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Oral-History:John Pierce (Part 2)

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== About John Pierce  ==
 
== About John Pierce  ==
  
This is Part 2 of 3 of an interview with John Robinson Pierce, who made many important contributions to microwave and communications technology during his long career at [[Bell Labs|Bell Laboratories]]. He also made important contributions to the development of microwave electron tubes such as the “traveling-wave tube.” Pierce is also remembered for naming an amplifying device developed by some of his Bell Labs colleagues—the [[Transistors|transistor]]. Finally, in the late 1950s, Pierce was an early and enthusiastic promoter of [[Communications Satellites|communications satellites]] and played a pivotal role in the development of two of the earliest, Echo I and Telstar. The interview details his work at Cal Tech, Bell Labs and Stanford.
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[[Image:John R. Pierce 4694.jpg|thumb|left|John R. Pierce]]  
  
For more information, see John Pierce’s [http://www.ieeeghn.org/wiki/index.php/John_Pierce biography].<br>
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This is Part 2 of 3 of an interview with [[John Pierce|John Robinson Pierce]], who made many important contributions to microwave and communications technology during his long career at [[Bell Labs|Bell Laboratories]]. He also made important contributions to the development of microwave electron tubes such as the “traveling-wave tube.” Pierce is also remembered for naming an amplifying device developed by some of his Bell Labs colleagues—the [[Transistors|transistor]]. Finally, in the late 1950s, Pierce was an early and enthusiastic promoter of [[Communications Satellites|communications satellites]] and played a pivotal role in the development of two of the earliest, Echo I and Telstar. The interview details his work at Cal Tech, Bell Labs and Stanford.  
  
[http://www.ieeeghn.org/wiki/index.php/John_Pierce_Oral_History_(Part_1) John Pierce Interview (Part 1)]  
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[[Oral-History:John Pierce|John Pierce Interview (Part 1)]]  
  
[http://www.ieeeghn.org/wiki/index.php/John_Pierce_Oral_History_(Part_3) John Pierce Interview (Part 3)]  
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[[Oral-History:John Pierce (Part 3)|John Pierce Interview (Part 3)]]
 
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<br>
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== About the Interview  ==
 
== About the Interview  ==
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JOHN PIERCE: An Interview Conducted by Andy Goldstein, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering 19-21 August 1992  
 
JOHN PIERCE: An Interview Conducted by Andy Goldstein, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering 19-21 August 1992  
  
Interview #141 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
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Interview #141 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.  
  
 
Copyright Statement  
 
Copyright Statement  
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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.  
 
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, Rutgers - the State University, 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.  
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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:  
 
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:  
  
John Pierce, an oral history conducted in 1992 by Andy Goldstein, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.<br>
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John Pierce, an oral history conducted in 1992 by Andy Goldstein, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.  
 
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<br>
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== Interview  ==
 
== Interview  ==
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
It was given me on my leaving Bell Laboratories in 1971, and it's survived ever since. It's a little slow now. I really should have it cleaned. It's an Omega. I've never had it cleaned. I've worn it so long and continuously that the inscription on the back is gone. But the works still work.  
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It was given me on my leaving [[Bell Labs|Bell Laboratories]] in 1971, and it's survived ever since. It's a little slow now. I really should have it cleaned. It's an Omega. I've never had it cleaned. I've worn it so long and continuously that the inscription on the back is gone. But the works still work.  
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
  
I told you that I was talking to John Bryant this morning?  
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I told you that I was talking to [[John H. Bryant|John Bryant]] this morning?  
  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
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'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
  
He has worked in traveling wave tubes so he knows something about them, and he was curious about your original thoughts about a beam wave tube. He pointed out that your structure was different than the one Kompfner eventually used, but that your structure has special properties that make it especially well suited for high-power applications.  
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He has worked in [[Traveling Wave Tube|traveling wave tubes]] so he knows something about them, and he was curious about your original thoughts about a beam wave tube. He pointed out that your structure was different than the one [[Rudolf Kompfner|Kompfner]] eventually used, but that your structure has special properties that make it especially well suited for high-power applications.  
  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
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'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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<flashmp3>141b - pierce - clip 1.mp3</flashmp3>
  
 
So let me see if I can recall where we were yesterday if I can. You spearheaded this effort to launch ECHO. Then I noticed in the 'sixties you had quite a few articles on computers and the capabilities of computers. When did you become involved with computing equipment?  
 
So let me see if I can recall where we were yesterday if I can. You spearheaded this effort to launch ECHO. Then I noticed in the 'sixties you had quite a few articles on computers and the capabilities of computers. When did you become involved with computing equipment?  
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Building analog equipment was a terribly long and tedious process. You spent months building something, and then if it didn't work, where were you? While the computer processing, although it was very difficult and hazardous in those days, the software could be written in a short time and you got the results immediately. Very valuable in studying various speech processing or waves on the cochlea or other matters. And Ed David and his people were pushed very hard.  
 
Building analog equipment was a terribly long and tedious process. You spent months building something, and then if it didn't work, where were you? While the computer processing, although it was very difficult and hazardous in those days, the software could be written in a short time and you got the results immediately. Very valuable in studying various speech processing or waves on the cochlea or other matters. And Ed David and his people were pushed very hard.  
  
Just about the same time, which was about 1960 (the work was done before that, but it was published around 1960 or early in the 'sixties), there were two things published. One was Max Mathews's work on his music program for producing complicated musical sounds. And another was the BLODI compiler block diagram compiler. That was for people who didn't know anything about programming but had access to the computer. You could program by writing a block diagram of the circuit that you wanted, which could have amplifiers and adders and multipliers and delays so forth. You just drew a picture of the circuit, a block diagram of the circuit. From that, drawn in a stylized way, you could write down a few lines — this is connected to that, and that connected to that — and put that into a computer, and the computer would simulate this block diagram, the behavior of this block diagram circuit. That was very much like Max's music programs where you drew a block diagram of a musical instrument with the oscillators and the modulators and all that sort of thing, and the wave form. The articles came out the same year.  
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Just about the same time, which was about 1960 (the work was done before that, but it was published around 1960 or early in the 'sixties), there were two things published. One was [[Max Mathews|Max Mathews's]] work on his music program for producing complicated musical sounds. And another was the BLODI compiler block diagram compiler. That was for people who didn't know anything about programming but had access to the computer. You could program by writing a block diagram of the circuit that you wanted, which could have amplifiers and adders and multipliers and delays so forth. You just drew a picture of the circuit, a block diagram of the circuit. From that, drawn in a stylized way, you could write down a few lines — this is connected to that, and that connected to that — and put that into a computer, and the computer would simulate this block diagram, the behavior of this block diagram circuit. That was very much like Max's music programs where you drew a block diagram of a musical instrument with the oscillators and the modulators and all that sort of thing, and the wave form. The articles came out the same year.  
  
 
I wondered which way the inspiration went. Max Mathews worked for Ed David. But the people who did the block diagram compiler and Max, who did the music synthesis program, were working at the same time with the same equipment, and they did it just about the same way. I checked it up with Max because we were trying to write an early — well, a compact disc with text that will give the story of the early days of computer music — and I wondered which came first. At this point it's impossible to say. The block diagram compiler subsided for a number of years because people learned to program computers directly. It's come back in a very similar way in a language called MAX that is used in sound processing now.  
 
I wondered which way the inspiration went. Max Mathews worked for Ed David. But the people who did the block diagram compiler and Max, who did the music synthesis program, were working at the same time with the same equipment, and they did it just about the same way. I checked it up with Max because we were trying to write an early — well, a compact disc with text that will give the story of the early days of computer music — and I wondered which came first. At this point it's impossible to say. The block diagram compiler subsided for a number of years because people learned to program computers directly. It's come back in a very similar way in a language called MAX that is used in sound processing now.  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
Well, I got involved in those things while I was still nominally working on vacuum tubes as, I guess it was, a sub-department head. It would be renamed a department head with Sid Milman. I got into transmission matters by talking to people who used tubes. And Harald Friis — And I got into microwaves, and I would visit Harald Friis's Holmdel laboratory, which was dedicated at that time to microwaves. And learned what the people were doing and what they needed.  
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Well, I got involved in those things while I was still nominally working on vacuum tubes as, I guess it was, a sub-department head. It would be renamed a department head with Sid Milman. I got into transmission matters by talking to people who used tubes. And [[Harald T. Friis|Harald Friis]] — And I got into microwaves, and I would visit Harald Friis's Holmdel laboratory, which was dedicated at that time to microwaves. And learned what the people were doing and what they needed.  
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
Well, not air flow over the cochlea. I wasn't using it, but people in my division were using it. It was work I supervised, you see. The cochlea is a snail-like structure in the ear, and it performs a sort of frequency analysis. Jim Flanagan and Manfred Schroeder were was very interested in using in using the powers of computation to learn what you could about the process of hearing. Evaluating pitch and distinguishing vowels and so on.  
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Well, not air flow over the cochlea. I wasn't using it, but people in my division were using it. It was work I supervised, you see. The cochlea is a snail-like structure in the ear, and it performs a sort of frequency analysis. [[Oral-History:James L. Flanagan|Jim Flanagan]] and [[Oral-History:Manfred Schroeder|Manfred Schroeder]] were was very interested in using in using the powers of computation to learn what you could about the process of hearing. Evaluating pitch and distinguishing vowels and so on.  
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
It was part, rather, of a long history that went back many years before me, of fundamental studies of hearing. Harvey Fletcher was in charge of that for many years. He was, among other things, at one time president of the American Physical Society, and way back in the 'twenties when he came to Bell Laboratories he started to use telephone technology, filtering and vacuum tube technology, electronic technology, oscillators, to study various aspects of sound. It was a very general study and very wide ranging. One of the things he studied was the signal-to-noise ratio necessary and the bandwidth necessary to get a reasonable amount of intelligibility over a telephone line. And the standards were set on the basis of that.  
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It was part, rather, of a long history that went back many years before me, of fundamental studies of hearing. [[Harvey Fletcher|Harvey Fletcher]] was in charge of that for many years. He was, among other things, at one time president of the American Physical Society, and way back in the 'twenties when he came to Bell Laboratories he started to use telephone technology, filtering and vacuum tube technology, electronic technology, oscillators, to study various aspects of sound. It was a very general study and very wide ranging. One of the things he studied was the signal-to-noise ratio necessary and the bandwidth necessary to get a reasonable amount of intelligibility over a telephone line. And the standards were set on the basis of that.  
  
 
These were articulation tests. People would read isolated words or words imbedded in things to a subject, and the subject would identify the words. For instance, you can't tell F from S over a telephone, but you manage to talk anyway.  
 
These were articulation tests. People would read isolated words or words imbedded in things to a subject, and the subject would identify the words. For instance, you can't tell F from S over a telephone, but you manage to talk anyway.  
  
And then way back when (I don't remember the exact days) the Bell Laboratories and AT&amp;T went into the high-fidelity sound. They did the work on which the orthophonic phonograph was built, around 1925, that is the mechanical not the electronic phonograph. That was associated in my mind with Fletcher rather than with his colleagues, perhaps. They built the first condenser microphones and moving-coil — headphones — which were necessary in accurate measurements. Because you needed something that was nondistorting and very flat in its frequency response. They put on a demonstration in 1933 with Leopold Stokowski of a three-channel, very broad band transmission of a symphonic orchestra from a hall in Washington to be received in a hall in Philadelphia. Philadelphia was Stokowski's bailiwick.  
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And then way back when (I don't remember the exact days) the Bell Laboratories and AT&amp;T went into the high-fidelity sound. They did the work on which the orthophonic [[Phonograph|phonograph]] was built, around 1925, that is the mechanical not the electronic phonograph. That was associated in my mind with Fletcher rather than with his colleagues, perhaps. They built the first condenser microphones and moving-coil — headphones — which were necessary in accurate measurements. Because you needed something that was nondistorting and very flat in its frequency response. They put on a demonstration in 1933 with Leopold Stokowski of a three-channel, very broad band transmission of a symphonic orchestra from a hall in Washington to be received in a hall in Philadelphia. Philadelphia was Stokowski's bailiwick.  
  
 
And there was a large tradition of both speech and hearing and precise measurements and good equipment — sound equipment — of one sort of another. And that has been going on since the 'twenties in some way or another, and has gone on ever since. Modified in one way or another as times changed and potentialities of equipment opened up or problems opened up.  
 
And there was a large tradition of both speech and hearing and precise measurements and good equipment — sound equipment — of one sort of another. And that has been going on since the 'twenties in some way or another, and has gone on ever since. Modified in one way or another as times changed and potentialities of equipment opened up or problems opened up.  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
Well, it was the first of the really well-established psychological studies. The other aspects of psychology, such as visual perception, came in later. It had two aspects. One is quality standards of sound and measurements on people as the articulation tests. And the other was ingenious ideas about sound or transmission systems. For instance, the vocoder, which you may have heard of.  
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Well, it was the first of the really well-established psychological studies. The other aspects of psychology, such as visual perception, came in later. It had two aspects. One is quality standards of sound and measurements on people as the articulation tests. And the other was ingenious ideas about sound or transmission systems. For instance, the [[Vocoders and Voders|vocoder]], which you may have heard of.  
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
It was demonstrated at the New York World's Fair. It was invented in 1936 by Homer Dudley, a nice quiet man. This is not from my own knowledge. But Manfred Schroeder suggested that Homer Dudley get a medal from the Acoustical Society. And Homer Dudley was a very quiet person, a non-seeking person. Schroeder had trouble putting this over. He must have been on the council or on the awards committee of the society. They said, that he couldn't get it, probably the silver medal; Manfred himself eventually got the gold medal. It's very rare — but Manfred was told that he'd need a really good recommendation to get Dudley the medal. And he said, "Well, how about a Nobel Laureate?" [Chuckling] They were overwhelmed. He got a recommendation from von Bekesy at Harvard, and Dudley duly got the medal.  
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It was demonstrated at the New York World's Fair. It was invented in 1936 by Homer Dudley, a nice quiet man. This is not from my own knowledge. But Manfred Schroeder suggested that Homer Dudley get a medal from the Acoustical Society. And Homer Dudley was a very quiet person, a non-seeking person. Schroeder had trouble putting this over. He must have been on the council or on the awards committee of the society. They said, that he couldn't get it, probably the silver medal; Manfred himself eventually got the gold medal. It's very rare — but Manfred was told that he'd need a really good recommendation to get Dudley the medal. And he said, "Well, how about a [[Nobel Prize|Nobel]] Laureate?" [Chuckling] They were overwhelmed. He got a recommendation from von Bekesy at Harvard, and Dudley duly got the medal.  
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
Well, you were asking if I liked to have clear ideas. When there was some actual project on (a rarity — ECHO, for example was the only one of that complexity), I liked to know that things were going all right and that the equipment was working. If there were some things that weren't finished, that they would be finished on time. There was a project engineer and we had some of the senior people, and I liked to keep in touch enough to know that I wasn't going in for a rude shock. There were other projects. When I was in charge of switching research, there was a demonstration skeleton system that was being built. That had its problems. One problem was that it was based on old fashioned transistors that Jack Morton had agreed the development department would supply. It wasn't worthwhile as a demonstration to try to rewire everything for some other type of transistor, and Jack Morton was unwilling to produce the old transistors because there were later transistors that were better. Somehow this had to be brought to an orderly end, preferably not just dropping it, but preferably showing that everything worked  
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Well, you were asking if I liked to have clear ideas. When there was some actual project on (a rarity — ECHO, for example was the only one of that complexity), I liked to know that things were going all right and that the equipment was working. If there were some things that weren't finished, that they would be finished on time. There was a project engineer and we had some of the senior people, and I liked to keep in touch enough to know that I wasn't going in for a rude shock. There were other projects. When I was in charge of switching research, there was a demonstration skeleton system that was being built. That had its problems. One problem was that it was based on old fashioned transistors that Jack Morton had agreed the development department would supply. It wasn't worthwhile as a demonstration to try to rewire everything for some other type of [[Transistors|transistor]], and Jack Morton was unwilling to produce the old transistors because there were later transistors that were better. Somehow this had to be brought to an orderly end, preferably not just dropping it, but preferably showing that everything worked  
  
Particularly at Holmdel under Harald Friis, not under me, there were projects to do: build trial systems, and carry them through in an orderly way. When that was lying in your bailiwick, you wanted to be sure that it would be brought to a successful conclusion. So sometimes there were ongoing activities that more than one person was involved in. You hoped that they were going to get where they were going, with a positive or negative result.  
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Particularly at Holmdel under [[Harald T. Friis|Harald Friis]], not under me, there were projects to do: build trial systems, and carry them through in an orderly way. When that was lying in your bailiwick, you wanted to be sure that it would be brought to a successful conclusion. So sometimes there were ongoing activities that more than one person was involved in. You hoped that they were going to get where they were going, with a positive or negative result.  
  
 
You were concerned with other questions as well. Had they chosen good things? Or had they gotten involved in good things? Were these suitable for them? Was everything all right, or were the people stuck or neglectful? It was their qualities that were more of interest than the particular technical thing.  
 
You were concerned with other questions as well. Had they chosen good things? Or had they gotten involved in good things? Were these suitable for them? Was everything all right, or were the people stuck or neglectful? It was their qualities that were more of interest than the particular technical thing.  
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'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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<flashmp3>141b - pierce - clip 2.mp3</flashmp3>
  
 
That's nice. Can you think of any of the results from the acoustical studies? Anything that stands out in your mind as a particularly important product?  
 
