam the Man Taylor and King Curtis. Then in the 1960s, the electric guitar took center stage. This continued to the 1980s and beyond, but the emergence of spoken Rap occasionally was inserted as a solo. Rap eventually became a genre of its own and surprisingly, in the 2020s a melodic sung vocal was used as a solo! I can’t wait for what comes next.