About Bruno Weinschel
Bruno Weinschel was involved with IEEE professional activities from about 1977 while he was Vice President of the NBS. In 1978, he became Chairman of the Finance Committee of the IEEE Technical Activities Board. Soon, he started organizing the Washington office and restructuring personnel at the IEEE. In 1979, Weinschel put together a committee, which eventually became the US Competitiveness Committee. He also testified in Congress for various issues, including world trade, taxation, anti-trust, etc. He was also a member of the IEEE Educational Activities Boards and IEEE Publication Board.
In the interview, Bruno Weinschel talks about his half-a-year mechanical apprenticeship at Zeiss in Germany, his lectures in India for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and implications of global consumer markets. He also describes his various activities, which have been made possible by his heavy backgrounds in physics and chemistry. Weinschel discusses his involvement with IEEE professional activities in detail. In addition, he emphasizes the importance of the quality of engineering education and his efforts to push the agenda further within the IEEE. The interview concludes with description of Weinschel's activities as IEEE President and Weinschel’s opinion on the IEEE publication practices.
About the Interview
BRUNO WEINSCHEL: An Interview Conducted by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, 7 March 1996
Interview # 262 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Bruno Weinschel, an oral history conducted in 1996 by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.
Interview: Bruno Weinschel
Interviewer: William Aspray
Date: 7 March 1996
Childhood, family, and education
I always enjoyed physics probably to my father's chagrin. He wanted me to be a banker. He was a diplomat. He wanted me to apprentice in a bank that was owned by the Belgian Consul, a good friend of his.
Then where were you born?
Stuttgart, Germany. I stayed there until about age 18.
I was born in 1919 so I must have left there in 1938-39. I was fortunate enough that I skipped three grades and I failed one grade so I was ahead by about 2 years of my colleagues. By the time I was 18 I had pretty much finished what they called “vordiplom” which is equivalent to a bachelors in the US, so I was an eighteen-year-old genius when I came over here with a bachelors in physics.
Graduate studies, Columbia U.
Did you study in Stuttgart?
Oh yes, and I went to graduate school at Columbia University. There I again was very fortunate that my professor was Isidor Rabi. He eventually got a Nobel Prize. He also became Truman's science adviser. Of course he had a lot to do with nuclear weapons that was not talked about a lot at that time. By the way Enrico Fermi, a Nobel Prize bearer who was a poor teacher, was one of my professors. I failed thermodynamics twice taking his course I finally figured the hell with it so I just did not go to the third one. I just read the books and passed it. His teaching was miserable.
I was fortunate that I was asked by Isidor Rabi to build his microwave sources that were below actually 1300 megahertz. He used them for investigating the magnetic moment of molecules, which eventually led to his Nobel Prize. This is the technical foundation of the non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging for medical examinations. Some people call it nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) but the word nuclear is de-emphasized since laymen probably think more of nuclear destruction than of peaceful nuclear energy uses. I was using some Western Electric Triodes vacuum tubes for my R. F. source. We worked in a basement about two levels below ground so there were no changes in temperature, resulting in the absence of temperature control, which requires instrumentation. On the other hand I could see the frequency modulation in my receiver sometimes when in the middle of the night probably about a half a mile away due to a subway train, very light vibration penetrated to my lab. It was at this point when I was taking graduate courses in Physics.
Mechanical apprenticeship at Zeiss
I didn't realize it at the time but one of the AT&T people in one of my classes, Cliff Corbet, was a department chief, and one day when I went out to the Bell system to look for a job, he interviewed and hired me as an engineer because he knew me from some advanced calculus and operational calculus courses. So he thought I was a find. He did not know how much of a find I was because he didn't realize that in Germany before you can qualify to be a student in physics you must have half a years mechanical apprenticeship and mine was at Zeiss. So you really learn to work with your hands, tools and machine tools.
To give you a little feeling for the first day I came to work at Zeiss, in order to take me down a few pegs, they put me in with another group inside a boiler to clean off calcium deposits. Those boilers were about tree stories high and about as wide as a room. What we were doing in there was working with hammers and chisels just trying to get rid of the deposits and you can realize with five, six, seven people chiseling, the noise level was very high. So they let me do that for about two days and I came home with all this white stuff in my hair and clothing.
