ROBERT SPINRAD, A PIONEER IN COMPUTING
By JOHN MARKOFF
Published: September 6, 2009
Robert J. Spinrad, a computer designer who carried out pioneering work in scientific automation at Brookhaven National Laboratory and who later was director of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center while the personal computing technology invented there in the 1970s was commercialized, died on Wednesday in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 77.
Robert J. Spinrad with the Xerox 8010 Information System, which was introduced by the Xerox Corporation in 1981.
The cause was Lou Gehrig’s disease, his wife, Verna, said.
Trained in electrical engineering before computer science was a widely taught discipline, Dr. Spinrad built his own computer from discarded telephone switching equipment while he was a student at Columbia.
He said that while he was proud of his creation, at the time most people had no interest in the machines. “I may as well have been talking about the study of Kwakiutl Indians, for all my friends knew,” he told a reporter for The New York Times in 1983.
At Brookhaven he would design a room-size, tube-based computer he named Merlin, as part of an early generation of computer systems used to automate scientific experimentation. He referred to the machine, which was built before transistors were widely used in computers, as “the last of the dinosaurs.”
After arriving at Brookhaven, Dr. Spinrad spent a summer at Los Alamos National Laboratories, where he learned about scientific computer design by studying an early machine known as Maniac, designed by Nicholas Metropolis, a physicist. Dr. Spinrad’s group at Brookhaven developed techniques for using computers to run experiments and to analyze and display data as well as to control experiments interactively in response to earlier measurements.
Later, while serving as the head of the Computer Systems Group at Brookhaven, Dr. Spinrad wrote a cover article on laboratory automation for the Oct. 6, 1967, issue of Science magazine.
“He was really the father of modern laboratory automation,” said Joel Birnbaum, a physicist who designed computers at both I.B.M. and Hewlett-Packard. “He had a lot of great ideas about how you connected computers to instruments. He realized that it wasn’t enough to just build a loop between the computer and the apparatus, but that the most important piece of the apparatus was the scientist.”
After leaving Brookhaven, Dr. Spinrad joined Scientific Data Systems in Los Angeles as a computer designer and manager. When the company was bought by the Xerox Corporation in an effort to compete with I.B.M., he participated in Xerox’s decision to put a research laboratory next to the campus of Stanford.
Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center pioneered the technology that led directly to the modern personal computer and office data networks.
Taking over as director of the laboratory in 1978, Dr. Spinrad oversaw a period when the laboratory’s technology was commercialized, including the first modern personal computer, the ethernet local area network and the laser printer.
However, as a copier company, Xerox was never a comfortable fit for the emerging computing world, and many of the laboratory researchers left Xerox, often taking their innovations with them.
At the center, Dr. Spinrad became adept at bridging the cultural gulf between the lab’s button-down East Coast corporations and its unruly and innovative West Coast researchers.
Robert Spinrad was born in Manhattan on March 20, 1932. He received an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Columbia and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In addition to his wife, Verna, he is survived by two children, Paul, of San Francisco, and Susan Spinrad Esterly, of Palo Alto, and three grandchildren.
Flying between Norwalk, Conn., and Palo Alto frequently, Dr. Spinrad once recalled how he felt like Superman in reverse because he would invariably step into the airplane’s lavatory to change into a suit for his visit to the company headquarters.
CHARLES HUGHES, UNION LEADER JAILED FOR CORRUPTION
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: September 7, 2009
Charles E. Hughes, who led a municipal labor union for 30 years, winning substantial gains for part-time workers in New York City schools and becoming a political power broker, but whose career ended ignominiously with a corruption conviction and a prison term, died Aug. 30 in Manhasset, N.Y. He was 68 and lived in Queens.
Don Hogan Charles/The New York Times
Charles E. Hughes in 1990; he led Local 372 for 30 years.
The cause was a heart attack, his daughter Charisse Rose said.
From 1968 to 1998, when the national union, suspicious of malfeasance, suspended him, Mr. Hughes was president of Local 372, District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents more than 20,000 lunchroom aides, crossing guards, substance abuse counselors and other school employees, most of them black or Hispanic women. Most work part-time for hourly wages, but during Mr. Hughes’s tenure, their health benefits were greatly expanded and members became eligible for a city pension. He also negotiated a compensation schedule that allowed them to receive paychecks through the summer.
Mr. Hughes was an especially ardent advocate for greater participation of the city schools in the Child Nutrition Act, the federal program that subsidizes school breakfasts and lunches.
“He was a very, very good union leader for these people, who are very low paid,” said Bill Schleicher, editor of The Public Employee Press, the newspaper of District Council 37, which comprises 125,000 members in 56 locals. “He was very aggressive in what he called justice for his people.”
Mr. Hughes was also a behind-the-scenes political power, supportive of and supported by three mayors — Edward I. Koch, David N. Dinkins and Rudolph W. Giuliani — and was often sought out by candidates for city and statewide office for his ability to raise money and mobilize volunteers.
