Oral-History:A. Michael Noll

About A. Michael Noll

Born in Newark, New Jersey, A. Michael Noll, a Senior Member of IEEE, received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in 1971, M.E.E. from New York University in 1963, and B.S.E.E. from Newark College of Engineering in 1961. He is also a graduate of Saint Benedict's Preparatory School in Newark.

He is Professor Emeritus of Communication and former Dean at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. Before joining the Annenberg School in 1984, Noll had a varied career in basic research, telecommunication marketing, and science policy. In addition, he is an early pioneer in the use of digital computers in the visual arts. In the early 1970s, Noll spent two years in Washington as a Technical Assistant to the President's Science Advisor at the White House. From 1977 to 1984, he worked in the AT&T Consumer Products and Marketing Department and he spent nearly fifteen years performing basic research at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey (1961-1975).

Noll has published over ninety-five professional papers covering a wide variety of topics and in diverse journals. In addition, he has been granted six patents for his inventions in speech processing and human-machine tactile communication while at Bell Labs.

Courtesy of noll.uscannenberg.org/

About the Interview

A. Michael Noll: An Interview Conducted by Mary Ann Hellrigel and Michael Geselowitz, IEEE History Center, 10 May 2016

Interview #765 For the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

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Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA or ieee-history@ieee.org. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

A. Michael Noll, an oral history conducted in 2016 by Mary Ann Hellrigel and Michael Geselowitz, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEWER: Mary Ann Hellrigel and Michael Geselowitz
10 May 2016
PLACE: Stirling, New Jersey

Introduction

Hellrigel:

This is Mary Ann Hellrigel, Institutional Historian, of the IEEE History Center. It is the 10th of May 2016. I am with A. Michael Noll, a Senior Member of IEEE, at his home in Stirling, New Jersey. We are accompanied by Michael Geselowitz, Senior Director of the IEEE History Center. Good afternoon and thank you for partaking in this Oral History.

Hellrigel:

Please state your full name and date and place of birth.

Noll:

My name is A. Michael Noll. I was born in Newark, New Jersey on August 29, 1939 and I lived in the Clinton Hill section of Newark until 1971. I understand you received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in 1971, M.E.E. from New York University in 1963, and B.S.E.E. from Newark College of Engineering in 1961.

Early Years

Hellrigel:

Where did you attend grammar and secondary school?

Noll:

I attended a parochial grammar school and then I enrolled at Saint Benedicts Preparatory School for high school. St. Benedict’s Prep is a college preparatory school for boys. I received an excellent education and I learned to think and write. I liked math, physics, and chemistry. At one time, I had a strong interest in nuclear physics, but I turned against it when I saw all the harm done to people in Japan to end World War II.

Hellrigel:

Please provide some information about your parents

Noll:

My father was a machinist and a carpenter, so he liked to build things. My mother was a secretary. She went to clerical secretarial school and liked to write. So my interest in building things came from my father; my interest in writing came from my mother.

Hellrigel:

Tell me a bit about your childhood. What were your interests? Did you play with engineering type toys like an erector set and rockets? Did you have any hobbies?

Noll:

As a child, I liked to make complicated drawings of spaceships, rockets, and machines. Later in high school, I had art courses and also acquired a strong interest in listening to classical music that continues today. At NCE, we had a hi-fi club, and my favorite professor there was Dr. Achilles Foster, another hi-fi fan. I worked part time at a hi-fi store in Newark as a salesperson. In college and at Bell Labs, I attended concerts in New York City and also art museums, particularly the Museum of Modern Art.

College Years

Hellrigel:

Why did you choose Newark College of Engineering? [now New Jersey Institute of Technology]

Noll:

My parents were not wealthy. Neither one of my parents went to high school or graduated high school. There just was no money for me to go anyplace else. St. Benedict's Prep was expensive for them, but I received a fine education. I was conservative and probably didn't want to live away from home, so the obvious place was Newark College of Engineering. NCE was a very fine, practical engineering school with an excellent faculty.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

It was easy to get to NCE. I took the #25 bus down Springfield Avenue, walked across High Street, and arrived at the college.

Hellrigel:

After NCE, you went to NYU [New York University] for your Master's?


Noll:


When I graduated from NCE I ended up working at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey. While working at Bell Labs I earned a master's degree from NYU. Later I went to Brooklyn Poly at night and earned a doctorate in 1971. Bell Labs had a program, the Communication Development Training Program, in which you earned a Master's Degree. You studied for a Master's Degree with faculty who were bussed in from NYU. Back then NYU had a very large engineering school.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Bell Labs

Noll:

Their faculty was bussed over to Murray Hill where you went to class. Rather than working on your job, you attended class, and after two years, you earned a Master's Degree.

Hellrigel:

Then it was expected, if you worked at Bell Labs, you would have your master's degree?

Noll:

Yes, as a young engineer with a bachelor’s degree, one of the perks of working at Bell Labs was being sent to get a master's degree in engineering.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

I don't know the number of people in that program, but I would guess well over one hundred participated each year.

Hellrigel:

That is a large program. Of course, other people at Bell weren't in the program.

Noll:

Obviously, Bell Labs also hired people with doctorates and people who already had master's degrees, too. However, this was a pretty large program and, in essence, Bell was training its own engineering staff.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

The Communication Development Training Program was for the development areas of Bell Labs, not the research area. Normally, people who came to work in the research area of Bell Labs had a doctorate when they came in the door.

Hellrigel:

You also worked on your doctorate when you were at Bell Labs.

Noll:

I had a summer rotational assignment in 1962 as part of this Communication Development Training Program. During the summers, you were sent to another department at Bell Labs, a different area, to broaden your experience. I was sent to the Research Department; a research area working for Manfred R. Schroeder in the Speech Communication area. That was just a summer assignment and I was expected to return to my normal department in the development area.

Manfred explained to me some idea he had for a new way for determining the fundamental frequency of speech, the cepstrum. The cepstrum was a newly discovered mathematical technique by John Tukey, Bruce Bogert, and Healey. It was used mostly for helping determine whether an underground explosion was either a bomb or an earthquake; a nuclear bomb or an earthquake. Manfred came up with an idea to use this for determining the fundamental frequency of speech.

Before he left for vacation he sketched it out for me, and one or two months later, I had programmed it and it worked. I was stupid enough, so I thought of course it would work. Little did I know that this solved a major problem; determining accurately the fundamental frequency of speech. I didn't know it was a big problem, so the fact that it worked, why wouldn't it work? When you discover something and you don't realize it was a big problem, you sort of say, yes, well, of course, you know, no problem.

That was also the summer I started fussing around with computer art, too. Then I went back to the development area and continued the next year of my studies for the master's degree at Bell Labs.

Geselowitz:

This is Michael Geselowitz; I'm assisting Mary Ann on this interview. Why was Manfred's group also doing computer art?

Noll:

The group was not doing computer art. It was just something I did for the fun of it; it was just something that was fun.

Geselowitz:

What I meant to say is you were enabled to indulge in this interest.

Noll:

We had this device called a microfilm plotter which was used to plot tables of numbers. It's hard to imagine in the 1960s, but engineers sat with tables of x and y coordinates and graph paper and by hand graphed things. Nowadays, I don't think anybody would know what graph paper was if they were shown it. They wouldn't know how to graph x and y at all.

It was all done automatically on this automatic plotter. It was not a pen plotter. It was done on the face of a high-resolution cathode-ray tube. It came out on microfilm and then the microfilm was enlarged onto sheets of paper. The data, the results of the computer simulations of this cepstrum technique, came out on reams of paper from the microfilm plotter. If you had a programming error, lines went every which way, so random scribbles came out. A colleague, Elwyn Berlekamp, jokingly said, “computer art.” Then I thought to myself, yes, do it deliberately.

At the end of the summer, I went back to my development area to work on human factors of peak clipping of human speech and human factors of sidetone. Sidetone is when you hear your own speech back through a telephone instrument, when you go, [panting sound] into a telephone and hear it coming out of here, that's sidetone. You normally hear it when you're talking. It's how you regulate your speech volume. I was doing subjective tests on sidetone.

After I earned my Master's Degree, I thought about going off someplace and getting a doctorate. I recall visiting Rensselaer and I also went down to John Hopkins.

Hellrigel:

Okay, you considered leaving Bell Labs.

Noll:

A professor at Johns Hopkins, Bill Huggins, was interested in speech, so I was going to go to Johns Hopkins and study with him. Then I discovered he was actually coming up to Bell Labs to use this microfilm plotter to look into computer animation.

Hellrigel:

Oh, that must have been an unexpected development for you.

Noll:

Then, out of the blue, the research area invited me to transfer into the research area without a doctorate. It was unusual to be in the research area without a doctorate.

Hellrigel:

Yes, it would have been an atypical invitation.

Noll:

I thought, gee whiz, I always wanted to work in research and now I have a great opportunity in front of me. Besides, the professor I was going to work with coming up to Bell Labs.

In the 1960s, everybody wanted to be at Bell Labs. The story is really about Bell Labs. I'm just one little blip in that incredible story of what the people were like there, and obviously, I decided to stay at Bell Labs.

I still felt I should get a doctorate, so I enrolled at Brooklyn Poly [Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute] to go for a doctorate at night.

Hellrigel:

During the day you worked at Bell Labs, and in the evening you took graduate courses.

Noll:

That was probably a mistake because to get a doctorate, you really should be on campus full-time. I would not recommend going part-time to anybody. I was going at night, but you don't take it as seriously when you're going at night.

Hellrigel:

However, if you went full-time, you would have had to give up your Bell Labs job.

Noll:

Yes, I probably would have had to give up that job. I was more interested in the research, in the work I was doing at Bell Labs, than the academic study for a doctorate. This was true when I was getting my Master's, too. I was more interested in what I was actually doing than the academics. I'm not an academic.

Hellrigel:

You do not consider yourself an academic, but you found the topic for your Master's thesis or dissertation before you enrolled in graduate school.

Noll:

Yes, I was doing research; the cepstrum would have gotten somebody a doctorate.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

That would have been a dissertation. Some of the other experiments I was doing on understanding sidetone and peak clipping would have gotten somebody a dissertation, too. The continuation of the work I did when I moved into the research area was mostly on pitch detection of human speech. Then I got much more involved in computer graphics, real-time interactive graphics, and building new interfaces. We had a mechanical genius in the research area named Charlie Mattke (Charles F. Mattke). This is really a story of people. It's not about me; it's about all the people who helped me and those I interacted with at the lab. Charlie Mattke was a genius, and he helped design a three-dimensional input device, a joy stick, for an interactive computer system that we had at Bell Labs in Murray Hill. Then I got the idea to motorize that system so that you could feel as if you were bumping into shapes and objects.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

At the same time, I also worked on a stereoscopic interactive display, 3-D. While you are looking at something in 3-D, you get 3-D input and force feedback. That was my doctoral dissertation.

Hellrigel:

Wow.

Noll:

Brooklyn Poly was kind enough to accept that project. I was actually building something; something that never had been done before.

Hellrigel:

Right, it seems almost like a video game.

Noll:

By today's standard, people would call it virtual reality. The word haptic did not exist back then, so I called it a feely device or a tactile device or something of that variety, or force feedback device. It actually was patented; the whole system was patented.

Hellrigel:

I understand you have six patents?

Washington, D.C. - Science Policy Post

Noll:

I have a few patents, not many.

Then I left Bell Labs in 1971, the day I received my doctorate from Brooklyn Poly. Dr. Edward E. David (he went by Ed) received an honorary doctorate degree that day. It was literally the last day I worked at Bell Labs because Ed invited me to join him in Washington, D.C. where he was President Nixon's Science Advisor.

Hellrigel:

How long did you work with Ed David?

Noll:

Two years.

Hellrigel:

Two years.

Noll:

Yes, two years, half of 1971 through half of 1973.

Hellrigel:

What appealed to you about the science policy post?

Noll:

I needed a break. When you're working on a doctoral dissertation, you get tired of it. I saw it happen and it happened to me, too. It's just so intense; it's so nerve-racking. Will they accept it? Then writing it up and everything else. You want nothing to do with it. You'd like to throw it in the ocean and flush it away.

Hellrigel:

After earning the doctorate, you needed to take a break.

Noll:

You need a break. I was tired of it; I didn't want anything to do with it.

I was in my little office and the phone rang and it was, Bill Baker (William O. Baker), Vice President of Research at Bell Labs. He was skipping oodles of levels of management and I stood up because when Bill Baker calls you on the phone, you stand up.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

Dr. Baker said, "Michael, from time to time we send our people down to Washington, D.C. I was wondering how you'd respond if Dr. David offered you that kind of a position." Pause. This was not the pause of, well I'll get back to you, let me think about it. This was the pause of I want an answer now. I said yes. Life is a lot of switches. Paths open up in front of you. Sometimes you can create them yourself, but sometimes you don't and the path opens up and you have to make a decision. Do I go that way or do I stay where I am? This was one of those decisive moments and I said I was tired of the lab. I was tired of what I was doing.

Previously, along with my mother, I became interested in the problems of cities and corruption and mismanagement in Newark. We actually wrote a couple case studies of these issues. Baker had seen those reports I wrote, and I think perhaps because of that, he thought, maybe Michael would do well in D.C. in policy. I said yes, and off I went to Washington, D.C.

Hellrigel:

What did you expect?

Noll:

I was in over my head and scared to death.

Geselowitz:

Tell us about that actual experience.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Geselowitz:

I'm curious, so what was the arrangement and was there an understanding with Bill that after a certain number of years, months, or whatever, you would return to Bell Labs and they would hold the job for you?

Noll:

The idea was Bell Labs would hold a job for me, yes. Yes, they'd give me a leave of absence to go down to Washington, D.C. During this period I was certainly not going to be employee of Bell Labs; I'd be an employee of the Executive Office of the President of the United States.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

Off I went, but it took three months of uncertainty because they can't just hire you when you show up.

