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 A Couple of Words About Myself

My name is Gregory Gromov and I launched the site netvalley.com in 1995. "It was a long way to ..."  NetValley, that took me about 40 years.

I quit day school in 1956 and went to work at a radio repair shop and continued taking high-school classes in the evening. At first I was a trainee, a misnomer of sorts, since no one ever trained anyone in places like that. If you did something useful for a veteran repairman, then he might share with you a trick or two. Thus my tech career started at 15, with rewiring burnt-out transformers in power adapters.

We are talking about a few thousand of strands with insulating liner (the latter was made of paper sold for throat packs we would buy at the pharmacy). We would wind them by hand without a “stacker” - no such machinery at the shop -  on a mechanical drill. Yet we couldn’t afford any kinks between the strands, since this could cause a transformer to burn out.

Thus on the average it took me two to three hours or even longer (if complications arose), to rewind a power transformer for a radio set typical at the time (e.g. “AP3“, mentioned later). This included taking apart the iron plates from a burnt-out transformer and assembly over the freshly wound spool.

The veterans’ advice came in handy. They compensated for the transformers with practical advice, but in general the radio circuits had to be learned - literally - “by touch”.

The only electric tool I had was a legendary - at the time - “tester”, which is what Russians called a pointer ampere-volt-ohmmeter. I also had a huge volume called “How Radio Sets Work” that contained  basic diagrams for practically all the Soviet-made radio sets in popular use. 

Still, peering through the smoke of resin and the drops of tin off the soldering iron, I managed to grasp some basics of tube-based devices, and some of these basics turned out to be essential not for tube electronics alone.

Of course the radio sets that were brought to the shop were of the simplest design, like the cheapest popular AP3 (Alexandrov Radio Works)

http://www.netvalley.com/library/articles/about/ru/ARZ_54.jpg

Once in a while we would get more complicated stuff as well. I remember one time someone brought in a Leningrad radio set. At the time it was a very expensive set, with many tubes and bands and complicated mechanics of fixed tuning. This is the likeness that I managed to locate on the Web (going by the basis of the parameters discussed).

http://www.netvalley.com/library/articles/about/ru/Leningrad.gif 

Everybody at the shop immediately concluded that this “Leningrad" was a hopeless case and assigned the repair of this set to... me. Just in case the client complained to the manager, it made sense to use a “young inexperienced mechanic” as a scapegoat.

I took it apart, trying to understand what was wrong. Everyone was surprised, for it seemed like a rash way to go, and exchanged looks of sympathy: The kid jumped the gun, now he’s really stuck...

It is one thing when a mechanic handles the set, “feels out” its “pressure points” with a tester, and then decides there’s no way he can fix it. It’s quite another thing when you are facing a pile of parts on your desk and not a single manual - how do you put it together? On top of everything, I took apart and unsoldered the tuning mechanism down to the smallest nut and bolt and tagged the unsoldered ends of every wire, to make the assembly easier. In the evening, when people were going home, they were avoiding my eyes.

But by the time they showed up in the morning, I was turning the knob of the vernier mechanism of the already assembled set and oiling the bearings. Generally this was considered the last stage of repair. They crowded around me in silence. I pressed the key of a fixed tuning band. Foreign speech came out - the short wave was working; another key, yet another one - they were all working. No wonder I remember that scene so clearly to this day.

In 1959, I entered Samara State Aerospace University, majoring in Radio Technology and Electronics of so called “Flying Devices” – then the code name for missiles. In my first year I could take night courses only since I had a day job at the aviation plant, in the shop of final assembly of TU-95 strategic bombers.

Wikipedia: "Tupolev Tu-95 (Russian: Туполев Ту-95; NATO reporting name: 'Bear') is a large, four-engine turboprop-powered strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 entered service with the Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Air Force until at least 2040".

http://www.netvalley.com/library/articles/about/ru/TU-95_Bear_aircraft.jpg

Tu-95 Bear photographed from a RAF Typhoon Quick Reaction Alert aircraft.
Photo: RAF/MOD.  

I graduated with MS in Radio Technology & Electronics in 1965 and worked on a variety  of projects in Radio Electronics and Space Technology. Throughout this period I spent much time pondering on technological solutions in pulse technology and later received inventor’s certificates [USSR version of patents] for some of them:

Г. Р. Громов. Генератор Импульсов (G.R. Gromov. "Impulse Generator") Patent # 266816 - Filing date: March 15, 1969. Published: April 01, 1970.  (p.1,  2)

Г. Р. Громов. Частотно-Импульсный Модулятор. (G.R. Gromov. "Frequency Pulse Modulator") Patent #304684. Filing date: December 31, 1969. Published: May 25, 1971.  (p. 1,  2)

Г. Р. Громов. Интегрирующее Устройство. (G.R. Gromov. "Integration unit") Patent # 387382 Filing date: September 07, 1971. Published: June 21, 1973.   (p.1, 2)

Г. Р. Громов. Частотно-Импульсный Модулятор. (G.R. Gromov. "Frequency Pulse Modulator") Patent #400989. Filing date: 30, 1971. Published: September 01, 1973.  (p.1, 2)

In the early 70s I took a position of Research Engineer at the Research & Computing Center in Puschino Science Center  outside Moscow.  Most of my work consisted in developing mini-computer based system to automate biological  experiments.

