Today I received email from Tom Hern, one of my Bowling Green State University colleagues. Tom was in the Mathematics department and was instumental in getting me to begin to realize the utility and intellectual stimulation that graphics/visualization could offer. Tom’s email chronicled some of the more important stages of the development and evolution of computing and visualization which came about while I was there. Tom’s remarks were induced in part by the death of a major figure in computing, Dennis Richie. Richie invented the C language and was instrumental in the development of the Unix operating system. Unix has mutated to Linux, which is the default workstation computing environment. I am sorry to hear of Richie’s passing.
I have a few comments about how Tom Hern and others influenced my own development and want to record some of them here.
I recall in the early 1980s Tom Hern disappeared for a couple of years to
UNC on a sabbatical/leave. I did not hear much from him (email essentially was not available yet between such geographically disparate places such as
Bowling Green and Chapel Hill). One day at lunch Fred Rickey joined
our table in the university union as he would do from time to time. I
asked him if he had heard from Tom and if so what was he up to. He
said that you were enjoying being in the CS department at UNC-CH and
were learning a lot. In particular he said you had concluded that you
would have to learn C. Well then C was pretty new and there were not
many people in Physics using C. I went away and looked up C and
searched the book stores in Toledo (for sure the BGSU student book
store would never order anything that could not be used in a specific
course!). I found a few sources and tried to learn C. So, I am
saying that you are responsible for opening my eyes to
other-than-fortran languages. I’ve never looked back since then. Thanks to Tom for that.
I also recall that one summer (either summer of 1980 or 1981) my
family and I went to Roxboro, NC to visit my Mother for a couple of
weeks. While there I brought my oldest son Sean with me to visit Tom in Chapel Hill on the UNC campus. What sticks in my mind about that visit is that Tom was working on a Evans and Sutherland workstation (extraordinaire
in that day!). As a learning project you had written a graphics
application which would demonstrate some of the E&S features in the
guise of constructing a simple 3D box beginning with a single sheet of paper
laid out in a plane with the outline of the paper already done. While
we watched the E&S graphics screen, the paper started to fold up in just the right order with the end result being a fully 3D box! It was neat. Sean and I were impressed. A nice memory.
When Tom did return to Bowling Green, he provided impetus of a number
of computing upgrades and several new directions in the use of graphics. I was interested in using graphics to visualize various physical quantities which I was beginning to obtain with my first steps in an area of computational physics just being invented called Numerical Relativity. I had become really interested in the simulation of black holes obtained by ‘solving’ Einstein’s equations of general relativity and was hungry to see what was unfolding. Our graphics group’s interest and efforts stimulated me to ask new questions and sometimes to get useful answers…the group of us who interacted in a weekly graphics seminar in the Mathematics department was a
wonderful intellectual and social experience. I credit Tom and Cliff Long for
providing input and encouragement for the use of more graphics in
computational physics. I really enjoyed interacting with Tom and
Cliff and a few others in those 1980s years. We all struggled
with getting useful results from the inadequate computing equipment
(both computers and graphics machines) in that decade. And getting the
university to upgrade mainframe machines to ones which were
interactive was a major task. I believe, if I am not mistaken, that
it only really happened that the DEC 2060, an interactive machine,
came to be when the CS department pushed it. In any event, I really
felt like I could finally sit at a terminal and write code and compile
and run it without having to submit a stack of cards! And when that
machine came we started to use email on a regular basis. It thus was
an actually useful thing.
I have been a Unix guy since those ‘early’ days. I have been using
Linux since the mid 1990s and have a Debian Linux machine at home in
the Atlanta area. Now of course I have a MacBook Pro, iPad (I), and
a iPhone. I write code and test it on my home machine (only 4 cores)
and tune and compute on clusters of linux boxes numbering at least 32
and if needed thousands (at Ranger at UTAustin). And the visualization
tools have been developing in positive directions. I use VisIt and
Paraview, both with VTK et al and python underneath. Being able to
perform visualizations remotely (which requires a fat data pipe!) is
increasingly becoming more practical. Volume visualization is
increasingly important now that the simulations are in 3 spatial
dimensions (plus time). I shall forever be interested in
visualization because of the start we crafted at Bowling Green.
I’d appreciate it if you would correct any glaring historical errors in the above.