This Car Climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro Part 2

This Car Climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro Part 2

It’s Not the Destination, It’s the Journey!!

If you didn’t read my previous post about how we ended up climbing Kili you can read it here.  It was truly a magnificent trip, one filled with a lifetime of memories. Well, at least enough to fill two blog posts. After our brief stay on top of the highest free standing mountain in the world, we proceeded to head down.  As we started descending, we found out why you climb at night, during the day the scree is now unfrozen

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The Tourist Route to 19,341 ft.

and loose.  If we had tried to climb it during the day we would have gone 2 steps up and slid 1 step back. Now it was fun… it was taking a huge step and then sliding a few more feet.  The day of the ascent is a long one, you leave Kibo hut in the middle of the night and shuffle and climb till you get to the top, then after the obligatory photos you head back to Kibo hut, pick up your gear and continue on to Horombo camp which is at over 12k feet. Once we got there it was time for the celebrating to begin!!  Some industrious sherpas had beer for sale, so we all grabbed some and partied like rock stars……. for about 30 minutes and then we crashed. The next day we finished the climb down and it was back to Arusha for some hot showers and some more Chinese food.  As far as showers go, this was by far one of the top 5 of showers of my life.  HEAVEN!

 

But wait, we didn’t stop there.  What’s a trip to Africa without some Safari time??

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The view from the top of the Ngorngoro crater

So the next day, after being awoken by morning prayers at the mosque next door again, we head off for the Ngorongoro crater for a short safari.  We decided that we would camp out and had a camp site on the ridge of the Nogorongoro crater.  We did some damage that night and it culminated in a ceremonial t-shirt burning.  I had brought over shirts from my company

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FTP T-shirt

(ftp software) and had given one to all the guys. Well most had worn them on the climb and now they were smelly and disgusting, everyone decided to burn them!  Fortunately, I had a few extra for Bill’s staff back in Kitengela.

 

The next day, we headed down into the crater….   as we were heading down in, Bill heard a strange noise coming from his car, so I hoped onto the hood hanging from the spare tire and held on to hear if I could detect where it was coming from… never did figure it out but I had the most memorable ride into the crater.  Did I mention that we were still giddy from climbing Kili?  Well, we loaded up the cars with several cases of Castle tins, long warm by now, but that wasn’t going to stop us, nor was the hour of the day.  WE STARTED EARLY!!  We had 2 cars,  Bill’s land rover, and “The Blender” a pickup truck with plywood sides.

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Riding in “The Blender”

The Nogorongoro crater is magnificent.  It is a natural bowl created by a volcanic crater. It is gorgeous and filled with game.  We set off game viewing.  After seeing lots of game, we happened on a pride of lions.  So we drive off the road to get a closer look a the pride. Now it should be noted, in Kenya, while the game parks have dirt roads you often drive off of them to get closer to the animals. WELL…. as we find out later, the rules are different in Tanzania and you are supposed to stay on the roads.

 

A very close up look.  And what a view, a lioness with cubs and a big old male. Well, we decided to get an even closer view when all of a sudden the male roars and starts to spring at us… remember, we are in a pickup truck, with plywood sides and a completely open top.kili-1996_0021Needless to say, he scared the crap out of us. After driving away, it was noted that the lion could have easily leapt right in and all of us in the back would have been in a lion blender. Now you know how it got it’s nickname “THE BLENDER”.

But now for a bit of Lickly family folklore, all of which is true. After having Castle Lager for breakfast, brunch and lunch, and having a glorious morning on Safari, we decided to stop in the middle of the crater and get a little rest and soak up some sun.  Now, one of the cardinal rules of safari is never get out of the vehicle.

