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Oral-History:Elizabeth "Jake" Feinler

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Yes, this was very early. For instance, I met a programmer, Ken Harrenstein, who came out and programmed for the NIC for many years. He was at MIT, and I didn’t even know him—I mean, I had not met him—but I got to know him [over the Net], and I got to know some of the other kids at MIT. Mostly they were helping me, giving me information, but sometimes they’d want stuff from us. But MIT—maybe MIT, Stanford, and ISI—were kind of the leaders in coming up with new ideas. They’d call them “hacks,” and that’s where the word “hacker” came from; not that you’re breaking into something. Someone would say, “I came up with this little hack; see what you think,” and it would be this elegant program! [laughs.] Anyway, they would always say, “We’ve got this thing that maybe the NIC could use.” Anything that anybody came up with usually was up for grabs; everyone traded stuff around, particularly programs and little things that made programs work better.  
 
Yes, this was very early. For instance, I met a programmer, Ken Harrenstein, who came out and programmed for the NIC for many years. He was at MIT, and I didn’t even know him—I mean, I had not met him—but I got to know him [over the Net], and I got to know some of the other kids at MIT. Mostly they were helping me, giving me information, but sometimes they’d want stuff from us. But MIT—maybe MIT, Stanford, and ISI—were kind of the leaders in coming up with new ideas. They’d call them “hacks,” and that’s where the word “hacker” came from; not that you’re breaking into something. Someone would say, “I came up with this little hack; see what you think,” and it would be this elegant program! [laughs.] Anyway, they would always say, “We’ve got this thing that maybe the NIC could use.” Anything that anybody came up with usually was up for grabs; everyone traded stuff around, particularly programs and little things that made programs work better.  
  
I met Ken on the Net, and I had never met him face-to-face, and I was trying to put out the Resource Handbook. There were about six sites that had these Xerographic printers—[including,] I think, Stanford, Xerox PARC, MIT, CMU—and that was the hottest thing, because you could just take what you were trying to print right to the machine and it printed out what looked like a Xeroxed page [i.e., with typesetting?]. It was horrible trying to go through all these [commercial] printers who didn’t know about computers, and they wanted to typeset everything. This was really, by comparison, much less expensive, and we always were trying to put these books out on a shoestring anyway. So: we were putting out a Resource Handbook, and I think it was about six or seven hundred pages, and Ken said, “You ought to do it on a graphics printer.” I said, “Well, we don’t have a graphics printer. How can I use one?” And he said, “Well, they’ve got one over at Stanford.” He had a friend on the network that he had talked to for ages—had never seen him—and he said, “Well, talk to Brian.” This was Brian Harvey, and there was another fellow in the same lab with him, Brian McCune. The two of them helped me get this all together, and we were just going to print it on the Xerox printer. Of course, in those days to print something that big took practically the whole machine, which was a DEC-10 or maybe a DEC-20. John McCarthy was in charge of the Stanford AI group. I’m running this thing at midnight, and Brian got all the permissions—to use that much of the machine you had to get permission—and I guess there was one guy who wanted to run his thesis off, and he was ticked that we were running this thing and we weren’t even part of Stanford, so he called John McCarthy. In the middle of the night, John comes in and says, “Get that off my machine!” I think, “Oh dear! I’m down! I’m done!” [laughs.] “DCA is going to kill me, because I put all my eggs in that basket!” Well anyway, somebody went off and talked to John, and John finally came back and said, “You can run it, but don’t ever run on my machine [again]!” [both laugh.] So it went till dawn, and I got a call—we were all flaking out by that time—and finally Brian came in and said, “It’s finished!”  
+
I met Ken on the Net, and I had never met him face-to-face, and I was trying to put out the Resource Handbook. There were about six sites that had these Xerographic printers—[including,] I think, Stanford, [[Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)‎|Xerox PARC]], MIT, CMU—and that was the hottest thing, because you could just take what you were trying to print right to the machine and it printed out what looked like a Xeroxed page [i.e., with typesetting?]. It was horrible trying to go through all these [commercial] printers who didn’t know about computers, and they wanted to typeset everything. This was really, by comparison, much less expensive, and we always were trying to put these books out on a shoestring anyway. So: we were putting out a Resource Handbook, and I think it was about six or seven hundred pages, and Ken said, “You ought to do it on a graphics printer.” I said, “Well, we don’t have a graphics printer. How can I use one?” And he said, “Well, they’ve got one over at Stanford.” He had a friend on the network that he had talked to for ages—had never seen him—and he said, “Well, talk to Brian.” This was Brian Harvey, and there was another fellow in the same lab with him, Brian McCune. The two of them helped me get this all together, and we were just going to print it on the Xerox printer. Of course, in those days to print something that big took practically the whole machine, which was a DEC-10 or maybe a DEC-20. John McCarthy was in charge of the Stanford AI group. I’m running this thing at midnight, and Brian got all the permissions—to use that much of the machine you had to get permission—and I guess there was one guy who wanted to run his thesis off, and he was ticked that we were running this thing and we weren’t even part of Stanford, so he called John McCarthy. In the middle of the night, John comes in and says, “Get that off my machine!” I think, “Oh dear! I’m down! I’m done!” [laughs.] “DCA is going to kill me, because I put all my eggs in that basket!” Well anyway, somebody went off and talked to John, and John finally came back and said, “You can run it, but don’t ever run on my machine [again]!” [both laugh.] So it went till dawn, and I got a call—we were all flaking out by that time—and finally Brian came in and said, “It’s finished!”  
  
 
Brian Harvey, who was the first person that I got referred to, was going off with the computer music group to work at the Pompidou Center in Paris; so he turned all this over to Brian McCune, who was another kid in his lab—they were kids in those days. We thought we should have a big going-away party for Brian Harvey, and we thought, “We’ve got to have a hack!” You always had to have a good hack, you know. So I said, “Well, what about we fly Ken out; just bring him to this party!”[laughs.] They’d never seen each other, but they’d been friends for a couple of years; they were implementing the same system. So we did. That was a great party!
 
Brian Harvey, who was the first person that I got referred to, was going off with the computer music group to work at the Pompidou Center in Paris; so he turned all this over to Brian McCune, who was another kid in his lab—they were kids in those days. We thought we should have a big going-away party for Brian Harvey, and we thought, “We’ve got to have a hack!” You always had to have a good hack, you know. So I said, “Well, what about we fly Ken out; just bring him to this party!”[laughs.] They’d never seen each other, but they’d been friends for a couple of years; they were implementing the same system. So we did. That was a great party!

Revision as of 16:33, 20 February 2014

Contents

About Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler

Elizabeth Jocelyn "Jake" Feinler is an Internet and computer information scientist. For decades she worked at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). At SRI, she was the Director of the Network Information Systems Center where she managed the Network Information Center (NIC) for ARPANET, Defense Data Network (DDN), and the Internet.

Feinler was born in West Virginia and received her undergraduate degree from West Liberty State College. She was the first in her family to attend college. While working towards her PhD in Biochemistry from Purdue University, Feinler worked for Chemical Abstracts Service as an assistant editor on a project to index the world's chemical compounds.

Feinler is responsible for the current domain name system (.com, .gov, .org) as her group managed the Host Naming Registry for the Internet.

In 1989, Feinler left SRI to work for NASA at the Ames Research Center. She retired from NASA in 1996 and published a history of the NIC in 2010. In 2012, Feinler was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.

In this interview, Feinler describes her work with FORTRAN, her initial interest in Chemistry, and her work at SRI. At SRI, she was involved in several projects including developing an Resource Handbook. She describes in great detail her time and her involvement in these projects at SRI and the transition of the Internet from military use to commercial use. She highlights the ongoing learning process involved in working with computers and programming. Feinler also described her time at NASA at the Ames Research Center after leaving her long career at SRI.

About the Interview

ELIZABETH JOCELYN FEINLER: An Interview Conducted by Janet Abbate for the IEEE History Center, 8 July 2002

Interview # 597 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Elizabeth Jocelyn Feinler, an oral history conducted in 2002 by Janet Abbate, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Elizatbeth Jocelyn Feinler
INTERVIEWER: Janet Abbate
DATE: 9 July 2002
PLACE: Mountain View, CA

Background and Education

Abbate:

This is July 8th, 2002, and I’m speaking with Elizabeth Feinler. Do you go by “Elizabeth” or “Jake”?

Feinler:

Well, my nickname is Jake, and almost everybody calls me that, but my real name is Elizabeth Jocelyn Feinler.

Abbate:

What do you prefer?

Feinler:

“Jake” is fine.

Abbate:

Okay.

To start out, can you tell me when you were born and where you grew up?

Feinler:

I was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, March 2nd, 1931. I grew up in West Virginia and went to West Liberty State College, in West Virginia. Nobody ever heard of it! [laughs.] That’s my background, pretty much.

Abbate:

What did your parents do for a living?

Feinler:

I was the first one in my family to go to college. My stepfather worked in a steel mill, and my mother was a homemaker.

Abbate:

Did you have any brothers or sisters?

Feinler:

I have one sister and a half-brother.

Abbate:

Did either of them end up in computers?

Feinler:

No. Let’s see: my sister was a first- and second-grade teacher; she’s married, and now she’s pretty much a homemaker. And my brother: my brother has vocations and avocations, and his avocations have always been of more interest to him. He was essentially a chemist, biologist; but he now he runs a little company called Wilderness Radio, which is for ham radios at low bandwidth; ham radio people. I don’t know anything about it!,. except that they’re little radios about three inches wide.

Abbate:

Were you interested in math or science as a child?

Feinler:

Yes, as a kid I liked—well, more like nature things; that kind of science. But I also liked art, and so when I went to college I thought I was going to study art. I had a scholarship in advertising design, and it was at a school in Cincinnati where you could go one semester and then you work a semester. But unfortunately, when I got down there, I found out they didn’t allow Freshman to do that, so I didn’t get to go. I was really broken-hearted! Then I came back and went to West Liberty, which is just outside of Wheeling. I didn’t think the Art Department was very good. Chemistry looked good, so I took chemistry! [laughs.]

