My first trip to Europe occurred after I wrote a lengthy letter to Dr.
Charlie DeCarlo in justification of a trip to the ICIP Conference in
Paris in 1959. John Backus was giving a paper on his BNF notation,
and I argued that I had several technical fish to fry, in addition to
giving a paper at the conference of the British Computer Society the
My wife Marion also worked at IBM, as secretary for the Director of
Customer Engineering. Somehow I arranged for her to come with me.
Like CIA actions, the details are best left black. We left on 1959
June 12, to return on the 30th.
First we took a Lockheed 1049 Constellation, a propeller plane, to
Madrid via Lisbon. Each pair of seats had sort of an opaque shower
curtain one could draw about the area for privacy, especially while
sleeping, for it was an 11-hour flight to land. A few seats behind us
were Dr. Herb Grosch and his secretary. At Madrid, it was the summer
made famous by Ernest Hemingway, about the memorable duel of fame
between Dominguez and Ordoñez (brothers-in-law, or some such). We
saw Ordoñez at Madrid's lesser bullring Vista Allegre.
Then to Paris (Orly Airport in those days) for the ICIP Conference. We
felt important because all of us delegates had semi-official government
status. We stayed at the Claridge Hotel. Dr. John Carr III, in his own
memoirs, has recounted how I, astonished by the openness of the
prostitutes outside the hotel, attempted to take pictures. Those
handbags were heavy and well-wielded! I had to be rescued by the hotel
The conference itself needs to be recounted in its own right. But when
it was over we went to Le Toquet, where there was a channel-hopping
plane that could carry automobiles. Imagine our surprise when a red
Mercedes-Benz convertible came up for loading -- driven by Herb Grosch!
Yes, he of "Grosch's Law" about the ratio of computer cost to performance.
From the tiny landing field in Britain, Herb drove us to London. The
secretary was missing, so he had room. Then on to Cambridge University,
where I was to give my talk. Our hotel was quite nice by English
standards -- real tablecloths and all, with the waiter in formal
clothes. Unfortunately Cambridge must have not had a cleaning
establishment that the waiter could patronize.
We did get a chance to go punting on the river Cam. All the while I
kept thinking of all of those limericks.
At the big formal dinner in Kings College, Prof. Eiichi Goto was on my
left. Across our table were my wife and Prof. Sandy Douglas. With the
dessert, both of them tried to shoot cherry pits at me with a spoon.
They always missed, and always hit poor Prof. Goto, who bowed each time
and said "So sorry"! Sandy got to like my wife, and many years later
he and his son visited us in Phoenix. I gave young Malcolm a dead
scorpion from our pool. He took it back to England in a jar, where it
came back to vicious life!
Mr. Holland-Martin of the British firm ICT (International Computers and
Tabulators) had apparently been in correspondence with John McPherson
and Jim Birkenstock of IBM, and had noted the success of their plan to
convert the Office Equipment Manufacturers Institute into the Business
Equipment Manufacturers Association, with a charter in computer
standards work, and sponsor of the ASA X3 committee. McPherson and
Birkenstock had me draft a scope and program of work for the new
committee, and it was adopted. Character codes and vocabulary were two
of the six specific areas covered.
Oddly, Birkenstock's 47-page memoirs (in the 2000 January-March issue
of the Annals of the History of Computing) made no mention of these
actions. I think it was a lot more earthshaking than many of the things
Holland-Martin wished to do much the same in England, and this expanded
to the formation of ECMA, the European Computer Manufacturers
Association. I will always believe that ECMA advanced computer
standards much better than the USA's X3 did, probably because one Dara
Hekimi, a Swiss, was named Secretary General. Plus Jean Besse, well
known to world-class bridge players, as his righthand man.
To win approval, Holland-Martin needed proof of the fast pace of similar
work in the U.S. As I was familiar with the program we hoped would be
adopted for X3, and had an active role in the COBOL work, McPherson sent
me to give a status report to Holland-Martin's group.
This was only two weeks later, on Jul 14. I was so busy that all I had
time to pack was a TWA flight bag. The UK immigration people of that time
were suspicious of someone making a transatlantic trip with such a
minimum of luggage, and questioned me for some time. But I only stayed
two days. The trip served a dual purpose, as I also reported on COBOL
progress to a group from the British Computer Society.
Fallout from the European Trips
That fall a John Gosden showed up at IBM. A side excursion was to see
me, Frank Williams, and Howard Smith -- the subset of my group that was
working on standard and extended character sets, prior to activation of
ANSI X3. I recall that he got quite excited about what he saw, especially
the 8-bit set, which was quite a novelty at that time.
He took this information back to the British Standards Institution,
which had a working group on this topic. I was invited to show our work
to them the next time I came to London, which was on 1960 Feb 23-27.
I don't now remember why I had to go through Rome and Paris to get to
London! Again I juggled the travel accounts, as it was over a weekend.
Instead of returning home I had my wife Marion come to London Thursday
night. We packed the weekend with shows and such, and she returned home
Sunday afternoon in time to be back at work at IBM Monday. A friend,
telling her about their trip to Jamaica, chastised her for not really
paying attention, asking scornfully "What did you do over the weekend?"