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The gang and the blender, notice the Castle tins starting to pile up. The spare tire was filled with crushed up tins by the end

Ah… we think of it as more a guideline than an actual rule.  So, there we were lying around soaking up the sun when we notice way off in the distance a car heading our way…  not any car, but a park ranger.  Oops, we better start moving, so we get back in the blender and head on our way.  Now the blender at this point is quite the scene, the spare tire in the front is filled with crushed up tins of Castle, the dashboard the same and all the poles holding the plywood on have a can of Castle like a hood ornament.  We head off only to find out that he continues to follow us….  and eventually flags us down.  The Tanzania Wildlife Rangers.  OOPS!  So as he pulls up, we all sit down in the back of the pickup and try to behave which only makes us start to giggle.  He pulls along side and asks why we were stopped for such a long time and out of the vehicles??  Bill makes up some car problem story which makes no sense like a flooded distributor cap spark plug. The park ranger then mentions that there have been reports of a vehicle matching our description that has been bothering the animals…  and he has to give us a ticket and a fine.  Now Africa is not unfamiliar with corruption so we all brace for the worst. (Side story, Bill Cherry found a good way to get rid of counterfeit $100 bills ….  use them as bribes when needed)

 

“Fined US $10 for scaring the lions”

He spends several minutes writing out the fine….. and hands it to us.  We all read it quickly, it says, and I am not lying….  “Fine of US $10 for scaring the lions”.  What?  Oh my god, that’s awesome!!  You have never seen so many $10 dollar bills come whipping out as everyone wanted to be the one to pay this fine!!  One of my greatest regrets is we let John Chapman have the ticket as he promised to copy it and send to everyone… I am still waiting JOHN!

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Never get out of the vehicle….

The rest of the trip went without incident and we headed back to Kenya for our goodbyes. It was a tremendous trip, 9 started, 9 reached the top and 9 will never forget scaring the lions. All because Bill’s father had climbed Kili and we were looking for some reason to get together again.

Remember – Never Get out of Your Vehicle!

This Car Climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro – Part 1

This Car Climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro – Part 1

My Father keeps sending me this picture of a bumper sticker in Portsmouth, NH.  It says 2016-03-30_19.07.47“This Car Climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.”  Around New England, this is pretty funny as anyone who grew up here has seen the endless “This car climbed Mt. Washington” bumper stickers so it’s a nice parody. He also keeps sending it to me because I have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Yup, all 19,341 feet.

As I write this I realize just how much technology has changed the world of travel and I can’t believe how we used to do things before the smartphone. I guess the sub-title to this could be “Life and Travel before Smartphones.”

I actually have been to Africa several times and the genesis of the Kili climb began at the wedding of my good friend Bill Cherry (Chunk) which was in Africa.  Chunk and I went to college together, same fraternity and have stayed friends since. Chunk was living in Nairobi at the time (still does)  and was marrying a fantastic Kenyan woman

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On Safari before the wedding with Tuskers in hand

Lindsey who really must have been desperate! Before the wedding, several of the old college gang (Kurt Alletzhauser, Gary Schick, Bill Branch) came over early to go on Safari before heading down to the wedding which took place at a Safari Camp – Tsavo Safari Camp (more on that in another post). We were out on Safari in the Masi Mara having a grand old time, whooping it up, seeing fabulous animals and bending a safari rule or 2.  See a safari for us was hopping in Bill’s land rover and throwing in a cooler of beer and driving.  No guides, no instructions, just let’s go and find some animals. It is one of the greatest things in the world!!

 

One night, we were sitting around a camp fire at a game camp reviewing the days adventure and reminiscing about old times, declaring how “we need to get together more often” etc..  when it came up in conversation that Bill’s father (a company guy) had climbed Kili years earlier. That was it!  After a few Tuskers and some Kenyan Gold we all agreed that we would meet in a years time and climb Kili.  The next morning with clearer heads nobody really thought it was the best idea but boys being boys nobody wanted to be the first to blink.  So 18 months later, we all climbed Kili.  But how we got there, and some of the things that happened along the way are pretty amazing.