Then two days later they reestablished my self-confidence by letting me handle something that was very interesting which I had never done before. There was a time during the day that the Zeiss factory used more electricity than the city could furnish so they had their own big generators in there and of course they had to be synchronized in voltage, but especially in phase very carefully before you connected them, because if you connect them at the wrong speed and phase it would lift them off the foundation. They did not tell me much, they just said here is the synchronizing equipment and here are your synchronizing lamps and I had a lot of fun with these controls, changing the speed and then connecting the generators at the right moment.
The actual time spent by a supervisor during this mechanical apprenticeship on me was about twenty-five percent of his time. The first thing I had to do was filing. He gave me a piece of steel that was roughly about two inches cube. He said, "Now you file this thing to be a perfect cube. By the way here is some bluing paper and here is a flat surface plate and here is the file". I was not used to it and I bloodied my hands so I had to put tanning liquid on to my hands to toughen them up because I just could not work it. It took me about a week. Of course the first two surfaces to get them flat and at a right angle to one another, well that was not too bad. The third one was very difficult. After that I learned that there were some big surface grinders on the shop floor and I made friends with some of the operators and I said, "Now you grind that for me so that it is nice and flat." Then I messed it up just a little bit with a file so that it looked more natural. During my apprentice training I had to use all hand tools and many machine tools. It was an interesting experience.
For about one week I was working in a smithy hardening steel and getting things white hot and surface hardened. It was a lot of fun. I learned a lot. I finally ended up in inspection where I learned the various inspection tools.
It took about six months and this was a requirement. There were only four approved facilities for the Technical University in Stuttgart for this kind of apprenticeship. It was one of the prerequisites. We do not have it in the USA. Even today in Germany you have two parts of this apprenticeship. You have one before you are allowed to matriculate and you have to pass that and then one just about before you graduate. And by the way, the German engineering degree is about equivalent to two more years in a US graduate program -- that's two years after the bachelor --the undergraduate degree or “Vordiplom” which is about equivalent to a bachelor.
UNIDO; global consumer electronics markets
With that kind of experience, two years ago I was over in India sponsored by the UNIDO, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. They paid all expenses. I was lecturing over there and talking to some of the young engineers because they expect India to get more active in the world trade and be competitive. At that time my subject was how to design for manufacturability for global competitiveness. I talked to some of these people ... Oh you design an antenna? ... How do you do that? Are you sketching it out first? And then do you go to the shop? Do you build a few and test them? Their reply showed excessive specialization. They had to get a mechanical engineer to lay out the drawings. And I asked who is going to make it? And who is going to go to a shop and try it out? Who is going to test it? Is somebody else going to measure it? They were not used to getting their hands dirty in manufacture or test. They must overcome such problems and prejudices if they wanted to succeed in global competitiveness.
I was lecturing for two weeks for about six hours a day plus a few hours for questions and answers. It was a very interesting experience. There are great cultural differences for engineers in different countries. They are all different. Some of the more recently developing countries like maybe Thailand, Indonesia, and of course China, have learned that you have to immerse their technical professionals deeply in all related work. They in turn are making it a necessary condition to grant a permit for foreign manufacturer – for building, e.g., a factory in China or to have a joint venture there -- a part of the agreement that they must disclose new technologies to the local engineer. You must spend a certain amount of effort to teach those in the Universities and you have to disclose proprietary processes and license your patents.
Of course the long-term goal is that they want your knowledge to create a facility, which will contribute maybe 60 or 70 per cent of the output to their export. And they plan to eventually to invade your own domestic market. I am talking about high-tech shops not about the low technology stuff you buy at Christmas that was made in China or some textiles. We are talking about cellular telephones and VCRs and advanced communication equipment. There is a complete change, which many of our industrial people are not fully aware of.
I am worried about how we are going to cope successfully with industrial competition from China and in my opinion it is only a question of time maybe a ten-year time that we will have a similar problem with Russia due to their well-educated labor force. The Russian education is quite a bit superior to ours. They changed in the middle sixties to embrace math and physics and the hard sciences. The average Russian even today has much better education today than the average US high school graduate. So I think down the road maybe another ten years we will have interesting problems because of the educational background of some of those countries and their capability. It is only a question of time until enough capital and technology is transferred to those ambitious and well-educated countries.
