USA and Canada history


Other travel documents









In my early days it was very exciting to travel to the USA, It was at the forefront of computing developments. I was young. We had already lived in Vienna, and although the American language is nearer to English than German, I felt more at home in Vienna (and later Russia) than in the states. Their culture and approach to life is very different from ours.

1968 First trip USA & Canada

Thursday 25th April 1968. My first trip to the USA, as director of computing looking at the latest developments. First flight was to Boston flight BA561 depart Heathrow 12h30. I flew on a BA Vickers VC10, it has two engines each side at the rear, making it very stable. British Airways were not officially allowed to let people off at Boston, the plane was flying on to Detroit and picking up passengers at Boston. But BA wanted my business, so let me buy a ticket, and I disembarked at Boston with the crew. On arrival at Boston and leaving the terminal, I needed to go downtown so asked a policeman for the way to find a bus, he said "Get lost bud", what a good introduction to the USA.

I was exploring the predecessor of the Internet, the ArpaNet (ARPA = Advanced Project Research Agency, part of DoD = Department of Defense). I went on visits to MIT to see their "Sketchpad" graphics software, and to BBN (Bolt Beranek and Newman). BBN made the "nodes" for the ArpaNet with small Honeywell DDP516 and 316 computers.

Then a day as a tourist in New York, of course I visited the wonderful United Nations buildings, and went up the Empire State building.

29th On down the east coast to Atlantic City for the conference, I travelled by the famous and cheap Greyhound bus, about 4 hours. I stayed at a cheap hotel on Regent Street. The conference ran from the 30th to March 3rd. It was in the Atlantic City Convention Hall, the "Spring Joint Computer Conference" SJCC (there's a conference every spring and fall) daily 08h30 to 17h00. It is organised by The American Association of Computing Machinery. They organise each year a SJCC (on the East coast) and a FJCC (on the West coast). This was the early days of computing, when everyone was interested in what everyone else did. The Atlantic City convention centre is famous for having the largest organ in the world, so of course there was an organ recital one day. I walked along by the sea on the famous "Board Walk", all wooden boards slippery in the wet, the stalls all along were like a glorified Skegness but mussing good fish and chips! Atlantic City is the original home of Monopoly, the original version is for Atlantic City.

After the conference was over I headed back to New York and on up to Toronto, then to London, Ontario. London is of course on the River Thames. I chatted at the University of Western Ontario with Bruce Shawyer, ex-Nottingham Mathematics Department. Nearby to London was Stratford on the River Avon and with a Shakespeare Theatre. Canada really likes to be English.

Then on to Waterloo University. They were famous at that time for their Fortran compiler, especially written and good for teaching, fast to compile student programs, and good diagnostics. They have a big computing centre with IBM kit.

The last visit of the trip was to the University of Toronto for discussions on timetabling with Prof Gottlieb who also has dome work on computer timetabling. He's clever, but my program works better! I'd already written a timetabling programme for Nottingham University, it worked well, and had been in real use for several years, and we had published papers about it. I also visited relatives, the Twaites, distant cousins of my mum. I used the new Toronto underground train line which had just opened. On departure from Toronto the Twaites all came to see me off. Afterwards in the airport duty free shop, buying last minute presents, I lost my wallet, presumed stolen when I laid it on the counter, They delayed the plane while I had a police (a real full dress Mountie) interview, The plane waited for me. It was Air Canada's inaugural 747 Jumbo, with a special celebration cake, the plane was almost empty. A number of years later I found the wallet in an unused and unknown inside pocket in my fur coat in the UK.

1970 Second trip - conference and California

Wednesday 12th May 1970. Another trip by Eric until 3 June to USA for the SJCC again and other visits. First I went to Boston and stayed with Jean and Cecil. Cecil at that time had a much sought-after annual fellowship at Harvard most summers. One day Cecil treated me to a ploughman's lunch at the Harvard Irish Pub, I think he hoped he would get my beer, but I drank the beer too, first ever beer, OK!

I visited MIT Massachusetts Institute of Technology again. My main business was the Atlantic City SJCC (Spring Joint Computer Conference) (again), (and there is always an organ recital on the world's biggest organ). Then on to San Francisco suburb Stanford for a visit to the "Center for Augmentation of the Human Intellect", you couldn't think up a more ambitious title. All staff there all had to type with the left hand on a strange five-key thingy with one key for each finger, the theory was that you could write and draw with your right hand. It obviously never caught on.

I hired a VW Beetle stick-shift, and had fun driving it in San Fransisco down "the crookedest street in the world". Then a visit to a winery across the bridge, and a beautiful wood of very tall redwood trees. I was invited to a barbecue with Gene Golub (numeric analyst), very rare beef, my first enjoyment of rare beef. He's a nice guy. Individuals here are very friendly, how come the overall psyche is so bad?

