Where Wizards Stay Up Late

That there even existed an agency within the Pentagon capable of supporting what some might consider esoteric academic research was a tribute to the wisdom of ARPA’s earliest founders.

Eisenhower hadn’t wanted a seasoned military expert heading the Pentagon; he was one himself. The president distrusted the military-industrial complex and the fiefdoms of the armed services. His attitude toward them sometimes bordered on contempt.

One aspect of his career at P&G that he was most proud of was the amount of money the company had devoted to research. He believed in the value of unfettered science, in its ability to produce remarkable, if not always predictable, results.

Ruina brought a relaxed management style and decentralized structure to the agency. Details didn’t interest him; finding great talent did. He believed in picking the best people and letting them pick the best technology. He felt strongly about giving his program directors free rein. His job, as he saw it, was to build as much support and funding as he could for whatever projects they selected. Ruina had a theory that truly talented people wouldn’t normally choose to hang around long in a government bureaucracy but could be convinced to spend a year or two if offered enough flexibility and large enough budgets.

Lick hired people based not on their doctoral work or class standing but on a simple test he applied: the Miller Analogies Test. (The test covers every field from geology to history and the arts. It requires both good general knowledge and an ability to apply that knowledge to relationships.) “I had a kind of a rule,” he said. “Anybody who could do 85 or better on the Miller Analogies Test, hire him, because he’s going to be very good at something.”

told them what I was excited about, and that turned out to work greatly to my favor, because they got interested in it,”

“I told them what I was excited about, and that turned out to work greatly to my favor, because they got interested in it,”

All told, there were about a dozen in Lick’s inner circle, which Ruina called “Lick’s priesthood.” In typical fashion, where his most passionate beliefs masqueraded as a bit of a joke, Licklider nicknamed it the Intergalactic Computer Network.

In those days, software programs were one-of-a-kind, like original works of art, and not easily transferred from one machine to another.

Probably their greatest disappointment was that after all this, they said, ‘Now do you see why it can’t work?’And I said, ‘No.’”

Marill referred to the set of procedures for sending information back and forth as a message “protocol,” prompting a colleague to inquire, “Why do you use that term? I thought it referred to diplomacy.”

Kleinrock went well beyond the professional interests they

the upper-crust woman on Beacon Hill who, when told that long-distance telephone service to Texas was available, echoed Thoreau’s famous line: “But what would I possibly have to say to anyone in Texas?”

Whereas the Ann Arbor meeting months earlier had been the intellectual equivalent of a barroom brawl, Gatlinburg was high tea.

His colleagues were talented programmers who would recognize an interesting project when they saw it.

“The process of technological development is like building a cathedral,” remarked Baran years later. “Over the course of several hundred years new people come along and each lays down a block on top of the old foundations, each saying, ‘I built a cathedral.’Next month another block is placed atop the previous one. Then comes along an historian who asks, ‘Well, who built the cathedral?’ Peter added some stones here, and Paul added a few more. If you are not careful, you can con yourself into believing that you did the most important part. But the reality is that each contribution has to follow onto previous work. Everything is tied to everything else.”

“What will it cost?” Beranek asked him. “Around $25,000.” “That’s a lot of money,” Beranek replied. “What are you going to do with it?” “I don’t know.”

None of the company’s three principals knew much about computers. Beranek knew that Lick, by contrast, was almost evangelistic in his belief that computers would change not only the way people thought about problems but the way problems were solved. Beranek’s faith in Licklider won the day. “I decided it was worth the risk to spend $25,000 on an unknown machine for an unknown purpose,”

The firm had also become well known as a place whose hiring philosophy was to recruit MIT dropouts. The idea was that if they could get into MIT they were smart, and if they dropped out, you could get them cheaper.

Beranek gave Lick a great deal of freedom to hire whomever he pleased, and Licklider did just that, occasionally forgetting to tell Beranek. “I was wandering around the building one day to see what was going on in the computer side, and I saw two strange guys sitting in one of the large rooms there,”

“I had the policy that every person we hired had to be better than the previous people,” said Beranek.