The answer "Oh, I went to London" floored her, in those days.
One of the British members to whom I reported the character set work was
Hugh McGregor Ross, by all means the main sparkplug of their studies,
and very active even today, when he participates in the UNICODE work with
his firm (Universe of Characters?). We hit it off very well (so much
so that the code that was to become ASCII was first called the
Bemer-Ross Code in Europe).
I must have told Gosden of some of my other interests, for after he was
hired by Isaac Auerbach to work in the United States, Ike gave me a call
and invited me to a luncheon with Gosden to discuss his new project for
good practice, eventually the "Auerbach Standard EDP Reports". My air
travel history gives no clue to when, for it was either in New York or
Philadelphia, and those were not usually airplane trips for me.
I do remember that the meeting ran on much longer than expected.
Perhaps I gave some good advice, for Ike seemed pleased. I think we
must have agreed that a standard vocabulary would be a good thing, for
both Gosden and I had been doing work on this, quite apart from what
Grace Hopper was doing for the ACM. The problem with her committee was
that they did not take any non-US usage into account. Working for the
international company IBM, I found this unsatisfactory and provincial.
So did Ike Auerbach. When he founded the IFIP effort, with its first
Council meeting in Rome in 1960 June, he saw it as an ideal place to
rectify that. He thought correctly that to make a standard, one must first
have an input as a basis. He thought that about most aspects of the
work that ISO/TC97 was to do. I believe this was an important factor in
his virtually singlehanded creation of IFIP, with rather corresponding
committees. I was surprised to find that he had unilaterally named me
the U.S. representative on the IFIP Vocabulary Committee. Perhaps
Gosden's opinion counted. Perhaps he just asked around, found no
objection to me, and asked if I would and could accept. Then it was "You
He may have made a good choice, because I put in a vast amount of effort
on it. In correspondence with the other members, between physical
meetings, I made meticulous and extensive annotations on the various
definitions. I also sent all of this correspondence to John Gosden, to
help him and to ensure as much feedback and support as possible.
The IFIP Vocabulary Committee was chaired by Geoffrey Tootill of the UK.
We met in 1961 October (Copenhagen), 1962 March (Feldafing), 1963
January (London), 1963 April (Rome), and 1963 September (Oslo). Often
these were in conjunction with IFIP Council meetings; we had to make
I remember the London meeting because that was where I picked up my
1963 Sunbeam Alpine, which I still have in restored condition, bearing
the Arizona license plate "ESQ SEQ". At that time the Customs rules
were that one could take delivery in Europe, drive around a bit, and
import the car as "used" for a lower duty. I had a terrible time with
that scheme. I was able to drive it only 35 miles because (as a Dick
Francis book later enlightened me) it was the worst UK weather in 300
years! Customs was kind, and okayed a "used" condition.
I remember the Rome meeting because we actually worked in EUR, the city
that Mussolini created to be the capital of Europe. Very run down, and
the exposed electrical wiring was stapled or taped to the marble! I
believe much of the movie "La Dolce Vita" was filmed there.
I remember the Oslo meeting in the first place from finding Vice
President Johnson shopping at the Christiana Glasmagasin. My wife tried
to strike up a conversation with the plainclothes guards, who didn't
want that role to be visible. When they demurred she said "Oh, you guys
are so obvious!"
Secondly because I was surprised to meet Eric Clamons of UNIVAC on the
street; we have had long and fruitful collaboration in the coded
character set business. It was Eric that, when I went to Univac, made
the Univac 1050 the first true ASCII-based machine.
Thirdly I remember it because during a lull I proposed playing "5-in-a-row",
or Go-Mo-Ku (a simple derivative of the GO game), with Swedish member
Olle Karlquist. For the first five games I was careless and lost all
five. The next five I really paid attention, and still lost all five!
I mentioned this anomaly to him, whereupon he told me he was the
unofficial Go-Mo-Ku champion of Sweden!
The structure of the vocabulary we created was radical and new. Instead
of taking a word(s) and writing a definition, we first took the concept,
wrote the definition, and ONLY THEN assigned the term in each language
considered. And we clustered by concepts, not name.
Among my definitions that I am proudest of are those for "data" as
opposed to "information". And I made a great chart for logic operators.
It's still in use.
Of the working members, the really active people were:
Geoffrey Tootill, Chmn - UK
Jim Wilde, secretary - UK
Robert Bemer - USA
Robert Mantz - Netherlands (Bull)
Paolo Ercoli - Italy
Olle Karlquist - Sweden
Rolf Basten - Germany
Mme. P. Fevrier - France
B. Vauquois - France
Pat Hume - Canada
Jean Besse - ICC and ECMA
I hired Jim Wilde for Univac because of this work. Flew him over for an
interview, agreed, and flew him back again to start work.
Formation of ISO TC97, Computer Standards
This event occurred in Geneva in May of 1961. I chose to tell the story
in a separate place.
See it there.
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