Oral History Transcript — Richard Walker
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Interview with Richard Walker
Richard Walker; January 13, 1997
ABSTRACT: Background and education, University of Iowa with James van Allen and Satoshi Matsushima, circa 1959-1963; working at the Naval Observatory, 1963- ?, with C. Watts, William Markowitz, Cal Lidback, Glen Hall, Stewart Sharpless, Gerald and Katherine Kron; hike down the Nile from Aswan to Cairo, 1977; AAS membership, comparison of American Astronomical Society (AAS) journals over time; anecdotes from a few AAS meetings; Peter Boyce's effect on the AAS; tools used for analyzing data, circa 1960s.
DeVorkin:This is an interview with Richard Lee Walker. Interviewer is David DeVorkin. Auspices is the American Institute of Physics. The date is January 13, 1997. We're in the Westin Hotel in Toronto, at AAS meetings. Primarily, we're going to just have a short discussion about memorable AAS meetings you've been a part of. I'd like to, as with all of these, make sure I know and that people in the future know, who we're talking to. So just give me a brief thumbnail sketch of your life, where and when you were born, and your training, and how you got into astronomy.
Walker:I was born in 1938 in Hampton, Iowa. I grew up in Waterloo, Iowa, and attended schools there, and then attended the University of Iowa, at Iowa City. I worked under [James] van Allen.
DeVorkin:Were you in physics at that time?
Walker:I was in both physics and astronomy. Immediately after that, I went to the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. That was in 1963. I was offered a job in the Time Service, and took that, and it probably took me a few months to realize that wasn't the type of astronomy I wanted to do. I used to use the Photographic Zenith Tube and the dual-rate moon camera developed by [William] Markowitz, for determining ephemeris time. The first job I was given there was to write a Fortran program for the libration of the moon, physical and optical libration. These calculations were used to print out sheets that we used with moon plates from all over the world, from the dual-rate moon camera, and correct them for the limb of the moon — roduced by Watts, also at the Naval Observatory. This added a major correction to the determination of ephemeris time.
DeVorkin:What was Watts' first name, Cecil?
Walker:It seemed like it was C.W. — C. Watts, C. or G. Watts. I think he still has some of his machines in the Smithsonian. He's remarkable. Both he and Markowitz were remarkable in their mechanical ability.
DeVorkin:Did you know Markowitz?
Walker:Oh, I worked for Markowitz, if you could say that. [Laughter] You talked to Markowitz through an interpreter, usually a top engineer, Cal Lidback. Markowitz was a very strange man. Very competent.
Walker:Lidback. He is presently — or, last I heard from Cal, about three or four years ago, is he was still with Motorola in Phoenix.
DeVorkin:Markowitz was a student at Yerkes, under Struva.
DeVorkin:And seemed to Struva to have remarkable mathematical ability. Is that correct?
Walker:Yes, I would say so, mathematical as well as mechanical. He was an interesting personality. I had the greatest respect for Markowitz's scientific ability. He was a true scientist, devoted his efforts to the rotation of the Earth and detecting changes in that parameter.
DeVorkin:Do you know how he ended up at the Naval Observatory?
Walker:No, I don't. That's a good question. Actually, it was the assistant at the Time Service that hired me, with Markowitz's approval, and that was Glen Hall, also a very, very fine man.
DeVorkin:I just wanted to get some sense of that. You said that the Time Service, you felt, was really not for you.
Walker:No. It was interesting using the specialized telescopes for time determination, and during the day we would also have what we called "sea duty," where we would monitor short-wave signals from time stations around the world and compare them to the master clock. And in this way, we could send out a telegram after a certain length of time and tweak your oscillator just a bit. This was the time the country was switching over from Westinghouse quartz oscillators to atomic time.
DeVorkin:Where did you move from there? You must have moved out of the Time Service.
Walker:I was offered a position upstairs in what we called then the Astrometry and Astrophysics Division, also called "A&A." We often referred to it as "Alchemy and Astrology." I was put to work on the photographic double star program, under Stewart Sharpless, and Stewart Sharpless, we stayed there for a while. Kaj Strand was the scientific director, and he was a bit difficult to work with.