“When we got into the computer business we had the strangest people working for us,” said Beranek. He appreciated the brilliance of the people Lick hired but seldom felt comfortable around them. He recalled being invited to a New Year’s Eve party at the home of a computer engineer around 1965. “It was like going to the Addams Family house,” Beranek said. “They were all in bare feet. The women were wearing tight-fitting clothing.

Heart was an engineer with a reputation for making things happen. Tell him you wanted something built and, by god, you would have it.

was an unbelievable revelation to me that a thing like a computer

“It was an unbelievable revelation to me that a thing like a computer could exist,” Heart said.

Elkind recognized that Heart’s concerns were rational. “But it struck me that this was a contract we had to do and could do as well as anybody,” Elkind said. “We knew how to work with ARPA and had computer skills as good as anyone around.”

“How can you tell when one problem is more interesting than another?” “It’s just experience,” Kahn’s colleague responded. “How does one get that?” Kahn inquired. “Find someone who has a lot of experience and go work with him.”

Frank Heart wandered over to Kahn’s office. “I understand from Jerry that you’ve been thinking about the networking area. Can we chat about it?” “Yes, sure,” Kahn responded. “Who are you?”

Cosell had the ability to burrow into complex software programs and find bugs faster than anyone else at BBN. Because of this, Cosell was one of the company’s human insurance policies: Projects would be worked on by teams, but every BBN manager knew that if his project got into trouble, he could throw Cosell into the job and superhuman things would happen in a hurry.

he was known for his mathematical doodling. While others passed the time at lengthy meetings by drawing squiggles and curlicues, Crowther filled his page with a thicket of differential equations.

Crowther did a lot of hanging from office-door frames. Everyone around him just accepted the behavior as Willy’s way of warming up. It helped strengthen his hands for rock climbing and seemed to help his thinking even more. Crowther’s style, recognized by the rest of the team, was to appear as if he were doing nothing for days, or doing just a lot of door-frame chin-ups, before finally releasing in a torrent whatever had been forming in his mind.

Heart had learned cautious engineering early on from his mentor at Lincoln Lab, Jay Forrester, the inventor of core memory. Forrester had drummed reliability into the heads of a whole generation of MIT engineers. Above cost, performance, or anything else, reliability was their top priority—design for it, build for it, prepare for the worst, and above all, don’t put your machine in a position to fail.

Ornstein had a reputation as a hard taskmaster, and he was very effective as a technical examiner. His trademark line was, “I’m just a dumb hardware guy, convince me!” He wouldn’t let go until the explanation made sense to him.

As Crowther put it, “We’d steal ideas from anywhere, but most of the time we had to roll our own.”

his core ideas were more often than not brilliant. “Most of the rest of us made our livings handling the details resulting from Will’s use of his brain,”

Kahn persisted. “I could see things that to me were obvious flaws,” he said. “The most obvious one was that the network could deadlock.” Kahn was certain the network would lock up, and he told Heart and the others so immediately. They argued with him. “Bob was interested in the theory of things and the math, but he wasn’t really interested in the implementation,”

The people in Heart’s division knew that if they asked him for the okay to clock hours writing editors, assemblers, and debuggers, they would meet with stiff resistance, perhaps even a shouting match. So no one ever asked; they just did it, building tools when they thought it was the right thing to do, regardless of what Heart thought.

The IMP would run for anywhere from twelve hours to forty hours at a stretch, then die and be somewhere “off in the boonies.”

the failures caused by this bug were so infrequent (only once every day or so even in full-bore tests), that it was impossible to detect any evidence on an oscilloscope

“I remember being thrilled when I finally understood the concept of a loop,” Crocker recalled, “which enabled the computer to proceed with a very lengthy sequence of operations with only a relatively few instructions. I was a bit callow, but I remember thinking this was the kind of revelation that must have led Archimedes to run down the street naked yelling, ‘Eureka!’”

He majored in math but soon got hooked on serious computing. “There was something amazingly enticing about programming,” he said. “You created your own universe and you were the master of it. The computer would do anything you programmed it to do. It was this unbelievable sandbox in which every grain of sand was under your control.”