That's nice. Can you think of any of the results from the acoustical studies? Anything that stands out in your mind as a particularly important product?  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
Well, Rudi Kompfner and I had a TV channel, for a number of odd reasons, set up between Holmdel and Murray Hill. It didn't work too well, that was before the picturephone. But gosh, wasn't it wonderful to use it. It was wonderful that you see the picture, but then what do you do with it? We got along very well just on the telephone.  
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Well, [[Rudolf Kompfner|Rudi Kompfner]] and I had a TV channel, for a number of odd reasons, set up between Holmdel and Murray Hill. It didn't work too well, that was before the picturephone. But gosh, wasn't it wonderful to use it. It was wonderful that you see the picture, but then what do you do with it? We got along very well just on the telephone.  
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
Yes, I can tell you something about that. I received the Medal of Honor of the IRE and the Edison Medal. That was inherited by the IEEE from the AIEE. So I guess I'm a good organization man. Being editor was the only office I've ever held in the in the IRE or the AIEE. At the time that Bill Hewlett was president of the IRE, he felt that something had to be done about the Proceedings and its editor. Alfred Goldsmith, who was a fine old guy and had been editor for many years. He read all the papers himself, and there was a terrible delay in publication. At that time the Proceedings of the IRE was the technical journal. All these little ones came later. So for some reason I was chosen to be editor. I was very flattered, and I accepted.  
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Yes, I can tell you something about that. I received the Medal of Honor of the IRE and the [[IEEE Edison Medal|Edison Medal]]. That was inherited by the [[IEEE History|IEEE]] from the [[AIEE History 1884-1963|AIEE]]. So I guess I'm a good organization man. Being editor was the only office I've ever held in the in the [[IRE History 1912-1963|IRE]] or the AIEE. At the time that [[William R. Hewlett|Bill Hewlett]] was president of the IRE, he felt that something had to be done about the Proceedings and its editor. [[Alfred N. Goldsmith|Alfred Goldsmith]], who was a fine old guy and had been editor for many years. He read all the papers himself, and there was a terrible delay in publication. At that time the Proceedings of the IRE was the technical journal. All these little ones came later. So for some reason I was chosen to be editor. I was very flattered, and I accepted.  
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
Yes. There was a lot of research on language and information. The content of that one, I did with a psychologist named John Karlin who was, I think, in a different department. Anyway, you can read aloud meaningful text quite rapidly. If you read aloud randomly-selected words, the reading goes much slower. So what is stopping you is not the ability to speak the words, it's some mental process, some mental hang-up. So we did reading rates for very familiar words and less familiar words and still less familiar words. The reading rate goes down as the words are less familiar. It will also depend on small numbers of words on the numbers of words. If it is just "yes/no," you'll, read the rate faster than "yes," "no," "and/or," and a lot of other things. There is some number of words that will give you the fastest oral information passing through. You look at it, and you read these lists of randomized words. You don't put it in very unfamiliar words because they hold you up, but you have to have a lot of words because that's more bits per word. You get a reading rate of something up around several tens of bits per second. Maybe 50 bits per second. And maybe that is as fast as you can accept things for processing. It's either processing or accepting things. It's hard to tell which. But it was an interesting number, and there it is hanging around. It was also interesting that it seemed to be more or less independent of language. When a Chinese, P.K. Tien made up randomized lists of Chinese characters and the corresponding English words, the reading rate was the same for the characters as the words.  
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Yes. There was a lot of research on language and information. The content of that one, I did with a psychologist named John Karlin who was, I think, in a different department. Anyway, you can read aloud meaningful text quite rapidly. If you read aloud randomly-selected words, the reading goes much slower. So what is stopping you is not the ability to speak the words, it's some mental process, some mental hang-up. So we did reading rates for very familiar words and less familiar words and still less familiar words. The reading rate goes down as the words are less familiar. It will also depend on small numbers of words on the numbers of words. If it is just "yes/no," you'll, read the rate faster than "yes," "no," "and/or," and a lot of other things. There is some number of words that will give you the fastest oral information passing through. You look at it, and you read these lists of randomized words. You don't put it in very unfamiliar words because they hold you up, but you have to have a lot of words because that's more bits per word. You get a reading rate of something up around several tens of bits per second. Maybe 50 bits per second. And maybe that is as fast as you can accept things for processing. It's either processing or accepting things. It's hard to tell which. But it was an interesting number, and there it is hanging around. It was also interesting that it seemed to be more or less independent of language. When a Chinese, [[Ping King Tien|P.K. Tien]] made up randomized lists of Chinese characters and the corresponding English words, the reading rate was the same for the characters as the words.  
  
 
This will tell you, if you didn't already know, that people don't read letter by letter, except when they're learning. However, it doesn't tell you that you should try to learn by the word-sight method, which is an abomination. Without phonics, people with an extensive knowledge of spoken English had no way of deciphering what's in the text and learning the new words.  
 
This will tell you, if you didn't already know, that people don't read letter by letter, except when they're learning. However, it doesn't tell you that you should try to learn by the word-sight method, which is an abomination. Without phonics, people with an extensive knowledge of spoken English had no way of deciphering what's in the text and learning the new words.  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
I was always interested in information theory. Claude Shannon is one of my heroes. He invented it essentially all by himself, and it was wonderful.  
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I was always interested in information theory. [[Claude Shannon|Claude Shannon]] is one of my heroes. He invented it essentially all by himself, and it was wonderful.  
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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And that will be complete. There is ''Theory and Design of Electron Beams'', revised edition 1954. The original one was published in 1949. It was nice that it had a second edition.  
 
And that will be complete. There is ''Theory and Design of Electron Beams'', revised edition 1954. The original one was published in 1949. It was nice that it had a second edition.  
  
Clinton Davisson, who won a Nobel Prize for electron diffraction, gave a course on electron optics when at Bell Laboratories. He had made a grand television tube in the early days of television which was very good. He was an interesting guy.  
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Clinton Davisson, who won a [[Nobel Prize|Nobel Prize]] for electron diffraction, gave a course on electron optics when at Bell Laboratories. He had made a grand television tube in the early days of television which was very good. He was an interesting guy.  
  
He taught this course on electron optics. For some reason, he had to stop in the middle of it, and he asked me to finish. So I finished the rest of the course, and then I had all this material on hand. So I wrote a book called''Theory and Design of Electron Beams''.  
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He taught this course on electron optics. For some reason, he had to stop in the middle of it, and he asked me to finish. So I finished the rest of the course, and then I had all this material on hand. So I wrote a book called ''Theory and Design of Electron Beams''.  
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
  
I've heard it said that it used to be the case, certainly before the 20th century but perhaps a few years into the 20th century, that a scientist would collect and present his results in book form. For example, Maxwell wrote his treatises.  
+
I've heard it said that it used to be the case, certainly before the 20th century but perhaps a few years into the 20th century, that a scientist would collect and present his results in book form. For example, [[James Clerk Maxwell|Maxwell]] wrote his treatises.  
  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
And Heaviside.  
+
And [[Oliver Heaviside|Heaviside]].  
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
 
<br>
 
  
 
''Almost All About Waves'', 1974. It was published after I went to Cal Tech. This had to do with traveling wave tubes, parametric amplifiers, and a lot of things that I felt that I had an insight It was various aspects of waves, mostly electronic, but also applicable to other things.  
 
''Almost All About Waves'', 1974. It was published after I went to Cal Tech. This had to do with traveling wave tubes, parametric amplifiers, and a lot of things that I felt that I had an insight It was various aspects of waves, mostly electronic, but also applicable to other things.  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
No, I didn't. I just think here's an opportunity to babble about it. [Chuckling] Then ''My Career as an Engineer ''in 1988. Hiroshi Inose tried to transform the Japan Prize to a more international award by having the recipients publish biographical material. He asked me to do this, and I don't think it succeeded. I don't think there have been other such biographical things completed.  
+
No, I didn't. I just think here's an opportunity to babble about it. [Chuckling] Then ''My Career as an Engineer ''in 1988. [[Hiroshi Inose|Hiroshi Inose]] tried to transform the Japan Prize to a more international award by having the recipients publish biographical material. He asked me to do this, and I don't think it succeeded. I don't think there have been other such biographical things completed.  
  
 
This is interesting in a way. There's some foundation who asked a number of people in science and engineering to write biographies. They agreed to pay them up to $30,000 for the cost of doing that, and these would be published. I produced a partial manuscript of this, and they didn't like it and said, No, thanks. And I was irked at them, so I just billed them for the full price. I was left on my hands with some written material, which I incorporated into this thing.  
 
This is interesting in a way. There's some foundation who asked a number of people in science and engineering to write biographies. They agreed to pay them up to $30,000 for the cost of doing that, and these would be published. I produced a partial manuscript of this, and they didn't like it and said, No, thanks. And I was irked at them, so I just billed them for the full price. I was left on my hands with some written material, which I incorporated into this thing.  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
<br>
+
I enjoy writing.
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
Well, I was about to say that fiction is more personal, but it isn't always. Sometimes I deeply identify with the technical thing I'm expounding. I suppose I would rather be known as an author of fiction than as an author of technical things. The technical things that I've written about — except perhaps in the Electrons, Waves and Messages, where there were eternal things such as Maxwell's equations — have usually been the things involved in current technology such as the traveling wave tube. Writing about those things are like writing about buggy whips. You know that sooner or later it will all be of historical interest only and not much of that.  
+
Well, I was about to say that fiction is more personal, but it isn't always. Sometimes I deeply identify with the technical thing I'm expounding. I suppose I would rather be known as an author of fiction than as an author of technical things. The technical things that I've written about — except perhaps in the Electrons, Waves and Messages, where there were eternal things such as [[Maxwell's Equations|Maxwell's equations]] — have usually been the things involved in current technology such as the traveling wave tube. Writing about those things are like writing about buggy whips. You know that sooner or later it will all be of historical interest only and not much of that.  
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
 +
 +
<flashmp3>141b - pierce - clip 3.mp3</flashmp3>
  
 
It probably is not worth it, but I'll mention that I had tea with H.G. Wells in 1944. I've always admired Wells very much. First of all he's a good writer, and his science fiction stories are wonderful fantasy stories. His novels, those of which aren't too full of social things, such as ''The History of Mr. Polly'', have a lot of charm. What I liked about him was that he knew that the future was going to be different from the past. A lot of people don't. You somehow get the impression that no one ever believes that anything is going to be any different. He was wrong about how it was going to be different, but he knew that it was going to be different. I don't think that most people think of the future as being different. They're all caught up in the present and the past. So when I was in England, for the Navy and the Bell Laboratories, there was a newspaper story about H.G. Wells. He had gotten miffed at something and had got written to the newspapers. I realized that he was living somehow right there in London where I was.  
 
It probably is not worth it, but I'll mention that I had tea with H.G. Wells in 1944. I've always admired Wells very much. First of all he's a good writer, and his science fiction stories are wonderful fantasy stories. His novels, those of which aren't too full of social things, such as ''The History of Mr. Polly'', have a lot of charm. What I liked about him was that he knew that the future was going to be different from the past. A lot of people don't. You somehow get the impression that no one ever believes that anything is going to be any different. He was wrong about how it was going to be different, but he knew that it was going to be different. I don't think that most people think of the future as being different. They're all caught up in the present and the past. So when I was in England, for the Navy and the Bell Laboratories, there was a newspaper story about H.G. Wells. He had gotten miffed at something and had got written to the newspapers. I realized that he was living somehow right there in London where I was.  
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'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
  
Were the technical details of ARPANET available to you?  
+
Were the technical details of [[ARPANET|ARPANET]] available to you?  
  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
Yes. Here I see Harald Friis's transmission formula. Harald Friis was much admired by me. He had this Holmdel laboratory I've mentioned, which was in my bailiwick, but was run directly by Rudy Kompfner, the associate executive director. I wanted to do something to please Harald Friis after he retired. Harald Friis had given a talk at the Annual Executive Directors Meeting on research. I went and talked to him, not telling him what I was doing, but got an amplified text and got it published by this guy at Berkeley (Harold Susskind) who published my Satellite Communications book. That was called 75 Years In An Exacting World.  
+
Yes. Here I see [[Harald T. Friis|Harald Friis's]] transmission formula. Harald Friis was much admired by me. He had this Holmdel laboratory I've mentioned, which was in my bailiwick, but was run directly by Rudy Kompfner, the associate executive director. I wanted to do something to please Harald Friis after he retired. Harald Friis had given a talk at the Annual Executive Directors Meeting on research. I went and talked to him, not telling him what I was doing, but got an amplified text and got it published by this guy at Berkeley (Harold Susskind) who published my Satellite Communications book. That was called 75 Years In An Exacting World.  
  
 
Then, Harald Friis had a transmission formula for a microwave path, which says that the ratio of the transmitted to the received power is the effective area of the transmitting antenna times the effective area of the transmitting antenna, which is all very close to the physical area, times the effective area of the receiving antenna, again very close to the physical area, divided by the square of the wavelength times the square of the distances.  
 
Then, Harald Friis had a transmission formula for a microwave path, which says that the ratio of the transmitted to the received power is the effective area of the transmitting antenna times the effective area of the transmitting antenna, which is all very close to the physical area, times the effective area of the receiving antenna, again very close to the physical area, divided by the square of the wavelength times the square of the distances.  
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I expected to be doing research at Cal Tech. I didn't know much about universities. As I was saying earlier about Bell Laboratories, and I wanted to come back to that point: The management really was interested in what the people were doing and appreciative of good things and interacting. And the people interacting with the management and with another.  
 
I expected to be doing research at Cal Tech. I didn't know much about universities. As I was saying earlier about Bell Laboratories, and I wanted to come back to that point: The management really was interested in what the people were doing and appreciative of good things and interacting. And the people interacting with the management and with another.  
  
I had known Terman of Stanford for a very long time and I admired him very much. What I wanted to say is that a leader in the universities, such as Terman, can do great things. When he was provost, if he found a department wasn't very good, he did something about it somehow. I don't know how. He would get good people into it, or keep good people from leaving it.  
+
I had known [[Frederick Terman|Terman]] of Stanford for a very long time and I admired him very much. What I wanted to say is that a leader in the universities, such as Terman, can do great things. When he was provost, if he found a department wasn't very good, he did something about it somehow. I don't know how. He would get good people into it, or keep good people from leaving it.  
  
 
But the control that anyone has over the faculty in a university over the faculty is very much less than it was at the Bell Laboratories, and very much frowned on.  
 
But the control that anyone has over the faculty in a university over the faculty is very much less than it was at the Bell Laboratories, and very much frowned on.  
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==== Carver Mead  ====
 
==== Carver Mead  ====
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[[Image:Carver Mead 2461(2).jpg|thumb|right|Carver Mead]]
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
Penzias and Wilson probably. I was asked to write something about them. "Optical Channels: Practical Limits with Photon Counting," IEEE Transactions on Communications. That was an outgrowth of this quantum thing. "Effect of Pixel Dimensions on Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) Picture Quality" with Vijaya Korwan. She actually wrote it. That was her thesis topic. "Being Practical About Space." Why did I write this? Science, 1978. "A Few People From Many Lands: Alien Students in Engineering," Founders Award Lecture, National Academy of Engineering, 10th November 1977. I got the Founders Award of the National Academy of Engineering, and I had a graduate student at the time, or a person who wanted to be my graduate student but eventually became somebody else's graduate student, a Chinese from Hong Kong. I felt it was just awful, that foreign students had to cope with so many little things, for instance how to stay in this country and satisfying these things. I could have written a much better lecture if I'd spent some time on it and pointed out how many members of the National Academy of Engineering came from other countries. I felt that the government was, if not deliberately trying to hurt the country, at least rendering it uncomfortable for a lot of people who would be real additions.  
+
Penzias and Wilson probably. I was asked to write something about them. "Optical Channels: Practical Limits with Photon Counting," IEEE Transactions on Communications. That was an outgrowth of this quantum thing. "Effect of Pixel Dimensions on [[Synthetic Aperture Radar|Synthetic Aperture Radar]] (SAR) Picture Quality" with Vijaya Korwan. She actually wrote it. That was her thesis topic. "Being Practical About Space." Why did I write this? Science, 1978. "A Few People From Many Lands: Alien Students in Engineering," Founders Award Lecture, National Academy of Engineering, 10th November 1977. I got the Founders Award of the National Academy of Engineering, and I had a graduate student at the time, or a person who wanted to be my graduate student but eventually became somebody else's graduate student, a Chinese from Hong Kong. I felt it was just awful, that foreign students had to cope with so many little things, for instance how to stay in this country and satisfying these things. I could have written a much better lecture if I'd spent some time on it and pointed out how many members of the National Academy of Engineering came from other countries. I felt that the government was, if not deliberately trying to hurt the country, at least rendering it uncomfortable for a lot of people who would be real additions.  
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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'''Pierce:'''  
 
'''Pierce:'''  
  
I've mentioned once before, xerography was the big thing in their lives; that made them wealthy. They also did contract research for government and business. They ran some of the stuff in Richland for the Atomic Energy Commission or, after that, the Department of Energy.  
+
I've mentioned once before, [[Xerography|xerography]] was the big thing in their lives; that made them wealthy. They also did contract research for government and business. They ran some of the stuff in Richland for the Atomic Energy Commission or, after that, the Department of Energy.  
  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
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'''Goldstein:'''  
 
'''Goldstein:'''  
  
Okay, good.<br>
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Okay, good.  
 