Let the planning begin…..  there was no Travelocity, Expedia or AirBNB, no websites to give advice or guide us, we did have email which helped. The plan was to fly into Nairobi, spend a night at the Cherry compound and then drive down to Tanzania for the climb.  At the time, Gary, Branch, Kurt and myself lived all over. The logistics were an interesting

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Meeting in London – Nice boots eh?

challenge, (Gary in Lancaster, PA, Branch in Virginia Beach & Kurt was in South Africa) and the commute once we reached Nairobi was pretty interesting too.  I had learned that you could get very affordable flights from London to Nairobi, the catch was the tickets (yes, physical tickets, no email boarding pass or smartphone app) could only be mailed to a UK address or picked up in person. So, the plan for Branch, Gary and I was to buy our tickets from the same Trailfinders travel agent office, take an overnight flight and meet at Heathrow, get a day room, take a train into London, pick up our tickets, grab a pub lunch and head back to Heathrow for another evening flight to Nairobi.  Looking back it’s amazing that we did this, and it went down without a hitch. No smartphones and we managed to survive.


Side note, I recall travelling through Europe when I was in college.  A bunch of us went to school in Salamanca Spain for a semester (Joyce Rossell Alla I am looking at you).  After the term we decided to travel through Europe together.  But we had some different things we wanted to see so we decided to split and meet up again. The plan was to meet on a certain day, at a certain time in Venice at the Piazza San Marco in front of the cathedral. And we did!  I didn’t speak Italian but learned how to say “Dove il Piazza San Marco”and said it over and over again. No email, cell phones and we managed to meet. Think how crazy that is??  A bunch of kids in Europe pick a day and time to meet and it actually happens. I mean finding someone at Piazza San Marco alone can be a challenge. How naive (innocent) were we?


Once in Nairobi, we were met by Bill at the crazy Nairobi airport.  Threw our gear on top of his land rover and headed out to the Cherry household.  Bill used to live in Nairobi but had moved to Kitengela which is South of Nairobi and abuts the Nairobi Game Park.  In fact,

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Kitengela

the Cherry compound bordered the Nairobi Game Park and sat up high on a ridge so that his terrace overlooked the park  It was amazing!!  And more amazing was that he built this house made of stone himself, with plans drawn up on the back of napkin. He had the stones hand cut and drove them out to the property on top his land rover.  WHICH is not as easy as it sounds.  The drive was 45 minutes from Nairobi. You had to leave the city and go around the game park and half of it was basically bush driving.

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That’s the view of the Nairobi Game Park from the house

Once there however, spectacular!!

We discovered that the crew was going to be larger than just the 5 fraternity brothers, it included Scott Honeycutt (Bill’s brother in law) and several of his colleagues from various assignments, there was Wiggins (a crazy English man), John Chapman (Canadian and who I am still pissed at) and a friend of Wiggins from Austria.  So the gang was 9 in total.  The first night we christened the trip with a night at the Carnivore eating our share of meat including game meat (Giraffe, Zebra, Crocodile & Hartebeast) as well as the famous Dawas!  It is a drink made table side and in Swahili means medicine.  Oh, it’s a pain killer for sure!!

The next day, we set off for Tanzania, our destination was Arusha which is the kick off point for climbing Kili.  We were in 2 vehicles, Bill’s Land Rover (which was left side drive to make things confusing) and a pickup truck that Chunk had modified with plywood sides as sides would be required to enter a game park.  The truck got the nickname “The

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At the base of the mountain, all cocky and ready to go

Blender” which I will explain in a later post.  The first argument of the trip commenced that morning, we were all so hungover from Dawas we fought over who would drive the truck as the distraction of driving would keep us from wanting to vomit.

 

We got to Arusha in the early evening, and went for a glorious pre climb meal of Chinese food.  It was dark when we got all checked into our hotel and settled down for a good nights rest. It was dawn when we were startled out of our sleep to what sounded like a fire alarm, scrambling to get conscious we soon realized that it wasn’t a fire but our hotel was directly next door to a mosque and that was just morning prayers being broadcast.  Cultural lesson learned, never stay in a hotel directly next to a mosque.

