Graduate Students, Page 3
One of the things that we did as grad students was that we had Journal Club once a week—either a regular, some professor giving a talk or a couple of students giving talks, and they’d have cookies and milk and tea and that sort of thing. It all came from the University and it was all dreadful. Plastic cookies.
We went to the Department Head and said, “You know, we’ve all got apartments. We could cook, we’ll take turns. If you’d pay us we could make the cookies.” They agreed to that, and we did it for one semester, and then they were told that the University would only pay the University for food; you couldn’t get it from an outside vendor. So the grad students couldn’t get paid for this.
We wanted to figure out a way of making money so we could continue to pay for the cookies. John Grady and Cliff Stoll, who were two of the students at the time, had decided that they wanted to get T-shirts printed that had the emblem of the Lunar Lab. I remember I wrote the Latin inscription on the bottom, which was supposed to mean, “Out of the solar nebula, planets.” Four words. I got the Latin grammar wrong on three of the four words.
When they went to get the T-shirts printed, they saw the guy who had this company printing T-shirts, and he showed them how they did everything, and they said to themselves, “We could do that.” So we started our own T-shirt printing company. We called it “Nocturnal Aviation” because it was a real fly-by-night company. We got the contract from Kitt Peak to print the T-shirts that would be sold at the gift shop—because, you know, somebody knew somebody who, that’s how all these things are done—and we printed the T-shirts in the backyard of Hawthorne House.
About that time, I think it was Nick Gautier who was trying to get some lab equipment and just wrote off to a couple of companies that might have what he was looking for—you know, “We’re trying to get equipment for our lab”—and people started shipping him surplus lab equipment; two-year-old terminals. At one point, word came down: “There’s three boxes and a thing on wheels!” I forget what the three boxes were; they may have been old terminals. But the thing on wheels was about the size of a telephone booth, on wheels, that was a high-energy, high-electricity, high-voltage source that you could use for vaporizing aluminum. I don’t know what happened to it, if they ever used it or not.
But they started just writing to everybody. Part of it was they said, “We will print T-shirts for cool stuff.” Texas Instruments wrote back saying that they would send them four sets of all the chips you need to make a mini-computer—unassembled of course, you’d have to design and build the circuits yourself—in exchange for five thousand T-shirts. An enormous number! They would pay for the T-shirts; we had to do the printing. Just endless printing of T-shirts in the backyard.
But they got the free terminal and this free set of chips. This was 1976, years before mini-computers or micro-computers, Apple or IBM, and they were building their own computers, literally on pieces of wood that we set up on the kitchen table at Hawthorne House.