Abbate:

So you ended up majoring in chemistry?

Feinler:

I majored in chemistry, and then I went on for graduate work at Purdue in biochemistry. From there I went to Chemical Abstracts. I actually finished my course work for a Ph.D., but I was totally out of money, as we only got a hundred and thirty-four dollars a month—and out of that they took income tax, so it was a little hard to make ends meet! We did things like, I had a couple of boyfriends that shot squirrel, and we’d cook squirrels! And they had a lot of experiments at Purdue; the Food Department had all these experiments, and I remember one time they had a chicken experiment: they were freezing a certain part of a chicken, like a piece of the breast, and they wanted the same piece for every part of the experiment, so you could buy the rest of the chicken for five cents. They just wanted to get them out of there. I thought I’d never look at a chicken again after I got out of there! [laughs.]

But anyway, it was getting a little tight on the bucks, so I thought I would take the year off and go work, and I went to Chemical Abstracts. This was right when Sputnik went up, and there was this huge information explosion; everybody was trying to find all this information. Chem Abstracts was putting out the Fifth Decennial Index at that time, and that was one of the biggest information projects in the world, so I thought it was interesting. I went to work for them and was there for two years, I think.

Abbate:

So this was 1957-ish?

Working for SRI

Feinler:

Yes, around in there.

We used to go to technical meetings of the American Chemical Society, and I’d heard about a group they were setting up at SRI, which was to be information specialists to work with research groups. So I applied for that, and they said, “We don’t have a job now.” So my roommate and I went off to Europe, and just two days before we were ready to leave, I got this letter that says, “Now we have a job.” They had a going-away party for me at Chem Abstracts, and I said, “Well, not only am I going on vacation, but I’m never coming back!” [laughs.] So I went to Europe for a month—and in those days, you know, women didn’t just trot off to Europe; it was kind of a big event. I got back and went straight to California, and for the first couple of months I’d wake up and didn’t know where I was! [laughs.] Which country I was in, let alone what town.

I worked with—it was called, I think, the Information Research Center, and it was associated with the library, because we used all the library materials, but none of us were librarians. I was an Information Chemist. In those days, whenever they did a big experiment, you had to search the literature to make sure it hadn’t been done; and we did patent searching; we did a lot of that kind of thing. Then I became the head of that group, and it was through that group that I met Doug Engelbart, because he kept coming down. He was trying to build his system [the oNLine System, NLS] and put a lot of these features in it, so he would come down and we’d just sit around chewing the fat. He then he got a big project from DARPA, I think it was in 1971; but I joined his group in ‘72, when they were going to demonstrate the [ARPANET] Network Information Center at the ICCC [the First International Conference on Computer Communications] in Washington. It was the first show-and-tell for the Internet.

Abbate:

Yes, that was ‘72.

Feinler:

Doug said, “I’ve got a job,” and I said to him, “What is it?” and he said, “We need a Resource Handbook for the Internet, and we want it by [October],” the time they were going to put on this show. I said “What’s a Resource Handbook?” and he said, “I don’t have a clue!” [both laugh.] That was sort of my introduction to the Augmentation Research Center Group; that’s what they called themselves.

Abbate:

Let me back up a bit. When did you actually first use a computer?

Feinler:

When I was working in the Information Center. I kept getting bigger and bigger data compilation kinds of things: first you’d gather the literature, and then you’d gather information out of them. I did things like a big study on charge transfer reactions; another one on preservation biological materials—that one was for Skylab, if I remember. In those days, you did it with little three-by-five cards! [laughs.] It was just gruesome. Finding all these reprints, and running around to all these libraries collecting the stuff; it was a lot more leg work, more perspiration than it was inspiration. But I was working on this preservation of biological materials project, and it was so huge, and there was a lot of redundancy, and I thought, “This would sure be easier if I had a computer to work on.” And I just started looking around the Institute. We had people who were doing scientific computing, but they were mostly FORTRAN types; and then we had people doing business computing. That was sort of the split in those days. But what I really wanted was a bibliographic system. I didn’t find one, but I found some compute power, so I started to build one, and we came up with a pretty good bibliographic system that was pretty flexible.

Abbate:

You built this in FORTRAN?

Feinler:

I’m not sure. Yes, I think it was FORTRAN.

Abbate:

So you just taught yourself FORTRAN?

Feinler:

No, no! I’m not a programmer.

Abbate:

You got someone else to do it.

Feinler:

I designed what I wanted it to do, and then I worked with a couple of guys; they did the programming. One was Syl Rubin and the other one’s last name was Spragues. The three of us worked as a team. But they had no sense of the kinds of standards [required]: what needed to be open fields. Everything in those days was fielded—I mean, it had to have so many characters in it—and I said, “It doesn’t work that way for [bibliographic data]!” [laughs.] But anyway, we came up with a pretty good little system. We called it InFact.

Abbate:

So you were doing the systems analysis part of it?

Feinler:

I just did it for a tool to use; but then it did get used on some other projects. I don’t know what ever happened to it, because I then joined Engelbart’s group, and he had the NLS system. If you worked for Engelbart’s group, you worked with NLS. At the beginning of it, that’s the way it was.

I guess Doug knew Syl, and Syl knew me, and that’s how Doug and I met. I was a service at SRI, and anybody could come down; we were sort of for hire if you wanted to literature searching or background, and a lot of times we’d put together quick libraries for people. You had big projects, but they had finite times, and they didn’t have time for somebody to sit and catalog everything and do all those kinds of things that librarians did at a leisurely pace, so you had to get this information up and running in a hurry. I did a lot of that, too.

Anyway, I joined Engelbart’s group in ‘72 and put together a Resource Handbook. We went around to all the centers on Net at the time—there were probably about thirty at that time, give or take a few—and each one of the hosts on the network (or the sites, because there was often a whole computer group or a whole university behind the actual connection) was supposed to supply the NIC with details of what their Internet projects were. Some did; some didn’t. Each site had a contact person—well, there were two in the beginning: one was a Station Agent and one was a Technical Liaison—and the Station Agent was to keep a small library of all the Internet documents that the NIC sent to them. We were distributing, in those days, a lot of them in hardcopy, because the sites weren’t up and running yet; or if they were, they were real flaky. There wasn’t any email; there wasn’t any FTP; it was very basic.

We sent out 80,000 documents a year, or something like that, in the beginning. Then, as it went on, we got more and more of it online, and less and less of it was hardcopy. But in the beginning of the NICs, everybody had to come to the SRI NIC host machine to use NLS, and nobody envisioned how many people that was going to be. Even with thirty hosts on the net, there were a lot of people trying to get in, and the machines were very small—they were [physically] very big, but they had small capacity. So it just very quickly [became apparent that it] wasn’t going to work: you had to be more distributed.

That was about ‘73, either late ‘72 or early ‘73, when I took over the project for the NIC. (When I first went up I was working for Dick Watson, who then went on to Lawrence Livermore Labs.) We started to look at NLS. Then TCP/IP, the ideas for that, started to come along in the mid-seventies and late seventies, and everybody was going to have to convert their whole protocol suite to TCP/IP. Well, this was a huge undertaking, and my project was fairly small, in those days. In ‘72 it had been a large project for Doug, but then around ‘72 or ‘73 there was a big hiatus: another business downturn, and projects were cut way back, and when I took it over it was like a hundred thousand-dollar project. Then it kind of kept going along, getting a little bigger, and by the time we cut over to TCP /IP, it went big time! [laughs.] I think when I left SRI it was a six million-dollar project, or something like that!

Anyway, the fact that we were going to cut over to TCP/IP.... SRI was a research organization; we did primarily research projects; [but] more and more people kept wanting to use NLS, Doug’s system, and they had an odd [arrangement to pay for this]. Most of them were government—a lot of them were government, anyway—and so they were MIPRing [Military Interdepartmental Purchase Request] funds to BRL [the Ballistic Research Laboratory], and then BRL was paying SRI’s bills. What it was [originally] was a group of people who shared all the research that they got out of the money they put in, and that was fine at the beginning; but then more people just wanted to use it as a system, and SRI felt like that was getting to the place where you were just selling access to the system. Doug didn’t want to go in that direction; he wanted to keep doing—you know, bootstrapping was his thing. So SRI, for some reason or other, just sold the whole activity off to Tymshare—which everybody now thinks was a very bad idea! [laughs.]

Abbate:

They sold the NIC, or NLS?

Feinler:

No; the NIC was one of the projects, but the NIC was a separate project by this time. The NLS: the whole system was run by this MIPRed scheme of people who bought it. But because these MIPRs were often late, it was getting hard for BRL to take care of the accounting, and then they would be late sending the [money], and then SRI’s management didn’t know exactly what was on the books. It was very hard to do research in that way. Well, it wasn’t hard to do research that way; it was hard when people just wanted to buy a part of a machine so they could use NLS—they didn’t want to be involved with the development of it. So as it started going in that direction, I think that’s why SRI—and I’m putting words in a lot of people’s mouths here—but from my perspective, it looked like that was why SRI thought it was better for it to be with a company, rather than as a research project.

Abbate:

So they sold the whole NLS project . . .

