[About the image – an IBM 1401 mainframe – from the 1960’s – prints a Mandelbrot fractal driven image.]
Mandelbrot would spend the next 35 years employed by an associated with IBM Research. He would serve as a professor at times, but there was always a tie back to industry, giving him flexibility in his pursuits.
IBM was going through a change, and with it they needed to change the kind of people that they were hiring.
“For one thing, relaxed hiring rules brought in many individuals for whom other institutions did not compete: “oddballs,” “wild geese,” scientists whose high-class record was marred by some fault or another or by disputes with faculty advisers.”Mandelbrot, The Fractalist, Chapter 21
IBM had to change. It had to go through a step change in personnel to create a step change in its own business. It had need of a fractal ‘big change’, which could only occur if it made a series of correct ‘small change’ decisions with its hiring. Mandelbrot again shows examples of fractal activity in his life; if things are smooth – we know how they will behave, but when things are rough, there is a different set of rules.
“The Revolution succeeded because Carnot hired men such as the Corsican Napoléon Bonaparte.”Mandelbrot, Chapter 21
Looking back Mandelbrot sees that this was the beginning of the ‘Fruitful third stage’ in pursuit of Keplerian dream of pioneering a new field of study. But he at the time the day-to-day activities that were asked of him by IBM didn’t necessarily fit that vision. Again, he shows us a fractal pattern in action – the small steps would come together to create a big shift.
“They appeared at first sight to clash badly—but they really didn’t clash at all. It soon emerged that I was working on the building blocks of my soon-to-be fractal geometry of nature.”Mandelbrot, The Fractalist, Chapter 21
Page by Page, Screen by Screen
“At work you never have enough time to do what you want, and your wives complain that on Saturday mornings you go to the lab instead of taking the kids to the ball game.”
““Pure scientific research is a very difficult and in most cases unrewarding profession.… You never have enough time to do what you want …”
“A father with a self-assigned and never-fulfilled mission is not a full-time father and can play havoc with his family.”
“So the date June 20, 1958, has come to mark in my mind the midpoint of my life.”
“Neither a great scientist nor an engineering innovator, he was a shrewd operator with a sense of noblesse oblige.”
“My consulting role for “down-to-earth” colleagues was varied and mostly enjoyable.”
A Famous Fred invites him in to IBM – Manfred Kochen (1928–84).
“In 1958, IBM was weighed down by an old and once carefully groomed reputation for extremely provincial and paternalistic human relations: company songs, compulsory white shirt and proper tie, and the like. Out of the blue, it set out to hire an entirely different technical workforce.”
“Therefore, the selection rules had to change, and various old restrictions on inclusion were loosened.”
“The Revolution succeeded because Carnot hired men such as the Corsican Napoléon Bonaparte.”
“For one thing, relaxed hiring rules brought in many individuals for whom other institutions did not compete: “oddballs,” “wild geese,” scientists whose high-class record was marred by some fault or another or by disputes with faculty advisers.”
“… John developed a “high-level” programming language dubbed FORTRAN (from “formula translator”), …”
Alex Muller, a colleague, would create the scanning electron microscope (“SEM”) and win the Nobel Prize.
“I can’t be accused of envying those who do well at exams (nor of biting the hand that fed me) by noting that the IBM experiment confirmed my longstanding lack of respect for exam rankings.”
“Yes, there was a time when our computers required no password!”
“Monitoring revealed that I was billed for a mass of tiny programs run by high school students all over the surrounding Westchester County.”
“We were pushing the machine well beyond its original specifications.” Calcomp typewriter
“They appeared at first sight to clash badly—but they really didn’t clash at all. It soon emerged that I was working on the building blocks of my soon-to-be fractal geometry of nature.”
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