Hellrigel:

You probably had to go through a background check and security clearance.

Noll:

Yes, it was a process with security clearances, vetting, etc. I found out from some of my neighbors in New Jersey that the FBI or some people were sniffing around and trying to find out if I was a Soviet spy.

Hellrigel:

They were out in the field investigating your activities.

Noll:

Yes, they wanted to know if I was a Soviet spy or who knows what. Don't forget, this was at the height of the Cold War.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

Meanwhile, I was trying to find the door to get into my office on the second floor of the old Executive Office building. I was assigned a corner suite with a private toilet and a secretary.

Hellrigel:

Wow, you were in Washington, D.C. during a very intense time. It was also an era of activism in Newark and across the country.

Noll:

It was a time of activism.

Hellrigel:

Many protests and public demonstrations were held by anti-war activists, civil rights supporters, and others.

Noll:

The windows in my office had bullet-proof glass protecting regular glass. I had no idea how to handle a secretary or what to do.

Hellrigel:

Your secretary must have helped you adjust to Washington, D.C. culture and settle into your new job.

Noll:

There was an entrance to my office that went past the secretary. My office also had a private door leading to the hallway, so I could get rid of somebody without them having to pass the secretary and other people waiting to see me. Ed’s office was around the hallway and another hallway. Beyond Ed’s office was another office which some fellow named Agnew hung around.

Hellrigel:

You were down the hall from Vice President Spiro Agnew.

Noll:

I always avoided going that direction because I didn't want to bump into him. I wouldn't know what to say. What do you say to the Vice President? Do you bow, kiss his ring? I have no idea.

Hellrigel:

Did you have much interaction with the President Nixon?

Noll:

None.

Hellrigel:

Yes, the federal government, like many institutions and corporations, has a distinct hierarchy.

Noll:

I'm just a lowly staff person working for the Science Advisor, who also had little interaction with Nixon. Decades later I found out who was indeed interacting with Nixon. It was Bill Baker.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

Bill Baker and Clark Clifford spent an afternoon in the Oval Office. It was just the three of them, Clifford, Baker, and Nixon. I interviewed Bill, doing what you're doing today except not as formally and not as wisely. Bill talked about how Nixon couldn't understand why everybody was against him.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

Baker and Clifford were in the Oval Office as Nixon was losing it.

Hellrigel:

Yes, they witnessed Nixon’s demise.

Noll:

It was falling apart. The whole thing was falling apart, but I didn't know that at the time.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

I'm just hanging around with Ed David. My areas of responsibilities were computer security and privacy. I also got involved with export issues, especially the export of computer technology to the Soviets. Computer security work led to collaboration with my colleagues at the NSA [National Security Administration]. They told me NSA stood for No Such Agency.

Hellrigel:

Yes, the NSA wanted to be as invisible as possible.

Noll:

They said NSA could also stood for the National Salvage Agency. They never admitted the NSA’s real name.

Doug Hogan was an extremely competent person in the research part of NSA. He arranged for me to visit scholars in various places and see what was going on. I realize now, showing the flag, showing that there was some White House Science Advisor interest in this area would be a stimulant to people.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

Computer security was as bad then as it is today.

Hellrigel:

Did the NSA worry about Soviet hacks or others?

Noll:

Computer security included Soviet hacks, the US spying on the Soviets, and all sorts of interesting issues. The key issue was how to secure computers. The interest then, as it is today, was in Unix.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

Unix was inherently very secure. We went out to Cheyenne Mountain and looked at those facilities It was great to work with Doug. Computer export issues were fascinating because they revealed conflict between agencies. There was a battle because the Department of Commerce wanted IBM to sell its computers, but the Defense Department worried that an abacus would significantly increase the Soviet's computer power. During these battles galore, I sat and listened to one side and then the other. Sure, you wanted to help American industry.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

However, you didn't want to significantly make it easier for the Soviets to calculate nuclear weapons explosions and build better bombs.

Hellrigel:

Right, you did not want to expand Soviet military capability.

Noll:

Those battles continued. It was Washington, D.C. Some of the issues were fun and very interesting. There were some people who invented this package switch network called ARPANET.

Hellrigel:

Oh, yes.

Noll:

There was a sister agency to us in the White House called the Office of Telecommunications Policy (OTP). Ed told me to attend the meetings and see what was going on. “Mike, I want you to follow up on this for me.” The issue here was the OTP had a dilemma because the academic world wanted access to this ARPANET.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

So, ARPA [Advanced Research Projects Agency] said we'll sell them access. The White House policy people said “No, you're not. We do not want the government becoming a common carrier and competing with private industry.”

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

We don't want that, so, what to do about it. I remember we had this meeting, and I think Charlie Roberts was there. We were at the National Science Foundation or someplace where these OTP people had their offices. The issue was what to do about it. In my stupidity, I said, "Well, did you ask AT&T whether they would commercially offer it?" They said, "Yes, and AT&T said no because they had no interest in it." I said, "Oh," and shut up. After another hour, my brain worked again and I said, "Oh, what about the prime contractor, Bolt, Beranek, and Newman? Did you ask them?" I thought, my God, they're the prime contractors. It's like you are giving them a gift. They said, "Yes we contacted Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, and they said no."

Hellrigel:

Why were they so disinterested in developing the technology?

Noll:

That left me stunned. A day or two later, I was on the phone with Dick Bolt of Bolt, Beranek, and Newman and I told him the story. He said, "Let me get back to you." He got back to me in a couple of days and said, "We revisited the decision, and indeed, we're going to start a new company to do so." I think it was called Telenet. Then he asked me whether I would like to have a position with the company, either Vice President, or President or something. My mind said this would be an incredible conflict of interest for me to be using an Executive Office position. I said no, plus I wouldn't know how to run a company.

Hellrigel:

Right, and that's a precursor of the internet.

Noll:

Years ago, I told this story to a historian at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman and they were fascinated because they knew that the decision was no at first, but they did not know why it was reversed. They knew the company changed its decision, but they didn't know the stimulus for the change.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

I was able to fill in that information. The company changed its decision because of my conversation with Dick. Those kinds of issues were interesting and some things were fun. I got very close with Hugh Loweth, the Budget Examiner for the National Science Foundation in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). I discovered the OMB was the most powerful agency in Washington, D.C. because it controlled budgets.

The civil servants at OMB had file cabinets with the stupid, dumb agency proposals from twenty years ago. When an agency came in with the same proposal again, the office workers went to the back of the cabinet where things had fallen to the bottom, pulled out the old proposal, and said it a stupid proposal twenty years ago it is still stupid. The agencies were scared to death of OMB because it had a sense of history, knew what was going on, and tried to control waste and craziness.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

The waste and craziness was out of control and the problem continues today. I got very friendly with Hugh. We were both workaholics.

The OST were kicked out of the old Executive Office Building, so I left my huge office. We were sent across the street to the new Executive Office Building which made me happier because it was less highfalutin and the OMB's offices were located there, too. Hugh and I went to dinner together very frequently and I got to know him very well. I have the deepest respect for that man.

Hellrigel:

You spent two busy years in Washington, D.C.

Noll:

Yes, two years because Richard Nixon was re-elected. Nixon was unhappy with the Presidential Science Advisory Committee as well as Dick Garwin (Richard L. Garwin) who advocated against the President. If you want to oppose the President, you shouldn’t be a member of one of his main committees and you shouldn’t speak publicly. You just don't carry on in such a matter, you resign. There are certain rules in life and Garwin violated them. In turn, the White House decided it did not need a science advisor and it did not need the advisory committee. Suddenly, Ed was out of a job, I was out of a job, we were all out of a job.

Hellrigel:

Around this time Watergate dominated the news.

Noll:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

The Watergate scandal played out over time.

Noll:

By then, Watergate was very public and the entire White House mechanism was just tied up watching the televised hearings.

Hellrigel:

Yes, much of the country watched, too.

Noll:

You couldn't get a decision out of the White House. They probably couldn’t decide which sandwich to have for lunch because they were so wrapped up in Watergate. The head of the government came to a screeching halt, but the government runs itself. If anybody thinks they're going to go to Washington, D.C. and make any change, I'm sorry to report, they're crazy. You just can't change it. There's an incredible built-in bureaucracy that runs itself.

Hellrigel:

As long as the money's appropriated the mechanism operates.

Noll:

Ed and I had a meeting with Bill Ruckelshaus, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA wanted to regulate aircraft emissions more tightly. I remember Ed got furious and told off Ruckelshaus, stating, "This isn't based on any science. You have no justification to regulate aircraft emissions more tightly," Ed got up and stormed out of the meeting. By the time the meeting ended the only people left included: Ruckelshaus, myself, one or two of our staff, and one or two of his staff. Ruckelshaus continued defending the move to tighten emissions and said, "I am sworn to uphold the law and to uphold the law in terms of what the EPA can do." He was not going to let the White House tell him what to do.

Hellrigel:

Yes, by the mid-1970s, the federal government expanded its role in protecting the environment, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the EPA, etc.

Noll:

Then Ed asked me to look at the data. The data used to justify tighter emissions regulations was based upon measurements at Los Angeles airport. It was based upon one specific sensor that showed incredible high levels of something or other, probably nitrous oxide, at three o'clock in the morning.

Hellrigel:

Yes, but how many airplanes are in the area at that time?

Noll:

There's no traffic at LAX at three o'clock in the morning.

Hellrigel:

Yes, there is no traffic because the airport is closed.

Noll:

The EPA said, "Well, it's a basin. The pollution sweeps in across the airport and late at night it comes back towards the ocean." I said, "In greater concentration all over that one sensor? No, that doesn't make any sense." The offending entity was a garbage truck parked outside the sensor.

Hellrigel:

Oh, yes, the garbage truck may have been idling for a long time.

Noll:

I knew the EPA was going to regulate it anyway.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

It didn't matter. This had nothing to do with data. It had to do with psychological factors. You learn a lot in Washington, D.C. I was green. I didn't know a thing. It took probably three months for me just to figure it all out. There's a learning curve you go on.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

Some people take much longer. Some people can take a couple years to catch on. I caught on to the silliness of the military. I remember going to a meeting at the Pentagon. It looked like a movie of people running around wearing uniforms and saluting each other. It did not impress me, but someone else could easily be impressed by it.

Hellrigel:

Right, it shows organization and command, and it looks professional and polished.

Noll:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

Well organized.

Noll:

You know, it's just a giant bureaucracy in a huge building in which you may get lost and never be found.

Hellrigel:

You visited around the time the mandatory draft was coming to an end.

Noll:

Yes, this was a bad period.

Sometimes my work was fun. For example, as budget time approached, Ed asked everybody in our office to take on an agency and make a recommendation to OMB. I said, "Gee, it would be fun to do the Smithsonian," so, I volunteered and went up to the zoo.

Hellrigel:

Okay, you went to the National Zoo.

Noll:

Yes, I went up to the National Zoo. Ted Reed was the Director of the Zoo and, of course, he met me. If somebody from the Executive Office is coming up to make a recommendation about your budget, you will extend yourself. It was after hours, the zoo was closed, so he took me on a tour. We went to the cat house and he approached the tiger cages. They came over to the bar, he rubbed their backs, and they made a funny noise as if they were purring. After the tigers, we went to the snake house, but I don't like snakes.

Hellrigel:

I understand the dislike of snakes.

Noll:

Ted unlocked and opened up the door and turned on the lights, revealing a floor covered with roaches.

Hellrigel:

Yikes, that is a very disgusting image.

Noll:

When you took a step they ran under your foot it and you heard crunch, crunch, and more crunches. Apparently, the zoo couldn't poison the roaches because the snakes eat them.

Hellrigel:

Perhaps it was a source of protein and who knows what else.

Noll:

The question was how do you control the roach population? After talking about it, we decided we needed to get frogs and other things in that will eat the roaches. I don't think he realized the extent of the problem.

Hellrigel:

I heard red light sometimes keeps them away from an area.

Noll:

I don't know what keeps them out. I ended up in D.C. in the Executive Office and now I was becoming an expert on roaches in zoos.

Hellrigel:

Did the National Zoo have pandas? President Nixon started diplomatic relations with China, so pandas eventually arrived on loan to the National Zoo from China. The public was very excited about the panda exhibit.

Noll:

No, there were no pandas at that time. Ted Reed was doing a great job. I remember him telling me about the postmortems conducted to determine why the animals died. The postmortems and follow-up investigations revealed some of the animals had lead poisoning from the bars.

Hellrigel:

The animals must have ingested lead paint chips and dust.

Noll:

Zoologists at the National Zoo conducted significant work thereby increasing their knowledge. From the perspective of the Science Office that I represented this was great work. I wrote a very positive report to OMB.

Hellrigel:

Did you look at the entire Smithsonian or just the National Zoo?

Noll:

The major thing I looked at was the zoo. OMB controlled the money. I don't know what OMB thought about our investigations; however, we just tried to help and be useful. Finally, somebody caught on that OMB controlled the purse.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

Congress said spend the money, but OMB decided, "We'll sequester it."

Hellrigel:

Perhaps OMB wanted to control when and where the funds were spent.

Noll:

Yes, well I also learned, you don't micromanage an agency. An agency has its own administration and its own people. You might control the budget and the number of people employed. Should you control how the funds are spent as well?

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

I learned the way you should manage any operation. Don't micromanage. When I became Dean I didn't micromanage. I let the staff as well as the faculty do what they had to do. I'm was going to control budget and number of people, but that was all.

Hellrigel:

Okay, we'll come back to the Deanship in a little while.

Noll:

Those were some of the things I did during that period of time. Sorry for wasting so much time on Washington, D.C.

Hellrigel:

No, it was not a waste of time.

