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Interview of William W. Lang by Richard Peppin on 2004 July 12, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/29970
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Discusses his background and entrance to acoustics. How he rose to very influential position in IBM and to help coordinate international standards. Describes formation of Institute of Noise Control Engineering. Discusses his role in several societies dealing with acoustics.
This is Rich Peppin. I'm with Bill Lang. It's the 12th of July, 2004. We're in Baltimore at the Windham Hotel and we're going to discuss Bill's history for the Acoustical Society of America's archives. So you know Bill that we get a transcript of this and you'll be able to edit it if you see discrepancies
Yes, I understand.
So how about your basics. When were you born?
I was born on August 9th, 1926, in Boston.
And did you have a large family?
No, I am an only child. My parents moved from Boston to Wellesley when I was about two years old; and I grew up in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
What did your parents do?
My father served as a fighter pilot for the British forces in World War I. He was born in Canada and moved from Canada to Boston after World War I. He was a lawyer in Boston, and my mother was a graduate of Radcliffe College where she majored in Latin. She was a homemaker and later in life was a real estate agent. We moved to Wellesley in 1928 and I lived there until 1944 when I went into the United States Navy. Did you go to any private schools?
Yes. I went to grammar school-
Which is public?
Yes. In sixth grade, I went to Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Massachusetts, which is at a distance of about seven miles from Wellesley. So I was a day student at Noble and Greenough- I went there for six years. I graduated from Noble and Greenough on June the 7th, 1943, and because I've always been somewhat of a contrarian, it was a small class World War II was on and there were only about eighteen in the class and seventeen of them went to Harvard and I went to MIT. I went to MIT in June of 1943 and continued through my sophomore year which concluded in October of 1944, then I went into the Navy as a seaman apprentice (I think it was called) and went to boot camp. Since I had studied physics at MIT for two years, the Navy put me into the radio technician training program. I studied in that for approximately six months, and there was an opening in the V12 Program of World War II which turned into the Naval Reserve, Navy ROTC program. I was commissioned as an officer in the Navy in 1946 after receiving a bachelor's degree in physics from Iowa State University, and I remained in the Navy for another year, and was sent as an officer this was now 1946, after the war to China and to the Hawaiian Islands, where I was released to inactive duty as an officer in 1947 and went back to MIT. It was there that I became interested in the field of acoustics.
Why did you originally go to MIT? Did you apply to different schools and get into MIT and others?
No. I applied only to MIT and was admitted.
So after two years what made you leave? You wanted to go?
No. I was eighteen, and World War II was on. One did not have the choices that one has today here in America. You needed to serve if you were classified as 1A.
Was it a draft? You were drafted?
I was drafted as a so-called Aselective volunteer.
Oh. Okay. And you got into the Navy.
I got into the Navy, right.
Did you see service, action?
No. This was 1944.
So it was right after the war.
No, '44. The war was not over until '45.
So I was in training the entire time the war was on. In fact I was actually in Oklahoma in radio technician training school when the war in Germany ended in April of 1945, and then I was transferred from Oklahoma to Iowa, the Naval ROTC program at Iowa State University. I started there in July. July of '45, the war in the Pacific ended in August of '45, so I stayed there and was commissioned nine months after the war was over.
The Navy was very short of officers at that time because everybody had gotten out with the cessation of hostilities in the Pacific, and so they sent me to China to a light cruiser in the Navy.
And how long were you on that cruiser?
Oh, three or four months. We were in Shanghai, guarding Shanghai, if you can imagine it, and it was interesting I was twenty years old, so for a twenty-year-old to be sitting on an American cruiser in Shanghai harbor. It was quite an experience.
Did you have an interest in anything other than acoustics at that time that you might like to discuss?
No. I had interest in acoustics, which was further stimulated by all the sonar that was available within the Navy, but I knew nothing about it. And I was then transferred from the USS Duluth, the ship that I was assigned to, and after the Duluth came back to the States in October of 1946. The USS Duluth was put into a repair dock for a major overhaul and all the officers and enlisted men were transferred off her. They transferred me to Hawaii, and I worked in the Naval radio station Nan Peter Mike, Radio Navy Honolulu, and that is where my desire to get into acoustics grew. Because I had looked at all the work that I had been doing in sonar, not really understanding the physics of sound; and I said, "This is a great opportunity" because I was offered a slot in the graduate school at MIT in the acoustics laboratory.
When you got out.