There are multiple routes you can take to climb Kili, we took the easiest which was 6 days long, 4 1/2 up and 1 1/2 down.  Our professional travel agent Chunk made all the arrangements.  Besides being “In Country” where it was easier to make arrangements, he was able to get “local” prices.  I can’t tell you how much money I have saved over the years having Bill book things with local rates, trust me, there is a big double standard, as

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Tourist Route

probably there should be.  The route we took is the “tourist route”, sure it’s not a technical climb but we do go from basically sea level to over 19,000 feet so it’s a pretty darn good hike. High altitude sickness is a real concern. Nobody can tell you how to prevent it except for a few basic principals, hydrate like crazy, go slowly, and climb high and sleep low. Ironically, the most susceptible to it tends to be young men…. because they tend to go too fast.  Well, I can tell you this was a rare experience, here are 9 knuckleheads, for the most part fit individuals that spent the better part of the next few days saying the Kili motto “pole, pole” (pronounced pole aye) which means slowly in Swahili and making sure we were hydrated by checking in with each other after a bathroom break at the nearest tree/rock/bush “well, was it clear and copious?”

 

The Kili climb is really spectacular as you go through multiple climatic zones, Bush, Rain Forest, Heath, Alpine Desert and Arctic (well, while it lasts).  As part of the climb, you hire

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At the last water…

a Sherpa to carry your big bag while you carry a day pack. Trust me, there are a lot of reasons to do this with the most important being the economy depends on it, not hiring a Sherpa will only bring “bad luck” if you know what I mean…

They also provided a very humbling moment, as we set off the first day and every day after the Sherpas are lying around, chatting, smoking cigarettes as we leave.  As we are halfway there or so, we hear this thump, thump, thump behind us, and here come the Sherpas, racing by us with our backpacks, not on their backs but on top of their heads. When we pulled into camp, there they were again lying around chatting and smoking cigarettes.  Yup, they basically race up and down Kili every day and there we are going as slowly as possible.

 

In theory we had reserved spots at the cabins for each night but the first night was a complete jail break.  we ended up sleeping under a dining table.  The next nights worked out well as we had no problem with our very rustic cabins.  You can make the climb in 5 days quite easily but we were advised to take an

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Climb high, sleep low…

extra day to help acclimate to the higher altitude, so on day 4 we got to Kibo hut and then spent the day hiking around to higher spots (remember climb high, sleep low)  all in an attempt to help the group summit.

That night we got a very short sleep at 15.5K feet. the way you summit Kili is by leaving in the middle of the night and shuffling in the dark.  You do this because the ascent is through scree, which basically is loose rocks which during the day you would slide down but at night is frozen and you can easily climb.  Then comes the big ANTICLIMACTIC moment!  You reach Gilmans’ point.  It’s on top of the crater but not the

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At Kibo hut – a note to self, don’t forget sunscreen on your ears

highest point.  Ug…  I just climbed for hours in the dark and I am not done?  Humph!!   So then you proceed to walk around the crater, with each new turn brings another slight rise which at 18K+  feet is like a form of waterboarding.  AND THEN YOU MAKE IT!!!   Well, I am not sure things have changed but for our climb, you finally get to Uhuru Peak at 19,341 feet and you are on a wide open space and to mark the highest point there is a grand sign, laying on the ground!  Yup, long since fallen over, so if you notice,in a lot of Kili photos if you look closely, you will notice they are holding the sign.

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Hobart Sigma Chi at the Summit of Kilimanjaro

We all had grand plans, getting to the highest point in Africa, the largest free standing mountain in the world.  We all were expecting to kick back, enjoy the moment maybe experience an epiphany….. In fact, Bill Branch lugged a flask of single malt scotch with the idea of toasting at the top.  The reality?  We just hiked all night, with not a lot of high altitude sleep, we had been on the mountain 4 days, it was windy and cold, we were tired.  We enjoyed the view, took some snaps…  and then it was time to go. Remarkably, all 9 of us made it to the summit.

In the end, it’s about the journey not the destination

Side Story – I did plan ahead a little, I took a bunch of print outs in my backpack, “Merry

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Merry Christmas!