Return to Bell Labs

Noll:

After two years, I was promised a promotion if I went back to Bell Labs. I was offered a couple other opportunities, too, so I decided to return to Bell Labs. However, when I got in the door the promotion was not there and I was very depressed for two years.

Hellrigel:

Yes, you must have been disappointed.

Noll:

A couple of good, dear friends probably saved me from that depression. Marian Macchi and Joe Olive were very, very helpful.

Hellrigel:

Bel Labs just decided not to give you the promotion?

Noll:

My guess is the person who promised me the position should not have done so. His name was Max E. Mathews.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

Max Matthews probably should not have promised something he couldn't deliver.

Hellrigel:

This would have been around 1973.

Noll:

Perhaps it was out of his control. It could have been under the control of his boss, Bob Prim. I don't know. I realize now that what happened at Bell Labs during this time period revealed, in essence, that I did not have any protectors. People who knew me, namely John R. Pierce and Bill Baker, were no longer at the Labs.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

Who was I visible to at the Labs? While I was in Washington, D.C., Baker got promoted to President, so he was no longer Vice President of Research and John Pierce suddenly left.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

Suddenly, whoever was replacing Pierce didn't know me. Whoever replaced Baker didn't know me.

Hellrigel:

Your mentors were no longer at Bell Labs.

Noll:

Now you have somebody who spent two years in the Executive Office of the President working on Science Policy and pretty broad issues, coming back to Bell Labs and the Bell system. In my mind, it was an unbelievable plunder not to put that person where they belonged at AT&T and Corporate Planning.

Hellrigel:

Right and that's where you should have been assigned.

Noll:

Why put me in Corporate Planning at AT&T? The Bell system had a pending anti-trust case. Since I spent two years in Washington, D.C., I had informed views because I talked to a number of people regarding these issues. Indeed, I had ideas about resolving the anti-trust case. All that information was just thrown out the door and ignored.

Geselowitz:

This is Michael Geselowitz. Did any of the issues around the ultimate divestiture come through the Science Office?

Noll:

No.

Geselowitz:

This was just through your other connections.

Washington, D.C. - International Issues

Noll:

It just talking to people. You're down to Washington, D.C. and I am thinking I'm just an Engineer.

Geselowitz:

Yes.

Noll:

Suddenly, I'm involved with all sorts of other issues, policy issues, and international issues. Henry Kissinger, the Science Advisor, and a support team went to the Soviet Union. The United States and the Soviet Union had a science agreement and my office had to implement it. Our first project was the application of computers to management, and implementing it fell on my desk. I found myself negotiating a major, written, and signed agreement with the Soviets. I never thought I'd be doing something like that. The Soviet side of the committee visited us for about one week and we showed them around. I wasn't used to daily reports coming from our agent who escorted them and then reported to me what they said and what they did. I wasn't used to any of this. I wasn't used to sitting down in the State Department with the head of their delegation to figure out what we were going to sign. I didn't expect him to suddenly have a different agreement than what I thought was the framework we wanted. I wasn't expecting the push to change the agreed upon plan. In my mind I can't sign that because it was not what we agreed upon. The Soviet proposal was something completely different. I didn't know what to do. After two hours of discussion, I finally said to him, "It's obvious we're not going to have a signed agreement." I remember the moment he said something in Russian that translated to, the head of their delegation “cannot return to the Soviet Union if he doesn't have a signed agreement." I remember that day, suddenly an American flag was in my mind, and I realized I could can go to my boss with failure, but he could not.

Hellrigel:

No, it seems like he would have been in trouble.

Noll:

One-half hour later, he signed exactly what we wanted.

Hellrigel:

What were some of the sticky points between the two versions?

Noll:

He wanted the US government to order industry to work with the Soviets.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

He wanted our government to order IBM and others to open their door to them. We said, "No, you're going to work with academic people. We want a transfer of people and cultural exchange." It was the Kissinger approach. It was breaking the Soviet Union apart by opening up the doors and allowing more people-to-people communication.

Hellrigel:

He was more interested in the hardware.

Noll:

He wanted more access to hardware and to information about what industrial activities. We did not agreed to that and he knew it. Somebody was twisting this in another direction and thought that this young kid (me) would fall for it.

Hellrigel:

The Soviets expected you to capitulate.

Noll:

This young kid realized I had the freedom to go to my boss and say, "Ed, sorry, we couldn't sign anything." He did not.

Hellrigel:

It would have been a crisis for him if he couldn't go home.

Noll:

I knew exactly what he meant. It scared the dickens out of me because I realized what would happen to him if he went home without an agreement.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

He was leaving the next day.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

After returning to the Soviet Union, he disappeared for a couple of years.

Hellrigel:

Oh, he may have been exiled, imprisoned, and who knows….

Noll:

After he left, somebody else showed up, claiming to be head of the Soviet negotiation committee.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

My thought was that the head of their delegation has been sent to Siberia.

Hellrigel:

Sure, that could have been his fate.

Noll:

I have no idea. They claimed he was ill. During this era, whenever Soviets disappeared the official explanation was they are ill.

Hellrigel:

Yes, under they were under the weather.

Noll:

Yes, they're ill. In the end, he reappeared and was okay.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Geselowitz:

Just one question before we return to Bell Labs and what happened after you didn't get the promotion. In your talks in Washington, D.C. did it ever come up, when people discussed breaking up AT&T did they consider the impact on American research and development? Did they consider the impact on consumers?

Bell Labs - Whistleblower

Noll:

No, nothing like that was discussed. I remember hanging around with a NSA person and his wife. Once in a while, they invited me to their home for dinner. I remember their story about Bell System people showing up at their door, claiming they had an illegal extra telephone extension. They adopted Gestapo tactics, entering their home and removing the telephone. These actions annoyed me and I said they were horrible. I thought there is no way a company that does something like will be allowed to continue. That's when I realized, it had to change.

This was a time period when AT&T claimed if you hooked up a non-Bell phone to the network, the network could collapse. This is absolute nonsense! Total nonsense!

Hellrigel:

I recall reading in one of your publications that at this point you thought the residential consumer was footing the bill for the business customer.

Noll:

That was another little back-of-the-envelope study. I don't believe in fancy economics and instead in back-of-the-envelope work. You never can get the small details anyway, so do a back-in-the-envelope and that's going to be probably within 5 percent of correctness. The Bell System was claiming that residential rates, basic rates for basic service, were kept low and were subsidized by business. It was about a 2:1 differential. However, if you looked at usage, the business phone was used four times as much.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

Wait a minute! If it's used four times as much, shouldn't they pay four times as much? If business only paying twice, that told me residential customers were subsidizing business customers.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

It was a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation. The Bell System people didn't want to hear those details.

Hellrigel:

Did you get in trouble for revealing that information?

Noll:

I got into deep trouble, and in the end I was fired. In the end, the whistleblowing, if you want to call it that, created a situation where they told me I had to leave.

Hellrigel:

That's when you left Bell Labs and went to AT&T.

AT&T

Noll:

I don't think they expected that. In the meantime, I had gotten very friendly with Joe Horzepa [Joseph J. Horzepa], at AT&T, who is still a good friend. Joe was running a group of people at AT&T trying to find out why the picture phone flopped and whether there was any business market at all for two-way visual communications. My job for Joe was to be the loyal in-house critic.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

Since I was the in-house critic, I was expected to ask the questions, be the skeptic, and challenge people. In the end, Joe was kind enough to invite me over full time, so I transferred to AT&T. I made this move sometime around 1976 or 1977.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

I had a good time working with Joe and I met Jim [James P.] Woods, one of the people in market research at AT&T. Jim taught me an awful lot about how to conduct market research, measure consumers correctly, and ask the right questions. Joe came up with videoconferencing, a picture phone meeting service with public rooms in major cities, but he couldn't give it away. Nobody wanted it.

Hellrigel:

Was it too expensive?

Noll:

It had nothing to do with cost. You had to reserve it. You had to pack everything you needed and all your papers, and drag them to one of the public rooms. In one focus group interview somebody from AT&T based in New York City said, if he had a meeting with some people in Washington, D.C., once he packed his brief case, it was easier just to get on the train and go to Washington, D.C.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

You had to have the right kind of meetings. The ideal meetings for this technology had to be regularly recurring where you knew everybody and where mostly information was exchanged as opposed to any tricky negotiations that go on in the hallways. The market Joe thought was there did not exist. He put a picture phone service in a Chicago hospital and it was used a lot. It was a hotline. Most people used it because it was a separate phone system from the regular one, you got through quickly, and it had a distinctive ring. People used it to look at forms and signatures, not the faces of other people. Once the federal funding stopped; however, the hospital wouldn't pay for the system and it was removed. We learned the commercialization of a product was not so simple. Then Joe left and returned to Bell Labs, unfortunately with a demotion.

I transferred to a different part of AT&T and worked with a fellow named Lou [Louis T.] Burke. He was a wonderful person who knew about business; a really sharp person underutilized by AT&T.

We then got involved with videotext, the electronic newspaper thing, and doing a trial with Mike Ritter Newspapers in Florida. I planned and worked on that trial. We tried to do some evaluation, but nobody wanted to hear about it.

During the trial, people had access to the new technology for a couple of weeks. How did they use the technology? They didn't use it to look at this giant database of information that was tree-searched (you never could find anything). They used it to send text messages to each other.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

They sent messages such as the following: Hey, we're three single guys; any single gals out there? Hey, we need a babysitter. Anybody out there?

Today, what would you call this type of communication?

Hellrigel:

It was social networking.

Noll:

Yes, or twittering, right?

Hellrigel:

Twittering, right.

Noll:

We discovered people used the technology to send short messages. My management at AT&T was not interested. I called it “digi text.” I don’t think the term e-mail was en vogue back then. It was digital text, so I called it “digi text.” I said, we need to make a simple terminal for it. The French had a simple terminal for their Minitel system.

Hellrigel:

Yes, I remember seeing friends use the Minitel in Paris around 1989.

Noll:

AT&T management did not care. They did not envision a market for it.

Hellrigel:

Yes, I see.

Noll:

This type of thinking by management went on and on and on. Finally, AT&T now had dozens of people working on this videotex trial and a whole organization was formed. Now, once you form an organization for something, guess what, it has a life of its own.

Hellrigel:

It's a commitment by AT&T.

Noll:

You cannot stop it. It's a forest fire. There's no way! I can't stop it. I'm standing there saying, "Hey look, there's no market for this; you're going to lose millions." You know, [groan] I'm the enemy. They want to say, “stop him.”

Hellrigel:

Yes, the project had momentum and it could not be stopped.

Noll:

I remember talking to a woman who worked in this department and I stated my reservations about the project. She started crying.

Hellrigel:

She felt her job was on the line.

Noll:

Everything was at risk, yes.

Hellrigel:

Did you give the green light, the go ahead, to any unsuccessful projects?

Noll:

I was in product management, so there were some product ideas more successful than others. I was very much interested in synthetic speech and the idea of taking a telephone answering machine and getting rid of the tape recorded messages. Instead of a tape recorder I wanted to use synthetic speech. In the early 1980s, I was trying to take some of the ideas from research and move them into product, but AT&T Consumer Products and Western Electric were doomed.

Hellrigel:

They were not interested in aggressively developing new products?

Noll:

There was no hope. There was no way out. I remember standing in Lou Burke’s office, looking out the window, and listening to him say, "Michael, get out of here. Get out of here. This place is going under." By then, I was talking to the Annenberg School and I said, "Lou, I'm working on it, but what about you?" He said, "I'll be working on myself, too." He knew. We all knew; it was over. There was no way out.

Hellrigel:

When you were working for AT&T, did you see yourself as an engineer, a business person, or a marketing expert?

Noll:

When I was working at AT&T that was marketing in the broadest sense.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

I was in the marketing department, so I was learning about marketing, which is not sales.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

Marketing is something broader than sales. I worked with Ralph Cerbone who was a very sharp engineer at Indianapolis Laboratory. I'm glad I remembered his name. I shared one of my ideas with the product manager that served the handicapped community. I wanted to make a black and white, text-based terminal for use by the deaf.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

It would also be my e-mail terminal. Ralph Cerbone, at our request, made three or four prototypes in a six-month period. He turned out this work quickly, it was unbelievable. This work included a couple of custom chips (or something of that nature). It was a beautifully done terminal. It was nicer than the French terminal. It was really nice. It almost looked like the first Apple computer.

Hellrigel:

You must have been very pleased.

Noll:

It was nicely done. We conducted some focus group interviews in New Jersey. People looked at the terminals and thought Sony or a similar company made them. It was so nicely done they never could have imaged Western Electric manufactured the terminals. They appreciated the terminal’s design, but they couldn't figure out its use. They did not know what to do with it.

Hellrigel:

Okay that may be a significant challenge.

Noll:

They wondered what to do with it. There wasn't this idea of a network of millions of terminals capable of communicating with each other.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

Besides, at the time, only a few terminals existed. What about the database? Was the database a collection of recipes or something else? They didn't know. I walked out of that meeting with Ralph saying, I'm going to have to kill this and he cried.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

Ralph Cerbone was very upset because it was his baby. He had birthed a baby; that is what an engineer does.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

Engineers create; they build things. Engineers are closely associated with whatever they build because it is a living creature they made. Now this horrible guy, Mike Noll, was going to kill the baby, the engineer’s creature. I couldn't justify going forward with it.

Hellrigel:

Did the technology take a verbal/audio message and convert it to text?

Noll:

No, you typed the message with a keyboard.

Hellrigel:

Okay, it was a typed message.

