Oral-History:Stanley A. White
About Stanley A. White
Stanley White is an independent engineer and former senior vice president of engineering and technology of Rockwell International. He received his B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering from Purdue in 1959. After graduating he worked at Autonetics, the electronics division of North American Aviation, Autonetics. He eventually returned to Purdue and completed his Ph.D. in electrical engineer in 1965. While at NAA he worked on aircraft navigational systems and a variety of other projects. He remained with the company after its merge with Rockwell. He retired from Rockwell International in 1986 after being named Corporate Engineer of the Year, and became an independent engineer. He now works as an independent contractor and has a contract for all of the Rockwell divisions. The interview begins with a discussion of White's early education and scientific interests, including his experiences with radio operation while in the military. He discusses his engineering education at Purdue under its new R&D curriculum, mentions his early work at North American Aviation, and then describes his juggling Ph.D. work at Purdue with continuing work at Autonetics. After discussing his Ph.D. work at Purdue, White describes North American's merge with Rockwell and details a range of systems he developed at North American Rockwell. He describes the differences between NAA and Rockwell management: NAA's managers were engineers; Rockwell's managers had general managing skills and were not engineers. He notes that NAA engineers and junior managers resented the lack of upward mobility such policies inflicted on them; he also points out the financial tensions that developed between the engineers and the managers, who were less likely to fund open-ended basic research. He discusses his work in electronics research on information processing, and conflicts he ran into with Rockwell managers on the Army "fire and forget" program in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He stresses the importance of having managers familiar with engineering and engineering concerns. He describes the circumstances of his retirement from Rockwell International and his work as an independent engineer in the 1980s and 1990s. He discusses the importance of documentation and record-keeping, noting that his tendency to take detailed notes has made it easier for him to write up patent applications, invention disclosures, and publishable papers. He describes his networking strategies, including participation in IEEE networks and conferences, and discusses his attitudes towards IEEE and IEEE policies and his various IEEE activities. The interview ends with White's discussion of his chairmanship of the 1984 ICASP conference and his conflicts with professional conference managers.
About the Interview
STANLEY A. WHITE: An Interview Conducted by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, 24 February 1995
Interview # 243 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Stanley A. White, an oral history conducted in 1995 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.
Interview: Stanley White
Interviewer: Frederik Nebeker
Date: February 24, 1995
Place: San Clemente, CA
Nebeker: When did you first realize that you wanted to be an engineer?
White: I always knew … I just didn't know what kind. My father had been a War-Department agent and very successful civil engineer. He groused about hours and pay, but was so enthusiastic about his work that I knew then that I wanted to be an engineer, paycheck be damned. He died during WW II, but the role played during the War by radar, sonar, communications, fire- and flight-control and guidance systems convinced me that electronics, or something like it, would be my future.
Nebeker: Can you give me a thumbnail sketch describing how you became an electrical engineer?
White: Sure. I came into the electrical-engineering biz during WWII by way of working since eighth grade in seedy radio-repair shops, often free for the experience, hanging around radio stations pestering the engineers, and building ham radio equipment from the ARRL Handbook while I was in high school. I began to develop that "gut feel" for what was going on in circuits. That was overlapped by a twenty-two month stint under a veteran Communications Chief in the Indiana National Guard, S/Sgt. Stan Pritchard. I followed him like his shadow and he taught me all he knew about the installation, operation, and maintenance of both wired and wireless communication systems used by the Army. He was a great role model. I also received a solid education in physics and mathematics at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis.
Nebeker: You were an amateur radio operator?
White: Yep. In 1946 with a lot of help I became W9SXK in Indiana, and while I was in the USAF I held the call signs of CO2AX in Cuba, KP4RY in Puerto Rico and VP2GA in the British West Indies. I also landed a second-class commercial radiotelephone license while I was in high school. I had toyed with the thought of becoming either a shipboard or commercial-airline radio operator.
Nebeker: Were you born in Indiana?
White: No. I was born in Providence Rhode Island on September 25, 1931. My father's assignments kept us on the move. I had attended eight elementary public schools all over hell's half acre and had lived in seven different states even before I hit high school. That's one way to learn US geography! Let's see … I attended 1st and 2nd grades at Chicago's Howe Elementary School, lived in Wisconsin during the summers, began 3rd grade at Laramie in Chicago, and continued at an unremembered school in Philadelphia for a month before completing 3rd grade at Tatem Primary in Collingswood NJ. We moved again but remained in Collingswood where I attended 4th and 5th grades at Garfield Elementary School. After my father died in 1942 my mother and I moved to St. Petersburg FL to consolidate resources with my widowed maternal grandmother. I attended 6th grade at Roser Park Elementary School and 7th grade at Mirror Lake Junior High School.
Nebeker: How did you and your mother subsist after the death of your father?
White: Remarkably well. My grandmother opened and operated a rooming house where we all lived a lean but happy life. My two favorite roomers were 65-year-old Bob Cushing, a retired New York City policeman who became a surrogate father; and 82-year-old Jerry O'Shea, a retired railroader who became a surrogate grandfather. They told entertaining stories for hours about life in New York City in the 1890s. Jerry and Bob had developed a soft-shoe-and-comedy routine that kept us all in stitches as they'd shuffle into the living room singing "Jerry and Bob, Bob and Jerry. We're the pair that'll make you merry," based on the old Finny and Gibbs vaudeville routine. When asked about their military service, Bob said that he was too old for both World wars; Jerry, never to be outdone, said that he knew that he was too old for both World wars and the Spanish American War but was disappointed when he learned that he was too young for the Civil War as he was turned away from a recruiting station in his diapers. Good friends to the end, they stayed in touch with us for the remainder of their lives.
My mother had taken a job as secretary in a real estate office until she met and married an Army Air Force veteran from Indiana in 1943. My mother and new stepfather moved to Indianapolis in December, 1943. I remained behind with my grandmother until the following June when we traveled by rail to Indianapolis to join them. We lived at two different addresses while I attended 8th grade at Indianapolis' PS #27 and at two different addresses while I attended Shortridge High School. I graduated from Shortridge in 1949.
Nebeker: No siblings?
White: None. That plus my nomadic lifestyle taught me to be adaptive and independent. I was generally content with the proverbial loaf of bread, or a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, a jug of milk, a good book to read, some good music to listen to and my kittycat beside me in the wilderness … or wherever I happened to be.
Nebeker: Were you a good student?
White: Before I enlisted in the Air Force I was a rotten student. I barely graduated from high school. If it wasn't physics, math, English, or ROTC I didn't care about it. I loved physics and math because they were the pillars of the doorway to engineering. Besides being a good engineer, my father had been a reasonably successful adventure-story writer and we read together regularly. My mother had been a singer, dancer and actress before becoming a proofreader for Macmillan Publishing Company. From my early childhood she had drilled into me a proofreader's sense of spelling, grammar and punctuation, so any school subjects related to English came easily. She also taught me every song on Broadway!
Nebeker: How did that nomadic existence affect your life?
White: Being rootless certainly affected my outlook. There were no social anchors in my life. I was more concerned with social survival than with academics. Kids can be very cruel to outsiders, and because I was usually "the new kid on the block" I was the perpetual outsider. That's just the way it works and I learned to not take it personally. Unlike kids in military families who attend on-base schools with other nomadic kids, usually I was the only wanderer in my schools. Second, after seventh grade I was under the thumb of my stepfather. He was a very good man, but saw no use for formal education. He gave me a practical education by rousting me out of bed by 5 AM and putting me to work doing every possible job in his two restaurants, seven parking lots, used-car business and small farm. On the plus side, I learned to do anything and everything. I scrubbed urns and made coffee 30 gallons at a time, prepared the French fries and cole slaw; unloaded delivery trucks and stacked supplies in storage for easy retrieval; bussed tables, took orders, washed dishes, mopped floors, flipped burgers, broke up fights, washed and parked cars, changed tires and replaced carburetors; built chicken houses and repaired barns, fed chickens, gathered eggs, shoveled shit; planted, gathered and marketed crops … the list was endless, but I did learn a helluva lot.
Nebeker: Quite a practical education! What about after-school activities?
White: There was damned little time for nonessential activities except when I sneaked away to those radio-repair shops, and he kicked my rear when I did. My stepfather was adamant that I join him in running his business. I was absolutely cold to the idea. I'd been active in the Indiana National Guard, HQ & HQ, Company 151st Infantry Battalion, 38th Division where I worked under T/Sgt. Stan Pritchard. That was my only real interest and the single area where I felt really competent. After undergoing jump training in 1949 I demonstrated that I could come in by land or air and set up, operate and maintain all wired and wireless WW II communications equipment you would find in an Army camp. I was as proud as hell about that. Engineering? That was just a far-away dream. I knew that the military had to be my way out from my dead end. I enlisted in the Air Force over my mother's tears and my stepfather's protests.
Nebeker: You were interested in army ROTC in high school, belonged to a national guard infantry battalion, then joined the air force. Wasn't that strange?
White: Not at all. Like all kids who grew up in WWII, I was fascinated by anything military. In ROTC, M/Sgt. Albert Fischer was like a surrogate father and the very embodiment of the word "military." I thought the world of him and can still hear his voice. He was the first person to convince me that barriers of any kind are artificial. He, T/Sgt. Pritchard and my father were my heroes.
I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force because I wanted to fly, and later did, but on my own. I was completely unprepared to assess and exploit the wonderful opportunities available … just a dumb kid as directionless as a leaf caught in the surf. Since I hadn't the minimum education needed for admission to any path that required a commission, I applied for radar or radio technician or operator schools… but was shuttled off to automobile electrician training "for the needs of the Air Force." On the bright side I was good enough in basic training to be offered a DI-training slot which I declined, but was happy that I was rated that highly; I thought my DIs were incredibly good leaders. I was offered advanced auto-electrician training which I also declined when I graduated at the top of my automotive-electrician class. These successes earned me two stripes in four months and letters of commendation in my file. That wasn't a bad rate of advancement, , but I was stuck with an auto electrician MOS, or job code. I soon learned that did not mean that I actually had to be an auto electrician.
