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September 1997

Changing times for SCD staff


Flat budgets within NCAR have prompted a number of staff reductions within SCD this month. At the same time, several long-time employees are embarking on their retirements. Below are profiles of some of the familiar faces who will be leaving NCAR soon. (The staff reductions are unrelated to the supercomputer procurement process discussed in the article on page 1.)

A retirement party for Ken Hansen, Bob Lackman, Rosemary Mitchell, and Gene Schumacher will take place on Friday, 26 September from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. in the Mesa Lab Damon Room. All staff are welcome to attend; there will be cake, Italian hors d'oeuvres, soda, beer, speeches, and presents.

Bob Lackman, Rosemary Mitchell, and Ken Hansen

Ken Hansen

Frequent users of NCAR computers from around the nation and beyond will notice the absence of Ken Hansen. Ken has served as a general consultant for SCD users over the past 15 years, answering countless questions and bringing solace to panicked programmers of all stripes.

"Probably the majority of our questions come from university users, sometimes over the phone but usually through e-mail. We also have a wide variety of users from all the [internal] divisions," says Ken. One of his priorities has been to help clients use their allocations of time on SCD machines as efficiently as possible, rather than eating time up with debugging. In the SCD consulting group, Ken has worked closely with Pete Morreale, Tom Parker, Juli Rew, and group head Jeff Kuehn.

Ken came to NCAR nearly three decades ago--on 18 October 1967, to be exact--after he found out about opportunities on the mesa from a friend. "I started as a computer operator and then moved into programming. For my first assignment, I worked with Warren Washington on his six-level general circulation model, the forerunner of the current community climate model. It's difficult to express my appreciation for the unending patience Warren showed me. In those days we used a Control Data 6600, which was the supercomputer of its day. It had 64,000 words of memory, but only 50K were available to users--the operating system used the other 14K."

Ken's next job was working with Ray Roble (HAO), then a new postdoc from the University of Michigan: "Ray also proved to be a fantastic mentor." Ken joined Bob Lackman (see below) in working at the Research Aviation Facility (RAF) data group before the NCAR programming pool was dissolved in the mid-1980s and Ken moved into the newly formed consulting group within SCD.

Born and raised in Denver, Ken has carpooled from Arvada with fellow SCD employee Dick Sato for many years. Ken plans to stay in the metro area after he retires, enjoying time with his wife and following his grandson Corey's soccer career. "Obviously we'll do some traveling. I'm also going to learn how to cook.

"I love NCAR. I've been so happy here. The work's very interesting, the people are interesting, and the computing environment changes so fast that it's been a constant learning experience."

Bob Lackman

In the mid-1960s, Bob Lackman was at Hughes Aircraft/Space Systems in southern California and keeping watch on a growing family. "I decided I didn't want my kids to grow up in L.A. I sent my resume to the Boulder Chamber of Commerce and they sent me back an application for NCAR."

After he was hired late in 1967, Bob completed his work at Hughes on the uncrewed Surveyor lunar lander before landing himself on the NCAR mesa in February 1968. He even recalls his first task: "It was to make a computer movie of a standing wave in a box for university scientist George Platzman."

Bob's 30-year career at NCAR splits nicely into decades. The first one was spent programming for a small group of NCAR scientists that included the late Henry van de Boogaard, Doug Lilly (now retired from the University of Oklahoma), and Don Lenschow. "They were all great to work for," he recalls. Then came roughly ten years in RAF. "We developed GENPRO, a GENeral PROcessor for aircraft data. Neil Kelley and Dick Friesen, who headed RAF data management, were both terrific to work with."

In the last decade, Bob has headed up the NCAR Graphics group, overseeing six major releases and eight other revisions to the visualization software. Since NCAR Graphics was copyrighted in 1986, the institution has reaped several million dollars in user fees. More recently, Bob has been involved with the implementation of a processor for climate system model (CSM) data, along with Dennis Shea, who "has been outstanding to work with and has been doing a remarkable job in leading this project."

