Posted by: doctornuke | November 11, 2011

Your (R) order 101532952 has been received

Trailer hitch bike rack and trailer hitch accessories -
1507 East Highway A
Wentzville, MO 63385
636 887 9300
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Thank you for your order!

Order Number: 101532952
Placed: 11/11/2011 21:47:18 Central Standard Time
Ship To:
Mark DeHart

1801 Brookview Dr.
Idaho Falls ID 83404

Bill To:
Mark DeHart
Idaho National Laboratory


1801 Brookview Dr.
Idaho Falls ID 83404

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Posted by: doctornuke | January 11, 2011

Musings on politics

“It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.” – David Brin

“The word ‘politics’ is derived from the word ‘poly’ meaning ‘many’, and the word ‘ticks’ meaning ‘blood sucking parasites’.” – Larry Hardiman

The framers of the US Constitution seemed to have intuitively recognized the dangers of concentrated power.  Perhaps from the history of Europe, and the overbearing behavior of the British government in trying to control the behavior of the colonists and the colonies.  Regardless, the limits placed on the federal government have slowly been eroded away over time, resulting, I think, in an strong attraction for the corruptible.
Personally, I feel that the growth in Federal power is the result largely of two issues – the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, and a misinterpretation of the 10th Amendment.
Under Article I, Section 3, Clauses 1 and 2 of the Constitution, Senators were elected by state legislatures. This meant that not only the people (via the House of Representatives) but also the states had a role to play in government.  While Representatives would be answerable to the people of each state that elected them, the Senators would be answerable to the people indirectly through the individual state legislatures.  This was a wise and intentional feature of the Constitution to balance powers between the states and the Federal government.  Any legislation that would increase Federal powers at a cost to the states would be opposed by most states, and would not be passed.  By passing the 17th Amendment (which ironically was passed by at least 3/4 of the states), the Congress was able to completely bypass state governments, making them largely meaningless.  The Federal government has increasingly stepped (trampled) on state’s rights in the almost 100 years since this Amendment was passed.  Many Federal standards have been pushed on states that the states would not otherwise have accepted.  And this leads right into the second issue in Federal power growth – the disregard for the 10th Amendment.
The 10th Amendment to the US Constitution reads very simply and plainly: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  Straight, direct, and to the point (I really miss such legislation, but sadly it is the supposed vagueness of this Amendment that has resulted in its widespread disregard).  Personally, I don’t see the vagueness in the wording – it is very clear to me.  If the Constitution doesn’t say that the Federal government can do it, it can’t do it.  This is why the 16th Amendment, authorizing an income tax, was required.  The Constitution does not provide for the Federal government to impose an income tax, and an Amendment was necessary to grant this power.  Whatever one may think about the income tax, it at least was passed consistent with the spirit of the 10th Amendment.  But such adherence to the letter of the law has been largely disregarded in recent years.  Federal speed limits, legal drinking and (I believe) gambling ages, drug laws, education requirements, all sorts of spending mandates, and numerous other types of legislation have been passed with complete disregard for the 10th Amendment.  Speed limits have not been directly set by Federal law, but have been forced upon the states by threats to withhold Federal funding elsewhere – this is an example of a clear but indirect violation of state’s sovereignty.  I believe drinking and gambling limits have been forced on the states in the same manner.  But nowhere in the Constitution is the Federal government given the right to impose such mandates on the state governments.
So what do we do about this?  Clearly, one answer is to repeal the 17th Amendment, so that states can begin to reassert their own rights.  However, with 100 Senators who would potentially lose their jobs, this is not going to be coming out of Congress.  A Constitutional convention of the states has been provided for in the Constitution, but has never actually been employed.  However, since states stand to benefit and Congress stands to lose its power, this is probably the only way this would ever happen.  I’m at a loss at how to restore the weight of the 10th Amendment, although I do believe that repeal of the 17th would eventually result in reasserted state’s rights.  But to me, the key to the problem goes to the quote I started this blog with.  The problems we have result from the people we are putting into office – the people who seek the power associated with the Federal government.  Perhaps the most immediate way to remedy this would be to instate term limits.  Sure, in theory, our elected officials are term limited at the ballot box, but I feel that that has been circumvented by the politician’s ability to spend our money for their own reelection.  Who’s not going to want to reelect the representative that is so good at bringing the bacon home to his or her district.?  And with a largely uninformed electorate, name recognition is often a key player in the voting process.
The Constitution does not guarantee an individual’s right to vote.  We are a Republic, not a Democracy, and voting, while important, is not a right provided in the Constitution.  Each state is (supposed to be) free to use its own method for election of its congressional representation – states have all defaulted to popular vote.  And in our current society, this “right” is not likely to be taken away.  And I’m fine with that, but I oppose efforts to make voting easier.  Voting has become a sacred right yet it is a solemn responsibility and should not be taken lightly.  The two-party system does make light of the responsibility; in effect, the two parties encourage the mindless to blindly vote for the candidate that the party supports, and too many American voters (plus, IMHO, a significant number of ineligible non-Americans) vote without knowing anything about the individual for whom they are voting.
How would one remedy this?  I have  number of ideas of my own, but I’ll save those for another blog.  This “quick” braindump has taken almost two weeks to complete, and it is time to get it posted for your consideration.  Of course, your thoughts are welcome!
Posted by: doctornuke | December 27, 2010