Bell Labs career
Can you trace your working career for me?
Having a very good background in physics was extremely fortunate when I came to Bell. It put me into an area of designing the test of some microwave equipment that was all classified. The interesting thing was I had a physics background and the American engineers around me had an engineering background. They did not know a thing about what makes microwaves tick. But I came out of physics so I had worked with waves so it was easy for me. I designed all kind of equipment for making attenuation measurements and standards at about five thousand megahertz.
I worked on some very complicated time division multiplex equipment, which had eight channels and was used by MacArthur. It gave rise to the present TV microwave links. This was the basic equipment, which later on became the microwave links for telephones and video. I respected the Bell system that they had enough foresight to push those developments. We had the highest priorities like triple A-X.
We could take equipment from anywhere. Once I took some Teletype test equipment off a battleship. They had just gotten it and I just took it right off. So it was a very interesting time in my life. In the Bell Laboratories I was the person to transfer technology to Western Electric for manufacturing planning and complete testing and quality control and I was to liaison back to the Bell Laboratory. I was very fortunate to work with some of the leading scientists in microwaves. We became very good friends. I was a youngster, they were much older and I just had a very good time. My work was really fun.
And how long did you do that?
Well, I must have done it to about the middle forties maybe and then maybe a little later.
Industrial Instruments; National Bureau of Standards
And then I became chief engineer of a small company, Industrial Instruments in Jersey City, NJ. We designed measuring equipment. Then I talked my boss into letting me build some coaxial attenuators to 2 GHz and I was allowed to do that.
I worked then at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, at division 13, which was known as the Harry Diamond Laboratory, a part of the Army ordnance development. I had handled a classified contract for NBS when I was at Industrial Instruments, which had to do with the measurement of microwave reflection of ice and snow and from all kinds of surfaces. That information was needed for designing of V.T. fuses so you could pick out the reflected signal. The people at the National Bureau of Standards had a standing offer for me to come down to Washington. I was going back and for as liaison and eventually I joined the Bureau and I became section chief of a bunch of very good people. I brought in some of my old Bell Lab friends to join me and I was there for about three years to about 1952.
What section was it?
It was Ordinance Development Division 13. It was the Division with the biggest budget. And at the time when I was involved, everyone was envious of the kind of funding, which we had. Then I was ambitious and I really figured I wanted to design what I learned from the Bell System attenuators. When I designed at Bell, my boss said that now what we are building them at fifteen hundred megahertz and they are really good enough. There is really no need to improve it. There is no requirement for a better device. And being a typical engineer, I always wanted to build something better, so eventually I built those in my own laboratory. I started accepting all the orders in a new private business while I still had a government job. In order to protect everybody, I made a full disclosure of the possible conflict of interests. There was no connection with my work at the Bureau of Standards. Eventually, the director of the Bureau of Standards Allen Astin became a good friend of mine and later in another business venture became a member of my board of directors. He was concerned while I was at NBS that a newspaper may pick the information up and use as a headline for an article on page one that “a Bureau of Standards Civil Service Employee has Air Force prime contracts." He said, "Oh we might clear that up but it will take a couple of weeks to clear the thing up, the correction will probably be on page twenty-two. This being explained a few weeks later, the political damage in congress has been done to us and to our appropriations and therefore I cannot take a chance for you to continue. I will give you a choice either you work at the Bureau full time or you quit your policy-making supervisory position and we will keep you on for a while as a consultant so we don't suffer for lack of your input and eventually you will have to be separated. So in case we are ever accused we can say that you have not made policy, you were just a consultant."
Private company; precision measurement equipment
And I thought about it for a while and it was a very, very hard decision. I had saved up some money. So I quit. Things just kept on going well and we were doing well. We had even more money in 1960. The little company I put together was made public on the stock market. Personally I think it was wrong. I held on to my company from about 1952 as chief engineer and almost sole owner until about 1986 when I sold it.
And did the plans of work you did in the company change over time or grow over time?