1973 Trip with the Nottingham Algorithms Group

This visit was with NAG, the "Nottingham Algorithms Group". This was an inter-university collaboration started in 1970 in the Cripps Computing Centre by me and my numeric staff member Brian Ford to encourage co-operation between computing centres developing numerical software. In the early days there was little software available, and I started several projects to encourage co-operation. When I left the centre and returned to teaching, Brian moved NAG to Oxford and it was renamed the "Numerical Algorithms Group", but kept the same initials. The party for this trip included me, Brian Ford, John Prentice, Lill, and Lynda Hayes. We recently held a 50th anniversary reunion on "Zoom" for the few remaining living members.

On this USA trip we went first to Chicago (the Argonne Laboratory, creator of the IMSL = IBM Mathematics Subroutine Library, another comprehensive numeric software library), then on to California where we went to the Lawrence Livermore Ultra High security Laboratory, where we were allowed through only 2 of the 5 security levels. After we had been introduced, we left Brian Ford to give the NAG talk while the rest of us went to a local winery in the Napa Valley. The evening was a Chinese nosh in Berkeley.

At one motel there was surprise when I said to Lynda at evening meal "What time do you want me to knock you up in the morning?". The whole room went silent.

1976 Joy teacher exchange to USA Under construction

Thursday 1st April 1976 Joy to America 18h00, Gatwick to Kennedy Airport.

As part of a teacher exchange programme, Joy's school was offered one teacher to go to the USA for an exchange visit to observe teaching in other countries. The head teacher's wife declined the offer, so Joy went to Pennsylvania for three weeks and stayed with Frances Gibser..

Friday 23rd April 1976 Joy leaves Kennedy Airport.

1983 Music analysis trip

March 1983. This time for my visit to the USA I was an "honor guest lecturer in music analysis". I flew in through Atlanta, with its automatic little trains between terminals. I blocked the closing doors with my foot, and it said "Take your foot out of the door"; very clever. Oklahoma State University OSU is at Stillwater, a small town with not much more than a university,

My job was to give a lecture at various mid-west universities on "Music Analysis and Classification" as part of "Mid-west Universities Honor Lecture" program. I was picked up from the airport by one of the OSU staff Arlene and taken straight (it was lunchtime) to a strip club, the girls were not pretty; I must have a reputation!

I stayed with ex-student Mahir. While I was there we bought a water bed for Angus, Mahir and I went round the shops testing them for bounce and ripple. One lay on the bed on one side, the other jumped up and down on the other side; what did the staff think? The bars in Stillwater sold only weak beer till "closing time", no spirits. It was only after "closing time" that you could buy spirits. The spirits were supposedly owned by the regulars, you were buying from the customers, not from the bar.

1983 Oil companies, teaching in Canada and holiday with Joy

June/July 1983 a longer trip. First consulting computer performance with oil companies in Oklahoma, then teaching summer school at Victoria in Canada, then a holiday in USA with Joy.

Via Dallas to Oklahoma. Business visit to USA. Oklahoma State University at Stillwater. OSU had connections with Nottingham Computer Science. This was a general purpose visit, but mainly for visits to oil companies, discussing their computer performance modelling (Mahir & I had done some good maths and published on that), to Amoco at Tulsa, and Conoco at Ponka City. When mainframes cost so much, you wanted to get the maximum efficiency/performance from them. I stayed at Mahir's house. At the oil companies I was impressed with how smartly dressed people were at work, but how casually dressed as soon as work ended.

Then on to Victoria Canada on Vancouver Island via Seattle to teach summer school there. From Seattle you catch the "white knuckles flight" (over the Olympic mountains, quite bouncy with all the air currents) to Victoria. A typical dumb blond lady checked me in, then took my luggage to the small 6 seat plane, then got in the pilot's seat. She was obviously NOT dumb! There was a very thorough customs search for drugs at a stop at the USA/Canada border, apparently it's one of the common drugs routes.

On to Victoria for teaching at Victoria University UVic on Vancouver Island. I taught a Pascal course for their Summer School, a new experience that the students can challenge your marking. I stayed (alone) at Jon Muzio's house, had the house to myself, he's a Nottingham logic/computing PhD and head of department here, and was away. Walking distance from the house to the pleasant new campus. Much jogging around the local gentle hills every evening, I was very healthy with all the exercise, I weighed myself daily. While in Victoria, I bought some NW Coast Indian art from Raven Arts Ltd 45 Bastion Square. I took a print of one of our old magic lantern slides of Victoria harbour (from the "Canadian Pacific" set of slides) to the museum there. They were able to date it to 1902 by the names of the ships in the harbour. Sue Isaacson (ex-Davies & Pete) wanted to come out and stay, she would have paid her air fare. It would have been good company for me and good for her, and pleasant times would have been had. But to her dismay & great annoyance I declined. She's too intense at times, it would have been hard to concentrate on work.