Life in Idaho Falls

Idaho Falls 


The Idaho Falls on the Snake River - hydroelectric dam above volcanic rocks

I moved to Idaho Falls on March 20, 2010, the first day of Spring, although the family didn’t join me here until July 21. We moved into the house on July 23. As Winter officially started on Dec. 21, I have been here for all four seasons, although I admit I have not experienced the full brunt of Winter yet.  From what I have heard, I have some very cold weather to look forward to, along with occasional snowfalls.  But I’ve already seen both, so I don’t expect any surprises.  Just like the much milder winters in Knoxville, one doesn’t go outside to do much during the winter anyway.  However, unlike Knoxville (especially recently), the town is not shut down by snowfall.  The city cleans the major thoroughfares very quickly, then starts working on neighborhoods.  Much of the snow removal is done by volunteers, and  (much to my surprise)  potato harvesting machines are also useful in cleaning up snow.  That being said, we have been babysitting a friend’s 4WD truck for the winter (he doesn’t drive it in the winter and it just uses up half of his driveway), and bought a 4WD Jeep Liberty a couple of weeks ago.  Both the Civic and my Z-4 just don’t do well in deep neighborhood snow, nor on the icy parts of main roads.  Putting 400 lb of water softener salt in the trunk of the Z-4 does help though.

Idaho Falls is a small town, with a nominal population of about 50,000.  Our county, Bonneville County, has just over 100,000 residents, and the metropolitan area is about 125,000.  However, Idaho Falls is a regional hub to much of Southeastern Idaho, Southwestern Montana, and Western Wyoming.  So the town offers more than a population of 50,000 would indicate.  Because this is farm and recreation country, the population density is pretty low outside of IF, but people come into town for shopping, eating at a nice restaurant, and medical care.  If you are skiing at Grand Targhee or Jackson Hole and fall and injure yourself, you will likely be flown into Idaho Falls for treatment.  The IF Regional Medical Center has a helicopter that stays very busy.

The Snake River Plain

Yes, this is potato country.  Southern Idaho is characterized by the Snake River Plain, which is rich in volcanic soils that provide the minerals that potatoes need.  However, there is not enough moisture here for any kind of farming – southern Idaho is considered to be high-plains desert, with an annual rainfall of 8-14″ per year, varying across the state.  Thus, all farming is based on irrigation.  Due to volcanic activity and movement (more on this later), the plain coexists with the Snake River Aquifer, which at any given time contains about 200 billion cubic feet of water, flowing from east to west in a flattened U-shaped curve.  As big as the Snake River is, most of the water running through the Snake River Plain moves underground.  About 3 million acres of farmland are irrigated from this aquifer – about 1/3 from wells and 2/3 from canals.  There are canals all over the area – from the air it must look like the surface of Mars.  The canals are fed from the Snake River and from a number of large springs throughout the state (basically, venting points from the aquifer.  About 14% of Idaho is farm land; in addition to potatoes, they grow winter peas, lentils, sugar beets, barley, mint, hops, prunes & plums, onions, wheat, cherries and apples.  The barley and wheat are very popular with brewing companies; Budweiser and Corona have large silos up near Idaho Falls.

The best part of living up here is the outdoor life.  Going east, we are two hours from Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons, and a little over an our from Grand Targhee.  Going north, we are two hours from West Yellowstone, Montana and the western entrance to Yellowstone National Park.  Going

The Materials and Fuels Complex at INL

The Materials and Fuels Complex at INL

west, you drive through the Idaho National Laboratory site, through Arco (the first town fully powered by nuclear power) and go north to Sun Valley, or slightly south to the Craters of the Moon National Monument, the location of three lava fields, with some of the best examples of open rift cracks in the world, including the deepest known on Earth at 800′ as well as tree molds (cavities left by lava-incinerated trees), lava tubes, and a blackened and desolate terrain covering about 1100 square miles. I mentioned earlier the volcanic soil – this part of the country is heavily dotted with evidence of geologically recent volcanic activity. The caldera that underlies and powers the geysers at Yellowstone is moving with the shifting of tectonic plates – over the last 14 million years, it has moved from the southwest corner of Idaho to its current location. Between 5 and 10 million years ago, it was underneath Idaho Falls. And Idaho Falls is still closely tied to Yellowstone – the Snake River is born within Yellowstone National Park and all water in the river, and as far as I know the whole aquifer, comes from Yellowstone.