When I got out of the Navy I went directly to the Acoustics Laboratory because Dick Bolt was then the director of the Acoustics Laboratory and Leo Beranek was the Technical Director. I was there for two years and I took a master's degree in acoustics.
Yes. You finished your bachelor's at Oklahoma in the service.
Iowa State in the service.
In the service, right.
Right, so and okay, you had your master's at MIT, two years full time more or less.
Two years full time, yes. And I did my thesis for Leo Beranek on artificial ear design criteria, and then I went to work for Bolt, Beranek and Newman in Cambridge.
BBN was going on while Leo was still at MIT?
Well, it was then called Bolt and Beranek, and I was the second full-time employee of the firm. Sam Labate was hired and he became later, I think, their vice president in charge of finance. I'm not sure exactly what his job was, but Sam Labate and I were the next senior employees. Then Bob Newman and Jordan Baruch were brought into the firm and they changed the name to Bolt, Beranek and Newman and moved out of Building 20 at MIT, which is where we had had our office, because it was inappropriate to have a consulting firm on the MIT campus. We moved to 55 Brattle Street in Cambridge, to an upstairs one-room affair; and that lasted for about a year or year and a half. We moved to 16 Elliot Street in Harvard Square, and BBN stayed there for probably at least ten years and then moved to Moulton Street where they are now.
How long did you stay with them?
About two years, and then I got an opportunity to teach at the Naval Postgraduate School then in Annapolis, Maryland. So I joined the faculty as an instructor of physics in the summer of 1951, and I joined the faculty of the Naval Postgraduate School knowing that the school was to be moved by the Navy from Annapolis to Monterey, California.
Which was good?
I took the job knowing that and being well aware of it, and since I was the junior man on the faculty they said, "Okay, you can be our scout for Monterey," so I was sent by the Naval Postgraduate School to California. I was a civilian now. This was not a Navy post I was out of the Navy, but I was teaching all Navy personnel.
They said, "We'd like you to go to Monterey as the advance scout for the physics department because in the fall of '51 we're going to start teaching classes. We're going to shut down in June of '51 in Annapolis and start up again in September '51 on the other side of America, and you've got to get out there and make sure the facilities are right because we had about fifty students in physics at that time.
You were about twenty-five then or so?
Well, this was '51. Yes, twenty-five.
Your family was still in Boston, your mother and father in Boston?
Yes, still in Boston.
And so you left BBN because of this opportunity at the graduate school?
You wanted to be a teacher? Was that your goal?
Yes, I wanted to be a teacher and then I taught at the Postgraduate School. I taught physics and acoustics and Larry Kinsler was the professor of physics at that time, and he had written a book called Principles of Acoustics.
So I was teaching out of his book. I was the number two or number three man in acoustics at the Naval Postgraduate School but you know very much down the ladder from Larry. Larry was there for a long time.
Did you do special research too or just teaching?
Well, in a nutshell I realized after a year and a half of teaching that I was not going to get anywhere without a Ph.D, so I took a leave of absence in 1953, the academic year of '53-54. I took a leave of absence from the Postgraduate School and went back to Iowa State, and I completed all of the requirements - everything except a thesis from Iowa State; and they allowed me to work on a thesis in absentia. So I worked on the thesis when I went back to Monterey, and it was an interesting challenge and a good life. Really what I wanted to study was the sound generated by the traffic in cities. And so my first project, which failed, was to try to get the sound power level of a block, per block of city. This is quite relevant to what the European Union is doing fifty years later.
But things were very primitive in those days. For the experimentation that I was involved in, I thought that the best way to do it was to send up meteorological balloons over these busy throughways and by FM transmitter get the sound level back as a function of time. But this turned out to be a very, very unmanageable thing. I learned a lot, but it didn't work, so I decided that sound propagation in flexible porous materials was better. By this time, I was interested in flexible porous materials like urethane foam, plastic foams. The DuPont Company was very interested in this subject so they enticed me to leave the Postgraduate School and come to Newark, Delaware, which is a suburb of Wilmington. So for two or three years I worked for the DuPont Company. This was in the fifties. I finished up my thesis while still an employee of the DuPont Company on sound propagation in flexible porous materials. They were so interested in the project that they gave me a lot of support in preparing various different kinds of flexible porous materials so that I could study the propagation characteristics of these materials, so that was my Ph.D. thesis. Even in those days people were changing jobs fairly regularly, and I felt that there was no future in the chemical industry because I wasn't a chemist.
So I got a postdoc at MIT and went to MIT for a year; in 1957 or early 1958, and while I was at MIT, IBM came along. IBM said that, "We need somebody to work in the noise control engineering of our products.