All this came to an end in February 1998, when the District Council became alarmed at the dwindling bank account of Local 372 and informed Afscme, which appointed an administrator to replace Mr. Hughes. The next year, Mr. Hughes was indicted on charges of stealing about $2 million from the union (including $700,000 in unearned overtime) and of using the money, among other things, to pay for a European vacation for himself and 14 friends and reward friends in Millen, Ga., his hometown, with no-show jobs.
District Council 37 itself was put into trusteeship in December 1998 as corruption was found to be rife within its ranks. In 1999, Mr. Hughes became one of 38 district officials to be indicted on a variety of charges, including embezzlement and vote fraud. In 2000, he pleaded guilty to grand larceny and was sentenced to three to nine years in prison. He served six, most of it on work release.
Charles Evans Hughes (it was unclear, his daughter said, whether he was named after the former chief justice of the United States) was born in Millen, south of Augusta, on Jan. 26 1941. He attended local schools and in 1960 or 1961, at the urging of an uncle, moved to New York, where he found work as a school lunch helper, loading trucks with food. He quickly became active in Local 372, becoming a shop steward and serving on the executive board before becoming president.
In addition to Ms. Rose, Mr. Hughes is survived by his wife of 46 years, Shirley; his mother, Magnolia McCloud; three brothers, Joseph, Donnie and Alfred; six sisters, Darlene Cheek, Alisa Hughes Brooks, and Joanne, Diane, Linda and Debra Hughes; a son, Martin; another daughter, TiaJuana Brinson; and nine grandchildren.
DICK BERG, TV PRODUCER AND SCREENWRITER
Published: September 9, 2009
Dick Berg, a television producer best known for creating major history-based mini-series like “Wallenberg: A Hero’s Story” and the 13-hour adaptation of James A. Michener’s book “Space,” died Sept. 1 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 87.
The cause was complications after a fall, his son Scott said.
In a career spanning more than 50 years, Mr. Berg produced or wrote scripts for nearly 100 television shows, starting with hourlong original dramas and detective shows in the 1950s and ’60s. He wrote the pilot for “Johnny Staccato,” a 1959-1960 series that gathered something of a cult following, in which John Cassavetes played a jazz pianist in Greenwich Village who supplements his income by taking on detective work. Soon after, Mr. Berg moved on to produce 39 episodes of “Checkmate,” a series that chronicled the adventures of a private detective agency in San Francisco that specialized in preventing crimes rather than solving them.
From there, Mr. Berg turned toward producing original dramas for Alcoa Premiere and the Chrysler Theater, for which he hired the likes of William Inge and Rod Serling to write original teleplays. Mr. Berg’s productions advanced the careers of young directors like Sydney Pollack, Mark Rydell, Robert Ellis Miller, and Stuart Rosenberg.
For 30 years, Mr. Berg’s company, Stonehenge Productions, produced dozens of movies of the week and mini-series, many of them adapted from best-selling books. Among them were “The Martian Chronicles,” by Ray Bradbury; “The Word,” by Irving Wallace; and “A Rumor of War,” by Phil Caputo.
Mr. Berg had a banner year in 1985, when both “Space” and “Wallenberg” were broadcast.
“Space,” an extravaganza that cost more than $30 million to produce, recounted the development of the space program, with fictional characters based on real-life astronauts like Alan B. Shepard Jr. and John Glenn, scientists like Wernher von Braun and NASA officials like Chris Craft.
“Wallenberg” was Mr. Berg’s adaptation of “Lost Hero,” a book by Frederick E. Werbell and Thurston Clarke, which told how Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, rescued nearly 100,000 Hungarian Jews during World War II, then disappeared into the Soviet gulag.
Mr. Berg’s production of “Wallenberg,” The New York Times said, “accomplishes what it sets out to do — to tell, endorse and celebrate the story of a genuine hero.”
Richard Joseph Berg was born in Manhattan on Feb. 16, 1922, the son of John and Sylvia Berg. His father was a paint salesman. Besides his son A. Scott Berg, who won a 1999 Pulitzer Prize for his biography “Lindbergh,” Mr. Berg is survived by his wife of 63 years, the former Barbara Freedman, and three other sons: Jeff, who is chairman of International Creative Management, the talent agency; Tony, a record producer and executive; and Rick, a manager and producer. He is also survived by seven grandchildren.
After graduating from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., in 1942, Mr. Berg went to Hollywood, where he hoped to become an actor. He found work only as a dialogue coach for movie cowboys. Not happy, he moved to Westport, Conn., where he ran an art gallery.
At night and on weekends, he began writing scripts on speculation for live television. More than a dozen of his original dramas appeared on programs like “Kraft Theater,” “Robert Montgomery Presents,” “Studio One,” and “Playhouse 90.” One of them, “The Drop of a Hat,” caught the attention of Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Studios, which called Mr. Berg to Hollywood as a screenwriter in 1957.