Nebeker: How'd you find your way out?
White: I had volunteered for duty in Korea. What's the point of volunteering for military duty if you're not willing to go where the action is? Unexpectedly, my first duty-station assignment was Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico. Ramey was a Strategic Air Command stronghold overrun with RB-50s, B-36s and lots of special-ops aircraft. Wow, what opportunity! I was told before I shipped out that I was going to Ramey because there was an acute shortage of automotive electricians. "Surprise, surprise," as Gomer Pyle would say. I was assigned to drive a laundry truck. "We don't need no friggin' auto 'lectricians!"
The laundry plant for all military bases in Puerto Rico was at Ft. Brooks on the eastern end of the island. Ramey was on the western end. I actually enjoyed the 100 plus mile drive to Ft. Brooks and back. The Puerto Rican countryside was beautiful, the people were friendly, the girls were pretty and I sang at the top of my lungs all the way. But this was no way to spend four years of the prime of my life!
Nebeker: Sounds like a dead-end job.
White: It would have been, but all was not lost. I learned about the 338th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron that was located the same base. The 338th SRS personnel did highly classified technical work: shoran mapping of the Atlantic Missile Range. A few pitchers of beer over an evening's card game at the Airmen's Club turned on spigots of information. I learned that four-man shoran-station teams consisting of one officer-in-charge (OIC)/station chief, one radar operator/technician, one radio operator/technician and one power-plant operator/technician with the same MOS as mine were assigned to be sent out into the field. They cross trained so everybody on any station crew could do all jobs, sometimes alone if necessary. Furthermore, since the field duty was considered as dangerous "hardship duty" with compensating pay, the OIC normally begged off and appointed some brash, eager and overly ambitious sergeant as NCOIC, or noncommissioned officer-in-charge, as station chief and to take the heat when things go wrong. Competence was the only criterion, not MOS. I couldn't imagine a better opportunity, so I decided to put my National Guard training and radio-amateur background to work. How to approach this? I took the direct route, swallowed hard, walked into the appropriate building and asked for a job! "No, Sir, I hadn't received permission to look for a transfer from the Motor Pool. The Truckmaster, M/Sgt. Dortsch, said that nobody gets out of his organization!" After some earnest discussions, on-the-spot quizzes and interviews with a very sharp warrant officer, the transfer paperwork was started. I couldn't believe my good fortune, but as the saying goes, luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity.
The 338th SRS was my squadron; I felt at home from the very beginning. I knew that I was in the right place, worked like hell, mastered everything that came my way, and before my first year in the Air Force was up I announced myself ready for any assignment anywhere. I had received all the special training and security clearances, was assigned to a crew and shipped out for my first field assignment in Cuba. Off on the adventure trail!
Nebeker: Congratulations! How did it go?
White: Very well. We flew into a clearing in the little town of Nuevitas on the north central Cuban coast in a C-47. All arrangements had been made in advance with the Cuban government. The only problem was that there had been a coup. Strongman Fulgencio Batista had returned to power and overthrew the government of President Prío between the time we made our arrangements and the time we arrived. When we landed as planned in a pasture, two truckloads of armed soldiers came to greet us. Arrangements had been made with the "wrong" government! Fortunately all such flights as ours carried a negotiator on board. Ours was a multilingual giant with an unpronounceable Polish name. Everybody simply called him Lt. Ski. He could fly anything with wings and was a man of incredible physical strength, negotiating skill, and capacity for alcohol. Lt. Ski leapt out of the plane with a huge grin, a bellowed greeting in the local vernacular and a bottle of rum. In short order, negotiations were completed and everybody vowed friendship for life … or until sobriety set in. We didn't know what we were singing, but arm in arm we toasted I know not what and sang together while the rum sloshed. The Cuban troops even helped us to move our equipment off the plane, transport it a few miles to the intended station site at Puerto Tarafa and unload everything. Lt. Ski left with the soldiers and we were on our own among curious local onlookers. Within three hours all necessary equipment and masts were up and we were minimally operational; in three more hours we were fully operational. We checked into net control and signed off. One armed man stood guard duty while we other three of us went to find lodging. Within walking distance we found a little restaurant with rooms to rent in back. None of us spoke Spanish; none of them spoke English … thus began our "total immersion" experience in learning a language and culture.
Nebeker: Did you encounter many problems?
White: None whatsoever. We hired a local handyman as guard, cultural guide and, yes, handyman. We were immediately treated like family by everybody, adopted into the community, found girlfriends, learned the language as it is spoken, dressed like the locals, and attended all local social functions just like all our fellow townsfolk! My best learning aid was the juke box. Verses of popular songs are collections of everyday phrases, so as we learned the songs we learned the phrases. It was no big challenge then to learn the individual words from dictionaries and grammar from our many friends. I attended the Spanish-language movies with my local friends, read the local newspapers, magazines, and eventually books.
Puerto Tarafa was a major sugar port. We soon knew all the regular ships and crews, learned a smattering of Italian and Portuguese to confuse with our Spanish and had drinking buddies from all over the world, but the Norwegians were our favorites. After nearly a year I was sun-baked to a deep brown and spoke nearly accent-free Cuban Spanish … so much so that tourists had difficulty believing that I was a Yank!
Nebeker: So, socialization was a success. How'd the job go?
White: Amazingly well! Dumb luck trumps skill and planning ever time. My NCOIC once was considered as the best in the field, but had become a habitual drunk long before Cuba. I learned all I could from Big Mike, but after a couple of mission near-disasters, I took over running the station because, what's a corporal got to loose? I had two stripes, Bob the radio op had three, Roy the radar op had two and big Mike had five, so I was tied for low man on the totem pole. We had an AN/APN-84 radar set for shoran measurements, a Collins ARC-5 transmitter, a BC-348 receiver, an AP-75 110 vac 60 Hz utility power plant, and a PU-4 24 vdc/120 vac 400 Hz power plant to power the radar and radio equipment. I studied the manuals thoroughly and made sure that I knew all the equipment inside and out. I could set up, repair, and operate all of the equipment blindfolded. The power plants were started by the old pull-the-rope method. It became apparent to me that we could be a lot more efficient with remote-control start/stop capability… so I began to work on it and successfully developed a remote-control unit the size of a pack of cigarettes that eventually became an unofficial squadron standard. Our crew developed a distinguished field-performance record. By the end of that year I had my third stripe.
Nebeker: That was quite a success story. How about your personal life there?
White: My personal life was a rollercoaster ride. In the summer I had become engaged to the most beautiful girl in the world. She was a music major at the University of Havana and while she was off at school I would borrow a friend's old De Soto to visit her as often as possible. On vacation she, her mother, and some wonderful friends came to visit "our" town. Life could not have been more perfect. Eventually her wealthy father announced that an American GI was not suitable marital material for his upper-crust daughter and ordered her to break it off. That was my 1952 Christmas present. I was crushed, volunteered for the roughest duty station in the field and got my wish.
We completed our mission in Cuba, folded our station and flew to Nassau, home of net control. The Air Force had rented a huge warehouse in the heart of town and set up an operation with so much impressive electronics equipment that it could have passed as a stage set from the TV series "Get Smart." I spent the Christmas-to-New-Year's-Day week in Nassau's elegant Carleton House Hotel Bar doing what heartbroken GIs do when they're on R&R
Nebeker: Was that your rough duty station?
White: No. In early January we were flown back to Ramey AFB and I was assigned to a new six-man crew. The non-standard crew size should have tipped me off that something was unusual. We were issued new equipment, underwent survival training and were issued combat weapons for self defense. What the hell's going on here? We soon found ourselves in the home of poverty, corruption and intimidation. Our C-47 landed at Port au Prince, Haiti. "Officials" demanded "customs duties" on our aircraft, all equipment aboard, and even our wristwatches. Our on-board negotiator was joined by a local priest who had been contacted by the Air Force in advance and obtained clearance for us to fly to a northern coastal village, Basín Bleu, by paying a token amount of U.S. cash. Again we were met by corrupt officials, another lifesaving savvy local priest who had been contacted in advance by the US, plus more Haitian mobs who wanted more U.S. dollars. The C-47 crew was told they'd have to pay a king's ransom for fuel of questionably quality. Fortunately Guantanamo Naval base in Cuba was only 200 miles away, so the plane flew out safely with existing fuel, leaving behind on the dirt airstrip some thwarted and angry Haitian "officials."
Nebeker: But you stayed behind?
White: Yes. We were still in Basin Bleu. The savvy priest helped our negotiator arrange for bearers and pack animals to move our equipment through the jungle and up the side of a 12,000 foot mountain in the middle of a tropical storm. A pack horse slipped in the mud, lost its load, then tumbled over the side of a high cliff. Lt. Ski refused help and single-handedly dragged the horse's load up the steep mountainside. What a story I could write about that journey! The next day we arrived at our station site, Haute Pitón. The bearers demanded their pay and Lt. Ski went back down the mountain with them. The priest in Basin Bleu used his USAF-supplied two-way radio to call for an SA-16 amphibian to land in the bay, then ferried Lt. Ski out to the plane from shore in a rowboat.
Nebeker: So lt. Ski was out of there. Who helped you?