Feinler:

. . . to Tymshare. Well, they tried! [laughs.] Well, they did, actually; but the original idea, as I understand it—again, a lot of this was hearsay to me, because I wasn’t top management—the original idea was that the research staff, the developers, were going to stay at SRI, and they would let Tymshare sell the system. In other words, they would have one version of the system that was a commercial version. And that made sense—except the group at ARC was not your average group! [laughs.] I mean, nothing that Engelbart ever did was average; it was all different, you know. So the group said, No, they didn’t like that; they wanted to stay together. So they made themselves into a company, and they forced Tymshare to deal with them as a company! [laughs.] It was very bizarre, but it was interesting! Anyway, to make a long story short, they didn’t want to get cherry-picked and have some stay and some go [to Tymshare], so they made themselves into a single entity and forced both SRI and Tymshare to deal with them as an entity, which Tymshare did. I don’t know what all the details of it were, but the group then moved off to Tymshare [in 1977]. At the time, you either were in the company or you weren’t, and I chose not to be in the company, because I wanted to stay on the Internet project. I didn’t want to be in a commercial environment; I liked what I was doing, and I wanted to stick with it.

The NIC Project, by this time, was with the Defense Communications Agency. ARPA transferred the management of the backbone of the Net [in 1975]. It had to go to DCA: ARPA is the Advanced Research Projects Agency, so they were to do advanced research, and they had, I think, a three-year period to prove the concept was a good one, and then they put it out to some agencies for maybe another three years to get some government agency to use it and say, “Yes, it’s really good stuff”; and that time period was up. So then the actual running of it went to the Defense Communications Agency, which ran military networks. They were going to continue getting the research from ARPA to run on the Internet, but ARPA no long ran a network—you know, they weren’t in charge of the facility or paying for the lines and all that kind of stuff. So that was happening, and a little later on the NLS—Engelbart’s group—got sold.

We had several other big projects, mostly in artificial intelligence; but the other big Internet project—what I think of as a basic infrastructure project—was the Packet Radio Project. We were the Lead Contractor on that. The NIC Project got transferred to Don Nielsen’s group at SRI, which was responsible for communications and research. The Packet Radio project was a big one, so it was a pretty good match. Then, when the TCP/IP cutover came along, that was a big effort, and the Defense Communications Agency said they wanted us to— They were going from research to operational, and an operational network for the military means it better damn well be up and running! [laughs.] So they wanted to make sure that the information services and the NOC—the Network Operations Center; the NIC and the NOC were the two big services.... So they came to us and wanted us to do a lot more effort than we had been doing, so that’s when the contract really ramped up to a much bigger contract, and we took on the naming. Primarily we did the information database kinds of stuff, and BBN did the hardware—maintenance of the IMPs and TIPs and TACs, or whatever it was! And then, of course, they came out with the Pluribus IMP. The Pluribus IMP was their own product, whereas the others they were doing for the military.

Abbate:

What was your actual title at this point?

Feinler:

Well, for a while I was just the Project Leader or the Principal Investigator; but then when we cut over and the project got much bigger, I became a whole center at SRI. So I was the Director of the Network Information Systems Center, and that’s what I was when I left in ‘89.

Abbate:

As the ARPANET got more militarized, or more operational, it seems to me, from the outside, there was more emphasis on security, and accountability of who was using the network, and things like that. Was that also your perception on the inside?

Feinler:

Oh, there always was . . . Well, in the very early days, there weren’t that many groups that even knew anything about this. They were looking for people that wanted to help try to implement this idea, and they were mostly at the universities; often the university already had a big computer complex of its own, a lot of computers there. The other thing they thought that they would use the Internet for, basically, was to tie together the big centers that had supercomputers, of which there weren’t very many, and they were very expensive. Well, they eventually did sort of tie together the supercomputers, but then email came along [laughs], and the whole thing changed as to what people were using the network for!

But in the early days, all of the backbones were encrypted; once you went onto the network, the whole thing was encrypted, so the weak points were at the hosts. So it was not considered to be a big problem as far as breaking in [to the backbone]. The looseness came from the universities, because they said, “Look, we’re research. We’ll help you with research, but we don’t want to even bother with this.” As a matter of fact, MIT said, “We absolutely will not do any security.” Their host was wide open; any kid could walk in the door and start playing on it. It never went down! [laughs.]

The concern was not so much of somebody stealing information or anything, because mostly all you were doing was working on protocols, which were going to be open to the public anyway. More of the concern was that somebody might take down a machine that had things going on it, or mess something up somehow—and that was more of a problem in those days; the machines were much more vulnerable than they are now. Now, you back up everything yourself; it’s just a whole different [situation]. A backup in those days was a big deal. And you were running a computer center, which had air conditioning; half of the problems were environmental as much as anything else. But anyway, there were ways that somebody could certainly take down a machine, or screw up things that were on it, and it was a lot easier to do [in those days], if you knew how to do it. Or if you didn’t know how to do it, you might do it inadvertently! [laughs.] So concerns about security were different. For many of the computer centers that were on the Net, only a very small portion of [each center] was doing Internet. Let’s say at a university their computers might be there to deal with research, to deal with students that were doing research, whatever they were using it for; many times they didn’t want to be bothered with this silly Internet stuff, which would make them take their machine down and change things around! So sometimes there were internal conflicts on this, too.

It was really interesting. It was different at different sites. At the national labs, where they actually had supercomputers, they were much more concerned about [security]. Different sites came on at different times, too. As the network got better protocols, robustness was probably the first thought in everybody’s mind; and then after that, security.

When it cut over to being an operational military network, then security became much more important. For a while there was an “air gap” between [the network and] anything that was truly secure: in other words, somebody had to take it off [the network on] one side, walk over, and put it in [the secure computer on] the other side. There had to be something like that. When we cut over to the DDN [Defense Data Network], which was around the same time as the cutover to the TCP/IP protocols, there were actually five networks on the DDN. Only MILNET and ARPANET were unclassified; the others were classified. There was SAC, DIN—I don’t remember them all now, but the other three were highly classified. Just what the procedures and equipment were, I don’t know. I wasn’t privy to it. I mean, I sat in on some of the protocol meetings, but I don’t know what all their procedures were. But the backbone was highly classified; it was DES encrypted. I think when they became a commercial concern, that was taking up too much backbone, so they threw it out the window! [laughs.] I guess they’re as secure as the telephone lines are secure; they figured that was enough for the backbone lines.

Abbate:

You mean when they commercialized the Internet in the mid-nineties?

Feinler:

Yes. That’s what I heard; I’m not a security expert or anything; but I know that the backbone of the network was always DES encrypted for all the time I was on it, and then when it became commercial, they wanted as much bandwidth as they could get. That took up a lot of bandwidth, so I think they dispensed with it.

Abbate:

I didn’t know that.

Feinler:

I mean, that’s hearsay; that’s what somebody told me. I don’t know exactly what happened, but that might be interesting to look into.

I think from the time [we joined DDN], then, security was all added on; and I have to say that security wasn’t the most fun. You know, doing new things, and getting these interesting things to happen, and the protocol suite, was what everybody wanted to do; so security they did going kicking and screaming! [laughs.]

Abbate:

Well, that was my impression.

Feinler:

At least in the research sites. I mean, the government sites were quite different. By that time there were—I can’t remember how many hosts there were when I left in ‘89; maybe five hundred? But now there’s millions and millions! It just went so fast that nobody expected it; nobody even saw it coming; it was just an amazement to everybody, including the original builders of the thing.

Abbate:

Did you get to meet other ARPANET people? I know they had maybe yearly meetings of the PIs; did you get to meet these people around the country that you had been helping out?

Feinler:

Oh, yes! One of the things that the NIC did was, we were sort of the coordinator of all the Technical Liaisons and the Host Administrators. Now, each site had a Technical Liaison, and in the early days, if there was something wrong at their site, someone would come to us and say, “We can’t get to these people,” or “They’re sending us all kinds of garbage, and we can’t seem to find anybody.” We had to tell them that the Technical Liaison had to be responsible for the technical aspects of what was happening. So we started that as a group—well, Steve Crocker and [inaudible]—but the NIC coordinated it from the beginning: we kept their names and kept them informed—you know, they were the ones that we sent a lot of this information to; or if they wrote something, they’d send it to us. The Requests For Comments—are you familiar with those?

Abbate:

Yes.

Feinler:

Those started very early, and the NIC was the keeper of those, so we were always back-and-forth with all the liaisons. Then, at the time that we cut over to the DDN and TCP/IP, we created another entity called the “Host Administrator,” because the technical person didn’t want to make judgments that his management might come down on his head for! [laughs.] You know, they didn’t want to be involved with anything that was a management decision—especially in the military sites, because if you were on some military site, you just didn’t make judgments like this; it had to come from somebody that was authorized to do it. So for those two roles that we created, we actually coordinated the people, so I was talking to them all the time. Some of them were Nobel Prize winners; others of them were sixteen-year-old kids; it was real assortment of people! One of the things that I always thought was interesting is, we were sort of getting all this to go in the times of a lot of political upheaval; there was the Vietnam War going on, and dissidents, and all this sort of thing, and they were very anti-military, some of them; and you had Berkeley on [the Internet], you had the NSA on there: I mean, about the opposite ends of the spectrum! [laughs.] We put out something called the Directory, which was a phone book for the Internet, and they wanted us to put titles in there. First of all, I refused to do it, because it was an administrative nightmare; there was no way we could have everybody’s title up to date, because in the military they’re always getting promoted. So I kind of refused to do it, and my pitch was on the grounds that it would just be impossible to do—which was not untrue, but I really didn’t want to do it because I didn’t want anybody to know who they were talking to! I was afraid that there would be a lot of problems.

Abbate:

You mean, because someone had a military title or something?

Feinler:

Well, these kids were pretty smart; they could probably go and take down some of those sites. You know, there was a lot of real high feelings; this was the seventies and eighties, and people really felt very strongly about all this stuff, especially in California.

Anyway, that was kind of fun, because a lot of people would never know who they were talking to, and they’d find out they were talking with somebody who was like . . . The kids were just blown away; they’d find out they were talking to “the best guy”—the best guy that knew all about this, they could talk directly to him! So it was really neat to see.

It changed a lot of the ways people talked to each other and communicated with each other. You could do a chat, the equivalent of a chat. A lot of those, in the early days, were “Who’s going to go for the pizza?” [laughs], but a lot of it was technical. You could chat with somebody that knew what was going on in a given protocol or a given system. To me, it was incredible to see all that.