Noll:

It used a little alpha-numeric keyboard and it was text-based. It used a black and white display. It was nicely done and all, but where was the market. The fact that it would cost too much was an additional problem.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

Everything Western Electric made cost too much. Lou Burke said, "We need to go to China. We need to go overseas." If you travelled out to the Indianapolis Works, Western Electric, you observed raw ingots of zinc and raw plastic go into the process and telephones come out. The Indianapolis Works had a room, a warehouse, loaded with plastic injection molding equipment. The production machinery made a steady noise, percluck-clunk, percluck-clunk, percluck-clunk, manufacturing little plastic pieces. The pieces fell into a huge bin and every couple hours a human rolled the bin away, replacing it with an empty one. Assembly lines of women put the parts together; their hands moved automatically as they chatted away. They were more effective than a robot. By this time they had robots, too.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

You don't see that any more in the United States. If you want to see humans working on assembly lines, you have to go to China

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

You'll see the same thing, but not here anymore. It's gone.

Hellrigel:

Corporations wanted to move to China to decrease the cost of manufacturing.

Noll:

Get the cost of manufacturing down so we could sell things. Lou was right. The telephone doesn't have to be designed like Western Electric did to last for fifty years. You're not going to rent it; people are going to buy the thing.

Hellrigel:

True.

Noll:

If it breaks, they throw it out and get another one.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

Lou was right, but you couldn't get this through to his management. It was impossible. It was doomed. The Bell breakup occurred in 1984, and AT&T in its infinite stupidity, decided to keep Western Electric and get rid of the local phone companies. However, the local phone companies were the golden jewel of the Bell System.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

The local phone companies were thrown out because AT&T was convinced some of them were losing money. No, what was losing money was Western Electric, hand over fist. AT&T did not have the true information because it did not know its own financials. It was unbelievable. Of course, Western Electric got a new name, AT&T Consumer Products. This corporate strategy did not work, but it mattered little because AT&T made these decisions in order to get into the computer business. Well, that didn't work. How do you get into the computer business? This is the 1984 -1985 time frame. By the mid-1980s, other companies jumped into the computer business.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

AT&T was going to be a late entrant. What are you going to do? Well, we have this special chip. Well, good dear, do you have the dip for the chip? No, nobody wants chips without the dip, so that was the end of that. Then AT&T got involved with Olivetti who made a nice red typewriter.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

The nice red typewriter sits in the Museum of Modern Art. The relationship with Olivetti went no place. AT&T decided to buy a company, so it went after NCR.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Break-up: Lucent to Alcatel-Lucent to Nokia

Noll:

It was a huge battle because NCR did not want to be bought, but AT&T prevailed and purchased the company. However, in the end NCR was destroyed and they all went under. Eventually, Lucent emerged from the chaos.

Hellrigel:

Yes, I recall Lucent.

Noll:

Lucent had a new symbol, the big red zero.

Hellrigel:

Oh, in retrospect a big red zero was an unlucky symbol.

Noll:

By now I was writing many op-ed pieces, so I wrote one about how the big red zero was an appropriate symbol for Lucent. I said, they got to be cooking the books; there's no way they can be in the black. My friends said, "Michael, you're crazy. You don't know what you're talking about." And a year later, as you know, yes, they were cooking the books. I don't know if anybody went to jail. It was pretty bad and there were people who should have gone to jail. Lucent struggled along and Bell Labs suffered something awful.

Bell Labs was broken up again and again. Lucent got into such deep trouble that suddenly a French company decided to buy it. The deal fell through, but not before a lot of Lucent executives took nice trips to Paris to buy nice clothing and perfume and who knows what else. A few years later, the same French suitor, Alcatel, acquired Lucent and created a new company, Alcatel-Lucent.

I've challenge people to please provide an example of one of these transatlantic deals that has worked. Maybe there are some; I don't know. I can tell you about a lot of unsuccessful transatlantic deals; most don't work.

Hellrigel:

Yes, I recall this transaction.

Noll:

It didn't work and the new company struggled along. At one time, about $3 or $4 billion would have bought you all of Alcatel-Lucent. You could have broken it up and made it worth more, but that did not happen. I don't know how to get $3 or $4 billion. I'm lucky if I can get $3 or $4 in retirement. The company struggled, its stock prices increased a little, and recently it was bought. I'm not sure exactly when, you know, around the 2016 time frame by the Finnish company, Nokia.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

Now it's Nokia, period.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

Sorry for this long excursion.

Hellrigel:

No, that is fine. This is interesting information. I remember the American public was taken aback because Lucent was not the iconic names AT&T and Bell Telephone. Since Alcatel was French, and not an American company, the public was a bit shell-shocked. The corporate name changes took place during an unstable economic era and public perception was already quite sensitive.

Noll:

This is just unbelievable stupid--, there's only one word for this, I'm sorry. I gave a talk a couple of weeks ago, and I said, "I'm old enough now and I'm tired of being polite. I'm going to call it what it is, stupidity." There's no other explanation for it. Bell Canada had its manufacturing entity, Northern Telecommunications (Nortel) and Nortel was in deep trouble. I don’t understand, but the obvious merger should have been Nortel with Lucent. You could have called it Norcent, or Lutel, but those two would have kept this as a North American manufacturing entity to make whatever equipment was needed such as transmission equipment, switching equipment and routers as well as cell site equipment. It would have kept it in North America. No, no, no, no, we don't want to do what makes sense.

Hellrigel:

What was the morale like when the telephone industry was broken up into the baby Bells?

Noll:

The baby Bells I think were happy to be released from the control of the corporation.

Hellrigel:

AT&T.

Noll:

Yes, the dictatorial control of AT&T. The baby Bells went wild and some went wilder, getting involved with new media in Hollywood.

Hellrigel:

Oh, that would have been a significant change and new opportunity.

From AT&T to the Annenberg School at USC

Noll:

These excursions, I think there were two gangs, one gang of, I forget who, three or four of them, and then another gang of the remainder. They had their own little new media Hollywood thingamajiggies that they were going to do with me. At the time I was hanging around at the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, knew about Hollywood, and was just laughing my head off saying, they have no idea what they're doing. They're falling in love with the Hollywood starlets, but they’re going to get a rude awakening and gobbled up alive. None of the ventures went anyplace, and in the end, they wasted millions of dollars. It was just doomed from the start and destined to fail, and the Hollywood people knew it. They were laughing their heads off within the industry.

Geselowitz:

How did you end up at the Annenberg School? Did you have connections?

Noll:

I'm now working at AT&T marketing on video conferencing, and as part of the project we got involved with a scholar, Martin Elton, from the Communications Studies Group in London. He came to the US and consulted with us. Then Martin left for NYU and the Alternate Media Center. He got the idea of creating a program, an academic master's degree, sort of a professional degree, relating to interactive telecommunications. Martin created the Interactive Telecommunications Program, a master's degree program at NYU. It should have been in the business school, but instead it ended up in the Tisch School of the Arts. Martin was the head of the program and had an office on Broadway across from the Tower Record store. Martin had some fellow teaching technology to non-techies, and since he knew me, he got the idea that I should try my hand. I'd never done any teaching, so, I thought okay, I will do it. It was a night program, so I could do it after work at AT&T.

I remember the first day of class with these were non-techie people. I said to myself, they aren’t engineers, but I've got to talk to them and tell them about sign waves, spectrums, and Fourier transforms. I was up there with the equations on the board and drawing them and everything else. I remember turning around, looking at them, and realizing, "Oh, no; they didn't understand a single word." Then, I realized I had teach this without using equations, without using math. I had to teach the material conceptually and graphically, and I started doing so.

I mentioned this experience to some AT&T people. We were at Parsippany with our building and marketing people. I found there was over a dozen of our employees who wanted that kind of a course. So, I taught it at NYU one night, and after hours more than one dozen AT&T employees gathered in a room and I presented the class to them. This was incredible; some employees wanted this course on their own time. I offered the course for a number of years. When Martin stepped down from the program I was interviewed to replace him as chair, but I had a weird idea of the academic world. I thought I could be chair of the program part-time and still work at AT&T. I didn't know I couldn’t do both. Instead, Mitchell Moss took over the program for a couple years and someplace along the way, I went out to Los Angeles and visited the Annenberg School because they were doing things about new media. Herb Dordick was at the Annenberg School, so I met with him, Bill [William H.] Dutton and some others at the school. My friend, who lives with me here, entered a speech telecommunications program at the University of Southern California (USC). She was living in Los Angeles and the dean of the Annenberg School asked me to teach a course. I took a sabbatical from AT&T and taught at USC. After teaching the class at the Annenberg School, like an idiot, I volunteered to teach another course for free for a completely different program at USC on speech technology.

Hellrigel:

You volunteered to teach for free? Oh my, you provided free help.

Noll:

Yes, for free, what do I know? It was fun. I like designing a course and making notes for it and trying to explain things to people. That worked well. It was during the ferocious monsoon season in Los Angeles. Driving up to Santa Barbara, this was probably the winter of 1983-1984 time frame, I drove through rain storms. Never in my life had seen rain like that. It was as if somebody took a fire hydrant, no oodles of them, turned them upside down, and let them loose all at the same time. The coast highway ended up in the coast; it slid. It was incredibly bad weather. It torrential rains kept coming down. You were out there, I don't know if you saw them.

Hellrigel:

Yes, I was in graduate school at the University of California, Santa Barbara during that very winter.

Noll:

Torrential!

Hellrigel:

Yes, heavy rain, not snow, in southern California.

Noll:

Torrential rains.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

Then I went back to New Jersey. Nothing happened, but I realized I had to get out of AT&T. I was looking for another position and the phone rang. Peter Clarke, the Dean at the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California, called me.

Peter Clarke called and said, "The Trustees of the Annenberg School are interested in you."

The Annenberg School had a weird deal; it didn't report to the university. It reported to Walter Annenberg's own trustees. It was a very unusual arrangement and it enabled Walter to keep control. He knew enough, so he was determined not to let the University get its hands on the school and all his money. I'm going to keep control. Very wise, I would always be advising somebody. Yes, you'd be amazed what you can get a university to do. Some universities won't agree to such an arrangement. I believe Walter approached Stanford with the same idea and they said goodbye, but USC was more than happy to take the deal and to be involved with Walter Annenberg.

The Trustees of the Annenberg School were interested in me and USC created a position. Peter made me a very good offer, so, in 1984, I took off for California. I had an apartment out there and I kept my house in New Jersey for sabbaticals and summers. I went bit back and forth a little bit. In 1984, I started a new career and now I was an academic.

Annenberg School - New Career, an Academic

Hellrigel:

What did you think about your new career?

Noll:

I didn't know what to make of the academic world. I did not consider myself an academic, probably still don't. I don't think the way most of them think. I laugh at the whole silly process.

Hellrigel:

What silly process?

Noll:

Oh, the levels and tenure, and their idea of research, I had a very different idea of research as a result of Bell Labs. Academics do research if they can get somebody to pay for it, some government agency. Otherwise they do nothing. This was just silly. Nobody talks to anybody else. At Bell Labs, if you needed help, everybody helped. They made suggestions and did not really care about credit. It was a completely different world. I wasn't used to the academic world. In my mind, the university was an educational institution. Its prime business was education, not research. Students and education should come first. If you take away the research, will the university still be there? Yes! With students? Yes! If we take away the students and the teaching, will it be there? No, it's gone!

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

I could easily, in my mind, decide the most important priority for the school. Yes, you let the faculty do research, write papers and the other things which are very important for doctoral programs. However, in general, these activities are not very important for undergraduate and master’s programs. You want faculty who are intelligent, think and know what's going on. Yes! You know, don't get me wrong.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

I rattled around the academic world for a while, but then the Annenberg School got into trouble. It did something that got Walter Annenberg angry and he withdrew his support overnight. The school went into a crisis. The Provost asked me to take over the school, develop a plan, and resolve the problems. This took two years.

Hellrigel:

You had to find a new revenue stream?

Noll:

It got very complicated. My idea was to resolve the crisis through a merger, but trying to do a merger at a major institution is unbelievable. All the ducks have to stand up, in line, at the same time, and all quack “yes.” If any duck said “no,” the deal was dead. This plan required getting a bunch of deans and baby deans to all say yes at the same time. Unfortunately, it got complicated immediately because Walter Annenberg said, "Hey, I decided, I got some more money, $120 million, and I might give it to USC, if you can do something with it.

Hellrigel:

His intention was to stop the merger?

Noll:

No, he didn't care about that. He didn't know about it.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

Now the big issue was working with the President of USC and the team in order to somehow get the money from Walter Annenberg. It took about six months of planning and proposals to secure the money and this work took precedence over the fate of the school.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

The bigger picture was getting this very generous gift from a very generous man. We got the funds, so during the second year I focused on the fate of the school. The merger required getting a lot of people to agree and they finally did. The faculty at the old Annenberg School did not want the merger. It was a boutique school with seven or eight faculty. It was very well funded with a beautiful building and everything under the sun. The faculty did not want to have many more faculty sharing the wealth. Dealing with the faculty of the old Annenberg School was a tricky maneuver and it almost took me to a nervous breakdown. It was pretty bad.

Hellrigel:

Then you were negotiating a combination of empires.

Noll:

It was a combination of empires and it required taking two units in. One was the Communication Program and the other was the Journalism Program. The Communication Program had a lot of undergraduate students. Undergraduate programs make money; they run in the black. The Journalism Program was a professional program with more, higher paid faculty and it ran in the hole. In the end, the two units I was going to take were revenue neutral.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

One balanced the other; they didn't care. In the end, they had a main dean and a couple baby deans, I think the deans wanted to get rid of it.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

Since they wanted to get rid of it, I felt that it would make sense for the Annenberg School to have a much bigger footprint. Since it would have a much bigger footprint, the University couldn't get rid of it so easily. When we lost the support of Walter Annenberg it was a distinct possibility the University would get rid of the School.

Hellrigel:

Annenberg also funded other schools.

Noll:

The major other Annenberg School is at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn).