Громов Г.Р., Ройтберг М.А. ДИАНЭД - система диалогового анализа экспериментальных данных. 1. Структура системы и принципы функционирования. Материалы по математическому обеспечению ЭВМ.  вып.1,. 42с.   Пущино ОНТИ НЦБИ АН СССР. серия мини-ЭВМ,   1977. [Gregory Gromov, Michael Roitberg. DIANED - Dialogue Analysis of Experimental Data. 1. The system"s basic functionality and structure. Series: Software Systems. vol. 1. 42 p. Scientific Biological Center, Puschino, 1977 ]

Громов Г.Р., Ройтберг М.А. ДИАНЭД - система диалогового анализа экспериментальных данных.. вып. 2. Инструкции по написакнию прикладных программ. . Материалы по математическому обеспечению ЭВМ.   30с.   Пущино ОНТИ НЦБИ АН СССР. серия мини-ЭВМ,   1978. [Gregory Gromov, Michael Roitberg. DIANED - Dialogue Analysis of Experimental Data.  v. 2   The developers' manual  30 p. Scientific Biological Center, Puschino, 1977 ]

Gregory Gromov, minicomputer MIR-2, DIANED system, 1977

 Caption: 1977
. Gregory Gromov  testing the DIANED system at the MIR-2 mini-computer  

The above picture, taken sometime in 1975-77, shows me tuning DIANED programming system via MIR-2 mini-computer.  MIR-2 was noticeably ahead of its time.  It contained a "structural interpretation" analytical transformation algorithm, as well as one of the first applications in interactive computations -- the "light pen".  It also contained many other advanced features that made it instrumental to the analytical work our team was doing at the time.

Overall, about 10, 000 MIR-2‘s were built for using in R&D branches in practically all USSR industries. DIANED system became popular among MIR-2 users and later requests were made to adapt DIANED to other types of computers. In early 80s DIANED was used on SM-3 and SM-4 minicomputers  (compatible with DEC's PDP-11) and others:

Громов Г.Р., Ройтберг М.А. Опыт разработки диалоговой программной системы для мини-ЭВМ СМ-3, СМ-4 В сб. трудов советско-финского симпозиума "Интерактивные системы" 1979. c. 77-83 Тбилиси. [Gregory Gromov, Michael Roitberg.  The development of dialogue software for mini-computers SM-3, SM-4 (PDP-11).  Proceedings Russian-Finnish Conference: "Interactive Sysytems" . Tbilisi, 1979 p. 77-83]

The FORTRAN version of DIANED system  was also installed on computers of many research centers, including the PDP-11/40 minicomputer at Moscow University’s Math Department.   

Initial version of MIR-2-based DIANED was developed to computerize data processing in neurophysiologic experiments conducted at the Memory Department at Puschino Biophysics Institute 

Then our team was developing a computer system to control scientific experiments at Puschino Microbiology  Institute.  The system was developed on Electronica-60 Microсomputer, in effect a clone of DEC’s LSI-11.

Громов Г.Р., Ширшиков Н.В., Литвиненко Л.А. Микромашинный комплекс для
управления биотехнологическими процессами.
Микропроцессорные средства и системы 1984, #2. p. 54-59 [G.R. Gromov, N.V. Shirshikov, L.A.
Litvinenko. The micro-computer system to control the biotech processes.
Microprocessor Devices &  Systems, 1984 #2 p.54-59, Moscow
]

At the same time I was engaged in the task of Experimental Design And Data Analysis For Telemetry Projects:

Громов Г.Р. Оценка приведенной погрешности дискретного канала телеизмерения.  Электросвязь 1980 #7  c.57 Москва [The estimation of digital channel error. Electronic Communication #7 1980 p.57. Мoscow]

Громов Г.Р. Экономичный интегрирующий преобразователь ток-частота. Приборы и техника эксперимента 1980 # 4, p. 83-84. Москва. Наука. [Gregory Gromov.Economical Current-To-Frequency Converter. The Units & Technique of
Experiments, #4 1980, p.83-84, Moscow]

In the late 80s my interest in science started undergoing a paradigm shift. I was paying more attention to analytic research of structural changes in IT-industry, caused by the industry’s transition from mainframes to PC.