White: We were on our own. Big Mike was again officially in charge, with two very capable and experienced former NCOICs, both staff sergeants, one who was a native French speaker, to assist him. For the learning experience I volunteered to assist the assistants. At the bottom of the authority totem pole were Bob the radioman, Len the radarman and me the powerman. There we were, in a Haitian hellhole centered in an unofficial border war with the Dominican Republic, wondering what would happen next. Our shoran station was quickly up and running, but we were being watched from a few hundred yard away by a mob of hostile shouting natives armed with machetes and a few guns … and we couldn't understand a word being said. Our French-speaking staff sergeant couldn't understand any of the local dialect. While we were mulling over our problem of linguistic isolation, a local woman appeared on the scene to offer laundry service. She was accompanied by her Cuban husband, so he and I could communicate … and we had our language link established. We hired them both on the spot and learned that the unhappy natives thought we were there to help their enemies, the Dominicans. Because the locals knew and trusted our laundry woman and her husband we were able to communicate that we were there for peaceful purposes. Some bought it, some didn't.
Nebeker: Had you brought adequate supplies?
White: Enough for the first couple weeks. Food and gasoline were to come in by C-82 air drop, but the mountain top was usually socked in by dense clouds and the parachute harnesses were inadequate for the opening shock of the 55-gallon fuel drums. The harnesses frequently broke. When the gas drums in free-fall stuck the rocks on the ground, the gasoline ignited in dramatic blasts that scared the hell out the everybody. There were some singed eyebrows, but fortunately nobody was seriously injured. Eventually double harnesses were used, but because of the Korean War caused harness shortage, only the fuel drums could be protected. Eventually food was relegated to free-fall. That didn't work worth a damn. We ran out of food, the local water supply was arsenic laden and there were attempts to kill us from both sides, but we subsisted by shooting wild hawks, digging up wild sweet potatoes, accepting generous food gifts from our laundress and hired a water boy with a pack mule to bring us potable drinking water. The "water boy" turned out to be a Haitian government spy sent to keep an eye on us. Packs of wild dogs tried to invade our tents at night to steal food. Eventually we had to shoot them on sight and toss the carcasses over the edge of a cliff. As their numbers swelled we started with 45-caliber pistols, then M1 carbines, and finally 45-calibre "grease-gun" submachine guns. We were located at a "haunted" site, and the 24/7 voodoo ceremonies to keep the evil spirits at bay kept us awake at night and then early one morning somebody in one of the murmuring mobs shot up our mess-tent's stove pipe to make some sort of point. We were all anxious to get the hell out of there.
A tropical storm hit the area and wreaked havoc throughout the Caribbean. It beat the crap out of our station site, but at least our local tormentors disappeared for a while. Radio communications were generally out due to weather conditions. From my mountaintop custom antenna farm I discovered that I had a solid communications link with all USAF stations throughout the Antilles and became the de facto net-control station for a few days until the weather relaxed. I had worked around the clock running on adrenaline, but felt the happy rush that comes with a job well done. That earned me another letter of commendation in my file.
Hard to believe, but I finally escaped that shivering hellhole the hard way after ninety-three days by contracting malaria and being put up in a French Dominican monastery with delirious sweet dreams of my lost Cuban sweetheart until I could be airlifted out.
Nebeker: By then were you unhappy with the hand the air force had dealt you?
White: Absolutely not! I recuperated at the base hospital at Ramey AFB, was reunited with old friends and crewmates and was transferred to Patrick AFB in Florida where all of the 338th SRS was relocated on temporary duty. I enjoyed a brief off-base mission at Homestead Florida on the palatial estate grounds of movie stars Jon Hall and Francis Langford. They were very gracious and friendly, but not chummy. It was great duty!
The 338th was ordered to move via air to Forbes AFB in Topeka. I had just bought the car of my dreams in Miami, a beautiful '50 Mercury ragtop, so I got permission to drive to Topeka if I could make it in two days. It was a wild and sleepless ride through the most road construction that I'd ever seen, but I succeeded.
At Forbes the 338th was regrouping, pulling equipment maintenance and refurbishment, and training, training and training. Oh, did I mention training? My Forbes assignment was to set up and run a shoran-station training site to prepare the next set of crews for field duty. I did very well, received my fourth stripe in less than a very busy three years and this fresh staff sergeant was appointed NCOIC for our next deployment.
Not being adverse to adventure, I volunteered for special assignments and briefly served with a Marine engineering battalion and a U.S. Army artillery special-service unit where I demonstrated my ability to copy a solid 22 wpm while under live artillery fire and half buried in freezing mud, and a British Army engineering detachment. I had proven to the world that I could install, maintain and operate anything anywhere under any conditions. That was, as they say, a "growth experience."
Nebeker: Did you have any military experience that you consider as "negative"?
White: Only one. I was setting up a station for one of my training sites in Kansas, located at the Army's Ft. Riley. We were supposed to use a locally originated operation manual for aligning the equipment. It was a dumbed-down version of the RCA manufacturer's recommended procedure, written because somebody assumed that enlisted men without the wisdom of a supervising officer were incapable of comprehending the procedure. I had always followed the RCA procedure and had consistently good mission results as proof that we were quite competent, thank you. A pain-in-the-ass squadron staff NCO came around to check to see if we were following the local manual. Of course we weren't; we were following the manufacturer's procedure, and we were challenged. OK, time for a demo. One of our squadron RB-50s was on a training flight in the area. I contacted the E/O and another ground station to see if we could set up a calibration run. Yep, no problem. Measurements were made using both the RCA procedure and the local-manual procedure. Post-mission ground analysis showed that errors under the RCA method were less than half the size of errors under the other. Irrefutable evidence. That should set the matter to rest!
Bullshit! I was put on squadron punishment under article something or other for insubordination! Not a word about reduced error. Moral: don't get caught violating procedure. The letter of the law trumps the spirit of the law every time because no thought is required. (I should have known better.)
Nebeker: What next?
White: I was getting fed up with the CS of stateside duty. My request to return overseas was granted. There was no shooting war in progress so I was open to any assignment. Because I knew the territory, the mission, and the equipment I was returned for my second tour of duty in the Atlantic Missile Range (AMR) where I met my wife-to-be, Edda, in Puerto Rico in 1954. I spent the rest of the year in a series of fast-moving happy assignments in the American Virgin Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, Grenada and the Green Islands. I spent Christmas of '54 on leave with Edda and her family when we set a June '56 wedding date.
Nebeker: Were you planning to stay in the Air Force?
White: The Air Force had provided me with the best possible home in which to grow up and find a direction for my life. I am eternally indebted to all of the officers and enlisted men who taught me so much. I learned and still follow their outstanding examples of discipline, dedication and focus. Their voices and lessons will always remain in my head. I seriously considered an Air Force career, but decided that military life was not a good environment for raising a family. I traded the offer of a fifth stripe for an honorable discharge in February 1955 and enrolled in Purdue University as an EE major. A part of my soul will always remain in the US Air Force!
Nebeker: That was quite a tour of duty! What happened next?
White: I had an academic head start, having taken Armed Forces Institute correspondence classes whenever possible. I attended Purdue University with wife, kids, dog and the GI Bill. I worked at Purdue as a Teaching Assistant, Lab Assistant and Instructor as well as a bench technician, test-stand engineer, and eventually as an engineer in the Aircraft Engineering Department at the Allison Div. of General Motors in Indianapolis where I worked on jet-engine fuel-flow control systems. Then beginning in 1959 my poor family was shuttled cross-country seven times so I could work for North American Aviation (NAA) on aircraft and missile guidance, navigation and control (GN&C) systems from February 1959 to September 1961, June 1962 to September 1962 and June 1963 to September 1963. I also both took and taught GN&C-related classes at UCLA when I was on the West Coast. By 1965, with the indispensable assistance of an NAA Science-Engineering Fellowship, I'd acquired 4 kids, 3 degrees, 2 dogs, 1 kittycat and an Indiana Professional Engineer license, soon followed by one issued by California. I was ready to start a career!
Nebeker: Whoa! You jumped way ahead there. Let's fill in some gaps. How would you rate Purdue? Did it meet your expectations?
White: Purdue was a wonderful school. As the largest engineering school in the US, it offered an unmatched concentration of disciplines, courses and laboratories. I was able to attend Purdue because of an Indiana law that mandated any state university to accept any state resident who is also a graduate of an Indiana high school. That had to be the world's most liberal admission policy! The downside was the first semester was competitive as hell and all underperformers were unceremoniously kicked out. To my surprise, I did well.
In the beginning I knew too little to have had informed expectations, but Purdue provided me with both an excellent education and an outstanding learning environment. In spite of its size, it was also very "personal." I had good rapport with the faculty. With rare exception, all faculty members were outstanding as teachers as well as researchers. The student body was mature with a large number of veterans. My class was the first at Purdue to learn EE from the Laplace-transform viewpoint, the so-called "MIT curriculum." Faculty and students learned together. Some excellent students who had been military electronics instructors ran special problem and help sessions on their own. Initially I'd had reservations about my ability to survive in that highly competitive academic environment, but I thrived under the pressure. I was elated to be elected to membership in the all-engineering honorary, Tau Beta Pi, and not just a member but as President of the local chapter of the electrical-engineering honorary, Eta Kappa Nu.
Nebeker: Were you involved in any non-academic activities?
White: Probably too many. Besides my Eta Kappa Nu and student branch IRE/AIEE involvement, I was a member of the Greater Lafayette Fair Housing Council, the campus Veteran's Club, American Legion, the VFW, Knights of Columbus, was a Trustee of St. Thomas Aquinas Church, a member of Purdue Pilots and got in a little J-3 flight time, vice president of the Deanery Council of Catholic Men and treasurer of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Men. As you might guess, I'm an activist.
Nebeker: OK, let's get back to academics. How did you select your major area?
White: I was interested in all branches of electrical engineering, but I was especially fascinated by aircraft flight control. Purdue's control-systems courses and laboratories captured my attention and enthusiasm. Dr. John Gibson from Yale had come to Purdue to establish the Control and Information Systems Laboratory. Damn, but he was a rough taskmaster and the best teacher I ever had. He was a consultant for several aircraft companies and gave us real-world problems for homework from his consulting assignments. Those assignments demanded interdisciplinary approaches that forced me to draw on every thing I'd ever encountered. Those assignments also confirmed my determination to work in that field.