Abbate:

When you say “talk,” do you mean literally talk?

Feinler:

Just like a chat group works now.

Abbate:

Online.

Feinler:

Online. They’d go all night. There’d be groups that would talk all night about “What’s the best way to do this thing: go this way or go that way?”; or “Implement this”; or “I did this and you did that, and I think my idea’s better”; or “I implemented yours. It doesn’t work.” “Well, try it and let me see what’s happening.” That went on all of the time. There were people on the Net almost every night from midnight to dawn, because that’s when you could get any computer time; when regular users were on during the day, nothing much happened. So it was like these two worlds that were different: at midnight, things started to happen on the Net! And I often worked from midnight to dawn, because I couldn’t run any programs [during the day]—you know, they were information programs that were pretty big, and they took up a lot of space, and so we couldn’t even run programs until we had enough space. Little kids would be linking in and asking, What was a NIC, and what could they get there? and it was kind of fun. I met a lot of people on the network that I never saw. [laughs.]

Abbate:

Wow!

Feinler:

But that’s what happens now, only across the world! That’s what’s amazing to me. I always said the sociology was more fun than the technology! [laughs.]

Abbate:

That was much earlier, when you were doing this.

Feinler:

Yes, this was very early. For instance, I met a programmer, Ken Harrenstein, who came out and programmed for the NIC for many years. He was at MIT, and I didn’t even know him—I mean, I had not met him—but I got to know him [over the Net], and I got to know some of the other kids at MIT. Mostly they were helping me, giving me information, but sometimes they’d want stuff from us. But MIT—maybe MIT, Stanford, and ISI—were kind of the leaders in coming up with new ideas. They’d call them “hacks,” and that’s where the word “hacker” came from; not that you’re breaking into something. Someone would say, “I came up with this little hack; see what you think,” and it would be this elegant program! [laughs.] Anyway, they would always say, “We’ve got this thing that maybe the NIC could use.” Anything that anybody came up with usually was up for grabs; everyone traded stuff around, particularly programs and little things that made programs work better.

I met Ken on the Net, and I had never met him face-to-face, and I was trying to put out the Resource Handbook. There were about six sites that had these Xerographic printers—[including,] I think, Stanford, Xerox PARC, MIT, CMU—and that was the hottest thing, because you could just take what you were trying to print right to the machine and it printed out what looked like a Xeroxed page [i.e., with typesetting?]. It was horrible trying to go through all these [commercial] printers who didn’t know about computers, and they wanted to typeset everything. This was really, by comparison, much less expensive, and we always were trying to put these books out on a shoestring anyway. So: we were putting out a Resource Handbook, and I think it was about six or seven hundred pages, and Ken said, “You ought to do it on a graphics printer.” I said, “Well, we don’t have a graphics printer. How can I use one?” And he said, “Well, they’ve got one over at Stanford.” He had a friend on the network that he had talked to for ages—had never seen him—and he said, “Well, talk to Brian.” This was Brian Harvey, and there was another fellow in the same lab with him, Brian McCune. The two of them helped me get this all together, and we were just going to print it on the Xerox printer. Of course, in those days to print something that big took practically the whole machine, which was a DEC-10 or maybe a DEC-20. John McCarthy was in charge of the Stanford AI group. I’m running this thing at midnight, and Brian got all the permissions—to use that much of the machine you had to get permission—and I guess there was one guy who wanted to run his thesis off, and he was ticked that we were running this thing and we weren’t even part of Stanford, so he called John McCarthy. In the middle of the night, John comes in and says, “Get that off my machine!” I think, “Oh dear! I’m down! I’m done!” [laughs.] “DCA is going to kill me, because I put all my eggs in that basket!” Well anyway, somebody went off and talked to John, and John finally came back and said, “You can run it, but don’t ever run on my machine [again]!” [both laugh.] So it went till dawn, and I got a call—we were all flaking out by that time—and finally Brian came in and said, “It’s finished!”

Brian Harvey, who was the first person that I got referred to, was going off with the computer music group to work at the Pompidou Center in Paris; so he turned all this over to Brian McCune, who was another kid in his lab—they were kids in those days. We thought we should have a big going-away party for Brian Harvey, and we thought, “We’ve got to have a hack!” You always had to have a good hack, you know. So I said, “Well, what about we fly Ken out; just bring him to this party!”[laughs.] They’d never seen each other, but they’d been friends for a couple of years; they were implementing the same system. So we did. That was a great party!

Anyway, those were the kinds of things that went on in the early days, which were a lot of fun! People knew who was working on something, and they would collaborate a lot. There were a lot of fights—and mostly when I say “fights,” they were technical fights: “This is not the way to do it. You’ve got to do it this way!” “No, you’ve got to do it this way!” And then they’d kind of come to some compromise. That was where a lot of the working groups started, and then they expanded into more formal working groups as things went along. But it was very fluid in the early days, and I was right in the middle of all of it, so that was a lot of fun!

Abbate:

Were you moderating the RFCs in any sense?

Feinler:

Jon Postel was the actual Editor-in-Chief, but they often came in to us, and then we would refer [them to Jon]. When we first started that, Jon worked at SRI; Jon was at SRI for a couple of years. That’s when they were working on TCP/IP and they were cutting over from NCP to TCP—this was a big thing to happen, because it was a totally different protocol suite; and things like email protocols were coming up, and different groups were doing it different ways, and they had to bring all this together.

Some of it, the ideas were just ideas. We had the National Software Works; SRI was a key player in that. We were very big on the front-end/back-end split, which was that all the networking part of the programs would be isolated, and then anything else you were doing would be separate, so that you could change the networking stuff and you wouldn’t have to change everything in the program. There was kind of a schism on which way that should go—and that was also about the time that SRI people were leaving to go to Tymshare, so we were then out of that business—but that was one of the concepts that Engelbart’s group felt was really important, and I think they were vindicated, because that’s the way things eventually turned out: you had a front-end/back-end split. So that was a big project.

I forgot what the question was! [laughs.]

Abbate:

[laughs.] Now I forget what the question was!

That actually reminds me: I’d heard that the NLS system was kind of difficult to use from a distance if you didn’t already know it. Did it have a special terminal or something?

Feinler:

Well, you had what was the beginning of what we all use now, which was a mouse and a terminal and so forth; but it wasn’t something you could go buy in any store. Doug’s design had a mouse and keyset, and the keyset was similar to a ham radio—you know, the kind of keyset that they use. It was very useful, and we never knew why, as Doug said, when they stole the system, they didn’t quite steal all the good stuff! If you used the mouse and the keyset together—and we had a three-button mouse, so that any character that was on your keyboard you could do using the mouse and the keyset—if you were editing, you didn’t have to take your hands off of these things to go back to the keyboard. You weren’t always doing this [back-and-forth movement]; you could just sit there. Some people typed in almost everything; they were so fast they would type in almost [an entire] text using this system; but I found that it was best for editing. You know, when you would go back and just want to change a couple of things, which you do a lot, you didn’t have to keep moving your hands back to the keyboard. I thought it was a very nice system, but there was a group of Doug’s people that went over to start Xerox PARC (or they were some of the early developers there), and they didn’t seem to think the keyset was worth doing. They didn’t take it, I don’t know why: whether there were technical reasons, or there were biases, or whatever. I don’t know what the reasons were. The keyset never went along with it, but I thought it was a very interesting and useful thing.

What I find about computers, even today—more today than even back then—is: I’m trying to do a job on a computer. I’m not interested in building the computer; I’m not interested in taking it apart; I’m not interested in showing somebody that “mine’s better than yours”: I just want to get my job done. If it’s editing, or writing—that’s usually what I’m doing—a lot of this stuff just gets in my way. It interrupts my train of thought, and that just makes me very angry! [laughs.] I mean, I don’t want to keep pulling down menus and things! And one of the things I thought that Engelbart’s system was very good at is that it did not interrupt your train of thought. You could continue with what you were doing—almost anything you wanted to do—using that system. Now, that did mean that you had to learn to do it—and I never learned [it all]; there was much, much more in that system than I ever knew. A programming language was right there; the debugging language was right there; the editing language was there. You could write macros. I could write email and just send it as a command—you know, it would just go right out of the system into email. And in those days, nothing [was integrated like that]; every program was separate, and now I think we’ve almost gone back to that. Everything you want to do, you’ve got to see this guy’s ads, and you’ve got to go use that guy’s menu style, and you’re thinking, “What the heck was I trying to do? I forgot!” by the time you get down through all this. [laughs.] In his system, if you wanted to do something that, say, required Quicken, you didn’t have to go load a whole separate program; a command would take you there. There’s still a lot in that system that I think could be used today, but we’ve gone the opposite direction. We’ve got this Tower of Babel of programs; you’ve got to use this guy’s program to do this and that guy’s program to do that, and you’ve got to remember what all these are, and they’re all separate entities. But his system was not that way.

Abbate:

But if you were at MIT or something, coming in over the Internet, would it be hard to use NLS?

Feinler:

Well, this is one of the things that, for what I’ll call an “episodic user”—which is a person that just comes in infrequently, because they want to find something—I felt it was too complicated; the command language in those days was too complicated. That’s my own personal thinking.

I worked with Jacques Vallee. Do you know him?

Abbate:

I’ve heard his name. I don’t know him personally.

Feinler:

He was very interesting in that. He was a Ph.D. in Information Science; he was also a meteorologist, I believe; he’s French; and he’s the world’s expert on Unidentified Flying Objects! [laughs.] Now he’s a venture capitalist!

Abbate:

I had no idea!

