January 25, 2019
A lot of people don't believe in
coincidences. But they do happen, even outrageously unlikely ones.
"Unlikely" is definitely not the same as "impossible". Events of low
probability happen all the time. Even so, over the years I seem to have
attracted more than my fair share. But that's just a feeling. I don't
know the actual probabilities. Anyway, here's a narrative of some that
I remember; you decide whether it's more than my fair share.
Senior year of high school! I lived on the border between two high
school districts: Columbus and Monroe high schools. I was on the
Columbus side, but kids across the street went to Monroe. I didn't
attend either one. I went to a specialized high school, Bronx Science;
today it would probably be called a 'STEM' school. (Science,
Technology, Engineering, Math) For those of you who watched "Welcome
Back, Kotter" in the 1970s, Bronx Science (the Sweathogs' perennial
competitor in academic competitions) was not fictitious at all. I'm a
graduate of it.
I knew kids in all three schools. In fact, I was a member of a coed
clique from each school. I was a little behind most kids in dating, but
had plenty of friends, both male and female. I had gone on a few dates,
but never had a girlfriend. BTW, I was the only person common to any of
the three cliques; I'm sure nobody from any of the cliques knew anybody
from another clique.
One of my friends from Columbus was Leslie, a tall, athletic and smart
blond. We would often meet after school to play tennis, usually me
against both Leslie and her friend Janet. With 20:20 hindsight, I
believe Leslie considered me her boyfriend, even before our first and
only date. I was much more comfortable with staying in the "friend
I was also in a group from Monroe. The center of that group was my
friend Ellen, a close friend but we were never "an item". I had a crush
on Ellen's friend Toby, and enjoyed hanging around with her in the
group. I was hoping for some occasion to ask her out, not just, "Hey,
let's go to a movie" -- and it eventually happened.
I was also in several groups
at Bronx Science. My lunch group had
gotten an invitation to be guests at a TV show. Since it was a
Bandstand-style show, we would also be performers. (The big bandstand
show was "American Bandstand" in Phildelphia. But New York had its own
lesser show on a local TV station, and I'm sure other cities did as
well.) I took the opportunity to invite Toby as my date. She seemed
excited about it.
The date itself was a disaster!
No, not the TV part of it. We were competent dancers, reasonably
attractive, and the camera seemed to like us.
The problem was we had nothing at all to talk about. I certainly tried.
whatever question I might ask to get a conversation going received a
single-word answer. There was no engagement in any subject at all. Then
I tried to get her to bring
up a subject she was interested in, but she wouldn't bite. I was
surprised. We were both academically sharp (she was in an honors class
at Monroe, I was successful at Bronx Science), we had both played piano
for years, and we had a lot of friends in common in Ellen's Monroe HS
crowd. But we made no connection on any subject at all. It was almost
painful trying to sustain a conversation. I never even thought about
another date with her again.
The next day, I could not find Leslie at the tennis courts. I did find
a game, and played a couple of sets. Leslie never showed up. I
called to find out why, and she was "not available". She continued to
be not available, and in fact I never saw her again. Since that was the
day after my date with Toby, I wondered if that had anything to do with
it. But I was pretty sure that Leslie and Toby had no friends in common
I did run into Leslie's mother a month or two later. We always got
well, and she solved the mystery. She told me that Leslie was
a fan of that TV show, and watched it every day. (And I thought
everybody watched the Philadelphia show instead.) Leslie was livid when
she saw me there with Toby. She was dead silent the rest of the show,
except for once when she said, "Dave and I dance better than that!"
Return to SGS
My family spent summers from 1953 through 1958 at a bungalow
colony named SGS. It was so named for the owners, the families
Silverman, Goren, and Schenkman. It was in Swan Lake in the Catskill
Belt, Jewish Alps, call it what you will). I was there from ages 12 to
during those six summers. I had
been a camper in the SGS day camp at age 12, later became a counselor,
and was the nature counselor the last two years I was there.
When I first arrived at age 12, I was considered a little backward
socially. This probably calls for some explanation. Families tended to
return year after year, so the kids had grown up with one another. The
camp, the families, and the social climate tended to throw younger
girls and boys together much more than normal life in the
city. So the boys at SGS were much more comfortable around the girls at
SGS at age
12 than I was. They had even done some dating; I wasn't close to
that yet. So, compared with them, I was indeed a little backward.