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[[Category:Transistors]]
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[[Category:Components, circuits, devices & systems|Pierce]] [[Category:Fields, waves & electromagnetics|Pierce]] [[Category:Software & software engineering|Pierce]] [[Category:Defense & security|Pierce]] [[Category:People and organizations|Pierce]] [[Category:Engineers|Pierce]] [[Category:Inventors|Pierce]] [[Category:Signals|Pierce]] [[Category:Acoustics|Pierce]] [[Category:Corporations|Pierce]] [[Category:Electron devices|Pierce]] [[Category:Electron tubes|Pierce]] [[Category:Microwave technology|Pierce]] [[Category:Measurement|Pierce]] [[Category:Time measurement|Pierce]] [[Category:Computers and information processing|Pierce]] [[Category:System software|Pierce]] [[Category:Signal processing|Pierce]] [[Category:Culture and society|Pierce]] [[Category:World War II|Pierce]] [[Category:Leisure|Pierce]] [[Category:Literature|Pierce]] [[Category:Transportation|Pierce]] [[Category:Aerospace and electronic systems|Pierce]] [[Category:Solid state circuits|Pierce]] [[Category:Transistors|Pierce]] [[Category:News|Pierce]]

Revision as of 17:50, 4 November 2013

Contents

About John Pierce

John R. Pierce
John R. Pierce

This is Part 2 of 3 of an interview with John Robinson Pierce, who made many important contributions to microwave and communications technology during his long career at Bell Laboratories. He also made important contributions to the development of microwave electron tubes such as the “traveling-wave tube.” Pierce is also remembered for naming an amplifying device developed by some of his Bell Labs colleagues—the transistor. Finally, in the late 1950s, Pierce was an early and enthusiastic promoter of communications satellites and played a pivotal role in the development of two of the earliest, Echo I and Telstar. The interview details his work at Cal Tech, Bell Labs and Stanford.

John Pierce Interview (Part 1)

John Pierce Interview (Part 3)

About the Interview

JOHN PIERCE: An Interview Conducted by Andy Goldstein, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering 19-21 August 1992

Interview #141 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, 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:

John Pierce, an oral history conducted in 1992 by Andy Goldstein, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Electronic Watches

Goldstein:

Okay. I want to go back and congratulate you on your stamina. [pause] We're resuming on Thursday, the 19th? I think it's probably the 20th.

Pierce:

My watch says it's the 20th.

Goldstein:

As we trust the electronics that's the point of all this now.

Pierce:

Oh, I had a friend when I was an undergraduate at Cal Tech. He didn't graduate. Nick Weinstein. He'd been brought up a Communist, and (he's dead now) some years ago, before I came up here from Cal Tech, he visited this country, and I bought him an electronic watch. They were early then. They cost about sixty or eighty dollars, in bigger dollars. I took him to Sears and bought him an electronic watch, and he took it back to the Soviet Union. The first Leap Year it happened, he was surprised and gratified to find the watch coping with the Leap Year. [Chuckling]

Goldstein:

I'm surprised by that. And I wonder whether they'll work in the year 2000, which is supposed to be a Leap Year but will miss — if they'll know that.

Pierce:

I wonder.

Goldstein:

Actually 2000 is interesting because it's supposed to be a Leap Year but miss. But then it comes back again because it's a multiple of 400 years.

Pierce:

Oh, my God!

Goldstein:

Yes. So I think it'll do it right, but I won't be convinced that it did it right because it really knows.

Pierce:

I still have a mechanical watch.

Goldstein:

Oh, do you really?

Pierce:

It was given me on my leaving Bell Laboratories in 1971, and it's survived ever since. It's a little slow now. I really should have it cleaned. It's an Omega. I've never had it cleaned. I've worn it so long and continuously that the inscription on the back is gone. But the works still work.

Goldstein:

It's nice that they gave you a watch. Did you think that was an adequate gift for your departure?

Pierce:

Oh, I also got a silver tray and then some fun gifts from people in the divisions.

Kompfner’s Tube vs. Pierce’s

Goldstein:

I told you that I was talking to John Bryant this morning?

Pierce:

Yes.

Goldstein:

He has worked in traveling wave tubes so he knows something about them, and he was curious about your original thoughts about a beam wave tube. He pointed out that your structure was different than the one Kompfner eventually used, but that your structure has special properties that make it especially well suited for high-power applications.

Pierce:

Now I don't know quite how I differed from Kompfner. I don't really know from what you say what we're talking about.

Goldstein:

Well, I didn't know either. [Chuckling] Were your original ideas about it essentially the same? I know that you never actually manufactured a tube.

Pierce:

Well, in the book Traveling Wave Tubes I wrote, besides the helical structure — [pause for ringing telephone] ...actually built first was just like Kompfner's, but when I wrote a book about it, I proposed a lot of other circuits that I never built that some people have used since.

Goldstein:

I see. I think he was talking about — John Bryant was talking about your original notes when you proposed it but didn't build a tube.

Pierce:

Now how did he get his hands on those?

Goldstein:

I don't know. Maybe he discussed it with you?

Pierce:

Possibly. Okay.

Computer Work Pre-1960

Goldstein:

So let me see if I can recall where we were yesterday if I can. You spearheaded this effort to launch ECHO. Then I noticed in the 'sixties you had quite a few articles on computers and the capabilities of computers. When did you become involved with computing equipment?

Pierce:

Well, sometime around 1955 or '60 I found the speech and hearing work in my division, and the people started to use computers for sound processing. And also some of Ed David's people he was in charge of the speech and hearing and acoustics work under me they worked wonders in experimenting with sound by processing it with computers or generating it or processing it with computers. Digitizing rather than trying to build analog equipment.

Building analog equipment was a terribly long and tedious process. You spent months building something, and then if it didn't work, where were you? While the computer processing, although it was very difficult and hazardous in those days, the software could be written in a short time and you got the results immediately. Very valuable in studying various speech processing or waves on the cochlea or other matters. And Ed David and his people were pushed very hard.

Just about the same time, which was about 1960 (the work was done before that, but it was published around 1960 or early in the 'sixties), there were two things published. One was Max Mathews's work on his music program for producing complicated musical sounds. And another was the BLODI compiler block diagram compiler. That was for people who didn't know anything about programming but had access to the computer. You could program by writing a block diagram of the circuit that you wanted, which could have amplifiers and adders and multipliers and delays so forth. You just drew a picture of the circuit, a block diagram of the circuit. From that, drawn in a stylized way, you could write down a few lines — this is connected to that, and that connected to that — and put that into a computer, and the computer would simulate this block diagram, the behavior of this block diagram circuit. That was very much like Max's music programs where you drew a block diagram of a musical instrument with the oscillators and the modulators and all that sort of thing, and the wave form. The articles came out the same year.

I wondered which way the inspiration went. Max Mathews worked for Ed David. But the people who did the block diagram compiler and Max, who did the music synthesis program, were working at the same time with the same equipment, and they did it just about the same way. I checked it up with Max because we were trying to write an early — well, a compact disc with text that will give the story of the early days of computer music — and I wondered which came first. At this point it's impossible to say. The block diagram compiler subsided for a number of years because people learned to program computers directly. It's come back in a very similar way in a language called MAX that is used in sound processing now.

Goldstein:

Is that just a coincidence that it's used in sound processing?

Pierce:

Well, it's very well suited to it. People had lots of sound-processing equipment beyond their programming ability. And with MAX (it's used in computer music rather than in other places) the person who doesn't know much about programming can draw things on the cathode ray screen, and in this case they will be translated into a program.

Goldstein:

I don't think I know the institutions involved here. Where was Max Mathews working?

Pierce:

Bell Laboratories.

Goldstein:

Oh, so he was at Bell Labs.

Pierce:

Because he worked for Ed David, and Ed David worked for me at that time.

Goldstein:

Okay. And what division was this?

Pierce:

The title of what I was in charge of kept changing a little. I was Executive Director for Information Science. I may have been something else at that time. I was an executive director, which was under a vice president, who was Bill Baker then.

Goldstein:

I see. Let me see if I understand just the flow of your career. When you were working in telecommunications, is that what got you involved in transmission and matters that are considered part of information science?

Pierce:

Well, I got involved in those things while I was still nominally working on vacuum tubes as, I guess it was, a sub-department head. It would be renamed a department head with Sid Milman. I got into transmission matters by talking to people who used tubes. And Harald Friis — And I got into microwaves, and I would visit Harald Friis's Holmdel laboratory, which was dedicated at that time to microwaves. And learned what the people were doing and what they needed.

Goldstein:

I have a very mixed impression of the computer work done at Bell Labs. The way I understand it, they were prohibited from working in computers.

Pierce:

They were prohibited, certainly, from building or marketing computers at that time. Or I guess they were. Or they were afraid of doing that. I don't remember which. Well now, they didn't work on computers.

MULTICS and UNIX

Pierce:

At that time in about 1960 Ed David became a general department head himself and had the computer work in his charge, the research work. That consisted of using computers, not only for a lot of tasks and there was a lot of work on signal analysis (Hamming was a leader in that) and a lot of statistical work on the computers. And a lot of work in collaboration with people at MIT building a huge timesharing system which was then called MULTICS. That was never fully completed.

Goldstein:

What happened?

Pierce:

I think that the MULTICS used up more time and cost more than people had expected, and probably did less. It featured virtual memory for one thing and virtual memory is very slow. And that had an interesting outcome.

After the work on MULTICS was dropped, one of the people meditated on what operating system he would really like to have on the computer and invented UNIX. This was the operating system not for all things, but just for him. And UNIX has been a wonderful thing ever since. I have trouble remembering names. We can dredge these up. But this guy, Ken Thompson, built the operating system himself, and another guy, Dennis Ritchie, wrote a language C, in which to write operating systems, so you didn't have to write operating systems in computer code. C then not only became a widespread language for writing operating systems, but for everything else.

Goldstein:

I know. Yes. It's very popular for allocation systems.

Pierce:

It's a very efficient language, and here was this wonderful thing, UNIX, and C, were the sole survivors of this tremendous timesharing system MULTICS, which never really got built.

Goldstein:

The idea was to work closely with MIT at that time?

Pierce:

Yes. This wasn't something that I did; this was something that Ed David did. But it's very odd. The technology takes you where you can go profitably. And that isn't always known in advance.

Goldstein:

Right. To get back on the other subject, your involvement with computers.

Pierce:

All my people were using computers. I once learned a little FORTRAN about that time because I'd lent some money to someone — or my wife had — and I couldn't keep up with all the intermittent payments and the interest. I learned enough to program that.

Sound Work and Telephony

Goldstein:

[Chuckling] You said you got involved with computers to solve some complex equations involving, I guess, air flow over the cochlea. You were doing sort of physiological studies.

Pierce:

Well, not air flow over the cochlea. I wasn't using it, but people in my division were using it. It was work I supervised, you see. The cochlea is a snail-like structure in the ear, and it performs a sort of frequency analysis. Jim Flanagan and Manfred Schroeder were was very interested in using in using the powers of computation to learn what you could about the process of hearing. Evaluating pitch and distinguishing vowels and so on.

Goldstein:

Right. Was this considered important by Bell Labs for audio equipment for what was necessary to transmit the telephone?

Pierce:

It was part, rather, of a long history that went back many years before me, of fundamental studies of hearing. Harvey Fletcher was in charge of that for many years. He was, among other things, at one time president of the American Physical Society, and way back in the 'twenties when he came to Bell Laboratories he started to use telephone technology, filtering and vacuum tube technology, electronic technology, oscillators, to study various aspects of sound. It was a very general study and very wide ranging. One of the things he studied was the signal-to-noise ratio necessary and the bandwidth necessary to get a reasonable amount of intelligibility over a telephone line. And the standards were set on the basis of that.

These were articulation tests. People would read isolated words or words imbedded in things to a subject, and the subject would identify the words. For instance, you can't tell F from S over a telephone, but you manage to talk anyway.

And then way back when (I don't remember the exact days) the Bell Laboratories and AT&T went into the high-fidelity sound. They did the work on which the orthophonic phonograph was built, around 1925, that is the mechanical not the electronic phonograph. That was associated in my mind with Fletcher rather than with his colleagues, perhaps. They built the first condenser microphones and moving-coil — headphones — which were necessary in accurate measurements. Because you needed something that was nondistorting and very flat in its frequency response. They put on a demonstration in 1933 with Leopold Stokowski of a three-channel, very broad band transmission of a symphonic orchestra from a hall in Washington to be received in a hall in Philadelphia. Philadelphia was Stokowski's bailiwick.

And there was a large tradition of both speech and hearing and precise measurements and good equipment — sound equipment — of one sort of another. And that has been going on since the 'twenties in some way or another, and has gone on ever since. Modified in one way or another as times changed and potentialities of equipment opened up or problems opened up.

Goldstein:

Were the hearing studies well integrated into the other activities of the Lab, or did they sort of stand apart?

Pierce:

They didn't stand apart anymore than certain aspects of physics or other things stood apart.

Goldstein:

I see.

Pierce:

It was regarded as science, not magic.

Goldstein:

[Chuckling] Did it tend to concentrate on electronics or — ? Some of the things you were describing before do sound physiological, psychological.

Pierce:

Well, it was the first of the really well-established psychological studies. The other aspects of psychology, such as visual perception, came in later. It had two aspects. One is quality standards of sound and measurements on people as the articulation tests. And the other was ingenious ideas about sound or transmission systems. For instance, the vocoder, which you may have heard of.

Goldstein:

Sure.

Pierce:

It was demonstrated at the New York World's Fair. It was invented in 1936 by Homer Dudley, a nice quiet man. This is not from my own knowledge. But Manfred Schroeder suggested that Homer Dudley get a medal from the Acoustical Society. And Homer Dudley was a very quiet person, a non-seeking person. Schroeder had trouble putting this over. He must have been on the council or on the awards committee of the society. They said, that he couldn't get it, probably the silver medal; Manfred himself eventually got the gold medal. It's very rare — but Manfred was told that he'd need a really good recommendation to get Dudley the medal. And he said, "Well, how about a Nobel Laureate?" [Chuckling] They were overwhelmed. He got a recommendation from von Bekesy at Harvard, and Dudley duly got the medal.

Goldstein:

That's nice. How did you get involved in this area?

Pierce:

It was put in my division.

Goldstein:

Just an administrative decision?

Pierce:

It was a general reshuffling of things, including work on television research, which had been under a fellow named Axel Jensen. They wanted a sort of reorganization, a fresh start. So they put Ed David in directly in charge of this. He knew something about acoustics, but his previous work had been in underwater sound. I knew nothing about acoustics, but Ed David was reporting to me. We wrote a book, which isn't all that bad a book and isn't all that good a book, very early in our association, called Man's World of Sound. The purpose of doing this was to force us to go around and talk to people and learn something about speech and hearing and acoustics. This had two outcomes: first, the book got published and was in print for some years, and later it was rewritten by a fellow named van Borjeiek, and published as a paperback, which lasted a good deal longer. The other thing is that Ed David learned to write just like me. We wrote more or less alternate chapters, and I can't tell just which chapters were written by me and which by Ed David. [Chuckling]

Goldstein:

It sounds like there was a big discontinuity in the hearing studies if it was moved from one department to another.

Pierce:

Well, there were a lot of old-timers around and some new-timers we recruited. It was a sort of reblooming of speech and hearing were regarded as very central to telephony. The people were growing older, and I don't remember just how it was organized before. Frankly, I don't remember. But Bill Baker and others wanted to give it new life, I guess.

Goldstein:

Was there a perception that there was a crisis in this central area and it was time to re-outfit it?

Pierce:

No, I think "crisis" would be wrong. I think that things were sort of slowing down which was bad in an area that should be central.

Goldstein:

I see. So was it the idea that it was always important and had just been allowed to decay a little bit? Or was there a reorientation of emphasis?

Pierce:

No, it had been allowed to decay, I think. It wasn't in a very satisfactory state.

Goldstein:

And it appears that you really took to it. I mean, television studies came under you, but you didn't get involved in television.

Pierce:

There had been a concerted television research area — effort — and some parts of that were left and tucked away in one part or another of my thing. But that was sort of turned off as such. It was replaced partly by work on on efficient coding, and partly by studies in visual perception by psychologists who came in.

Management Style at Bell Labs

Goldstein:

Were those your decisions, being in charge as the department head?

Pierce:

It's a little hard for me to tell. I had a part in them. I don't know. That's one thing I was going to say at some point about the Bell Laboratories as contrasted to research in a university. One fellow spent a sabbatical at Bell Laboratories, from a university position. As I remember it — and I don't think I've fabricated this, but I can't document it — when asked at the end of the sabbatical about his experience, he said, "Somebody cared."

Now in the university, no one can tell a professor what to do, on the one hand. But in any deep sense, nobody cares what he's doing, either. You know, if he commits malfeasance or if he doesn't bring in enough money or there's something wrong with his teaching, people notice in a sort of way, and he may sink even. But in the Bell Laboratories, in the research department anyway (I won't speak of the rest) people cared about everything. Whether they cared as effectively as in the research department, I don't know.

There was a management. It was a benevolent autocracy. I was one of the autocrats. And people were delighted when people did good work and praised them and encouraged them. They didn't so much tell them off if they weren't doing good work, but they tried to see if they couldn't help them to do good work. And this was a process in which I took part, and which Bill Baker, my boss, took part, and which the people who reported to me and had people under them took part.

And we talked it over. I can remember one case: When the psychologists were brought in, they were put in charge of a very nice psychologist. I tried to talk to him about the people who worked in his department. I couldn't get any insight into his opinions about rating them. Was this work good, or wasn't it good? Or was there some trouble or anything? It was either the field of study, psychology, or his background. He would not convey responsible opinions about people.

Goldstein:

About whether people were qualified?

Pierce:

And it just drove me nuts. Eventually Max Mathews was put in charge of this; he worked on speech and hearing. But at least I had somebody to talk to. He kept day-to-day contact with what people who were in fields that weren't directly his were doing. He acquired ideas about their strengths and weaknesses and the quality of what was going on, and we could discuss it.