Feinler:

He was of a mind that just for an episodic user, just for somebody that was just going to pop in and out, that they didn’t have the time for this learning curve. To learn everything in NLS would take quite a bit of effort. To learn the command structure was even a reasonable amount of effort, because you had to know how things were structured. Nothing was structured in those days; everything was just straight text; most anything you put into a computer came out as just a straight text. Well, Doug’s system was structured—that is, a paragraph that was under another paragraph that was under another paragraph—and you could look at different views of that; you could look at just the top levels or you could look at the whole thing. So that was a whole mindset that nobody was using then, so it took training to learn the command structure and so forth. I always thought they made it more complicated than it was! [laughs.] It was like this big mystique. But that’s neither here nor there. I think that that was harder to learn because it was different than anything that was being used, but also, I don’t think it was structured for the person that just walked up and wanted to get something.

So I worked with Jacques for that first demo in Washington, I think it was.

Abbate:

Yes.

Feinler:

I didn’t go, so I wasn’t sure.

We only wanted people to have to punch a number, because people were not familiar with computers then, and they were scared of them. You couldn’t get an executive to touch one, because he was afraid he was going to make an ass out of himself! [laughs.] It was interesting: the kids would crawl all over it, the young kids that knew something about computers; they’d try anything; but the further up the line you got, the less anybody wanted to touch them, because they thought that they would show their ignorance! So for that demo, we wanted to say, “Ask a question, and if you wanted that information, just punch 1”—or A, or whatever it was—and you got a paragraph that told you something. This was phenomenal in those days. That’s not the way things were, and random people didn’t use computers; it took a lot of training before you knew how to get a set of punch cards or whatever you were doing with a computer. And lots of people weren’t allowed to use them, because they were very expensive, and there was a whole hierarchy of who could use a computer and how you had to do it. So this was kind of a phenomenal thing, that just anybody could walk up, and a terminal was there, and they’d punch something and they got information.

So that was what Jacques was trying to do, just for this demo; but then of course it became very apparent that that’s the way a NIC ought to be. It ought to be just stupid simple, so anybody didn’t have to learn anything, or maybe they’d read a couple lines and then they could get information. That was my thinking for the way a NIC should run, because you never knew who was going to come to use it, and you didn’t know what their level of expertise would be: they might not have used it for a year, or they might have just used it constantly; you didn’t know. They might have been brand-new: they didn’t know what a network was, they didn’t know what a computer was, and somebody said “go get such-and-such information.” So you never knew what your user community was going to be, and as the network got bigger, you had a lot more people who were brand new to the whole game that were trying to do things. The first thing they’d be told was, “Oh, go talk to the NIC.” Well, they didn’t even know what a NIC was, you know! So it was very interesting to be in that mode.

The NLS people, about that time, were going to go off to Tymshare anyway, but they also didn’t make the transition from [NCP to TCP], because the way the system was designed was totally different; it would have taken a lot of programmer work to change it. I only used a little subset of it, by the time they were going off to Tymshare; they had a little part that was a database, and we used that; but we decided we’d have to be totally separate, so Ken redid everything that we used in C. Even that took some doing; he had to design a whole different database. So we had our own database system that just did the kinds of things we wanted to do—because it wasn’t easy to go out and buy Oracle or whatever; [it cost] hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy into their systems, so we just built our own! [laughs.]

Anyway, our concept of the NIC was that it was just like a library: you don’t know who’s going to walk in the door, and you have to be able to service whoever comes to use the system. We had information systems like WHOIS: you would say “WHOIS” and give somebody’s last name, and it would come back and give you their name, address, telephone number, and network address—whatever we’d collected about them. WHATIS: you’d say “WHATIS” and give a keyword—we didn’t get as far along with that; we were trying to tie that in to the Resource Handbook—and it would come back with whatever we had. We didn’t always have a lot, because somebody could come up with any keyword. But we had the host’s nameserver, and that’s how we got into being the naming and addressing service on the network.

In the early days it was, “Take this hostname file—please!” [laughs.] Nobody wanted to be responsible for it. It was just a flat file, but the flat file kept getting bigger and bigger, and finally it wouldn’t fit into the space on the machine. We were the holders of the flat file, and every night we’d distribute it out to all the hosts, and that, again, was taking up a lot of bandwidth and whatnot. Then they redid the naming and addressing into a tree-structured system, and we maintained that for the network until the contract ended in the nineties. I left in ‘89, and I think the contract ended in ‘91.

Abbate:

It sounds like you learned a lot about computers. Was that just informally, by being there?

Feinler:

Well, I sat in on a lot of the protocol meetings, because it was my job to gather up the information, and I would pick up anything that wasn’t nailed down; because often the NIC got questions about it, or we got people wanting copies of things, and the people that were building it were not thinking about that, or the administrators. They never thought about the paper, the back-up information and so forth. So I would just go around like this little squirrel, grabbing everything that wasn’t nailed down, because after the fact people would want it.

But a lot of these things were moving targets, all of the working groups. They would have a meeting, and then maybe they’d have the next meeting the next month; well, by that time, everything would have changed. Meantime, somebody would want to know, “Where are we now?” And in the early days, those weren’t all online. As time went on, most of the working groups were online; but then you had a lot of people who were in industry or had government contracts, and they didn’t have access to this. So we bridged the gap between the implementers and the owners—which were, in those days, the government—to the people that wanted to produce products.

They would be told their product had to be TCP/IP compatible, and it was like, “What’s TCP/IP?!” [laughs.] In the early days, you had IBM, which had its own networking; and you had DEC, which had its own networking; and never the two should meet! So TCP/IP just undermined all that. It was this open system, where the protocols were up for grabs for anyone. So that’s how they got into—are you familiar with Interop?

Abbate:

Yes.

Feinler:

Well, that was an interesting offshoot of what we did. We would have the military people coming and saying, “They told us we’ve got to use this stuff. Where do we buy the products?” Then we’d have the people on the industry side saying, “We want to get into this market. We’ve got TCP/IP-compatible products. Who do we talk to on the military side, or the government side?” So we started putting out something that was called the Vendors’ Guide.

In those days, the commercial side was not allowed on the network unless they had government contracts and got authorization, but more and more people were creeping in, and then everybody wanted to play the game, because they were finding out it was the most fun—the best game in town! [laughs.] So one way or another, there were a quite a few commercial people on, but mostly they were military contractors. We started putting this thing out called the Vendors’ Guide—it started out a little pamphlet—but we could not make any distinction between one vendor and another, because the government rules were such that we couldn’t choose a vendor and say, “This guy’s better than that guy.” We had to be very careful about that. So all we did was put out a list of people who said they had TCP/IP-compatible products.

I don’t know if you know Dan Lynch?

Abbate:

Not personally, but I know who he is.

Feinler:

Well, he started Interop. We were just talking one day about what was needed to make this whole thing work. He been pretty responsible for coordinating the implementation of the network protocols. Jon Postel was at ISI, and Dan was at ISI then, and it was Jon’s job to make sure that each site had TCP/IP running—he was coordinating that—but then Dan was keeping implementations, so that if somebody didn’t have one and they had DEC equipment (or whatever equipment they had at ISI), they could come and get it. They didn’t have to build it; they could just get it. There was a lot of that trading around. [People at hosts sites would say,] “I don’t have any people to do this,” [and Dan would say,] “Well, go to such-and-such a host, and you can download the implementations.” So he was pretty knowledgeable about who the key implementers were. Then he left ISI and was working on some project at SRI, and we were talking about what was needed on the Net, and I said, “Somebody needs to get these two together—the buyers and the sellers, so to speak.” So he started Interop, and the idea with Interop was that nobody could bring equipment onto the floor that [wasn’t actually running the protocols]. He had TCP/IP cables, and you had to put it up and make sure it ran and demonstrate it. You couldn’t say it runs; you had to prove it runs! And that’s, I think, what really made the thing expand as much as it did; because government is usually in the market of developing something, but then they don’t want to be the maintainers. Besides, it’s very expensive to do that kind of thing: kind of manufacture on a government contract. So they just wanted a place that was going to make it and sell it to them, and that’s what his group did. But we kind of got that started.

Abbate:

So that was your idea?

Feinler:

Well, the seed was there because of the Vendors’ Guide, and we had this conversation a couple of times of: “Somebody ought to put these two together!” and Dan went out and did it. That was kind of a neat idea.

Abbate:

It was a neat idea.

Feinler:

The NIC and the NOC were really in middle of everything. We were kind of the information hub. If you didn’t know who to talk to or what was going on, you could give us a call and we’d try to find out, or if we knew, we’d tell you. We developed a lot of new information tools. Everybody now does names and addresses, but we did one of the first. The WHOIS system was probably [one of the first] of that kind, where you send out a query and the answer comes back. That was fairly new, as Net-wide system. Then we developed another little program, early on. The small computers were coming along, PCs, and a lot of people had PCs, but they weren’t networked, because at that point we still didn’t have local area networks. They were in a research mode, but they weren’t out in the field very much. So you’d have a guy sitting here and a guy sitting there, and you’re both doing the same thing, and neither one of them knows what the other one’s doing! [laughs.] It was that kind of thing. The small computers were great, because you had your own computer, but they had their problems, because there was all this redundancy. So we came up with this little program we called SAM: Simple Access to Mail. Also, the hosts were totally bogged down; it was like wading through molasses to get anything done on the hosts, they were so full of users. So this little program was one of the forerunners of what we’re using today: it went up to the host, grabbed your mail, and brought it down to your local machine.

Then the local area networks were coming along, and they were networking people to the bigger host machines, or the host machine went out onto the Net. So this whole architecture was moving along. That was popular with the military, but there were a lot of hassles with it, so it never got fully developed.

Abbate:

The SAM part?

Feinler:

Yes, SAM. It was fully developed as a program, but there were administrative problems that I won’t go into. We had demonstrations of it.