No, I always liked precision measurements. Without the benefit of marketing studies, just by mine own gut feeling and experience, I figured that if I had a need for those precise measurements, others also do. Then there must be a market for that same equipment. Our main products were precision passive microwave components, especially attenuators. To exercise quality control I needed some very fine measuring equipment, which was way beyond anything available. So the tools I designed eventually turned product. The attenuator gave us an income since I was good at manufacturing processes and chemical technologies.
I had a very heavy background in chemistry. I almost became a chemist instead of a physicist so I had a lot of chemistry knowledge. The film technology, which we developed, included cracking of hydrocarbons at 700 centigrade. I did all that development myself which was fun. That product I enjoyed because of the manufacturing and development of the technology. Then the designing of the tools, some of the best test equipment, I thoroughly enjoyed. And I published freely. I probably should give you a list of about fifty or sixty journal articles, which I published. I found that while I enjoyed the writing, I was good at it. It came easy. Also, I was teaching graduates and postgraduates here and there. I found that my publications had a very unexpected side effect. The people who read those articles worldwide had a positive impact on the sale of my products. Because they apparently thought that, if I know such technology with these tolerances and those instruments, then the product must be of similar quality. So that's how it went.
When did you get involved with IEEE professional activities?
That was an accident. In 1977, Joe Dillard, IEEE President, called me one evening. I had been very active at the level of IEEE Standards at that time--I was Vice President of Standards for quite a while--and for some reason, the Chairman of the IEEE Standards Board never showed up for IEEE Board of Directors meeting so I guess because he figured it was nuisance work so he sent me in his place. I did not know any better so I went and Joe Dillard was watching me for about two years and I think I also was Chairman of the Finance Committee of the IEEE Technical Activities Board. He said “I want you to be the chairman of the Technical Activities Board in 1978.” I had watched TAB and I knew this was a very unruly combination of very independent academics whom you could never get to agree. I think it was almost a self-neutralizing board pulling in many different directions simultaneously. I said I am not going to waste my time on those guys because they are unmanageable. I don't want to have any heart attack. I said -- and this was in great ignorance --- Why don't you give me something simple like “Professional Activities” in the Washington area, most of the work with Congress is down here and I know what is going on --I had testified in Congress--and thought that was easy. I did not realize that I was walking from the rain into a shower.
But in time it became easy and I started organizing the Washington office. I did a couple unheard of things when I did not like the performance of an IEEE employee --I think for two years I was vice-president of professional activities 1978-1979-- when I wasn’t satisfied with somebody I took the attitude of a commercial company and I took steps to get rid of several people at the top. You don't fire people in the IEEE, but I managed somehow and that's how I handled IEEE professional activities more efficiently.
U.S. Competitiveness Committee of the IEEE
It was no great planning; it was kind of a great accident. It became very clear to me that looking at the change for about ten major industrial sectors and looking at the export-import trade balance that in everyone of them we were slipping. So it was only a question of time with this high-tech area until our trade balance would be negative. And I tried to understand why we were slipping in that many areas, anywhere from automobile to you name it. I think that the chemical industry was the only--in my memory--industry, which managed to stay on top. And I tried to understand what is the relationship to education. Why is one industry better than another? The chemical industry and the chemical engineers are very close in education to industrial applications. They did not have any separate basic R & D and then applied R & D. It was kind of all one thing. While Bell Laboratory was a very fine example a bunch of basic work here and applied work there and then Western Electric used it in the factory.
I put together in 1979 a committee, which eventually became the US Competitiveness Committee. Initially we were only concerned with innovation in electrical technology and the kind of people I had on that committee I selected myself. There were only three of them. I took Dr. Allen Astin, NBS Director; I took Dr. Sam Raff who was chief scientist at the Navy and I worked with him on some classified measurement projects so I knew him inside and out. I worked with him for a couple of years. I took Jacob Rabinow, a division chief out of the National Bureau of Standards who was their mechanical genius. He had about two hundred patents. He could solve any mechanical problem he put his mind to.