This was a busy period of my life. In a blur of activity our daughter was born in April '57, I took my state Engineer-in-Training examination in May and was admitted to graduate school in June before finishing my BS so we could move into graduate married housing from our cramped two-room flat. I finished my BSEE requirements in August and worked again at Allison until the fall semester began in September … and I was really in graduate school.
Nebeker: Was Grad School any different?
White: Grad school was tough, but really enjoyable because I was taking courses only in my areas of interest. I worked like hell, really enjoyed teaching in my half-time position, but could hardly wait to tackle the problems in industry. Life was heady as our first son was born in May '58. In December I had aced the Master's written exams, but approached my oral exams with trepidation. Fortunately I sailed through and did so well that I was recommended for the doctoral program. That would have to wait, though, because both kids were mortgaged and I wanted to have a more secure financial footing. I received my MSEE in January '59. Time to go to work!
Nebeker: How did you happen to go to work for North American Aviation?
White: Any observer of WWII cannot ignore the engineering greatness of NAA. The AT-6, the B-25, the P-51 designed and produced in less than 180 days! The combat brilliance of the F-86 and F-100 in Korea. I admired everything NAA stood for. A Purdue faculty member, Prof. Lyn Shelley, recommended me to a Purdue alum at NAA, Dr. Sam Carlson and NAA to me. My major professor, Dr. Gibson, had assigned readings from the current literature, including material written by John R. Moore, the President of Autonetics, the electronics arm of NAA. I was impressed. A company president who was still writing technical articles! I also interviewed Lockheed, McDonnell, Hughes and Litton. The NAA salary offer wasn't the top one, but on an interview trip I found an excitement and enthusiasm among the NAA troops that seemed lacking elsewhere. I felt that it was a good fit.
With tears in my eyes I sold my faithful old Merc ragtop for a "more practical family car." One of the dumbest things I'd ever done. In February '59 we drove out to Downey California in a little shiny powder blue nearly-new '58 Rambler under-powered station wagon, the least reliable car I'd ever owned. We rented a house in the delightful little town of Buena Park, so close to Knott's Berry Farm that we were kept awake at night by the barking of the sea lions. After a few months of shopping we bought a house in La Mirada within a 30-minute drive of the NAA Autonetics plant. I worked in the Inertial Navigation Department of the Autonetics Division from February 1959 and at night taught as a Lecturer in Engineering at and took classes at UCLA from September 1959 until September 1961. I was working in the general area of GN&C: guidance, navigation and control.
Nebeker: What was your first assignment at NAA?
White: I began at NAA in the Preliminary Engineering Section, Systems Engineering Group working on alignment and initialization of Minuteman inertial-guidance platforms. My supervisor was Charlie Bridge, one of the best and brightest. Charlie later moved on to Litton where he became a VP. Meanwhile, whenever I asked old hands around me the sources of simplified models used I our analyses, I was always referred to Takashi Mitsutomi ("Mits"), Supervisor of the Servo Unit, Controls Group, Electromechanical Systems Section. Mits seemed to understand little about people, everything about electromechanical systems and was also leading the Autonetics conversion from vacuum tubes to transistors. He worked brilliantly and endlessly, expecting his people to do the same. Some he drove to complete breakdowns. In an act of recklessness I transferred to Mits' unit while other people were trying to transfer out, knowing that "this is where it happens." He assigned me to model the dynamics of the guts of the inertial instruments and develop their control laws. Mits was willing to hand out responsibility as fast as I asked for it. I never learned so much so fast in my entire life. He made me responsible for analysis of the dynamics of the instrument servos and N17 stable platforms for the Minuteman system, the N7 on the Ship's Inertial navigation system (SINS), the N5G on the GAM-77 Hound Dog air-to-ground missile, and countless others, and appointed me as Responsible Engineer for the Minuteman VM4 velocity-meter electronics. I learned all about factory support at midnight, writing service and training manuals, and teaching how-to-diagnose-and-fix-it courses to field-service engineers and technicians.
Nebeker: How long did you have that assignment?
White: For about a year. I was ready for more responsibility and was recommended to the Minutemen Project Office to establish the criteria for in-flight arming of the Minuteman warhead. I literally had nightmares about that assignment! Next I was placed on special assignment to work with the Lear company in debugging their misbehaving gyrocompass for the Mobile Minuteman and was made Responsible Engineer for the caging servo for the Miniaturized Automatic Baseline Orienter (MABLE) which was used to establish an azimuth reference for field artillery units. I worked on gyroscopic stabilization of tank guns and on the "wrong-way-weight" balancing of the stable platforms for the A3J and RA-5C aircraft so the platforms could remain stable during the shock of catapult launches from aircraft carriers. I also worked on star tracking, adaptive control, and microelectronics. Within two years I moved from Research Engineer to Senior Research Engineer to Supervisor, my first conference paper was presented at the 1959 National Automatic Controls Conference and my first publication appeared in the IRE Transactions on Automatic Control. Although I had been working 60 to 70 hours per week, I felt that life was good. Remember, I was young then!
In August '60 our second son was born and the starter house that we had bought on the GI Bill was feeling crowded. By the beginning of 1961 my wife and I decided that if I wanted to finish my Ph.D., we had better make that move before we bought a larger house and became too accustomed to the comfortable life. By then I considered Mits as a friend and talked over my graduate-school plans and hopes with him. He was completely supportive.
Nebeker: What nudged you back towards school just then?
White: The return to school was then financially feasible. The old bills had been paid off, we had a few dollars ahead, some equity in our home and had replaced that Rambler with a paid-for powerhouse Ford station wagon that was roomy, reliable and comfortable. The decision was made. I told NAA of my intentions, asked that an educational leave be arranged, and contacted Purdue about enrollment in the Electrical Engineering Ph.D. program and a teaching slot to keep the bills paid. With no more snafus than normal we sold our house, arranged for a house rental in Lafayette that we located via newspaper ads, signed a contract with a moving company, shipped our Border Collie, Daisy, via rail and tossed the three kids into the back of the Ford wagon. We were Indiana bound!
Nebeker: That was a fast turnaround!
White: It had to be if I wanted to finish my Ph.D. Hells bells, I was an old man of 30 and not yet done with college. There were company presidents out there who were younger than I was!
Nebeker: How did it go?
White: The move went well. We had rented a reasonable 3-bedroom house with a large yard with plenty of room for the kids and Daisy to romp. The classes I was taking were challenging, the teaching went well and the salary was reasonable. In the spring of 1962 I took and passed the Indiana Professional Engineer exam. Twice we shuttled back to Purdue on a nine-month educational leave and returned to NAA in the summers of 1962 and 1963.
In the fall of '62 we asked our pediatrician about some difficulties that our sons seemed to be having. We were referred to a neuromuscular clinic in Indianapolis and received a jarring diagnosis: Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy! DMD is a congenital disease that destroys the voluntary muscles, typically sending its victims to a wheelchair by age 10 and to a grave by age 15. Our priorities and perspectives changed, but we're a fighting family. Big sister Dianne was crushed at what had befallen her brothers, but Jay and Paul were both naturally buoyant guys and were better able to move on with their lives than the rest of us were!
While at Purdue on those leaves from NAA I was a full-time Instructor restricted to taking only six credit-hours of classes, but I also took non-credit classes in scientific Russian in preparation for my graduate language exam. Also because my major professor required translation competence in Russian for our homework assignments! At the end of each summer I went on fresh leave. That odd-sounding arrangement permitted me to keep my family covered by NAA health insurance and to keep my company seniority. NAA was really good to me, I enjoyed working there, and I was both challenged by my assignments and well rewarded. NAA established a fellowship program in 1962 and invited me to apply. I did, and was fortunate to land a full-study Science-Engineering fellowship that provided a half-salary income that was 50% higher than my full-time Instructor's salary from Sept. 1963 through Dec. 1964. The fellowship also paid all school-related expenses through graduation. In September 1963 I left NAA on educational leave for the final time, this time as a full-time Science-Engineering Research Fellow. NAA had also offered me a consulting contract, but I hadn't the time available to take advantage of that opportunity for more than a brief period.
Nebeker: Were there any financial problems?
White: Our biggest worry was covered adequately by our NAA health insurance, so in general we were adequately funded.
Meanwhile, wintertime in the Wabash River Valley ain't for sissies. As the locals say, the winter temp sits at -10˚ until the cold snap comes! That's when it gets under -35˚! Rising heating bills drove us to rent a utilities-paid apartment in the countryside in September '63. Good move! We all loved the rural living. As a full-time student, my academic pace picked up and I was sure that I'd be finished by September, or by the very latest December '64. Uh huh. Our annually renewable apartment lease was up in September '64, but by then my degree requirements were not yet met. The only temporary accommodation we could find was a 21-foot trailer for $25 per week in a camp for itinerant railroad workers. Surely we could handle that inconvenience for three months, even with three kids and a pregnant wife. Well, if anything could go wrong it did. Early 1965 was one of the driest periods in my memory. By February my research was finished and well received, I had passed my thesis exams with flying colors; my dissertation was printed, bound, and on the library shelves and I had been elected to membership in Sigma Xi, the scientific research honor society for a job well done … but I had not yet passed that final Russian language exam! The technical contents of my translations were fine, but I kept missing grammatical nuances. We lived hand-to-mouth, bankrolled by Household Finance Company. I was now a full-time Russian student! Our theme song became "King of the Road." Remember that one? Finally I satisfied the Russian language requirements in May 1965. We borrowed the down payment for a pristine '64 Ford demonstrator top-of-the-line wagon, received a cash advance from NAA for travel expenses and returned to California in style, although seriously in hock.
Nebeker: That was a long haul! What was your thesis topic?