DeVorkin:Was this all in Washington, D.C.?
Walker:In Washington, D.C., yes. This was in 1963. I went to A&A about '64, and the 61-inch in Flagstaff was just being installed there, and there were testings, a lot of excitement about that. The A&A Division and Time Service shared offices in the Simon Newcomb Building, which was a new building, built under Markowitz's specifications.
DeVorkin:That the one that looks like a vault, or a bank?
Walker:Yeah. No automatic teller. I do remember that in the time capsule in that building, Markowitz installed a block of freshly cut oak, and this will be carbon-dated in the future. [Laughter] Markowitz was a very clever man.
DeVorkin:You did not have any direct training in astronomy, when you came to the Naval Observatory.
DeVorkin:You did have?
DeVorkin:And you got that training in Iowa?
DeVorkin:Oh, okay. I wasn't aware of that. Other than van Allen, who did you —
Walker:Matsushima. Satoshi Matsushima. He died just about two years ago. His obituary was in the bulletin.
DeVorkin:Because I got the impression — did you say, or did someone else say, that they didn't enter into astronomy until they were forty?
Walker:Oh, no, not me.
DeVorkin:That wasn't you. That was somebody else.
Walker:I was climbing up on the roof when I was nine years old.
DeVorkin:Ah, so you always had an interest in astronomy?
DeVorkin:Were you an amateur?
Walker:Yes. Made my own telescope when I was a kid, read every book I could find on it. Every extra cent I got, I would buy astronomy books. One was on practical astronomy, which impressed me very much. Well, let's see. You're asking the questions, you go ahead. I'm just rambling.
DeVorkin:No, that's okay. So, I wanted to get that straight. Okay, so you came to the Naval Observatory with training in astronomy.
DeVorkin:A bachelor's degree in?
Walker:Astronomy and physics.
DeVorkin:In physics, yes. So did you go at any time on for advanced training?
Walker:I went to Georgetown and took a few courses there, but I didn't complete a master's there.
DeVorkin:And that was under Father Heyden?
Walker:Yes. Actually, it was Bob Wilson, but Father Heyden was in charge at that time. Also an interesting man.
DeVorkin:And why didn't you continue?
Walker:I was just too busy working.
DeVorkin:So you continued to work at the Naval Observatory?
Walker:Oh, yes. I've been with the Observatory for thirty-four years. There was just too much excitement going on. I didn't feel I needed the degree. I have regrets about that now, but I've done a lot, I'm happy.
DeVorkin:Before we get to the AAS, though, you have this incredible story about hiking down the Nile. When did that take place?
Walker:Many years later, in '77. I've always been interested in Egyptology. In fact, when I was a kid, I read a book on astronomy when I was nine, and decided I wanted to be an astronomer. But when I was ten, I read one on Egypt and I wanted to be an Egyptologist; but I'd already made up my mind. Iowans are very, very stubborn, so I stayed with the one and played with the other. In '77, I had more dollars than sense, and I decided to fulfill a lifelong dream of walking the Nile. So I flew to Istanbul, visited the site of Troy. Iliad has been a constant companion of mine, for years, ever since I was twelve. Visited the site of Troy, and then took the plane to Cairo, stayed there a couple of days, and took the train to Aswan. I carried a backpack with me. Then the night before I left, it was announced that Anwar Sadat had flown to Israel to meet with Begin, and the noise and clamor in the street was gone for hours. In fact, I started to think, how can I get out of this country in a hurry? Because if something had happened to Begin — you know, he went there, and it was considered one of the most heroic events of this century, with assassins everywhere, for peace, and later winning the Nobel Prize for that meeting, and the tension of the air was so thick, it was electrifying — a word you used earlier today. If something had happened to him, I can't imagine any foreigner living. The Egyptians are very volatile people — very kind, very good, warm people, but some of them are the Fellaihi, and are very, very excitable. So there was a lot of tension, but it seemed to work out fine, and it was quite a week.
