FEET OF CLAY - A WONDERFUL NOSTALGIC WEEKEND
2021 September 15, Wednesday


     In my younger days, ever so long ago and growing longer year by year, I respected and admired teachers, coaches, friends, and colleagues. My mother warned me that I would likely be disappointed, that putting people on a pedestal will ultimately reveal they have "feet of clay."

     Decades later, half a century for some, I have seldom been disappointed by the people I admired so long ago and still admire today.

     Maybe I've been lucky, maybe I've been more realistic in my expectations, maybe my mother was wrong and the good people are really good. Don't get me wrong, there are terrible people out there who do terrible things. I've been lucky enough not to put those people on the list of people I've truly admired and revered.

     I managed to have a four-day trip 2021 September 8-11 where I got to spend time with several of those people from long ago. It's kind of funny for me how long ago these friendships formed. (I'm counting my high-school classmates as from 1974 even if my real friendships with them are newer) These friendships range from 1973, 1974, and 1978 to 1986 and 1996, from forty-eight to twenty-five years ago. Am I really old enough to have a significant community of friends from ¼ to ½ of a century ago?

     People who travel with me find my itineraries intense, a whirlwind of events. Usually my trips are concerts and places with friends, but this time there were no concerts and there were no places for their own sake. For all four days every event and every meal was with somebody from my past. Whee!

     My Biography 1972-1997 - The Short Version

1971-1974 Cheltenham High School
1974-1978 Princeton University - A.B. Mathematics cum laude
1978-1983 Stanford University - Ph.D. Operations Research
1982-1991 Bell Telephone Laboratories (BTL), later AT&T Bell Labs
1991-1996 Northwest Airlines (NWA)
1996-1997 InterDigital Communications Corporation (IDC)
1997-now   more recent stuff in my life

     2021 September 7, Tuesday, Red-Eye Airline Flight

     I'm lucky enough to have TSA Clear to get past the lines and American Airlines Admiral Club lounge to relax before my flight. By 21:00 (nine o'clock) both were closed, but at least I have TSA PreCheck to get through security faster. My flight from Phoenix (PHX) to Philadelphia (PHL) was on time and pleasantly smooth and I had no trouble getting my rental car.

     2021 September 8, Wednesday, AMPS

     My first job out of Stanford University was at Bell Telephone Laboratories (BTL). I started working before finishing my Ph.D. so there's an overlap in 1982 and 1983. I interviewed with three groups and the first, during a famous blizzard 1982 April 6 in West Long Branch, New Jersey, was Advanced Mobile Phone Service (AMPS), which we today call "cellular."

     If you don't want to see the technical background, then you can skip these small-print paragraphs.

     Before we had cell phones, the only phones we had were our wireline land phones and radio phones with less than fifteen radio frequences serving an entire metropolitan area. When I got a chance to use the so-called Improved Mobile Telephone Service (IMTS) for New York City it had twelve or fourteen channels and the would-be caller listens on one of those channels and punches the button to get that channel when it becomes available. Prior to cellular telephony radio interference was like cooties or cancer, engineers worked to eliminate it rather than to manage it. The AMPS cellular-telephone project was something really new, not just a nebulous concept in think-tank space but a design of a real telephone system in a really-new world of managed-interference radio. The decision that disbanded our AMPS systems-engineering group was announced 1986 January 28 (and then we found out the space shuttle exploded, not a good day for any of us). So I was in my late twenties working for the mental giants that built this new technology, not just in a paper, not just in a laboratory, but in radio tests in Philadelphia, a cellular test bed in Newark, a trial telephone system with real customers in Chicago, and a commercial cellular-telephone product that served millions of customers. I thought these people were amazing and I got to do my own amazing work in support of their amazing efforts. Over the thirty-five years from 1986 through 2021 our Holmdel-then-West-Long-Branch group of cellular-telephone pioneer engineers has meet several times a year in New Jersey, always on a Wednesday which isn't my favorite when I have to fly in from Arizona and back home Wednesday morning and evening.

