1 - EARLY YEARS WITH THE COMPUTER

Biographical notes
by BERNARD A HODSON

My initial background was in applied mathematics at one of the top Universities in the UK, the University of Manchester. The Manchester program, one ofhe finest in the world at the time, had you eating, sleeping, dreaming and living mathematics, mathematics and more mathematics, with a bit of statistics and atomic physics thrown in for light relief. Physics was taught by the now famous Bernard Lovell (later Sir Bernard), who pioneered radio astronomy, writing a book 'Astronomer by Chance'. He taught us the basics of atomic physics, which came in useful during the early part of my career.

The Statistics Department consisted of brilliant individuals, including as its Head the world renowned Professor Bartlett, but his staff were hopeless at communicating. We finished up by going to the classes in shifts, with those on shift preparing notes for those off shift. Somehow most of us managed to pass.

The honours mathematics program took three solid years, during which you studied more mathematics than in five years at most North American Universities, and more than at any other University in England, except possibly for Cambridge. At the end of the first year you had to choose between pure and applied mathematics. The Faculty was brilliant and included Jones (a pioneer of radar who explained why a misplaced decimal point had held back the German radar development), Camm (who tried to get us interested in pursuing work done by Milne on the interaction between bodies in space), Lighthill, Goldstein, Newman, Higgins as well as many more. Lighthill would take a circle and by a variety of transformations have it become a turbine. Goldstein made applied mathematics live, as did Lighthill.

I chose applied mathematics and learned what happens with high voltage transmissions, with electricity, with radar, with waves in shallow and deep water, We learned what happens with airfoils and other shapes in moving air, about drag and lift on aeroplanes, about the theory of electromagnetism and relativity, about elasticity, about Heaviside operators, and were taught dozens of ways of handling analytical mathematics problems.

We also studied the theory of elasticity, where one is calculating stresses and strains in cylinders, discs and other bodies, either at rest or in motion, subject to a variety of loads. It was this subject area that I used early in my career to calculate stress in aircraft engines turning at high speed, which led to an award from the Royal Aeronautical Society.

As part of the University program we were all expected to attend a series of learned lectures known as the Mathematical Colloquium (I later was chairman of this august body). Topics varied all over the place but during our second year there was one that told us about a machine built by the University (with I think the co-operation of Ferranti) called a computer. The speaker explained to us that it was possible to write something called a program which enabled the machine to rapidly carry out all manner of mathematical computations. After the lecture we had a demonstration. Everyone present found it interesting to a point but did not think that there was very much future in such a machine. When, in the following year, class members were asked if they would like to do graduate studies working with the Manchester computer, all except one declined. Little did I know at the time that such machines were to change my future and become my life-long work. Within three years many of our graduating class were getting their feet wet with these computing machines.

A footnote to this section should be recorded. Although I did not know it at that time, and never met him, Turing (who first proposed the idea of a computer) was also at the University. Turing's ideas for a computing machine were very close to the equivalent ideas that I have developed over the years in software, finally developing GENETIX, which is, in software, akin to the Universal Turing Machine that he proposed in 1936.

A Summer job was with the Royal Naval Establishment in Gosport on the South Coast of the UK. There I worked with a German scientist named Dr. Radar who had designed hydrofoil boats for the German Navy during WWII. My work at Gosport was involved with the design of ship propellers, which we placed in a water tunnel. By strobe lighting the propeller while water was flowing past it we were able to see what is known as cavitation, where small volumes of vacuum leave one blade of the propeller and impinge on other blades, sometimes causing considerable damage.