I was always amazed by the beauty of the Smokey Mountain National Park in east Tennessee, but I was completely overwhelmed by Yellowstone.  You really can’t compare the two – they are completely different – the SMNP is characterized by heavily wooded mountains, waterfalls and rivers, and early area cabins and farms.  YNP, on the other hand, is less heavily wooded, and includes both low-lying desert areas and high mountain woods.  The mountains are much more rugged and stony, and much of the park is closed during the winter due to snow.  It of course features hundreds if not thousands of geysers, as well as a ginormous high-elevation lake, hot springs, rivers and waterfalls, including Canyon Falls, rivaling the Grand Canyon in beauty, and the location of yellow stones that gave the park its name.  But the most remarkable part of the park is the wildlife – the bison (buffalo) are everywhere, and often block the roads, elk, moose, grizzly and black bears, pronghorns, wolves, coyotes, deer, eagles, and bighorn sheep.  All roam the park and are visible from the roads that circumnavigate the park.  Kyle and I are planning a day-long snowmobile excursion of the park sometime in Jan. or Feb. – this gives access to areas off the main park roads, and better access to wildlife that come out in search of water, since drinking water locations are much more limited in the winter.

Register Rock on the Oregon Trail

Old wagon wheel that didn't finish the trip west

There is much of the area we have yet to explore.  Kaitlyn has taken a couple of excursions out to other lava fields and to portions of the Oregon Trail, and has brought back some stunning photographs. (She is quite the amateur photographer.)  We hope to make a trip to Boise soon, and up and over to Moscow, ID in the near future to check out the universities.  Because most of Idaho is rugged mountain terrain, you can’t get to Moscow by any direct route.  You have to go up to Montana, over to Coeur D’Alene then south to get to Moscow – about a 9 hour drive.  So we are going to set aside a weekend for that trip.  We have previously made trips to Missoula ID and Butte, MT to visit the schools there; on the way back we stopped off at the old

Main cell block within the old Montana State Pen.

Montana State Penitentiary in Deer Lodge, Montana, to see the inside of a classic old prison.  This prison was featured in a recent episode of Ghost Lab on Discovery Channel.  The same site also had an extensive car collection – both were worth seeing.

Well, enough about our new home base for now.  I’ll sure I’ll be talking more about this in the future as we get out and explore more.

Posted by: doctornuke | December 26, 2010

Going to the dogs, part deux.

I just let the dogs in from out in the snow, which reminded me I needed to finish up this blog. Beckett is doing his happy dance on the floor, Izzebelle is rolling round with a toy on the floor, and Monkee is curled up next to me, as usual. No, wait – now Beckett is at the door wanting to go outside. Leigh just

Picture of Beckett at the back door

Beckett would like to come back in

let him out to go play in the snow. And Izze turned over her toybox to find something new to chew on.  Life with the dogs is good.

Beckett in the snow drift

Beckett walking in a snow drift

I mentioned that I had been shoveling the back patio.  Well, every time I shoveled, the pile next to the cleared area got bigger.  When the wind picked up, it built an even larger drift on the patio.  And kids being kids, they dropped Monkee in the snow bank.  Not happy, she was able to dig herself out, and immediately made her way back into the house and back to daddy’s lap.  Wet.  Beckett has no problem with the drifts though – he likes to hop into and over them.  The bigger the better.

Nevertheless, Monkee eventually got comfortable with the snow, even to the point where she and Beckett would run around and play in it.  She figured out where the shallow snow was, and even started taking on the snowdrifts as well.  Monkee is not afraid of much of anything.  She didn’t like being dropped in the snow, but she wasn’t scared of it.  Eventually, after a couple of sunny days followed by a cold snap, the snow got crunchy, and Monkee started walking on top of the smaller drifts.  However, with her tiny feet, and the excess winter fat she has put on, she has had a few snow hill collapses.  She has become quite adept at digging herself out.