I testified in Congress a lot, very often in world trade. Jacob Rabinow I enjoyed and I respected -- we respected one another for our capability in design. He's in his nineties and still plays tennis. Anyhow with these great people on my committee, the committee was easily run. We were started inside the IEEE with innovation and we eventually got into all kind of economic tasks: e.g. why do we have in the United States such a big ratio between the salary of the top man in the company and the average salary in the company. The US is the only country, which has that big ratio. You go to Japan, the ratio is way down, I mean way down, and they all had respect, social respect for the engineer.
In Japan and Germany the respect for engineers is much greater than in this country, so we got a little bit into why our profession is respected in other countries more. Then we started looking at such things as --- lets take maybe the top three leading technical companies in Japan and Germany, Britain and the US and look at education of their three top people and see how many of those people have hard science or technical education. We found that in those other countries--not in Britain, the Brits do the same things we do, but in Japan and Germany--the ratio of people with real good technical education running companies was much bigger than in this country. So we got the idea that maybe it is necessary that we have some technical people way on top. We saw that as an answer. I am not sure that it is the whole answer but it is part of the answer that top people must know more technically.
We eventually got into all kinds of different issues, like tax. When I started as vice president in 1978, the biggest hot issues in Congress was the long-term capital gains tax. I forgot if it was Nixon or who it was, but the administration wanted to really raise that tax. There was one congressman, William Steiger, who showed the correlation between the availability of capital to new companies and the level of the long-term capital gains tax. I took the IEEE fully behind it. I had a full endorsement for the legislation in the US by the IEEE Board of Directors. You know the IEEE board of directors covers worldwide regions. I said this is an issue which is a worldwide issue, which happens to be right now on top of our problems, and we should support it. It won. Then we followed up on that. There was a very close relationship between the increase in “initial public offerings” and the private money, which was available for investment in public companies. I supported this legislation and eventually I think at that time we aimed for a capital gains tax of about twenty-five per cent maximum. Eventually it was reduced to a maximum of twenty per cent. So we got slowly into issues, which had nothing to do directly with technology, as we were starting to get concerned with taxation.
I'll give you another one in which I got involved which I never realized was very important. I found that the US department of Justice, the second man down was the Assistant Attorney General in charge of anti-trust. He had a completely different attitude than the Japanese had about anti-trust. And it took us a while -- as a matter of fact I spent one day solidly sitting and arguing with him -- and I said, "Look at anti-trust, when it was put together against the robber barons to protect the public, you were talking about small domestic markets. Today you are talking about global markets and you have to judge a company be it IBM or whatever, not by what portion of the US market they have, but how qualified are they in light of the global competition they have. It took a while and we were successful in putting a law through which facilitated cooperative research of different companies as long as they did not fix the price in manufacturing or decided what regions are their sales territories. We were effective on that. So we got into subjects which I had never dreamt that I would be concerned with and the average engineer still does not think or realize how important some of these things are.
I helped to push legislation that had nothing to do with innovation and patents or technical advances but facilitated the cooperative work of some people without being in violation of anti-trust considering global markets and things like that. So that is a couple of strange things that I just bumped into.
How did the professional activities grow over time, change over time?
I think in the last couple of years we became very concerned with competition and the strange thing is that we had four IEEE ex -presidents on the “US competitiveness committee of the IEEE”. We became concerned with something very unprofessional, something, which was almost close to unions, and something, which was in the economic area completely. We became concerned with the economic security of the employed US IEEE member. About two years ago this more and more lifted itself to the surface as being our top priority and we had unanimous resolutions on that thing in that committee of about twenty people. That became our first priority because we saw what was happening in jobs being exported. I just came back from India and US companies have sixty thousand good Indian computer specialists hooked up to the US by Indian government investment in satellite links.
I saw IBM and Hewlett Packard and Tektronix and all the big companies having offices in Bangalore, India, and I knew that with all the overhead loading and all the extra expenses and the liaison expenses and travel expenses it cost about Ω what it did cost in the US If you had a lot of complicated software to do it. You could do it for about half the price of what you could do it in the United States. I realized that, with that kind of difference, you couldn’t protect those US engineering jobs. It is just a fact that we have to understand. Somebody who has a big amount of software to do would act uneconomically if he spends ten million dollars extra just for patriotic reasons in the U.S. as long as he has the skill available in India or Russia. We have to emphasize new work on some more advanced developments while some of the more competitive but simpler work can be subcontracted to countries with lower professional labor cost.
