Engineering - Computers - Education - Fun
Although I learned Fortran from Dr. Boris Boguslavsky in 1971, I didn't realized how much he influenced my career until 40 years later. LSU's Fortran class was taught by the engineering department because there were no departments of "Computer Science" in 1971. At age 19, I had no particular interest in computers; I signed up only because Fortran was required in LSU's 18-21 hour-per-semester curriculum. (Although engineering at LSU was traditionally a 5 year program, the Vietnam Draft forced an accelerated pace).
We lowly engineering students of course knew what computers were, and had gazed at them through the "maternity ward"-style windows of the computer center. But in those days computers were not for everyday use by everyday people; an accounting permission code was just as important as the Fortran code. Mainframe processing time was very expensive, and even more awkward to use. We bought punch cards from a vending machine. We were limited to 10 pages of printout (which consisted mostly of error reports). The hassle of using the campus computer was not anyone's idea of "fun."
The first meeting of Engr-60 was in the Student Union rather than a normal classroom. Dr. B greeted us warmly and, with his charming accent, advised that he planned to have fun with Fortran. After a rushed introduction to computers and programming, he suddenly sat at a nearby piano and ripped out 30 seconds of high energy music. I recall "rag time," but it was a long time ago. When done, he spun on the piano bench and awaited applause. The mixed crowd of ROTC students, hippies, and EASL foreign students roared with approval. We had no idea what he was up to, but it indeed looked like we were going to have fun in his class.
He next went to the board and wrote a formula to determine the frequency of each musical note in an octave. Middle A on the piano was 440 Hz, the next octave up was 880Hz. Our assignment: write a Fortran program to calculate the frequency of all the notes in the octave. He spoke briefly of "do loops," "if statements," and of course the all important "accounting codes." He then gave us his office hours and said we could come by any time. Unlike with other professors, I actually believed he wanted us to stop by.
Although I didn't see it coming, computers have been an essential part of my life and career from that day on. Also with me is an appreciation of how any form of education benefits from a "fun factor" that, surprisingly, is seriously lacking in many academic programs. Dr. B had earned his doctorate the old fashioned way, by reseraching and innovating and making things happen (rather than by simply staying in school a "long time" as is now often the case). But I never saw Dr. B as an academic; he never let his hard-earned doctorate get in the way of a good time in the classroom. He clearly touched thousands of students in a wide range of disciplines. I am just a small pixel in the overall image of his legacy. But I wish I had realized his importance to me before he died in 2005. I would have liked to personally thanked him for setting me on a path of engineering, computers, and "fun" that I am still following 50+ years later.
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