Christmas”, “Happy Birthday”.. I figured if I am going to climb this beast well then I am going to get my money’s worth.  So I took a bunch of pictures with the different print outs, and one of them was “Happy Birthday Dad!”.  I gave my father that picture for his birthday and he said, “well couldn’t you get the print straight?”   He thought I had photo shopped the words in not actually taken the print outs with me.  He was ahead of his time!!

Next up in Part 2…

  • Moonwalking down Kili
  • Scaring Lions
  • FTP T-shirts
  • A wedding in Paradise
  • Playing Rugby with Crocodiles

Insert Witty Title Here – Happy Fathers Day!

Insert Witty Title Here – Happy Fathers Day!

Happy Fathers day 2016!  Today is the day we recognize fathers. Sure it’s a bit of hallmark created day but if you take a moment to truly reflect you will realize that father’s are damn important.  I am really lucky as I have two fathers, my father Dan Lickly and my stepfather Jack Kennaday, both M.I.T. grads.  More on that later….

I talked to both today, (as all good children should!)  And my father recalled a story I had to share.  It was circa 1965, my father and Bard Crawford were heading to Houston for another meeting (they went a lot back in the day), they were on Eastern Airlines.

Anyone remember Eastern?  I am only going to bore you with a little history, (care of wikipedia) as it actually ties back to the whole space thing.  Eastern was originally headed by World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker think scarf blowing in the wind…. see my earlier post.   Labor disputes and high debt loads strained the company in the late 1970s and early 1980s under the leadership of former astronaut Frank Borman. ( See astronaut!!) 

So, back to the flight, Bard and my father were flying from DC to Houston sitting in the easternback of the plane when they heard someone called out, “hey, how are you guys doing?”  they both looked up to see John Glen in the aisle.  At that time, John Glenn was somewhat of a celebrity as he was the first American to orbit the Earth. He remembered my father from previous meetings.  He then shook their hands, sat down and chatted up a storm.  When he finally left, Bard looked at my father and asked him “what was that all about?”  Dan just shook his head, “I don’t know”.  Then Bard looked at my father and said, He is probably going into politics when he is done”.   In 1974 John Glenn was elected to the Senate where he served until 1999.

Right about that time Glenn was elected, Jack Kennaday visited Boston and looked up some old friends. He was looking for Dan and my mother Ellie, but they had divorced and he found only Ellie.  The rest is history.  Back when I was in college, I was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, strongly influenced by both  Dan & Jack as they were in a fraternity at M.I.T. At the Hobart chapter of Sigma Chi, tradition held that at the end of the year at the fraternity, there were farewell speeches during our last house meeting.  I used to enjoy playing mind games with my fraternity brothers with the following story.  I would say, “look around the room guys, and let me tell you a story. You see, I have two fathers, both of whom went to M.I.T.  They graduated a year apart. Oh yeah, they knew each other too, you see, they were in the same fraternity with each other and even roomed together for a short time.  So take a good look…. ”

Oh yeah, I am a father now, to the most gorgeous, brightest, precocious girl just like all our kids!20160226_183130

Happy Fathers Day!

 

 

The Growler and The Dome

The Growler and The Dome

I recently had lunch with two of my favorite people, Steve Dolloff AKA”the Growler” and my father Dan Lickly AKA “the Dome”.

I am not sure where and when Steve earned the nickname the growler but he has had it for years and he insists there are people out there that know him as the growler and probably don’t know his real name.  Part of this is due to the fact that Steve was a hockey player, a pretty good one too, and well, hockey players do love their nicknames.  My father got the nickname in college, and well basically he has a huge head!  I mean ginormous!  Whenever I would buy a hat for him I would look for the largest size, and then see if I can find one larger.

This was a much overdue get together, Steve has been pestering me for years for the chance.  You see, he has a very strong and fond memory of my father that dates back years and to me is a good life lesson.

In the 1969/1970 hockey season, Steve was playing for the BU freshman hockey team, back then, freshman were not allowed to play varsity.  In a game at Dartmouth, Steve caught a stick in the eye… and it was bad.  So bad, that they bandaged up both eyes and told him not to move too much.  His mother, packed him in a car and drove from Dartmouth straight to Mass eye and ear with him still in full hockey equipment except for skates.

