13 - ARTICLES
by BERNARD A HODSON
It was interesting to see how the fact of having the title "professor" changed the attitude of people. Whereas once you were another worker the title seemed to give you status and authority, even though you were still the same person. Prior to becoming a professor I had published very little, and had given very few speeches. I had written a few "letters to the editor" and have earlier mentioned the article in the Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society, which won an award. In addition I had also published prior to that time an article in the IBM users Guide proceedings on the world's first one pass Fortran compiler.
Some of the speeches I gave also became the basis for articles, but in general the articles were developed separately from the speeches. The writing took two forms, articles for semi learned but refereed journals (refereed articles are ones where it is reviewed by supposed peers before publication), and articles for more popular journals and newspapers. I could not be bothered with the very learned journals. This chapter will also refer to articles which others wrote occasionally about my work.
One of the discussions I had with the Head of Mathematics, Dr. Mendelson, shortly after I arrived at the University, was quite illuminating. He said first of all that by the time someone gets their PhD degree they are exhausted and almost useless for further research, which surprised me somewhat at first but which I have since found to be true, having been exposed to many of these tenured has-beens who contribute very little to our further knowledge following the publication of their thesis. The second startling fact (although not in retrospect) was the lack of ethics in many academic staff, who are quite prepared to steal your ideas and claim the credit for themselves, again a truth I sadly experienced. He did, however, tell me how to protect myself in that regard, by giving your paper, prior to sending it to a very learned journal, to at least 100 other people.
What happens on these very learned journals (and I have since been a referee for several of them) is that your paper is circulated to maybe four or five supposed "peers". Most of these people are very egotistical and do not like to think that others are better than they (I am guilty on occasion of the same thoughts), and may reject a paper for no valid reason. Knowing that it will take many months for it to be resubmitted to another journal they can then be tempted to use the concepts in their own research.
I also became quite active in articles for magazines and newspapers. The reason for this was quite simple. We were doing quite a lot of interesting research and journalists would spend hours interviewing us, following which they would publish articles on our work, about seventy five percent of which was text we had given to them. So I decided I could do an equivalent job and started to write articles on the same basis, initially for a magazine called Canadian Datasystems, (in this case not based on our research). I also wrote articles based on our research.
To illustrate this point I was asked to do a consulting job by the Retail Council of Canada. There had been increasing political pressure for retail stores to declare the "true interest rate" on what had become known as "revolving charge accounts". In this type of account you accumulate debt, are charged interest each month, and pay off a minimum amount. This is quite common now but was an area of controversy at the time in question. I was asked by the Retail Council to confirm that it was impossible to calculate the "true interest". After examining the problem I developed a method of handling the situation, at the same time exposing the almost usurious rates being charged by the retail stores. The only effect on the retail stores was that one of them raised its rates to match the others, and I published a short article on the technique called "Revolving Credit", with sample results. I was then interviewed by the Press, which generated a garish headline "MANITOBA MATHEMATICIAN TO MAKE MILLIONS" which of course never materialised. This topic was also of concern in the United States and I was asked if my method could be presented to the Attorney General of the United States, at that time Robert Kennedy. This was done and an acknowledgement and expression of interest was received signed by Robert Kennedy (a copy of which I have in my files).
For Canadian Datasystems I wrote fairly general articles. "What to consider when buying a micro" tried to steer readers to what they should consider and what traps to avoid. "Genetic Software" tried to explain in layman's terms the work I was doing which would later, hopefully, change the way in which the computer industry developed. "Experiences with a personal computer" pointed out some of the frustrations I had experienced when using one of the early microcomputers. "Computers in Manufacturing" indicated how the computer was making inroads in factories. "Data Preparation" covered the use of service bureaux for companies preparing data for entry to their accounting applications. "How real is the software revolution?" was on the topic of generalised (as opposed to specific) software, including the approach which later became GENETIX.
"What users say about add-on memory" was a review of the then new idea that computer memory could be increased by inserting add on memory modules, which in the early days involved a few complications. "How to choose the right DBMS" advised readers how to select computer software for data base activity (a company stores data on its customers etc. in what is called a "data base"), a type of computer software which had recently been introduced to the market.