DeVorkin:What did you call them, the Fellaihi? Is this a people?
Walker:Yes, the peasants, the farmers.
DeVorkin:You walked the Nile. How long did this take?
Walker:It was a five-week trip. I walked five-hundred miles, from Aswan back to Cairo. It was an Egypt that I intuitively thought must exist, but you'd never get it on a tour. I was alone, and I had many adventures. I was stoned out of one city, they threw rocks at me, chased me out of town, threatened at gunpoint in a very serious confrontation, crossing the Nile in a small boat.
DeVorkin:They thought you were an agent?
Yes, in the little town of Asyut. I'd been camping along the Nile. But as you got farther north, the congestion was so bad, and the rats, and the snarling dogs, at night, that it was quite dangerous, I thought. So when I could, I slept in the desert, and at times I slept on the edge of the Nile. In those areas, the fertile valley is only about a mile wide, and you have desert on both sides. But yes, I checked into this hotel, if you could call it that, in Asyut. It was the only place I could find. I went up three flights of stairs, it was dark and dingy and dirty, rats on the floor everywhere. Garbage, of course, there, is piled on the roofs, but they also found that they could pile it in the hallway and stairways, as well. I looked at the room, and I couldn't sleep there, on the bed, so I spread out my sleeping bag on the floor, I slept there. Before I got to sleep, there was a knock on the door, and there were two policemen.
They'd heard that there was a stranger in town, they wanted to talk to me down at the police station. So I went. They were very polite, very cordial, and brought tea, offered me cigarettes. I don't smoke, but I smoked everything they gave me and tried to keep my cool. I didn't know what it was, but then they started asking questions like this: "Where did you receive your parachute training?" I said, "I've never had parachute training." They said, "Were you born in Israel?" "No." "And where did you receive your training?" On and on, and the questions were repeated over and over, and implications all the way through. At one point, they said things like, "How long have you spied for Israel?" All I could do was deny this. It's a strange feeling, David. When you are asked questions like that, such absurd questions, in your mind, at least I didn't take them serious, and my answers would be with a smile. It was almost amusing. Then they called in a man from town or someplace, a bigger city, and he was one of the most immaculate people I've ever seen, a large, dark-skinned Arabic man, with the most immaculate clothes on I've ever seen. Western dress under his garb, under the traditional cloak. He sat there, constantly listening to the inspector questioning. He had his worry beads.
DeVorkin:He had these beads in his hand — because you're doing that now, the motion with your right hand.
Walker:Yes, using the worry beads. He never spoke to me, he never looked at me, and he would talk to the other fellow in Arabic. I only know a few words. When they smiled and said, "We'd like you to talk to somebody else." I went through five stations of this cross, through the night. The balcony outside these offices were lined with the riff-raff that were waiting to be taken care of in some way. The jails are absolute abysmal. I wasn't really locked up, but I was walked past the cells, and later on I was told by a social worker that I met further along the way, who was in charge of some prisoners at one of the prisons, that they'll often have eight people in a cell. They'll take turns sleeping on the one cot, the others will take turns standing, some by the window, some sit on the floor, and then they'll rotate. The most common offense is punishable by twenty-five years. Of course, you can be beheaded. Surprisingly, most people take the twenty-five years, and collect twenty-five dollars when they leave. Interesting culture. Marijuana, anything like that, that you would have with you, instantly, you'd get twenty-five years. Very serious. Well, anyway. But I went through several stages of this. I was getting tired. I had walked all day. When I was asked to wait for a few minutes, I just kind of nodded off, and finally, I just fell asleep. They acted as if they had never an American passport — they'd hold it up to the light, rub it, they'd feel the seal, and so forth. It was a very strange situation.
DeVorkin:You must have been terrified.
Walker:No, I really wasn't. I think this is the way a person feels when they are completely innocent of something. They asked me what I was doing in Egypt, and I told them I was walking from Aswan to Cairo. One man said, "You are the strangest man I have ever met." [Laughter] I took it as a compliment. Seemed natural to me.
