Merrill and Irwin recognized for accomplishments

From hippies to HIPPI . . .

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john & basil
John and Basil


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by Lynda Lester
john SCDrecently recognized the accomplishments of two longtime NCAR employees, Basil Irwin and John Merrill. Noting their record of outstanding performance and expertise, the division promoted them to the highest possible technical ranks: John to senior software engineer and Basil to senior network engineer.

Together, the two have worked at NCAR 46 years. Indeed, they have been here since hippie was a lifestyle, not a High-Performance Parallel Interface.

Critical mass (storage)

John has an undergradute degree in mathematics and a master's degree in computer science fom the University of Colorado. NCAR hired him as a student assistant in 1972 and he began working full time in '73 on the National Hail Research Experiment.

In 1979 John joined the SCD Systems Group to help debug NCAR's first Mass Storage System, a glitchy system called the Ampex TBM. In 1985 he started work on the MSS III, building the groundwork for today's sophisticated MSS. Currently he's the only one in the High-Performance Systems Sections who has been a part of NCAR's data storage efforts from the beginining.

In my day . . .

In John's day, they didn't have HIPPI connections from NCAR computers to the MSS -- they had to make do with crummy old Hyperchannel.

John remembers the milestone event when SCD brought HIPPI to shavano, the CRAY Y-MP8/864 -- and the problems they had switching over. Unbeknownst to anyone, Cray Research had made a wiring error in the HIPPI cable. This caused it to perform unpredictably.

For months John and the Cray engineers tried to find the source of the problem. Finally, John got an oscilloscope, tested the signals, and saw that two signals were reversed: this meant two small wires were switched.

The Cray engineers flipped the wires, resoldered them, and fired up the HIPPI connection -- which worked right off the bat. Finding the problem had taken months; once they found the bug, it took two minutes to fix.

Net worth

Basil has an undergraduate degree in computer science from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and a master's degree in computer science from the University of Colorado. He came to NCAR as a student assistant in 1977 to do networking and was hired full time shortly thereafter. Right now his work consists of network design.

How does he do it? On screen? No."In here," he says mystically, pointing to his head. "It's a matter of looking at what the vendors offer, selecting the pieces of equipment we need -- then afterwards, installing them, hooking them up, configuring them ..."

Lately Basil has been jetting around the country to attend meetings on the Internet2, a new higher-speed, higher-capacity national network.

He's also been going to a lot of meetings on the National Science Foundation-sponsored vBNS (very-high-speed Backbone Network Service).The last meeting was in sunny, warm San Diego. "That was nice, really nice," he says. Apropos, he said, the high point for him was picking oranges (not protocols.)

Going out for Chinese --
the hard way

One of the highlights of Basil's career was when the People's Republic of China invited him to that country to lecture. What on? "Networking. It was really quite an honor," Basil says. "And extremely interesting."

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