White: My thesis title was Theory and Design of Analog Linear Estimators for Automatic Control Systems. My thesis was a product that I was proud of. It was a busy 37 months total educational leave time from NAA, but I'm sure glad I tackled it when I did. With Ph.D. degree in hand I returned to NAA in June '65. The Autonetics Division had moved from Downey to Anaheim, home of Disneyland and in the middle of the orange groves of rural Orange County.
Nebeker: Did you get your old job back?
White: Mits asked me to come to work for him again. He was a tough guy to work for but always lined up the meatiest and most interesting engineering jobs around, so I agreed. He was by then staff to a VP, so I became staff to the staff of the VP of Research, Engineering and Reliability of the NAA Autonetics Division, the electronics arm of NAA. Before I could realize that I'd have little spare time, Mits talked me into taking over teaching his courses at the newly established University of California Irvine campus. (I continued teaching at UCI for 30 years!) My first Autonetics assignment was to assess the electronics requirements on board the P-3 sub-hunter Orion aircraft and propose a microelectronics upgrade. After the proposal went out I was then assigned to model the Sidewinder missile seeker head and adapt it for a bomb-modification kit.
A flatbed truck from China Lake Naval Weapons Test Center, accompanied by armed guards, pulled up in front of the plant with a full-up Sidewinder for me! I asked them to please take it back; I only needed the seeker head. It was one of the most enjoyable hands-on assignments that I ever had. I was offered an army of help, but I wanted only a single assistant. We devised the experiments, the experimental equipment, data analysis, found and fixed problems in the original design and set up show-and-tell demos that led to one of the first smart bombs, the BOMO. It also led to a redesign of the Sidewinder seeker head that reduced the CEP by 2/3, and I got some publications and letters of commendation out of it. I was also recommended and elected a member of The Scientific Research Society of America, the industrial- and government-laboratory equivalent to Sigma Xi.
Meanwhile we rented a house in Yorba Linda for six months then bought a nice four-bedroom home within three miles of the Autonetics plant. I could actually walk to work! We bought a French Provincial bedroom set for our daughter. Until then she had shared my study space wherever we were. She was so moved that she wrote a letter, "God bless Autonetics. Now we aren't poor any more!" After our third son, John, was born, we rounded out our family by adopting two wonderful and loving pets: a sable Shetland Sheepdog, Lady, and an American Silver Shorthaired tabby kittycat, Kitty. I thought that life was perfect!
NAA wrote a proposal for the Voyager (later renamed Viking) Spacecraft phase 2A contract. I was named Spacecraft Systems Engineer for GN&C. I spent a lot of time at JPL … and in those days a commute to Pasadena wasn't too bad. We didn't win the program, but thought our proposal was technically superb. We were harshly criticized for our high cost estimates, estimates that in the long run turned out to be pretty much in line with the actual costs. NASA invited me to apply for the astronaut training program. My wife didn't think it was a good idea.
Nebeker: It sounds like life was good.
White: Yep. Life was too good so I was promoted into management. I was named Group Scientist of Applications Research with four units reporting to me. One unit was doing microelectronics applications studies similar to my P3 task, one was designing MOS/LSI chips for an Air Force digital data-modem contract and for a four-function calculator for the Japanese company Sharp/Hayakawa, one was charged with finding and fixing an electromechanical systems-dynamics gimbal problem in the stable platform of the F-111 Mark II autonavigator, and one was designing astronaut physiological-monitoring equipment for the NAA Life Sciences Division in LA. My work on that led to my being named in the first edition of the International Who's Who in Medical Engineering, published by the International Institute for Medical Electronics and Biological Engineering in Paris. My team also got a nice publication out of it.
NAA also was in the nuclear-power-plant equipment business through its Atomics International (AI) Division. AI had developed a nuclear-power-plant safety system that it wanted qualified by the Atomic Energy Commission. In order to qualify it had to pass an accelerated 50-year-MTBF reliability test. Conducting that test program also became my responsibility. I felt like a juggler with a half-dozen programs in the air, but my personal quest became the development of the world's first LSI digital-filter chip set.
In 1968 we learned that John also had DMD. Neither my wife nor Dianne could shut off the tears.
Also in 1968 I was contacted by the National Electronics Conference about teaching a course in digital filtering. I taught the first short course in what turned out to be a series with my chief chip designer, Lloyd "Big Red" Taylor. Red later became VP of Research at Bell Northern. The course was a sellout. Across the years we added subject material and such illuminates as Larry Rabiner, Alan Oppenheim and Jim Kaiser. Red taught for a couple of years. I stayed with the course until 1975.
By 1969 I was beginning to feel like an old seasoned warrior, so I applied and became a Senior Member of IEEE.
I watched first hand how our developing technology began to drain from the US to Japan. Autonetics was setting up a fledgling microelectronics company and was desperate to land the high-volume calculator-chip manufacturing contract with Sharp/Hayakawa … so much so that when the customer demanded that the manufacturing, testing and packaging technologies be given to them in exchange for signing the manufacturing agreement, NAA acquiesced. Not surprisingly when Sharp/Hayakawa learned how to make the devices for less than they were paying for them, the NAA manufacturing contracts were terminated.
Nebeker: You were at NAA. How did you come to work for Rockwell?
White: North American Aviation begat North American Rockwell which begat Rockwell International which begat Boeing North American. First we became North American Rockwell. In 1967 Rockwell Standard and NAA agreed to a merger. Rockwell Standard, run by bottom-line-driven business managers, was a cash-rich manufacturer of such low-technology lines as plumbing supplies, automotive parts and machine tools. NAA was a cash-poor technology powerhouse run by engineers whose philosophy was to deliver the best possible product on time at a reasonable profit. Rockwell's sales pitch was that with Rockwell's cash and NAA's technology the resulting North American Rockwell (NAR) would be unbeatable. The merger was consummated and within the blink of an eye the NAA management was out and the corporation was run by the Rockwell people. Within a second blink the company acquired Miele-Goss-Dexter, the nation's largest manufacturer of printing presses, and the Wildman-Jacquard Knitting Machine Company
My personal fortunes changed again when I was assigned to a technology transfer team tasked to apply NAA technology to the Rockwell Standard Automotive truck-supplies business, automation of MGD printing presses, and rapid preprogrammability of the W-J hosiery knitting machines. That was on top of my other responsibilities. I enjoyed myself tremendously working with the W-J and Automotive people. They were technically excellent and great people personally. We cut through preconceived cultural notions that were keeping us apart and together we enjoyed good successes. Unfortunately the new company management hadn't a proper understanding of the scope of the tasks. The transfer teams were sadly understaffed and underfunded but succeeded only because so many talented and dedicated engineers literally sacrificed themselves and their personal lives for the success of the programs.
Nebeker: Things weren't going as planned?
White: Soon nothing was going as planned. Too much too fast. The great aerospace meltdown in 1970 dissolved Applications Research and other NAR entities along with thousands of organizations throughout the industry and sent tens of thousands of valuable engineers into the streets. Most never returned to engineering.
Nebeker: How'd you survive the downturn?
White: Luck, I guess. I suddenly found myself reassigned, in charge of the company's Inertial Instrument Research Group with a plethora of talent but no budget to speak of. My first assignment was "salary adjustment." Everybody in the Group seemed to have a new job. Within a month I was assigned to make a list ranking the people in performance of their new jobs from top to bottom, construct a bar graph of their salaries to the right of their names, draw a straight line that touched each bar, and cut all salaries back to the bar. It was arbitrary as hell, draconian, and inhuman. I refused to do it and was demoted to Supervisor. I took care of my people and scrounged for funding to keep my crew alive, but knew that I couldn't live that way for long.
Meanwhile, the company was developing a digital-computer classical organ that was a technological triumph under the guidance of a Chief Scientist, Ralph Deutsch. Ralph was a great mathematician, classical organist, and was in charge of the organ-search committee of his church. When he saw the sorry state of the electronic-organ technology he also saw the opportunity to commercialize NAA technology for a peaceful application. He was the primary inventor and system engineer of the digital-computer organ. Two very able engineers headed the nitty-gritty engineering necessary to bring the organ to life: Dr. George Watson and Glen Griffith. I was asked to troubleshoot some digital nonlinear problem areas and to write a technical description of the instrument. It was an enjoyable and rewarding assignment that kept my mind off the disheartening personnel and financial problems that I was powerless to do anything about. By the way, the organ was a great success. The patents were sold to the Allen Organ Company and NAR manufactured the electronics for many years. The Allen Digital Computer Organ became the top-selling organ in the world!
I interviewed Hughes Ground Systems in Fullerton and received a very generous offer.
Nebeker: You were going to quit?
White: Yes. I announced my plan to leave NAR and received a surprising matching counteroffer to serve as Staff Engineer to the President, Dr. Sam Carlson, of the newly formed North American Rockwell Microelectronics Company, NARMEC. Sam was the person who first hired me into NAA in 1959. Sam said that my assignment would be to bring the digital-filter chipset to market, be responsible for the product line, and to conduct research in support of the digital-modem product line. I enthusiastically accepted his offer in June.
The digital-filter product line looked like it had a good future. Everybody in the universe seemed to have ordered an evaluation lot of a hundred or so devices. Magnavox wanted to make these devices the heart of their new sonar system, but wanted guarantees of availability over a specified time period. The British government wanted a large number of devices for a 3-D weather-modeling computer, but probably would require a minor architectural change. Amazingly, the potential of tying up the production line with a large digital-filter order left the NARMEC management unnerved.