We lost our dearly loved dachshund Liberty Belle this summer to a back injury.  I won’t say more right now, as it would make me very sad.  But this left a big hole in our dog family.  We still had two dogs, but Liberty was special and left a big hole in our family.  Of course, we knew we could never replace Liberty, but we started looking at dachshunds online.  We weren’t really serious, as we did already have two dogs, are trying to live on a tight budget, and were still settling in.  Plus, up to this point we had always rescued dogs.  Even Liberty, a purebred dachshund, was rescued from the Knox Co. pound.  But one night in late November, Leigh found a small dachshund breeder west of Twin Falls, about two hours away, who had a litter of piebald (black and white) dachshunds, including one female.  We decided we’d make the trip  and check her out (myself knowing, of course, that we would be coming home with a puppy).  We had checked the status of the interstates first, as this was only a few days after the big snow.  Interstates showed mostly clear, although we found quite a bit of snow west of Pocatello, and quite a bit of snow once we got off the freeway.  We were driving Leigh’s Honda Civic, so the drive was quite an adventure.  But when we got there we knew it was worth it.  The lady who raised the dachshunds, Lori Lee, lived in a small farmhouse with two litters of dachshunds and a litter of Dobermans.  A house full of dogs!  But they were well taken care of, and we met our potential puppy with one of her sisters (who had already been sold), three brothers, and their mother.  She was the smallest of the litter (although not by much), was a beautiful puppy, and had the big ol’ ears and long nose that we loved so much in Liberty.  And <sarcasm>much to my surprise</sarcasm>, Izzebelle (“Izze”) came home with us.  Born on Sept. 8, she was 11 weeks old, weighing in at 5 lbs (including the ears), and could put away about a pound of puppy chow at one time.  ;-).

So life has returned to normal.  Monkee and Izze are best friends, regularly playing when they aren’t busy eating or sleeping.  Izze started slowly on the snow as well, and with her short little legs the next big snowfall will be interesting.  We will have the video camera ready.  She is growing quickly, up to 6 lbs. 2 oz., and has become a regular part of the family.  She is not Beckett’s favorite, but he is slowly warming to her.  And the cats love her.  Izze and Loki (Little Orange KItty, who should now be called Boc or b-aoc) like to play tag and are comfortable with each other.  The other dogs, well, they’re pretty sure cat tastes like chicken.

I have not written much about Monkee – she deserves her own blog.  I’ll give her her due in a future missive.  Stay tuned.

Posted by: doctornuke | December 26, 2010

Going to the dogs.

Okay, so it’s been a while since I wrote – seems life gets busy around Christmas time – don’t know why. Plus I couldn’t really get inspired to write about anything in particular. So I thought I’d do one of my random musings. And I thought I’d start with the dogs, since I just looked up and Beckett is outside fogging up the back door as he waits patiently to come in – there are two round fog spots so apparently he is doing some nose fogging.

I’ve never seen a dog adapt to such a major change in geography as Beckett has. He loves Idaho! He moved out here in the spring and fell in love with the Idaho spring winds. The townhouse I stayed in channelled wind between the side of the house and the 6′ fence, and he loved to go outside and just stand there in the wind. I don’t know if it was about the wind blowing through his hair (it made him look even more wolf-like) or the whole new world of smells that was being delivered to his nose. Probably a combination of both. But he would stand there for hours if I would let him. The wind carried a lot of stuff with it – I would clean out cold charcoal ash from my grill by just putting it in the wind channel and taking the top off – this would get almost all of the ash, and fertilize the yard with it at the same time.

When we moved into this house in July, when the rest of the family got here, Beckett rapidly claimed the back yard as his own. The Idaho summer is about as good as it gets, with daytime highs in the low to mid 80’s.  Generally we would keep the house open, and Beckett and Monkee could come and go as they please.  Monkee would stay wherever the people were, or where the food was.  Beckett just preferred to stay outside in the grass, soaking up the sun.  Sometimes he would roll around in the grass, turning upside down and wiggling with his legs in the air – we call this his “happy dance.”  Or he would pick up a toy, play with it by tossing it in the air then going and getting it.  Or just lay on the ground and just chew on it, until the warmth of the sum would lull him to a short nap.  He never was sound asleep though, as the slightest sound would get him up on his feet faster than it originally took the sound to travel to his ears.  Closing the door to keep out the flies was a problem – if we closed the door, he would decided he wanted to come in, and come to the back door and scratch or steam the glass, or start some dog snot artwork.  But if we let him in, a few minutes later he’d want to go back outside, and we’d have to let him out again.  Then the process would repeat, and we would tire of it before he would.  So generally the back door stayed open during the day when we were home, and we just bought some fly strips to hang.  Those are always fun anyway!

Beckett is very fond of his humans, and wants to be near them.  That is why this inside-outside act happens.  He wants both to be outside and be near his humans, so he has to alternate.  In his mind, the best solution is for his humans to come outside with him, which we would often do.  Then he would turn into a puppy, wanting to play, and play, and play.  Usually Monkee would come out too, and he’d start picking at her until she would play too.  And that is the funniest game to watch – a little 8″ tall Chihuahua mix taking on a 3′ tall Bernese Mountain dog mix.  And she kept him honest too – if he wasn’t down on her level to play, she would jump up into his face and take him on.  They would often both get “the rips” and run all over the yard chasing each other.

