13 June 2010


I met my first Australian in my first year at UCLA.  He was the lecturer for my freshman physics course.  The class comprised only perhaps 40 or so students, so teaching it was not just lecturing.  He interacted with us, got us to try different exercises.

And discovered, somehow, that I was, originally, from Bakersfield.  He seemed to have thought that an amusing place to be from.  Well, I suppose it is.  It is the home of the Bakersfield Sound - and to some people, country and western music is funny.  He used to make references to Bakersfield as 'the outback' - and perhaps from the point of view of Los Angeles, it was.

So my lecturer - I cannot remember his name - peppered his sample calculations with references to Bakersfield - as, for example, the target of a ballistic missile whose trajectory we were to calculate.  I don't recall being annoyed or anything - probably I enjoyed the attention.  But it struck me then that Australian humour might have its own twang.  My experience has confirmed that :-)

I was an adorer of Science - not just science, the quest for understanding, but the great enterprise called Science.  My first year at University - and my only year at UCLA - was coloured by this.  I felt a kind of awe at being at University - at studying physics and calculus - my major subject was Astronomy.  I purchased a very nice slide rule (the link is there for the younger generation :-)) - a beautiful 12" Post, which I still have, though I have not used in for ... a while :-)

And I had my first experience with a computer.  UCLA had just bought a new computer - I suspect, from dates of manufacture, an IBM 7090 - and the old one was made available for senior students to use.  The old one might have been a 704 or a 709, I suppose.

I was not a senior student.  However, I somehow became friends with a senior, Lowell Wood - and Lowell had access to the retired machine.  I don't recall the details, but I do remember my first adventure at programming something was through his assistance.  I had to write something in Assembly Language, then hand-assemble it to octal, write the resultant numbers into a coding sheet, which was run by the operator - presumably to fail.  But it excited me, and by the time I was a linguistic student in 1964, I was doing small programming jobs for pay.

Although I was a science student, my studies were not limited to scientific subjects.  There were also linguistics and music.

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