There was an International Festival in Victoria while I was there, with good food, loud and an excellent very loud Japanese drumming group. One weekend I took the ferry so spend a day or two at the big Folk festival at Vancouver, at which I heard St Anne's Reel and Opera Reel played by lots (1000!) of fiddlers, There were morris teams there. I had played several times for the (slightly geriatric) Victoria Morris Men; the Vancouver men were much more vigorous, and the mixed Seattle side was very precise.

I visited the some of the Twaites family (related on Mum's side somewhere) at Port Coquitlam, a bus journey from Vancouver. I was taken to Simon Fraser University where their daughter works, it's on top of a nearby mountain, a silly and very draughty place, inaccessible in winter because of snow. It is impressive architecture but stupid. I also went canoeing for a day with John Woods (ex-next door to mum & dad at Bookham, and ex chemistry lecturer at Imperial College London now a prof at UVic) with packed lunch, a super day out paddling. He died not long afterwards.

While I was there I rented a car, and I drove up to the extreme north of Vancouver Island. That's the furthest west longitude I've ever been, just the sort of travel data I had to feed to my dad. Wild and remote, you had to sign in as you passed a certain point and check back on your return.

Then it was time to head back south to Oklahoma, Joy had flown out to Dallas and was staying with Mahir. I flew white knuckles to Seattle and on, another thorough drug search after the USA border. We both stayed with Mahir who lent us his luxury car. We two had a holiday tour in Mahir's car (a Chrysler Monte Carlo), he's so generous to lend his car.

We first headed west across the plains and into the Rockies to Denver, very high ground level. Then up the "world's highest road" up Pike's Peak at Mount Evans 14260 feet. On the way down Joy fainted while running across a car park looking for a loo (there wasn't one). At that altitude, with reduced oxygen, running is not a good idea. We went through the Eisenhower road tunnel, the highest bit of national highway in the US. Then to Arches National Park, and the Chequerboard Mesa National Park. We stayed at Marble Canyon, then on to the Grand Canyon, just amazing how deep and wide it is. Eric walked a little of the way down the trail while Joy waited at the top. Then to Meteor Crater, and then the Petrified Forest. Joy was disappointed, she expected to see a forest of standing petrified trees.

Then to the Mesa Verde, an ancient (1200AD?) cliff-dwelling civilisation with round stone houses. Those people were another civilisation who were there long before the USA existed. Access is by a ladder bolted onto the cliff side, quite frightening climbing up. Then to Durango, where we eat at the "Cafe des Dos Juans" of the two Johns, the menu consisted of "This Juan" "Another Juan" "The best Juan". While at Durango we went on a white water rafting trip down the Colorado river, but at that time of year it was not very white! For white water you must come in the spring. Next port of call was to Santa Fe in New Mexico, where the lovely buildings are sculpted in adobe clay.

For the next and quieter spot, we stayed a few days in a wooden cabin (owned by the ex-wife of one of the OSU staff) way out in the wild up in Colorado by the Rio Grande river. There was a feeding thingy for the humming birds, we put syrup into it each day. Then to another ex-mining village, now a dead museum. Further on was a volcanic park, we walked up to the crater rim; not as impressive as Meteor Crater. Back across the border into Oklahoma State, we visited the "Sod House", the oldest house in Oklahoma, made of turfs, now preserved in an aircraft hangar. It was just a little older than our house! We went on to the campus at Oral Roberts University, a hot gospel Christian campus, all gold plate and fundamentalist religious.

1987 International music software trip

June 1987 was my last trip to the USA! I was a member of the ISO (International Standards Organisation) (or was it IFIP, the International Federation for Information Processing?) working party for SMDL (Standard Music Description Language). I flew "Continental" airline. Appalling airline. even worse than British Airways. I wrote in with a detailed complaint, they thanked me for having provided "input to their thought processes". Most of the working party work was by email, but this time we met in person in Minneapolis -- ISO Music Committee XV4.1M, developing SMDL and HYTIME. SMDL was a language like HTML (for web pages) or SGML (for general documents) but specially aimed at for describing music scores. HYTIME was similarly for describing sound-and-light shows.

In Minneapolis I walked everywhere! There was much swearing by the chairman Charles Gottlieb of IBM, I think it was a deliberate ploy to get us to work harder and make decisions. The fun discussions included "What exactly is a piece of music?" (as an ethnoid I said that it's not what's written down that matters, but for the classisists everything starts from a writ en score), and "Must we represent the coffee stains and crossings out on the original manuscript?". The detail was boring. Minneapolis-St Paul is a nice twin city, obviously cold in winter, most valuable shops are at first floor level with walkways at first floor across roads.

In the end as far as I know no-one ever used the software except the French.


In 1985 Joy had spent time in India, and I had visited many parts of the world. All this showed us that countries with greater historical culture were more interesting. So 1987 was my last USA trip, Asia and Africa were far more interesting! Individual Americans were very friendly, but the overall consumer culture was uninviting and strange.

Other travel documentss








Eric's life history summary is here
Corrections and additions welcome, email Eric
This copy edited Sunday 06-Dec-2020