My problem was that I got typecastas
backward. During that six years, back in the City,
I finished elementary school, went to junior high and high school, and
was about to start college. I had an expanded social group and
social growth each year. But that didn't matter when the summer came.
Everybody at SGS knew who I was -- or were convinced they did -- so I
was never really acceptable socially among the kids. I was tolerated
but never sought out. Actually, my social standing among the adults was
much better than it was among the "popular" kids.
My last summer at SGS was 1958, at age 17. I had graduated from high
school and was about to start at City College of New York (CCNY) in the
Fall. I knew this would be our last summer at SGS, and frankly was glad
of it. I had hardly been a social outcast in high school, and bloomed
further in college. I joined a House Plan. (House Plans were
flike fraternities, the major difference being that all
members of a House Plan were in the same year.) By the
end of my freshman year, I was vice president of my House Plan, had an
intelligent and beautiful girlfriend, and was a social as well as
academic fixture on campus.
I spent the summer of 1959 taking a summer
session at University of Colorado. The main purpose was to get my
Chemistry prerequisites out of the way before the sophomore year. But I
also wanted to experience what I was missing by going to a commuter
college instead of out of town. Colorado at Boulder was a
perfect choice for both goals. The summer session consisted of two
5-week terms, so I was able to dispose of both Chem 1 and Chem 2 in one
summer. And Colorado, I found out later, was then the #1 party school
country, therefore the maximum possible social difference from CCNY.
I flew out to Colorado at the beginning of the summer. I lived in the
dorm, joined the gang at "The Tule", ran 1-2 miles before breakfast
every morning on the
track at the stadium, and generally got the full on-campus experience.
planned their vacation so they would arrive in Colorado near the end of
the summer, and we could all drive home together in the
family car. I had gotten my driver's license in Colorado, and split the
with Dad. The trip took us through the Catskills, and we decided to
stop and say hello at SGS. I wandered up to "the concession" (luncheonette,
snack bar, canteen, whatever -- but it was called
the concession) to see if anybody I
knew was there.
Everybody I knew
there! Nothing had changed except me. The same bunch of
guys my age were sitting at the same table playing pinochle. They
ignored me, same as usual. The girls were all fluttering around,
excited for one of the girls who was waiting to
get picked up for a date with "George". They ignored me, same as
I didn't know who this George was, but the girls considered him a big
deal! Listening to them chatter,
I found out that George was working at one of the big hotels in Swan
Lake. A real job (as
opposed to a day camp job, I guess) was points for George. Living
without his parents for the summer was more points. Having a driver's
license and a car was lotsa' points on top of that. George was a big
deal as far as the girls were concerned.
George finally arrived. The girls had been peeking out, so they knew
when his car entered the lot. Of course, they had to appear casual when
came into the canteen. It was funny to watch. Anyway, George stepped
into the canteen and looked around for his date. Instead, he noticed me
first. "Dave!" He held out his arms for a man-hug and started quizzing
me. "How was your summer? What was Colorado like?" Finally, he turned
to the assembled girls, who were wondering what the hell was going on,
and actually announced an introduction. "This is my good friend Dave.
We go to school together, and he's
the vice president of my House Plan."
I was still not socially acceptable at SGS. But I had pretty much
leapfrogged the SGS social system.
a summer job
It was June of 1960, the end of my sophomore year at City College of
NY, and the month of my 19th birthday. A bunch of us, 8 or 10 boys and
girls, were spending the afternoon at the house of Ellen's friend
Barbara. (I mentioned Ellen in the "Bandstand"
Most of us were from the nearby apartment projects, and Barbara lived
in a stand-alone, private house nearby -- more space for that many
people to get
together. Barbara's father Henry was a single dad. He was happy to play
host to this gathering because, even if we were kids from the projects,
we were all pretty wholesome and all in college, with a good future
ahead of us. In the south Bronx, Barbara could have been hanging out
with a much worse crowd.
We kids were talking about our plans for the summer. Some of us already
had jobs or other activities lined up. But I had to admit I did not.