This is how I described this shift in an introduction to one of my books:

"About 15 years ago I read an article in Electronics, an American magazine.  The article quoted arguments by university administrators and IEEE leaders.  To produce more engineers, university administration demanded more money from the federal government, whereas IEEE leaders argued against, saying that universities produce enough electrical engineers.  IEEE's position was that the shortage of engineers was due to many complex factors that had nothing to do with lack of engineering graduates.  As one of the IEEE representatives emphasized, electrical engineers only work in the field for 5-8 years after the graduation and later become managers or … taxi drivers and that it was virtually impossible to find an electrical engineer over 40.  He argued that spending  money on improving social status of electrical engineers is a better way to solve shortage of engineers compared to spending money on increasing number of engineering graduates.

Looking back, I realized that same held true for us (the Soviets) as well; of all the engineering students from my graduation year, I was the only senior engineer “wielding a soldering iron".  Everyone else was in management of one sort or another.  In other words, in the USSR, just like in the US, by the time engineers reached 40, they would become either managers or taxi drivers.  This realization forced me to reassess my career and ask myself if I was on the  right track.  Should I be doing something other than bouncing between oscilloscopes and soldering irons 20 years after the graduation?

I started out in the vacuum-tube era.  Introduction of semiconductors was the first big change in design stereotypes.  At about the time I gained some designing proficiency in semi-conductors, along came integrated circuits (IC) and took center stage.  Between discrete semiconductors and ICs there was about 1-2 years of layered micromodules.

Later came BIC, microprocessors, early Soviet minicomputers like MIR-2 and SM-4 (PDP-11), Electronics-60 micro-computers (LSI-11) … for most of my engineer colleagues, one such transition was a lot and two were plenty.  The transition required changing design principles and breaking established conventions and stereotypes and would force my colleagues to become either managers or taxi drivers. 

I, on the other hand, was always excited about change; by the time I finished one project I was already involved in another, dazzled by a new technology that presented new challenges and opportunities.

After a revelation in the above mentioned Electronics magazine article, my engineering fervor did not exactly ebb; rather, it turned to going beyond understanding the "guts" of a circuit or a device and, rather, looking at the Big Picture: what was the purpose of the circuit? Why was the old circuitry insufficient?  Is it possible to say what new requirements are likely to emerge that would cause another circuit to be developed and replace it?  Is it possible to structure existing knowledge in a way that would allow to answer these questions?

Initial attempts to catalogue 20 years of experience into memoir-like texts ran into obvious difficulties.  Clearly, discussing tendencies in Soviet tech in the open press was impossible in late ‘70s.  At the same time, failing to mention aspects of existing economic system seemed just as pointless.  To resolve this contradiction, I attempted to analyze my experience in the Soviet system and back it with actual data from foreign publications, which served as the initial stage of analytical research.

The summary of the research was published in 1984 by Nauka(“Science”) publishing house.  Possibly because this was the first Russian book on this subject, it sold out incredibly fast for a scientific text.  The second edition of the book came out the following year.

nir, nauka, 1984_cover_complet

In 1983 as a Managing Editor of editorial team I took part in efforts to launch the “Microprocessor Devices and Systems” and then continued working with its team hands-on for the next 5 years. By the 4th year the paid circulation exceeded 100,000 copies (from 7,000 in 1984 to 101,000 in 1988), with over 10,000 foreign subscribers.

Gromov, Gregory  From the History of “Microprocessor Devices and Systems” Journal”  IEEE Conference Publications, 2014, p. 191 - 193

 

In the early ‘90s, I started my own company in Moscow - as many did back then - and called it InfoArt.  As I explained in one of my articles, the name signifies an effort to break through the wall of misunderstanding within our cultural civilization: one between liberal art and science or – in other words - STEM vs. the Liberal Arts .

 

  

Comp_bridge_cover

 

 
 

 I moved to Northern California  to gain inside knowledge on birth and development of local startups -- the process that I previously studied from afar.  The goal was to understand what makes Silicon Valley special and what allows it to be the leader of tech world. Most importantly, why nowhere else in the world and even in no other state have people been able to create an innovation mechanism of comparable effectiveness.

This "California" part of my research is still "under construction".  Some aspects of this research are covered in online  publications, which I included in my Silicon Valley History

How I ended up working for a big corporation
A Legal Bridge Spanning 100 Years: From the Gold Mines of El Dorado to the 'Golden' Startups of Silicon Valley
NDA Experiment Set up by Mark Hurd 

(to be continued)

 

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