DeVorkin:That's very interesting. You took a leave of absence, or this was just a straight vacation?
Walker:It was a vacation. I had stored up a lot of time.
DeVorkin:I see. And your intention was, of course, to go back to the Naval Observatory, and continue working.
DeVorkin:So this was not a sea change in your life.
Walker:No, no. It was a major change. I went through a divorce, and I was not able to see my children for a long time. So it was a crisis time of my life, but it was also what Indians in the United States refer to as a "vision quest" — try to get your act together.
DeVorkin:So you did this subsequent to the divorce?
Walker:Yes, but I had wanted to do it for many years.
DeVorkin:Fascinating. Okay. Well, let's move to the AAS. I take it you became a member of the AAS —
Walker:In school, in 1960.
Walker:Yes. Matsushima insisted that his students be members. I didn't mention that after working in A&A for about three years, I traveled to Flagstaff to observe from time to time, liked it, and when a position was open there, I transferred. I've been in Flagstaff now for over thirty years.
DeVorkin:Was it, or is it, relatively easy to transfer between divisions of the Naval Observatory?
Walker:No. I have an ability with observing that the people seemed to like. Victor Blanco was the director then, and Otto Franz. They knew I liked observing, they knew I liked large telescopes, and I had already shown that I was creative enough to do my own observing, for research and double stars. So when the opportunity came to move to Flagstaff — I had gone out there on two occasions to observe, at a month or two at a time — I jumped at the chance. Never regretted it.
DeVorkin:No, I wouldn't think so. So when was the first AAS meeting that you can recall?
Walker:That was in December of 1963. That was the year I went to work at Time Service. The meeting was held at Georgetown, and I was very excited about this. Didn't know the structure of the Society at that time, I didn't know they had offices in Washington, or anything like that. I wanted to go to a real good scientific meeting, but I chose AAS instead. No, joking.
DeVorkin:[Laughter] I take it we can't use that.
Walker:I'll leave that to your discretion. I was trying to think earlier, some of the papers that were given at the time, and I can't do that. I remember Donat Wentzel. He was there, and Van de Kamp, and a few names that I'd heard of. It was a great excitement for me, just raw, green. The Society, as I recall, the people in attendance, a little over a hundred. Took the Society pictures at that time. There were three meetings a year, the policy was three AAS meetings a year, unless it was the year of IAU, then they'd have two. Shortly after that they changed to two meetings a year. I guess three was overkill. Also, I recall that the officials were concerned that the meeting membership was getting too large. They needed more facilities, more preparation, things of this sort. I can't see them going back to three-a-year format. One thing in that meeting that I remember so well was the anxiety that people had over two sessions. There were only two sessions, each across the hall from the other, at the university at Georgetown.
DeVorkin:So they had parallel sessions.
Walker:Yes. I think it was the first parallel session. But people were very upset there. There were papers in the next room. Of course, there were no poster papers, it was all oral, and you could talk for ten to fifteen minutes then. But people were just very, very upset with the arrangement, because there were papers across the hall they wanted to hear at the same time there were papers here. We talked earlier today about the conflict between the Education Division and the [unclear] Division meeting on the same day, and concurrent meetings. But then, there were just two. As I recall, they weren't really given different names, they just had to have two sessions, of about a hundred people.
DeVorkin:There was no attempt, that you recall, to make the different sessions different interests?
Walker:When I said that, I immediately thought, no, that can't be right. I think there was. It seemed to me one was stellar and the other was galactic, that kind of a thing. But don't quote me on that, because I'm not really sure.
DeVorkin:Were you torn between which one you would go to?
Walker:No. No, I would just go down the program and I wanted to hear it all. That did bother me, I wanted to hear it all.
DeVorkin:Oh, so you wanted to proceed with all the papers?
DeVorkin:Did you see a lot of people jumping from one room to another, trying to catch —
Walker:Yeah, and here again, they were kind of cursing under their breath. You'd hear them going, "Sorry I have to miss this," or, "You take notes," or something like that. There were no preprints, or anything like that.
