I’m Old, Part XIX: A Brief Unix Room Memory

When I was at Bell Labs, I was a violin maker working for Max Mathews. Seriously. It was a great job. I worked for Max Mathews and in addition to hacking up pieces of aluminum and wood to put together violins, I routinely came in during the evenings and weekends to get access to the Unix systems to play.


The Unix room was at the far end of the hall from room 2D-562, which was Max’s lab. It was also almost directly below the illegal machine shop on the 6th floor where I did most of my work for Max.

The room had glass doors in with a slope up to the raised panel floor. I was in there one Saturday at a point where Andrew Hume lost it over something. I never knew what. Andrew was an imposing Australian who frequently wore tan ragg wool sweaters and shorts, even in the winter.

Andrew let out a roar and grabbed Rob Pike’s chair, complete with Rob, and shoved him down the ramp and down the long hallway. Rob coasted some distance and slowed to a stop where he was met by a security guard, who he asked for a push. Hume went after him and shortly thereafter, Pike went flying up the ramp back into the room.

I loved this very human aspect to work that is often seen as inhuman or dispassionate.

As a side note, I will mention that for many of these vignettes, I rely on my memory which is primary visual and auditory. What stinks for me is name recall. For the past decade, it’s gotten progressively worse. In conversation with other tech people, I put the blame of my kids for destroying my name cache. Sometimes it takes me hours to dredge names up from long-term storage. I can see Andrew Hume in 1983, just as clearly as I can see the breakfast I ate today. It took me close to an hour to pull his name up through endless circles of incorrect name fragments. This is not a denigration of Andrew, but of my poor brain.

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