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

There is an Annenberg School at Penn, too. They're different. Their philosophy is different than the school at USC.

Hellrigel:

How are they different?

Noll:

Penn is more Ph.D. and theoretical, whereas USC is a little bit more practical.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

The typical east coast/west coast divide,

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

Yes, they were a very different situation. The Annenberg School now at USC is considerably larger in terms of faculty and students and everything else. Walter's daughter, Wallis, continues to be extremely generous in her funding of the School. Her move from Philadelphia to Southern California must have thrown the University of Pennsylvania into a panic.

Hellrigel:

Yes, her move must have caused concern at Penn.

Noll:

Penn is well-endowed.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

Yes, the Penn program is well-endowed.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

Then around 2005 or so, I retired and became professor emeritus at the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California.

Hellrigel:

Why did you decide to retire?

Noll:

I retired because I'm getting near death. I don't want to be one of these faculty members who dies in the classroom and the students don't even know it.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

They still sit there for months, taking notes.

Hellrigel:

They take notes, huh?

Noll:

Yes, even though the person's dead! The students are dead. They're all dead. No, I didn't want to do that.

Hellrigel:

You didn't want to do that?

Noll:

I didn't like leaving Los Angeles. There were some things I liked about Los Angeles namely classical music. It's the center of classical music on this planet. No not on this planet, in this country, on this continent. I didn't know that. Incredible musicians, incredible concerts, incredible things going on out there. Great museums, I didn't know that either. When I went out to Los Angeles I hated it. I hate palm trees. They look like telephone poles with scales and some little green things on the top. I hate them; cut them down! Get rid of them; they're ugly. They're ugly; they look like these weeds that grow on the lawn that have the long stalks and there's stuff on the top.

Hellrigel:

Okay, no palm trees in your garden.

Noll:

I didn't like that, but I then discovered the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Great institution! I discovered the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. Incredible place! The Huntington, unbelievable scholarship. Incredible stuff. Claremont University and the various concerts that go on out there. I didn't know about that.

Hellrigel:

Do you maintain a link with the Annenberg School?

Noll:

Yes, I'm emeritus faculty, so they consider me on their faculty.

Hellrigel:

Right, do you go back to Los Angeles?

Noll:

I can't travel anymore.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

I have too many health problems.

Hellrigel:

Sorry to hear you have health.

Noll:

I don't want anything to do with airplanes. That was another reason why I decided it was time to retire. I just couldn't keep going back and forth anymore. I was hoping that the School, even though I was retired, might somehow retain me as a historian or an archivist, but that didn't happen. If they had done that, I probably would have kept a presence there and maybe ultimately decided to stay there rather than here in New Jersey. The pollution in Los Angeles and Southern California, well you know. The unbelievable five to ten lane highways, completely jammed; cars are bumper-to-bumper, then going 80 MPH, and then stop. I can't handle that after a while.

Hellrigel:

Well, yes, the automobile congestion is a terrible problem. The pollution would back up against the mountains and get trapped.

Noll:

Yes, the pollution and haze.

Hellrigel:

It wouldn't burn off some days.

Noll:

You know, the soft plastic on headphones?

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

Out in Los Angeles, after a year, it would liquefy.

Hellrigel:

That is unsettling.

Noll:

I've no idea what was in the air that was causing it. It doesn't happen here in New Jersey, but it happens out there, so I'm thinking, wow, I'm breathing that? I would come out to Los Angeles, drink the water from the faucet in Glendale, and I could taste what tasted to me like benzene in the water.

Hellrigel:

Wow.

Noll:

Yes, there was some solvent is in the water; I can taste it! I don't need to do a measurement to know that that's not good.

Hellrigel:

No you do not.

Noll:

It wasn't chlorine, it was something else. No, it was time to retire. Do I miss Yosemite? Of course I miss it. Do I miss all my wonderful drives up the coast? Yes. I can draw in my mind's eye a map of San Simeon noting where to stay and almost every turn.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

The map includes from Santa Barbara up and over that pass and down.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

California is a great state and there are wonderful things to do. A friend, Reginald Pollack, and his wife, Kerstin, lived in the desert region. Reginald was a full-time artist, a professionally trained artist, who did wonderful paintings. You see his work around you. Kerstin, his wife, was the chief administrator of the National Research Council, the NRC. She is excellent, a very sharp woman, and an extremely good administrator. She retired and decided to move to Palm Springs. They bought a wonderful house and I visited them, too. Yes, those were fun things and significant people. Reggie died a few years ago.

Music and the Arts

Hellrigel:

It seems that art and music have become your hobbies or your recreation. Did you have hobbies while working at Bell Labs?

Noll:

Yes, music.

Hellrigel:

Music.

Noll:

In high school it was music. Music, I was always interested in music, even as a child. Children are always drawing things and I used to draw very geometric and complex little drawings and things. Recently, I found some of my childhood drawings and posted some on my new website.

During high school, I became interested in classical music. The Latin professor at St. Benedict’s Prep, Father Christopher, got me interested in classical music. Why did he decide to play classical music in a Latin class? I have no idea, but he did and that got me interested. I got friendly with him over the years, too. He took me to my first live classical music concert in Newark. It was the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Hellrigel:

Do you play an instrument?

Noll:

No, I don't play an instrument; I have no idea what one note is from another. I don't understand it at all. I think it's an absolute miracle that, as I call them not musicians, but magicians, can look at these scribbles on a piece of paper and make the sounds that they do. It is unbelievable to me.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

Then I got interested in phonograph records. When I went into New York City I used to go to Sam Goody's and Tower Records.

The opportunity to visit the record shops was another good reason for teaching at the Interactive Telecom Program at NYU. Before class I went across the street to Tower Record! The classical section was up on the third floor. Phonograph records, galore.

When the CD first came out I went into Tower Records and said in a few years there won't be any more of these phonograph records. The sales person cracked up laughing. He was convinced I was bats.

Hellrigel:

Wow, you made a wrong recommendation to the clerk.

Noll:

Many years before that, when the first stereo phonograph record came out, I said to my boss at Hudson Radio, “you know, Johnny, in a few years, all the phonograph records will be stereo” and he cracked up laughing.

Hellrigel:

You worked at Hudson Radio when you were in high school.

Employment: High School and College

Noll:

Yes, I worked at Hudson Radio when I was in high school and college.

Hellrigel:

What attracted you to the radio store?

Noll:

My interest in hi-fi and my interest in classical music attracted me to Hudson Radio.

Hellrigel:

Did you build your own radio?

Noll:

No, I had my own phonograph. I was a salesperson at Hudson Radio.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

By selling hi-fi, I became interested in sales. I was also interested in the human factors because people came into the store, saying they need a loudspeaker and wanting to know what was the best loudspeaker. I'd say there's no best loudspeaker. It all depends on what you like. We had a panel with switches, so the customer play music and switch between the different loudspeakers. Then they picked what they liked. I reminded them there was no best; it's whatever they liked. Dealing with people got me interested in the human dimension of sales. That's one of the important factors in determining the future.

Hellrigel:

I guess at some point you started to sell televisions?

Noll:

Well, that was many years later; I don’t know where you found that information. Another friend, Joe Scudiery, had an electronics store on Route 22 called Disco Electronics. I used to hang around with Joe and he sold TVs. When he was busy, especially around the holidays, I helped at the store, so I was not selling televisions for money. He's since passed on. He was a wonderful, wonderful man.

Hellrigel:

Did you have any other jobs through high school and college?

Noll:

I worked as an office boy.

Hellrigel:

You were an office boy for a big company?

Noll:

Yes, for a big insurance agency, O'Gorman and Young, 744 Broad Street, Newark.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

I worked as an office boy mostly during summers. That's how you learn about left-handed and right-handed filing.

Hellrigel:

Left-handed and right filing; run that past me?

Noll:

You don't know about left-handed and right-handed filing?

Hellrigel:

No.

Noll:

Good grief; do you Mike?

Geselowitz:

Nope.

Noll:

How do you administrate this program?

Geselowitz:

Why don't you explain it to us?

Noll:

You must not file anything. Don't you have any files, paper files?

Geselowitz:

Not anymore.

Hellrigel:

Oh, yes, I have paper files.

Noll:

You have a file folder; which way do you put it in?

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

Left-handed or right-handed.

Hellrigel:

Oh you are talking about different patterns of organization.

Geselowitz:

I put it in right-handed.

Hellrigel:

Yes, I guess I put it in right-handed.

Noll:

The advantage of going in left-handed, if it folds like this, this part is at the top.

Geselowitz:

I see.

Noll:

Yes.

Geselowitz:

Okay.

Noll:

O'Gorman and Young used left-handed filing. If you were an office boy and you filed papers, oh, God help you if you filed it the wrong way.

Hellrigel:

Okay, so you had to have the letterhead in the correct position.

Noll:

You have to do it the correct way. Yes, everything had to be filed the correct way. The company had IBM cards, too.

Hellrigel:

The punch cards.

Noll:

I used to run the card sorter.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

Yes, I ran the collator and those kinds of funny office machines.

When I was in college I had a summer job at Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) in Kearny. I worked in the tool shed where they handed out the tools.

Hellrigel:

Yes, the tool crib.

Noll:

Yes. It was an interesting job. At the end of the day, you blew your nose and what came out was black. It was a coal-burning facility.

Hellrigel:

Yes, a coal-burning power plant generating electricity.

Noll:

The coal dust was all over the place. I put a piece of paper down and at the end of the day it was black. For fun, we used to kill mosquitos. They'd land on your hand and we'd pick them off.

Hellrigel:

Did they just pass out from the particles?

Noll:

No, I think they were very energetic. They were New Jersey mosquitos, the best kind. New Jersey has the best mosquitos on this planet.

Hellrigel:

I thought Maine was known for its mosquitos.

Noll:

No, New Jersey’s state bird should be the mosquito.

Hellrigel:

How come?

Noll:

If I become governor, it would be the state bird.

I had another summer job working for the Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company. They were bringing in IBM computers, so they were converting from cards to a computer system and all. That summer job was a lot of fun.

The next summer I worked at Bell Labs. I worked for Dr. Reginald A. Kaenel. He had an idea for a differential amplifier.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

He sketched it out, I don't know how on earth I built it. I wrote an article for Orbit, the Newark College of Engineering Magazine. I don't know how on earth I did that project in a couple months.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

I completed the project and I made it work.

Hellrigel:

Why did you make the transition from working for corporations in business offices to the lab? You were in the Engineering School at that point?

Noll:

Yes, so obviously, if you were working, you wanted a technical job.

Geselowitz:

[crosstalk]

Youthful Aspirations

Noll:

The obvious place you wanted to work, indeed, the place everybody in this country wanted to work, was Bell Labs.

Hellrigel:

What did you expect to do at the Lab?

Noll:

You know, at one time, in its height, Bell Labs had over 20,000 employees.

Hellrigel:

Wow, that's truly a very large work force devoted to research and development.

Noll:

This was a huge operation and it was mostly engineering. This wasn't physics and chemistry; that was a very small proportion of the research area.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

It was mostly engineering work; ideal for people who wanted to build and make things.

Hellrigel:

At what point did you know you wanted to be an engineer?

Noll:

When I was younger there was a time I thought of astronomy. I remember doing crazy things in astronomy, probably in grammar school. Then I became interested in bombs, atomic bombs, nuclear power, and those kinds of things. Finally, I remember reading a book about Hiroshima, including photographs.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

I remember looking at those pictures and almost throwing up. I just slammed the book down, saying, no, no way. Then came my interest in music and an interest in listening to music, so that took me into electronics.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

There is my entry into electrical engineering.

Hellrigel:

When you decided to be an engineer were your folks thrilled? Did they see engineering as an economically stable and respectable line of work?

Noll:

I have no idea. That's a good question. I don't know. My father was a machinist and a carpenter, so he liked to build things. My mother was a secretary. She went to clerical secretarial school and liked to write.

Hellrigel:

Yes, so maybe they envisioned their son graduating college.

Noll:

As I look back, I say, yep, that made me engineer, combining my interests in making things and writing.

Hellrigel:

Do you have siblings?

Noll:

No.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

No. Did you find the article I mentioned earlier?

Geselowitz:

Yes, it's in here.

Noll:

Yes.

Geselowitz:

Can we get us a copy later?

Author, Op-ed Columnist, and Music Critic

Noll:

Yes. I think that is my first published paper.

Geselowitz:

Oh, wow.

Noll:

Yes, my first publication.

Geselowitz:

Yes, it's an article from the January 1961 issue of Orbit, the undergraduate Newark College of Engineering magazine,

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

The writing of op-ed pieces came much later. It may have been started during the period I was Dean. One of our students said to me, you know, why aren't our faculty quoted in the newspapers or writing opinion pieces and things of this variety. Well, why don't we see that? I thought the student was correct.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

The faculty focused on academic publishing.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

Academic publishing was not intended for a broader audience. This discussion with the student started my interest op-ed writing. I remember one of the first pieces I wrote in that kind of a style, I didn't know how to write it. I knew Mitchell Moss, who headed up this NYU program for a few years. He wrote a lot of op-ed pieces mostly about the city and urban planning. I sent him a draft, and he said, oh, no, no, no, no; you got to change it around. You got to put the ending at the beginning. Nobody's going to read it to the end. He taught me some very simple ways of doing this.

Hellrigel:

In an op-ed you put the point up front and then you can tell the story.

Noll:

Yes. You don't do that when you're an engineer or writing a professional paper. You lead into it, so someone has to make it all the way to the blithering end, pages, pages, later. By then they may be sound asleep.

Hellrigel:

Often engineering publications provide an abstract, so the reader has a one-paragraph summary.

Noll:

Yes, some papers have an abstract at the front.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

Now I began publishing op-ed articles. I have collected many of them in that volume with the funny pink cover.

