internal fragmentation

a personal journal of hacking, science, and technology

Walter Gordon Heffron

Tue, 30 Jun 2009 22:09 by mpm in Uncategorized (link)

My grandfather passed away earlier today. Thinking back, it amazes me the degree to which he set the foundation for my later pursuits and hobbies: astronomy, physics, mathematics, electronics, computing.

He was a researcher for many decades at Bell Labs. He was intimately involved with the Apollo program, not to mention countless other efforts ranging from sonar to the invention of videoconferencing. He was there for the invention of the transistor.

He was colorblind (a trait he passed to me), but memorized the colorblindness eye charts in attempt to qualify for the astronaut program. He taught me the names of the constellations. And he took me to see Star Wars in the theater.

He also introduced me to Unix via a home-built VT52 terminal that dialed into a server at Bell Labs, the birthplace of Unix. I spent countless hours exploring; I retrieved the Amulet of Yendor at age 7. Not long after that, he sent me a first edition copy of The C Programming Language, also created by his coworkers. I quickly read it cover to cover, despite having no access to a C compiler. Thirty years later, I’m hacking the Linux kernel in C.

I saw him for the last time a couple weeks ago. I showed him the bash shell prompt on my GPhone, a machine thousands of times more capable and portable than the machines he introduced me to, and running a version of Unix I’d helped develop.

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