Which were business machines I guess.
Which were business machines in those days, strictly business machines, and this was the precomputer age so these were noisy business machines. So I, with my new wife went down twice to Poughkeepsie to interview. The first time I was really not convinced to go to a large company I had just left the DuPont Company and the DuPont Company, at that time was to me a giant organization and, "Do I really want to work for another giant organization?" So on my first visit I told them that I had really serious doubts; but on the second visit they said, "Well, if you'll join IBM we'll give you $125,000 to build a lab" an acoustics lab.
So I said these things don't come along too often in a lifetime; I'm coming! And in October of '58 my wife and I moved to Poughkeepsie.
When did you get married (to Asta) in between that time?
I got married in 1954, and I had did you want the story of my marriage?
Yes, yes, I want this. This is good.
Well, when I went to MIT when I got out of the Navy and went back to MIT as a graduate student. One of the graduate students that I worked with was Uno Ingard He came over in 1948 on a Swedish-American scholarship to do his doctoral work at MIT. He and I were good friends and classmates in a number of classes. I can remember to this day taking Leo Beranek's advanced acoustics course and several other people who have gone much farther in acoustics than I have ever gone were in the same class. I had kept in touch with Uno and in 1954, while I was back in Monterey,a still a struggling graduate student Uno was to receive and did receive the biennial award of the Acoustical Society of America as the outstanding young acoustical scientist under the age of 35. His sister decided to come over and visit the States for the first time in 1954 to be present when he received the award. Just by coincidence, I happened to be going from Monterey, California to Boston where my parents were living, and I said, "I'll stop by the Acoustical Society of America Meeting in New York" which was celebrating its 25th anniversary celebration. So on June 25th, 1954, I was in the ballroom of the Statler Hotel in New York when Uno received the biennial award at the celebration banquet. And after this banquet, which didn't end until 11:00 p.m, I went over to congratulate him. His sister was there and I met his sister. I thought that was a great meeting, a great opportunity when I met her. Love at first sight. And then she went back with her brother to Belmont, where Uno was living with Doris and one son at that time. Asta went back to visit with her brother, and I went to Wellesley to visit with my parents, but I called her and one thing led to another, and I eloped with her.
Well, she went back to Sweden didn't she?
No, she did not.
Oh, she never went back? Oh wow.
Oh yes, she went back many times but not as a
Not as a single person.
Not as a single person.
So she and I met on June 25th, 1954; and we were married on August 31st, 1954.
And she was my support for my whole professional life. It was fantastic.
And she went with you back to Monterey and to Wilmington and everything, and IBM. Wow.
Yes, IBM. It was a great relationship.
Did she have a special profession?
Yes, she was an accountant. She was very good with figures.
From say a personal point of view, did you play any instruments or do anything special like that?
No, no. I've never been musical, but Asta was musical. And so late in her life, ten years ago, we joined the choir of the Episcopal Church in Poughkeepsie; and she and I were strong supporters of the choir.
Okay, so you married, and that was a while, but then so you went to IBM.
Yes, and we built a lab, and I spent $175,000 on the lab; and IBM didn't even bat an eye at the fact that I had overrun the budget by $50,000 which was a lot of money in those days.
In 1958. I then was asked to head up the program for acoustics for the IBM Corporation, which was a great challenge, and I stayed there thirty-four years.
Wow. That's right, that's right. So you saw a lot of things I mean in IBM from the rudimentary like business machines all the way up to
Well by that time, in '58 the first computers were just arriving.
Big computers had just been developed, and so we were involved in Poughkeepsie with the big computers, right up to the day I retired in 1992 from IBM.
Was it '92 that long ago?
I like to think it was IBM's last I took the last graceful exit from IBM, because in '93 there was a major, major downsizing of IBM.
When you went to ASA at least when Uno was getting his award - Were you involved with ASA before then?
I had joined as a graduate student and had really no active role in the Society, but in the '50s I became active. IBM encouraged professional development and professional activities and they encouraged because in those days it was very important, if you were an IBMer, to have outside contacts.
So I had a lot to do with the ASA, the IEEE, and international standardization - all because IBM wanted its employees to be active in professional activities.
Right. So how did it start with ASA? You probably went to meetings.
Yes, well Lew Goodfriend, who was here this evening, and Leo Beranek started Noise Control magazine in 1955, rough date, and in 1961 or '62 Noise Control magazine had been going for five or six years. I remember standing on the train platform in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1962, and Bruce Lindsay was on the platform, and he and I were riding a Pullman back east.