For the first time since I was 13, I didn't have a summer activity
long before the end of school. (When I was 18 a heavy summer
school load, a job all the other summers.) Tomorrow, the
first Monday after the school term ended, I would have to pound the
pavement. I was going to "radio row" downtown -- two blocks with
nothing but electronics shops on both sides of Cortland Street -- where
I might have an advantage given my two years of electrical
A bit of orientation here. "Electronics shop" was nothing like
today. You would hardly find anything there that you think of as
electronics shopping. Computers
were not retail items in 1960; they were capital goods going
for hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. Cameras were not
electronic. Neither were musical instruments. No digital games. In
fact, almost no digital anything; it was all analog. Most of the
shops on Radio Row had only electronic components -- tubes (this was
transistors were just penetrating the market, and no microchips at
all), resistors, capacitors, tools to solder
wires together or to cut chassis and cabinets to house electronic
assemblies, and the chassis and cabinets themselves. A few of the
stores sold stereo systems, and some even sold radios and TV sets. On
other hand, a few stores only carried the components needed to fix
broken TV sets, and their clientele was almost exclusively TV repairmen
-- which was a thriving business then.
"Radio Row" - Part of the Cortland Street
electronics shopping neighborhood. This picture
is from about ten years before I worked there.
Bright and early Monday morning, I took the subway downtown and walked
into every shop on both sides of Cortland Street. None had any openings
for me. I was pretty disappointed when, hours later, I stepped into the
last store on the last block, Arrow Electronics. (That very store is in the picture.) I found the office for
the first floor, where Joe the first floor manager suddenly got very
thoughtful. He had been listening for a month to his salesmen about how
could make them more productive. But such an assistant would have to
know a lot about electronics, way more than a typical off-the-street
hire. With my background, I would be perfect for the job. After
quizzing me to see what I could do, Joe and the salesmen were almost
jumping up and down. But... "You're not in the budget yet. We'll have
to go up to the corporate office on the top floor and get the big
Joe and I got into the elevator. The door opened on the third floor,
and we walked into a bustling business office. The big boss had a desk
right opposite the elevator. Joe asked him, "Henry, here's someone with
all the qualifications for the assistant job. Can we hire him?"
Henry looked up from his desk, took his glasses off, smiled and said,
"Dave, what brings you here today?"
Yes, it was Barbara's father, in whose house I spent the previous
afternoon. And yes, I got the job.
Assistantship at MIT
much of my undergraduate career, I wanted to find a job in "hybrid
computing", at the boundary between analog and digital computing. In
fact, in my senior year of engineering school, I did a design for an
analog-to-digital converter (an important piece of boundary hardware)
that would be exponentially* faster than those currently on the market.
I wrote a technical paper on that design, and entered it in a
competition for electrical engineering students. It was good enough
that I presented it at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers
(AIEE)** convention that winter, and came in
second in the competition.
were not many places you could go to work on hybrid computing. The only
ones I knew about
in the very early 1960s were EAI (Electronic Associates, Inc, in West
Long Branch, NJ), Bell Labs, and MIT. I really wanted to go to MIT for
graduate work, and was accepted during the winter of my senior year at
CCNY. I would need to find a way to pay for that, and a research
assistantship looked more attractive than the more usual teaching
assistantship. I applied for a research assistantship.
MIT granted the request, but assigned me to a lab and professor not
aligned with my interest in computing, much less hybrid computing.
I was very interested in the subject matter of that lab, photography
and instrumentation, but they
were both hobby interests. I had no intention of a career in
either. Complicating the decision was the professor I would be
assigned to, Harold "Doc" Edgerton.
I knew exactly who he was, and I was in awe of him. He had invented the
strobe flash and the stroboscope, and was famous for photos taken with
his invention. I would have loved to be his research assistant, but it
was not the direction I wanted to go with my MIT education. What to do?
The MIT office for student aid suggested I come to campus and interview
with Edgerton and also with a different laboratory more in line with my
stated interest. In April, I did just that. I spent the morning with
Doc, and we hit it off really well. He understood my reservations, and
told me to enjoy my afternoon interview and weigh my decision.
In the afternoon, I visited the Research Laboratory for Electronics
(RLE). I don't remember the professor's name, but his
projects were military and required a security clearance. He
had an opening on one of them for me, but he couldn't tell me much
about it for security reasons. Yes, it involved hardware for hybrid
computing, which I considered a big plus. But there was so much detail
he could not talk about that I was uneasy about committing to it.