DeVorkin:So if this was not the first, it was certainly among the first meetings where they did double sessions.
Walker:Yes. There could have been double sessions the meeting before, I don't know. But I had the impression, and somebody commented. Maybe it was the first time they had come to one with double sessions. Then I took the group photograph. This was in December, everybody in the long coats, on the steps at Georgetown. It was the first time I had ever seen a panoramic camera, and learned that the lens rotates around one of its nodes. This fascinated me. We were told that one of the means — and this may be what they call one of these "urban tales" — that at one of the prior meetings a fellow had stood on one end of the steps, and then when the camera started to move, he ran behind the crowd — there's two pictures of him, in effect. That could apply to a lot of groups. [Laughter]
DeVorkin:Well actually, I did see that in one picture.
Walker:It seems like I'd seen that, too.
DeVorkin:I was at a Western Amateur Astronomers meeting and a meeting with the Astronomical League, in something like 1957 or '58, and somebody did that, and I can't find that picture. y parents must have it, or something. It's one of the ones that rolls out. But I had never seen one of the Astronomical Society, the professional ones, that did that, but that would be great to see. There was also one where a dog walked across.
Walker:Yes, I've heard of that.
DeVorkin:And there was this one long dog. But that could be an urban legend, because I haven't seen that one. Now, your impression of the meetings, though, what did you come away with thinking about the American Astronomical community? Did you have any feelings about it? Was it a part of your professional life, or was it something that was just a curiosity to you?
Walker:No. To me, being a member of the American Astronomical Society as a student, and receiving that journal each month — or no, it was six times a year.
DeVorkin:The ApJ, you mean?
Walker:I believe so, yes. ApJ, yes. In those days, you would read the journal from cover to cover. I wouldn't even attempt, now. I'm lucky if I can read the summaries. And you could understand them, too. You could understand the ApJ in those days.
DeVorkin:So, are you talking about the A.J., or the ApJ, at that time?
DeVorkin:So it was the A.J. you received as a member.
Walker:Yes. I didn't elect to receive the ApJ. But at the library, you could actually, you know, you could read that. And they were all understandable, you could understand them. I can't account for this now. We grow old too soon and dumb too quick, I guess.
DeVorkin:So you're saying that was true of the A.J.?
Walker:Yes. Oh, it was just a beautiful journal.
DeVorkin:At that time.
Walker:No. I don't consider it that way. Getting into real personal opinions here, I just think there's a lot of pressure on people, in publishing, to sound scholarly, to — I'll come out and say it — to snow others. I see a lot of this. There's such a thing as plain writing, in getting your point across. I think this is probably true in every profession. At the same time, there's a lot more to consider, too. New instrumentation. I've had courses in radio astronomy, but the techniques have changed, the spectroscopy, everything has changed, Echelle spectrograph — all of these things, to say nothing of the technology involved with telescopes and computers, and algorithms and new mathematical techniques. The older I get — I used to do a lot of lecturing, public lecturing, talks and stuff, and I've lectured in Europe, but I used to look forward to that, I enjoyed it. Anymore, I hesitate very much, other than conversation like this, to lecture, even to the public. I feel as if I don't know anything anymore. It's, I think, something of my age — I'll be fifty-nine soon — where you look around you, you look back, and there are all of these things going on that you can't possibly keep up with. And not only that, there are so many objects, different kinds of objects, celestial zoo, that it's staggering. And theories have been overturned. I went through the steady-state theory, to the big bang, that kind of thing. I've come to realize I know practically nothing. In all of these years of research, I've published about sixty papers or more. All of this stuff, I wonder, there's something else there, and we're missing something. It's as if the type of work I've done with double stars, photometry, astrometry, I like to think that what I'm doing, and others like me, are just preparing the dataset, the database, for another Einstein to come along and put it all together and tell us, please, what does it mean.
DeVorkin:Interesting. That's really quite profound. Do you find that other astronomers feel this way?