To Brown or something.
Providence, but I don't know quite what his route was. I was en route to New York City getting off at Poughkeepsie, and Bruce said, "You'll be interested to know, Bill, that this afternoon we killed Noise Control magazine." The executive council killed Noise Control magazine. And that was a very important milestone in my life, because Noise Control magazine had provided major interest within the Acoustical Society for those who were what we now call noise control engineers.
And there were all sorts of reasons that the executive council killed it, but they did. At the same time the ASA established its technical committee structure in the '50s, and I became active in the Technical Committee on Noise. And the Technical Committee on Noise was not asked anything about the termination of Noise Control magazine. Nothing. We had nothing to do with it, but I was the third or fourth chairman of the Technical Committee on Noise following Tony Embleton and I think Jim Botsford , Lew Goodfriend, Jim Botsford and others. If you look on this roster you can find the succession list. I was the third or fourth chairman because by that time the ASA had an effective technical committee structure which was operating on a lower level than the executive council, and really the executive council made decisions which were quite contrary to the interests of the Technical Committee on Noise, so we protested as best we could but nothing really happened.
But this was a stimulus to me because between 1962 roughly I'm going to give you this (*NOTE: This was an attachment I submitted w/tapes. RJP) because this gives all the details of the dates and so forth, and it's relevant to the establishment of the foundation of INCE USA. From roughly 1962 until 1968 the noise people in America had nothing there was no Noise Control magazine, there was no professional journal except for JASA. (*NOTE: I attached a set of documents Bill Lang gave me with tapes. They should be attached to the final documentation. RJP)
At that time JASA would not take any articles on noise because they didn't represent original research, and in those days it was very hard to prove what was original research. Then Jack Mawry started his commercial venture called Sound and Vibration about 1967, and so we had at least a commercial magazine to provide some sort of cohesive publication within the profession. But it seemed to me in that period of time that we needed to have more professionalism because a controlled circulation magazine did not have as its objective the representation of a particular profession.
So this is all in here in much more detail. [Attachment]
Okay. Well, we'll attach that to everything so it's all there. Okay.
On November 27th, 1970 I presented to Leo Beranek the idea that we should establish an Institute of Noise Control Engineering of the USA. I remember sitting in his living room and laying out the plans on the floor because in those days we were using what we called flip charts. This was prior to overhead projectors and so forth, so you wrote all this stuff out on large pieces of paper.
I had done all this on several flip charts, and I remember putting the flip charts side-by-side on the floor in Leo's living room.
So the idea was I mean the inception of INCE was because you felt the ASA was not providing support in noise.
Well, we felt that it wasn't it was representing all of acoustics.
And it did not favor any particular branch of acoustics over any other branch of acoustics.
What we needed was a cohesive group to represent the engineering aspects of noise control. And now this is 1970 and there was an intense fervor in Washington over the environmental areas of noise
The Noise Control Act was to come in '72.
So Leo and I decided we'd have a workshop at Arden House outside of New York City, and that was held in January of 1971.
How did you invite people, or was it open?
No, it wasn't open. We got together a list of about 125 we went through the Acoustical Society roster, we went through all the members of the Technical Committee on Noise, and we went through the entire membership directory of the Acoustical Society at that time.
So, of the 125 we invited about eighty-five came to Arden House. This is all described in the attachment.
We took a vote. Should the attendees at the first Arden House workshop consider establishing a new Institute of Noise Control Engineering to work closely with the Acoustical Society? I'm very proud to say that of all the splinter groups that the Acoustical Society has spawned, INCE is the only one that has maintained relations with ASA today.
There are three or four other organizations that have gone their own way.
How was that?
They have never had any contact with ASA after they broke off.
Oh really? I didn't know. Wow.
So that's described in here.
Before we go on with that, you mentioned that you were involved with IEEE because it was concerned with sound power or was it electronics?