Things were happening. NAR was dropped as a company identifier because it was an impolite word in Arabic. NARMEC became the unpronounceable NRMEC, but more fundamental changes were coming. The company changed its name again, this time to Rockwell International and absorbed other companies including Collins Radio, Allen Bradley and Reliance Electric. NRMEC became Rockwell Semiconductor. The industry was hard hit by a worldwide semiconductor market slump and, because scapegoats are always needed, Sam was fired. I was assigned to report to the VP of Marketing whom I encountered while whizzing through Chicago's O'Hare Airport in early December '71 between marketing trips. He announced to me that the company focus was changing. First, there would be no more internally funded product research and development. Devices would be designed and manufactured to customer specifications only. Second, unless I could land a signed contract for 10,00 devices from a single source by year's end, he was shutting down the digital filter line. Hell, we couldn't even process the paperwork that fast. Third, I could have my choice of new jobs working either factory support or marketing.
Nebeker: How'd you feel after the person who hired you in was fired and your job was eliminated.
White: Philosophical. I knew that things would work out because I believe in the old philosophical saying, "All things cometh to him who waiteth … providing he worketh like hell while he waiteth!"
Rockwell had won the B1-bomber development program. Many areas were to be explored, including the development of a digital flight controller. The B1 Program Office requested that I be loaned to them on special assignment to serve as technical lead on the digital flight controller. I was overjoyed at the opportunity. We developed a show-and-tell MOS/LSI demonstrator that successfully survived the B1 radiation-requirements test. I thought the we'd roar ahead, but the USAF decided that there was insufficient reliability data available on the radiation-hardened MOS/LSI devices to consider them as "qualified." I cannot recall the reason given at the time for the bias against using the Minuteman-proven bipolar digital hardware, but as a consequence the B-1A flight control went the analog route. I moved on after we documented the results which were used on later programs. The production B-1B made its maiden flight in 1974.
Nebeker: You seem to have moved around quite a bit in the company.
White: We used to joke that necessity is the mother of invention, assumption is the mother of screw-ups, and Autonetics is the mother of reorganization. I was eager to see what lay ahead when in 1972 opportunity beckoned again. The Electronics Research Center offered me the challenge of establishing a new Digital Systems Research Group within the Information Sciences Branch of the Advanced Technology (AT) Department. I was appointed Group Scientist of Digital Systems, rounded up some tried and proven performers and we were off and running.
AT contained an intense concentration of genius and was headed by Dr. Dick Gudmundsen, a world renowned laser physicist and all-round good guy. A component organization of AT, Information Sciences, was headed by Dr. Visvaldis Vitols, known as V2. Three incredibly talented senior staff members who worked for V2 were Dr. Art Rabinowitz, a speech-recognition expert, and two extraordinarily sharp EEs, Dr. John Riganati and Dr. Jim Paul. The Information Sciences senior staff was then further strengthened with the addition of DSP expert Dr. Tien Lin Chang and image-processing expert Dr. Dave Hench. Information Sciences had picked up the DSP (digital-signal-processing) responsibility for much of the company. We were in the midst of speech (Jim) and image (everybody) processing, encoding, implementation, and support for the radar (me) and sonar (V2 and me) shops. Jim had developed a real-time adaptive filter for speech filtering based on the TRW MAC chip. He did the complete design down to the pin-outs over Christmas vacation, and quickly brought a product line (ADAP 256 and ADAP 1024) to market in record time. ADAPs became very popular with law-enforcement agencies for cleaning up recordings of jail-house confessions and the like.
Our biggest contract was the FBI Automated Fingerprint Reader System. For a while it seemed to absorb the entire staff of Info Sciences.
Nebeker: Did you keep track of what happened to these people?
White: Jim quit and founded his own Virginia-based company that now designs and manufactures digital adaptive signal processors for law-enforcement agencies. John became a Bureau Chief at the former National Bureau of Standards, now the National Institute for Standards and Technology. Tien-Lin died of brain cancer. Dave still works in image processing, currently for the Air Force at Rome NY. Art stayed with the fingerprint reader that was bought by Printrax, and V2 retired.
Nebeker: Sounds like quite a technological smorgasbord at information sciences. Were any other courses served?
White: Yes, a very important one. The company's (tactical) Missile Systems Division had an autopilot and flight control group in Columbus, Ohio. Since 1974 I had been supporting them long distance on a digital autopilot feasibility study contract, became involved in flight control for the GBU-15 program, then found myself assigned as technical lead on the Programmable Digital Autopilot program. On Monday mornings I'd fly out from LAX to either Eglin AFB or the Columbus facility, in midweek travel to the other facility, and come home on Friday nights. That went on for the better part of a year. Our design employed distributed arithmetic to realize an incredibly efficient signal-processor architecture. I sure racked up the frequent-flyer miles. So I wouldn't become one-dimensional, I also worked on the Navy's "Smart-Torpedo" program in my spare time! Unrelated, but to my delight, the National Electronics Conference gave me their "Distinguished Lecturer Award."
There was another course not quite on the main menu, but quite a feast. Rockwell had bought Commander Aircraft, a manufacturer of business and general aviation aircraft. In order to build up aviation interest within the company, the heavily subsidized North American Rockwell Flying Club was formed. Solo flying time cost $7.50/hr. wet and former military instructor time cost $5/hr. We had quite a stable of aircraft, but my favorite was a Grumman American, N7259L. How I loved that plane! I still dream about her. At day's end I regularly headed for the flight strip and got in about an hour of glorious coastline flying with '59L. Flight time was most dramatic at sunset with open canopy! I also got in some great weekend flying time.
In 1977 I got my California Professional Engineer's license. That would be a useful credential for consulting later on. Things were going well, maybe too well. Time for fresh disasters.
Nebeker: What happened?
White: In 1976 our daughter was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Not fair! Four out of four kids with catastrophic diseases. Then in 1978 our youngest son, already afflicted with DMD, received a transfusion of tainted blood and contracted Hepatitis C and Gilbert's Disease, both liver ailments. That was before blood screening became routine. All we could do was work to make life as good as possible for the kids.
We need a bigger house to accommodate all the wheelchairs. We found the right house. It was spacious, four-bedroom home sited on a large wooded lot in a nice area close to schools and medical facilities and within a half-hour's commute to work. It was also expensive. I took on an unmanageable mortgage and borrowed more to put in a swimming pool for the kids' therapy. Because each of the kids had so much bedside medical equipment we had to add a fifth bedroom. The kids required an immense amount of care. We would have to hire some medical help, but didn't know how, so we advertised. I don't understand the confluence of things, but a lovely nursing student, Gabrielle, appeared to offer to work part time to care for Jay until he died and Manuel, also a nursing student became a live-in attendant for Paul. They were both wonderful kids and became part of the family. How to pay for all this? Tearfully I turned in my keys for '79L and sold my share. One expense gone.
Almost as a response, I was unexpectedly offered a part-time traveling job by the Technology Transfer Society as International Lecturer. This was big league! Not only did it pay handsomely and provide me with worldwide exposure, but I was promoted to Manager of Signal Processing and Digital Systems with a leap in pay. That put me in charge of algorithm and hardware development and delivery of the successful multimode self-multitasking multiprocessor target tracker for the Army's Fire-and-Forget tank-killer program. That was a job my people performed brilliantly. Personally I developed special-purpose signal processors for proprietary programs; designed the SEASAT SAR signal processor and hardware; performed guidance-system analysis and switching-servo redesign for the Hellfire missile and invented and demonstrated a nonlinear distortion corrector for both speech and image processing. Now that I had the money, I wouldn't have had time for my dear '79L. Fate can be cruel, but it quickly became more so.
Events again happened quickly. In 1979 our daughter, Dianne, died; not from the leukemia but from the ravages of the chemotherapy. In January 1983 our oldest son, Jay, died; not from the DMD but from a viral infection that attacked his weakened heart muscle. He died from viral pericarditis. In June 1983 our second son, Paul, went into respiratory arrest and was put on life support where he remains (at home) today.
Nebeker: How'd you retain your sanity through that?
White: My primary support is my strong Catholic faith and I'm always deeply immersed in choral-music activity. I find great emotional strength when I'm involved in performing choral masterworks. Who could not be transformed after performing Bach's Mass in B Minor or Beethoven's Ninth with a master chorale? And, as always, I was heavily involved in professional activities outside of work, teaching and writing.
Nebeker: Have you done anything on the lighter side of music?
White: I have a little bit of country and western in my soul. For example, I was a backup singer for Glen Campbell, John Davidson, Shirley Jones and the Gatlin Brothers over several years for their respective Christmas shows at California's Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Nebeker: That's impressive! Can you list your ieee activities?
White: And more. Professionally, I served on the Executive Committee of the Orange County IEEE Section, as Founding Chairman of the Orange County Chapter of the Signal Processing Society, on countless technical committees of various societies, on the AdCom of the Circuits and Systems Society, on the Conferences Board of the Signal Processing Society, and on the Steering Committee from 1980 to 2002 and on the Board of Directors from 1988 to 2002 of the Asilomar Conference on Signals, Systems and Computers (ACSSC), as ACSSC Technical Program Chairman in 1981and General Chairman in 1982. I also served as Technical Program Chairman of the 1982 IEEE Region VI Conference, Vice Chairman of the 1983 IEEE International Symposium on Circuits and Systems (ISCAS'83), General Chairman of the 1984 International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing (ICASSP'84), General Chairman of the Society of Photo-optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE) 1985 Real-Time Signal Processing Conference, General Chairman of ISCAS'92 and General Co-Chairman of ISACS'98. I also founded and have served as President of the Orange County Chapter of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society for every year since 1988 except three.
Nebeker: OK; I see how you kept your mind occupied. How were things going on the job?