We got into a process with DCA: one year they’d want, say, a thousand directories, and maybe we’d only need two hundred; and the next time we’d do two hundred, and we’d ten thousand! [laughs.] It was never clear. When you’re doing that through a contract, it’s very hard, because then you have to modify the contract to change the number. You’ve probably done government contracting: modifying contracts is not the most fun, and it takes up a lot of people’s time. So we had an arrangement with DCA where they would pay for the production of the first copy—you know, the actual content—then we took over [making additional copies] as a little side business for SRI. It wasn’t a business, but I mean we did the reproduction and sold it at a minimal price, so that they didn’t have to worry about doing all that under the contract. That worked very well. We’d sell the Resource Handbook for, I don’t know, twenty bucks or something like that—what it took us to produce it and to just cover our cost. That way, we could decide whether we wanted to produce a hundred, or two thousand, and they didn’t have to worry about it.

It worked very well, and we did that for the ARPANET Resource Handbook and the DDN Protocol Handbook, which was by that time a stack of books. I think it was five or six books about a foot high! [laughs.] It took a lot to put those out, and that just took a big load off their shoulders, because they didn’t have to worry about that. You did these contracts six months in advance, and who knew how many you were going to need?

But when we tried to do that for SAM, there were people who cried “Foul!” and said we were we were using government funds to do commercial work, and it got very involved. But we weren’t making a profit, you know, and this was all known by DCA. There were letters going around saying that we were using government funds the wrong way and everything. It all got ironed out, but it was kind of a pain at the time. But I thought it was a good program. It was kind of a forerunner of everything; that’s exactly what we do today: you buy host time and then you go off and get your email and download it to your own machine.

That was kind of interesting, and we had some fun doing some of these things. We developed the naming scheme that is in use now: dot-com, dot-org, dot-net, dot-whatever. The idea I had for that was that people were fighting over who was going to get those top-level domains, because there was a lot of power. If under “US” came “IBM,” that was pretty good stuff, and we could see there were just going to be these monstrous fights over who was going to get [the top-level domains]. The “US” was set by the international standards, and that’s as far as they went, and after that they said it’s up to the country to decide what the hierarchy will be. I looked around and saw that there was a military standards body; there was the non-military government standards body; there were commercial standards bodies; and I figured that if we picked generic domains, then those standards bodies, if need be, could take over the rest of the hierarchy. And they were different: you know, the military would have a totally different structure than the education system or the commercial system. So it seemed to me that that was a reasonable way to go, and that under each one of those generic domains they could decide whatever they wanted to do.

Abbate:

So it was your idea to do it dot-com, dot-gov . . .

Feinler:

Yes.

Abbate:

Ah!

Feinler:

As a generic system, as opposed to more specific. Mainly it was because you could just see this avalanche of problems coming down on you! I didn’t think that would last six months, and that’s interesting that it’s still going, after all this time.

Abbate:

So you could tell, even in—I don’t remember when DNS came in; was it the late eighties? [Note: it was 1984.]

Feinler:

No, I think it was earlier than that. It was shortly after TCP/IP, because they were running out of naming space.

Abbate:

That was ‘83.

Feinler:

Now, when that actual protocol came out, I’m not sure. It was maybe ‘84 or ‘5; I could check. January first, 1983, was when TCP/IP cutover came. That was another interesting thing! [laughs.]

Abbate:

“Doomsday”! [laughs.]

Feinler:

Because somebody in the military had decided they were going to switch over to this set of protocols. Vint Cerf more or less convinced them that that was a good idea, and then he left and went to MCI! [laughs.] But the way the military acts: they’re different; they’re not like universities or commercial; when somebody in the military says, “Now hear this: you will do X,” you do it! [laughs]. I mean, you don’t say, “Well, on the one hand, on the other”; you just do it. So this directive came out—a directive is like from God; well, from the very top levels—that says “Now hear this: On January first 1983, you’re going to cut over to TCP/IP.” Well, I’m sure the person that wrote that directive just picked what was a reasonable time for him or her; but what they didn’t know was that the implementers of all this stuff were kids at universities, for the most part—not all, but that was the bulk of them—and the time frame was very narrow. I mean, it was not an easy job; this was a monumental technical process going on here.

I came on the Net: I’d stayed home for Christmas that year, and I’m fanning around the Net, and these kids all came back, and they were working their tails off. On New Year’s Eve I’m fanning around the Net, and everywhere it was just crowded with people, and they were still hacking away! [laughs.] Because the gauntlet was down! They said “Implement it,” and it was their work, and by God they were going to implement it! And nobody in the military knew—I’m not saying “nobody,” but in general, the people that made that directive had no idea what they had sent into play. It was just incredible to watch it!

So I took it upon myself . . . I never sent out anything on the Net as a Net directive or a Net-wide communication or communiqué unless I had authorization; I didn’t feel that was my place. I was a contractor for DCA; I did what DCA wanted done, or ARPA; if another agency wanted it done, I always had to go through my contractor. I mean, that’s just standard practice. But that night, I took it upon myself to send out, on behalf of DCA, “Thank you!” to the Technical Liaisons. When everybody got back, I told the Colonel, I think it was Colonel [Joseph] Haughney, what I had done, and he said, “Oh yes, I guess that was a good idea.” And I said, “You have no idea!” [laughs.] That was kind of fun, to see all that. Some of the hosts didn’t make it, and they went off the Net, but primarily they all pretty much got cutover, and that was probably one of the most exciting technical feats in networking, as far as I can see.

Abbate:

I heard someone made buttons that said, “I survived the TCP transition!”

Feinler:

Yes, I had one of those. I gave it to the [Computer History] Museum. I think Jon sent those out, or Dan; anyway, ISI sent them out. Yes, that was your badge of honor! [laughs.] I had this fellow working for me, Henry Miller. Henry was a stitch! He was a guy that liked a lot of feedback, and I had two other programmers who were different personality types: they knew instinctively when something was right, and they didn’t need somebody to verify it for them. Henry would run up with these programs, and he’d say, “See, I did this and this and this and this!” and I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I’d say, “Terrific, Henry!” [laughs.] So anyway, Henry was working away, and everybody else was working away, and I was at SRI to get something, and it was close to five in the morning, as I remember. I came down the steps, going towards the Coke machine, and here’s Henry, flaked-out on the steps! [laughs.] He’d gone down to get his last Mountain Dew, but it didn’t do the job, so he was just sleeping away on the steps. So I woke him up and told him to go home. But these kids really gave it everything they had, and it’s kind of neat to see that it all worked.

Working with Other Women on the Internet

Abbate:

Who were some of the other women who worked on the Internet?

Feinler:

Oh, my goodness. I’m very bad at names. I probably ought to come back to you with the list of ones that I can remember.

There were quite a few women at BBN. There were women at ISI. Joyce Reynolds; do you know Joyce Reynolds? Well, I started the user group, and it became one of the IETF working groups. We called it “Bang-Percent-At-Sign” [!%@] at first [laughs]—because all of these networks that were trying to communicate with each other each had different mail systems, and so we were trying to make that work, and some of the guys at Berkeley came up with that. Then I think one of those books came out called !%@. Anyway, we started the user group at SRI, but this was close to [when I left]; I wasn’t leaving quite then, but I just didn’t have time to give it the attention it needed, and so Joyce took it over, and she did a phenomenal job. She came up with things like Frequently Asked Questions, and she worked with Jon Postel, and she was the one that did all the behind-the-scenes editing and whatnot to get the RFCs ready. Jon would look at them, and sometimes you’d have several documents that were very close, and then he’d need to bring them into one document and so forth; Joyce did a lot of that work. But then she took over the user group, and when all these new users were coming on as the network started to explode, she was phenomenal in reaching out to the users, and making products that they could use, and working with all the sites. They were network products that the people could use. So she was certainly one [woman in networking]. I don’t know what her background is; I don’t think she was a technical person, but I don’t know that.

Oh, let’s see. There were a number of people at SRI. In my group, April Marine took over from Joyce, and she ran the group for quite a while. She was head of the Globe Information Center. I started that over at NASA, but she took over and was the manager of that. That was a big, big project to bring teachers and students onto the Internet. They were actually linked up with NASA scientists, and these kids, anywhere from kindergarten through 12th grade, were collecting real environmental data, and they could talk to the scientists online. First we taught the teachers how to use the computer system that we set up, which had the software already loaded on and everything, and then the teachers taught the kids, and the kids collected the data, and then they got to meet with the scientists. It’s still going on, I think. That was a neat project! That was one of the early ones to try to get kids interested in science. She also had a big role in the NASA Science Internet Information Center, which again I brought: it was at Goddard, but it was on DECNET at one point, so I brought that over to NASA Ames, to the NASA Science Internet Group. I was mostly doing the administrative part of it. There was a guy named Larry.... April took over that, so she ran that, and then she ran the Globe Project, and now she’s at Nominum, which is a start-up company.

Another woman that worked for me is Vivian Neou. She ran all of our information servers, and she was more of a systems person; she made sure all the systems were up and running. She’s at Nominum now.

There were a number of women in my group, and I could give you a list of them and what their duties were. There were some key protocol implementers—Nancy Mimno—and there were three or four women who worked with Jon, who worked on protocol implementations.

Abbate:

In general, did there seem to be just a few women in the Internet community?

Feinler:

Yes, there weren’t as many to start with, because most of the first implementers and the first people who were building it came from mathematics and engineering groups. There were very few computer science groups, and there weren’t that many women in those groups. Radia Pearlman, at MIT: she was a very good person.

[DISC 2]

Feinler:

There were a lot of women behind the scenes at BBN, and often you didn’t hear about them; they were working on contracts and things, but they really did a lot of work. [These include Nancy Mimno, who worked on early NCP protocols; Charlotte Moorers, who worked on the Hermes mail system; and Julie Sussman, who worked on early mail protocols.]

Abbate:

Now, you left SRI in ‘89?