Goldstein:

Do you attribute this poor communication to his field?

Pierce:

I don't know whether it was his field or his background. I think it was partly his field.

Goldstein:

I'm trying to find a word to describe your temperament.

Pierce:

Well, you were asking if I liked to have clear ideas. When there was some actual project on (a rarity — ECHO, for example was the only one of that complexity), I liked to know that things were going all right and that the equipment was working. If there were some things that weren't finished, that they would be finished on time. There was a project engineer and we had some of the senior people, and I liked to keep in touch enough to know that I wasn't going in for a rude shock. There were other projects. When I was in charge of switching research, there was a demonstration skeleton system that was being built. That had its problems. One problem was that it was based on old fashioned transistors that Jack Morton had agreed the development department would supply. It wasn't worthwhile as a demonstration to try to rewire everything for some other type of transistor, and Jack Morton was unwilling to produce the old transistors because there were later transistors that were better. Somehow this had to be brought to an orderly end, preferably not just dropping it, but preferably showing that everything worked

Particularly at Holmdel under Harald Friis, not under me, there were projects to do: build trial systems, and carry them through in an orderly way. When that was lying in your bailiwick, you wanted to be sure that it would be brought to a successful conclusion. So sometimes there were ongoing activities that more than one person was involved in. You hoped that they were going to get where they were going, with a positive or negative result.

You were concerned with other questions as well. Had they chosen good things? Or had they gotten involved in good things? Were these suitable for them? Was everything all right, or were the people stuck or neglectful? It was their qualities that were more of interest than the particular technical thing.

Goldstein:

Did you have a good reputation at the Lab as a manager for attending to all these details and pushing things along?

Pierce:

I don't know. I'm talking about pushing things along although that wasn't how most of it worked. It did occur. I don't know what reputation I had. I felt strongly about dates Well, I told you about the fellow who was in my office explaining what he was going to do? I asked him when it would be done, and I wrote it up on the board. I kept seeing the date, but he didn't. [Chuckling]

Goldstein:

[Chuckling] You also have a story. You mentioned once that NASA, on JPL, was flabbergasted that Bell Labs delivered on the due dates that they had promised.

Pierce:

I think that they were. That was done by Harald Friis's successors. Harold ran a very orderly laboratory. He would regularly ask his people to explain what they were doing. That way they found out as well as him finding out.

Goldstein:

Right. It sounds like your style was a little bit more relaxed.

Pierce:

Well, he was relaxed. But I would just wander around in the mornings and talk to people.

Electronic Switching Systems

Goldstein:

Now this is sort of a digression, but you mentioned something that's of interest to me. You said that you were in charge switching research. I'm really curious to know what happened to the old fashioned ones?

Pierce:

Transistors weren't manufactured for outside sale, they were supplied. There would be a transfer of funds. This thing had started out with all the circuits being built around old fashioned transistors and when you put all the circuits together, you needed a few hundred. Morton had to be pressed to supply them because he wanted to be out building the latest things. You can understand that. But on the other hand, we couldn't keep redesigning the circuits for new transistors every week.

Goldstein:

Tell me what the project was?

Pierce:

It was a project called ESSEX. At that time digital transmission was about to become a reality.

Goldstein:

I don't know exactly when this was. Maybe the 'fifties?

Pierce:

This was about '60. The TI digital transmission system went commercial in 1962.

Goldstein:

Oh, really!

Pierce:

Digital transmission by the T1 system in pairs, was to be used between telephone offices or between a telephone office and a large user building. Digital transmission of speech was to become a reality through this very successful T1 digital system at the 1-1/2 megabit rate. The reason it was so successful was that if you wanted to put many channels over these twisted pairs, just a few miles — up to about 50 miles long I think it was — frequency division — It was too lousy a circuit for the frequency division multiplex to succeed. Moreover, frequency division multiplex had very fine-grained equipment in it, and it was expensive. The T1 system succeeded because the digital transmission was very robust. It didn't matter whether the gain was quite that right, and the frequency characteristics were quite that right. There was lots of margin for transmission over a lousy medium. It was thriving.

There was a focus or digital switching systems. Everyone knew they would come along.

The first electronic switching systems turned out not to be digital. That was ESS — electronic switching system. They were successful, but everyone knew that someday there would be digital switching systems. This research effort had been started by Deming Lewis, and his assistant Earl Vaughan, to build on the T1 transmission system. It was to be a small-scale system, a few thousand lines, I believe, that you could put it out around the landscape, not necessarily in central offices. I'm trying to think back. It was designed so that the T1 traffic wouldn't all have to come back to a central office, you would have economies by switching in small switching centers. This spread the switching around with the transmission. This is something that you could easily do with the memory and other capabilities of transistors as they then existed.

This isn't how digital switching got into the Bell System. This was turned down by AT&T after the skeleton system was demonstrated. It may very well have been not a good way to do things. Deming Lewis and Earl Vaughan and I were enthusiastic about it, and so was the then chief engineer at AT&T, but he was toward the end of his tether, and he didn't' carry that much weight. Anyway, it was never developed.

Goldstein:

In what way was it evaluated?

Pierce:

Well, the question was, Does it work? It was clear from the parts that were put together that it would work. Would it be worthwhile spending this money and putting it into the Bell System at this point? It wasn't, according to the judgments of the people at AT&T.

Goldstein:

Do you think that was a function of the system design? Or that we weren't ready for digital?

Pierce:

They didn't think that this would be a profitable thing at that point. How did digital switching finally get into the Bell System? Earle Vaughan, Earl of Essex, was transferred to a good job in the development department. Time passed and the Bell System needed a big toll switching system. That switches in toll offices where lots of lines come in and lots of lines go out, but no line goes directly to a telephone.

Goldstein:

They all go to the regional branch offices?

Pierce:

Yes. Switching is a sort of hierarchical thing, and toll switching systems are different from line switching systems. There was a need for a new toll switching system. The fellow who had built the analog electronic switching system, which was now the standard switching system, ESS-#1, wanted to build an analog electronic switching system for the toll office. But times had changed, and there was Earle Vaughan with his ideas about toll switching. So Earle Vaughan put forward a proposed toll system. I think it was called ESS-#4. The people at AT&T looked it over. A very bright guy who had gone from the Bell Laboratories to the AT&T was then a vice president, an important vice president. He looked at all this, and he turned down the analog switching system. They built the ESS-#4, which was a big success, and was the first commercial digital switching system built into the Bell System.

Goldstein:

Were you out of this now?

Pierce:

I was entirely out of this group. It didn't involve me directly. I was in switching research. I think the switching research evaporated after a while. Anyway, I was associated with it only about a year.

Goldstein:

When was ESSEX first conceived? Or was there something special about point contacts that made you think that that was the right thing?

Pierce:

ESSEX must have been going on for several years. They started with whatever transistors were around.

Goldstein:

I'm curious to know how it came to be that you were put in charge of switching research.

Pierce:

Just some sort of reshuffling around. I don't remember the nature of it. I don't know what reshuffle that was. I will say this was in the time when Bill Baker had become vice president in charge of research, and he tended to put things under me when he didn't know what else to do. I was wondering if I ever wrote any memoranda that had to do with the switching.

Goldstein:

Have you seen these books, The History of Switching at AT&T? It's two volumes.

Pierce:

I think I probably have. I probably have them stashed away someplace where I can't get at them.

Goldstein:

Yes. I can look in there and get some background?

Pierce:

Yes, you can get some background there. I don't think I ever wrote a memorandum that has anything to do about switching. So I can't date by it. I didn't publish anything on switching either. I had a rather brief encounter with these people.

Acoustical Research

Goldstein:

You were telling me how you got involved in switching. You think that Baker just tended to put things under you as a sort of miscellaneous department head. But then from a while back I was interested in how you took to acoustical research, sound studies. Did that excite you?

Pierce:

Oh, I found it fascinating!

Goldstein:

Had you had any background in that sort of area or latent curiosity?

Pierce:

No.

Goldstein:

No? It was all brand new?

Pierce:

Yes, just a new box of goodies. And there were good people there. Well, the older people were good and they'd hired a few new people, and they hired more. [pause] A wonderful bunch! Well, there was one very brilliant, mathematically-inclined guy who worked on speech synthesis, among other things. His name was John Kelly — and his speech synthesis was adapted by Max Mathews to sing "Daisy." And in "2001" the computer singing "Daisy" comes from the work of John Kelly. [Chuckling] John Kelly was a brilliant guy and a gregarious person. He took off his shoes in his office while he was working. Some people told him he did this, and he denied it. So somebody snuck in and stole his shoes while they were off, and then pointed out to him that his shoes were off. [Laughter]

Goldstein:

And he was in charge of speech synthesis?

Pierce:

He was an individual worker under Ed David. Max Mathews was another wonderful person.

Goldstein:

Was this the staff that you inherited from the old days, or did you recruit these people?

Pierce:

No, these people had been recruited. Well, Ed David was working on military things on underwater sound, and he was brought in to be the direct head of the speech and hearing and acoustics work. Jim Flanagan was another good guy who was eventually in charge of the speech and hearing. I guess he became a general department head and executive director. I'm not sure. He's being given the Marconi International Fellowship. If nothing goes wrong, Brenda and I will go to Spain to see Flanagan receive it because it's a good show. We did spend a couple of weeks altogether.

The Picturephone

Goldstein:

That's nice. Can you think of any of the results from the acoustical studies? Anything that stands out in your mind as a particularly important product?

Pierce:

There was a lot of studying and not many products. Maybe it wasn't supposed to produce products. That used to bother me. But there is now a vocoder, a speech compression device, that will give quite good quality. It gives very good quality at 10,000 bits a second, and quite good quality at 5,000 bits a second.

It has been incorporated, along with visual image compression, in this thing that AT&T has demonstrated to send not-very-good color television and voice over a telephone line. They manage to transmit about 20,000 bits a second over the telephone line, and they get good quality voice with about 5,000 of these. These figures may not be quite right. The other 15,000 you use for this not-very-good picture transmission. To do this is just a technological miracle. The idea that people are going to pay $1,000 or $1500 for terminals that will do this, seems to me extremely unlikely.

Bell Laboratories and AT&T had a strange experience with the picture-phone earlier, trying to sell a much better picture, well, for more money.

Well, you can't tell what will succeed. Facsimile just swept the world. Retrospectively you can always explain things. Fax is very important to real estate people and a lot of other people, to be able to transmit documents and drawings, and you can do this over an ordinary phone line. But nobody expected that to go so well. I had a picturephone in my office once, connected to a local network at Bell Laboratories.

Oh, I can tell you a story about this. It didn't happen to me, but the chairman of the board of AT&T dropped by the Laboratory, and here was a picturephone. "Oh, how is this going?" you know. "Call up somebody for me," and this guy called up one of his friends, and his friends had put a stuffed monkey in front of the picturephone because of general lack of use.

There was some interesting research that was done in my bailiwick connected with the picturephone, and it showed that it's easier to lie with television than with just voice. People think more if they're just listening to what you say than they do if they're distracted by your face. If you try to deceive somebody about something, it goes over better with the picturephone.

Goldstein:

Were the studies like that done at Bell Labs?

Pierce:

That was done at Bell Labs.

Goldstein:

Really!

Pierce:

It was done in my division. I don't remember who did it anymore.

Goldstein:

Had they done a market research?

Pierce:

No, it was just curiosity about picturephones. [Chuckling] I don't know whether that was when it wasn't going so well. That was just general curiosity. These people were capable of making such studies. These were psychologists of some sort. They did it. But I have a feeling that has been nurtured by a fellow, A. Michael Noll that pictures of the person you're talking to don't add much to a telephone conversation.

You don't want many telephone conversations to be a visit. Well, women do gab over the phones, but I'm not sure that they want to see one another. A lot of telephoning is just calling up to get information or transfer it or tell somebody or order something, or something like that. What's the picture for? There's a whole different behavior over the telephone. If you walk into somebody's room, you're expected to say, "Hello. How are you?" and a lot of other guff that you don't want in connection with many telephone conversations.

Goldstein:

Now is this an attitude you had prior to the development of the picturephone? Or is this an explanation you have for why it didn't succeed?

Pierce:

Well, Rudi Kompfner and I had a TV channel, for a number of odd reasons, set up between Holmdel and Murray Hill. It didn't work too well, that was before the picturephone. But gosh, wasn't it wonderful to use it. It was wonderful that you see the picture, but then what do you do with it? We got along very well just on the telephone.

Goldstein:

I don't know what your role was in the development of the picturephone.

Pierce:

Nothing.

Goldstein:

Oh, I see. Did you ever try to persuade people that it wasn't valuable?

Pierce:

No, I don't think so.

Goldstein:

Was there a lot of enthusiasm for it at the Labs?

Pierce:

Well, by some people. There was a lot of enthusiasm at AT&T.

Goldstein:

See, I can imagine a situation where everyone's working on it because it seems technologically possible. They've been challenging to do this data compression, but secretly nobody even wants this thing.

Pierce:

It's an old dream that goes back to even before Tom Swift and his phototelephone. It's been tried over and over again for various things. If it didn't succeed for individual conversations, then it would be a part of a meeting. And AT&T marketed a meeting service where you'd go to nearby place. Some companies, including Xerox, have internal TV conference facilities, but generally they aren't much used. And the only thing that really works, or at least is paid for, is things like the Stanford lecture service. They offer certain courses at nearby industrial locations where a few people at each one of them will participate by television. I don't know whether this is a successful or a good thing or not. But it has persisted. And also some of the lectures and classes at Stanford are conducted with TV adjuncts. Rather than writing on the board, the instructor writes on the TV-accessible pad.

Goldstein:

I haven't noticed other methods for it, but if you imagine the two endpoints — one is isolation and the other is contact with another person — then what's happening in telecommunications is there's sort of a piecemeal reconstruction of the experience of being with someone. At first it's audio, and then visual, and then who knows what else you might try adding.

Pierce:

The feelies.

Goldstein:

Right. Really. But it doesn't satisfy those different stages. You need to get past the threshold of isolation, which is audio.

Pierce:

Isaac Asimov wrote a story about this society which worked entirely by telecommunications. Actually meeting a person in the flesh that would be dreadful. But anything was permissible over the wires. It has seemed obvious to a lot of people that if you could add pictures without too much increase in cost, that everyone would want the pictures. It doesn't seem likely to me at this point. It's been tried over and over again, and it always flops.

Goldstein:

Do people tend to repeatedly blame the technology of it?

Pierce:

Yes. Well, the people who are for this keep blaming the technology. It's too costly or it won't go over the telephone line or something. I had a casual conversation with a guy in an airplane, and he had gone in on this wonderful thing and was working for a Japanese company which was selling a picture with telephone thing. I thought, Oh, you poor guy. I didn't tell him that. [Chuckling] See, it just seemed inevitable to him that if you could do this for a reasonable amount of money, that everybody would buy it.

Goldstein:

Do you have any idea what the attitude over at Bell has been over the past twenty years?

Pierce:

I hope it's just a local aberration, because if you look at past experience, you wonder if they ever learn.

Goldstein:

[Chuckling] Is this particularly obvious on this point?

Pierce:

Well, I don't know. It makes you worry about the whole place. [Laughter]

Goldstein:

Is that what prompted this letter of yours?

Pierce:

No, that's an entirely different thing.

Research, Government and Industry

Goldstein:

Oh, yes. You were talking about actual funding for this.

Pierce:

A change in government funding to try to promote useful engineering work in universities. I'll tell you what it is and then get off my mind.

I think the peer review is better than Congressional grants. Getting something through a Congressman for your state, whether it makes any sense or not. But the linkage between research in the universities — even engineering departments and industry — is often not very profitable. It's just a way of getting funds out of industry or of getting the recruiters to come around.

My idea was to set aside, say, from the National Science Foundation, oh, maybe 5 or 10 percent of their grants and do two things about granting first, get rid of the categories. Money is given out by the National Science Foundation in categories.

Goldstein:

In biology, physics?

Pierce:

There's even a tiny small category that supports acoustical research with musical instruments, but very narrowly. These categories get built in and reduce the flexibility of trying to go in different directions or to do new things. The other thing is that the peer review is a bunch of people, largely in universities or acting like people in universities, and they know what the state of the art [is] there. My idea was to take some money — a meaningful amount of money, but not the majority of the money — and change the peer review process. One is to get rid of categories entirely. The other is to get two reviews from industrial sources who would be asked not only is the technology good, but if this research succeeds, do you expect it will do anything for your company? My picture of what might happen if this were done (which is unlikely) is that people in universities where research money is a little tight would be rushing around to various industries trying to find they could do that would be favorably reviewed.

Goldstein:

And that's something that you favor?

Pierce:

Yes. Well, yes, I think it would be good if there were closer ties and better communication between research in universities (engineering research in universities and applied science, anyway) and the people who are successful in making a buck. These reviewers would come from successful industries. We also need to reward success in this country, not to bail out failure.

Goldstein:

Do you write this letter now because you sense some divergence of university research industrial needs?

Pierce:

I had a talk with a fellow I've known many years whose on the university faculty. He had some ideas for supporting engineering and getting money for engineering and applied science research. His idea was to put a tax on the imports of high-technology products to help support research in this country, appropriate research. It wasn't clear to me whether it was a good idea or not, and it seemed to me almost impossible to accomplish. So I got to thinking about how you could improve matters with the least possible change.

Goldstein:

Okay. I see.

Pierce:

And then I wrote to some people about, and it sort of dribbled off.

Goldstein:

I'm afraid now that we've gotten just too far afield.

Pierce:

Well, we got too far afield.

Goldstein:

Oh, no, this is interesting. Maybe we can pick it up later.

Pierce:

But you raised the question.