A funny side story, it seems Steve had the German Measles at the time.  When they got to the hospital they were kept waiting, I guess a guy in full hockey gear with bandages over his eyes doesn’t seem like an emergency.  His mother was getting anxious and mentioned to them he also had German measles and bam!  Just like that they rushed him in!

Steve was in the hospital for 6 days, and was blind.  They kept both his eyes covered except for once a day when they changed the bandages.  Steve is my mother’s sisters son, so my father was his uncle through marriage.  For those 6 days, each and every day, my father went to the hospital and read the newspaper to Steve.  He wasn’t asked to do it, he just showed up and sat by his bed and read the paper. To appreciate this small gesture,

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Steve Dolloff #18

think back to 1970, there wasn’t cable TV in every room (not that he could watch anyway), most news was obtained through newspapers and in fact, at that time the Boston Globe published 2 editions every day.  Steve has never forgotten this seemingly small act of kindness!

 

 

Fortunately he recovered and played the next three seasons on the varsity squad, oh, did I mention they won back to back national championships in 1971 and 1972. I should also mention that he has never thrown a picture or game program away so if your interested to talk about those teams you can reach out to him here.

Naturally, we didn’t just talk about hockey, my father told the story about him presenting to astronauts, and how he realized the Apollo astronauts were a much different breed as they had engineering backgrounds.  They asked a lot of really good questions, in fact, he recalls one astronaut kept interrupting him asking questions, good detailed questions, making it difficult for him to keep going with his presentation.  Afterwards he asked somebody, “who was that guy asking all those questions” only to learn his name was Neil Armstrong.

Dan then recalled the last time he saw Neil Armstrong, it was at the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing, he talked to him a little bit. The thing he remembers most however, is seeing Mike Collins.  For those needing a refresher, he was the third astronaut on Apollo 11, the one that stayed in the command module and orbited the moon while the other two took the Lunar Module to the moon surface. At the anniversary Sue Patterson, (Dan’s date) cornered Mike Collins, and in Sue being Sue fashion, asked him, “while your pals were down on the moon making news, what were you doing?”  Mike Collins answered politely, “Just doing my job Ma’me”

Interesting note, apparently one of the biggest concerns of this mission is whetdownloadher the the Lunar Module would re-start after landing on the moon.  Mike Collins could only wait a day or two, if it didn’t start we might have ended up with a real world “Martian” experience.

In 1961, Draper Lab (formerly the Instrumentation Lab) received the first NASA contract and were the first prime contractor for the guidance and navigation systems.  Once Dan went to visit one of their sub-contractors North American Aerospace (A defense contractor). He walks in the room and there are 12 people in the meeting working on the project.  He asked afterwards “why so many people? and the guy there who he knew well responded “Dan, you don’t understand government contracts, they are welfare for the middle class.”   Ouch!

Now let me end on a slightly happier note and I guess sticking (no pun intended) with the small acts of kindness can go a long way theme. In 1972, BU won their second of back to back national championships at the Boston garden.  Myself like a lot of kids leaned over the glass as the team left the ice, cheering and asking for a sticks, a puck, any kind of souvenir.  I remember vividly, as the team walked past including my cousin Steve Dolloff #18, being slightly disappointing as I thought I wasn’t going to get anything when all of a sudden, a tap at the glass, and Growler came back and handed me his stick. It was a simple gesture, but one I have never forgotten. I kept it for years, always in the garage always

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1972 Championship stick

in a barrel along with other hockey sticks, baseball bats, and a variety of other gear.  Only maybe, possibly, perhaps did it get used, but I swear just once or twice.  I had the pleasure of returning the stick to its owner just a few years ago.  And trust me, I can tell you a
couple of things about the Growler, first, the nickname doesn’t apply anymore as he may be the most positive person in the world.  Second, he is very proud of BU Hockey and their achievements and his contribution. The stick joined his championship ring and a gazillion old photos, game programs, newspaper clippings and jackets!

