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October 1999

John Adams PACKS it in

John Adams. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

"It's like going from a horse and buggy to a new Lexus," says John Adams about the changes he's seen during his 29 years in SCD. John, who came here as a student assistant in 1970, retired as a software engineer on 30 September.

A native of Wyoming, John arrived in Boulder in 1967 to work on a Ph.D. in mathematics at CU. He had never heard of NCAR. "I remember seeing this pink palace up in the clouds and not knowing what it was," he says. Then a couple of his fellow graduate students got jobs here, and he applied too. "I remember long hours at the keypunch and lumbering around with heavy card decks," John says about those early years. "Our supercomputer--a CDC 6600--had only 64,000 words of memory. Quite a gap between that and what we have now."

At NCAR, John became an associate scientist and software engineer, developing several software packages over the years. He explains the rationale of a software package this way: "It's a kind of black box. You plug your equations in and the answer comes out; you don't have to do much coding yourself." His brainchildren include MUDPACK, which uses multigrid techniques to solve elliptic partial differential equations, a type of mathematics used in big numerical models. John and Paul Swarztrauber recently developed SPHEREPACK, a collection of programs that facilitate computer modeling of geophysical processes. John also developed part of FISHPACK, with Paul and Roland Sweet, and several other black-box codes. The software packages have been downloaded off the Web by researchers from all over the world, including many working in fields unrelated to the atmospheric sciences. "I get nice thank-you notes from people who used [the software] to solve some problem that I don't understand at all. It's very gratifying. Elliptic equations seem to pop up all over the place."

Until recently, John also administered the process of allocating time on NCAR's supercomputers to users from the university community, first with Cicely Ridley but alone since the late 1980s. "I had a big reviewer data base of experts all over the country in the 30 areas of atmospheric science defined by NCAR. It was kind of like being the editor of a journal." Today the allocation process has been simplified and automated, and Web-based applications added.

The most outstanding thing about NCAR, John says, is the people. "This sounds like a cliché, but it's a true cliché," he adds. "Jeanne Adams--no relation--hired me as a student assistant in 1970 and forgave me repeatedly for opening her paycheck; we are both J.C. Adams. Professionally, I am especially indebted to John Gary, a wonderful applied mathematician. He paved the path that allowed me to learn a lot of the numerical skills which made me more useful at NCAR. Working with Paul Swarztrauber through the years has been delightful, and Cicely Ridley was wonderful. I have special warm spots in my heart for Dick Valent and Fred Clare, whom I have known since graduate school at CU, and many other people, some still here and some gone."

At a youthful 57, John might seem a bit underaged for retirement, but that's the way he wants it. "I had always intended to retire at [about] 55, while I am still young enough and healthy enough to enjoy an active lifestyle," he says. He and his wife have planned cycling trips in Utah, Arizona, and New Zealand, as well as a nonbike trip to Cambridge, England. He also expects to ski, climb more of Colorado's fourteeners, scuba dive, fly fish, and possibly learn classical guitar. He'll be keeping his hand in the software world, possibly teaching math courses and doing part-time work, and he'll continue to maintain and support the NCAR software he developed for at least the next year. "I've bought a fairly powerful Micron Tech home PC and will spend time learning how to use it. I've been spoiled at NCAR with Sun workstations, UNIX operating systems, and access to supercomputers; the world of home PCs and Microsoft will require some adjustment.

"I could say I'll miss all the friendships developed over the years," says John, "but I won't, because I will still be around. I will miss the day-to-day contact with NCAR people and the steady dose of good humor and stimulating conversation that comes with it. From my perspective, NCAR has been a very benevolent and generous institution to work for. I feel blessed to have worked so long at such a beautiful place."


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