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Posts published in “Day: April 27, 2017”

The importance of Harry Huskey


Last week Harry Huskey died. He was 101. A death largely unheralded in Idaho, but worthy of a half page obituary in the New York Times.

In my mind, he is the most influential person ever to graduate from the University of Idaho. But if he was so influential, why have you never heard of him? Probably because you never tried to find out who was the father of personal computing.

Huskey came to Idaho with his parents when he was 18 months old. They settled on a ranch in Little Lost River, north of Arco. Harry’s father herded sheep and in his youth Harry did as well. The family next moved to Salmon and finally in the midst of the Depression, they moved to Pocatello to give Harry better access to a good education. His parents both had eighth grade educations and they were determined to make him the first in their family to attend college.

After graduating from high school, Harry moved to Moscow to attend the University of Idaho, where he majored in math. He lived in Lindley and Willis Sweet dormitories and graduated with highest honors in 1937. Following graduation from the UI, he received both masters and doctoral degrees from Ohio State University.

In 1946, he was one of the key members of the team that designed and built the ENIAC computer for the Army. The ENIAC was an 18,000 vacuum tube 27 ton behemoth that could perform calculation in 30 seconds that would require 20 hours to do manually.

The next year he moved to Britain where to joined the team led by British mathematician Alan Turing at the National Physical Laboratory. Turing had been the team leader of the top secret project that developed the techniques used to break the German Enigma machines codes and was the subject of the 2014 film, “The Imitation Game.”

At the laboratory, they designed the Automated Computing Engine, better known as ACE. It was one of the first stored-program computers.

Back in the states, Huskey was becoming increasingly recognized for his work in designing computers. At the item, the word computer wasn’t yet in wide use. Huskey used the term “large scale electronic computing machine” to describe his work.

In 1950 he was a guest and contestant on Groucho Marx’ radio quiz program “You Bet Your Life.” A recording of the show is available on You Tube. Listening to Huskey attempt to explain his work to Marx shows the small degree of public awareness of computers at that time. Although Marx makes wonderful use of his wicked sense of humor on the show, he also indicates that he recognizes that Huskey is involved in work that will ultimately have great benefits for mankind.

In 1956, Huskey rose to the zenith of his career. Working for Bendix Aviation, he designed and built the G15 computer. The G15 weighed 950 pounds and was the first computer that could be operated by a single individual. Because it could be operated by a single individual, it is generally recognized as the world’s first personal computer. It sold for $60,000 or could be rented for $1,485 a month.

At a time when the state of Idaho is giving a high priority to trying to figure out how to get more Idaho high school graduates to go on to some level of post-secondary education, they would use Harry Huskey as their poster child. From a childhood of herding sheep to attending the University of Idaho and eventually playing the leading role in the development of the personal computer. And all because his poorly educated parents were determined that he receive something they hadn’t.

There are lessons to be learned in Idaho from Harry Huskey’s experiences in the 1930s.

Loose rules of engagement


It appears that the rules of engagement in Syria and Iraq have been loosened in the last couple of months. That is, air and artillery strikes can be conducted with less consideration of the possibility of harm to civilians and allied forces.

Military spokesmen have been less than forthcoming as to whether the increasing number of civilian casualties and friendly fire incidents are related to a change in policy but the results indicate there has been a loosening of the rules.

According to, a group that monitors civilian deaths caused by airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, over 1,000 civilian deaths were alleged to have resulted from coalition airstrikes during the month of March, a dramatic increase over previous months. This included over 200 deaths in the City of Mosul during the latter part of the month. Airwars said, “These reported casualty levels are comparable with some of the worst periods of Russian activity in Syria,” where the Russians have deliberately bombed civilian targets. Additionally, 18 Syrian fighters allied with the U.S. were killed by our airstrikes in Syria on April 11, a “friendly fire” incident.

Almost 50 years ago (1968-69), I had experience with both loose and tight engagement rules.

For seven months, I led a four-person team whose job was to clear all U.S. air and artillery strikes in Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam. We lived among the South Vietnamese soldiers (ARVNs) and worked with them around the clock in province headquarters. When U.S. forces wanted to shoot artillery or drop bombs, they called us for permission. The northern part of the province, which bordered Cambodia on the north and west, was largely triple-canopy jungle. It was a “free fire” zone and the rules only required that U.S. firepower not endanger U.S. or ARVN troops. The southern part of the province was largely open farm ground with scattered civilian population. To fire in that area, tighter rules required that we also obtain approval from our ARVN counterparts to protect civilians from harm. The tighter rules in the populated area were appropriate, even though we were not able on occasion to give permission to fire.

A complicating factor in the use of U.S. firepower in Iraq and Syria is that often airstrikes are called in, not by U.S. personnel, but by local forces. According to press reports, that was the case with both the Mosul airstrikes and the Syrian friendly fire incident. Recent experience in the region shows that U.S. firepower can be misdirected by locals against rival religious or tribal targets.

The danger is inherent in the battle for Mosul where most of the civilians at risk are Sunnis. Whether true or not, they may believe that a lack of care for civilians is because of ill will, either by the U.S. or by unfriendly Iraqi forces. This is detrimental to the long-term goals of the U.S. in the region.

We must win the hearts and minds of the local people in order to succeed and won’t be able to do it if civilians believe that we are indiscriminately killing their fellow citizens, much like the Russian and Assad forces do. Further, these conflicts are not being fought in isolation. With present-day communications, the world is watching and many young people on the fence in the region and elsewhere are deciding whether to side with us or our adversaries. If we show them we don’t care about the lives of civilians in those countries, they won’t likely be siding with us.

In order to protect innocent civilians and serve our national interests, we should not loosen up the rules of engagement. And, U.S. personnel should act as a check on decisions by local forces to call in U.S. firepower. If our bombs are being dropped, our personnel should be a part of the approval process.