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Letters to the Editor

Spring/Summer 1990 | Volume 6 |  Issue 1

The Wrong Computer

 James E. Strothman’s article “The Ancient History of System/360” (Winter 1990) incorrectly identifies the computer about which IBM’s chairman, Thomas J. Watson, Jr., wrote his famous memo citing its design and development by “34 people including the janitor.” The computer Watson was referring to was the CDC 6600, produced by Seymour Cray at Control Data Corporation in 1965. And it was not designed to compete directly with the 360 but rather was focused on scientific computing needs.

Your readers might be interested in the details of the Watson memo. It said, “Contrasting this modest effort with 34 people including the janitor with our vast development activities, I fail to understand why we have lost our industry leadership position by letting someone else offer the world’s most powerful computer.” Cray’s response to the Watson memo was simple: “It seems Mr. Watson has answered his own question.”

William R. Cobb
Marietta, Ga.


A Concrete Fact

I am very impressed with Invention & Technology. Congratulations on an outstanding piece of technical journalism.

I discovered one inaccuracy that should be brought to your readers’ attention. In the excellent article “Raising Galveston” (Winter 1990), Don WaIden makes a mistake that has caused many young civil-engineering students to lose a grade in materials class. I refer to his description of concrete’s “drying.” Concrete does not dry; it cures. Placed underwater, it will harden just as in air. The process is called hydration; drying is evaporation.

As a hydraulic engineer I was otherwise very impressed with Mr. Walden’s article. Keep up the exciting work.

Rodney J. Wittler
Lakewood, Colo.


Sidewinder Sidelights

I was particularly interested in your article on the Sidewinder missile (“Sidewinder,” by Ron Westrum and Howard A. Wilcox, Fall 1989) as I had the recent pleasure of contributing to its continued success.

While serving with the Missiles Division of LTV Aerospace & Defense, I was part of a small team working on a Navy-funded project concerned with the redesign of the aft fins, or “wings,” which have changed little since the early design. The supersonic speeds involved in captive carry and firing generate sufficient heat from air friction to affect the strength of the thin aluminum wing skins. To protect the skins a thermal coating is applied during manufacture. This adds not only cost but also drag, because of its coarse “orange peel” surface texture. Also, it has been known to flake off during storage and handling.

The new concept involves a onepiece, wraparound skin of advanced material: RST (for rapid solidification technology) aluminum. This, together with a modern high-performance adhesive, eliminates the need for a thermalprotection coating and the past process of riveting two separate skins onto the wing frame. Navy testing thus far has shown success in the design, and it testifies to the benefit of close teamwork between design engineering and manufacturing engineering.

Phillip S. Waldrop
Arlington, Tex.

Sidewinder Sidelights

Your history of the Sidewinder was especially interesting to me because I developed the first IR (infrared)-guided missile for the Air Corps, the GB6 Glide Bomb during World War II. The Sidewinder’s IR seeker was based on one I independently developed during the war for an IR-guided bomb that MIT was trying to develop. The Sidewinder’s IR element is far more sensitive than those available during the war, greatly simplifying the problem, but the basic design of the seeker is the same, and it is covered by the same U.S. patent, number 2,517,702.

Professor Franklin F. Offner
Biomedical Engineering Department
Technological Institute
Northwestern University
Evanston, Ill.

In memoriam: Hal Bowser, a contributing editor of American Heritage of Invention & Technology, died of a heart attack at his home in New York City in January 1990. He was an invaluable contributor of both ideas and articles to our earliest issues. He was an excellent friend to the magazine and always a joy to work with. We will miss him.—The Editors

All-around Praise

Your Fall 1989 issue was the best I have seen. I was particularly pleased with Henry Petroski’s article about Thoreau, since I have been an admirer of both Thoreau and Petroski.I also liked the piece about clipper ships, since I am a native of Baltimore and take an interest in them.The piece about the Sidewinder I liked largely because my job is chief of an Army laboratory, and finally I liked the piece about the Waring blender because I have one that I bought around 1941 and it’s still going good. Congratulations.

Bryant Mather
Chief, Structures Laboratory
Waterways Experiment Station
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Vicksburg, Miss.

We hope you enjoyed this essay.

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