Well no, actually I became involved because this was prior to the establishment of the IEEE. We were part of the IRE, the Institute of Radio Engineers, and IBM was very interested in having its people who were specialists involved with IRE because at that time IRE had a standards committee which was very active in standardizing various aspects of electronics and they wanted to make sure that IBM's opinions and views on various electronics matters were considered. So I remember having been sent in 1959, a year after I joined IBM to an IRE meeting in New York where I was able to overview all of the things that the IRE at that time was doing. I told my management at IBM that there was one area that I thought was particularly of interest, and this was the audio and electroacoustics committee of the IRE. So they said, "Do it," and so I participated from, 1960 perhaps to roughly 1972 when I was elected to the IEEE Board, by then the IEEE was formed. During the twelve years I spent a lot of time with the audio and electroacoustics group. We had a committee, originally an IRE committee with about twelve to fifteen members. Then in 1964 the IEEE was formed by an amalgamation of the IRE and the American Institute of Electrical engineers that came together and formed the IEEE. Then they took the old IRE committee structure and put it into the IEEE and I became the chairman of the IEEE audio and electroacoustics group. It was just coincidental that at that time John Tukey and Jim Cooley rediscovered the Fast Fourier Transform.
We had a lot of people not only from IBM on our committee but Bell Labs, and they said this is the hottest thing that we have seen, and the question was, "What's it got to do with audio and electroacoustics?" Well, there was nobody else in the IEEE interested in it, so we grabbed a hold of it; and Jim Cooley became a very important member of the committee. So the audio and electroacoustics committee, using the FFT as a stepping stone; became in 1970 the Acoustics Speech and Signal Processing committee of the IRE.
Then fifteen years later they threw out the acoustics and so it's now the Signal Processing Society of the IEEE and, with more than 20,000 members, it's one of the most rapidly growing IEEE Societies. That all sprang from audio and electroacoustics.
And the audio and electroacoustics group itself had come from the Acoustical Society in the early >50s.
Because you were involved with international standards, did you get involved somehow with international INCE? Did you help form that?
Yes, I was involved with that, but they were totally separate because I had, through my work in the IEEE and IRE, become involved with the International Electrotechnical Commission.
So it was actually the IEEE work that led to the IEC, and I became active in the IEC and was chairman of IEC-29, the Electroacoustics Committee, from about 1973 to 1985. I served twelve years, which is the maximum, as the chairman of the IEC Electroacoustics Committee which was, as you know, a counterpart to ISO. ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, has taken care of measurement methodology; IEC-29 has taken care of instrumentation that is used for acoustical measurements. So IEC-29 was an important factor in the measurement of sound.
And so we had this beginning of INCE USA.
After Arden House. International INCE was not even in anybody's mind yet?
The first InterNoise Congress was in 1972 in October, and the history is very well covered in here. (Attachment)
At that Congress we invited people from Europe, Japan and the rest of the world, and Fritz Ingerslev came from Denmark.
And probably you knew him because of IEC?
Well, I had been involved with the ICA, the International Congress on Acoustics, and so I had know him for a long time.
So Fritz came over, and was the European presence at the birth of INCE USA because InterNoise '72 in October was a year after INCE USA had been incorporated in June of '71. This was our first major congress.
Yes, it was a little more than a year.
A little more than a year, but it took us a little more than a year to get to the point where we could have an International Congress. And the first International Congress was at the Shorham (Washington, DC). It was about three weeks before the Noise Control Act of '72 was passed by the Congress, so there was a fantastic amount of lobbying and effort being made at that time to get the noise bill through the Congress. There were actually two noise bills one in the House and one in the Senate and it was the Senate bill that was ultimately passed and the House bill was consolidated with it.
Fritz Ingerslev invited INCE USA to hold InterNoise '73 in Europe. So we thought this was a golden opportunity to internationalize the organization. So the second InterNoise Congress was held in Copenhagen in July of 1973, and it was from there came the idea, "Well, gee, we really ought to have an international organization. The Americans have formed INCE USA. Wouldn't it be great if we had an organization of societies around the world that are concerned with noise as INCE USA is? And so in '74 in London International INCE was formed. It was a very much easier birth than was INCE USA because there was a lot of agreement in Europe that there was a need for some international organization.
It's rather difficult to form a Section 501 organization in the United States because you are required here in the United States to comply with certain regulations according to the IRS, and the Internal Revenue Code. You have to report to the IRS, etc. But in Switzerland you don't have to. Basically, we decided in London, the people who were involved in getting an international INCE off the ground there were only about five people that all one needed to do to form International INCE was to take the bylaws and register them in a local jurisdiction in Switzerland, which we did. All you had to do was take them down to the City Hall and say, "I want to register this" and the clerk put the stamp on it and that was it. That was the incorporation under Swiss law. They don't use the word incorporation registered under Swiss Civil Law. We had the whole thing reviewed by Swiss attorneys about four years ago and they said it's fine, no problem.
Wow. That's amazing.