Speech Generation and Computer Music

Goldstein:

Right. [Chuckling] And I know why it happened — because I asked. What I'd said a long time ago was whether any products emerged from the hearing studies research, and you said not too many products.

Pierce:

There is this improved speech transmission with very few bits. This is important in the future of cellular phones. These things are also used in military secure communications. There is also a lot of work on voice synthesis and voice recording, piecing together recorded voice. For instance, when you call up and ask for a telephone number, the person looks it up, and then the machine speaks it to you.

Goldstein:

You can hear the splices.

Pierce:

You can hear the splices. But it's intelligible. I have a friend, Peter Denes who worked at the Bell Laboratories. He retired some years ago. He's Hungarian, but he speaks English very well. But he got into a pay phone, and the voice that told him how much to pay was unintelligible to him, and he was really stuck. So it's important that these things be intelligible.

Goldstein:

That's surprising, because usually it is very clear.

Pierce:

Yes.

Goldstein:

Maybe it was due to his not being a native English speaker.

Pierce:

It might be partly that, and then a noisy location. But this business of patching speech together is one product of the people who were working in this field. There's lots of work on speech generation — reading texts and speaking it aloud. I believe that the commercial stuff came from MIT, but it's used by the blind as an adjunct to computers and reading texts aloud when not in Braille. That general field of work leads to things like this, although not necessarily from the Bell Laboratories and AT&T.

Goldstein:

Do you know if any of the research has been valuable in other applications? You know, not necessarily AT&T products, but has the research served as a foundation for other important work done either in an industrial or university setting?

Pierce:

This general field of speech and hearing is with lots of research and not many products. One product of research of this general type is the whole computer music and digital synthesizer thing. That was started by Max Mathews at Bell Laboratories about 1957. The money, small as it is, led to many applications from a host of other people.

Goldstein:

Mathews started it when he was under Ed David?

Pierce:

Yes, and Ed was under me.

Goldstein:

Was that your first interest in computer music? Let's talk about how your interest in the field.

Pierce:

Yes, it came from that and from following what Max was doing. The first thing I heard produced by Max, the first musical sounds, sounded awful, and they were composed by Newman Guttman, who was in acoustics research. He put in all sorts of clever things that just sounded like garbage to me. I wondered if what I was hearing was the process or Newman Guttman, who was a good friend. So I put a very simple little tune in, and it came out as a very simple little tune. So it wasn't the process that was making it sound this way, it was what Guttman wanted to produce.

Goldstein:

Do you have a background in music?

Pierce:

No, not really. I can't carry a tune in a bucket. I had piano lessons at the proper age and forgot about them. Later while I was at Cal Tech I learned to play the piano, sort of. Then I stopped playing the piano after my second marriage — to a graduate of Juilliard. I was convinced that I couldn't play in a way acceptable to her. Or that it was painful. She was willing to try to teach me, but I'd just better stay away from the keyboard.

Goldstein:

Okay, did this music start to dominate in the acoustical studies that you were doing at Bell Labs?

Pierce:

No. I just followed it with great interest, with a great personal interest.

Goldstein:

Weren't you actively involved?

Pierce:

I was actively involved in a way. Compositions of mine are played on two Decca records. Max was anxious to get this thing out, and he found some oddball from Decca who produced two Decca records: "Music From Mathematics" and "The Voice of the Computer." Before that Bruce Strasser, who was a bright guy in the public relations department at Bell Laboratories, had got out a record called "Music for Mathematics" with these computer-produced sounds on it. He thought it was good publicity.

Goldstein:

Right. When did you record these?

Pierce:

Early 'sixties.

Goldstein:

What was the procedure for writing memoranda?

Pierce:

One wrote a memorandum and routed it to certain people who might find it interesting, you thought, and to the patent department, and to your bosses.

Goldstein:

Did you have to have concrete results?

Pierce:

No.

Goldstein:

Was it like a paper?

Pierce:

Well, Rudi Kompfner, again — I mentioned him before — usually you wrote drafts, a pink draft, that were on pink paper, and he talked it over with other people. He said his favorite color was pink. Sometimes it never got written. In my cases, I may not have had a pink copy.

Goldstein:

Did you think it was valuable to other people in the Lab for them to know what you were doing?

Pierce:

I thought of why I write things, including books, and it's usually to explain things to myself. I don't know whether I understand them or not until after I try to write and explain them to myself or other people.

IRE: Proceedings and Politics

Goldstein:

It raises an interesting question that I want to be sure we don't miss. I know that you served as editor of the IRE Proceedings.

Pierce:

Uh, yes.

Goldstein:

Can you tell me something about that?

Pierce:

Yes, I can tell you something about that. I received the Medal of Honor of the IRE and the Edison Medal. That was inherited by the IEEE from the AIEE. So I guess I'm a good organization man. Being editor was the only office I've ever held in the in the IRE or the AIEE. At the time that Bill Hewlett was president of the IRE, he felt that something had to be done about the Proceedings and its editor. Alfred Goldsmith, who was a fine old guy and had been editor for many years. He read all the papers himself, and there was a terrible delay in publication. At that time the Proceedings of the IRE was the technical journal. All these little ones came later. So for some reason I was chosen to be editor. I was very flattered, and I accepted.

Goldstein:

You were sitting at home, and they called?

Pierce:

I don't know. No, they got a hold of me at Bell Laboratories, no doubt. So I was editor and attended board meetings and so on. Editor was not an elective office, but I attended the board meetings. There was also an editorial board that Hewlett set up that had regular meetings. I looked at the Proceedings, and I doubted if anyone could read all the papers and understand them. Julius Stratton, later president of MIT, was one member of this editorial board. Hewlett took this seriously. There were other good people on it. I don't remember just who they were. So the first thing I did was to ask them to read an issue and see if they could understand what they were reading. And the answer came back universally that they couldn't.

What I wanted done (whether somebody suggested it to me or whether it was my idea or not) was to get about a thousand people in the IRE on an editorial board, and send every manuscript submitted out to three of these. If that decided it in some clear way, then it was accepted or rejected. If there was some doubt about this, then there were a hundred or so "super" people in various categories. If there was doubt, it was sent to somebody in the special category, and that usually settled it. If not, you could wangle it otherwise. So part of it was just this complete change in the review procedure.

Goldstein:

And was this your suggestion?

Pierce:

Yes, I think it was. I can't be sure that somebody else didn't say it at a meeting. That solved the problem.

I thought it would be nice to write editorials for the IRE. And I wrote one editorial about security that got in trouble and wasn't published, and that rather miffed me.

Incidentally, I'm very suspicious about security. I once suggested that the way you could most confuse the Russians would be to take all the documents you could find that are classified, take off the file numbers and any other thing next except the classified stamp, and ship them all to the Russians.

Really, I feel that classification is over done and ineffective. During the war, the real secret about microwave radar was that we had it, and that it was sinking the submarines. Once you find that out, you know, the other guy can do it, too. I think that the great secret of the atom bomb is that it was going to work. The Germans weren't so concerned about that. Maybe their time frame was different. Technology is international, you know what is important and what is being worked on (and that's very hard in peacetime to keep secret). Of course you want to classify things. Well, I may have voiced such sentiments, and they were unacceptable.

Goldstein:

This is interesting. You were seeking greater security?

Pierce:

Well, I was pointing out that it isn't as easy to get security and that what is important to know is very hard to protect. They did it pretty well on underwater sound. That came out of a study, a university study. A study carried out at MIT. And the idea of passive listening. Well, then Hansen Baldwin published a thing in the New York Times. He didn't know it was a secret.

Goldstein:

So what was your suggestion to try to keep the lid on?

Pierce:

This was "Comments" rather than "Suggestions," I think. But anyway, I shouldn't have let my head be turned by being editor. It wasn't very much fun anymore. Then I had a very serious operation for a growth that was pressing the spinal cord and paralyzing me. After I didn't die (I recovered) they asked me when I was ready to come back and resume my duties as editor. And I sort of said I didn't expect to recover that much. [Chuckling] But I'd done what I was brought in to do. And otherwise, I'd just get tangled up in internal IEEE politics. Well, this was IRE at the time.

Goldstein:

As a member of the IRE, had you noticed that the issues were getting more abstruse and less valuable?

Pierce:

It wasn't that they were getting more abstruse and less valuable, it was that the art was getting beyond any one person's capacity to deal with. Eventually the IRE was making money. AIEE wasn't making money. So they consolidated to try and preserve the best features of the IRE (the money-making feature) into the IEEE. Then technology was really taking off, and they did an absolutely wonderful thing. Instead of a different society appearing for every specialty, they started the professional or technical groups, and they managed to keep them at least under an umbrella. I thought that that was just wonderful.

Goldstein:

You mean the IEEE did this?

Pierce:

The IEEE, yes.

Goldstein:

And you were in favor of it. I don't know whether that structure was well known when the members had to vote on consolidation. Did you know that they were doing to do that?

Pierce:

I don't remember what happened after which. I think it's a fine organization, except that I don't really know what it does.

I like small meetings. For years after the war there was an annual Microwave Tube Meeting and maybe a hundred to two hundred attended. It was nominally under the IRE, and it still exists as a Devices Meeting under the IEEE. But really it was run by the participants. It was a small meeting where you got the latest stuff. That was nice. When Ed David and I became involved in speech and hearing, we became members of the Acoustical Society — or at least I did. I'm a Fellow as a matter of fact. Then it was a small society compared with what it is today and had meetings that you could go to and have some chance of knowing a number of the people, especially in the sections you were working on. But the Acoustical Society has become a huge society.

Goldstein:

I wanted to find out — one other question I had about — the system that you instituted at the Proceedings. So you established this review system to make sure that things were comprehensible.

Pierce:

Well, it was to be sure they were reviewed by people who could understand them.

Goldstein:

Did that tend to moderate the difficulty of the articles?

Pierce:

I doubt it. What it did was make the review procedure and the publication procedure manageable. Mine is not to wonder why. Mine is to do without dying. [Chuckling]

Goldstein:

You described two problems at Proceedings. One was that since Goldsmith wanted to read all of the articles, there was a terrible delay in getting things out. Secondly, the articles were so highly specialized.

Pierce:

No, I didn't mean to say that. I meant to say that the degree of specialization had got so high that no one, Goldsmith or anyone else, could possibly pass judgment on all the articles.

Goldstein:

I see. Right. You'd simply identified people.

Pierce:

Identified those who could pass judgment on them.

Goldstein:

Yes. Did that improve the quality of the articles?

Pierce:

I don't know. But it got them out in a timely fashion. Presumably they were sensibly reviewed instead of insensibly reviewed.

Goldstein:

How long were you there?

Pierce:

Oh, about a year.

Goldstein:

Okay. And that was your involvement with a professional society?

Pierce:

Institutional involvement with a professional society.

Information Theory

Goldstein:

Yes. I just wanted to make sure that I had that covered. All right. So now we're back in Bell Labs. It seems like the later 'fifties and early 'sixties were a very active period for you. This is when while you're working on ECHO and you're prodding people to get that done. You were also getting responsibility for switching research for a time. You got responsibility for this hearing.

Pierce:

Yes.

Goldstein:

Was it overwhelming?

Pierce:

No.

Goldstein:

Were you able to manage all that?

Pierce:

Somehow the idea didn't occur to me that I should be overwhelmed. [Chuckling]

Goldstein:

You said that your technical contribution to ECHO wasn't all that great. Were you able to keep up technically in other areas or pursue other things?

Pierce:

What the memoranda as opposed to publication tells me — is that I did keep up with the technical things.

Goldstein:

What was your favorite area of research at this point?

Pierce:

Well, I continued to work on various theoretical aspects of what is essentially traveling wave tubes. Let's go from '58 to 1956 for comparison. Some things I don't remember what they are. "A Comparison of Two Treatments of Multi-Velocity Flow." Well, I don't know what that is either. Above that is "Reading Rates and the Information and Rate of the Human Channel." There were worries about language and about information. It's an outgrowth of information theory in a sense. How do you apply this to people?

Goldstein:

There was also a lot of work in the 'fifties on automatic translators.

Pierce:

Yes. I did a report on that for a committee of the National Academy of Sciences on machine translation. Were you aware of that?

Goldstein:

Yes, I am.

Pierce:

Yes. There was a lot of research on language and information. The content of that one, I did with a psychologist named John Karlin who was, I think, in a different department. Anyway, you can read aloud meaningful text quite rapidly. If you read aloud randomly-selected words, the reading goes much slower. So what is stopping you is not the ability to speak the words, it's some mental process, some mental hang-up. So we did reading rates for very familiar words and less familiar words and still less familiar words. The reading rate goes down as the words are less familiar. It will also depend on small numbers of words on the numbers of words. If it is just "yes/no," you'll, read the rate faster than "yes," "no," "and/or," and a lot of other things. There is some number of words that will give you the fastest oral information passing through. You look at it, and you read these lists of randomized words. You don't put it in very unfamiliar words because they hold you up, but you have to have a lot of words because that's more bits per word. You get a reading rate of something up around several tens of bits per second. Maybe 50 bits per second. And maybe that is as fast as you can accept things for processing. It's either processing or accepting things. It's hard to tell which. But it was an interesting number, and there it is hanging around. It was also interesting that it seemed to be more or less independent of language. When a Chinese, P.K. Tien made up randomized lists of Chinese characters and the corresponding English words, the reading rate was the same for the characters as the words.

This will tell you, if you didn't already know, that people don't read letter by letter, except when they're learning. However, it doesn't tell you that you should try to learn by the word-sight method, which is an abomination. Without phonics, people with an extensive knowledge of spoken English had no way of deciphering what's in the text and learning the new words.

If you read languages you don't know, say, German and English — you get about the same reading rate in syllables for the language you don't know as for words in the language you do know.

Goldstein:

That's fascinating.

Pierce:

Well, I found it fascinating.

Goldstein:

Yeah. Did this relate to other things you were doing at the time? Or was this just sort of a sidelight for you?

Pierce:

I was always interested in information theory. Claude Shannon is one of my heroes. He invented it essentially all by himself, and it was wonderful.

Goldstein:

Did you pursue it to try to relate it to optimal data transmission rates of equipment?

Pierce:

No. There's a long chapter in Symbols, Signals and Noise, a book I published, centering around this, that will tell you what was running through my mind better than I could tell you right now. I thought that was a good book, and then it was republished by Dover but not successfully. I don't believe it's in print anymore. I thought that it was one of the better books I'd written. Then I looked through it recently. It does tell about information theory, but the rest of the book is filled with what I was puzzled by or interested in at the time, and it isn't all that good.

Science Writing

Early Books

Goldstein:

This question keeps jumping back and forth. But you remind me now of something I really wanted to pursue, which is some of the books that you've written.

Pierce:

I was looking for a list of the books that I've written. Should I just go through the list of books and make some comments about them?

Goldstein:

Sure.

Pierce:

And that will be complete. There is Theory and Design of Electron Beams, revised edition 1954. The original one was published in 1949. It was nice that it had a second edition.

Clinton Davisson, who won a Nobel Prize for electron diffraction, gave a course on electron optics when at Bell Laboratories. He had made a grand television tube in the early days of television which was very good. He was an interesting guy.

He taught this course on electron optics. For some reason, he had to stop in the middle of it, and he asked me to finish. So I finished the rest of the course, and then I had all this material on hand. So I wrote a book called Theory and Design of Electron Beams.

Goldstein:

He couldn't complete the lectures?

Pierce:

I don't remember why he couldn't complete the lectures. But he asked me if I'd carry on to the end of the schedule for him, and I did.

Goldstein:

What made him feel that you were qualified to do this?

Pierce:

I guess I was taking the course, and he must have felt that I was qualified. I was also willing to do it. This was my first book; first published in 1949, the second edition of it was 1954. In those days Bell had an arrangement with McGraw-Hill. McGraw-Hill published the staff books, books written by the staff at Bell Laboratories.

Goldstein:

As part of a series?

Pierce:

No. You could make up a series of them because they were all by Bell Laboratories people, but they weren't formally a series. Traveling Wave Tubes in 1950. Traveling wave tubes were a big thing. I'd done a lot of work on traveling wave tubes by that time, and I thought it would be a good idea to set it all out in a book, and I did.

Goldstein:

I've heard it said that it used to be the case, certainly before the 20th century but perhaps a few years into the 20th century, that a scientist would collect and present his results in book form. For example, Maxwell wrote his treatises.

Pierce:

And Heaviside.

Goldstein:

But that's no longer the case.

Pierce:

I think that that's true. And I won't comment further on it.

Goldstein:

Well, you have your book on traveling wave tube, but was there any new information there? Or did you offer a new synthesis of the information?

Pierce:

I think that there were things in it that hadn't appeared in publication. Such items as I had in my technical memoranda.

Goldstein:

I'm sorry. Was the book intended to be used as a textbook in a graduate-level course?

Pierce:

That's how it was used at Stanford. I don't know that it wasn't intended for anyone who needed to know about traveling wave tubes.

Goldstein:

Okay.

Pierce:

Electrons, Waves and Messages. I had written in 1956 all these JJ Coupling articles in the Astounding Science Fiction, and somehow they got to a fellow, Clarkson Potter, who worked for a publisher. He had found out that I wrote these things, and he asked me to write a book about Electrons, Waves and Messages that was the title. The content was sort of communication in a more elementary and expository nature. It was based not on originality but on nice things like Maxwell's equations, as well as simpler things.

Popularization of Science and Technology

Goldstein:

Maybe I'm misinterpreting. I thought that book was intended as a popularization of technology.

Pierce:

It was.

Goldstein:

To present it to the lay audience. I was surprised at the sophistication of the diagrams and the mathematics used. You have integrals. You motivate Maxwell's equations using differential boxes and things. If you look at a popular science book today, it's nowhere near as complex.

