Newsletter of the Mercurians

I’m a retired electrical engineer and computer plumber. I hung out at the hometown broadcast station and telephone and Western Union offices at an early age, then studied electrical engineering at the University of Arkansas from 1955 until graduating in 1960. While there, I obtained an amateur radio license and operated an amateur radioteletype.  I worked for the Teletype Corporation the summers of 1958 and 1959. Among the projects were time-division multiplex systems for the military and a weather data collection and distribution system for the FAA.

While in the U.S. Air Force (1960-1963), my work included rocket engine testing, radio frequency spectrum management and interference location, analog

computing, and playing with an early minicomputer, the Packard-Bell 250. Afterwards, I worked for the Teletype Corporation (1963-1966), where projects included high-speed (for the time) paper tape data transmission equipment, facsimile equipment, and product planning studies. While at the General Electric Computer Department in Phoenix (1966-1968), work included logic design on parts of the GE 635 and 645 computer systems and maintainability studies.

Then I worked for the University of California at Santa Cruz (1968-1998), designing, constructing, and maintaining equipment for the campus computer center and for the computer science department; planning and teaching hardware laboratory work for computer science; and rarely teaching computer architecture and design. Later the work was more computer system planning and administration for the computer center.

During much of this period I edited the Open Channel column in the IEEE computer magazine. Upon my retirement in 1998, I returned to Fayetteville, Arkansas and continued to operate amateur radio in all the digital modes. I am working with former Teletype colleagues on an engineering-oriented history of the company. Currently we are mostly gathering material that I am putting on a CD ROM. This is a “scrapbook,” meaning the material has not yet been organized to make it easy to navigate. Also, I am collecting material and planning to write something on the subject of the electromechanical teleprinter switching systems.

In my back yard is a 1000-square-foot building, the “baudy house,” which holds my private museum, a collection of teleprinter, telephone, and radio equipment.

I am the associate director of the Center for Information and Communication Sciences at Ball State University, where I’ve been for the past eight years, and teach the history of the information and communications industry, telecommunications management, and other courses. While working at AT&T headquarters as the acting director for system engineering, I was responsible for integrating the activities of the general departments, long lines, and information systems programming staffs.

Currently I am working on eBooks, not the text to be read off computers, but the storage devices that are stand-alone. I will be setting up two trials this Fall at the grade school level to see how effective these small, relatively inexpensive devices can be in overcoming the “heavy backpack syndrome.” I have done work at the graduate level. You can look at to see my earlier results.

Originally trained in Information Systems, my first career was in the technology industry. In 1987, Merrill Lynch recruited me to establish and lead their European communications technology research; I specialized in mobile communications.

Presently I am a doctoral candidate at the Bartlett School of Architecture and Planning in University College London, where I am researching the impact of the telegraph on the city from 1845-1880. As preparation for this research, I completed an MA in the sociology of communications and technology at Brunel University, West London, and a BA with a major in the history of technology at the Open University.

My doctoral thesis explores the introduction of the telegraph into the UK and the accompanying spatial changes. It investigates how the technology evolved from a railway signaling device in 1845 to an information and communications tool, as well as the changing social construction as it became embedded in British society. Rapidly changing information and communication technologies are challenging our understanding of relationships in modern society. While many believe this process is unique to our age, the thesis agrees with Daniel Headrick’s view that we’ve been experiencing such communications changes for (at least) three hundred years. In the tradition of Allan Pred and Richard Allen Schwarzlose, the research hopes to show the changing spatial relationship between Liverpool and Manchester and London during the 19th century using the theories of Alfred Weber, Walter Christaller, and August Lösch.