Bob Bemer, Computer Pioneer: 18th
keeping with Media Man Australia's tradition of
tackling any subject, we explore the world of
the Internet, and a key man who invented many
of the technologies we now take for granted.
What's your background?
Raised in Michigan, standard schools where my
father was the superintendent, one year post-graduate
at a fine prep school, and a 4-year B.A. in mathematics.
At which point World War II came along and ended
that path. From aerodynamicist I became a movie
set designer, built custom furniture for movie
stars, and found computers in 1949. Not quite
like a religious conversion, but close.
are you most well known for?
the "Father of ASCII', which, as a few people
know, is the internal computer code for representing
alphabetic letters and punctuation. This is what
makes the "Worldwide" possible in "Worldwide
Web". It is the computerized replacement
for what our fathers knew as the "Morse Code"
of the telegraph.
understand that there is a statue of Samuel Morse
in Central Park of New York City, but nobody has
been asking yet for my measurements.
exactly is COBOL?
language, using English words, with which the
dumbest person can become a computer programmer,
even though light on the other side may be seen
by looking through one of their ears. It does
not make them any smarter, only persuade them
that they are.
name is of my coinage, standing for CO mmon B
usiness- O riented L anguage, and it is true,
as I contended from the start, that business processes
are more difficult to program than scientific
processes. Mostly because the laws of nature are
harder to change than the laws people make.
do you describe yourself?
old man, unafraid of death because how can it
be any worse than the way the world is going?
I'm tired of getting hammered that sodomy is good
and smoking is bad, because that demeans my ancestors,
who eschewed the first, and actually went so far
as to sell cigars in the Netherlands.
are the main advantages of the Internet?
always describe it, with the Worldwide Web, as
the world's biggest library and postoffice. Finally,
a reasonable sufficiency of knowledge (right or
wrong) is available like turning on a light switch.
What are the best opportunities
on the Internet, to make good, clean money?
ruined it when you said "clean". Even
Stephen King could not sell a book there, rather
than hard copy. People get so much free there
that they are ill-disposed to pay money for content.
But if there is a way, and I know it, do you think
that I would divulge it? It costs me money to
live, too, and few 83-year-olds are employed by
others. Just their prejudice, of course.
are the main dangers of the Internet? eg fraud,
virus, child porn online etc etc
these I'd have to add incorrect data or history,
because there is no mandatory validating mechanism
or agency, like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
There is little motivation to correct or update,
and one certainly cannot depend upon any site
to not disappear without notification. Which is
why the latest craze -- to run your business with
the Web as the program source -- will fail.
are the highlights of your career?
of this you can get from my website www.bobbemer.com
by clicking on my CV. It's a bit big to relist.
But I can say that I'm proudest of contributing
parts of the Web, like the internal PC code ASCII,
escape sequences that enable cursor movement,
color, changing to most alphabets of the world,
driving laser printers, and (very importantly,
after one points and clicks) the mechanism to
bring a different page to the screen without having
its address showing, to clutter up what you're
add the Picture Clause of COBOL, the first language
that enabled people to describe data in general.
kind of assignment have you had to be tight lipped
really any, although I had some pretty high clearances
while working for the RAND Corporation.
some good examples of the media getting it very
wrong, in relation to reporting on you and your
projects? - care to comment?
got laughed at early on for saying the computer
world would be driven by everyday people, not
arrogant computer programmers. It's not so bad
lately, and you can guess why.
kind of boss are you?
demanding of best performance, show employees
that I can do their job too (not just a manager).
And when someone was proven crooked or subversive,
firing them on the spot. And I believe in pay
for capability and applying it, seventeen children
or not, else find another field of work.
is your management style?
in public, damn in private. Give every opportunity
to do a more important job. My lifelong motto,
coined by me, is "do something, small, useful,
now", and that can be read in one or more
chunks, from the left.
are your favourite websites?
Daily, and of course Google.
news companies do you trust?
none. I am a steadfast member of the National
Rifle Association, and therefore philosophically
at odds with Canada, Australia, and England --
which I much regret. I can see no reduction in
crime from punishing the victim and letting the
criminal go free.
human stupidities and prejudice. Making work easier,
to leave more time for thinking, by those that
have the sense to take advantage of it. I'm greatly
in favor of standards, for easier interworking
among people, and for their safety and well-being.
I always remember the New York Times story about
an ocean liner burning to the waterline because
the New York Harbor fireboats were not equipped
"the so-called international standard hose
projects have you worked on in Australia?
projects have all been entirely general, applicable
in, and (I believe) valuable to, every country.
What do you do to relax?
escape fiction (especially Tolkien).
would you like to be remembered as?
caring as much about children as my father, a
school superintendent, did
note: A straight up guy, in an interesting, entertaining
interview. Ok, he's a genius, I know. Media Man
Australia continues to interview the best talent
around the globe. If I can't make a million buck
out of the media and Internet business, no one
can..ok, an exaggerating, but you get the point.
PS: Media Man Australia is well on the way to
securing a $12,000 government grant. Genius is
Bemer official website