Does Bob Metcalfe and Chuck Thacker have a stormy relationship while working at Xerox PARC?
September 17, 2009 8:23 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone provide an account on the relationship between Bob Metcalfe(inventor of Ethernet) and Chuck Thacker(legendary computer designer)?

I attended a talk by Bob Taylor
today. In an introduction, the author of the book "Dealers of Lightning" described Bob Metcalfe and Chuck Thacker to be "lifelong enemies".

I find that difficult to believe and don't recall reading about this in the different books on Xerox PARC.

I will appreciate a response from anyone who has first-hand experience working in Xerox Parc during the period, or a reference to a webpage or book describing their relationship together while working at Xerox PARC.

Thanks! :)
posted by jchaw to Computers & Internet (3 answers total)
Shustek: People were collegial? There weren’t prima donnas who got under the skin of other people?

Metcalfe: There was a little of that. The worst case of it involved me, because I’m the kind of person who gets under people’s skin. I think there were other conflicts, but the one that’s most vivid to me was between me and Chuck Thacker. Thacker and I just… He’s a wonderful man and a genius and all of that, but he and I just don’t get along and that’s just the way it is. I don’t hold it against him. I’m sure it’s my fault but we had a big problem, him and me. With apologies to Chuck, who’s now a big shot at Microsoft, he was the principal designer of MAXC upon which I was a minor contributor. My job was to get the MAXC put on the Arpanet. I had a card that plugged into a [Data General] Nova [minicomputer], and the Nova was connected to the MAXC. Then I had to get the NCP software, the Arpanet software, running inside of Tenex. We were running Tenex on this fake machine. Then I had to connect the NCP to my little packet switch to go out over the IMP. I had a hell of a time debugging it. At one point I thought I had all my bugs taken care of, and the damn thing still didn’t work. I went to Chuck and Chuck just… He and I just never got along. There was just nothing but animosity. I think part of it was he doesn’t have a PhD, and I do. Something about that made me misbehave, and made him misbehave, with respect to each other. Because he was much more senior and accomplished than I, but I had this flashy Harvard PhD. That may have been the beginning of it. But when I went to Chuck to say, “Look. I can’t get this to work. Can you help me?”, he blamed me. He said, not in so many words, but “Just make it work, idiot.”
From a Computer History Museum interview.
posted by tellurian at 9:13 PM on September 17, 2009

The index of DoL says: pgs 182-184, 249, 250 discusses Metcalfe & Thacker.

Page 182 just says they had a chemistry problem, a "Class One Disagreement" where neither party can argue the other side's perspective.

Page 183 discusses Metcalfe uncovering a hardware fault with MAXC, a design Thacker insisted was faultless:"My fucking program found the bug and Thacker never forgave me".

249-250 talks about Dolphin -- Thacker's architecture of the Star -- and how it wasn't on time or capable enough for the application.

Great book, btw.
posted by Palamedes at 9:23 PM on September 17, 2009

I read that book years ago. While I don't have a copy to reference, I do remember it describing animosity between the Metcalfe and Thacker.
posted by tomwheeler at 10:06 PM on September 17, 2009

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