White: In 1984 the Autonetics campus was swept by another great reorganization. I became Chief Scientist on the program-responsibility charts and Senior Scientist on the company organization charts. I was now in the Advanced Technology Department (no relation to the previous one with the same name) of the Sensors and Aircraft Systems Division, Defense Electronics Operations of Rockwell International Corp. The hallowed Autonetics name had been retired, at least for the moment. I had a very flexible staff position where I served as corporate troubleshooter on special assignments for signal-processing and controls-systems problems; developed reliable seismic means to covertly identify and track rail-mobile Soviet ICBMs and other military material; provided flight-test data analyses for MX and Midgetman thrust-vector control systems; did the preliminary design of a secure communications system; developed a GaAs second-order building block for ELINT/EW applications to the INEWS program; served on corporate technical panels, and organized the Rockwell International Signal Processing Conference (larger than many similar professional-society conferences) for four years. In 1985 I was given the extra responsibility as Image Instrumentation Group Leader of the joint UCI/Industry Image Engineering Research Center.
Nebeker: Did you receive any recognition or signs of appreciation?
White: Yes. The floodgates suddenly opened. With Rockwell's recommendations and support I was elected International Director of Eta Kappa Nu and Fellow of both the IEEE and the Institute for the Advancement of Engineering in 1982, received the IEEE Centennial Medal and the Orange County Engineering Council's Engineer-of-the-Year Award in 1984, was elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was named the Rockwell International Engineer of the Year in 1985, was elected Fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences and received the Leonardo da Vinci Medallion, Rockwell International's highest award for scientific and technical achievement in 1986, received Rockwell's Meritorious Invention Award for a satellite communications device and the Purdue University Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award in 1988, named Distinguished Lecturer by the IEEE Signal Processing Society in 1990, received Purdue's Outstanding Electrical Engineer Award in 1992, was elected Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1995, received the IEEE Circuits and Systems (CAS) Society technical Achievement Award in 1996, the CAS Golden Jubilee Medal in 1999 and the IEEE Third Millennium Medal in 2000.
Nebeker: Wow! That was quite a run. Which do you feel was the most impressive?
White: By far, the Rockwell International Engineer-of-the-Year Award. In 1985 Rockwell was an international giant. Its list of sites was as thick as the phone directory of a medium-sized city. Rockwell claimed to have 2% of all the nation's scientists, mathematicians and engineers on its payroll of 123,000 with a heavy manufacturing presence in virtually every industry. The Rockwell presence was ubiquitous. Who can forget the full-page ads, "A Spaceship Just Landed on Earth and it Came from Rockwell." The B-1B bomber was setting world records; 98% of all US space launches were on Rockwell's Rocketdyne engines, Rockwell Semiconductor Systems was manufacturing more microprocessors than any other company, and the list of achievements was endless. I was immensely proud to be a member of Rockwell and overwhelmed that to have been named Engineer of the Year! I was wined and dined by Chairman of the Board Robert Anderson, President Don Beall and Senior VP of Engineering and Technology Bob Cattoi; flown in a company executive jet to meet general or admiral everybody at every base and launch site, toured all the company plants and met all the division VPs. I was king for a day … or a week, as it turned out.
Nebeker: Your fortunes must have changed greatly!
White: Yes, but not as I might have anticipated. Rockwell's bean counters had been reviewing its books and reached a bottom-line-based conclusion. Medical benefits of active employees were paid from the profits of their respective operating divisions. Medical benefits of retirees were paid from a central corporate kitty. Bottom-line managers therefore realized that employees with high family medical expenses were severe profit burdens, and those eligible for early retirement must be retired or face a penalty. In 1989 I was given a choice: retire by the end of January 1990 with my full Metropolitan Life Healthcare package intact or stick around and get pushed into an HMO. I retired, and with far more options available to me that I had realized.
Nebeker: Didn't you feel that was a rude way for the corporation to show its appreciation for your years of service?
White: Initially I did, but it wasn't so bad. Recall that the IEEE Signal Processing Society had named me as Distinguished Lecturer, so finally I had the time to accept my worldwide invitations. Although I went to many interesting places that I'd seen before, I made my first trips to Singapore where I lectured at both the National University and the Technological University; and to Zurich where I lectured at ETH, the MIT of Europe. I also visited many distinguished schools in the US. All told, I had lectured in over a dozen countries and at least as many US universities. Loved it!
Rockwell's retirement package was pretty good and I was still appreciated there by the folks that counted. Although the financial managers had wanted me gone from Rockwell, the Program Managers and technical staff wanted me to stay. A federal retirement rule said that I couldn't look like a retiree for tax purposes and work directly for the company within some blackout period. Dick Gudmundsen, for whom I had worked earlier at Rockwell, had established his own company, Perceptrix Physics and Engineering Corp. Perceptrix was by then an established subcontractor to Rockwell with all necessary security clearances. During the blackout period I worked for Rockwell through Perceptrix while I set up my own company, Signal Processing and Controls Engineering (SPACE) Corp. with Dick's guidance.
Soon SPACE Corp. was off and running. I talked over organizational issues with people who would ordinarily have worked for me. I avoided having to worry about payroll issues by subcontracting. That way everybody could legally maximize and retain control over his own retirement plan. No payroll and no benefits plan other than my own, but I was required to carry a workman's compensation policy on myself before I could enter a customer's plant. I did carry liability and O&E policies.
Best of all, I understood how to negotiate rates and my income soared!
Nebeker: So being forced into retirement was a good thing?
White: It was probably the best thing that could have happened to me! SPACE had several interesting assignments. Most were for Rockwell. People who had brushed me off in the past now clung to my every word. Sweet revenge! I was given amazing latitude and authority, and all my security clearances were reactivated. The first job was the design of a classified seismic instrumentation, data processing and filtering, and pattern classification system for detection and locating of Soviet military equipment. It was a showstopper that later earned several patents in the areas of pattern classification, recognition and fuzzy logic. The second was to provide a preliminary design of a low-power hyperspeed classified data-collection and communication system for a "black" agency. A patent later issued for its efficient radix-12 FFT building block. The third was to design the digital IF processor and clutter filters for the PAC-3 missile interceptor system. I got a patent on this one for a novel means of combining demultiplexing and lowpass-filtering functions. The fourth was to design and develop the digital signal processing and processor to adapt the Systron-Donner Quartz Rate Sensor, or QRS, Gyro for higher-performance operation and integration into the DQI, where D = Digital, Q = QRS, and I = Inertial Measuring Unit or IMU. The DQI was a remarkably good IMU, but it's future looks bleak. Its size is small, its performance is good, but its manufacturing cost is high. For inventing novel signal-processing methods, calibration and testing procedures, and signal- and data-processor design for the DQI, I was awarded two dozen patents.
Nebeker: Did the DQI have a market?
White: Yes. The Air Force had bought the Rockwell Autonetics GPS/DQI for use on the AGM-130 air-to-ground missile. The AGM-130 had been designed and manufactured by the Rockwell Missile Systems Division in Duluth, GA. For AGM-130 use, the Air Force had also bought an "iron-gyro" GPS/IMU-based system from Rockwell Collins and a GPS/Ring Laser Gyro IMU-based unit from Honeywell. All three systems were to be committed to production to reduce the Air Force's dependence on a single technology. Only the Rockwell-Collins system was glitch free. Both the Autonetics and Honeywell systems had dynamics problems because of their incompatibility with the closed-loop performance requirements of the flight-control system.
With all that preface, as you might guess, my fifth Rockwell assignment was to design suitable IMU/flight-control servo interfaces for the Autonetics and Honeywell systems. The senior Missile Systems flight-control people were the same crew that I had worked with in the GBU-15 days, and most of the Air Force Eglin AFB crew was the same. We had a very smooth working relationship and quickly redesigned and tested the interfaces for both systems. I had to develop new requirements for the Honeywell vibration isolators, but eventually everybody passed the acceptance tests with flying colors. These fortunate contacts with Honeywell would play an important role in my future!
My sixth and last Rockwell assignment was to assist in turning a new Draper Labs/Autonetics low-cost MEMS gyro into a high-quality product. I developed and patented a good factory-test rig to determine if an incomplete gyro had a chance of meeting specs. I firmly disagreed with the decisions that had been made on how to best extract rate information from the gyro. When the system engineer dug in his heels but couldn't make the gyro work, Rockwell lost interest in the program and sold the design and transferred the production staff to Honeywell in Minneapolis.
Nebeker: That was the end of the trail?
White: Just the end of the Autonetics trail. SPACE also had two contracts with Western Digital Corp. for the development of algorithms and processor architectures for image and speech compaction. WD wasn't a fan of patents and felt the best protection was secrecy. I thought the image-compression product was a very good one, but unfortunately WD folded that operation and the compaction schemes never saw the light of day. I also had one contract with Interstate Electronics for developing a means to extract transient info from some very noisy laboratory data. That, too, was considered as proprietary.
I had a one-year contract with the Intellectual Property Portfolio-Development Department of Rockwell Semiconductor Systems to evaluate the market potential of inventions submitted to the company for licensing or purchase. SPACE also had an incredibly productive run with Rockwell Semiconductor Systems, which morphed into Conexant Systems, Mindworks and Skyworks. I led a creative team of five at Newport Beach CA in what turned out to be a three-year project. We devised new products, manufacturing methods and test procedures that culminated in 10 US patents. SPACE ceased operation in February 2000 after a great 10-year run. I just felt that "it was time."
By then I figured that I was retired. In late 1999 an old and dear friend, Les Mintzer, had died from liver cancer and left an open contract with Excelsus Systems. Les had been developing digital simulators for characterizing and testing telephone lines. In January Excelsus asked me if I could finish the task, and I did three months later. "Now," I thought, "I'm retired!" That was the end of March.
In early April 2000 I received a telephone call from Scientific Drilling International (SDI) in Houston. SDI develops inertial equipment for precise underground positioning of oil-well drill bits and needed a consultant familiar with gyroscopes and inertial measurements. An SDI senior executive with whom I had worked decades earlier remembered me and wanted to bring me on board. Because of the intensively competitive nature of the oil-drilling business, the technology is more closely guarded than anything within the bowels of the CIA or NSA. The challenge was irresistible and I remained on a steep learning curve under contract to SDI for three years, beginning in May 2000 and ending in May 2003. At the completion of the contract I was required to box up everything even remotely related to the contract and ship it to the SDI, nearly promise to dissolve my brain to keep their secrets, and sign an affidavit stating that, except for billing records for tax purposes, I had retained not one scrap of SDI-related material. In this paragraph I have stated everything that I'm permitted so say.