Come fall they still spent a lot of time outside if it wasn’t raining, but with the cooler weather we wouldn’t be out there as much.  We would be good servants most of the time though, letting them in and out on request.  But then in November, the first snow came.  I was out of town for the first snowfall in mid-November, but they received 3-4″ of snow.  By the time I got back on Friday, almost all of the snow was gone, but Kate had taken a video of Beckett and Monkee playing in the snow, and had shared it with me.  You ought to be able to view the video online here.  As the title of the video says, Beckett really loved the snow – Monkee, not so much.

Our next major snowfall came two weeks later – the week of Thanksgiving.  Over a 2-3 day period, we got about 2′ of snow.  The wind kicked in on the last day, so we had only 3-4″ in much of the yard, but 4′ drifts near the fence, and near the one car that was parked in the driveway.  Not a lot of fun to shovel away.  This was an unusually heavy (and early) snowfall, even for the locals, and they even had to close INL for a day (they almost never close

Beckett in the snow

the lab).  I had been shoveling the back steps and patio with each snowfall to keep a path to the grass clear and ice-free.  I even kept an area of grass open just past the patio for the dogs to do their business.

Beckett didn’t care – he would bound though any level of snow and enjoy it.  Monkee had not yet “warmed” to the concept of snow, and spent a very minimal time out there.  Beckett would try to get her to play, but would just get snapped at.

Monkee would just stay near the house where the snow was melted or very thin, and would occasionally make use of the grass.

I have more to share on this topic, but it has started to snow again and Beckett wants to go outside, so I’ll stop here and pick up the story later today or sometime tomorrow.

Posted by: doctornuke | December 23, 2010

A 21st Century Christmas Letter

Merry Christmas from Idaho!!


The DeHarts have had a very busy year!

The DeHart family has made some BIG changes this year!  After 17 years in Tennessee, we’ve moved to Idaho Falls, Idaho.  Major life change for all of us!  Gone are year-round shorts and flip flops…instead now we all own snow boots and puffy winter coats!  We’ve added snow tires and 4 wheel drive too.  We haven’t lost our southern charm though and the locals think our accents are delightful.



Mark left ORNL after 17 years and took a new and exciting position with the Idaho National Laboratory.  He truly enjoys his new job and is doing very well.  He got to be a bachelor from March until July while Leigh and the kids wrapped up loose ends in Tennessee.  Happily, the whole family is back together and living under the same roof now.

Leigh received tenure as a 2nd grade teacher at Philadelphia Elementary School and then promptly informed her principal she was moving!  Luckily, she was able to find another fulfilling teaching position in 4th grade at Dora Erickson Elementary School here in Idaho Falls.  She thinks 4th grade is pretty awesome, but was shocked at how “worldly” some of her students are!

Kate is taking the year off to work and gain “in state” tuition rates before starting back to college in the fall.  She hit the big 2-1 this year!  She celebrated her newfound adulthood by taking a trip with her father to Las Vegas!  Where else to celebrate but Sin City?  They had a great time and enjoyed some father-daughter bonding time over the Blackjack tables.

Kyle is a senior at Skyline High School and making straight A’s! (Maybe we should have moved earlier?) He misses his Tennessee friends a lot but has made some wonderful new Idaho friends.  In fact, his new friends took him for his 1st sledding experience!  (Now we need to add snow pants to the list!)  He and Mark have a Yellowstone snowmobile excursion in the works for this winter too.

For those of you concerned with where Maggie (Mammaw) is, well we left her in Tennessee.  She said it was too darned cold in Idaho so she’d rather stay put.  She has her own place and is doing extremely well!  She continues to work for Jewelry Television and we’re pretty sure she’s their oldest employee at 80.  Good job Mammaw!!

Pet-wise it’s been a rough year.  We lost Liberty Belle this summer to paralysis.  She was such a funny little dog.  She will truly be missed.  Monkee and Beckett have enjoyed being top dogs around the house but we felt our family wasn’t complete without one more pet….  Enter Isabelle or Izze as we call her.  She is a 3-month-old piebald (black, tan, and white spotted) dachshund.  Needless to say she is VERY entertaining!  Monkee is happy to have “her” baby around the house and Beckett is just plain annoyed.  All 3 dogs get along well and crate training is progressing nicely.  Kate still has her 2 kitties, Dusty and Loki.  Dusty is 16 this year and is still amazingly healthy.  Loki has grown in to a small mountain lion! The little dogs love the cats, but big Beckett thinks they might taste like chicken so we have to keep them separated for now.

Well, that’s the quick version of what’s been going on in the lives of the DeHart family.  You can find all of us on Facebook or Twitter if you’d like to look us up!  And if you’re ever in our neck of the woods, please feel free tostop by and spend some time with us (just give us 2-3 day’s warning!).  Remember, we have Yellowstone National Park virtually in our backyard!

Finally, please know that wherever we are, our thoughts and prayers are with you always.  We’d like to close by affirming this with a Christmas thought.