Feinler:

Yes. We renegotiated a contract, and they were going to reorganize at SRI at the time; and so I was talking to my boss, Don, and I said I knew what I want out of this reorganization, and he said, “What?” And I said “Out!” [both laugh.] “I’m just burned out!” I was driving to work one day—I live in Menlo Park, about a mile from SRI—and I remember leaving home, and I remember coming to, and I was clear up in the town of Menlo Park. Now, it wasn’t that I blacked out or anything; I had just blanked it all out; and I thought, “Whoa! That’s trying to tell me something!” You know, there was a lot of travel, and you were going back and forth; and an information center is one of those things that never gets done, and it always gets bigger, and you never get more resources; and it just got to me after a while. So I took a couple of years off and did nothing. Well, I had plans to write a book and do some things like that, but unfortunately my stepfather died the day I left, almost—it was my last trip to Washington—and that changed my mother’s situation, so I got involved in a lot of family things. But it was good that I had the time to deal with it.

Then I went to work for five years for NASA, at Ames [Research Center].

Abbate:

Is that when you did that system you were talking about that the kids used?

Feinler:

The Globe Project? Yes; and the NASA Science Internet.

There were some interesting women over there. Christine Falsetti: she’s married now; I’m not sure what her married name is. Joanie Thompson. Those were two that just jumped to mind. Roxanne Streeter. Roxanne helped put in networking in Antarctica, Africa, Russia. She was all over the place; she loved to travel. I’ll show you, when we go over to look at the collection [at the Computer History Museum]: I’ve got this chart that Joanie put together, which was all of the different email systems, and it took a lot of know-how to go from one to the other in those days. If you didn’t have Joanie’s chart, you were in bad shape!

There was a woman at NASA who ran the EOS Project: Earth-Orbiting System. I can’t think of her name right now; she was pretty high up. She was the technical lead and also the manager for all this. They were gathering—I mean, when you came off the Internet [research community] where I was, where a database was not a very big thing, and then you went to NASA, where they had trillions of bits of data—a terabyte an hour—you’d think, “That’s data!” [laughs.] So their use of the Internet was very different. Their needs were different, so they were a whole different community from what I had been used to. We were just the usual kinds of people you found at a site, but they had incredible amounts of data at NASA. I would say the Defense Mapping system was another one, where they had so much data that it just boggled your mind to think of how much stuff they had to deal with. Now that’s typical of lots of things, of security for example. I’m sure that’s true of NSA and CIA, but anything they did was not publicly known, nor was it available: they were probably doing the same kinds of things, but their stuff wasn’t available. Anything you’d done at NASA was always publicly available, which was kind of nice, because there was a lot of interesting stuff coming out of there.

Abbate:

What was your position at NASA?

Feinler:

When I started out—well, I told them I would do anything but go to Washington with a tin cup! [both laugh.] They thought that was funny! [laughs.] I just got so tired of that: you know, all the detail that went with negotiating contracts and whatnot. And after Gramm-Rudman it was not a lot of fun, because to my way of thinking, the people that controlled the money—who were usually referred to as “bean counters”—were so concerned that you weren’t over-spending, or that something wasn’t out-of-line, that they totally bogged down getting real work done, a lot of times. You were modding [modifying] contracts all the time; any time they wanted to change something, it had to go through all these layers, and you had to explain to everybody why it was a good idea. In the early days, you worked as a team with your Contracting Officer, and it was like a small working group: you’d come up with some ideas; they’d come up with some ideas; you were just kind of batting it back and forth, like a working group. But then it got, to my way of thinking, very complicated. I had no problem with justifying what you were spending; that’s how it should be; but it got to be overkill. The pendulum swings, and it seems like it swung too far in that direction. Because you didn’t always know what you were going to come up with; it was all very new. It seemed to me there wasn’t much leeway there, and it wasn’t as much fun after that, for me personally.

Abbate:

I’m kind of surprised you went to another government agency, given that.

Feinler:

Well, I wasn’t going to be in the same position. I wasn’t going to be a PI or run a group or anything, or at least that’s what I thought was going to happen. So my job, when I went over there, was to be a DRM [Data Resource Manager?]. Well, first we were Network Resource Managers; that wasn’t the exact title, but our job was to work with the scientists, find out what networking needs they had, and then work with the other side. It’s hard to say how this went. We were in with all the engineers, the guys that actually made things happen; and then we were the go-between between the scientists and the engineers, because the scientists didn’t always know what they needed, and the engineers needed some detail of what they were trying to implement. I worked in Space Astrophysics, with that group of people: well, you’d get somebody calling from Cerro Tololo [Inter-American Observatory in Chile] and saying, “I need networking!” [laughs.] You didn’t just run a line out to the top of the Andes! I mean, sometimes there were international agreements that needed to be put in place, and a lot of different things aside from engineering. So mostly we were facilitators to find out who needed to handle it, what needed to be put in place, and that kind of thing; and we did a lot of questioning of the scientists to know what their real needs were. Now, some of them knew exactly what they needed. Some were great big projects: for example, EOS was a huge project; there were maybe several hundred scientists all over the world, and they needed lots of networking, and it needed to be very well orchestrated. In other places, there’d just be some lone scientist out there that didn’t have access and needed access. So there was a range of everything.

That was kind of the job I had. Then I switched to another group, and mostly I was going to Washington with a tin cup! [both laugh.] Not really; somebody else was; but I was helping with administrative documents and proposals and all that kind of thing. But that group was fun, because they—not myself personally, but the group I was in at the time—put in the White House Web. Then I went off and did a lot of work on setting up a working group, and writing some position papers, on administering webs in a government environment; because you had links that were going off to outside information, but if you looked at it, you’d think this is NASA’s position, or this is NASA’s work; and everybody was putting up Web pages in those days, and anything out there could look like it represented NASA’s position, or any government agency’s position. We were looking at the management of Web pages particularly in a government environment, where it seemed like somebody had to say, “Yes, this is okay to put all this stuff in here; we agree to it”; and somebody else was doing the putting-in. So that started a big working group, and that was kind of fun, too. Then I left, about the time that was done.

Since then, I’ve been working at the Computer Museum. I had two garages full of papers and a whole vault at SRI, and everybody kept saying, “Why are you carrying around all that junk?” Well, I found a place for it! [laughs.]

When I had my going-way party, all my old bosses came back—we had a great going-away party at SRI—and one of them said, “You haven’t gotten rid of the stuff in your garage, have you?” [laughs.] And I said, “No, it’s still there!” So by that time, people were starting to think maybe it was worthwhile! But I used to keep all the paper, because you never knew when they were going to switch you from one computer environment to another operating system, and it would be very expensive to convert everything, and often the client would say, “Well just do the new stuff. Don’t bother with any of the old stuff.” Of course, as the [Network] Information Center, we were getting questions all the time about old, new, whatever; so anything I could get my hands on, I kept. That’s what’s over at the Computer Museum now.

I think that’s about it! [laughs.]

Reflecting on Career in Computing

Abbate:

What have you found most satisfying about your work with computers?

Feinler:

Computers, frankly, I find very frustrating! [both laugh.] They never do what I want them to do. Or they do it, but you have to talk to them in the right [language]; you have to learn their language. But I really found the sociology of the network was fascinating—and the technology. I think the Internet is one of the technological wonders of the world, and just to have been there at ground [zero]—we were the second host on the Internet, you know—was pretty exciting stuff! I was an observer, pretty much; I wasn’t in there pushing code, [though] as time went on I was developing information tools. But to observe it in the beginning was just fascinating: to see how everybody worked and interacted. It was very different. I came from chemistry, which is a very old discipline and had very structured ways of interacting. This was ground zero! [laughs.] Nobody had any ground rules. It’s interesting that Steve Crocker’s memo in the early days was: “This is going to be very informal; anybody’s ideas count.” It really was pretty much that way in the beginning, and it was just wonderful to watch. I’d have a fifteen-year-old hacker talking to a Nobel Prize-winner, and neither of them knew who the other one was! [laughs.] It was just fun, to see all that happening. As a NIC, you were part of it, but kind of standing aside and looking at it, so you got to be in both those worlds. I found that interesting.

I sat in on many, many high-level meetings, because we needed the information, but I wasn’t a participant; I was an ex officio attendee. That was interesting, too, because you’d see all the politics of this, and the mechanics of how people negotiated their position, and whether the technical guy won out or the administrative guy won out. Usually the technical guy won out! [laughs.] And you’d see how it all sifted down to the kinds of things that they built [the Internet] on, and how solid they were. I think that was the difference between the Internet protocol suite and the international suite. The international ones are very political, so the attendees were not necessarily implementers; they were trying to position themselves for their company or (usually) their PTT; whereas on the Internet side, anything that went out there as a protocol had been tested. Somebody had built it, and they’d kicked the tires, and they’d fought over it, and they’d beat it into submission—and it worked. It was a very chaotic process, and it was sometimes very painful, but it did work! That was very interesting for me to watch, as the different communities worked together in very different ways—and sometimes there were big clashes in the middle of things, and so you’d just watch and see how it was going to come out.

Of course, I worked very closely with Jon Postel, and he was a gift to the Internet. He’s a wonderful person, he’s a sweet guy, and his whole outlook was, “Are we doing the right thing? Is this going to be the right way to go?” That was his beacon that always led him on. “Is this the right thing for the network? Is it going to be solid?” Of course, there were a lot people that disagreed with him, and he disagreed with others; but that was what mostly made people work: they loved it, and they wanted it to be right: technically right, you know; technically good. And that came through everything, and I liked to watch that and feel like I was a little part of it.

Abbate:

Are there any of your accomplishments that you’re particularly proud of, looking back?

Feinler:

Well, I thought WHOIS was pretty neat. We also came up with a program called Biblio. Again, we didn’t get it [fully implemented?], because it would take up a lot of bandwidth. It was a program where you could send an author’s name or a keyword, and it would send you back bibliographic references.

Abbate:

Really!

