Friday, February 15, 2013
Great reading. You do have a writer’s touch.
I guess I could use a little more backstory – who is MSI data? Did you build two companies?
The PPS4/1 was a Rockwell 4 bit chip, used in things like pinball games. I know the 4004 was used in traffic signals, a calculator, and Pro-Log programmers, but I did not know about the heart monitor. Do you remember the name? Someone said the 4004 was used in a voltmeter, but I don’t know which one either. There were only a few companies that made programmers for the 4004 (1702A), so I can guess that you guys were right there at the beginning of it all. You provided the tools that designers needed – very cool. You were right about the 4004 revolutionizing engineering. It might have been good that Intel was short sighted in their assessment of the power of the 4004. It gave you something to do for a few years.
So two guys start a business with a chip, and buld a business that standardizes industrial integration (STD and STD-32). Why/how did Motorloa get involved? Was it a good or bad thing? Seems to me, if your were doing well (cash and time), why would you sell. Of course, if the writing was on the wall, and your industry was shrinking, getting out while the going was good make sense. Are you still living off of the Motorola payout? (You don’t have to answer that if you don’t care to. I remember the tale of the designer of the Hayes modem, who got a 7 year payout, right before the company folded at 7.5 years. He actually lives near Atlanta. A fellow robot guy.)
Very interesting thus far. Who owns the name Pro-Log? The www.prolog.com site goes to GDCA, a supplier of new Pro-Log cards. It looks like they own the name, but they don’t tell the story of where Pro-Log came from though.
Should I start the Wikipedia page, or is that something you want to do?
Oh, by the way, I think I found Matt (Matthias) via email. I told him I had a collection of programmers and was toying with the idea of repurposing them into clocks or 4004/4040 4-bit trainers. I haven’t heard back yet, so he may not have any insight. I haven’t told him that we are conversing either – not sure if that was kosher or not. I can provide his email if you would like to strike up a conversation – or I can keep it on the down low. If you guys aren’t friendly, then I will keep the conversations separate.
I also read somewhere you have like 10-20 patents? Do you still get to collect royalties from them? That would be sweet…
Anyway, it is getting late here and I have a meeting tomorrow I need to get ready for. The Vintage Computer Fair is having their first Southeast show in April, and I’m trying to put together a booth. Maybe I’ll incorporate Pro-Log into the display. So far, it is a good story to tell.
Saturday, February 16
It’s going to take many sessions to answer all the questions in your latest email, but keep those questions coming. They’re very helpful.
The name Pro-Log was Matt’s idea. It stood for “programmed logic.” It was meant to distinguish our engineering approach to using microprocessors from the traditional computer software methods. At roughly the same time the ProLog language was developed in England. From time to time, this became a distractive nuisance, but never a serious issue.
Yes, the PPS4 and Rockwell were the chip and company I was referring to. Matt chose the 4004 for the MSI order entry system because its architecture was simpler to use and its instruction set fairly clean and I/O oriented.
The heart monitoring machine became one-of-a kind because we went on to start Pro-Log, and the doctors didn’t have the wherewithal to fund the multi-year approval process for medical equipment. I’ll tell the story of that machine later. I used to tell it often in the early 70s when I lectured around the nation about microprocessors and how to use them. One of my jokes was that for every button on an instrument, one had to add 10 points to the required IQ of the operator, and 25 points for every potentiometer. When the doctors told us that they would operate the heart monitor and not the nurses, we made it a one-button system with no potentiometers. (I then demonstrated how microprocessors could simplify control panels.)
Other pointed jokes I made during the lectures told why hardware engineers were better than software programmers. Engineers always begin counting from 1 and programmers begin with 0; so that engineers are one step ahead of programmers. Engineers used picture languages to develop ideas and to communicate with other humans (schematics, block diagrams, timing diagrams and waveforms, board layouts, and to some extent specifications) whereas software people used list languages to communicate with machines (Assembly language, ALGOL, Fortran, COBOL). Pictures engage the right brain, and symbolic languages only connect to a part of the left brain. Engineers are in their right minds when working.
The lectures (with a slide-show and handouts which I developed in 1973-74) ran for seven hours. Humor was essential. I used it to point out cultural differences between engineers and programmers. These differences were accidents of history which, to this very day, cripple the development of software. I mention this, because we had the chance to change the world of software, and we blew it. I say we…because the vision of what to do and how to do it was Matt’s as was a critical flaw in using the 4040 instead of Intel’s 8 bit processor the 8008 (and its successors). In trying to get him to abandon the 4040 around which he was building his software automation and analysis machine and move up to eight bit processors, I mismanaged him and our working relationship in the midst of what-might-have-been. The consequence was a deepening split between us which played out over the next decade. This split derailed the company’s focus, led to a temporary but devastating palace coup, and ultimately led to both of us leaving Pro-Log in 1989 and bringing in Rich McClellan. After Rich became its CEO, Pro-Log limped from year to year without a clear vision, shrank, and lost money until Motorola’s buyout in 1997.
But all of that gets ahead of the story. I’ll go back to a starting point which at Burroughs ElectroData back in 1961. Early that year I got together with four other engineers at Burroughs and incorporated a company we called Digital Devices, in John Karsten’s a garage. We all continued to work full time at Burroughs. On top of that, on September 30, 1961 I got married. Stay tuned.
PS: I have no interest in reconnecting with Matt. Feel free to do whatever you want.
I have 23 patents, all of which expired many years ago and for which I never received a penny of royalties. Most of them were earned while I worked at Burroughs. A detailed list of them is on my web page at www.elew.com.