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!

 

 

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!

 

 

Hey, What’s This Button For?

Hey, What’s This Button For?

One of the early challenges between the engineers and the astronauts was the amount of human intervention especially with the guidance systems.  The Astronauts naturally being pilots wanted complete control while the engineers lobbied for automation.

As Dan put it jokingly, they wanted to fly with white scarfs around their neck waving in the breeze.

To their credit, the Apollo astronauts were a dramatically different breed then the Mercury ones.  The Mercury pilots were a bit more the swashbucklers while the second wave were all highly educated and most with advanced engineering degrees,

Rusty Schweickart, Jim McDivitt & Dave Scott were the Apollo 9 crew.  For the better part of a year and half, they stationed themselves at the M.I.T Instrumentation Lab (the precursor to Draper Lab circa 1963).  The M.I.T team worked with them to make sure things were done correctly.  Dan recalls they made fun of Dave, asking them to repeat things because Dave picked things up slowly.  ( He had a masters degree in aeronautics from M.I.T.).

During his many briefings of the Astronauts, Dan remembered they asked a lot of questions, good questions.  One Astronaut in particular Dan recalls asking many detailed and significant questions, and made it hard for him to get through his presentation, afterwards he asked who was that guy?  His name was Neil Armstrong, who they didn’t know at the time would be the first man to walk on the moon.  Dan even remembers that Neil Armstrong was so thorough that he had a wind tunnel installed at his home.

Back to man vs machines. The team at the Instrumentation Lab developed a legal sequence matrix (my interpretation not the official name) to help prevent mistakes. This matrix essentially outlined logical next sequences from any given state and these were allowable program codes to enter, all others would be not available.  For example, if the lunar module was on the moon, a pre-launch program would not be an option.  Similarly, if they were in orbit of the moon, an earth re-entry program would be unavailable.  Sounds good to me right?

Well, let’s remember the time, these guys put a man on the moon with the compute power of a hand held calculator, a 10 year old calculator, with less horse power than your iPhone 5 or 6!

We are not talking Gigabytes, nor megabytes but more like kilobytes, well it was actually “Core Rope memory”. As I recall this memory was actually made by women in the textile mills, but that’s story for another time. At that time, a megabyte cost a million dollars.

Let’s just assume memory was at a premium.  So, enter Chris Kraft, Kraft was NASA’s first flight director. He was on duty during such historic missions as America’s first human spaceflight, first human orbital flight, and first spacewalk. At the beginning of the Apollo program, Kraft retired as a flight director to concentrate on management and mission planning. So in other words, for Apollo, he was the man!.  Well, at some point, Chris decided to save memory and that they should delete the legal sequence matrix because his “Astronauts were so well trained that they wouldn’t make a mistake.”   So he had the Instrumentation Lab remove it.

During a conference on the Apollo Guidance System (circa 2001/2002), Margaret Hamilton reflected “So we were very worried that what if the astronaut, during mid-course, would select pre-launch, for example? Never would happen, they said. Never would happen. (Laughter) It happened.”

“In fact, they went back to read the program notes and we had a program note saying “Do not select PO1 mid course.” I was so happy that that it was in there. That was Apollo 8, Jim Lovell’s mission. We had the program note “do not select PO1 during flight.” I still remember the program note.”

During every Apollo flight, they would man headphones 24 hours a day in a kind of command post. About 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon, they were listening to the astronauts on the phones. All of a sudden Jim Lovell says “Oh oh.” And everybody said, “What’s oh oh?” He said “I think I just did something wrong.” I don’t know who was on the phones at NASA, and the people at NASA were all monotones. I mean, you could have an earthquake and they wouldn’t say much. So he said, “What did you do wrong?” “I think I keyed in PO1 and I’m in rendezvous. Did anything happen? Is that okay?” (Laughter) Of course, they didn’t know whether it was okay at NASA at all, and so they asked us. I guess we didn’t know if it was okay right away but it turned out it was not okay.

And Dan leaped into action, I remember him furiously spending the next I would say hour tracing through the listing, going through the situation of what would happen if you were in rendezvous and you keyed in PO1. It was quite a detective adventure. It turned out that Lovell had wiped out all of his erasable memory and all of his navigation, the correlations that he had been taking up, and all of the settings that he had done. He had pretty much corrupted the whole memory.

According to Dan, “We went and simulated what he did and checked memory, location by locaiton to see what it was before he pulled his boob boo to see how much was corrupted and how much was ok.  We were lucky, but not as lucky as the guy who did it (Jim Lovell) as he was in space.

Dan -“The thing is, the Astronauts were supremely trained, they were smart, they were talented, but you can’t account for spending days in space, with little sleep, stress… that’s when accidents happen. Sleep deprivation is a real problem”

 

 

Bah Bah Black Sheep

Bah Bah Black Sheep

It’s official!  I am the black sheep of the Lickly boys. Why you ask? I am charming, handsome, smart, funny and very humble……

Well, I didn’t go into Compilers.  It turns out my brother Ben (B.S. in Math and Computer Science @ Harvey Mudd & Ph.D. in EECS @ U.C. Berkeley) and my father Dan (Masters in Aeronautical Engineering @ M.I.T) have both been involved with writing compilers.

Ben is presently working on Java to Java Script compilers at Google. From what I could understand depending on the device, applications are written in one of the two, so for peak performance Google writes these compilers.  I hope to get a little more direct clarification on this. Now Dan, he was involved with compilers for HAL at Intermetrics more on this guy HAL in a future post.

Just to throw some salt on the wound and make me feel more like a goat (sheep), there’s Shaomei Wu Lickly (M.S. Computer Science @ UC Santa Barbara & Ph.D in Information Science @ Cornell) who works for Facebook.  You have probably seen some of her work with the recent announcement of the new Facebook feature that helps the blind see photos. I didn’t ask if this involves compilers. :-{

Today we hit the road and I hope to start posting some more interesting stories and first hand accounts from “The Dome”.  In the meantime, please accept the rest of this Facebookie post. If you haven’ been to Google, it’s sort of like a cross between College, grad school and summer camp.  Ok, that’s in the common areas, the work areas are a bit more serious!  One thing for sure, not many grey hairs to be seen.  Note to self, avoid Google around the end of the day to avoid being run over by the massive white Google buses.

Whooping it up at Google

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The California Lickly’s

Teaching my niece a first class Raspberry

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Three Generations

And Finally

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The Conference Bike @ Google – Seats 6

Stay tuned for more…

Preview Edition

Preview Edition

As I am getting ready to set out on my adventure I have started to think about some of the topics to discuss and have also been collecting ideas from people. So, if all goes according to plan and in no particular order, here are some of the topics I plan on covering:

  • Children playing at the Jet Propulsion Lab, M.I.T Instrumention Lab and Draper Lab ( I was one of them)
  • Some interesting adventures from the Polaris missile program
  • The first NASA contract (hint, hint guess who won it?)
  • Behind the scenes at Apollo – some errors and mishaps
  • Astronauts – what some of them were really like
  • Programming software in the NASA Apollo era
  • HAL
  • Intermetrics
  • My fathers first car (yes there is a story there)
  • The current M.I.T curriculum (trust me, it’s a classic!)
  • Lickly Corners. Yes there is such a place! (It’s where Lickley road meets Tamarack Rd. Duh!)
  • Hardball squash

Looks like we are taking the northern route, so if anyone has suggestions on places to eat or things to see, I am all ears and stomach!

Here’s a picture of the young man I will be spending the next few days with.

dad