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The Curmudgeon Letters

Paying Attention

C. A. ("Al") Irvine
16 August 1933
External Services:
  • cairvine@livejournal.com
I come from a small town in Oklahoma. I went into the Air Force in 1951 immediately after graduation from high school. Within 3 months I was in Berlin, Germany in the middle of the Russian Zone. I edited the base newspaper, built a base driving range, taught golf, and guarded the bars and a couple of restaurants. You will note that during the period of 1951-1954 the Russians did not capture a single Berlin bar! I met a wonderful woman there, married her, and brought her back to the U.S. with me. We were married for 10 years.

I got a BS and an MS in mathematics from Oklahoma State University, but my MS was a computer science thesis in disguise—they weren't giving degrees in computer science then. And then I moved to Los Angeles in 1960. While in Los Angeles, I got divorced, started a company, managed a rock band, bought a jazz night club, attended love-ins and rock concerts, demonstrated against the war, consulted for the CIA, started a civil rights organization and dropped acid—not in that order or even sequentially.

Professionally, I've been an entrepreneur and computer scientist. I got into the computer business in 1956 and was lucky enough to work at the forefront of computer technology throughout my career. I have done some of the earliest work in business simulations (at Conoco in 1958), computer graphics (1962), Artificial Intelligence programming methods and tools (1963, 64), and computer networks (1965 & 66, the great grandfather of the Internet?).

In 1965 I was working at UCLA as the Technical Director of the Western Data Processing Center. I wrote, we submitted and ARPA (the Advanced Research Projects Agency) accepted our proposal to carry out the first substantial research in the development of computer networking. In that proposal, I described the first Area of Investigation, "On-Line Users of the Network", as follows:

"The existence of a computer network … has important implications…. It provides a means of person-to-person communication via computer. What are the benefits and possible disadvantages of this use of a computer network?"

In the early 70's, I designed operating systems, programming languages, and system development tools for major computer manufacturers. In the rest of the 70's I designed and built new software programming tools, operating systems and applications for personal computers. And, in 1982, I introduced a windowing, networking operating system for personal computers. At that time Bill Gates and I were competitors and peers (except he didn't do Windows yet and had never heard of networks). We sat on panels together arguing about the relative merits of our respective products. Since then Bill has pulled about $90 billion ahead of me.

During much of the 1980's I designed systems for manufacturing computers, aluminum smelting, and automobile design.

I have been an invited member of two National Academy of Sciences panels: The Committee on the IRS Tax System Modernization (an $8 billion system I told them not to build - but they went ahead and tried anyway and failed); and The Panel on Research on Future Census Methods (how to do the 2010 census). Again my recommendations were ignored and in February 2008, I declined an invitation to participate in a small emergency "Expert Panel" to advise the Secretary of Commerce on the solving the technology problems for the 2010 Census. I served as an invited confidential reviewer on a few NAS/NRC final reports.

In 1973, I married my second and last wife and we were married for ten years. She is another wonderful woman. I had no children in either marriage—the smartest thing that I ever didn't do!

I moved to San Diego in 1970 and, except for a brief period of insanity when I tried out Boston, I have lived here ever since. I liberated myself from most of my work in the computer business in 2000, and have been spending my time writing some books (non-fiction, unfinished and unpublished), some poetry, and The Curmudgeon Letters newsletter/blog and working (as a consultant, dramaturg and Trustee) with some theater companies in San Diego: Teatro Máscara Mágica; Common Ground Theatre; Eveoke Dance Theatre (where I filled in for about three and a half years as their Business Director); and the San Diego Repertory Theatre (where Whoopi Goldberg and Annette Benning got their start). I was the dramaturg for the World Premiere of R. Buckminster Fuller: The History and Mystery of the Universe by D.W. Jacobs. It has played to full houses in San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Montreal (in French), Portland, OR Ventura, CA (starring Joe Spanos of NYPD Blue fame), Portland OR, the Arena Stage in Washington, DC, and several others around the US. It has received standing ovations at every performance, in every city—about 400. .

In 2005, I became a member of Direct from The Source, a jazz group consisting of Joe Garrison (musician, composer, arranger extraordinaire and the most creative musician I've ever known) and Burnett Anderson (the best muted horn player I have ever heard.) I wrote poetry for them and performed spoken word with them. We recorded one CD, ONE: If You Could Do Everything available at http://cdbaby.com/cd/dfts and I self-published a book of my poetry, Chairdancer, available at http://www.lulu.com/content/182737. I have also just self-published an audio CD, Through The Center containing my reading of 33 of my poems.

During much of 2006 I was the Executive Producer for The Progressive Patriots Road Show, a celebration of liberal and progressive ideals through laughter and song. It sought to unite the "Middle Majority", the 80% of the citizens who are neither left nor right extremists—those who love this country and want to improve it, compassionate people who care about the less fortunate, freedom and our country's progressive foundation. It would have premiered in San Diego, CA in late 2007 and started a 24 city nationwide tour in early 2008. Sadly, we could not raise enough money to get it rolling, but happily it wasn't needed and we elected the first person of color to the Presidency.

I am a Senior Member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and was elected to Teatro Máscara Mágica’s Artistas de Honor Hall of Fame.

I have seriously studied psychology, philosophy, eastern and western religions, metaphysics, and spiritual development schools for about 40 years. I have this incredible circle of friends: artists, actors, musicians, engineers, scientists, philosophers and just good people from all walks of life, all ethnicities and all economic levels. I have led and am leading a charmed life! I can't imagine how it could get any better!