There’s a saying that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.  Although we were only in Knoxville for a “season,” there is a reason we are now in the Great Northwest.  But that doesn’t change our friendships, which didn’t end with our relocation, and will always be an important part of our lives.  But given that this is Christmas, it is also time for our family to reflect on this season, the reason we celebrate, and to rededicate ourselves to a life made precious by the birth of a child so many years ago.  We hope you find yourself moved to pause and consider the One born to die for all of us.


Merry Christmas from Mark, Leigh, Kaitlyn, Kyle and the rest of the zoo!

Posted by: doctornuke | December 19, 2010

A Half-Century of Technology – part 4

Right, where was I? Just finishing up at SRS I think – still working on my dissertation. I established a proof of principle version of CENTAUR written in C and running on various Mac systems. But about this time, SRS bought a couple of the new IBM RS/6000 workstations. Unix based on the Power1 RISC chipset with a 60+MHz clock speed, this thing was a screamer. But it provided me with the speed I needed to be able to run CENTAUR for large problems, like a 1/4 reactor core simulation. However, speed was becoming less an issue than memory, as memory was still expensive. The machines actually supported up to 1GB, but I think we only had half of that. I remember that I would annoy Sebastion Aleman, in whose office the machine was located, every time I ran a large case, as the memory would start paging (writing to disk) and those disk drives where noisy.

SRS also had a couple of DEC VAX/VMS machines, and a DEC Ultrix machine. Ultrix was another flavor of Unix, but had a lot of differences between the SunOS and IBM AIX flavors I knew the best. But I still liked the VAXes, and they were my mainstay until we got the RS/6000 systems installed.

WSRC used an email system called “All-In-One” – it had a text-based user interface, and was designed largely for inter-office communications. However, it could send email to the outside world, send attachments, and was pretty much every thing one would need for email even today. It did not allow formatted text – that was still a few years off (a spin off of HTML), but I have always been of the opinion that formatted text in an email was an unneeded luxury. I also started using a POP-based email client named Eudora. I had all of my All-In-One email forwarded to a POP server set up at SRS, and did email from there. This was probably my first regular connection to what we now all call “the Internet.” I even got an email from Mikey Brady at ORNL, inviting me to come up to interview at Oak Ridge, as she was leaving and had suggested me as a possible new hire to replace her.

So early in 1993 I accepted the job at ORNL. I had some reservations though, as technologically it was actually a big step backwards from my point of view. They generally didn’t use email at all (Mikey was an exception), were doing most of there computing and development on IBM mainframes, and were almost entirely DOS and Windows based. However, when I had interviewed there where two large boxes in the hallway of the building – I later learned that these were two new RS/6000 machines, to be named ca01 and ca02. Still, I made it a condition of accepting the position that I would get to get a desktop Mac for my office. They had to check to see if a Mac would be compatible with their network (of course it would be – Apples were much more network saavy than Windows machines at the time). Once they verified this, they ordered me a Centris 650 (part of this mindless expansion of product line that the Jobs-less Apple Corp was spewing out – eventually the Centris line was renamed to Quadra to reduce the confusion over the wide variety of different models). There were even two versions of the Centris 650 – one without a floating point unit (we had been buying add-on FPUs at SRS), and one with the full 68040 chip, that had an integrated FPU on board. Still only a 25MHz clock speed, but with the FPU and a mammoth 230MB hard drive, I was in heaven! By the time I got to ORNL in April 1993, they had the two workstations installed and running, two more on the way, and we had a part time workstation support person Suzanne Walters (later Suzanne Willoughby) to help maintain the systems. As experienced as I already was on these systems (I had 6 years experience using and abusing Unix systems by this time), I quickly became a power user on the workstation. Many others stayed on the mainframes or used a PC for R&D as long as they could, so it took a while for the machines to become saturated. We ended up buying a few other flavors of UNIX machines – a Sun and an SGI machine, so we could test our software on other hardware platforms prior to release. We never had an HP system though, even though many of our external customers used this platform.

Cray X1ORNL was making a lot of progress in supercomputing at this time. The software we were developing was not appropriate for supercomputer applications, so we weren’t using that hardware, but the computer science folks and some of the earth science areas sure were. We had a Cray X1 – a beautiful machine, and a couple of clusters of workstations – one a cluster of DEC Alphas, the other a cluster of IBM RS/6000.  They had high-speed networking connections, which made them great for parallel processing, and ORNL was setting a lot of records with some of these machines.  We didn’t benefit from them directly, as we didn’t use those machines, but one time we benefitted in a big way by getting a “hand me down” system.  When the cluster of Alphas became too dated for supercomputing and they need the space for something newer and faster, we were able to acquire the cluster.  I forget exactly how big the Alpha cluster was, I want to say it was 30 nodes (30 machines networked together), but each node had four processors.  So we had a lot of computing power.  At least for us – the fact that we were actually using this dinosaur was amusing to the computer science folks at the lab.