 

 

 

I² – The Original Cambridge Start Up

I² – The Original Cambridge Start Up

Before Lotus there was Intermetrics Inc.  Or for those close to it, I². Intermetrics was founded around the time Neil was taking one small step for mankind by John Miller, Jim Miller, Ed Copps, Jim Flanders and Dan Lickly.  They believed the projects for Draper from NASA would slow down so they decided to try and commercialize what they had developed at Draper and perhaps find the next Apollo.

I am not trying to attempt a perfect history lesson but to relive some great memories and share what I know about a unique place.  If you want a more detailed insider perspective read Tony’s history here.

Intermetrics first location for few months was on Main St.for 2 months

but soon relocated to offices on Green street in Cambridge right next to the police station.  I can even remember that if you looked out the right window you could look down into cells in the police station. Pretty cool stuff when you are a kid.

Intermetrics landed contracts with NASA for developing software particularly the compiler HAL for the space shuttle.

Eventually they moved to fresh pond, long before Whole Foods but certainly in the era of Ma McGoo’s (awesome meatball subs) and the Hideaway (cheap pool tables).

Over time they refurbished an old warehouse at 733 Concord Ave into what is considered now a classic startup environment, wood beams, sky lights, & cool interior.  Way ahead of their time.

One of the interesting aspects for them was recruiting.  Computer Science wasn’t really something that was taught back then so how do you recruit programmers?  Well, I wasn’t there but I’d like to think that my father developed a unique style of recruiting due to these circumstances (though I am not positive).  He was known to interview people and speak very little about the actual job and had been known to take people out to his car to diagnose engine issues (Howie Marshall). In fact, legend has it that if he talked about computers with you then you weren’t going to get hired.

I remember fondly spending time at 745 Concord Ave, drinking sprite out of the bottle and playing one of the first puzzle computer games Adventure.  “It was a dark and stormy night”…  to this day if I drink a Sprite out of a bottle I am taken right back there.

In fact, I believe it was in this building that John Miller made one of his infrequent visits and to his chagrin found hand prints high on the walls of the corridors and couldn’t understand how they got there….  they were learning how to ride unicycles!  Duh!10926383_10152650491117634_6212177840682158842_n

They hired really smart people as they had a pipeline to M.I.T and also one to Cal Tech. Besides being very very bright they also attracted people with, um, er character!

 

In a previous post I talked about Intermetrics softball which given the environment seemed a highly unlikely place to foster a championship softball team, a competitive “Go” team sure, softball??

Juggling, backgammon, GO were all common place.

For the entire Apollo team, I can only imagine trying to find the next Apollo, there really wasn’t going to be that opportunity.  The shuttle might have seemed like that next great thing but nothing was going to compare to the race to put a man on the moon.

 

 

 

 

I Slept with a Nuke… and Other Most Lickly Stories

I Slept with a Nuke… and Other Most Lickly Stories

Here are a few just random stories that I am not clever enough to weave into a coherent blog post.

  • As the Lunar Module was coming down to the moon Buzz Aldrin accidentally turned on the rendezvous radar (which wasn’t needed and is a computer cycle pig) when they got closer to the surface and more programs turned on the computer overloaded which sent off a stream of alarms but Jack Garman of NASA famously said “go, go, go” and the landing proceeded with a lot of nervous people watching
  • As kids we spent time playing at Draper lab.  Let’s just say we had access to some pretty cool stuff.  I can remember playing on flight simulators and such. My sister once got her fingers stuck in a mechanical calculator and they had to take the machine half apart to get it out. Given the cost of equipment in the day I shudder to think how much that thing was worth
  • One of the things my fathers remembers in awe is witnessing a Saturn rocket launch up close, with 7.5 million pounds of thrust.
    saturn
    Saturn rocket with 5 engines providing 1.5 million pounds of thrust each

    “The sheer power was overwhelming and you could feel the compression, the ground shake, Walter Cronkite thought the windows were going to blow out”

  • In a previous post, I mentioned how my father spent 2 months sleeping within 15 feet of a nuclear war head while submerged on a submarine. Turns out it was armed, good news is they didn’t arm it till they left port.
  • When he went to get his drivers license the motor vehicle license tester asked him if he knew how to drive, he responded with “How do you think I got here?”