Walker:No. I've mentioned it to others. But I just feel humbled, almost every day. See, the thing that is quite sad, of course, I think, to all of this, all of these young people at the meetings now. You know, most people my age don't know as many as we used to at these meetings. I was talking to Bill Baum at the last Tucson meeting, and he was standing at the end of the aisle of poster papers. He looked bewildered. I said, "Bill, you look as confused as I am." He looked out there, there were about twelve-hundred people, and he says, "I don't know any of these people! I don't know any of them!" But they're all looking for jobs, they're all so bright, just brilliant, and I just hope they find jobs doing something they like.
DeVorkin:That's quite an interesting observation. How would you typify, though, your feelings toward the Society and the discipline in the early sixties, when you started to go to meetings? You didn't have these feelings, I take it.
Walker:No. I didn't go to many meetings at that time. In the Time Service, travel money was just—t his was just after Sputnik. Money was going to NASA, there just wasn't travel money. The directors of the meetings would go to meetings. This one was in Washington. Then when I got to Flagstaff, I started going to meetings again, going to meetings. As far as organization and so forth, I think with Peter Boyce becoming the executive President several years ago, things really started going uphill, I mean fast, really improving. Peter made some innovations that I think have really done good by the Society. I think the structure we see now with the sessions, each meeting we go to, where to go, what to do, and how this works, and so forth. But he's kind of standardized that type of thing.
DeVorkin:So that's helped.
Walker:I think so. The newsletters, and keeping people informed, and being more involved in public issues, this is something you didn't hear about in the sixties or in the seventies. How can we get jobs for people? Where are we going to get our money from? The Society being involved in this. I don't belong to too many societies – I'm a member of IAU and Society of the Pacific, and Sigma Xi — but to belong to a society, to me, is not just a privilege, it's an obligation, and this means to me that you do go to meetings, you give papers whenever you can, and you vote. You do all of this, all this good stuff, and you get involved. If you don't, quit the Society. It's like voting in your own community. You're a member of that society. Darn it, participate. Every little thing you can do makes it better and better for everybody else.
DeVorkin:Tell me about the Philadelphia meeting.
Walker:We discussed that briefly. In 1991, January, there was a meeting of AAS in Philadelphia, downtown. After about day one or two, I don't remember exactly, but I think the date was well recorded, after the session, several of us were going up to the Penthouse where, I think it was John Wiley, Publishers, who were having a huge spread for, I think it was one of Michael Zielik's books, and a big campaign going on to interest educators in Zielik's book. The elevators were crammed, because we heard there was free beer and wine and all kinds of food, and this is better than the reception food at AAS usually is. So the elevators were crammed, people waiting to get on. The elevator did stop, oh, about two or three floors after I got on. One more fellow got on, he stood quietly, and then as the door closed, he turned around and says, "We just attacked Iraq." And everybody was quiet, [unclear]. The elevator went up to the Penthouse and the door opened. No one got out. We started pushing buttons again, to go back to our room and watch TV. There, of course, you remember, was Peter Arnett, and I believe the other reporter's name was Walker. And that's where you spent the rest of that night, was glued to the TV set, to see what was going on, see if Peter Arnett would make it out of that bombing. It was just a very, very electrifying event.
DeVorkin:Did it change the rest of the meetings?
Walker:Yes, I didn't get my free beer and sandwiches. [Laughter] No, I think the meetings went on as usual. There was talk in the hall, that was the main time we had to talk. But it was just that event, this anecdote of going up and down in the elevator like this. That's just how people react to something like that. For me, it came right out of the blue. I don't think anybody was expecting this. We knew there was trouble between Iraq and Kuwait, but that was interesting.
DeVorkin:That's interesting. Well, you've given me some very interesting vignettes of the parallel sessions, of your sense of how the modern Society has become more efficient, more structured, more helpful. I would like to find a way to put this together, say, into a one-page kind of a statement. Do you think there is anything else that you would like to add?
Walker:If I had more time, and I will do this – I'll be back in my office in about two weeks, will write them down, and e-mail any comments I have.
DeVorkin:Well, what I'm going to do, then, is transcribe this. I might not do it myself, I'll try to get someone to do it quickly, and send you the transcription.