So that's the background for International INCE. Fritz was the president for twelve years until 1988 when I became the president of International INCE. Fritz had built it up so that we had about twenty-five member societies by that time, and I kept pushing and pushing and the number of societies is in the forties now..
Right. Well of course you were very influential in INCE USA too. Were you the first president?
No. Leo was.
Leo was. Leo was very influential in INCE USA.
When I started about I don't know when, '74 or '75 or something like that it was not like a fledgling organization by then. It was gungho. It was moving and well organized and everything. And I don't remember your position at the time but you were up there. Now going back just one step. In IBM so you formed this lab. I guess you did you hire everybody? Because the IBM lab was quite large at one time with people.
You mean in Poughkeepsie?
No, we never had more than six people.
Yes. I think that was the peak, and it's three now. So it stayed small - But there were at one time thirteen labs within IBM that were involved with noise control engineering.
I didn't hire all the people but I was consulted on the hirings that were going on. Basically IBM's philosophy of organization structure was to localize. My job was as a central focal point; and I had responsibility for the internal standards that related to the acoustical noise of products. And I had responsibility for representing IBM to the outside world on the subject, and representing IBM to the trade association which has a group that's meeting here in Baltimore on Thursday and Friday of this week. So I'm very happy that they are continuing on. Poughkeepsie provided the focus but by no means was I managing all these sites, because they stretched from Germany to Japan. It would be impossible for one individual to manage all of it.
But clearly IBM really was influential in the whole acoustics community by supporting you and other IBM employees.
Well the other companies in the industry were also very supportive, but IBM=s got a really strong organization. Looking at other industries, I think that you know the computer industry has been leading the way on measurement methodology, on criteria etc.
Standards. Trying to push the rest of the industries. And I can look back with some satisfaction on the fact that the current people in IBM are doing an excellent job of representing the company despite all of its problems in the last ten years and keeping the products as quiet as we can make them.
Yes. In the past do you have some accomplishments that you feel are notable that you'd like to record and that ASA may not know of?
The thing that may not be known is that for many years I represented IBM to the National Academy of Engineering in Washington, and I was honored to do this. I was elected to the Academy in 1978; and in 1988. I felt that IBM could profit by the model that was established by the National Academy of Engineering by forming its own IBM Academy of Technology. In a large bureaucratic organization like IBM this is not a simple thing to accomplish so I am very proud of the fact that I managed to get the IBM president at the time, who was Jack Kuehler, to agree that an IBM Academy of Technology should be established. It was established in 1989, and it's still going strong with about 300 members. These are all internal IBM people who have distinguished themselves in various areas of technology.
Were you president of ASA?
No. I was never president of ASA.
You had some office.
I was treasurer for five years.
Well, let me go back to IBM. Did you retire because it was time to retire or was it like something you saw in the horizon at IBM?
No, I didn't see anything on the horizon. I had a serious illness in 1992 and I didn't know whether I was going to survive or not. I had a very rare disease called a dieulafoy lesion of which there are very, very few survivors. Prior to the invention of endoscopy twenty-five or thirty years ago all cases of dieulafoy lesion were fatal. So they saved my life, and I got out of the hospital after thirty-eight days of treatment at Yale New Haven Hospital and about thirty blood transfusions.
I decided that maybe I should think about retirement, because I had turned sixty-five. I didn't know whether I was going to live for another month or for another ten years, So I retired. Otherwise I probably would not have. I'm a guy that likes to stick to what he's doing. I really enjoyed my work for IBM, so I would have probably stayed longer.
Was it regrets in a sense? Like did you say, "Oh man"?
No, I never regretted it. I have never regretted it because, as I said, I took the last graceful exit from IBM.
When I retired from IBM nobody had ever been fired, because IBM at that time was a very, very paternal organization.
Yes, yes. That was a shock to all of us outsiders too.
In '93 they started the layoffs so I have never regretted retiring because I've tried to do a lot since retirement.
Right. Well one thing in INCE you've been pretty active for the longest time. I mean there was no cliff or anything where we noticed that you had retired as far as INCE goes. You were active.
I was very active in International INCE because I have been very interested in seeing what we can do internationally, and it's been a great career because International INCE has flourished. It's flourished to the extent that there are now imitators, and I think that that shows how successful it has been.
Can you maybe talk a little bit about the current activity with this noise policy?
Sure. Of course Leo Beranek has played a major role in my life which I'd like to stress.
He has really been a wonderful mentor, and of course he is such Aa man for all seasons, covering many different aspects of acoustics.
It's hard to believe he's ninety. I can't believe that.