But OK, he's done his sales pitch, I'll do mine. One of the first
things I did was show him the paper I had written for the AIEE contest.
His eyebrows went up as he read it. After the first couple of pages, he
skimmed the rest. Then he said, "I guess it's OK if I show you what
we're doing. You already know the principles and the block diagram." He
waved my paper at me. "Well, we're building it." Wow! A perfect fit!
I was offered the research assistantship with RLE, and was excited
about it. But that plan did not come to fruition. In May, I interviewed
for and was offered a job at Bell Labs. The offer included a full-time
stipend for a year getting my Masters degree at MIT. This was much more
generous than a research assistantship, and I would be working for the
premier EE employer in the world. My job would involve advancing data
communications -- how computers talk to
one another. I accepted the offer from Bell Labs, got my Masters in EE
following a year at MIT, and worked for Bell Labs and its successor
companies for the next 40 years. I did get to work on hybrid computing
at Bell Labs for a little while in 1964 -- long before it became clear
around 1970 that digital was going to win and analog computing had no
is badly misused and overused
today (2022). I am using it here in its proper, literal sense. As the
digits of resolution increases, the speed advantage of my design
increases as 2 exponent d,
where d is
the number of digits.
You may not have heard of the AIEE. In 1963, a year after this
anecdote, it merged with the Institute of Radio Engineers to form the
Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the IEEE, which is
well known today as the electrical engineers' professional society.
Engineering schools had anticipated this years before; the EE society
at CCNY and many other colleges was the AIEE/IRE, already merged.
meeting my wife was a coincidence. It started New Years Eve, entering
1965. I went to a party hosted by a couple of my CCNY House Plan
brothers, George Greenberg and Rich Aronow. They had rented an
apartment in Manhattan where they could have parties and bring dates; I
don't think they actually lived there. My date at the party was a girl
from Mineola that I had been seeing. The room was really crowded. It
very big apartment and had only a small living room, but I think George
and Rich had invited everyone they knew. I had never met many of the
people there, and most of those I didn't know I didn't meet at the
party either. I
did notice one very pretty, classy-looking girl in the far left corner
of the room, but we were never introduced.
Fast forward about a month, to
early February. I attended a singles
dance in a Midtown hotel, put on by a company that focused its
marketing on young college graduates. A girl I asked to dance looked a
little familiar, but I couldn't
place her. I asked where we may have met. She decided that was one of
the worst pickup lines of all time, and scurried away as soon as the
music stopped. But a little later in the evening, she approached me and
asked, "Where were you on New Years Eve?" Then it clicked! She was the
pretty girl in the corner that I never met.
We danced a few more dances, and learned a little about one another.
Her name was Rochelle, but family and close friends called her by her
middle name, Honey.
She worked in Midtown Manhattan, but lived in Far Rockaway. I lived in
the Bronx, almost as far away as you can get from Rockaway and still be
in the city. How did we ever
manage to meet -- twice, no
less -- in about a month? She was also a skier, novice but
She had signed up for a ski trip for the long Lincoln's Birthday
weekend, a trip run by the same company that had put on this dance.
coincidence: I was going on that trip as well.
So we were thrown together for the third time in a month and a half.
This time it was for a three-day weekend. We got to know one another
better, and started dating. A year and a half later, we were married.
Max, my father's father, was a character. He was an excellent dancer,
and won dance contests into his 80s. Every summer, he would spend a
couple of weeks at the Concord Hotel, and he would always return with a
dance trophy from Champagne Night. Yes he was
a good dancer, but he also understood showmanship. Early in the week,
he would single out an attractive young woman who was a passable
dancer, take her aside, and suggest the two of them enter the dance
competition on Champagne Night. He would teach her the Latin dances
that he excelled at. The combination of a competent dancing
and a pretty young thing always got the audience's attention, and the
day in 1964, I saw a picture on his mantel of
him and a very pretty teenage blond girl. I asked about it, and he said
that Sandy was his dance partner for his latest victory at the Concord.
She had just turned 19. He had her phone number and would be willing to
it to me (I was almost 23 at the time). The rub: she lived in Boston.
Turned out that was not as big a problem as he thought; I was only a
couple of weeks from being shipped to Boston by my employer for
a 6-week field assignment. Grandpa Max gave me Sandy's number, so I
already had one dating opportunity before I even left.