I was asked by Hoffman Roche, a pharmaceutical company based in Switzerland, to write about the work we were doing in hospitals, for their magazine called Image. This article had to be supported by pictures, which they arranged to be taken by a local professional photographer. This was later published in three languages (German, French and English) with the English title "Automation in a Hospital". They gave me about twenty copies in each language plus a small cheque which was quite appreciated at the time.
In Canada it was a sad fact of life (and to some extent still is) that Canada consists of Montreal, Toronto and their immediate neighbourhoods, in so far as Press writings are concerned. I tried to remedy this to some extent by writing letters to magazines and newspapers, and specifically an article or two indicating that things also happened in other parts of Canada. In this I was partially successful. An article was published in Canadian University describing the work being done with computers at the University of Manitoba, there was extensive coverage of my book Modern Data processing for Management in the national publication The Financial Post, and the national newspaper the Globe and Mail published my views on the poor computer systems being thrust on the public, called "The Systems Tragedy".
In some senses this was also a national problem, in that the Press tended to think that if anything had been developed in Canada then it could not be of any consequence. As an example the research results at the Manitoba nuclear reactor in Pinawa were offered to Canadian companies, who preferred to go to the USA, even though the Canadian research was superior in many ways. A study of social conditions in Manitoba was offered to a New York firm when capability existed locally. The New York consultant they hired subcontracted some of the work to me. Had he not done this his results would have made him a laughing stock, he frankly did not know what he had asked for computer output (he would have had almost 1,000,000 almost empty tables of data output). The City of Winnipeg hired a firm to do acoustical design for a new theatre who, in their turn, hired one of the world's leading companies for that expertise, located in Winnipeg, and so on.
There were, in fact, many more articles than indicated, but much of their content was a variation on the content of the articles I have mentioned.
On the articles for the semi learned journals I took a different stance. I had successfully developed on the main frame computers the Hodson-Turing concept, and had shown that it worked. I was now placing it on microcomputers and needed to get the opinion and possible viewpoint of practitioners. To do this I embarked on a series of papers that I could present at conferences and receive feedback which would help in the further development of the Hodson-Turing approach.
Three articles not related to conferences were developed to sound out the ideas. One, entitled "Small is Beautiful" was written for a UK magazine called Software World, which generated some favourable comment. Two were for a Canadian government publication called Optimum. One was entitled "Genetic software - a promise of productivity", the other "Genetic software - an update on productivity". In the latter two the typical bureaucratic response was received, nothing. However the three articles served to clarify my thinking.
In the early 1990s I presented papers at conferences in Europe and received sufficient favourable response for me to continue developing the Hodson-Turing concept. The first was to the computer scientists at the Technical University of Brno in what was now the Czech Republic. I had written to my former research associate, Jan Blatny, to find out if he survived the most recent Czech Revolution. He had not only survived it but invited me to visit him once again (you will recall that my previous invitation was foiled by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia). To my amazement I found that on his return from the two years he had spent in Canada with me, he had built a computer that was compatible with the IBM 360 but which used different logical components. It had been used extensively and was still running, albeit on a reduced scale. He had also built and used a variety of monitors. I presented the Hodson-Turing approach and, while there was some scepticism, the computer scientists there seemed to accept it. I was also able to show them it worked in the Czech language.
This gave me a certain amount of confidence and I decided to present a paper in the lion's den, at the Canadian Conference of Computer and Electronic Engineers, called "Towards a different type of computer". This also served to reinforce my thoughts that what I was doing was needed in the industry, and I continued to develop my ideas.
I was invited to speak at a meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Modelling and Simulation Techniques in Geneva, Switzerland, and gave a paper "A different approach to application development", which generated considerable interest. This was followed a year later by a similar conference in London, where I extended the ideas from the Geneva paper.
Recognising the value of the Hodson-Turing approach to smart cards, and combining it with my experience in developing hospital systems, I presented a paper in Berlin entitled "The smart card as a computer", which also generated considerable interest, convincing me further to continue my research.
I had never been to Berlin before and I had very mixed feelings as I travelled on the plane from London. My previous dealings with Germany had been during WWII when German bombers flew over the house where I lived, and there was a certain apprehension in me as I landed in Berlin, (even though we had a very good family friend from Germany). The apprehension was dispelled at the conference.
There were other papers presented at other conferences but the ones mentioned gave me the courage to continue my research, even though it flew against the current industry thinking, and could potentially devastate the industry with a very adverse effect on those developing software (particularly operating systems) and hardware.