Engineering education; IEEE Educational Activities
I found that the same thing was going on in other countries like using Russian scientists, Romanian Scientists and skilled labor in East Germany. You have to take a much greater field of view to really say what you want to do in the United States for this -- what is best for the engineering degree and what is best for employment--and it always comes back to the same equation. Let me give you an example. We own since 1960, a place out in Vail, Colorado. I was surprised that Hewlett Packard had nearby a plant in the middle of nowhere in Colorado and it became very clear to me that by the Winter, it had nothing to do with access to railroads, but it was the local quality of education, the availability of educated people that were available for their factory.
And doing a little more thinking about it, it became very clear that--and I had learned that from some of my friends in Germany who have factories with excess of seventy thousand people all over the world--that we transport our blue prints and our technology to their plant in Argentina or anywhere in the United States digitally by telecommunication without trouble. And I knew how easy it was to transfer money by wire transfers. So I knew that funding and technology was almost immediately transferable. But the skilled people normally don't lift themselves up readily and move thousands miles or five hundred miles. So really from the point of view of the trade balance of an area or state or of New England, New York or Maryland, the investment in human capital, the quality of the broader population and their education and skill is really the determining factor.
Take a look at the new companies which started around MIT and some of the Universities that have a nucleus for some of these ideas, then they spread out but for manufacturing and service industries you need skilled people. While New England and California therefore may go through some transitions of displacement where one technology goes down and another one goes up, in the average they will prevail because of the quality of their educated work force. So it became obvious to me that the quality of education, be it engineering, be it management be it K-14 is most important.
I was active to run the right people for the school board in Montgomery County and Maryland. It is probably in the long term, the determining factor controlling the quality of life, the standard of living of an area. And as time went on, I went to work for Educational Activities trying in the IEEE to push undergraduate engineering degrees. The professors on IEEE Boards always voted me down. The necessary change in the emphasis in the professional efforts in the IEEE was partly in recognition of the importance of the skill level and education.
How well did the IEEE embrace these issues about competitiveness? What kind of support did you get?
Very good. It took me a while to realize that Educational Activities for professionals was ruled in the IEEE by low-level academics and that they really did not want to see any changes that would affect the security of their financial future. As a matter of fact I told my wife the very impolite sentence as far as these guys were concerned they say "Let me play in my sandbox, give me the money and go away, don't disturb me". They had no interest in national problems, in technical national needs. The first time I bumped into it when my navy member Dr. Raff, who had been on the National Science Board at NSF and had been in charge of a program called RAN, Research Applied to National Needs--he said that it was so logical that it was needed but was opposed by the academics--and this was sometime in the sixties.
It’s about twenty-five, thirty years until some NSF president, and some higher-level people at the National Academy of Science finally said, "Well, you know we have to worry about National Needs." Frank Press who was the OSTP chief, the White House science chief under Carter and then for 12 years the President of the NAS, had good ideas, but he didn't make out too well. Now he is a very fine ex-president of the National Academy of Sciences. Frank Press, was a good friend of mine, had been sitting in the White House eventually ended up as President of the National Academy of Sciences and Engineering and I was in close touch with Frank even today. I talked to him just a few days ago about his latest report. Frank Press at the National Academy went on record to say, "We have limited capabilities of supporting science and technology. We can not just fund everything that everybody thinks about, and therefore the science community must get together and arrive at priorities," which they absolutely refuse to do. They say that every project is as important as any other project.
And I, just a day ago, got from Frank a report of a committee we chair. That report just came out and it has the same story. You can't do everything at one time you must prioritize. This is flying right in to the face of all R&D scientists. But this is what the National Academy did say right, and here, twenty-three years later. The report he sent to me which I am going to give you and to my IEEE friends. The policy-making committees and Boards of the IEEE who are mainly occupied at about a seventy percent by low-level academics, are not interested to do things in the interest of the average IEEE member. If I take a look at the IEEE membership, the great majority are working engineers and they are engineering managers and they are absolutely not represented on those policy-making boards.
