Small world

Dave Tutelman  --  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 zone".

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. But 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 except me.

I did run into Leslie's mother a month or two later. We always got along 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 Mountains (Borscht Belt, Jewish Alps, call it what you will). I was there from ages 12 to 17 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 in the 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. My family 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 drive home 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 was 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 usual.

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 he 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.

Finding 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" anecdote.) 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 committed 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 engineering courses.

"Radio Row" - Part of the Cortland Street
electronics shopping neighborhood. This picture
is from about ten years before I worked there.
A bit of orientation here. "Electronics shop" was nothing like Best Buy 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 when 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 the 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.

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 an assistant 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 boss' approval."

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.

Research Assistantship at MIT

For 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.

There 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. True, 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!

Epilog: 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 future.

* Exponentially is badly misused and overused today (2022). I am using it here in its proper, literal sense. As the number of digits of resolution increases, the speed advantage of my design increases as 2 exponent d, where d is the number of digits.

** AIEE: 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 Honey

Even 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 wasn't a 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 enthusiastic. 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. Another 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.

Boston assignment

Grandpa 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 octogenarian and a pretty young thing always got the audience's attention, and the judges'.

One 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 give 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 my 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 call 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 me.

Then I called grandpa Max's dancing partner Sandy, who lived in a southeastern suburb. She 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 downtown Tuesday 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?

After 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.

SGS and Honey

Just a minor coincidence, but I'll recount it here anyway.

In 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.

I 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 out 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 both places.

As 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 photo archive even includes this picture of Florence, Ilene, and Honey at the SGS swings.


This story is kind of geeky. You have to know at least a little about software and computers to get it.

In 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 copyright 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.

The employees were 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 group, my 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 copied 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 file.

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 phone rang...

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.

At 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.

Me:  "Oh? Where in California?"
Les: "San Diego."
Me:  "Where 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."
Me:  "You mean Coronado Golf Course, the city course?"
Les: "Yeah, that's it."
Me:  "What does he do? Maybe I met him when I played there."
Les: "He works in the kitchen. They have a good restaurant."
Me:  "Oh, 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."
Me:  "Hold on! Was your son on the golf and baseball teams at Jackson High School?
Les: "Yes. How did you know?"
Me:  "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."

We 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.

Small 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.

Last modified -- June 2, 2023