I have noticed that I am not flying through time as fast as I did on my first blog or two in this category. When I started this, I figured I’d get 2-3 blogs out of it to get me up to present. But these were heady times, and I was learning a lot as computer technologies and I myself matured at about the same time. That plus the fact that I remember more from the last 20 years than the 30 that preceded that.  So I’ll cut it short here.  Next blog I’ll get into new architectures for the Mac, Unix on a Mac, parallel computing, and ORNL’s next generation of workstations.

Posted by: doctornuke | December 18, 2010

A Half-Century of Technology – part 3

Alright, so I was wrong about color monitors, external hard drives, and HTML. However, having worked extensively with both Macs and PCs in graduate school, I became a strong advocate for the Macintosh, and held every version of Windows in contempt. History has proven me more right than wrong in this vein. So I didn’t completely miss the boat.

In 1989, I began my first full time professional job at the Westinghouse Savannah River Company. The company was heavily Mac based, even using Macs for data acquisition in their state of the art thermal hydraulics laboratory. This was the time when Apple had forced Steve Jobs out of the company and he went off and developed the NeXT computer – grandfather if not father of the current Mac OS X. Still, IMHO, a man ahead of his time. At the same time, Apple seemed to have lost a lot of the focus they had under Jobs – there we so many different Mac models continuously rolling out. Apple’s strength (and weakness, some would say) was a limited set of designs. I think I started on a Macintosh IIci, and had at least three different machines in my four years at WSRC. But I remember the plethora of models that rolled out in that time period: the IIfx, IIsi, the IIv and I think there was a IIvx all descendants of the Mac II. Then in the old Mac/Mac+ form factor there came the SE and the SE/30, and the Color Classic, followed by lower-end LC and LC-II models, all targeted more for the home users. Near the end of my time at WSRC the released a new series of computers name Quadra. I saw the Quadra 700 and Quadra 950 during my time there, but never had one.

I’m a little fuzzier on the chipsets they used. I think the original Macs used the Motorola 68000 series chips; the Mac II series started with the 68020. I don’t remember there ever being a 68010 chip – it must have been superseded by the 68020. The IIx, my IIci, and in the all-in-one designs, the SE/30 all contained the newer, faster, higher power 68030. The Quadras were released with 25 MHz 68040 chips. I remember discussion at the time that computers were rapidly approaching a hard limit on clock speeds. Although I’m not sure what the basis for that was – I know the Cray supercomputers I worked on in graduate school had a whopping 85MHz clock speed (although they required extensive cooling hardware). But at the time, the Quadras were the be all and end all of Mac computers. I’m not really aware of what was going on in the PC world at the time – I know they had been also advancing on the 80×86 chipset. They were probably better hardware than Apple was using, but they were limited to Windows 3.1 at best – a poor imitation of Mac OS, lacking many of the capabilities that Apples were offering.

When I first started at SRS, I was actually able to get a computer to take home. They weren’t about to give me something that someone would be able to use at work, so I was able to borrow an old Lisa. A machine that filled the gap between the Apple II and the first Mac. More like the Mac, with a basic Mac-like GUI. Not the best machine in the world, but I could use it for word processing, and to modem into work. I was up to a blazing 1200 bps by then. After a couple of years, we bought our first computer – the Color Classic. Not the best computer, but it met our needs, and we were able to use it to “get online” with first Prodigy, then America Online. And I got a 2400 bps modem to go with it, had real color screen, and the real Mac OS. Bringing files home from work was simple. And for the first time I started doing taxes on a computer.

In around 1991 I started working on my dissertation. The home machine was great for writing, and I did a lot of the computing work at work (my dissertation research was not formally part of my job, but was supported by SRS at it would fill one of their needs). I had taught myself the C programming language, and was doing code development in C. For reasons I don’t want to get into here, C was vastly superior to Fortran 77, still the current engineering standard at that time. The code I developed to demonstrate the methods derived in my research was named CENTAUR, and was written in C. And most of it was written during a week when I was able to attend a workshop in Atlanta. I was able to finagle one of the company’s few Apple Portables to take with me on the trip. I sat in the workshop during the day, and wrote and tested code evenings in my room on the Portable. That was quite a machine – a predecessor to the laptop, it was too big and heavy to sit comfortably on your lap. It used an active matrix LCD screen, which way vastly superior to that available on PCs at the time, but it was not backlit. That meant you had to be in a well-lit area to see it. But still, it was easier to move around than my Color Classic, and could run for a couple of hours on a battery alone.

I’ve written quite a bit, but am still at SRS. Next installment I’ll talk more about the introduction of RS/6000 workstations at SRS, then my move to ORNL (along with a temporary computing capability downgrade).