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    1947 Ford
  • My father’s first car he won in a raffle at the age of 14 a 1947 Ford
  • I used to tear through the halls of Draper lab dodging a guard we fondly referred to as “Fat Frank” and I was known to have 2 speeds, all out or asleep…. Um, not sure things have changed much
  • There really is a place called Lickly Corners. It’s in southern Michigan. I’ll spare you the numerous grave stone photos.

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    Lickly Corners
  • My best friends from college and I climbed Kilimanjaro, afterwards we went on a safari, well, a self driven one in Bill Cherry’s land rover. We might have misbehaved a little bit and in the Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania we were fined $10 for scaring the lions. Why is this seemingly random item here, could be related to my trip to Lickly Corners…..
  • Dan was asked to leave the M.I.T campus during reunion weekend a few years ago because he was protesting the changes to the M.I.T curriculum… well, actually he was handing out fliers comparing the M.I.T. curriculum to that of Cal Tech and was asked to stop, he was pissed that you could graduate from MIT without taking a math class. He didn’t really get kicked out but he did get a letter from the president

  • If you read my earlier post on punch cards, you might recall that it was standard operating procedure to get a printout of the cards on continuous feed printer paper, usually green and white… Well, for those of you that know my father, you wimain-qimg-478c443fe81f317cc6780e56e7c58ab8ll understand that these stacks of printouts were a dream come true for him, he had stacks and stacks of these all over the place in his office, car, home.. everywhere! For me, I just know they made great coloring paper!

 

Programming the Guidance Systems for Apollo

Programming the Guidance Systems for Apollo

I asked my father to tell me about how they went about programming the guidance systems for Apollo.  I already knew that a lot of it was done by punch cards.  Punch cards look a lot like the voting systems in Florida, so think of them like the original hanging chads, and we all remember hanging chads right?

Punch cards were actually just the data entry tool that was used before keyboards.  Each punch card had 80 columns that contained 10 numbers (0-9) and 2 over punches.  With these numbers you could create a number, letter or special character. So each column was a single number or letter i.e. a single keystroke on a keyboard. Fortunately, they didn’t have to punch the cards by hand (no hanging chads this way), they had key punch machines that they could use to punch out each column.  So each card could contain 80 keystrokes.  But wait, that’s not all, after you punch out all your cards to make up the code you want to write, you want to make sure everything is correct.  ibm-punchcardSo you would put the cards through a punch card printer, which would then print out the card data, on large sheets of green continuous feed paper.  You could then review what you created on your cards. Of course, we know that programmers always write code correctly the first time, so no need to go back and re-punch any cards or print out again and validate.  So, once you have all the cards just the way you want them, you would then put them in a punch card reader with some control cards which would tell the general computer what you were doing and where to put it. It would call up the YUL assembler which was specially written to take source code and produce Apollo Guidance Code (AGC). Of course, you actually do all this on a simulator first, which you would run many many times before actually getting it onto the AGC computer.

And yes, I am sure 52 card pickup was a popular prank!

The Instrumentation Lab developed the assembler language & interpreter that handled the Apollo guidance systems.

In a previous post I talked about an Astronaut error. The astronauts used a control panel where they could call up actions and programs through a panel.  I am over simplifying, but they had a button for Verbs, Nouns and Programs\Actions and a corresponding manual with codes for each of these.  So, if they wanted to “CHECK, FUEL, BoostEngine.” They would call up the appropriate program and then for example hit the verb button, enter code number (V21), enter noun button and enter code  (N74), then enter program and enter the right program number (Poo).  I just made you say POO!

I have fond memories of punch cards as my father always had stack of them in his back pocket and shirt pocket. Not only were they a programming tool, but they made great note paper.

I will forever be amazed at how we were able to put a man on the moon with the technology of the 60’s.   FOREVER!