The first official run-in I had with those academics was when I was a member of the IEEE Educational Activities Board and I chaired the committee on “Enhancing the Importance of Undergraduate Engineering Education.” Some of the people I had on there were people like Schmidt and Mulligan. That's the kind of caliber of people on my committees. Such people could run circles around those low level professors. But after we agreed in our committee one hundred percent and we brought the thing to the floor of the EAB, we got voted out the door by the little guys. We didn't make any headway. I had the same experience on the IEEE Awards Board that I was a member of. And I found that the basic research people did not want to give us a gold medal for the “Excellence of Engineering Undergraduate Engineering Education”. We had to settle for a lower level field award, which was split between graduate and undergraduate teaching. Well it was better than nothing so we took it.
I was on the IEEE Publication Board for about two years and I thought it was nothing more that the extension of the IEEE Technical Activities Board. You have a bunch of retired editors and academics and they are mainly, until about two years ago, always pushing archival publication of basic research.
I was doing some fighting at the level of the Fellowship Committee of the IEEE Awards Board. It took me about a year and then I got good support from people to add to the criteria in addition to the quality of applicants and review applicants on basic research as a criteria “Reduction to practice” of an idea, which is not just in a research journal.
The Japanese will run with it if its good and they will reduce it to practice and then they will bring it back here and take our money, while we don't reduce things to practice. If we reduce things to practice it was not respected in the top IEEE circles unless you wrote some good basic research papers, which could be reviewed at an academic level. I wrote them so I know and I reviewed them.
But when you say what was the support from the IEEE for some of those things I say zilch and even today it is zilch. My wife says I am foolish and that I am fighting windmills and wasting my life. I will be 77 in May. She says you are healthy. You race sailboats. You enjoy family. You enjoy seeing grandchildren. You enjoy skiing. You enjoy water skiing. You like those things you'll never get any time to do them.
So why do you?
I don't know. I am bull-headed. I find that there are more and more people at a high level in the IEEE who slowly see it my way and I am not sure if it is just timely or if it is the time or if maybe I had some slow impact. Who knows? But then you know having colleagues of mine agree with me, it just gives me a tremendous boost. Some of the IEEE presidents agreewith me. And there are a lot of people who are in support of me. And they agree with me two hundred per cent on those things, which come out of industry.
Of course it is extremely important because it gives shape to the direction of our academic education in engineering. That is very important. Especially the fact that people like Frank Press and Jack Rabinow agree. Anyhow with people like that you know, sharing ideas encourages one to fight on it? I find that some policy-making people somehow start to support me. I don't know if that is a good answer.
Does IEEE really have a voice in Washington? Do they listen to you?
It does, but it has nothing to do with these issues of how IEEE should be learning. Should the Publication Board really publish more application-oriented things? Should the IEEE get away from just supporting basic academic research results? Or should EAB really get involved with the problems of engineering education? This is what I criticize. I do not even want to talk about these things on the outside because it kind of throws dirt on my own pals in the IEEE. But I am not pleased with what the two IEEE boards; EAB and PUB are not doing for the good of the members.
Initial IEEE involvement
Lets go back for a couple minutes. Can you tell me how you got involved in IEEE in the first place, or in IEE?
Technically. I was involved in both. Basically in technical publications and technical conferences and standards work.
Was this the student days or after?
This had nothing to do with my student days. It was way beyond that. I had some papers to give so I did.
IEEE Presidency; CD-ROM publications
And how did your presidency come about?
I don't think that I can give you a good answer on that really. I was about three years in the making and my wife saw the whole thing developing and she knew all the people. My wife used to run the Sperry government office in town and had parallel interests as the IEEE. We used to compare notes. We had parallel goals on many issues.
Did you have an agenda in mind?
I realized that both the educational and the publication activities did not support the needs and interests of the majority of the IEEE members, especially in regions 1-7 which provided IEEE’s major income. Maybe looking at the heading of my 1986 editorials you can see that I concentrated on that. I worked with some of the other engineering societies: mechanical and chemical. I was quite active a few years before that, in the American Association of Engineering Societies. That was where I headed up their Engineering Activities Board, so I think that I was slowly almost being pushed into it by all the people who picked me. I don't think that I had any ambitions to be IEEE president.