Crocker’s electronics expertise came in handy when, minutes before the ceremony was to begin, he discovered the tape recorder for the wedding music was malfunctioning. Best man and frantic groom retreated to a tiny room near the altar and fixed it just in time.

“When you read RFC 1, you walked away from it with a sense of, ‘Oh, this is a club that I can play in too,’” recalled Brian Reid, later a graduate student at Carnegie-Mellon. “It has rules, but it welcomes other members as long as the members are aware of those rules.” The language of the RFC was warm and welcoming. The idea was to promote cooperation, not ego. The fact that Crocker kept his ego out of the first RFC set the style and inspired others to follow suit in the hundreds of friendly and cooperative RFCs that followed.

The NWG was an adhocracy of intensely creative, sleep-deprived, idiosyncratic, well-meaning computer geniuses.

Never mind that he had chosen the machine precisely because it was battle-hardened; the rigors of combat were nothing compared to the punishment airline freight handlers could dish out.

Convinced that he hadn’t been going too fast, Roberts decided to contest the ticket. He had been pulled over by the squad car near the point at which he had come onto the George Washington Parkway after a full stop, and his contention was that in that short distance he could not possibly have accelerated his Volkswagen Beetle to the speed alleged by the officer. Roberts went back to the scene and carefully measured off the distances. He gathered data on the engine output and weight of his VW bug, factored in Newton’s law of inertia and made a few other calculations, and was prepared to go before a judge to make his case. It wasn’t until friends convinced him he was unlikely to get a judge with a physics degree that he conceded the point and paid the fine instead of taking it to court.

Just as Kahn had predicted, by besieging the IMPs with packets, within a few minutes he and Walden were able to force the network into catatonia. “I think we did it in the first twelve packets,” Kahn recalled. “The whole thing came to a grinding halt.”

Sometimes they took a dinner break; sometimes they didn’t notice that dinnertime had come and gone.

In December 1969 ARPA had been pushed out of its headquarters in the Pentagon and forced to move into a leased office building in Arlington, Virginia. Director Stephen Lukasik called it “the American equivalent of being banished to Siberia.”

the loopback tests were conducted often enough that two of the IMP Guys, Ben Barker and Marty Thrope, became expert at whistling down the line at just the right frequency to imitate the signals that the telephone company used to test the lines.

The engineers at BBN relished opportunities to spook the telephone company repair people with their ability to detect, and eventually predict, line trouble from afar. By examining the data, BBN could sometimes predict that a line was about to go down. The phone company’s repair offices had never heard of such a thing and didn’t take to it well. When BBN’s loopback tests determined there was trouble on a line, say, between Menlo Park (Stanford) and Santa Barbara, one of Heart’s engineers in Cambridge picked up the phone and called Pacific Bell. ”You’re having trouble with your line between Menlo Park and Santa Barbara,” he’d say. “Are you calling from Menlo Park or Santa Barbara?” the Pacific Bell technician would ask. ”I’m in Cambridge, Massachusetts.” “Yeah, right.”

More than just a great hack, MSG was the best proof to date that on the ARPANET rules might get made, but they certainly didn’t prevail. Proclamations of officialness didn’t further the Net nearly so much as throwing technology out onto the Net to see what worked. And when something worked, it was adopted.

“The key is not in automating the bag/can/truck/ person mechanism,” Stefferud said. “It is in bypassing them altogether.”

Harvard had a PDP-10, too, and Metcalfe offered to make a duplicate interface to give to Harvard. But the networking people at Harvard declined the offer. “They said they couldn’t possibly let a graduate student do something that important,” said Metcalfe. Harvard officials decided to have BBN do it. BBN in turn gave the job to its graduate student in residence, Ben Barker, who recruited John McQuillan, a fellow Harvard graduate student, to help him.

By virtue of its quiet momentum, TCP/IP had prevailed over the official OSI standard. Its success provided an object lesson in technology and how it advances.

By virtue of its quiet momentum, TCP/IP had prevailed over the official OSI standard. Its success provided an object lesson in technology and how it advances. “Standards should be discovered, not decreed,”