By Ron Munden – April 29,2019
It has been over 50 years since I moved to California and almost 20 years since I returned to Texas. Maybe it is because I am getting older or just because I am bored but for some reason memories of those first few years in the San Francisco Bay Area keep popping into my mind with increasing frequency. Recently I decided to capture these memories so I can at least use them as content on my websites. I am recording them as they flash into my memory so this will not be a chronological record of that period. I will try to provide the general timeframe when the events occurred.
As part of my agreement with the Navy, I agreed to work at San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard for a year before entering the University of California, Berkeley.
I was assigned to the Scientific Section which was part of the 1200-person Design Division. The Scientific Section had about 30 people and worked on Naval Architectural problems. When I reported to the office, I had no idea what a Naval Architect did. During the first few weeks, I was taught how to do the basic calculations that were the mainstay of the work assigned to the group. I was also shown a reference book — The Principals of Naval Architecture. This was a 11-inch by 17-inch book about 2 inches thick with a green cover. I was told this green book was the bible of Naval Architecture. This turned out to be true. It was the only Naval Architectural text used at Berkeley along with tons of xeroxed materials.
At the Shipyard the day shift ended at 4pm. Because the building I worked in contained classified material the building was normally locked at 4:30pm. However, on Tuesday and Thursday, the Design Division worked overtime and the building remained open until 10pm.
I really wanted to learn something about Naval Architecture.
Although I did not work overtime at this point, I began staying late on some nights and studied the Big Green Book. A senior Naval Architect from another part of the division, who always worked overtime, noticed that I was always at my desk alone and reading when he passed my desk. He ask me what I was doing. I told him I was trying to learn something about principles of Naval Architect by reading the green book. After that he would drop by at the swing shift dinner break and answer any questions I had. So, I had a personal tutor. I enjoyed my study periods and learned an amazing amount with the help of my tutor.
I loved my work at the shipyard, but I hated the work habits of many of the government workers. Some would sit at their desk reading a newspaper. Others would gather in groups and bullshit for hours. At the end of the shift people would begin lining up 15 minutes early at the time clock. At 4pm a bell rang, and people would punch their timecards and run out of the building. I refused to do this so was always one of the last people to leave the building.
The Chief Design Engineer, the senior person in the division, would walk the hall between the open bays of drawing boards. He would always walk with his eyes looking at the ceiling, so he did not see what was going on around him.
Finally, the timeclock problem got so bad that senior management decided it had to get involved. The Chief Design Engineer decided he would personally go and talk to each work group.
When he got to my group, he gave his canned speech about not going to the timeclock early. He ended his speech by saying, “Here in the Design Division we start, and we stop when the bell rings.”
The other 25 or 30 people in my group nodded their heads. Unfortunately, I did not stay quiet. I said, “I guess that this is why so many people at the shipyard act like school kids.” My remark did not make anyone happy. The most unhappy person was the Chief Design Engineer. He did not seem pleased that the most junior engineer in the group would open his mouth. I can say without question he never liked me from that moment forward.
A case in point. In 1967 the shipyard had no engineering computers and all work was done on desktop calculators or slide rules. The calculation my group did most often was to calculate the linear least square. Since some of the data sets were very large it could take an engineer up to 8 hours to complete a single calculation. Since there was a high chance of error and the calculation was critical, a second engineer had to repeat the calculation to ensure the results were correct.
About 6 months after the time clock speech by the Chief Design Engineer, the Design Division got its first programmable calculator. It was assigned to the Scientific Section. Since I had taken programming classes in college and loved programming, I was excited. I took the manuals home on the first weekend and learned how to program the machine. During the weekend I wrote the code so an engineer could key in the data, push a button and the machine would crunch the numbers and print out the result of the linear least square calculation.
On Monday I keyed the code into the machine and after testing the code I showed it to my supervisor. He immediately recognized the value of the application and showed it to his supervisor. They decided they needed to have the Chief Design Engineer come down for a demonstration.
The Chief Design Engineer came to our office and my supervisor explained the value of the software and said it would save many hours of engineering time. He then had me key in a small data set.
Before I keyed the instruction to begin the calculation, my supervisor said, “this is Ron Munden and he is the engineer that developed this code.”
With that the machine began to do the calculation. Thirty seconds later the printer began printing out the results on a dot matrix printer. After looking at the machine for a few seconds, The Chief Design Engineer said, “that machine is very loud” and walked away without saying another word.
I was a little disappointed but not discouraged. The following weekend I wrote my second program — the Bra Program. Input was very simple. The engineer keyed in A, B, C, or D and the machine would print out a crude image of a bra at the proper size.
This time my supervisor did not invite the Chief Design Engineer down for a demo. However, word spread quickly and many of the 1200 engineers and technicians dropped by and produced their own personal output from the program.
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