     I did make my own contributions to the cellular-telephone effort. I came after the AMPS system specification was described and published in the 1979 January Bell System Technical Journal with many of my own colleagues as section authors. The monolithic Bell-Telephone empire was changing to a competitive environment and I was there to change some of the analytic tools to reflect those changes. The older CELARE (CELl-And-Radio-Engineering) program was the motivation of my AutoGrow (Autoplex Growth, where Autoplex was the AT&T marketing name for AMPS)). After the success of AutoGrow, both internally and in front of clients, I said I could combine the terrain-based analytics of ADMS (the AMPS Data Management System) and MULTICEL (MULTIple-CELl simulation) to form the M2 program, the first program I wrote in what my friends and I call "the Adam way." I spent two months talking with the real cellular-engineering experts and then spent a super-intense week of sixteen-hour days writing the FORTRAN code. I added a Parameter-SETting mode PSET. Our AMPS engineering was based on geometrics, regular channel assignment. Then I started with Ray's Ph.D. thesis INTOPT using his non-regular channel-assignment and extended it to far larger systems using a mathematical technique called "simulated annealing" to create the Non-regular Optimal Voice-channel Assigner (NOVA). My then office mate Mike recalls me typing FORTRAN code at my fingers' limit of ninety words a minute with enough mental energy to have a conversation, too. Boy, those were my beautiful-mind days!

     We were an amazing group and I'm proud that I was able to earn a seat at their table, then and now.

     We had a Zoom meeting in 2021 July and we planned our first post-COVID face-to-face lunch 2021 September 8, Wednesday, at the Crown Palace restaurant. The restaurant was too short-staffed to serve us all at a table, so we all drove to the old Holmdel building, now called BellWorks, with a community-center-style mall and food court in the "ginormous" atrium. Eight of us showed up, Mike, Gaston, John, Dick, Mac, Nelson, Jim, and myself.

     Before the group lunch I met Nelson at his house on the beach not too far away. He reminded me why I was so impressed by his engineering skills. We talked about the cellular technology decisions for AMPS and the ongoing digital-channel and privacy projects that became the basis of cellular telephony today.

     Mike chatted with me about his work as a software-test guru, I have spent time recently with John where he talked about work he was still doing in microwave research and heating-and-cooling systems. Dick talked about his continuing work teaching courses in cellular telephony and wireless (radio) communication in general. Mac's acerbic wit was still sharp. Jim told me about his recent new hobby singing in a choir. With the same technical precision and insight I recall from his cellular days as my supervisor he talked about equal temperment versus just intonation where "just" intonation uses pure 3:2 fifths and 5:4 thirds. In every case my cellular buddies were just as insightful and articulate and generally smart now as they were way back then. My morning and lunch were a joyful celebration of the community I so enjoyed working with 1982-1986. We told stories of people we knew and remembered, some to absent friends no longer with us.

     I tell myself they feel I was a valid contributor to this magnificent ediface of marvelous technical engineering. In my four years on this cellular-telephone system-engineering team I earned my place at this terrific table of talent.

     Wednesday evening I had dinner with Rhonda, a high-school classmate I didn't remember from high school but recently met on Facebook. She was a joy to spend time with, as nice and positive and insightful in person as she was online.

     2021 September 9, Thursday, Princeton

     The original plan was to get up early and go for a run along the old towpath for the Delaware-Raritan Canal between Kingston and Rocky Hill in New Jersey. Alas, the rain that was supposed to happen on Wednesday happened on Thursday so the canal was muddy.

     First on my agenda was Professor Bob Vanderbei, not a Princeton friend, but actually a friend from Bell Labs who is now teaching in Computer Science at Princeton University. Bob did some of the foundational, breakthrough computational work on new methods of mathematical programming, a hot topic starting in 1983 in applied mathematics, especially my own field of Operations Research. Lest this statement have the snooty tone of an oenophile calling a new wine a breakthrough because its nose more closely matches its aftertaste with no possible importance for any of the rest of us, let me point out that mathematical programming is the core of quantitative decision making in most industries for resource management, price and quantity optimization, short and long term planning, placing and designing factories, et cetera. Bob's contributions are major, that's how we met in 1986, and Bob's ability actually to program these algorithms is legendary. (Keep in mind, also, that the list of people I admire in programming computers is short and Bob Vanderbei is one of them.) We talked about work, but more about the adventure of teaching those principles to young, undergraduate minds. We also talked about more mundane things like being aging athletes, ear and sinus infections, faculty aging issues, and the usual post-flood topic of sump pumps. As is the pattern for this whirlwind week of thirty-plus-years-ago nostalgia, Bob Vanderbei totally lived up to my ever-positive recollection.