Geselowitz:

All right.

Noll:

A very early piece was about AT&T and what was wrong with its planning.

Noll:

It was either my first piece, or one of my early ones, was on the failures of AT&T strategies. I wondered where I should submit it, so I sent it to this little newspaper in New York.

Hellrigel:

You sent it to the New York Times?

Noll:

Yes, and they accepted it. It's a very long piece.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

It was the Sunday edition!

Hellrigel:

You started front and center.

Noll:

Yes, the Sunday edition.

Geselowitz:

Now, what was your title at that point?

Noll:

At this point, I was at Annenberg.

Geselowitz:

You were an academic.

Noll:

Yes, this is 1991.

Geselowitz:

Being in the communications field probably gave you some face validity to the New York Times.

Noll:

You know, the subtitle, first it divested the wrong business. Now, it's making a mistake with its raid on NCR. I said, AT&T had no idea where it was going and it was adrift on the seas of competition. The company’s cartoonist chose a telephone handset upside down, adrift on the seas of competition.

Hellrigel:

That is a pretty critical view of the company. After publishing that article in the New York Times, you got your mug shot in the public arena.

Noll:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

This platform brought you attention.

Noll:

Yes, what did I know? Maybe an op-ed piece in the New York Times is starting at the top?

Hellrigel:

Certainly, you started at the top. What was the reaction of your former colleagues at AT&T?

Noll:

They hated me.

Hellrigel:

They must have been stirred up by your comments

Noll:

They hated me. AT&T's network went down in 1991. Yes, AT&T's network dropped. I wrote a letter and at this time I knew the editor. They did another piece--Videophone: A Flop That Won't Die.

Hellrigel:

Your critique of AT& T continued.

Noll:

Now, she, the editor, liked what I wrote.

Hellrigel:

You had her interest and support.

Noll:

It rattled the cage. Op-ed pieces are supposed to rattle the cage. The network went down, so I wrote: I wonder whether these failures are symptomatic of an over-concern by AT&T management with the NCR acquisition. Perhaps AT&T management is not giving adequate attention to its core network business.

Geselowitz:

Oh, ouch.

Hellrigel:

Now you garnered even more attention.

Noll:

Two days later, in the mail, in a little envelope, comes a hand-printed noted from Robert E. Allen.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

Allen, Chairman of the Board of AT&T, wrote: “You may enjoy seeing your name in print and alpining, but I can assure you that you have this one dead wrong!”

Hellrigel:

Oh, I guess you didn't go out to dinner with him afterwards.

Noll:

I was in Los Angeles; I shook; I was frightened.

Hellrigel:

You were frightened because the chairman sent a direct, handwritten response.

Noll:

Yes, and I didn't like the word dead.

Hellrigel:

Yes, it is an alarming word.

Noll:

Yes, I took this as a possible personal threat.

Hellrigel:

Did you see it as a threat to your career or to your person?

Noll:

I wondered who he was calling within the University, too.

Hellrigel:

True.

Noll:

Yes, but then I looked at it again and said it's hand-printed. He didn't have it typed. He obviously was pissed and the reason he was angered was because I was right. My spies within AT&T told me the NCR executives were making Allen fly out there. The NCR executives were just holding it up and Allen was spending oodles of time on this business. Allen was angered and I hit him hard, right where it was correct.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

He was sending the wrong message to the entire company. Of course, the AT&T network was suffering. I realized Allen was a hothead and he had a temper; he didn't mean to send a threat by using the word “dead.” Besides, the rule is, you do not reply to an op-ed. You just don't. Leave it alone. That's the rule. You don't reply because you're giving credibility to the author. In addition, you certainly don't threaten the author.

Hellrigel:

No, threating critics is not a viable option.

Noll:

You don't show the author you're a hothead who isn't thinking correctly. After thinking about Allen’s letter for a few hours, I picked up the phone and called my contact in Media Relations at AT&T. This person somehow knew that something had been sent to me, but he didn't know what. I read it to him and it was dead quiet on the other end. Finally, I guessed what was wrong, so I said don't worry, I'm not releasing it to the press.

Hellrigel:

Yes, that would have been a nightmare for Allen and AT&T.

Noll:

Since that would have been a nightmare, I realized, that's what concerned my contact. He worried I was going to give Allen’s letter to the Los Angeles Times. That would have been almost front page with the headline: Chairman of the Board attacks University Professor and threatens him. Wow, that would have caused trouble.

Hellrigel:

Right, there would have been a cartoon of him grasping for strings or something as he's drowning.

Noll:

Yes, that would not have been good. Sure, he got angry; anybody can get angry. How many times do you get angry with e-mail and you send something, and, oh, God, no, how can I get it back?

Hellrigel:

Yes, you can't simply send an emotional response. You have to take a breath and gather your thoughts.

Noll:

You can't react like that.

Geselowitz:

Actually, it was different in those days. He could have written the letter, but by the time the secretary found the stamp, he had time for second thoughts. The trouble with the twenty-first century is, push a button and your message is out there.

Noll:

It's there; yes.

Geselowitz:

Not only that, you may have had to physically walk over to the Los Angeles Times with the letter for them to photocopy, right? Now, once you send that e-mail to somebody it is sent.

Noll:

The whole world is connected.

Geselowitz:

They could send it to 10,000 people and you can't stop it.

Noll:

Yes, exactly, you can't stop it.

Geselowitz:

It's a very interesting story.

Noll:

It was a scary event. I had a column, trade magazine column, for a few months. I had a column in the Star Ledger, and wrote mostly skeptical things. I think somebody called me the Teleskeptic. Most of my op-eds were critical and skeptical, but sometimes they can be very positive.

Then I bumped into Paul Summers, who had an organization called the Classical New Jersey Music Society or something like that. He had this little monthly newsletter with reviews. He asked if I would like to write a review. I said, write a review? I don't know anything about classical music. I just listen to things and I have opinions. He taught me how to write a review.

If you are dealing with a lesser known artist, you have to be careful, You can't come down too hard. However, if you are reviewing a bigger name artist and they are not good, you can come down as hard as you'd like. You also certainly can have fun saying it just wasn't well done or something of this variety, or how it could have been better. I must have written dozens and dozens of concert reviews. The most famous one, although nobody wants to remember it, was I started to do some of Los Angeles. Now, he said if it has a New Jersey connection, if a New Jersey composer ended up in Los Angeles.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

They'd be fair game. Peter Schickele ended up in Los Angeles doing a new concerto for viola and I reviewed that and I was extremely positive. It was an over-the-top review. I considered this one of the top viola concertos I've ever heard. It's amazing it still wasn't performed this day and age. That's a shame. But, Schickele's other name is P.D.Q. Bach.

Geselowitz:

I was going to say he's more well-known for his comic work.

Noll:

Yes, that's the problem. His serious music is pure Americana and a unique style to Schickele. There's no one else like it, that's Peter Schickele. It's a shame that the classical music world, particularly New York, is so snooty.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

The people who invite him out every summer to do a concert were in Los Angeles. They appreciated him. The Armadillo Quartet and its musicians invited him out every spring and he'd do a little concert or two. He stayed for a few weeks, probably avoiding the winter back east. I met him, he is a wonderful man and a wonderful guy. It was great to write a positive review.

Then the new Disney Hall opened up in Los Angeles. It's Southern California, so guess what the first $100 million was spent on.

Hellrigel:

The money was spent on a parking lot.

Noll:

Right, it went for the parking lot. Good for you. Beautiful parking lot. No concert hall, just a big parking lot underground. Finally, they somehow or other pried, Los Angeles is very wealthy, the funding from donors. There's a lot of big donors in Southern California and they're very generous. An incredible amount of money was donated, $600 to 700 million.

Of course, they brought in Frank Gehry, the architect, with all his curved, I don’t know what. Who knows?

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

Of course, the critics said it's a great hall with wonderful acoustics. I attended a concert, and yes, the hall was very pretty. I particularly liked the idea that you pulled into the parking garage and the floor was painted white. You could eat off the floor of the garage. You walk only a few feet and there's an escalator taking you right up into the inner part of the hall. You never had to step foot on the streets of Los Angeles.

Hellrigel:

You also do not have to step in an oil puddle from a car.

Noll:

No oil puddles from the cars. I have no idea how they got rid of the oil and other grime so quickly. I guess they didn't allow oily cars in the garage.

Hellrigel:

Yes, that would be a solution. Ban all cars dripping oil and other fluids.

Noll:

Yes, stop them at the gate. It was beautiful, and the public space, the lobby and the staircases, were magnificent.

Don't forget, years ago, I was involved with Manfred R. Schroeder and the fiasco in New York called Philharmonic Hall.

Hellrigel:

I do not know that story.

Noll:

When the acoustics went haywire at Philharmonic Hall a team from Bell Labs headed by Manfred tried to figure out what was wrong. So, I have opinions when it comes to acoustics. I trust my ears and still do.

I was listening to a concert in the Disney Hall with its curved interior walls and everything else and thought wow, this is beautiful. Finally, I realized something was wrong. I said to myself, Michael, close your eyes and listen to the hall. Now the strings sounded harsh because there were no low frequencies.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

This was not a good hall, so I wrote a very negative review, the only negative review of the hall. Some of the Los Angeles Philharmonic musicians I knew agreed, claiming they could not hear each other on stage.

Hellrigel:

Oh, that's a problem.

Noll:

Yes, they bombed and they knew it. I said, but how come the problem wasn’t corrected? I was told, “Michael, you don't understand. When you spend that amount of money for a hall and you have big donors, you cannot admit there's a problem.”

Hellrigel:

There was a problem with the acoustics.

Noll:

Correct, and any critic who mentioned it would never be allowed back in the hall. Critics get free seats.

Hellrigel:

I guess you paid for your seats.

Noll:

I always pay for mine.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

I always buy my tickets because I didn't want that sense, that they have that little bribing power. When I lived in Southern California, discovering the Huntington Library was an amazing find. Dan Lewis was the curator who handled science and technology. If you are ever out there, you need to visit the Huntington Library and meet him. The Huntington is a great institution, so you should go out of your way to meet Daniel Lewis and see the library. Dan is chief curator of manuscripts for the history of science, medicine and technology. Mr. Huntington's charter did include science and technology but it has always been third class to the gardens and the paintings. Yet, the library has a very good collection of material regarding science and technology.

I discovered the John Pierce papers were rattling around in an archive in the Midwest. It is a small collection of five or six boxes of material. I didn't feel like going out there to look at them, so I spoke with the archivist. There are five or six boxes. I forget where they were, and they said we're trying to get rid of stuff.

Hellrigel:

Oh.

Noll:

There's a techie term for that?

Geselowitz:

[crosstalk]

Hellrigel:

[crosstalk]

Noll:

Yes, I can't pronounce that, too many syllables. I'm an engineer, so I only can handle two syllables. After speaking with the archivist in the Midwest, I asked the Huntington if it wanted the collection. John Pierce went to Cal Tech.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

Pierce spent a couple years as Chief of Technology at JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab), and is very much a California person. The Huntington agreed to acquire the collection, so I said, fine and made the marriage occur. I think I made a gift to the archive for their transportation costs and the boxes arrived. I spent an academic year, one day a week, going to the Huntington and playing scholar. I sat in the giant reading room and they'd bring a box. It was emotional because John Pierce didn't save much; however, what he did save is quite revealing. His kept some of his little personal poetry and science fiction writing. Every once in a while, some memos popped up, bringing tears to my eyes. It seemed as of John was alive in front of me.

Hellrigel:

You worked with him at Bell Labs.

Noll:

Yes, I worked with him at Bell Labs. I had the highest respect for John. He wrote a book called Signals published by Scientific American. Some of us used it as a textbook when we taught these courses to non-techies, but the book got out of date. I remember calling John, he was now up at Stanford, and asking him to put out a new edition. At the time, he probably was current age now, so now I understand why, he said, no, you have to help me; you have to be my co-author, a junior author.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

I was scared because John is a task master; he had no patience. Can you imagine an electron that became human? It would be a bundle of energy, unstoppable, well, that's John.

Hellrigel:

I have the image of the cartoon character, the Tasmanian Devil.

Noll:

Yes, unstoppable. He talks so fast the words did not come out quickly enough. The mouth can't keep up with the brain. You can find his book in the bookcase behind you. John said Scientific American wanted to republish his book.

Noll:

John asked me to help and I knew this was going to be a problem because I know John, but it was fun to work him. We divided the old edition of the book, so John took some chapters and I took others. We needed a new chapter here and a new chapter there. It became a contest to see who could get done first. Believe me, the book was finished in about two months. It was a contest and then we had to work with the Scientific American editor, Susan Moran. In the end, John and I had a battle over something and Moran was the moderator. John and Susan had a battle over something else and I moderated. Susan and I had a battle over something, and John was the moderator. We got through the project without being too bloodied and it was a beautiful book.

Hellrigel:

Yes, sometimes team projects get a little intense.

Noll:

They can, but with John it was fun. It was intense getting it done. John was driven, I realized, to write quick and fast. I can write an op-ed piece, or a column piece, in about an hour or two. I've learned how to do that if I have something to say. I can write a book in about a month or two. I can write a professional paper with oodles of references in a month. The Howard Wise paper that you posted was probably written in a month.

Hellrigel:

Yes, some people focus and crank out the writing projects.

Noll:

I need a good critic and I appreciate deeply a good critic. Bob Atkinson, a lawyer-policy person, is a very good critic. Martin Elton is a superb critic, and I said I need a good critic who will challenge me and say, "You got this wrong, or didn't you think more about this," something like that, but then that would get corrected within a day or two and it's done.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

I'm driven to get things done. I have been asked why I jumped around so much in my career. I jumped around because I get bored, it's done. It's a period.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

By mid-1965/1966, my computer art, computer animation, and computer ballet, all that was done. I produced a wealth of information for others to learn from and continue. I'm done. The force feedback, tactile thing, it was done, please pick it up. Telecommunications policy papers I wrote and thinking about break up and competition, that's done.