Feinler:

So it was a forerunner of some of the search services. It was in use for some of the contract people, but we finally decided we wouldn’t implement it, because it was going to take up too much of our time and too much of the bandwidth. But I thought that was a neat program, and I felt badly.

What we were trying to do: There were big search services, like DIALOG—DIALOG was probably one of the biggest ones; this was a commercial search service—and we were trying to do our front-end interface, so that if somebody had access to DIALOG, for which you had to pay to be a user, they could come in over the Net and get into DIALOG and get charged. We didn’t want to do the accounting part of it, and they already had a big accounting system. So it took a lot of work to orchestrate all that. I think some of the things we did were the forerunners of the search engines, in many ways; in very small ways. It’s interesting to see how all that evolved.

We also started the concept of NICs, and then there were many offshoots of that, and some of them were really, really exciting. The NSF NIC (I don’t know what they called it); CSNET had a NIC; and we traded information. At NASA, we were the NIC of NICs, in a sense! [laughs.] Almost anything we had, we tried to get out, and we did that with the other NICs; if we had the RFCs, we tried to see if they wanted them, so that they were kept up to date. We traded stuff back and forth, but since it usually came to our NIC first, they tended to come to us to build out some of their collections of things. It was a two-way street, but at least for the Internet stuff, we were the first point of contact, so everybody came to get the stuff from us. It was a network of NICs. I feel like we kind of started that, and I thought that was a good offshoot of what we started.

I guess for me personally, it was being able to— There was hardly anybody trained to do many of the jobs we had to do, so I brought in a lot of people who had no training at all and got to train them and see their careers develop, and they all went on to do interesting things, for the most part; so for me personally, that was a lot of satisfaction.

There was a lot of work. I got so that I was just worn out from travel, and the hours, and trying to get things done with not enough resources—particularly machine resources, in those days. But anyway, that was the way it went!

Abbate:

Were you managing a pretty big team?

Feinler:

Yes. I had a group of about forty, forty-five.

Abbate:

Wow, that is big. And the travel was mainly to Washington?

Feinler:

Yes.

Abbate:

That’s a long trip across the country.

Feinler:

I got so my sleep cycle was all screwed up.

[recording pauses]

As a Woman Working at SRI

Abbate:

As a woman working at SRI, was that pretty equitable in terms of pay and promotions and things?

Feinler:

Not in the early days. By the time I left, I think it was probably pretty much that way. That was another [reason I left]: I probably had gone about as far as I could go at SRI. I guess if I felt there was any bias, it was that I had the feeling that I wasn’t going to be on an equal footing with other people for getting new work other than the NIC. That may have been my own perspective—and then, I didn’t know if I really wanted to take on another big project. I was pretty burned out, because we put in incredible hours just trying to pull it all together; and the bigger the group got, the more management stuff you had to deal with, and the less fun! [laughs.]

Abbate:

It sounds like you were working all night.

Feinler:

We did! Oh gosh, a lot of times we did rollovers, and we didn’t even bother going to bed! [laughs.] By five o’clock in the morning you’d start to come to again! [laughs.] Between four and five was the worst; you didn’t know what you did between four and five; and then you’d start to come to life. And when we were putting out these big books and things, you couldn’t get time on the machine, they were just so crowded; you couldn’t make anything happen. So we’d work all night, or sometimes we worked all day and all night, depending on what was happening. Anyway, I think it all ganged up on me, and I just kind of decided, “That’s enough.”

Abbate:

Was it ever an issue for you to balance work with family responsibilities? I don’t know if you were taking care of your parents or anything like that.

Feinler:

Well, I wasn’t married. I think it must be incredibly hard for these women that try to do it all. I don’t know how they do it, because they now do the kind of job I was doing and raise a family and try to be a mother and a wife. I just don’t think they can do it all. I think that must be very hard on marriages and kids and everything else.

Being single, the hardest thing was keeping continuity. Your friends want to go to plays or something like that, and then you’re not there for half of them, and you’re giving the tickets away; or you miss somebody’s birthday; or you’re dating somebody, and then you’re off for two or three weeks, and by the time you get back you hardly remember who they were! [laughs.]

Abbate:

Because of the travel?

Feinler:

Yes; or just deadlines. You know, sometimes we had some big deadline facing us, and if I was going to get the work done and meet the requirements, I had to drop everything. And then, when you’re kind of living in the night and trying sleep in the day, that got weird, too. So, yes: it got a little weird. I think mostly I maintained most of my friends, but it was hard to keep a social life going, because it was intermittent all the time. I’d have friends in Washington and friends in the San Francisco area, and that was kind of weird, too.

Reflections on Computer Culture

Abbate:

Do you think the computer culture has changed a lot since then?

Feinler:

Oh yes. First of all, it’s gotten a lot more structure. It’s gotten commercial. For me personally, I hate to see the Internet be so commercial. I mean, it’s just everybody out there trying to make a buck. And the worst thing, I think, is not that they’re trying to make money—that’s part of the game; but it really gets to me that you have to go down layer after layer after layer [of a web site] and then they say “Send money!” Oh! It makes me so angry. [laughs.] It’s like you’re trying to imply that this is a free service, but you go through these layers of junk—to my way of thinking—before you ever get to any substance. It’s even that way when you want to buy something. To me, it’s like telephones, where they have all these answering machines: “punch this,” “punch that,” “do this,” “do that!” You think, “I just want to get on with it!” [laughs.] That’s what makes me really frustrated with the Internet now. And the Tower of Babel: I think a lot of things could be consistent that are inconsistent. I mean, there’s no reason why you have to have twenty-five or thirty different email programs; they’re all doing pretty much the same thing. Maybe the programming could work better, or work differently, but the commands and the kinds of things you do could be much more uniform. But of course, nobody wants it; they want their thing to be slightly different, so they can say, “Mine’s different from theirs.”

I think some of that’ll fall out, or it already has. A lot of the dot-coms just didn’t make it. They didn’t have anything to sell.

Advice for Women in Computing

Abbate:

Do you have any advice for young women thinking about going into computing today?

Feinler:

I think it’s a good field for women. It’s new, so there aren’t as many biases. You’re working with a fairly young crowd, so they don’t have all the old baggage of who should be in charge as much—even though there was a big old-boys’ network on the Internet, but I think that’s changing. I think there’s a lot of potential for women, and the jobs aren’t menial; the jobs are good ones. If you’ve got a good idea, I think you can run with it. It probably still takes about as much guts for women to get out there and put themselves on the front line as it ever did—but I don’t think they’ve got people saying, “You’ve got a gold mine if you’d only use it. What are you doing in the chemistry lab?” [laughs.] It was really pretty bad in my day!

Abbate:

Now, you say there was an old-boys’ network on the Internet?

Feinler:

Oh, definitely.

Abbate:

Even at the beginning? How could there be? Because of professors and students?

Feinler:

No, there were just the guys that ran the network, and they were all guys! There weren’t too many women.

Abbate:

Oh, so from Day One it was mainly men.

Feinler:

Yes. I remember one of them, who will be nameless. Well, DARPA was probably the worst, and I remember somebody at DARPA: I had gone personally to that person to invite him to come to a meeting over at DCA, because DCA wanted to take the naming and addressing and just go off with it their way, and it was clear to me that that was a very [bad idea]. You needed this stuff to all stay together. Again, a lot of people were thinking, “Forget DARPA, we’re going to do it all our own way”; NBS did this whole separate suite of protocols that just fell on the ground. But anyway, this had to do with naming and addressing. So I was meeting with my contractor at DCA, who was a Colonel, I think, and I wanted him to meet with a particular guy at DARPA; and I was bringing them together on purpose, so that the DARPA guy could talk the DCA guy into not going off in a separate way. Because I was tasked by DCA to do naming and addressing, and I would keep telling my contractors: “We want to keep in sync with the Internet (what then was the ARPANET), what the protocols are doing.” [But the DCA guy would ask], “Well, why do we want to do that?” He was getting a lot of security people telling him otherwise. So I purposely got those two together. And the guy from DARPA screamed at me—and I’m saying screamed at me—“You’ll never get any of my money to do naming and addressing!” I’m sitting there thinking, “Huh? Here I thought I was doing this big favor.” And so my Colonel just popped up and said, “She doesn’t need any of your money; she’s got ours.” [laughs.] That was one of my coups! The DARPA people were very intelligent, and they tended to be pretty arrogant; and they were hard on women, too.

Abbate:

Hmm. Well, that was a happy ending at least.

Feinler:

Anyway, that was pretty funny. It was a tempest in a teapot, but it was kind of funny.

But one of the things I worked very hard at: because I would often hear one side saying something and the other side saying something else, I did a lot of what I felt was trying to bring these groups together. For instance, when I first met Tony Villasenor, who was heading up the NASA Science Internet, he had just come on board, and somebody told him to call the NIC. So the first thing I wanted him to do was know who the ARPA people are and know who the DCA people are; and I think that [because of] that, NASA switched, over time, from DECNET—which was going nowhere, but at the time they got into it, it served a purpose—to being part of the Internet. There were things like that, where you just happened to be an observer; you didn’t have any particular axe to grind on either side, and you could just keep bringing (hopefully) the right people together. So I think that the NIC did a fair amount of that. I think any information center does that kind of thing, and hopefully sometimes it was a good idea and paid off.

Sort of like the conversation with Dan: it was just one of those things. This thing we were doing, we were kind of doing it on the side, and they weren’t sure whether they wanted to fund it; we kept doing it, and the community wanted it, but the people that were funding it weren’t familiar with why. Then he just took it from there and turned it into a multi-million dollar business.

Abbate:

So you were like the invisible lubricant or something.

Feinler:

Yes. I always thought we were kind of like the information hub of this great big network. So it was a lot of fun. And I was like Alice in Wonderland: “How the hell did I ever get here?” [both laugh.] It was really crazy!

Abbate:

Well, thank you so much for talking with me!