I got to
Boston on a Sunday, the day before I had to report to work, so I spent
that evening making phone calls. I was only a year out of graduate
school at MIT, so I still had friends in Boston. I even called one of
last girlfriends from the time I was at MIT. Myrna lived in one of the
western suburbs, and we had parted on good terms. When I called, she
turned me down
for a date; she was now engaged. But she said she would
a few friends and see what she could set up. I was to call her back in
a couple of days, Tuesday evening, and see what she had hooked up for
Then I called grandpa Max's dancing partner Sandy, who lived in a
was surprised and amused that this was a contact through Max, but she
did remember him and didn't hang up right away. Turns out she worked
downtown, only a couple of blocks from the building where I was to
report for the
first week of my field assignment. So we agreed to meet for breakfast
morning before work. Our actual breakfast date was a disappointment.
Yes, she was gorgeous. But she was very definitely only 19, and we had
nothing in common. Our conversation was forced, and I'm sure she was as
relieved as I when we adjourned to get to our jobs.
Tuesday evening I called
Myrna as we had agreed. I asked her whether there was anybody I should
call. She said, "We'll get to that in a second. But first, how was your
breakfast date with Sandy?" WHAT!?!?!
I hadn't told Myrna about that. The last time I talked to Myrna, I had
never even talked to Sandy so I hadn't even made the date for Tuesday
yet. How would she know about a breakfast date?
Myrna finished enjoying my flabbergasted reaction, she told me the
story. Myrna and Sandy are cousins; Myrna's mom and Sandy's
mom are sisters. The sisters are still very close, and talk on the
phone every day. On Monday, the conversation started, "My daughter got
a very strange phone call yesterday." Both of them started the
conversation that way. After they both told their stories -- which were
different, of course -- they started comparing details and decided it
was the same guy. When the girls got home from work, they verified that
it was the same guy. And the rest is history.
Just a minor
coincidence, but I'll recount it here anyway.
1970, Honey and I were returning from a vacation around upstate New
York. We had gone out of season to avoid crowds and to make
reservations easier. In fact, it was enough out of season to qualify as
a "Fall colors" trip. On the way, I realized we were on Route 17, and
would be passing near Swan Lake, in the Catskill Mountains. If you
recall from a previous anecdote here, I had
spent six summers
(1953-'58, age 12 to 17) at SGS bungalow colony in Swan Lake.
suggested we detour there, as a bit of a sentimental journey. Not
much chance of seeing anyone I knew; as previously noted, we were way
of season. Honey was enthusiastic about the side trip. She added a
proviso. Her family had also spent a summer at a
bungalow colony in Swan Lake; that would have been 1947 or '48, when
she was 6 or 7. I had never known this! She remembered what it looked
like, and was able to
describe it in enough detail that I could identify it. "There was a
lake where we swam. I think there was a dam that formed the lake. We
had to cross a main road to get from the bungalows to the lake. The
road made a sharp right turn at the dam end of the lake." No, it wasn't
SGS, where the Tutelman family had stayed. But I was sure it was the
next one down the road, Warman's. So it would be pretty easy to visit
we continued, she remembered that the bungalow colony "up the hill" had
better playground equipment than Warman's did. So her mother would take
Honey and her baby sister Ilene on a walk up the road and up the hill,
to swing on the swings -- at SGS.
When we got there, we found
the Tutelman's bungalow at SGS, the Rices' bungalow at Warman's, and
even the swings they used at SGS. As it turns out, the Rice family
archive even includes this picture of Florence, Ilene, and Honey at the
This story is kind of geeky. You have to
know at least a little about
software and computers to get it.
the early 1990s, my sister Ruth was a software development manager for
a company in San Diego. They were switching their target market from
UNIX to the PC. That was causing some stress among Ruth's employees,
who had become comfortable with the UNIX tools -- like text editors.
So, where a traditional UNIX tool was available for the PC, they used
it. A prime example was the VI text editor. They were using an editor
they purchased, PC-VI, a VI lookalike that had been ported to the PC
and acted like the VI editor on UNIX.
One day a company
lawyer came into Ruth's office to tell her that they had some trouble.