I was asked by Tony Embleton to talk about his involvement with noise policy at the celebration of his 90th birthday in May of this year in New York. I was very pleased to do so, because Leo has provided B in every area of acoustics that he had been involved in - he has provided a leadership role. And his role in noise control engineering has been vital. So four years ago he and I got together informally and decided that the noise policy of America needed some reexamination and discussion among the engineering people to see where we were going to go. It seemed that we were stagnating here in this country on areas of policy and policy development, and therefore it was time to see what we could do. So Leo and I had a workshop over a weekend, in Peasody, Massachusetts, where we got a dozen engineers together who happened to live in the northeast.
The only people who came from more than 200 miles were Larry Feingold and Paul Schomer who came from Ohio, but other than that they were all from the northeast. We concluded that, yes, the policies are in a state where they should be carefully reexamined, renewed and refurbished. We called it the Peabody group because nobody had authorized it, not INCE USA or ASA. Just Leo and I called it together, and we got it over a weekend at the Marriott Hotel in Peabody.
In a way it parallels the formation of INCE somewhat.
Yes, but we had a rather narrow charter.
You know what shape American noise policy is in. So that led to further discussion at the Portland NoiseCon of 2001 and at the InterNoise Congress in Dearborn in 2002, and by that time we had gotten a number of papers presented and published. In 2003 Larry Feingold and I decided we would jointly edit a special issue of Noise Control Engineering Journal on noise policy. The lead paper by Beranek and Lang basically says we need to rejuvenate noise policy in America because the present situation is not what it was twenty-five years ago when America was in a leading position as far as noise policy was concerned with the Noise Control Act of '72 and with all the actions that were taken at the federal, state and local level in the '70s. They have not been carried through in the '80s and the '90s. And that's basically where we are today. As we'll discuss tomorrow in the workshop, there are a dozen federal agencies involved with noise but there is very scant coordination among the various agencies and there is no cohesive coordinated central policy that governs noise in America.
Well, it can be really exciting. I mean it needs legislation or something.
We need legislation?
There are a lot of options on the table - but it's almost like having a blank slate to start with because we've got to really start over again in this country in my opinion.
Yes. I think you're right. Along those lines, have you ever been active politically?
No. I have not been active politically.
Tell me, because Asta died recently, is there more to say about Asta and you.
Well, it was just a great life.
She was tremendously supportive.
Was her death sudden?
No, her death was over a period of 22 months. It was a very rare form of cancer, and she and I went to the fitness club 40 days before she died. This means that the 22 months were B except for the last 40 days happy.
Every time I saw you almost always I saw her with you too.
It was a blow, but it's part of life. And I like to pay tribute to what she did for me, which was a lot.
There's no question. No question about it.
So really what I accomplished was with her.
Sure. It was like a partner in a lot of ways.
Anything else , I mean you'll always have a chance to add and amend things, but can you think of anything else that you'd like to discuss in the professional or personal realm?
I have pretty well summarized it. I have been very lucky to have had such a wonderful married life and team mate and to have been able to do what I have been able to do. I feel satisfied that I have done what I can. Where Leo can cover the whole field of acoustics and, even at the age of ninety, he can do all these things, I am much more limited.
Yes, he's incredible. I know.
I don't have the capabilities that Leo has so I'm focused on one thing. If I can spur this country to get its noise policy in order I will feel that I have accomplished something.
From an outsider point of view I think your strengths in acoustics have been in the standardization area and in developing INCE and ASA and a lot of stuff that never would have gotten anywhere without you. It's been wonderful what you have done for the profession.
To know you very well, it's been great.
It's been a wonderful life, and I thank everybody. But you know it has not been just Bill Lang. I've had so many, many, many people help me.
George Maling has been a lifelong professional colleague. When I was on my postdoc at MIT in '58 he was a graduate student in the Acoustics Lab and that's where we first met.
Oh wow. I didn't know that.
I think the world of George, and we've been a great team. He is much smarter than I am, and so I have greatly appreciated all that he has done for me.
You nurtured a lot of the staff though. You did a great job that way you know.
Well, I always felt that I should hire people who are smarter than I am, because you need the best possible support you can get in this world.
And I've been blessed with some tremendous people B really, really good people. That's what it takes.
So you are going to emphasize, from now on this noise policy work, trying to get that off the ground?
Yes, the last effort I can make is to try to make America aware that if we just continue to ignore some cohesive type of policy that the rest of the world is going to go ahead and do it andB we'll be left behind.