While getting cranked up on the SDI job, in June 2000 I received a telephone call from Honeywell in Minneapolis. Those were the folks that bought the Autonetics MEMS gyro. The Autonetics people that they purchased with the gyro were doing a fine job of manufacturing, but couldn't get clean rate information out of the instrument. I thought that I knew exactly how to do it, we had a meeting in Minneapolis and I was put under contract from June 2000 'till June 2003. I loved working with the people of Honeywell. We developed what became known as the "digital gyro," a very accurate, compact and capable instrument. It's now in the test and characterization stage. I received seven more patents that resulted from inventions of new data- and signal-processing methods for the digital gyro. I also supported Honeywell laser-ring gyro (LRG) systems engineering as the LRG was being adapted for new applications.
Nebeker: Were the disasters over?
White: Sadly, no. In May 2001 our youngest son, John, died from the cumulative effects of DMD, Hepatitis C and Gilbert's Disease. Not unexpected, but painful. Our surviving son, Paul, was probably hardest hit, now having lost all three siblings.
Nebeker: Are you finally retired?
White: I just signed a contract with Systron Donner Inertial Division to work on DQI improvements. I'll probably be consulting until they bury me.
Nebeker: What was most important in establishing your reputation as a consultant?
White: Most? I don't know. First, I was well known in my field. I worked on many interesting projects, wrote articles, talked at conferences, taught short courses and university courses, gave interviews, and kept my face and name in front of the technical community. With a constant flow of patents, the Patent Gazette contained descriptions of my work. I got listed in all the Who's Who publications possible and never refused a request to give a talk or an interview.
Once I was under contract I always made a point of giving my customers more than their money's worth, making sure my customers' staff felt that I was a member of their team, wrote articles and filed patent applications with my coworkers, made sure that they got lots of credit and realized that working with me broadened their own career horizons.
Nebeker: How did that help you?
White: The people that I worked with asked their management for me to return again and again to work with them. That was the best possible advertising in the world. My other secret weapon was documentation. Because I have a terrible memory I keep a detailed written record of everything. I turn those archival records into periodic status report, although usually not required. Often at the end of a project my status reports provided the only detailed history of the project and the basis of final report for the customer. These detailed records were also easily turned into invention disclosures and papers for conferences and journals. The bulk of the work was already done; only the reorganization and polishing were required.
Nebeker: What one-word answer would you give if asked "what is the key to success?"
White: Integrity. That needs no explanation.
Nebeker: What are your activities now?
White: Playing nursemaid to some patent applications that are working their way through the USPTO, helping defend a European Patent Office challenge to one of our patents, being active in my church, the Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano National Shrine, choral music, and of course my family.
Nebeker: Do you know offhand your patent and publications count?
White: Over 80 US patents issued and pending and over 100 publications.
Nebeker: What's your most significant patent?
White: You'll have to ask my clients. They own them all!
Nebeker: What would you have done differently?
White: I could say that I should have worked harder, but at nearly every point in my life I was going full throttle. Something else would have had to go. There was little else left in me. I could only do my damnedest. No more.
Nebeker: How did IEEE satisfy your professional needs?
White: Admirably. I expected IEEE to serve as a means to help me to maintain my technical currency. The publications, courses and conferences and the personal contacts really couldn't have been better. That's all I expected and wanted from IEEE.
Nebeker: What were the most important information sources?
White: My technical societies are Aerospace and Electronics Systems, Circuits and Systems, Control Systems, and Signal Processing. Their Transactions were my gold mines, and I mined relentlessly. I read the abstracts, the biographies, and dug into the technical texts when needed. The conferences were even more important because I could interact with the authors and discuss the papers with other attendees.
Nebeker: The biographies were important?
White: I feel that a successful career is built primarily on personal relationships. Networking. It's important to know who is where, what they're working on, who their colleagues are. It's important to be able to make a phone call and say, "Hi, Prof. Jones. My name's Stan White. I've followed your publications with interest. I'll be passing through your area next month and would like to buy you dinner. We can discuss your research, our common interests and any great students you'd care to recommend for a job. Would you like for me to give a seminar while I'm there? I can send you a set of topics that your staff and students might find interesting."
Nebeker: What was the payoff?
White: I made many friends, found colleagues to collaborate with, people I could call on to participate in IEEE conferences and committee work, hired some great employees, got to know a set of technical experts in virtually every field that I could call upon for advice and help. The payoff was limitless. I was also introduced to some fantastic steak houses and wine lists!
Nebeker: I see that you have given many short courses and seminars. What was the primary advantage to you?
White: The paychecks were always nice. Exposure, contacts, networking, getting new ideas and points of view from people in attendance. I learned from my major professor, John Gibson, the importance of making outrageous statements at such gatherings. People are always anxious to show how smart they are and will begin to volunteer information about research in progress … often too much information because their judgement is clouded by the emotion of the moment. It's a great way to plumb the depths along the shoreline of knowledge. It's also a great way to get some hint of who's working on what new frontier.
Nebeker: Have you any comments on criticisms about the IEEE US Activities Board not meeting the professional needs of working engineers?
White: None whatsoever. I don't feel that's the IEEE's job. I see the IEEE as a technical-exchange and technical education forum. It provides valuable service in establishing and promulgating technical standards. It is repository of technical knowledge that is a national treasure. That's what it does best. It is diluted when it wanders outside of those areas. I never wanted it to be my union, savings bank, broker, or anything other a technical organization. I once bought some insurance through the IEEE. They lost me in the computer system and did not serve me well.
Nebeker: Any bad memories or experiences?
White: Two come to mind. The first has to do with meetings. I hate meetings. Generally they're a waste of time. Most issues can be settled by an e-mail or a phone call. If we must have a meeting, let's have an agenda, follow it, acknowledge that some issues must be tabled pending more information, designate who is responsible for fact-finding or execution of action items in preparation for the next meeting, and adjourn. Most academics love to argue for hours on end over how many professors can dance on the head of a pin. Frankly, I don't give a damn. I served one term only on the Administrative Committee for the Circuits and Systems Society. I felt that our time was generally wasted on endless haggling over trivia.
The second had to do with micromanagement and lack of gratitude. I pride myself on being able to put together a top-notch team to solve a problem. My management philosophy is to identify a compatible set of able and proven performers in each area that needs attention, define clearly and unambiguously what we want to accomplish with as broad a vision and as few constraints as possible, then let 'em loose. Don't micromanage but insist on regular progress reports, even if they're one-liners. Ask them what help they need to do their jobs, then deliver! Encourage them to talk among themselves. Meet "once in awhile" to check cohesion, to keep the team concept strong and to provide course correction as needed. In every area my teams have delivered beyond expectation. My Conference Chairmanships were generally enjoyable experiences.
Nebeker: You say "generally enjoyable." were there exceptions?
White: The exception was ICASSP'84. The ASSP Society wanted to micromanage it to death. My Conference Committee members were all well-known - deans from major universities, top managers from industry, and all very active in and knowledgeable about IEEE. My very able Technical Program Chairman, Sydney Parker, resigned in frustration and disgust when the Society wanted to control the selection of members of his Technical Program Committee. The Society's hotel-contract negotiator not only failed to obtain better terms than I had already negotiated but so alienated the hotel staff that I had to spend considerable time smoothing ruffled feathers. Then at the post-conference ASSP Conferences Board meeting the Society expressed displeasure over my "excesses." The quarter-million-dollar budget had been well managed. Yes, I'd exceeded the 10% $25k profit goal by a comfortable margin, but if the venue, food, entertainment and other perks for the attendees been not so nice, the Society could have made a tad more money … although it was the most successful ICASSP on record with the greatest attendance from inception to that date. Not one "thank you" from the Society's Conferences Board members to any of my Conference Committee. None of my people ever volunteered for ASSP-Society work again, although I did get them involved in CAS-Society work. CAS is not shy about saying "thank you." Very important.
Nebeker: Do you plan on chairing any more conferences?
White: Not a chance!
Nebeker: Your professional and family commitments have been extensive. Have you had time for any involvement in community activities?
White: Yes. We’ve touched upon my music interests, church involvement and 30-year part-time teaching activity. I’ve also served as President of the Orange County Parent Group for Handicapped Children and Adults, Chairman of the Community Assistance Fund, Chairman of the Fair Housing Council, member of Board of Directors of the Dayle McIntosh Center for the Handicapped, and member of the California Governor’s Advisory Committee on Education of the Handicapped. There are probably more.
Nebeker: What does the future hold for you?
White: I'm a financially comfortable and healthy septuagenarian, enjoy my family and home, consulting and continuing professional activities, church work and choir, friends, reading, concerts and beachfront living. What more could I ask for? I might even try to get in some flying time. Palomar Airport is just a skip down the road.
Nebeker: I hope you don't consider this as an insensitive question, but how's your son?
White: At the incredible age of 43 Paul is doing remarkably well. Although paralyzed below his neck, he doesn't consider himself handicapped, just inconvenienced. With a mouth stick he is more computer capable than 99% of the population. He has invented a tool for handicapped sportsmen, holds a patent on a surgical tool, has produced PBS documentaries, is an active composer and arranger, holds two college degrees, is director of the vocal group The Pacific Mermaids, and is one of the most involved and active persons I have ever known. He considers every moment of his life as a gift not to be wasted. All four of our children have been remarkable persons and philosophers. We have been blessed.
Nebeker: And so you have. Thank you for your time and insights.
White: My pleasure.