In 2012, my younger brother Bob passed away after a battle with cancer. My brother was a very unique person. He was always very curious about how things work. His method of learning was to take things apart. In 1963, when he was 11, he borrowed my transistor radio and took it apart. He build a primitive computer from scratch by soldering wires into a circuit board and using the transistor from my transistor radio. His computer won a regional science fair. This was 20 years before one could buy a personal computer at a store.
My mom is fond of saying that Bob could fix anything. His method of fixing stuff was to do what he had done all of his life – to take things apart and see how they worked. Bob went on to graduate from Benson Technical High School in Portland. He then worked for a high tech computer manufacturer called Floating Point where is job was fixing computer hardware. He showed me a computer he had built which could analyze what was wrong with other computers. So Bob used computers to fix computers. In the 1980’s Bob went to work for Intel in Portland. He traveled around the world fixing computers for Intel.
In February, 1986, Bill Gates gave a speech announcing to the world that in May, Microsoft and Intel would join together to demonstrate a new product called the internet in which computers would be wired together so they could all talk with each other. There were only two problems with Bill’s speech - neither the hardware nor the software existed for this ambitious project.
At the time, I lived in Bellevue near the Microsoft Campus. I had many friends who worked day and night and every weekend on the software for this project. Down in Portland, my brother and everyone at Intel also worked non-stop on the hardware. The hardware was finished in April. But the software was not done until the middle of May – just three days before Bill Gates was scheduled to present the internet to the world at the Convention Center in Seattle. The software was sent down to Intel in Portland and miraculously the entire system of dozens of computers worked. All of the computers were then loaded on a couple of giant trucks and shipped to Seattle.
The day before the big event, my brother joined a team from Intel whose job was to assemble all of the computers in Seattle. This team unpacked and assembled everything and for a while, the computers worked. But then disaster struck. The whole system suddenly crashed. Bob was sent in to fix the problem. He brought out his trusty computer analyzer and checked every computer. They were all fine. They started up the system again and this time within minutes the system crashed again. Another round of tests resulted in another crash. This went on all afternoon and all evening. The big wigs at Microsoft and Intel began to worry what might happen if the system could not be fixed. Reporters were flying in from all over the world in just a matter of hours to watch Bill Gates demonstrate the internet.
Bob was busy measuring the voltage going into every computer. Everything was working fine right up to the point where the whole system failed. Every computer worked on its own. It was only when all of them were running together that the whole system crashed. At eleven at night, Bob figured out the problem. A simple power cord connecting the system to the power supply could not handle the load of all of those computers. It would heat up and then fail. A better power cord was brought in. With the new power cord, the system went on and stayed on. The staff at Intel were so happy, they stayed up nearly all night celebrating. My brother Bob was a hero. The next morning, Bill Gates introduced the internet to the world and the rest is history. Bill Gates and others got credit for inventing the internet. But it was my brother who saved it. We will never forget you Bob. You taught us that anything can be fixed. All we need to do is stay positive, and figure out what went wrong. Your approach to problem solving was an inspiration to everyone who knew you.
Your Older Brother David