Hellrigel:

How would you identify yourself? You have had such a varied career, including engineer, science advisor, artist, op-ed columnist, dean, music critic, business person, etc. If you had to say who you are, what would you say?

Noll:

It's just me.

Hellrigel:

Just you?

Noll:

My parent's child.

Hellrigel:

Sure, your parents’ child.

Noll:

I don't know what I think of myself as. In the end, just give me some music to listen to. Just let me listen to symphonies by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

Give me some incredible great performance of the music, so I have chills.

Hellrigel:

Okay, so you are a consumer of music.

Noll:

Yes, I can remember those great concerts. As I'm talking, I'm just thinking of one in Carnegie Hall when Leopold Stokowski one Sunday afternoon, probably in either 1965 or 1966, premiered the first performance of the Ives 4th Symphony which had sat for decades not performed. We sat in the balcony and when the slow movement came we all cried.

Hellrigel:

Right, and if music and art interested you, were you interested in sports such as the Yankees versus the Dodgers?

Noll:

I have no interest in sports at all which is probably why I didn't belong at USC.

Hellrigel:

Yes, maybe you were out of place in the land of the USC Trojans and big time collegiate sports.

Noll:

Yes.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

Except what was nice, at the Annenberg School, my original office, a corner office, was such that I almost looked out over the field where the marching band rehearsed every afternoon. During football season, it was sort of great because I listened to music.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

They'd played the same tune over and over and over and over again, but after a while I kind of enjoyed it. It was fun.

Geselowitz:

They're famous as a college marching band.

Noll:

Oh, it's a great one; yes, it's one of the great ones, yes. It's a tremendous marching band because USC has a great music school

Geselowitz:

Not the kind of music that you listen to, but it is still music.

Noll:

USC has a great school of music, one of the best on the west coast.

Hellrigel:

You have the interest in classical music, but you also grew up during the emergence of rock and roll. Did that interest you?

Noll:

I've listened to it. Some things I might like, Aerosmith and some other things, but in general, no. I could listen to some of it and find creativity in it that would remind me of Gustav Mahler or some other classical composer, in terms of ideas popping around. I now know it's all the same thing. The word is creativity, innovation. You know, people inventing a new style, art. Some artists are noted for their technique. Others are noted for opening up the door into something new, a new way of representing things like Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso’s cubism. This is a new way of doing things, a new way of looking at things. That's what it's about. Then there are many followers. Who cares about the followers? Somebody does early computer animation, then many others follow. It's those who did it, who opened up the doors that matter.

Hellrigel:

Since you appreciate music, what do you think about computer-generated orchestras? On Broadway they're trying to downsize the orchestra and put in the technology to sound like an orchestra.

Noll:

Oh, just play a recording.

Hellrigel:

Okay, a good recording.

Noll:

Computer music went on at Bell Labs. Max Mathews was very much in charge of that group. He had a number of different composers and people who came in. It struck me as noise. Here's what they were doing back then [imitating computer instruments sounds].

Hellrigel:

They had to figure out how to program, so it would sound like real instruments.

Noll:

What I just did is probably better.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

I gave a talk at an IEEE event about six years ago. It was a time when Aaron Marcus was there, a graphic designer from Yale who was working with us at the Labs, a very innovative person who did very early computer art, too. I decided to do a put-on talk, a complete put on. We drafted the abstract, he wrote the abstract on an angle with half of it upside down from the other half, and we submitted it. My management was upset saying how are they abstracted? How are they going to put it into a database or something? It was graphic. It was graphic design. It should have warned people anyway. The first slide was an equation. I said, here's an equation. It was integrals galore. I said, “this will allow us to take a painting and extract from the painting the essential aesthetic ingredients and I did it! I then showed a work by Picasso and analyzed it. We then programmed the computer and having the essential aesthetic ingredients was able to make its version and here's that.” People just sat there.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

They believed it! It was the Picasso, Ma Jolie (1912). I showed Picasso’s Ma Jolie, the original. Then I showed it in quadratic equations with the lines going every which way and said that's the essential aesthetic ingredient of the cubism represented there. They just listened.

Then I said, we also did computer music. Earlier, I went to the computer and used a 3-D joystick to made crazy sounds. Now I’m playing the tape for about a minute and I stood there with a serious look on my face, as if this is some great piece of aesthetic music that no one's ever heard before. They just sat there. There must have been hundreds of people. I told myself, oh God, this is a flop. At the end, two engineers walked up and said, this talk was a giant put-on wasn't it? They weren't sure.

Hellrigel:

Yes, you confused them.

Noll:

And I said, "Yes."

Hellrigel:

Well, you were at the alleged “expert.”

Noll:

That said it all.

Hellrigel:

Sometimes people make fun of critics, especially art and music critics, because they see meaning where there isn't meaning; they rely on “theory,” and they communicate with considerable jargon. The experts make the art so complex to the non-experts, so they will tell them what it means.

Noll:

Oh, reading, well classical music reviews sometimes do the same thing. Reginald Pollack, the painter, and I went wandering through the museum out there in Palm Springs. If they have a big name artist, it's one of the paintings nobody wanted.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

You pick it up for one dollar in a junk shop. We went through the museum and Reggie was just making fun of every one of these works. He also made making fun of the way art critics talked about the extra dimensionality of human experience and blah, blah, blah that's shown in this painting. All Reggie is trying to do is capture the colors of what he saw looking out over the desert. That's all he's trying to capture.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

See the little painting behind you, that little one with the three Indians, Reggie went to an Indian pow wow and he's now trying to capture the sense of the movement of the Indians dancing.

I go out to his studio, and he's working on that painting and the one over there, two little paintings. He's doing test paintings. He's an innovator and he's making a model for what might ultimately be a larger painting. Yes? I looked at it and he wasn't happy; he couldn't capture it. I remember saying, "I like them." A couple weeks later, guess what arrived in the mail.

Hellrigel:

The two little painting.

Noll:

He sent them to me.

Hellrigel:

You liked the art.

Noll:

It was innovative. However, you can see the critic looking at that and all sorts of existentialism and blah, blah, blah.-

Hellrigel:

The critic gets caught up asking why the artist selected that particular color palette.

Noll:

Yes, that particular color, that palette --, this is just. Oh good grief, he's just doing it because he enjoys it. It is the same reason I built a 3-D input device, I enjoyed it. That's what Bell Labs was about and it was everybody. They were doing what they enjoyed.

IEEE and Professional Publications

Geselowitz:

This is transition to a question we're obligated to ask. You mentioned an IEEE conference. So, when did you first become aware of IEEE as a venue for conferences, or for publications, and when and how did you decide to join?

Noll:

Good grief.

Hellrigel:

Did you join as a student?

Noll:

Probably a student member. It probably was a student organization on campus. I'm just guessing. I don't remember.

Geselowitz:

That probably encouraged the students to join?

Noll:

Yes, that was probably it and it would have been called the IRE.

Geselowitz:

Right, when it was the IRE.

Noll:

Yes, because I wasn't in the power engineering field which was the AIEE.

Geselowitz:

Yes, that AIEE and IRE merged in 1963, forming the IEEE.

Noll:

Yes, so it was probably the IRE.

Geselowitz:

Did the student branch have many members?

Noll:

My first professional papers--well that one, in the Newark College of Engineering’s Orbit, but that's not it--were probably with Acoustical Society.

Geselowitz:

Yes.

Noll:

It would have been the Acoustical Society because of what I was doing related to hearing and those subjective things.

Geselowitz:

The IEEE had a broad--the IRE, excuse me, had a broadcast.

Noll:

There's another important name, really a bunch of names, and I think I'm touching on many of them. A Newark College of Engineering classmate, Charles W. Beardsley, who went by the name Bill Beardsley, got involved with the IEEE. He was editor of the student journal. I wrote a piece about computer art with Bill for the student journal. Bill taught me some techniques about how you write to a journal audience. He might have ended up one of the editors of IEEE Spectrum, too. I think Bill then went off to the Society of Mechanical Engineers in New York, too. I don't know what has happened to him because we lost contact. Bill was a good, dear friend from back in the day, and a very good writer, a very sharp person.

Geselowitz:

You mentioned IEEE Spectrum, which is sort of considered the flagship IEEE publication. Did you publish in IEEE Spectrum?

Noll:

Yes, I think I did. Do you have a list?

Geselowitz:

Not, did you bring a list of the publications?

Hellrigel:

Let me look.

Geselowitz:

Okay, we have it back in the office.

Noll:

Well, let me look here. I think, the answer is yes.

Hellrigel:

Yes, I have the list right here.

Noll:

What are we looking for? We're looking for professional papers, right?

Geselowitz:

Well, IEEE Spectrum is a funny publication--it's like Scientific American - -with a mix of professional and popular articles.

Noll:

The first thing I'm seeing here was published in 1964. "Short-Time Spectrum and Cepstrum Techniques for Vocal-Pitch Detection," Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Vol. 36, No. 2, (February 1964), pp. 296-302. In May 1964, I published my first IEEE article. "Subjective Effects of Sidetone During Telephone Conversation," Communication and Electronics, IEEE, (May 1964).

Geselowitz:

Right, that was after the merger in 1963 between AIEE and IRE.

Noll:

Yes, that would have been right after the merge. In October 1967 I published “The Digital Computer as a Creative Medium,” in IEEE Spectrum, Vol. 4, No. 10, (October 1967), pp. 89-95.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

My guess is Bill might have been the editor or an editor of that publication, or helped with that.

Geselowitz:

I see.

Noll:

That was IEEE Spectrum. That's when IEEE Spectrum was a different than today.

Geselowitz:

Right; it's evolved over the years.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

IEEE Spectrum was much more professional back then.  It used to have more general interest professional articles whereas today it seems to be more like pseudo-corporate ads for specific things and all.  It was a different situation with a lot of the articles being written by the IEEE Spectrum staff. I guess maybe today, it's more independent in a way.

Geselowitz:

Yes, I think you could say that.

Noll:

Because of tax reasons and other things.

Geselowitz:

They were trying to compete.

Noll:

So it's a little bit different thing.

Geselowitz:

They were trying to compete with Review, Scientific American and similar publications.

Noll:

Here's another piece published in IEEE Transactions on Audio and Electro Acoustics, this was Computer Graphics and Acoustic Research. I remember we went up to Boston. Computer Graphics was novel in the 1960s. The idea of, as I mentioned earlier, plotting data and doing animations. I don’t think mathematically. I worked with Manfred R. Schroeder; we were a good team. I just wish Manfred had stayed at Bell Labs. Manfred thought mathematically; he was a very good physicist. Last night there was a TV show on NOVA about math and physical reality being equations in Math. Manfred thought that way; I did not. I thought graphically, still do. If you reach behind you on the far right, there's a book with a spiral plastic binding.

Geselowitz:

Acoustics.

Noll:

No, look far right for the spiral-bound book.

Geselowitz:

Oh, this one.

Noll:

And that was the book I used for teaching.

Geselowitz:

Communication Electronics, second edition, corrections.

Noll:

Look at it, just open it up to any page. This was a book I used to teach technology to the non-techies.

Geselowitz:

Yes.

Noll:

You notice every page, what's on the right?

Geselowitz:

Page, there's an illustration on the right.

Noll:

Yes, an illustration. It was all textual plus the graphics of seeing things. The graphics were important and here we are using graphics in acoustic research.

We went up to Boston, probably an IEEE conference, and I remember myself and Jack MacLean doing a talk on computer graphics and how you could use that to - - a membrane model, looking at plots of 3-D spectrograms and things of this variety.

That ended up a published paper in the IEEE Transactions on Audio Electro Acoustics in 1968. So, yes, some IEEE publications, but a long, long time ago.

Geselowitz:

However, at that time and during the Bell Labs phase of your career, it was an important outlet.

Noll:

Yes.

Geselowitz:

Did you attend IEEE conferences?

Noll:

Acoustical Society was probably the bigger event, so I went to that conference every year, too. The Audio Engineering Society too was also very important.

Bell Labs, Patents, and Publications

Geselowitz:

Did Bell Labs encourage employees to publish outside? After all, Bell Labs had its own technical journal and other publications.

Noll:

Publication was certainly encouraged in the research area and it was certainly not frowned upon in the development area. However, anything you published had to be pre-submitted within the Labs for comment and criticism. This internal peer review could be pretty intense. After review, the intended publican had to be sent to the patent department.

Hellrigel:

The patent department wanted to vet the article because the work done in the labs was owned by Bell Labs. The company owned the intellectual property produced in its labs.

Noll:

Yes, it had to be vetted. If they felt it was patentable, it would be held up. The information was made available and in this time frame they were required to license for reasonable fee any of their inventions.

Hellrigel:

Okay.

Noll:

The laboratory staff worked under an earlier consent decree from the 1950s. Bell Labs was a unique place. To this day, at USC, I never knew of anybody pre-submitting a paper to the faculty or to any review mechanism within the University.

Hellrigel:

Yes, academics might ask colleagues to review their scholarship, but it is not mandated. The procedures regarding patentable intellectual property get tricky. I have been on the faculty of five research universities and they all required faculty members (liberal arts, social sciences, science, engineering, etc.) sign a document giving the institution the patent rights for anything produced in its labs.

Noll:

I'm not saying it didn't happen; I'm just saying I do not know of that at all. Never would you show it even to a colleague.

Hellrigel:

It might depend on the culture of a particular academic department, too. For example, at California State University, Chico we had a reading group and we circulated are scholarship to group members. It certainly was not mandated.

