Although working for a mainframe company (Honeywell), I was easily
intrigued as reports of microcomputers started to come out. I had
no hand at all in their development, but I could see the significance
before Honeywell management did. So while they were dumb and happy
I made a formal request to represent the company for microcomputer
interests. It probably seemed unimportant, for they agreed with
virtually no comment.
I was obviously delighted that ASCII was the internal code for
all PCs that I heard of.
Then I started to goad the hardware designers, asking them that if one
could run FORTRAN faster on a chip than on their mainframe CPU, why
didn't they just put such a chip in the mainframe? What do you
think? Did I ever get answered?
Obviously I had to get my information from magazines. Interface Age
was one, run by Robert Jones, with Carl Warren as main editor. I
thought that a story about how to view and use ASCII was overdue,
so I called and offered to write one. They in turn were a bit
ignorant of the mainframe world, so I had to give my qualifications.
In 1978 August, a month after the third installment came out, I was
in Michigan visiting my son Jan (pronounced "Yon" in the Dutch manner,
and a large proportion of the Bemers in the Netherlands have been so
named). He had to take his wife to the University of Michigan for some
reason, and we had some free time. I thought to use it to get a set of
the ASCII articles for him, so we sought a micro store.
Then happened a miracle that should happen to all fathers whose sons
wonder what their dads are useful for (nearly 100%, I think). With Jan
close at hand I asked an employee if he had back issue copies of
Interface Age for 1978 May, June, and July. "What for?", he asked. "To
show my son here some articles I wrote". "What about?", he countered.
I said "They're called INSIDE ASCII". [1,2,3]
At this he turned around and shouted "Hey, guys -- Bob Bemer's here!"
Jan, knowing that I not given him my name, was impressed.
Other Repercussions from the ASCII Articles
- The marketing man for Apple Europe called me for advice on the
set content and arrangement for keyboards for Europe.
- One Arnold Berkeley called twice, and gave me a stiff examination
on the principles of the escape character and sequences.
See that story.
- I had already submitted a paper on Honeywell's TEX language for
the Dallas microcomputer convention of 1978 Aug 27-28. [4,5,6].
I've kept the Interface Age announcement. It's featured speaker
list had Dr. John Mauchly first, and then me ("Father of ASCII").
With the others, I was in good company.
- On 1979 Apr 08-09 I got to do a keynote talk at Interface '79, at
McCormick Place in Chicago. I think this was the first national
conference with separate programs for mainframes and PCs. Ted Nelson
(Mr. HyperText) rose after my talk to castigate me as one of the old
elephants that were going to be obsoleted by PCs. The microcomputer
people would start afresh, he said, and not make our same mistakes.
I'd like to find Ted now, to ask him how come PC people goofed up on
the Y2K problem. Wasn't that an old mainframe mistake? One that I
publicized  just two months before in a PC magazine?
Back to History Index
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- R.W.Bemer, "Inside ASCII - Part I",
Interface Age Magazine 3, No. 5, 96-102, 1978 May
- R.W.Bemer, "Inside ASCII - Part II",
Interface Age Magazine 3, No. 6, 64-74, 1978 Jun
- R.W.Bemer, "Inside ASCII - Part III",
Interface Age Magazine 3, No. 7, 80-87, 1978 Jul
- R.W.Bemer, "Introduction to the TEX language - Part I",
Interface Age Magazine 3, No. 8, 144-177, 1978 Aug
- R.W.Bemer, "Introduction to the TEX language - Part II",
Interface Age Magazine 3, No. 9, 124-127, 1978 Sep
- R.W.Bemer, "Introduction to the TEX language - Part III",
Interface Age Magazine 3, No. 10, 126-131, 1978 Oct
- R.W.Bemer, "Time and the computer",
Interface Age Magazine 4, No. 2, 74-79, 1979 Feb