Walker:That would be good, and I could add to it, or edit it then.
DeVorkin:That's right. And then, if you could, I could maybe suggest parts of the transcript where you could edit it into, say, a one-page essay that would go into a reminisce-kind of a section.
Walker:If you don't use this, I hope you could use its content to build on, for another interview with someone else.
DeVorkin:Yes, or with you. This interview certainly will be transcribed and deposited properly at the American Institute of Physics. But right now, the focus is just getting a few of the feelings about AAS. Here's another question that I'd like to ask you about. When was the first paper you gave in the AAS, how was it received, and what was your feeling about giving a paper?
Walker:That was in Madison, Wisconsin, and I think it was '78. There was a long gap there. As I recall, it was on "Ambiguity of Double Star Orbits." Both stars are the same brightness. How do you know the orbit hasn't flipped? And I had a way of doing this with photometry. But in any case, I gave the paper, and it was in a smoke-filled, blue smoke-filled room, in one of the classrooms at the campus at Madison, and it was extremely dark. I'll never get over that — the projector in the back, with all this blue smoke just choking me. No one smokes anymore in the Astronomical Society.
DeVorkin:But everybody was smoking?
Walker:It seemed like everybody. I didn't smoke, but there was a lot of smoke, and it was blue, and it was light. You couldn't really see the audience, either. It was just a very eerie feeling.
DeVorkin:Was your paper well received?
Walker:I don't recall that.
DeVorkin:No major reaction to it?
Walker:No standing ovulation or anything like that. [Laughter] I did meet a raw, green student at that meeting, who came up to me and asked about his dissertation, which was on the Fourier analysis of double-star observations for orbit computation. He gave his paper, and he was so nervous that he kept dropping papers on the floor, picking them up and talking. It was Dave Momet, the great Dave Momet.
DeVorkin:And if he was nervous —
Walker:He was just a young kid.
DeVorkin:So you were already somewhat senior and well established by the time you gave your first paper.
Walker:Yes, I had done about fifteen years there, I guess. I had published several papers, but this was the first one I had given at a meeting.
DeVorkin:And that was partly because the Naval Observatory didn't send its people these meetings?
Walker:That's right different.
DeVorkin:Did you work for [Gerry] Kron at all?
Walker:I sure did. Gerry Kron is one of the finest people I've ever known. Art Hoag had just left Flagstaff, and he'd gone down to Tucson, Kitt Peak, to be in charge of their Stellar Astronomy Division. Then later on, he came back and became director at Lowell. But John Hall was over at Lowell, he was the director there, and Gerry Kron. I don't know if you want this, but when I was a kid, ten, twelve years old, I raised pigeons, and I had pigeons named after Hertzsprung, Hoyle, I had a pigeon named after Gamov. George Gamov's books were my favorite when I was a kid, and I had one named after Gerry Kron. [Laughter]
DeVorkin:Oh, really. So you knew about Kron.
Walker:I had read books about this kind of stuff, and some of the books, even when I was a little kid, I didn't always understand what they were saying, but I'd catch onto the name and things they were doing.
DeVorkin:Did you pick up, let's say, Frank Bradshaw Wood's primer on photoelectric astronomy? Kron had an article in there.
Walker:No, it wouldn't have been that. It was more, when I was a kid, ten, twelve, and more about telescopes, and 200-inch; and they'd mention other people's work, and so and so did this. Science Digest was one of my favorite sources of reading, too, in those days.
DeVorkin:Gerry Kron did write a lot in the late forties and early fifties on photoelectric techniques.
Walker:Oh, he was a pioneer, along with Whitford and Stebbins.
DeVorkin:But did you read those authors?
Walker:While I was in college, I did, yes.
DeVorkin:Okay. But not before that?
Walker:That's right. So it was a real pleasure meeting Gerry Kron, and then to find out he was just an absolute king. Very sophisticated, but humble man, dapper, brilliant, encouraged you in all your work. He was never too busy to drop what he was doing and listen to your work, and make suggestions.