Pierce:

It's aimed for the Omni-readership. Well, I don't know. I think it was aimed as a popularization, but it was also used by people who thought it very useful, who were engineers. It's a link, in my view, between real technical facts and laws of nature or something that is usually hidden behind a lot of mathematics. I tried to remove as much of the mathematics as possible without losing the content.

Goldstein:

I see. And you weren't afraid it was going to be over the head of your audience?

Pierce:

It lasted quite a long time.

Goldstein:

Oh, it did! Did you have a specific audience in mind?

Pierce:

No. Me. I wanted to explain all this to me in simple terms. Really, that was the challenge there. Man's World of Sound, 1958. I told you why Ed David and I wrote that book. I went to the same fellow who published Electrons, Waves and Messages, and he agreed to publish this.

Goldstein:

Did all these books sell briskly? Do you have any sense of which ones were very well received?

Pierce:

Electrons, Waves and Messages hung around for a long time. Man's World of Sound didn't. But then it was rewritten as Waves of the Ear

Symbols, Signals and Noise. This was the one on communication theory really, and it was published as part of a series. There was another volume in the same series. It was about information theory. That was around quite a long time. Then I got it republished under Dover, but the book was not an eternal book. It's not as good as was Electrons, Waves and Messages

The Research State: A History of Science in New Jersey with A.G. Tressler, 1964. This was part of a series of books inspired by the Tercentenary. I was asked if I would write a book, and I said that I would if somebody in the publications department would write the book instead of me having to do it. It was written with A.G. Tressler. And A.G. Tressler dug up most of the information in it, sometimes after I badgered him when I didn't like what he'd dug up. The trouble was that he couldn't write, so I had to write the manuscript on the basis of what he found out.

Goldstein:

Did you like the opportunity to write in a less technical vein?

Pierce:

No, it was a chore. Electrons and Waves is the paperback reprint of parts of Electrons, Waves and Messages. And Quantum Electronics was added to bring the transistor into the thing. And then Waves and Messages was another part of what had originally been Electrons, Waves and Messages, but now the thing was fairly well rewritten with quantum and electronics in the middle. Applications were wedged in the last part, and classical electricity and magnetism was in the first. Those hung around in translation and other forms for many, many years. The Beginnings of Satellite Communication, 1968. I think I was asked to write that, and I did. And it was a good thing that I set some of these things down. Science, Art and Communication is a bunch of essay-like things that I thought that I would like to have printed. And I got Clarkson Potter, who had solicited Electrons, Waves and Messages, to publish it. He now had his own publishing house, and he was willing to print it. It wasn't a success, as a book. Some of ideas in there I think are sensible, especially one on freedom in research.

Goldstein:

Which showed up in Science magazine also, right?

Pierce:

Almost All About Waves, 1974. It was published after I went to Cal Tech. This had to do with traveling wave tubes, parametric amplifiers, and a lot of things that I felt that I had an insight It was various aspects of waves, mostly electronic, but also applicable to other things.

Goldstein:

I'm curious about that. Did you find yourself suggesting applications for, say, traveling wave tubes or the Pierce gun, long after you yourself had moved on to other interests?

Pierce:

No, I don't think so. But I was interested in the insight that these things had given me about waves. I tried to put it in a broad picture, and that was published by the MIT Press. They agreed to publish it. It's still in print and has a small sale. What it is used for out in the world, I don't know. As I said, when I first went to Cal Tech, I tried to give a course based on it, and I found out that it wasn't suitable to Cal Tech undergraduates who signed up for it.

Collaborations

Pierce:

Introduction to Communication Science and Systems with E.C. Posner, 1980. I had given the course before I retired at Cal Tech, and this was the content of it. Posner took over the course after I retired. He's at JPL, and has a subsidiary appointment at Cal Tech, a visiting professorship or something like that. I enlisted his help, and we wrote this book to sort of record, for whatever worth it is, what I had spent a lot of time getting together as a course at Cal Tech.

Signals: The Telephone and Beyond. The Scientific American had at one time in its history of development the idea of a number of Scientific American-level books on different things. Somebody had sold them the idea, and of course, there's the Scientific American Library which was unconnected in its origins if not in its aspirations. But I was asked if I would write a book for this series, and I wrote a manuscript. And then they were a little embarrassed when the thing fell through, and they offered to publish the thing as a book under W.H. Freeman. So that got published.

Goldstein:

Did this happen other times? Were you ever approached to put together books, either academic or popular on various subjects?

Pierce:

I was approached by Time-Life once for a popular book on something to do with communication. They had nominated a collaborator or joint author, whom I really liked, and I agreed to go ahead with it. Then they decided he wasn't a good collaborator. They suggested somebody else who came around, and I just couldn't work with him. So that fell through.

Goldstein:

You attracted a lot of attention in the early 'sixties for satellites. Were you known as an authority on the subject? Like right now, the New York Times, they have a Rolodex of people they call on particular subjects. Were you the "satellite man"?

Pierce:

Well, I look back at all these strange things I published about satellites in strange journals that I don't know what they were, and I must have been. Yes.

Goldstein:

People would call, and you'd just give your opinion?

Pierce:

I'm sure that I did, but I don't remember. But I'm sure because of the number of places things about satellites appeared.

Goldstein:

Right. Like The Saturday Evening Post.

Pierce:

Yes. Well, was Signals: The Telephone and Beyond and The Science of Musical Sound, 1983. About 1980, the Marconi International Fellowship was founded I had known one of the very early recipients.

Goldstein:

Okay. All right. So you were saying that Hiroshi Inusi won the award.

Pierce:

Won this award. And I think that he probably helped me to get the award later. In 1979 I got the award. And there was an amount of money. At that time $25,000, which at that time, was nontaxable. It's more now, but it's now taxable. You were supposed to spend this money, not put it in your bank account. I had been at Cal Tech for a number of years, and I'd lost touch with computer music, but not entirely. I kept in touch through Max Mathews, and I had one graduate student who did the thesis in that field. And so I decided I would write a book related to computer music and computer sound generation and analysis, but really about musical sound in a more general sense. I got a commitment from the MIT Press, as I remember, that they would publish it. But then somehow I'd always known people at Scientific American, including Gerand Pièl, who refounded Scientific American. I saw him, and he heard of this book, and they decided to put it out in part of the Scientific American Library. That was nice because it came out really glossy, and it had a good distribution and got translated into endless other languages, including Japanese.

Goldstein:

Was that hard work? You said that you'd gotten out of acoustics?

Pierce:

Well, I had kept up with things a little, and I used the money partly for producing (it came with one of these flimsy records with producing) sound illustrations that came with the book. There weren't any sound illustrations then. You can find lots of things on compact discs now. Betsy Cohen, who now has an architectural acoustics firm of her own in the Los Angeles area, was doing a thesis at Stanford. I'd suggested the subject matter. I was in touch with her, and I paid her for getting things done that were usually done by other people at Stanford, I later found out. This came out a really nice book. It had quite a large circulation and made me a surprising amount of money overall. I totaled it up once, and I don't remember how much it was. It isn't to be compared with best sellers, but it brought in, I think, between a hundred and two hundred thousand dollars overall.

Goldstein:

Really! How many sales does that represent? Like, ten thousand or fifty thousand?

Pierce:

Oh, fifty thousand in sales maybe.

Goldstein:

Did you launch that project in an effort to get back on top of the science of computer music?

Pierce:

No, I didn't. I just think here's an opportunity to babble about it. [Chuckling] Then My Career as an Engineer in 1988. Hiroshi Inose tried to transform the Japan Prize to a more international award by having the recipients publish biographical material. He asked me to do this, and I don't think it succeeded. I don't think there have been other such biographical things completed.

This is interesting in a way. There's some foundation who asked a number of people in science and engineering to write biographies. They agreed to pay them up to $30,000 for the cost of doing that, and these would be published. I produced a partial manuscript of this, and they didn't like it and said, No, thanks. And I was irked at them, so I just billed them for the full price. I was left on my hands with some written material, which I incorporated into this thing.

Goldstein:

Was that McGraw-Hill who tried to do that?

Pierce:

No, it was a foundation, a well-known foundation. Not Mellon. I don't know remember which it was. Some of the books appeared.

Goldstein:

Oh, really! There were some?

Pierce:

Yes, but not mine. Signals: The Science of Telecommunications with A. Michael Noll. Oh, I missed one book here: Information, Technology and Civilization with Hiroshi Inose in 1984. In 1982 or 1983, Hiroshi Inose had come as a visiting scholar to Cal Tech. I must have arranged that. He brought with him the project of writing a book and asked me to participate. Why was he writing this book? For a long time he was very close to Koji Kobagashi, the chairman of NEC. Kobagashi had suggested to him that Inose write a book on this general area. Kobagashi had taken up with the Club of Rome and had had a Club of Rome meeting in Japan, but later found out it didn't amount to much. So Hiroshi Inose and I wrote this book, and Freeman agreed to publish it. It was associated with the name of the Club of Rome, and it was a sort of miscellaneous book.

A. Michael Noll, who had once been in Bell Laboratories and then had been at AT&T, had been using as a text in a course that he taught at the Annenberg School of Communications. He said, "Couldn't we get this republished or revised or something so it'll be available to me?" And I said, "Well, let's see what we can do. If you are willing to be a coauthor, because there are a lot of things that I'm not up on anymore, and you're current in these aspects of telecommunications." So in the end this came out as a Scientific American Library book called Signals: The Science of Telecommunications with A. Michael Noll, 1990. I think it is a very good book. His looking things up was a great deal of help. He did some of the writing, but a lot of it got revised by me.

Then The Science of Musical Sound went out of print, I think almost inadvertently, at Scientific American. It isn't out of print in some other languages. This bothered a number of people, including me. I approached Scientific American, which is equal to Freeman in some way, and they agreed to bring out a paperback without sound examples, a less glossy second edition, of The Science of Musical Sound. It came out in 1992? That's a review of all my books and how they came to get written.

Rewards of Science Writing

Goldstein:

What are the challenges in writing a book for you?

Pierce:

Well, it's hard to say a sensible thing about this. It's having an agreeable subject and somebody who will publish the book. Sometimes the agreeable subject is in mind, as in the traveling wave tubes, which was a strictly technical book. Sometimes it's one I would welcome as in Symbols, Signals and Noise, about communication theory. I welcomed writing it. Sometimes it's to get out of an obligation, as in The Research State: The History of Science in New Jersey. The essentials are that somebody will agree to publish it and that it's agreeable to me.

Goldstein:

And what are the rewards to you?

Pierce:

I enjoy writing.

Goldstein:

You mean, actually sitting there and writing these books?

Pierce:

Yes.

Goldstein:

Turning a phrase nicely?

Pierce:

Finding a way of putting something well, clearly. I also enjoy being known as the author.

Science Fiction Writing

Goldstein:

Is there a difference in that reward between writing nonfiction and fiction?

Pierce:

Well, I was about to say that fiction is more personal, but it isn't always. Sometimes I deeply identify with the technical thing I'm expounding. I suppose I would rather be known as an author of fiction than as an author of technical things. The technical things that I've written about — except perhaps in the Electrons, Waves and Messages, where there were eternal things such as Maxwell's equations — have usually been the things involved in current technology such as the traveling wave tube. Writing about those things are like writing about buggy whips. You know that sooner or later it will all be of historical interest only and not much of that.

Goldstein:

Not to minimize the historical interest.

Pierce:

Yes. But it's different. I've been associated with technology rather than science, and I think there is a distinction. Technology is about making things and how things that you make work. Science is about the things that God put there. They will be there long after traveling wave tubes are extinct.

Goldstein:

You say that perhaps you'd like to be better known as a writer of fiction. Is there some appeal to having a broad spectrum of capabilities?

Pierce:

Oh, there is some appeal. I suppose it's a greater challenge to the writing because you have to supply the content as well as the thing itself. Well, of the science fiction stories I actually wrote, some were interesting gimmick ideas, and the others were little moral tales.

Goldstein:

Yeah, I was wondering about that. In writing science fiction stories, is the interesting thing getting the scientific idea around in a story?

Pierce:

All my stories involved scientific ideas, but they were moral tales, really.

Goldstein:

And did one come before the other, or did they work together?

Pierce:

They came together. I don't think there's much distinction between the two. They came together.

Goldstein:

Some stories I've read are very contrived. Some stories just want to exploit an interesting twist.

Pierce:

I don't think my stories are like that. Some of the very short stories were just ingenious ideas. There's one Unthinking Cap, about the fellow who goes to the future, and they offer him a lot of things that he can take back with him. One is a forgetting machine. If you concentrate on something and press the button, you'll forget it. This, of course, is a set-up. He chooses it, and he goes back. He puts on the cap, and something disturbs him (he's thinking about the forgetting machine) and he presses the button. And of course he keeps pressing the button until he's wiped out, because he doesn't remember what the machine is or the last thing that he was thinking about.

Goldstein:

That's funny.

Pierce:

That's a gimmick story.

Goldstein:

Which stories do you think came off particularly well?

Pierce:

The one that came off best was one of the earlier ones that I wrote. I was trying to think of the name of the story.

Goldstein:

I've got a list.

Pierce:

It was reprinted by Judith Merrill, An Anthology of the Best Science Fiction Stories. I think it's probably the best story, as a story, that I wrote. The fellow, the protagonist, was wondering about these conditions in society at parties and so forth. He finally deduces that he isn't a human being; he's a computer. [Chuckling] And he jumps out of a window.

Goldstein:

I think it's going to be toward the end of these.

Pierce:

"Period Piece," it's called. He's contrived. He's a party entertainer, allegedly a survivor from many centuries ago. That was before you had small computers, so he is actually just a mannequin hooked, by radio presumably, to a large computer. That shows how off you can be. It was published in 1948 and anthologized in 1949.

Goldstein:

You just said that shows how far off you can be. Well, not really. Some robot research through the 'seventies had off board computers communicating via radio. I would say it's enormously prescient that you imagined computers having this use. Was that a staple of science fiction at the time — artificial brains?

Pierce:

I don't remember. I wrote several longish short stories or novelettes, maybe 20,000 words long, that I think I'm more interested in. There wasn't any particular moral in this one. It was just a good story idea. Harry Harrison got out an anthology of the year 2000. He's a science fiction writer and editor. He gave me the story idea about the man destroyed in the war who had an artificial body. This gave me a chance to ask what it is to be a man. I thought it was rather good.

Goldstein:

I'm interested. You accept the idea that you could write this story based on his suggestion?

Pierce:

Yes.

Goldstein:

So the real art then is in creating the story?

Pierce:

I think the idea was just the artificial body. I was mad about the Vietnamese War then, so I wrote the story of this aberrant surgeon who takes this guy with very little left and equips him with a body that works but isn't actually organic. He goes back and is welcomed by his former employer and the former employer's daughter. But if you push his arm in a certain place, he gets an infallible erection. And his employer pats him on the arm, not knowing about this. So he realizes what's going on, and he says, "Keep away from my daughter." In the end this fellow finds it difficult to reconcile himself to life, for what does life hold for him? He finds another person. By this time all the records are computerized. There's no paper left in Washington. And he finds a former woman of whom there's even less left. She has been in touch with him before; he doesn't understand the situation. Both of them fulfill themselves by revising the American government by [Chuckling] interloping in those computers.

Goldstein:

That's great! [Chuckling]

Pierce:

That is being a man, and she is a woman, indeed. Her role is different from his.

Goldstein:

Do you know where that one is? I thought I saw it around here.

Pierce:

I can show it to you if you wish.

Goldstein:

Mmmm hmmm.

Pierce:

"You'll Love the Past." is the story of a man who finds a time machine in his backyard with a dead body in it, a time traveler. He can't be interrogated or he takes this time machine into the future. This is a rural, back-to-the-simple future with village life. All the people are of mixed races except the local ruling cadre, who are pure black and are very smart. The rest are sort of dim. They live with this high-technology equipment, which they get from the Heians who have invaded the United States and taken it over. They send their second-rate people to administer the village through the blacks. In the end there's one bright guy there, a tinkerer, that this person from the past meets, and who is just generally talented. He's really the child of one of the Heichs who hadn't been successfully sterilized. He is the offspring of a Heian and one of these indiscriminate people. Two days of this whole thing is enough, and the time traveler takes the bright person back with him to his own time, telling him he'll love the past. [Chuckling]

Goldstein:

That one sounds particularly subversive. [Chuckling]

Pierce:

Yes. [Chuckling]

Goldstein:

Did you think that was fun?

Pierce:

I thought it was fun. I was getting tired of all this simple life stuff, natural living, and all that crap. I was also worried about the state of the technological future of the country. That was back in 1969, rather early for such a worry. Those are about the best stories I wrote.

Goldstein:

Do you think there's any significant interaction between your science fiction stories and the technical work you've done?

Pierce:

Not much. Except in making plausible settings.

Goldstein:

Didn't you once say that you'd been writing about men in space, and now you wanted to have something more realistic?

Pierce:

Well, that was when I was asked to give a talk on a space subject for the Princeton Section meeting of the IRE in 1954.

Goldstein:

Writing fiction, did you feel very responsible about how plausible the technology appeared?

Pierce:

I wanted the technology to seem plausible to a reader.

Goldstein:

That's just a way to exercise your imagination?

Pierce:

I don't know. I like the idea of being an author, of something other than technical books. There's a little of a preacher in me, and there's a chance to preach. [Chuckling]

Goldstein:

I think a lot of people enjoy that, the idea of being an author. But it takes more than that.

