How does the Mercedes-Benz?
Alumnus recalls plenty to smile about from his days at Case
By James Peckol ’66, PhD
Thank you for letting me share a small bit of memory and humor.
The first event occurred in mid spring, as I recall, in the parking lot in front of Old Main. A member of the faculty had parked his car, a Mercedes-Benz. Unfortunately, there was a heavy wind that day and it was enough to topple the flagpole out there.
Where did it go? It landed smack through the length of his car — bumper to hood.
When the prof came out, the first thing he noticed was that someone had taken his parking pass. Thereafter, looking at his car, his only comment was, in very good humor, “Well, I guess, that’s the way the Mercedes-Benz.”
Telling an engineer ‘It can’t be done’
Here’s a pair of stories from the tech side of Case. Prior to the 1108, the available computers were the Burroughs’s 220 and the Univac 1107. Starting with the Burroughs machine, the head of the computing labs had worked quite hard to try to increase the speed of the machine. He resorted to asking Burroughs how to speed up their computer and their response was: It can’t be done. If you increase the speed, they said, it drops bits.
Undeterred, he continued working and managed to speed up the machine. Ultimately, he informed Burroughs. Their response was “How did you do it?” To which he replied: “I installed a random bit generator.”
Good sister, bad habit
With the Univac, when the department bought the machine, they were selling time on the computer. Some of that time went to the folks at John Carroll University. There was a nun (in full habit then) who took advantage of the opportunity and started working on the machine.
The problem arose that every time she ran her program, the machine would crash. At the same time, if someone else ran the Univac, it worked fine. People struggled for quite a while trying to figure out what was going on. Eventually, someone watched every single thing that the good sister did.
What they discovered was that she would load her card deck into the input and then go to the front of the machine to wait for her output. So far, so good.
When standing waiting for her output, her habit blocked the air intake on the machine, causing it to overheat. When they moved her away, all was cool.
Thereafter, that problem became known as the “Nun effect.”
Jim enlivens the electrical engineering faculty at the University of Washington in Seattle. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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