Of all his NCAR accomplishments, Bob says he's most proud of "the people I hired into SCD, including Gary Rasmussen, Erich Thanhardt, Herb Poppe, Don Middleton, John Clyne, Tim Scheitlin, Ethan Alpert, Jeff Boote, Mary Haley, and David Brown." Regrets? He's sorry he won't be here for the debut of NCAR DataVision, an interactive package scheduled for release next year.

Not that Bob will be lacking for things to do. He hopes to continue as a consultant on CSM and DataVision efforts. Meanwhile, he'll try to improve his German and Spanish, learn Russian, spend winters in the South, visit some of his 60 first cousins and other relatives around the world (including Buenos Aires, Argentina) while completing his 1200-member family tree, and "write a good computer bridge program with graphics." He's bracing himself for bad dreams "about being late for an important work meeting at NCAR and about NCAR/UCAR management learning I vote Republican." And he'll miss colleagues and friends, "the beautiful trip up the mesa each day," and "the latest, best computer toys."

"It seems like yesterday when I walked in here. Such is life."

Rosemary Mitchell

It's almost as unthinkable as the Beatles' breaking up in 1970. But Rosemary Mitchell has worked with the same two colleagues far longer than Paul, John, George and Ringo were together. Rosemary has shared the same office--ML room 4B--with Julie Chapin and Sylvia Darmour since she arrived at NCAR on 25 October 1982. "I think everyone in SCD has moved at least once except us," says Rosemary. "It's kind of unusual. The three of us have been in the same office, working together and growing as our jobs have changed."

Most everyone who has an account on an SCD machine has secured logons and passwords from Rosemary's group, Database Services. At first, the group's job was simply to track the original CRAY-1A's use in batch mode, where users submitted jobs and then waited for output. When the first CRAY Y-MP arrived in 1989 and SCD switched to the Unicos operating system, the group's work expanded to include management of passwords for new interactive accounts.

"Our data base has grown because we keep track of a lot more information: e-mail addresses and fax numbers and Web home-page addresses," Rosemary notes. "Everything is more complex."

Having made the decision to retire back in July, Rosemary is now in the throes of preparing documentation ("always the last thing that gets done") to help Becky Ruttenberg, who is taking on part of Rosemary's job. After her official retirement on 1 October, Rosemary has a more appealing task on her agenda: a trip to visit a friend in New Zealand. Afterward, she'll indulge in her favorite pastimes: reading, gardening, bridge, opera, and theater. You're likely to spy her on the tennis court, too. She competes in U.S. Tennis Association leagues and tournaments and has placed first in statewide competition for mother-daughter doubles.

Rosemary hasn't ruled out the possibility of yet another career. She spent many years as a physical education teacher in elementary and secondary schools before a graduate course in statistics pulled her interest toward computers. In between "public school teaching, raising children, and NCAR," she also taught at the University of Colorado.

"I've enjoyed my years here at NCAR. It's always been different and fun and interesting."

Gene Schumacher

Gene Schumacher

NCAR is the reason Gene Schumacher moved to Boulder in 1963--although it took seven years more for him to actually join the staff. "I'd been in Albuquerque for a year working for Control Data Corporation when NCAR agreed to buy a Control Data 3600. I requested a transfer and moved to Boulder to provide site support," he says. From 1963 to 1970, Gene looked after various machines around town on behalf of Control Data, most notably at what was then the National Bureau of Standards, but he recalls that "by far the main amount of my time was spent working with NCAR."

Gene stayed on top of NCAR's earliest computers as the model numbers ascended from 3600 to 6600 and beyond, while remaining a Control Data employee. Finally, the inevitable happened. "It was about the time that NCAR purchased the [Control Data] 7600 that Paul Rotar asked me if I wanted to work at NCAR. After suitable hemming and hawing, I said yes."

