GENERAL ELECTRIC MEETS A MILLISECOND
(A manager is a manager is ...)

Computer History Vignettes

By Bob Bemer

As almost everyone knows, General Electric was not too successful in the computer business, but it wasn't for lack of competent hardware and software people. They just had this silly idea (not a secret) that "a manager is a manager is a manager".

They did it again after Lou Wengert left as General Manager in Phoenix, replaced by "Erv" Koeritz, who arrived some time near the end of 1966. There were many problems with the COBOL processors at that time, and it was rumored that Koeritz had said "Cobalt? I can get you plenty of that, with my experience in the chemicals business". Which he had run (within GE).

Anyhow, he was a bit unfamiliar with computers, to say the least. I kept on as his assistant, as I had been to Wengert.

One Friday morning I attended a Koeritz staff meeting. Attending were the engineering head, the software head, and John Couleur (a man I respect greatly).

I brooded on the inconclusive results, so in the afternoon I went back to Koeritz and said "Nobody lied this morning, but do you realize what they told you?" He worked the old ploy --

Koeritz: "What do youthink they told me?"

Bemer: "That the GCOS operating system interrupt time was 8 milliseconds".

Koeritz: "So what?"

Bemer: "Well, that 8 ms interrupt time is the time it takes to transfer from one process to another. Now you have 4 printers at 1200 lines per minute (= 20 lines per second times 4 = 80 lines per second). That's 640/1000 of the total time used up in switching to drive the printers. When you add the card punch, the card reader, 8 online tape drives, the drum. etc., you find that 150% of your CPU would be used to drive peripherals at their maximum capacity, with no time left over to do any actual computation!      That's what they told you."

Koeritz: "But they said they'd have it at 2.5 milliseconds within two months".

Bemer:"To beat an IBM 1403 offline it would have to be down to 1.4 milliseconds! And do you know what the UNIVAC 1108 interrupt time is?      0.1 millisecond!"

That's how it went. No alarms were set off. Nothing happened that would not have happened anyway. Thousandths of a second were just too small to worry about.

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