DeVorkin:Certainly the feeling I had. I got to know him at Lick.
Walker:And his wife, Katherine, is the same. She was quite a veritable star, too, and analyzed data made here. I was interested in something, they'd go running through their boxes up in storage, and bring me data, lists of stuff she'd dig up, and just give it to you, and they'd say, "Maybe you can do something with this."
DeVorkin:What methods of reduction did you use?
Walker:Oh. [Laughter] Well, starting out at Washington, people had the old Frieden calculators on their desk, and math tables were the big thing. I received a copy of ten-decimal logarithms from the Bureau of Standards. It was free. That was one of my prized possessions, because I was working on some orbits at the time. And with those logarithms and the Frieden calculator, I was able to compute double-star orbits.
DeVorkin:Did you use Merrill's tables — Russell Merrill?
Walker:Yes. About two years later when I got into A&A Division, I started analyzing light curves, and I was apprized, too, that I, somewhere — I think it was K.C. Chou that obtained for me a stack of the Merrill Tables and the nomographs, and with Bob Wilson and others, we learned to use those. That was quite a thing, to take a piece of dental floss or a thread, make some calculations, stretch that across the nomograph, read off another value, go to another chart, or something like that.
DeVorkin:So those were still very much in use in the sixties.
Walker:Oh, yes. And you used a slide rule all the time. I was always using a slide rule and math tables. Then, about 1964, Frieden came out with their CRT calculator. It was quiet. Friedens, and all those –r remember, they were clackety-clackety, clackety, clack machines. These were quiet. They were electronic, and there were three registers displayed on this little CRT. I was the next one up for the next calculator that came along, and we got that thing in the same week I'd just bought a new car, a Volkswagen bug, brand new. Sixteen-hundred dollars for that. The Frieden calculator added, multiplied, subtract and divide — no square root — it was also sixteen-hundred dollars. This impressed me very much. And about five, ten years later, you could get one that did square root, had all these memories and summations, for five dollars. You could pick them up in any store.
DeVorkin:Oh, God, yes. Let me turn this over. This is tape one, side two. So you were continuing to use electromechanical —
Walker:Yes, but we had computers, IBMs, too. We were just getting rid of the IBM 650. I was just getting started in that before it was gone. Fortran was used. I had done a lot of autocoder in those days, too. In fact, I wrote the program for physical and lunar librations in autocode. That's like machine code, there's hundreds of pages — very tedious work. And Fortran was a blessing. Then we got the 1410 computer, IBM. Everything was IBM.
DeVorkin:1410, or 1401?
Walker:There was a 1401, then there was a 1410. There were also the old machines that you would do plug boards, do different things, shove those [unclear] IBM work.
DeVorkin:In reducing your bytes and binaries, of course, Kopal had his more rigorous techniques.
Walker:Yes. I didn't understand Kopal. And Merrill was recommended to me. Kopal's math is very cumbersome, to me. I can understand the Simplex and the Wilson & Devinny methods, those are quite clear. The favorite books that I used in those days were astronomical techniques and basic astronomical data, edited by Strand. Those were great books. I do remember when we obtained, I think it was a 40K memory cell for the 1410 — 40K. They shut down the computing facilities for a week, and white-robed people were running around from IBM, installing this core memory, with these little ferrite cores, and that was a big deal. I was given five minutes on the computer in the morning, and five in the afternoon. So I said, "Well, can I work at night?" So I worked nights, could do all I wanted.
DeVorkin:Oh, I see. That's right. The batch process.
DeVorkin:Anything else come to mind about AAS at this point?
Walker:Well, David, I think I will certainly wish I'd said something —
DeVorkin:But you can always add later.
Walker:Yes, and that's the advantage of this way of gathering information. So I will give it my thought. Are you interested in just anecdotes, things like that, as well?
DeVorkin:If they can be woven in, absolutely; especially, memorable moments, important papers that you may have heard, times when something really changed your mind about something.
DeVorkin:If you come up with them, that would be great.
DeVorkin:Thanks a lot.