     Lunch was with Richard C. Woodbridge, Princeton Class of 1965. Some Princeton alumni opened a restaurant PJ's Pancake House on Nassau Street which is always crowded with a long line, but they have a not-busy branch in Kingston, New Jersey, four miles northeast on Route 27 where we dined. Dick was my patent lawyer for the LOCI, U.S. Patent 4182517. Dealing with a lawyer, even as friendly as a patent lawyer, was big and scary in 1978 when we met. Patent lawyers are amazing people, not only legally educated and smart, but also engineering and technically savvy. Dick made it possible for me to patent my invention and to turn it into a company for minimum investment. Whatever impressed me then about Dick continues to impress me now.

     Afternoon was Robert C. Gunning, Princeton Professor of Mathematics. In 1973, my senior year of high school, I spoke with Professor Gunning about going to Princeton. He was tall and imposing, but he was also warm and friendly. He left a very positive impression of Princeton University, I went to Princeton, I never got a chance to take a course with him, and I've wanted to have another conversation.

     Last Princeton Alumni Day, 2020 February 22, I snuck into Fine Hall, went up to office 902, knocked on the door, and asked the professor if we could meet sometime in the future. He said "yes" and we decided to meet this day.

     We talked about Princeton and the students and the changes as the student body has become more international and more competitive. We talked about the scope of the field of mathematics, how much it has grown, especially in the professor's area of complex analysis, especially especially functions of several complex variables. We also chatted about our different roles as academician and industrial mathematician and some of the interesting problems I solved in my dissertation and in my career.

     We also talked about some mutual friends, now departed, Forman Acton and Steve Maurer. Both were my friends for about four decades.

     All in all, forty-eight years later, I thoroughly enjoyed my meeting with Bob Gunning and I respected him just as much from the vantage point of a seasoned industrial mathematician as I did as a high-school senior. His intellect was as keen and his smile as broad. Our conversation was a joy to me and he seemed to enjoy it as well. "Please don't wait another forty-eight years."

     My final friend of the day, and my most recent in this four-day nostagia trip, is Michael J. Luddy from my work at InterDigital Communications Corporation (IDC) on Long Island in 1996. Mike is a seasoned engineer with oodles of patents whom I respected then and whom I continue to respect. He told of a recent exercise working with phase-aligned radar, relatively high frequency (5 GHz, 6 cm), cool stuff in hot technology. We had a delightful dinner to end my Princeton day.

     2021 September 10, Friday, Friends and Family

     This was a friends-and-family day in and around my old neighborhood in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Brunch was Ira, a high-school classmate from Cheltenham Class of 1974 and, more recently, a eight-year cancer survivor. That put an end to his career as a Medical Doctor (MD) but not an end to his quest for world knowledge in lots of different and interesting languages.

     He is also well traveled. One time I showed Ira one of those Hebrew Beligram ads I get on my gmail account and he said it was a restaurant in Tel Aviv. "I'm pretty sure I've eaten there," he said. We ate in a deli in Huntington Valley.

     On my drive back to Elkins Park I called my hifi-guru friend Melvin A. Schilling. I met Mel through his "high-end" hifi-retail business Music and Sound (his initials MAS) in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, and in Woodland Hills, California. Much of the music-reproduction equipment in my living room came from Mel somehow going back to 1979. He not only left a long history of very-satisfied hifi customers, he ran a successful retail business, not the easiest thing to do, and he took good care of his vendors. He took unknown or less-known companies making and selling terrific products and made them famous. Examples are well-known high-end-audio companies like Audio Research, Fried, Linn, and Quad. When audio stopped being a full-time business, Mel continued his support to the audio community while moving his focus into home-theater video. All of these activities are things I admired then and things I continue to admire.

     My afternoon was family time. In 2020 November my sister Elizabeth had a car accident that left her in a wheelchair without use of her legs and fingers. She maintains her social and professional lives online using computer tools and the Internet. I contacted several cousins for a Friday-afternoon meet at her place and three made it, Roz, Susan, and Toby. We had a delightful afternoon of stories from long ago and stories from last week.