I hate to be pessimistic, but I do feel that America is at a crossroads. America is in a leadership position today in the world because it's the largest economy, and Europe and Japan are the second and third largest economies, but I frankly don't feel we are going to stay there forever unless we make some radical changes in our foreign policy and the way we treat other nations. I feel that we'd better be careful, because the Roman Empire, ancient Rome had a noise policy in 435 A.D. when it was sacked by Alaric I believe that was the name of a Hun who sacked Rome — and that was the end of the Roman Empire. Even in those days there was such a thing as a noise policy, which we seem to be lacking. So this is not a new problem
The noise problem has been around for a time and people have been bothered by noise for millennia.
So in the policy area, where are you going to go from here? You'll have that workshop and then?
Well, I think that is the best thing to do. The strategy is to get the engineers more involved at the political end of it, because up to now the engineers have played only a very minor role.
With the possible exception of what Leo Beranek did in the early '70s in Washington with help from me, George Maling and Ken Eldred . We did some pretty intensive lobbying at the time that the Noise Control Act of '72 was passed, and I personally went with Leo to Washington to talk to Congressional staff people on Senator Tunney's staff and on the House staff. We pushed pretty hard to get the Noise Control Act of '72 through, and it was passed. In fact the history is all in here, about McGruder, who was the special assistant to the President of the United States at that time. He came to the InterNoise '72, and we had a little conversation with him during the break prior to the luncheon on the second day of the congress. We had a private anteroom set aside in this place and we, Ken Eldred and Leo, and I spoke with McGruder in there. McGruder called the White House and he talked to somebody to find out whether the Administration favored the House Bill or the Senate Bill and did they think that the President would sign it if they got one through. The answer came back that they favored the Senate Bill; and, yes, the President would sign it if they could get it through. That was probably the thing that broke the whole chain of events in the Congress.
But, unfortunately, as soon as the Noise Control Act of '72 was passed, the role of engineers in the implementation of the Noise Control Act of '72 was put lower and lower. Until finally the engineers' role was simply nonexistent. Because I think that the last piece of regulation that the EPA promulgated in the Federal Register check the dates for me roughly 1978, 1979 B was on the air compressor regulation.
Portable air compressor, right.
There were forty pages in the Federal Register on the air compressor regulation, and thirty-nine of them had to do with the administrative burden and there was one page, and it might even have been a half a page, on how you make the measurements to determine whether the compressor has complied or not.
You just can't have that, because you've got to be definitive on how the measurements are to be made. The thing that was particularly distressing was that part of the Noise Control Act of '72 said that the National Bureau of Standards will provide guidance to the EPA on how to make measurements. And they produced a beautiful manual, which you may remember.
Yes, I remember.
The EPA ignored it.
If that situation continues, where the legal people have the final say on everything including the measurement methodology, we are not going to really make any progress in this country because this is an engineering problem.
So my strategy is to try to get the engineers to rise up and say, "Look politicians, you have got to take into account A, B, C and D." As we were discussing tonight - wind turbines in California and wind turbines in New Hampshire. All wind turbines should be meeting the same criteria in New Hampshire and California. It's the same country, and it's ridiculous to have local ordinances relating to something as important as wind turbines are to the future of the country.
It's not beyond the technology, but it's beyond the capability of the present political system to do that, and that's what we, the engineers have to do.
I can see from the instrumentation point of view we see European sales of instruments are so much stronger, there are so many more regulations, building codes, sound power, and when people go to Europe they appreciate it. They appreciate the better construction, the better, quieter, and all that stuff, and yet to motivate it's hard.
That's exactly it.
I mean maybe that points to another conference in D.C. relatively soon on policy.
Absolutely right. I'd be strongly in support of it provided the engineers have a definitive role to play, because up to now any policy discussions in Washington have the engineers in a very minor role as technicians and the hired hands, the consultants. We can always get them, we can always get them, they'll do what they say, but now we are going to, we the non-engineers are going to make the decisions here because those are engineers. So that's my effort to enhance the position of the profession in the policy area, because that's what's absolutely necessary.
Thank you. Thank you, Rich. You've been fantastic. You've got to get home.
No, I'm okay. I don't know if we should talk anymore. We're okay. You want to say anything more?
I have really nothing more. If I can leave these with you.
Okay. Yes, leave them. These will go with the tapes.
Okay, that's fine.
And they will all be together as a package that I guess first I look at and then you look at and then we get it in the archives. Finally.
Fine, fine, fine.
Okay, thanks Bill.