The PC-VI they were using was illegal software; the code was copied
from the original VI, violating the copyright. The company that had
sold PC-VI was now toast (so no more support for it), but the
holder was also going after the users. The lawyer said they had to
uninstall and get rid of their PC-VI immediately, because there would
be legal teams from the other company coming later in the week to
inspect all the computers. They would
sue if the illegal copy was still there.
horrified. They had no desire to learn a new text editor. A tool used
that much is not only in the brain, it is in the fingers as well, and
requires a considerable learning curve to achieve dexterity. Not only
that: the editor that comes with the PC is totally unsuited to serious
program development. (BTW, I hated that editor, too. And like Ruth's
original programming background was UNIX and VI.) Ruth's programmers
started a search for another VI-compatible
editor that runs on a PC -- but this time a legitimate one. (Yes, it is feasible. The illegal one they
were using had copied the program code itself. However, a program that
the behavior of VI but was independently developed would be legal.) A
few days later, one of Ruth's employees entered her office with the
README file for a program called STEVIE -- ST Enthusiast's VI Emulator,
referring to the Atari ST computer. It was public domain (what we would now call
"open source"), and had been ported to the PC, along with other
features added, by the last programmer
who enhanced it.
Ruth called in the lawyer for permission to use
it. He was uneasy about using software that was not paid for -- no
contract with the "owner". But he agreed that they could use it, if he
could talk to the developer and get (a) a better understanding of
"ownership" and (b) permission to use it. Of course, there is no single
developer for "open source" stuff; there were lots of developers, and
from different companies. The lawyer agreed to go by the last
developer's say-so, as given by the contact information in the README
Ruth looked at the bottom of the README
for the contact information and smirked. Then she picked up the phone
and started to dial. The lawyer and Ruth's employee (who was still
in the office) said, "Hey, there's no phone number in the contact info,
just an email address." Ruth held up her hand to silence them as the
The phone rang in my office in New Jersey. I
recognized Ruth's voice right away. We caught up on family matters for
a minute or two before she said, "Dave, I have some people in my office
and we need some questions answered. You're the programmer who did
STEVIE v69a, right? Well, we have a problem..."
But wait! There is another coincidence associated with STEVIE. I found
out later, well after the incident above, that STEVIE was originally
written from scratch by a Bell Labs guy named Tim Thompson. I had met
Tim some months before I discovered STEVIE and modified it. In fact, by
that time we were friends and I had been to his home more than once.
We were both into electronic music, and Tim was the owner of the Mostly
MIDI Mailing List, MMML, one of the better forums around on the
technical details of electronic music. For well over a year, Tim and I
dealt with one another on electronic music, before I found out that he
was the originator of STEVIE.
Golf with Dan
I don't very often have an opportunity to play golf with my sons, who
rate golf pretty low on their priority list. But one day in the Fall of
2003, Dan and I were walk-ons at Spring Meadow Golf Course. We were
paired with a guy named Les, about my age. We all got along fine.
one point, we were waiting in the eleventh fairway for the green to
clear. Les remarked how lucky I was to be playing golf with my son. Les
had not played golf with his son in three years, since the son had
moved to California. The following dialog ensued.
Where in California?"
Les: "San Diego."
in San Diego? I have family there, so I know the area and occasionally
play golf there."
Les: "Well, he
works at Coronado Country Club."
mean Coronado Golf Course, the city course?"
does he do? Maybe I met him when I played there."
Les: "He works
in the kitchen. They have a good restaurant."
then I wouldn't have met him. I didn't eat at the restaurant."
Les: "One of the
good things is he gets to play a lot of golf there. He plays nine holes
before or after most shifts."
on! Was your son on the golf and baseball teams at Jackson High School?
Les: "Yes. How
did you know?"
"I think I did meet him. In fact, you may not have played golf
with him in three years, but I think I played golf with him only a few months ago."
compared notes, and I'm sure he's the guy I played with the last time I visited
Mom. One of the three guys the starter sent me out with was
a kid who worked in the kitchen there and came from the Jersey Shore.
world! Les' son went to Jackson High School, and had been on the golf
and baseball teams. He was a couple of years younger than Dan, so their
HS careers would have overlapped. Dan was a pitcher on the Ocean
Township HS baseball team, so it is likely they faced one another in a
baseball game a decade earlier. All that jibed with the kid I played
with in that "starter's foursome" on Coronado.
modified -- June 2, 2023