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Control Inspiration

Old control room, in Chico, of 1960
Not shown are the Projector-Island and the two ampex "Quads".
I began work here in 1969. I maintained this gear. I started as an program operator and also maintenance technician.

Look at how old the equipment is: just tubes, relays, and wire! And no logic circuits; I was accustomed to huge amounts of logic!

In the Air Force, I was involved with remote control. Remote Control, in the Air Force, was far more advanced than what is depicted here. As an example, our computer occupied about 2100 square feet. You might think that crude broadcasting was the wrong place to be. I too, had my doughts; Serious doughts! However, slowly over the years, I began to see how broadcasting could be improved in regards to control.

two RCA "Quads": Video playback and recording using four heads.
(I only included this picture because I can not find any pictures of the "old" quads. This is what happens when you are frustrated. You will also notice that I forgot what I was talking about - Which is remote control.)
"Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense."
-Gertrude Stein 1946
I first enjoyed remote control in the space program. When launching missiles, telemetry was in real time. For example, at any moment, we knew the acceleration in any direction. This is a great piece of information! But the data has to be "interpreted" by people: It is just graphs and numbers. You must know what you are looking at, and how it fits into the big picture.

We had real-to-real tape as well as paper printers during launch. We had more parameters than we could record; we used every recording device that we could muster. After launch, we could create additional paper from tape, if we choose.

"The trouble with facts is that there are so many of them."
-Samuel McChord Crothers
We had miles of messy paper that gave miles of detailed history. A broadcaster has no such need of hundreds of parameters, nor of reams of paper.
Nor can an operator -under stress- interpret telemetry events. But what if a system could be developed that had hundreds of parameters at it's disposal; but only needed to communicated a few parameters. This was the system that I later developed.

I owe some inspiration to Scientific Atlanta.
Here you see the construction of one of their dishes. There was nothing inspiring in laying of cement, burying large cables, and hosting big things with cranes. But I had seen something special. Scientific Atlanta would do something that was revolutionary, and I knew it.

ERECTDISH Scientific Atlanta was the first company to use "word completion". SA had only a few commands. One was "move". SA developed the notion of typing an "m" and this act would complete, and evoke, the word "move".

Scientific Atlanta was the first company to use prepositions, like up and down. For example if you typed in a "m" and a "t" you would have "move to"

And like SA, my system used modifiers, such as adjectives and adverbs. However, I wanted my system to use any modifier. SA had only about six modifiers, and for them, the concept was easy to implement.

My system was designed after the concepts developed by SA. My autonomous devices talk amongst themselves using simple nouns, verbs, adjectives, and prepositions. I cannot claim I was the first with this; SA was.

I also tried this concept for the human interface. (SA was a human interface). But I was not successful; There are too many words. However, I was successful of machine-device to machine-device communication.

The dish is finished by SA (scientific Atlanta).

Dish cables are ran to a computer inside. Engineers can command dish to stow itself straight up into the sky to avoid high winds. Engineers can command, and interrogate, dishes position from - THEIR HOMES!

This practice was later discouraged by an incident at another broadcast station. The other station lost their network due to "operator error", involving an engineer at home. The station was loosing hundreds of dollars per minute in lost viewership. SA had to call in, on the phone line modem, to correct the problem. It was costly, embarrassing, and a "big deal" in the world of early control. All broadcast stations heard about it, and how one of our own, had screwed up. SA went to satellite control about 1998, so now I can talk about the problem...

I was one of those engineers that was controlling the dish from my home. I never caused an incident, but I witnessed a valuable lessen in the hazards of remote control. Untill then remote control for the broadcaster was a new toy. But I was already very familiar with "no joke".

Safeguards were put into effect.
SMILEGRN SMILEYBAD Including operator cautions on computer screens.

FIREBALLgif Operations are to be taken seriously and must be tested continually, especially when there is no need to test.

"Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes"
-Oscar Wilde

"Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint."
-Mark Twain