     2021 September 11, Saturday, High-School Cross Country

     My final adventure was the alumni race of the Cheltenham Cross Country team. Mike Berry, Cheltenham Class of 1980, was a cross-country star and then assistant coach for the team. He got killed in a car accident, there was sentiment for an alumni-vs.-varsity race, so we created a Mike Berry alumni race the Saturday after Labor Day starting in 1986.

     If you don't want the running-biography background, then you can skip these small-print paragraphs.

     I was on the team myself my junior and senior years, 1972 and 1973. After a bad season in 1971, two wins and twelve losses, 2-12, the team lost two top seniors and had an even-worse season in 1972, fourteen losses, 0-14. Coach Tom Sexton decided the time was right to ask for help, he cold-called Coach Tom Donnelly then at LaSalle High School, now at Haverford College, who helped Coach Sexton train and encourage his team to an even season, 6-6, in 1973, my senior year. As our longer training made us stronger that summer, we celebrated our anticipated gains with a new cross-country course at Curtis Arboretum. This is the same cross-country course Cheltenham is using today, forty-eight years later.

     While my junior year on the team was mostly just learning how to be an athlete, my senior year on the team was one of my life's most successful efforts. Running 120 Km (75 miles) per week in the summer, including some long barefoot runs on the beach on Long Beach Island in New Jersey, and doing the team's scheduled workouts got me to fifth man on a six-and-six team with a three-mile time of 17:45 on the moderately-hilly course. My improvement from my all-too-modest performance in 1972 to my season in 1973 got me a Most-Improved Runner award. Tom Sexton and I have remained close for forty-nine years.

     Tom Donnelly did magic at LaSalle and Haverford in bringing a bunch of separate young boys or men together into a team with a heart and soul that doesn't replace the hearts and souls of the individuals but adds its own additional energy and passion. He taught that magic to his eager student, Tom Sexton, who was able to create that same magic at Cheltenham, not just in 1973, but year after year after that. Over the years I stayed in touch with Tom and his team and saw that magic for myself.

     The alumni races from 1986 up until the present have been a great joy to me. In addition to the six races I ran on the team at Curtis, I raced the course for the first thirty alumni races for a total of thirty-six. With my knee problems I still come to the alumni races. (I run the course before everybody else shows up so I can be a spectator and I don't miss the social part.) I haven't missed a single one. With COVID skipping 2020, that makes 2021 the thirty-fifth alumni run.

     I gave humerous and proud speeches at twenty-five, thirty, thirty-six, forty, and forty-five years since we started running at Curtis Arboretum, since we had a new-found team mentality. (The thirty-fifth year had only two alumni show up, so I saved my every-five-years speech until the next year.)

     Even though knee and pulmonary-circulatory problems keep me from competing as a runner, I'm still bicycling and doing resistance training to stay in shape and I was pleased to have a few people compliment my fit appearance. After running the course before the others showed up I was able to spend time with my coach Tom Sexton, my own teammates Vince During and Jon Peller, repeat-alumni-runners Adam Alper and Marty Keibert, cross-country coaches Russ Wolfe and Rob Wilmer, track coaches Bob Beale and Carl Grossman, other alumni, and the high-school team. The day was a celebration of my past and my admiration for Coach Tom Sexton.

     The day was also a celebration of my present respect for the coaches, alumni, and team members.

     That evening I took my flight home on American Airlines, easy-peasy, on time and smooth.

     Reflections

     It was a wonderful four-day nostalgia vacation. Every meal was with somebody from my past, every moment went as planned without any screw-ups, every person from my past was as wonderful as I remembered. Having these people in my life is an honor and a privilege.

     I could say I don't know what I did to deserve having people like these, and some others, in my life. That's not entirely true because I did some wonderful things. (I'm not known for modesty, then or now.) Not everybody gets the good things he deserves, but when it comes to the people in my life, I got what I deserved and plenty more.

     I look back on all the people I respected and admired as a young person and I find myself respecting and admiring them as an older person. Maybe my expectations are more reasonable than my mother's, but my experience has not been to put people on pedestals only to have them disappoint me with feet of clay. Instead my experience has been to continue to respect and to admire my heroes over years and decades.

    

    

Today is 2022 January 21, Friday,
13:22:55 Mountain Standard Time (MST).
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