Pierce:

Most science fiction these days is novels. Recently, I collected all my science fiction stories and looked around for a way of getting them published. There didn't seem to be any way. Books of short stories don't make money. They are printed by editors who have novel clients who also write short stories. And mine is a rather thin amount of short stories altogether, even not throwing out some of them that should be thrown out.

I don't think I could write a novel. I don't have enough observation of or interest in the minutiae of life and what a sunset is like. H.G. Wells is really wonderful at this in books like The History of Mr. Polly where he calls up the scene without it getting in the way. There aren't pages and pages of description, but he makes things seem solid and circumstantial.

Goldstein:

Did working in the lab, ever suggest a subject for a story?

Pierce:

I don't think that my ideas came from the lab.

Goldstein:

There's just something exciting about the idea of an interaction there, but I shouldn't force it if it isn't there.

Pierce:

No, ideas didn't come from the lab. Speculations about science, but not from actual work in the lab. Or actual technological problems that I encountered.

Goldstein:

Do you consider it a different sort of thinking?

Pierce:

Yes. I'm sure that reading science fiction stories helped to make science and technology glamorous to me and helped me move in that direction in my career. But I think that this is a little like being moved religiously by mythological saints or miraculous cures. It may move you in the right direction, but there's little in common in content.

Goldstein:

That makes sense.

Pierce:

It's what you tell the children to move them in one direction or another, and a lot of people are moved toward science and technology by the glamour cast by science fiction, which, when you arrive, you find that isn't like that at all.

Goldstein:

Was there disillusionment that it wasn't glamorous?

Pierce:

I'll have to say the real glamour came (and it came very late for me) when I understood the difference between just tinkering, building things without purpose, and really understanding things and doing things with purpose.

Goldstein:

That happened almost as soon as you came to Bell, certainly.

Pierce:

Yes. It became clear after I was at Bell.

Goldstein:

Did some other reward substituted for this glamour, an intellectual reward?

Pierce:

Yes.

Goldstein:

Okay. All right. Is there anything that you want to comment on? Do you remember any piece that was of particular importance?

Tea with HG Wells

Pierce:

It probably is not worth it, but I'll mention that I had tea with H.G. Wells in 1944. I've always admired Wells very much. First of all he's a good writer, and his science fiction stories are wonderful fantasy stories. His novels, those of which aren't too full of social things, such as The History of Mr. Polly, have a lot of charm. What I liked about him was that he knew that the future was going to be different from the past. A lot of people don't. You somehow get the impression that no one ever believes that anything is going to be any different. He was wrong about how it was going to be different, but he knew that it was going to be different. I don't think that most people think of the future as being different. They're all caught up in the present and the past. So when I was in England, for the Navy and the Bell Laboratories, there was a newspaper story about H.G. Wells. He had gotten miffed at something and had got written to the newspapers. I realized that he was living somehow right there in London where I was.

So I called up on the telephone, and I was told that I should write. I explained (the big lie) that Homer Hagstrom and I were great scientists, who were visiting England, and would like to meet him. He invited us to tea. He was in a bathrobe and I didn't realize how ill he was in those days, but we were ushered into a room. The tea came up a dumb waiter, and I served the tea before the housemaids came up. It was hard to get going in the conversation with him, but he was very much amused. I'd never seen a cucumber sandwich, and he saw me eyeing them. He said, "They aren't Borgia sandwiches." [Chuckling] You could see all this charm, that he had been left with.

I admired some of the things about his stories. He wrote one that had an atom bomb in it. I don't remember the title right now. I told him, "Well, they're building an atom bomb, you know, right now." How could I tell him this, because no one had told me? But the body snatchers got people, and there wasn't anything else that could be happening to the people but that they were building an atom bomb. He was utterly uninterested. He was only interested in politics and social things. I don't think he even heard it. He was an old, sick man. Then I asked him if he had a message for the United States. And that brightened him up. He liked Wilkie. Wilkie had died, and this was a great loss. So he got to talking, and that was good because he talked well if not necessarily sensibly. Then his son Gyp showed up, and old Wells was all for having a cab called for us. But Gyp saw through us. He saw that we were really people of small consequence and interlopers. He got us right out the front door, politely but definitely. [Chuckling]

World War II

Goldstein:

I don't think I know the story of why you went to England in 1944.

Pierce:

We went partly for the Navy and partly for Bell Laboratories to visit all the radar establishments, radar research and development establishments and manufacturing companies. This was a very interesting visit. I still have the technical notes I took day by day, but I didn't take any notes on the many things that I remembered and that struck me as typically British. One was that our class was sort of ambivalent there. When we went to BTH, we were entertained by the top management, which was nontechnical. Then we would go and see the technical people who were doing the actual work, and these were entirely different people in the British firms. There were a couple of firms in which this was different. And at BTH I know I kept saying, "I want to see Gabor." You've heard of Gabor? He later won the Nobel Prize. I'd read some of his things, and I wanted to meet him. I did see Gabor and talked to him briefly. He was a Hungarian and couldn't be cleared, so he was off in a laboratory in a corner of the place doing something other than wasn't strictly war work. It was interesting to see all of these people. They were very good at getting into a sort pre-production. They never got to production in the American sense of highly-organized things. Our flight back was delayed and we got to see a Christmas pantomime and were put up at the Savoy Hotel, which was a stage above most of the places that we stayed. I would be glad to answer any questions about this. But, oh, there was one very interesting thing. Who was one of the first persons who had a model of the atom?

Goldstein:

Rutherford?

Pierce:

Quantum model.

Goldstein:

Bohr?

Pierce:

No, the wave-calculating things. He was an Englishman, and he was at the University of Manchester. He had a differential analyzer. He was a theoretical physicist, and his time was entirely occupied by the differential analyzer.

Goldstein:

I know just who you're talking about.

Pierce:

He saw us in a huge round room, in a tower on this university. I was interested in his fate, you see. His fate was that he happened to have the only differential analyzer in England, and so that's what he worked on during the war. The other thing was neither here nor there, but he looked solicitous. I was freezing, and I'd just supposed that Homer Hagstrom was, too, just sitting there congealing. Our host looked at me and he said, "You aren't cold, are you?" And I said, "Oh, no, I can barely see my breath." [Chuckling] Which was true, and he was reassured. It's better to be straightforward. [Laughter] Hartree — that was the name.

Goldstein:

Oh, was his name Hartree?

Pierce:

Hartry, yes.

Goldstein:

I'm sure that's right. Did you interpret your wartime work as just a shift of assignment? Did it have another dimension?

Pierce:

Well, it had another dimension. It was full of communication with other people doing wartime work. It was full of frantic scrambling, and it was full of money in the sense that you didn't worry about equipment and things like that. What ended the Depression was World War II. Things had got a little better, but they weren't really humming. Bell Laboratories in 1936 had started to hire people, but in small numbers. There was a wind of change that swept through with World War II.

Goldstein:

It made it easier to get things done?

Pierce:

It was an exciting time, technologically.

Goldstein:

Why? Was there a lot of cross-fertilization?

Pierce:

Cross-fertilization, need to get things out.

Goldstein:

Did that tend to expedite the development process?

Pierce:

Yes. It tended to end old orderly, slow procedures. It sort of telescoped them.

Goldstein:

Did you work much with the Rad Lab? Were you up there?

Pierce:

I visited the Rad Lab occasionally. As I said, the Morton triode really, I think, came from this variable, spaciny triode that Vic Neherhad built up there. [pause]

Data Communications

Goldstein:

Okay. If we were just going to try to map out the career at Bell Labs, where are we? I know that we'd started to talk about your involvement in the acoustical work. So I wonder if you remember the circumstances of your getting out of hearing.

You were saying that as far as switching and the acoustical work goes, that these were things that Baker put under you. Did you have much control over the areas that you would work in at this point?

Pierce:

Did I choose the areas or did I have some impact on them? Or what do you mean?

Goldstein:

Did you choose the areas? Did you get to pick what you wanted to work in?

Pierce:

No, I didn't. I was happier really being faced by new things. I was never the sort of person who felt that there was something that he really wanted to do beyond all other things. Or if he had a choice, it would be that. I enjoyed new things. In fact, toward the end of the time at Bell Laboratories, I remember I felt a little unsettled. I really didn't know what to do next. The last thing I wrote, "Expense Is Cheaper Than Capital" was a memorandum. I don't know what it means, but obviously I'd been bitten by economics. [Chuckling] "Networks for Block Switching of Data." Now that was 1970. That was very interesting to me. At one time there was even a Pierce loop method of data transmission.

Nowadays you can buy a lot of computing power for practically nothing and program it to do anything. The Bell System was perpetually considering the question of how they were going to get into data transmission. There was the ARPA Network at that time. And one thing is you might build something like the Arpo Network, but the ARPA Network had quite a lot of switching in it. And you had to pay for all the switching before you any customers.

Goldstein:

Were the technical details of ARPANET available to you?

Pierce:

Yes.

Goldstein:

Was that unusual?

Pierce:

No.

Goldstein:

Okay.

Pierce:

One of the arguments put forward for going into data communication was that there was no way of getting into data communication without building an extensive network before you started.

Goldstein:

Big capital investment?

Pierce:

Big capital investment. I thought that there was a way around this. You built in an area a big loop, a big transmission loop. You didn't put in any switching mechanism. But you had a protocol. Blank data patches were circulating. If you wanted to send data, you'd have to have at least two people to start. The switching was all embodied in the terminals.

Pierce:

If you wanted to send something, you took an address and maybe a thousand bits. Your address and the destination address and message. You looked for a vacant space in the circulating data patches. Everyone on the loop read the destination address. If it got to the right place on the loop and was picked up, then it had got where it should be. If it didn't, it went back to the sender, and it would be destroyed, and you would be notified that it hadn't been sent.

Goldstein:

So this is a train that visits every station on a circular track, and you just hook on a car. Either it finds where it's supposed to go, or it doesn't.

Pierce:

Yes. And you can do this in a nested way. You can do it with a lot of local loops tied to one big loop. Actual implementation was made of this without my asking by some of the people in my division.

Goldstein:

You concocted this?

Pierce:

I concocted it and talked to people about it, and then I wrote this memorandum.

Goldstein:

So that's in the late 'sixties then?

Pierce:

Yes. And oh, a few years ago, I found a book on data switching. My idea was still known and called the Pierce Loop.

Goldstein:

This is an alternative to the switch intensive.

Pierce:

It's an alternative, and its different approach, to the Ethernet, which has the same feature but doesn't go around a loop. Ethernet depends on just finding a vacant time slot. My proposal and demonstrated, and it got stirred into the general confusion of data transmission. It probably had some effect on people. I left the Bell Laboratories, and I didn't try to follow it up. One thing that interested me (and I was describing it) is that the whole thing was cooked up to counter the argument that you have to go into data transmission in a big way before by putting in lots of dispersed switching equipment and face up to that capital cost before you transmit any data. I pointed out that the switching could be paid for terminal by terminal.

Goldstein:

I'm surprised that you're surprised that it was implemented. Sounds like a reasonable idea. Why didn't you, try to push it?

Pierce:

Well, I didn't have to push it. It happened before I pushed it. These were nice people who were working for me. Here on the list I see something about noise for an equalized coaxial cable. What could you do differently that would be better? Especially for digital transmission. Can we turn economics around? I don't know what that said. Another memo is allowed earning as a function of the expansion through debt or equity capital.

Goldstein:

Do you remember when your mind turned to economic issues?

Pierce:

When the economists arrived in my bailiwick.

Goldstein:

When did that happen?

Pierce:

Probably around in the late 'sixties. Here I see formulas concerning depreciation and growth.

Goldstein:

Was that another Baker decision to have the economists around?

Harald Friis Microwave Transmission Formula

Pierce:

Yes. Here I see Harald Friis's transmission formula. Harald Friis was much admired by me. He had this Holmdel laboratory I've mentioned, which was in my bailiwick, but was run directly by Rudy Kompfner, the associate executive director. I wanted to do something to please Harald Friis after he retired. Harald Friis had given a talk at the Annual Executive Directors Meeting on research. I went and talked to him, not telling him what I was doing, but got an amplified text and got it published by this guy at Berkeley (Harold Susskind) who published my Satellite Communications book. That was called 75 Years In An Exacting World.

Then, Harald Friis had a transmission formula for a microwave path, which says that the ratio of the transmitted to the received power is the effective area of the transmitting antenna times the effective area of the transmitting antenna, which is all very close to the physical area, times the effective area of the receiving antenna, again very close to the physical area, divided by the square of the wavelength times the square of the distances.

Goldstein:

I know the formula you're talking about.

Pierce:

Yes, that's it. But there were only highly mathematical ways of deriving this. Although it's obvious dimensionally that this must be true. So I proposed it as a problem to the radio people in my area: Is there some really simple but absolutely valid derivation of this? In the end, it's my memory that Harald Friis provided one. Mine wasn't all that good.

Goldstein:

So was the relation known empirically before that?

Pierce:

Oh, if anyone had asked what the relation is, they would have found that this was it. But usually you put transmission paths in terms of directivity and so forth. And this is a nice, very clear thing because all the numbers relate to well-known things such as distance, wavelength, and actual physical size.

Goldstein:

Was this relation not known before this memorandum?

Pierce:

I think it originated with Harald Friis. That was in 1968. I think that that was the one in which I tried to get people to analyze the problem, mathematicians, and finally I had to write something myself. Here in 1967, I see, "Interference in Microwave Pole Line Networks." 1967: "How to Get the Most Communication Above 10 Gigahertz." Well, 1965: "Computer Study of Violin Tones," Max Mathews, Joan Miller, J.R. Pierce, and J.C. Tenney. I've said that after we got interested in computer music, I said that I would never hire a musician. [Chuckling] Tenney was a nice musician, and he was there as a temporary employee for a couple of years. Here I see, "Multiple-Level Versus Binary Transmission." I didn't write so many memoranda in those days. Some of them were about economics and other things. I think I could see that retirement was approaching. That was, in those days, at 65. In 1971 when I actually left, I was 61.

Cal Tech

Leaving Bell Labs

Pierce:

Well, I was restive, unsettled in my head. Not too happy. And I had an opportunity to go to California Institute of Technology as a professor of engineering. I thought that would be a nice thing to do, and I went there in 1971.

Goldstein:

When you say you had an opportunity, what do you mean?

Pierce:

Well, I was a well-known graduate. I had been to a technical meeting, I think, in Mexico, and I stopped by Cal Tech, and I was offered a job. Whether I prompted the offer at all or not, I don't remember. But I was sort of restless at that time, and they thought it would be nice to hire a prominent person.

Goldstein:

Did this represent any dissatisfaction with the environment at Bell Labs?

Pierce:

Well, I was a little upset about my technological present or future. I also realized that if I wanted to continue in technical work, within three years I would have to find a job someplace else, and I guess I thought it was easier to move then than later.

Goldstein:

That makes sense. Did you expect to be doing research at Cal Tech?

Pierce:

I expected to be doing research at Cal Tech. I didn't know much about universities. As I was saying earlier about Bell Laboratories, and I wanted to come back to that point: The management really was interested in what the people were doing and appreciative of good things and interacting. And the people interacting with the management and with another.

I had known Terman of Stanford for a very long time and I admired him very much. What I wanted to say is that a leader in the universities, such as Terman, can do great things. When he was provost, if he found a department wasn't very good, he did something about it somehow. I don't know how. He would get good people into it, or keep good people from leaving it.

But the control that anyone has over the faculty in a university over the faculty is very much less than it was at the Bell Laboratories, and very much frowned on.

Pretty much, people who were doing good work, who were good people, liked the Bell Laboratories environment and were happy to have things run that way. They didn't have to scurry around to raise money. They knew that somebody appreciated their work because the management was technically competent and was very appreciative. It's much harder to change things in a university than it was in the Bell Laboratories.

Goldstein:

Well, those are things that argue for staying at Bell.

Pierce:

Well, I could only stay at Bell for a few years.

Teaching and Research

Goldstein:

What were your responsibilities at Cal Tech?

Pierce:

I was a professor. I had no imposed obligations as to teaching. It was presumed I would do research.

Goldstein:

Did you teach?

Pierce:

Yes. I was embarrassed if I didn't teach, but I didn't teach very much. I tried to teach this course on waves from Almost All About Waves, and that wasn't suitable. Then I taught a course that I got up that was eventually published in this book with Posner (it was the only course I taught on) general communications.

I found it hard to raise research money. In fact, I didn't. The Bell Laboratories gave me $10,000 a year, which was enough to support a graduate student or two.

I didn't adapt well to Cal Tech. Not they that there was anything wrong. For years and years I'd had it too easy. There were very few times when it mattered where I was. I had very few obligations, to be at a particular place at a particular time to do a particular thing at Bell Laboratories.

Most people experience that in the research department there. The idea of meeting a class regularly and having something to say to it gave me a great admiration for university faculty who cope with this fairly well. I coasted along at Cal Tech. Well, it was there that I wrote Science and Musical Sound and this other book with Hiroshi Inose. I got interested in JPL. After I was emeritus at Cal Tech. I spent two years, roughly, on a part-time basis as Chief Technologist. Bruce Murray felt that he could accomplish something this way. There was a Chief Scientist, but the Chief Scientist was bogged down with all sorts of things, and Bruce Murray wanted to promote technology, and I had this staff job. It was an interesting experience.

Ties with Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Goldstein:

When was that?

Pierce:

From '80 to '83 about.

Goldstein:

What were they doing at JPL then?

Pierce:

They were trying to get money out of the Department of Energy for various things. That didn't work very well. They were looking for money from military sources. That didn't work very well. They were working on several ongoing unmanned space programs. I don't remember just which ones.