Posted by: doctornuke | December 18, 2010

A Half-Century of Technology – part 2

So when last I wrote I was in graduate school but not yet surfing. Email was evolving and networking had grabbed a solid foothold. Ethernet wires were being run through the ceilings and everything was being connected. At home, I was able to borrow a dub terminal from school, and access the university computers with a 300 bps modem! Since only ASCII data was being transmitted, with go graphics whatsoever, this was acceptably fast.

I began my first job at the Westinghouse Savannah River Site in 1989. By this time, computers were all networked together. SRS was heavily Macintosh based in individual offices, with a number of VAX machines for larger-scale computer, along with a horrendous legacy IBM mainframe running MVS. SRS had developed a text-based graphical user interface for data entry for reactor analysis, where the user could move between fields using arrow keys and tabs; data was stored in a database for later retrieval and modification. Calculations could be executed from within JOSHUA.

In around 1991, Apple introduced Mac OS 7.0, introducing personal file sharing. It became a simple matter to maintain a shared repository for files, and to exchange files and data over the network. At home, Compuserve, a text-based networking service appeared, followed shortly by several semi-graphical dialup services – we subscribed to Prodigy and America Online at different times. Somewhere around this time the first web browser, Mosaic, was introduced. Mosaic simplified some file transfer protocols, such as FTP, and introduced HTML, where simple text and images could be easily combined on a page that would be formatted by the local machine. I saw some early HTML, and recognized the value for documentation where jumping between “pages” could be accomplished using hyperlinks – this would be a great way to follow a non-linear path through a document without having to go through the whole document, or to jump between related documents. Interesting concept, I thought, but I didn’t see it going anywhere. I certainly didn’t see it becoming the basis for the internet as we know it today!

Posted by: doctornuke | December 15, 2010

A Half-Century of Technology – part 1

It boggles my mind to think about all the things that have changed in this world since I was born on July 17, 1960. TV was black and white and only available by over-the-air broadcast, and you were doing well if you could receive 4 stations; a majority if not most commercial airplanes still used propellers; long distance calling was expensive, international calling was difficult and very expensive; construction of the US interstate highway system was just beginning, and Al Gore had not yet invented the information superhighway.

The changes that have occurred in computer technology and the internet really astounds me, as they have happened primarily during my adult life. I remember buying my first calculator, s simple four-function Texas Instruments calculator that cost around $50. Within 4 years I owned a TI-58, which was programmable and could read a magnetic card where you could save your programs. The first family computer was a Commodore 64, which was a computer within a keyboard that plugged into a TV as a monitor – I learned my first real programming language, Basic, on that machine. As an undergraduate at Texas A&M University, I got an account on the University’s mainframe computer, a large IBM system running MVS (I think) that required JCL ( job control language) to run. I learned Fortran 77 on that machine, although with all the JCL I don’t think I really understood was the machine was doing.

. . (FORTRAN program) . 
. . (data) . 

In around 1984, I got an account on two Digital VAX VMS machines. This was my first experience on an interactive computer system, and I actually began to understand how computers really work within a programming context. I also began to work on an IBM PC-AT (running MS DOS) and the first Macintosh computers. At this time, I began to learn more about networking – a new and novel concept. The internet existed at this time but the word was not in wide use nor understood the way in is today. Sending files and printing over the internet using Appletalk and DECNet was amazing, but generally limited to the local area, i.e., on campus. I even started using email and interactive chatting, but still it was usually with a guy in a different office. And at this time attachments were few and far between – you had to be pretty sophisticated to encode a file as text and include it with your email – and the recipient had to be equally sophisticated. BTW, email attachments are still handled in exactly the same way – but the encoding and decoding are handled by the email client itself. I was able to send emails to my brother who was up at the University of Texas at Austin, but email had to go through BITNET to connect two DECNet systems, and had a weird structure that was hard to figure out.

In graduate school in around 1987, I got a diskless Sun Workstation on my desk. This machine booted "over the network" from a server the department maintained. I was now in the Unix world, and computing was becoming high tech. National and even international networking became staples, and I was routinely working on a Cray machine in Minnesota and an NEC supercomputer located in The Woodlands, just north of Houston. We had an office full of Macs, and did everything with 400K floppy disks. Eventually both the operating system and the applications got so big that we had to start using the new double density 800K floppies, so that we could get the OS, the apps, and the documents we worked on all on the same disk. You would boot up off this disk, and kept everything you owned on it. You could store stuff on a second disk, but you would have to swap disks back and forth every time the computer needed something from the OS disk. What a pain. Eventually, one of the guys got an external SCSI disk and we were in heaven. You could boot and run a machine on one disk that also had all your apps on it, and just keep documents on the second disk. And if the machine was expensive enough and had enough RAM (I had just clued into what RAM meant), you could create a RAM disk that would let you copy files between disks by temporarily keeping a copy of the file on a RAM disk so you could copy files without swapping.

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