How did you find the year once you became president? It’s really a three-year job.
At least. I was very fortunate that some of the important committees had people on them that were parallel in their opinions, which I tried to enhance and support. So at first it was not an uphill fight. As a matter of fact it was a relatively easy job. I don't know if you have ever spent time with the former IEEE manager Eric Herz. Eric has told Shirley and me that he thought that I was the absolute best IEEE president.
He has mentioned your name to me many times.
I had no selfish ax to grind on anything. I really tried to improve matters. I eventually learned that there were very few things I could really get done and the ones I wanted to do, I had to do myself on full time. Like this change in the evaluation criteria for the fellowship award adding the “reduction to practice”. I was almost spending full time on the fellow committee changing things almost with my own handwriting. I could not delegate it.
I got involved in something else, which I thought was very important. I saw new technologies and publications coming out. When I said CD ROM as far as I am concerned, had sufficiently stabilized and reached a good level of technology accomplishment. So we should put our IEEE staff to put all journals on CD ROM. And I had some ideas on that which much later were reduced to practice. The most I could push it was that we were digitizing abstracts but not scanning our articles. Only recently are we slipping into digitizing it. Once it is digitized you can search it. The other thing I said was, "You know a few publication staff people are afraid that it will take away your hard copy income. That is a bunch of hogwash because you can always get your hard copies out and people want to read it and they will never sit for hours at a screen". I know how long I can sit at a screen without getting a headache. I have probably a collection of hard copies of five hundred journal articles, well cross-indexed so one can find them easily, in four legal sized cabinets. I said, “When I am really interested in something I always want a hard copy. I will never be satisfied with scanning”.
I don't think that I am that different. I think there “you will never lose your hard copy business". I said, "On the other hand I see a completely different future. I see two futures you people don't see." I said, "Take maybe the ten most widely-read non-IEEE journals read by the IEEE members in the United States. Then let us negotiate with each one of those journals and convince them that in the first place we would use the same digital method or the “standard mark-up language” and then make a deal with them that we will publish on CD ROM all their stuff after a time delay so that they don't lose hard copy income. So we will pay them a little license fee for their contribution. I said, "Actually in the long run in my opinion it will enhance and enlarge their hard copy income." I said, "Let us do that and not just restrict ourselves to what we publish in the IEEE and what we publish in the British Journal." I never got that idea across. And the other thing which I tried to push and I said, "I know how low the production cost of CD ROM is and from people we do business with up in Ann Arbor what the real production cost were". I said, "With the purchase power of the IEEE we should be able to make a very interesting package available to our members".
As far as I am concerned at least between five and ten per cent of the US members would buy the PC, printer, and interface, whatever. It meant giving away the CD ROM at almost cost with a little administrative cost on top and give everybody access to, what I used to call in my editorial, a library without walls so they could have it at home. If this house has five thousand books I keep my reference material down in the shop because it just takes too much space here. And this house is much larger than it looks from the out side but I haven't got the space unless I dig out more space in the basement, so I would buy all those CD ROM references.
The older American engineering faculties prefer not to teach at the undergraduate level--a little bit at the graduate level especially for the Ph.D.--the need to do research to see in a library what is available before you reinvent the wheel all over again. If you go into a normal factory where they do R&D, chances are they will not go into a real search to see what has been done in different countries. So I wanted to have, for the average IEEE member, access at a very low cost to all those publications and use the purchase power of the IEEE to get a PC at maybe half of what you could buy it at retail and the printer and all that kind of stuff. That was my dream and it did not go anywhere.
People making IEEE publication policy used to say, "Look we have all this really nice income by selling the hard copy and you know we price our CD ROM so high that it wouldn't replace our hard copy. That was not the market that I was replacing. I was not replacing the library market. I was addressing the IEEE membership and it did not get anywhere. So when you ask me what happens to all these ideas, I can tell you it is very frustrating to be stopped by the Academics on policy making boards who want to keep the status quo.
What kinds of things haven't we talked about so far that you would like to make sure we talk about?
I think between what I said here, my 1986 editorials, and what we already discussed that covers a lot of things.