JPL is a really wonderful place. There's some contracting out on projects, but there's a lot of in-house competence in everything that has to do with unmanned missions on the ground, in the sky, or otherwise. They are able to do a good job. It isn't full of a lot of geniuses. There aren't very many there. There are a few Cal Tech professors attached. It's very interesting.

JPL is certainly as good or better a laboratory than the Lincoln Laboratory, but Lincoln is much closer to MIT, despite the fact that it's physically separated, than JPL is to Cal Tech, or was in my time.

Goldstein:

By closer you mean the ties are closer?

Pierce:

Yes. Interacting more technically. I don't know quite what to say about these years. It takes a great deal of a lot of things to operate successfully on a university campus. If you really want to be successful, you have to set up a stream of graduate students and the government support. People like Amnon Yarif are just awfully good at this.

Carver Mead

Carver Mead
Carver Mead

Goldstein:

I'm trying to think of people I know there. I guess Carver Mead is there.

Pierce:

Carver Mead is a real genius.

Goldstein:

Yeah. Did you ever work with him or talk with him?

Pierce:

I interacted with him to some degree. He had a foray into computer music because of me; producing musical sounds by digital multiplication and division and algebraic operations, digital algebraic operations. He had several graduate students. But that's not nearly as good as his work on vision and other things. He's contributed so many things. It isn't that he can't be wrong. I think he is wrong not infrequently. But this business of people being able to specify integrated circuits, in a language that he devised and send them out and have them fabricated, is just incredible.

Goldstein:

When you say "wrong," I guess you mean wrong about what proves to be important. I'm trying to understand what you mean when you say "wrong."

Pierce:

Well, I'll give an example if I can only get it straight in my mind. It's some aspect of perception. But he wrote a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in which he explained this aspect of perception. I can't remember just what it is. He'd certainly made a computer model that more or less reached the same end. But that isn't necessarily how it's done in the head. He was convinced that it is because he's all full of it. [Chuckling]

I've heard he's investigating speech, vision and hearing. He did a implementation of the function of the retina. He made a model of the retina just following the wiring diagram known by the physiologists. It had some of the real properties of a retina. But then he got further a field, and although he's done wonderful things, I think that sometimes they aren't done in exactly the same way the organism does them. On the other hand, if he is wrong (and maybe he isn't), let him be wrong. So much good comes out of it. [Chuckling] His enthusiasm should not be dampened.

Research, Collaboration and Grad Students

Goldstein:

You mentioned the different approach of the management at Bell Labs as opposed that of the university. Is the character of the collaboration different?

Pierce:

Yes. There isn't collaboration. Well, there are certain groups in universities within which there's a lot of collaboration. There are other places where there isn't much collaboration. If there's collaboration, either a few people have banded together as a way of getting money for their shared specialties, or else it's somebody like Amnon Yarif who just has a very well-organized group of which he is the head, which has lots of graduate students and lots of money.

Goldstein:

I'm interested in the informal collaboration.

Pierce:

I think there's a lot more of that at Bell Laboratories than there is on the university campus.

Goldstein:

Is it important in either location, or is it more formalized collaboration that tends to matter?

Pierce:

That's very important sort of collaboration. The collaboration in the university groups, the people who go regularly to these rather specialized meetings, I think there's a lot of interchange and exchange in that. And some places are more collaborative than others. I think that the Ginzton Laboratory has had a lot of collaboration internally.

Goldstein:

So you were saying that you got Carver interested in computer music. Is that something you were working on while you were at Cal Tech?

Pierce:

Well, I wasn't working on it. He just happened to take to what I said. [Chuckling]

Goldstein:

So what were you working on then while you were down in Southern California?

Pierce:

Let's see if I can remember, and let's see if anything that I published gives me any idea. It wasn't one of the most fruitful times.

Goldstein:

So you found that you got your toes stuck in an organization?

Pierce:

Well, I did a certain amount of writing. "Discrimination of the Form of Images Corrupted by Speckle" with Vijaya Korwan. She wrote the paper; she was a graduate student. She did some work on the really interesting problem in speckle in transverse-looking radar images. I've forgotten the details of this right now.

I see, "The Capacity of the Photon-Counting Channel." "What are the Quantum Limitations on Information Rate?" The same as the classical ones. It depends merely on the thermal noise. If you amplify the signal, then you're dead. But there's another way of sending signals, and if you send signals by quantized pulse-positioned — modulation system, you'd ask in the million of time slots, where was a pulse sent? And then you do error correction. Either you get the right answer or not, and the number of bits per observation is the log of the base 2, the number of different places where the pulse could have been.

If you do that, you find out that there's no quantum limitation. Quantum effect merely makes it impossibly difficult to do anything but the theoretical limit. That was picked up by people at JPL, and they demonstrated a channel with about either 2 or 4 bits per photon. If probes ever go out to the stars, Ed Posner assures me that for very, very long distances this is the preferred method of communicating — with the light waves, rather than microwaves. But that's a long way away.

Goldstein:

What was your approach as a faculty advisor for grad students? Did you suggest research topics?

Pierce:

I suggested research topics. There was one guy I may have mentioned who posed a real problem. He disdained anything he was capable of doing. So it was very hard for him to find a thesis topic. Finally he found a thesis topic. His home had been the Canal Zone, he spoke Spanish, and he proposed a design for an inter-South America satellite communications system. I thought it was not very constructive. He wrote to the various telephone agencies. Well, it's very nice to propose things that will never be built. [Chuckling] I didn't believe it would be, and I doubt if he did. I suggested this speckle thesis, I suggested that topic.

Goldstein:

Did students come to you because they knew you had expertise in a particular area?

Pierce:

They came to me because I had a little Bell Laboratories money to pay their expenses. [Chuckling] What else? I see, "Harmony With Non-Harmonic Partials." That was 1980. I was still in touch with Max Mathews.

Goldstein:

Where was he at this point? Was he still at Bell?

Pierce:

He was still at Bell Laboratories. "Looking Backward and Looking Forward: Right or Wrong About Communications." IEEE Communications Magazine, five pages. I was probably asked to write that. "The Nobel Prize in Physics," Science, Volume 202, 960-963, 1 December. Who got the Nobel Prize then?

Goldstein:

That must have been Penzias and Wilson.

Pierce:

Penzias and Wilson probably. I was asked to write something about them. "Optical Channels: Practical Limits with Photon Counting," IEEE Transactions on Communications. That was an outgrowth of this quantum thing. "Effect of Pixel Dimensions on Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) Picture Quality" with Vijaya Korwan. She actually wrote it. That was her thesis topic. "Being Practical About Space." Why did I write this? Science, 1978. "A Few People From Many Lands: Alien Students in Engineering," Founders Award Lecture, National Academy of Engineering, 10th November 1977. I got the Founders Award of the National Academy of Engineering, and I had a graduate student at the time, or a person who wanted to be my graduate student but eventually became somebody else's graduate student, a Chinese from Hong Kong. I felt it was just awful, that foreign students had to cope with so many little things, for instance how to stay in this country and satisfying these things. I could have written a much better lecture if I'd spent some time on it and pointed out how many members of the National Academy of Engineering came from other countries. I felt that the government was, if not deliberately trying to hurt the country, at least rendering it uncomfortable for a lot of people who would be real additions.

Goldstein:

How many grad students would you have at a time typically?

Pierce:

One or two.

Goldstein:

Did they turn over every year?

Pierce:

Oh, no. It took several years. I'm not sure that I have a list of graduate students anymore. I only had seven or eight or nine altogether while I was there.

Goldstein:

Did you pick them based the promise of the student or the interest of the proposal?

Pierce:

I don't know. I picked them sort of at random, I think. This Chinese, he wanted to do something on information theory with me, and I felt that there was nothing sensible he could do, and I just kept turning away from him until he finally went and worked for Amnon Yarif and got a legitimate problem. My students worked on very varied things.

"Electronics Past, Present and Future," Science, Vol. 194, 1092-1095. Now why on earth did I ever write that, and what was it? [pause] In 1971 I was looking at things that clearly fell in that area. "Communication, Science and the Arts," Arts & Society, University of Wisconsin Extension, Summer-Fall, 1972. I don't have the slightest remembrance of that. [Chuckling] "Communication," Scientific American, September '72. Somebody must have asked me to write something. "Spectra and the Efficiency of Binary Codes Without D.C.," IEEE Transactions on Communication, December. I'm not sure what that was. "The Early Days of Information Theory," IEEE Transactions on Information Theory, Vol. 17-19, pages 3-8, January 1973. I believe that that was part of a sequence of articles of which I wrote the first and historical one. And Slepian or other people wrote the later ones. "Satellite Communications," Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition. Clearly I was asked to do that — "New Trends in Electronic Communications," American Scientist, Vol. 63, 1975. I don't know what's in that. "Fuel Consumption of Automobiles," Scientific American, Vol. 232, pages 34-44, January 1975.

While I was still in the Bell Laboratories, I had been on an Advisory Committee to Bob Cannon when he was an Assistant Secretary of Transportation. He had a very small Advisory Committee. After I got out to Cal Tech, he came as the head of the Engineering & Applied Sciences Department. I got some money from him; the only government money I ever got.

Goldstein:

Yeah, I was going to ask. Do you think it's strange that you haven't done more either government or private consulting?

Pierce:

I did a little private consulting. I can tell you about the extent of that, which wasn't much. I got some money from Canon to investigate the general problem of fuel consumption in automobiles. I visited a lot of places, and there was a written report. It's very interesting. I had a fellow associated with the JPL as a sort of executive officer on all these visits. I wrote a nice short report, but all reports must be long; [Chuckling] the staff liked long reports. I don't think it was any help to anybody to lengthen this. Then I summarized it all. We had talked to economists and people at the National Research Council. We had visited Ford and GM, and I don't know who else we talked to.

A lot of interesting things came up that didn't get in that particular paper. For instance, the Pacific Electric cutting down on the service it offered, and it was even said that that was engineered by the auto companies. Public transportation lasts only until people begin to put in a lot of commercial things that are inaccessible to public transportation, and then it goes futz. That happened in the town I grew up in, St. Paul, Minnesota. Everything was downtown with local stores in every neighborhood. Then the automobile came along, and the downtown died. Public transportation just goes futz because it no longer takes you there. But it was a very interesting thing.

There were local regulations against jitneys, a service that exists in many poor countries now where the taxicabs sort of cruise. Where are you going? Well, get on. We'll put you in. It's a very cheap way of getting from here to there, but it's been rendered illegal.

What can you do? What you can do is cut down the fuel consumption of automobiles. And the Japanese went far, far beyond what I'd expected could be done.

Goldstein:

About the fuel consumption work: Were you approached for that, or was there sort of a contract which you answered?

Pierce:

Well, that was because I had been an advisor on Bob Cannon's thing, and I thought there was something to be looked into here that had never got looked into while he was in that job. He was actually still in that job at that time, but I was in a position to look into something, which I wasn't at Bell Laboratories. It was later that he came as head of the head of the Engineering and Applied Sciences.

"Some Old Problems and New Challenges in Hearing and Communications," with George Zweig. I fell in with George Zweig. George Zweig did not get the Nobel Prize. He sort of invented quarks simultaneously, but he called them aces. He was a somewhat dissatisfied theoretical physicist because Gell-Mann had gotten the Nobel Prize for quarks. He was a bright guy. He also didn't get on with his wife. There were all sorts of peculiarities about him, but he was looking for new things to do.

We eventually applied to the National Institutes of Health for money to study cochlear implants. And in retrospect, I'm glad that we didn't get it. We got a little money out of some foundation, which Zweig spent. He was bright, but not that bright. And we published a paper. The only paper that I've ever participated in that was really dead wrong. [Chuckling] And that came from leaving the mathematics to him.

Goldstein:

What was his area?

Pierce:

Quarks. Quarks and physics.

Goldstein:

I see. But how did this relate to the NIH grant?

Pierce:

He was looking for something else to do, and cochlear implants, I got him interested in them. But the trouble with that is that there was some local doctor whom he thought we would cooperate with. But in retrospect, this was an uncooperative person. I'm just as glad that we didn't get the money.

"The Cochlear Compromise," that's the thing that is in error. The waves travel along the basilar membrane of the cochlea to a certain place where they excite nerve cordings, and then they die out immediately. There is an approximate equation governing this which everyone knows is not right. The trouble is the long-wave and the short-wave equations are different, and to put them together is too much. Zweig made an approximate solution and then said that it's important where the approximation breaks down. It turns out that the approximate solution is really an exact solution, and it doesn't break down anyplace.

Goldstein:

Work of the kind you were just describing, is this mostly analytic, or do you do a lot of computation? Or experimentation?

Pierce:

"The Cochlear Compromise" was analytic. There was some work done by a graduate student which was not right; he left as a postdoc or an employee of JPL. I'm not sure which. But there was a graduate student who was very good and this guy did a lot of listening experiments.

Goldstein:

Are you working as the electrical engineer in this team? Are you working as a mathematician analyzing circuits, or are you working as an engineer designing them?

Pierce:

I'm working as an engineer trying to understand the mechanics of the inner ear.

Goldstein:

There wasn't a question of simulating them by a circuit or something like that?

Pierce:

No. It was trying to explain observations on human beings.

Goldstein:

How did your engineering training help you?

Pierce:

In the behavior of mechanical systems.

Goldstein:

I see. You mean you had a mathematical description system?

Pierce:

Yes. Well, here we have "Telephone and Society," "The World's Telephones." "Technology and Music in the Twentieth Century," published in an IRCAM journal. Someplace along here I spent several months at IRCAM; I spent a month at least at IRCAM in Paris. I'm certainly concerned with the direct use of time information in hearing. Here is "White Spectra of Stimuli," with R. Lees and Cheatham — Cheatham was the graduate student there. I don't remember the content. Oh, yes, stimuli can be white over all time, but locally can have spectra, time-changing spectra.

Goldstein:

I see.

Pierce:

"Electronics: Past Present and Future, in Science." "A Few People from Many Lands." I told you about that so I've caught up with what I was tracing backwards.

Goldstein:

So it sounds like a lot of the things you were writing were actually reflections. You know, you have "Electronics Then and Now."

Pierce:

Yes, there were some of those. There was also this book that Hiroshi Inose and I wrote together. And the book that Posner and I wrote summing up the course that we had taught. The only really new content of the whole thing was this. This thing that the quantum limit is the same as the classical limitation, and the limiting information rate.

Consulting and Battelle Memorial Institute

Goldstein:

You said you had something to tell me about private consulting?

Pierce:

Oh, not much. I did a little consulting for some guy and took my money in stock options. He sold the company, and I made some money on that. It wasn't very much consulting and didn't work out very profitably for anyone. I got on the board of a company. Thank heavens I don't ever remember its name, and got paid for that, and it came to a bad end. For many years I was on the Board of Trustees of the Battelle Memorial Institute. That was very interesting exposure to a number of things.

Goldstein:

How did that come to be?

Pierce:

Jay Z. Jeffries was a member of the board, and one day he walked up to me and introduced himself at the meeting of the National Academy of Sciences and asked if I'd like to be on the board of Battelle. I didn't know anything about Battelle, but I was glad to. I got the permission of Bell Laboratories, and I was on the board.

Goldstein:

Oh, so that was still back in the 'sixties?

Pierce:

Yes. But that ran through the 'sixties and the 'seventies and the 'eighties. I guess I bowed out sometime about 1989.

Goldstein:

Do you know when in the 'sixties? Earlier or later?

Pierce:

I could look it up. I began in 1961 as an associate trustee and became a full trustee, it looks to me, in 1964, then, or '63 or '64. 'Sixty-one to what did I say?

Goldstein:

'Eighty-eight?

Pierce:

'Eight-eight. What's the difference? Twenty-seven years.

Goldstein:

Oh, really! I don't know what they do either, the Battelle Foundation. What has their mission been?

Pierce:

I've mentioned once before, xerography was the big thing in their lives; that made them wealthy. They also did contract research for government and business. They ran some of the stuff in Richland for the Atomic Energy Commission or, after that, the Department of Energy.

Goldstein:

Do they invest in technologies, or do they market?

Pierce:

They do work.

Goldstein:

Research work?

Pierce:

Yes, research and development work for the government or for business. Or consulting work. Energy, environment, oil sludge treatment, the effects of microgravity, ferro-electric thin films, foaming up heavy foods.

Goldstein:

Did you contribute technologically? Did you do any research?

Pierce:

Oh, no. This was a management function. The board of trustees was small. At one time Crane, Paul, Anders, Hochfield, White, Tannenbaum, Durtzel were on it. I think there were about eight members. Then for three years I was a member of the board of trustees of Aerospace Corporation, which is a larger board, and that was interesting. And I was a member of the board of this company that went futz. Then I consulted a little bit for this place for stock options. Now that I think of it, I didn't really do much consulting, if any.

Goldstein:

Were you busy, or just didn't see the need?

Pierce:

Nobody asked me, and I didn't promote myself.

Goldstein:

I wanted to talk about Battelle and to get to that today.

Pierce:

Talk about what?

Goldstein:

Battelle. And then I wanted to go through the Cal Tech years.

Pierce:

We've sort of gone through the Cal Tech years, and not much happened.

Goldstein:

Yeah. Right. I mean, I want to get to Stanford and research in music. But maybe we should wait until tomorrow to do that?

Pierce:

Okay.

Goldstein:

What do you think?

Pierce:

It's all right with me. We ought to be able to cover Stanford in a day. We can go over there and be on the spot, unless you want to go over there now.

Goldstein:

No, I think I'll —

Pierce:

Call it a day?

Goldstein:

Yeah. I'm just trying to plan a few things. I think that's a good idea. How does that grab you? Does it sound okay?

Pierce:

It sounds perfectly okay to me.

Goldstein:

Okay, good.