Noll:

I do not recollect that going on at Annenberg at all. Maybe it goes on now. At the time I did know about it; maybe it was me. I have no idea, I'm just saying it's a different.

Hellrigel:

Yes, the procedures at Bell Labs were different. It must have been both a supportive and competitive environment.

Noll:

It's a very different world. Bell Labs, I keep coming back to that, you know, this recent manuscript for this book I just wrote and the wonderful book that we did too. It was unique, unique. It isn't going to be again because the conditions are not there. This isn't Google Labs. This isn't Microsoft Labs, which seem to be mostly publicity-oriented stunts, and repeating things that were done decades ago. I was just talking to somebody on the phone the other day about it. Down on the bottom shelf there's a little piece of cardboard. Do you see it sitting there?

Geselowitz:

This thing?

Noll:

Yes, that thing, that's a good name for it, Michael, that thing.

Hellrigel:

Viewmaster, is that a viewmaster?

Noll:

No, it's not; it's called Google cardboard or some version of that.

Hellrigel:

Oh.

Noll:

Oh, what is it? You're right; it's just a little viewmaster. It is a 3-D viewer and everybody's going on about this new virtual reality and I don't know what all.

Geselowitz:

Well, yes, I think I heard something about it.

Noll:

Virtual reality, I was thinking the other day, that becomes an idea for another piece. I think I just wrote a sentence. Virtual reality - real fantasy.

Hellrigel:

Oh, that would be apropos.

Noll:

John Pierce used to love artificial intelligence. Now flip that to the opposite and you have natural stupidity. You probably heard that before.

Geselowitz:

Yes, I heard about it.

Noll:

I think John was the first to do that one. How do you do something relatively new and open up a new door? Television certainly opened up a completely new door. The first motion pictures, an incredible invention, and then adding sound to it; these are incredible things. Don't forget, adding sound to that was done where?

Hellrigel:

Bell Labs?

Noll:

Where did you just work?

Hellrigel:

Oh, yes, Thomas Edison conducted some experiments.

Noll:

Yes, thank you, Edison.

Hellrigel:

Well, they tried, but it really didn't work.

Geselowitz:

He had some problem with syncing.

Hellrigel:

It didn't work as his lab team tried to sync the motion picture with recorded sound.

Geselowitz:

In his process.

Noll:

He had some trouble, but at least he tried.

Hellrigel:

Oh, he tried, yes. He tried a number of different ways to combine motion pictures and sound.

Geselowitz:

Oh, he did try, yes.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

And the first recording of sound.

Geselowitz:

That was, yes, - -.

Noll:

This was unbelievable stuff.

Hellrigel:

Yes, the tinfoil phonograph invented at Edison’s Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory. It brought him fame, funding, and the nick name, the Wizard of Menlo Park.

Geselowitz:

Yes.

Noll:

Yes, unbelievable things. My parents saw some of these incredible inventions. What do we bring into the 1940s? Big explosions.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

Where did that go? It was going to promise us--well, it does for France.

Hellrigel:

Initially, the United States envisioned atomic weapons as a means of security. However, once the Soviets had the bomb, there was no security, it was an arms race.

Noll:

It was going to promise us limitless energy.

Hellrigel:

Yes, nuclear power plants were supposed to produce electricity “too cheap to meter.”

Noll:

France has a successful nuclear power plant program.

Geselowitz:

If they don't have earthquakes or tsunamis, they'll be okay.

Noll:

Yes, they're okay; they just have guillotines once in a while.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

But where? Where have we gone since then? This is that issue. Maybe this is what happens when you get old. You just look back, see the good old days, and think it is never going to be like it. But where are those innovations today, you know?

Hellrigel:

Well, if you look at the period between the 1910s and 1940 [between the world wars], a lot of new technology made its way into every-day-life such as the automobile, the telephone, the radio, indoor plumbing and running water, electricity, electrical appliances, motion pictures, etc.

Noll:

A lot of these important things, correct. People may not realize, but growing up as a child, the telephone was a party line.

Hellrigel:

Yes. I remember neighbors in our apartment building sharing a party line.

Noll:

A private line was something costly and unusual. These things that everybody takes for granted today.

Geselowitz:

Right, the transition from the party line telephone to a private line was really an economic issue. It wasn't a major discovery.

Noll:

No, it wasn't a major discovery.

Geselowitz:

I have not looked at it yet, but a colleague just recommended a popular book written by an economist, I think at the University of Pennsylvania, which claims basically, at least for now, that the age of innovation is over. Since the integrated circuit, nothing has been invented. It's all been tweaking. The world was transformed from about 1800 to 1950, an incredible transformation. The photograph enabled you to capture a vision, an image. Before the Edison phonograph once I spoke to you, you could take notes, but it was gone; now, it was captured. Then the telegraph and telephone.

Noll:

Yes, communication over distance.

Geselowitz:

The invention and adoption of these technologies totally transformed humanity.

Noll:

Instant communication over distance.

Geselowitz:

People in ancient Rome even since Caesar, could not imagine it.

Noll:

Correct.

Geselowitz:

Over about 150 years we just completely changed everything.

Noll:

Yes, you no longer took the message and gave it to the runner.

Geselowitz:

Right.

Noll:

You do not have to tell a runner, here, go down the Appian Way, and turn left.

Geselowitz:

Right.

Noll:

Then swim across that body of water and deliver it over there.

Geselowitz:

Right. The author also claims the whole problem with the economy is that during the last fifty years or sixty years we've invented nothing.

Noll:

Well, you know that the computer people would say?

Hellrigel:

They would discount the notion that nothing has been invented since the mid-twentieth century.

Noll:

They would say, good grief! We have the digital computer; we have Unix; we have the ARPANET; we have package switching.

Geselowitz:

He claims that basically once you had the electronic computer you had the key invention.

Noll:

He's correct. I don't disagree with that.

Geselowitz:

Once you had an all-electronic computer, let's say the Mark I, the NIOS, or whatever you consider the first computer, you had the invention.

Noll:

Everything else was just--

Geselowitz:

Everything else was tweaking-.

Noll:

Incremental; he's correct.

Geselowitz:

Yes, I'll send you the citation.

Noll:

No, he's correct. Once the basic idea of television, the incremental was higher-resolution.

Geselowitz:

Color vs. black and white.

Noll:

Then we bring in color and now today we just bring in higher definition. Here is the one-liner: all HD TV does for you is to allow you to see more clearly how poor the program content really is.

Hellrigel:

It, it's strange; I don't really like that high-def; it looks a little bit too detailed and creepy. I do not have to see the pores on the person’s face.

Noll:

Correct, it looks too high-def, which is what they discovered.

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

They had to redo all the sets in the studios.

Geselowitz:

People are noticing.

Noll:

Yes, and what's his name, oh, the guy who got fired--one of these TV talking heads, suddenly you saw all the wrinkles and cracks and valleys and things. You look like the surface of the moon. Remember?

Hellrigel:

Yes.

Noll:

Everything became more complicated. Now the talking heads are just usually very young people.

Hellrigel:

Right.

Noll:

They don't dare risk anybody older; you can't fill in the cracks enough.

Hellrigel:

Yes, the emphasis is on youthful faces.

Geselowitz:

One could go on for hours.

Noll:

I wouldn't disagree with you, Michael.

Geselowitz:

Anyway, I’ll send you the reference.

Noll:

No, I wouldn't disagree. I've said similar things, but this can also create a more negative look back. For example, once Wright Brothers did it, the rest was just….

Geselowitz:

Well once you invent it you need--

Noll:

Improvements.

Geselowitz:

Actually, it becomes, I hate to minimize it, but really, a series of small engineering problems.

Noll:

Yes.

Geselowitz:

Okay, so we have an airplane, we know it can fly, we know it can turn, but what now?

Noll:

Yes.

Geselowitz:

How do you make it go faster?

Noll:

Correct.

Geselowitz:

The engine has to be smaller. You need to enhance the fuel.

Noll:

Correct, correct. Once you've gone to the moon…

Geselowitz:

What's left to do?

Noll:

Yes, what's left to do?

Hellrigel:

Yes, that is my question. You hold six patents; published more than one dozen books, nearly one hundred professional articles and numerous op-ed pieces; created digital art; and completed a lot of other things. So, Dr. Noll what's left for you to do?

Geselowitz:

Ah, good question.

Noll:

I'm dying, be gone.

Geselowitz:

Yes.

Noll:

You know, birth is a fatal disease.

Hellrigel:

True. Do you have a book subject or topic you would like to investigate for your next project?

Noll:

Well, what I've been doing over the last couple of years, which I don't think I planned to be doing, was document and write about a lot of the early digital artwork that went on at Bell Labs. I wrote the paper that took a broad view of what was going on in the 1960s by Bell Labs employees who were programming computer animation, art, music and other things. Another paper ended up being a more specific description of the Howard Wise Gallery Show in 1965 that consisted of Bela Julesz's material and mine. This paper should come out around June 2016. A couple of months ago, I got to see some computer animation by Stan VanDerBeek and Ken Knowlton (Kenneth C. Knowlton) that I never saw before and it just blew my mind. My critic side kicked in immediately. I'd seen one of their earlier works. It was okay; but the animation I saw a couple of months ago was incredible. It looked to me like four or five layers were being put on top of each other, in addition to computer animation, conventional animation, magnificent coloring work. It was just incredible. So, I just finished a paper about it and it has been accepted for publication.

There's been material appearing about Bell Labs that's just outright wrong. A New York Times article claimed the transistor was invented in at the Bell Labs facility in Holmdel. Another recent article implied that Bell Labs was in Holmdel, not Murray Hill. These kinds of things kept appearing and it is disturbing. It would have been disturbing to Bill Baker too.

I finished a manuscript for yet another book which is a personal history of Bell Labs. It's really a history of Bell Labs. I write best when I have a good critic and Al MacRae who used to work at Bell Labs and is retired living in Seattle, is a great critic. He kept challenging me. What started as a 1000 word article, suddenly became 4,000 words. Then it became 10,000 words, and I said, God, this is going to end up a book. Finally, it came to 20,000 words because Al kept challenging me to add more and more. He would ask, did you think of writing about this? Then he said I had to put myself in it. I said I don't like putting myself in things. I really don't. I'm very shy and I like to be quiet in the background. I always sit in the back. He kept challenging me to do it. It became a history of Bell Labs, the different lab facilities, how today's digital era and information age really started at Bell Labs, something about what I did, what it was like to work at lab, etc. That manuscript is flopping around looking for a publisher. Maybe we'll find one.

Geselowitz:

Mike, I feel like that you just hit on something which points out why the IEEE History Center is important. You mentioned the lack of historical accuracy and the need to write the history of IEEE related technology.

Noll:

IEEE History Center.

Geselowitz:

Exactly, but you alluded to the fact, you joked about the whole point of Google Labs is to create a publicity machine to try something that was already tried decades ago. People don't realize what's happened.

Noll:

People don't realize what went on decades ago.

Geselowitz:

As soon as all these things were invented, creative people like you were already trying to push the limits, but there was some--

Noll:

Look how you and I got together. It was this weird thing with Bill Baker when I was working on his papers. Bill said there are two people I want you to meet. Firstly, I met John Jay Iselin from the Marconi Society and I became like a consultant. I helped them find the person to be their Executive Director, Darcy Gerbarg. Secondly, Bill cared about history and so do I, so he told me about the IEEE History Center. He told me the IEEE History Center is interested in more than the history of the IEEE. He mentioned the History Center’s projects are broader and include the history of the world of engineering and the world of technology. It’s an organization that, to some extent, almost has the freedom of the old Bell Labs to look at things. The information that they gather can then be fed into the various components of the IEEE and serve the IEEE in a broader way. I think that's a great mission, an incredible accomplishment, and a good place where the membership’s dues and donations go.

Geselowitz:

Thank you. That's it; can we just close right there?

Noll:

I've given you enough?

Geselowitz:

You don't have anything else you want to add, right? I think this is going to be a great oral history.

Noll:

In response to the student complaints I wrote op-ed pieces and I also started to speak to the media. I didn’t look for this and I don't know how the connection occurred. Somehow the BBC found out about me, maybe through the Experts Directory at USC, and as I sat in my little office at home in Glendale, the phone rang. It was BBC London calling, BBC Radio 3, I think.

Geselowitz:

It was probably BBC Radio 4 because 4 called me once.

Noll:

It's the one that does the world radio. If something happened in the telecom industry and they needed somebody to make a comment, they phoned. They said can we talk to you about it and I said yes. They said, okay, we'll call you back in ten minutes. That gave me ten minutes to find out about what it was happening, make some notes, and get ready for the call. I like notes. If I don't have notes, I'm unhappy. I like things on a sheet of paper. You know, everything I talked about was written out in a full script. They would call and a question and I would do like I've done today. I call it free run. I'm sorry for doing that to you.

Hellrigel:

Oh, that's fine. It is an engaging format.

Noll:

I would free run for a minute or two, and inevitably without planning, near the end of the conversation, a one-liner occurred which just said it all! They recognized it immediately and said, thank you. That's what just happened here and it happened a couple other times earlier too. During a free run I deliberately stopped, and if you noticed, I paused for a good minute to give you time to quickly reflect because that was an ending spot if you wanted to end it right there. One day, I somehow got access to listen to what they used. Now I assumed that what they would do out of this minute or so is [clapping sound] cut. They didn't! They would run the full thing. That amazed me. So, I don't claim to have an ability to doing that, but it's wonderful when you can come up with that wonderful ending.

Hellrigel:

Yes, a summation.

Noll:

Just put that period on it. It seems to make good sense.

Geselowitz:

Excellent. Do you have any questions? I'm thrilled.

Hellrigel:

No, I think we covered a multitude of topics and have enough information for now.

Geselowitz:

After reviewing and editing the transcript, if you decide that you have not covered everything, we’ll do a follow up.