Twenty-seven years later, Gene is closing the books on an NCAR career that's virtually synonymous with the high-performance machines he's managed. He calculates that he's been involved in the installation of 18 supercomputers. From the day in 1976 when the first production-model Cray arrived at NCAR, Gene has headed the Cray support group.

"Many times I'd think I should move on, but then I'd look around and say, 'What could be better?' They say you're defined by your job, and I guess I'm guilty of this. I feel like NCAR."

Be that as it may, Gene is duly preparing for life after NCAR. "I've got an endless list of home repair projects," he sighs. He's looking forward to getting back into drawing, painting, and photography--"I haven't had the time to devote to it that I'd like"--and he might even hit the golf course now and again. With sons on both coasts (Seattle and New York) and parents in Montana, there will undoubtedly be travel on Gene's horizon.

However, it's unlikely he will become a sudden stranger to the Mesa Lab. Gene expects to drop in as a casual employee, "which would give me a chance to work on some of the fun things, mainly the technical problems, which I always enjoyed more than administrivia."

Making the decision to retire, says Gene, "was even a bigger decision than coming to work here. NCAR's been a great place to work, mainly because I've had a chance to work with the biggest and the best: leading-edge computers and leading-edge problems. It's been a marvelous combination."

Sue Ellen Jensen

Sue Ellen Jensen

Sue Ellen Jensen's departure from SCD in the recent staff reductions comes nearly 20 years after she joined the division. That's more than half her life.

"I'd just graduated from Fairview High School in the summer of 1977, and Carl [Mohr, former NCAR employee and Sue Ellen's brother-in-law] said, 'You ought to apply for a job at NCAR.' I had absolutely no computer experience." She applied for a part-time summer job in the machine room but didn't make the cut. However, "they kept my application on file and called me up in December, when there was a four-month temp job as a tape library aide." The position turned out to be Sue Ellen's niche. "Back then we had so many 9-track and 7-track tapes, and they just weren't being taken care of. So I became the half-inch tape librarian," joining Mary Trenbour, who managed two-inch videotapes for SCD's AMPEX mass storage system.

In 1986, the AMPEX system was shelved, Mary retired, and Sue Ellen took on primary responsibility for the remaining tape libraries. More recently, she inherited some of Bob Niffenegger's tasks as Bob, the former SCD operations manager, transitioned into retirement.

"It's been fun," says Sue Ellen, "and I will miss all the people I know in SCD. From the days when everybody did tapes, I've gotten to know a lot of NCAR and university users." She invites friends and colleagues to catch her at concerts with the Boulder Chorale, for whom she sings alto and tirelessly volunteers.

As she plans her next career move, Sue reports that "it's kind of nice to be spending time with my two black cats, Raisin and Rosebud. They haven't quite figured out why I'm spending so much time at home."

Karen Friedman

Karen Friedman

Karen Friedman, another SCD employee whose position was eliminated, has just returned from a hiking trip to Switzerland. "We were planning to climb the Matterhorn, but by the time we got there, there was too much snow, so we ended up climbing the Breithorn and Allalinhorn. They're both 13,000-plus-foot peaks."

Like Sue Ellen, Karen spent 20 years at NCAR, first as a writer/editor in the former Systems Section. She went to work for Bill Buzbee in the director's office, doing special projects (conferences, publications, and the like). She also worked in User Services and in the Digital Information Group.

Karen will continue working for NCAR as a casual through January, serving as registration chair for the Supercomputing '97 conference. "I've really enjoyed the service-oriented, problem-solving end of my job. I've also enjoyed event organizing and Web development. Hopefully I'll find a way to expand in those areas. I'd like to continue in technical writing as well. And I'd definitely like to stay in Boulder." She also hopes to go to Patagonia next year for trekking--"that's a big part of my life too.

"Twenty years is a long time to work at any job. For me, it was a good 20 years--it seemed to go really fast. I appreciated the professional freedom I had to expand within the organization and define roles as I went along.

"My friends at NCAR became my family. That's what I'm really going to miss, those connections." •


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