Website for the book A Culture of Innovation: Insider Accounts
of Computing and Life at BBN
Jump directly to corrections Other books of mine
This is a web site for the above-named book edited by
David Walden and Raymond Nickerson and with chapters contributed by 19 long-time BBN people.
A Culture of Innovation is a collection of chapters relevant to many of the areas of BBN computing work over the decades of its history with most chapters written by one or more participants in the described activity (or a close observer). We believe the book will provide an interesting picture of the company to people who have had involvement with BBN or are interested in computing history. It also will be a useful reference work for historians of computing. (Note, this book is not history by a professional historian—no interpretation, no historiography. It is also not a history book where one author tells an overall story, like Waldrop's The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal.)
The second "printing" of the book is available online. It is available for download for individual reading. All other rights are reserved.
Physical copies of the first printing of the book are available in retail bookstores, e.g.,
Check around for the bookstore you trust which is providing the biggest discount from the list price. Try searching for "A Culture of Innovation Nickerson Walden" to find the book on bookstore websites.
The book is 582 pages long and perfect bound. It was initially published in a 81/2 by 11 inch trim size. However, the book has a 7 1/2 by 10 3/4 trim size (tighter margins) when sold by the Harvard Book Store.
- Amazon.com -- see the reviews there
- Harvard.com -- a slightly compressed edition in terms of trim size for printing on the Harvard Book Store's print-on-demand machine, Paige M. Gutenberg
- From me directly (email@example.com) if you want to place a bulk order for the book.
To contact us
Email us as needed regarding this website or the book at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include "BBN book website" or "BBN book" as part of the subject line. -DCW
Front matter from the book
On-line color images that do not reproduce well in the B&W interior of the book
Other books with lots of BBN history
- Leo Beranek memoir
- John Swets memoir
- Sound Ideas, a book by Eric Wood and Deborah Melone on the acoustic consulting activities of BBN, Acentech, and other spin-off organizations. [Eric says he has a few copies still available. Ask me about how Eric says one can obtain a copy of the book. -Dave]
In addition to the book, see the photos by Leo Beranek and listen to the accompanying audio recording by Leo with links from "Early Days at BBN" at the bottom of the Acentech web page. The direct links are: photos and audio.
Corrections to the first printing
Please let us know about problems at the email address in the "To contact us" section above..
[The second "printing" will be on-line only and will include the following corrections.]
Acknowledgments for catching and correcting errors: Ben Barker, Bob Brooks, Bob Clements, Jon Cole, Bernie Cosell, Julie Sussman, Tom Van Vleck, Paul McJones, and perhaps others I have forgotten.
- page xviii, Ray Nickerson entry: change "25 year" to "25 years"
- page xix, first line: change "this chapter" to "Chapter 8"
- page 13, Figure 1.7 caption: change "and guest" to "with David Green"
- page 222, third to last line: change "(paper tape)" to "(small magnetic tape)"
- page 225, Figure 10.5 caption: change "paper" to "magnetic"
- page 416, third bullet: change "emal" to "email"
- page 419, 4th and 5th lines of block quote from Cosell: delete "[Model 35 Teletypeó15
- page 495, last line of paragraph 3 of 19.3: change "email" to "e-mail"
- page 496, line 3 under Hermes: change "RDMAIL" to "READMAIL"
- page 497, line 2 of Intelpost paragraph 3: change "1974" to "1979"
- page 498, line 6 of paragraph 2: change "pro-processor" to "preprocessor"S
- page 498, note 6: change "anther" to "another"
- page 498, note 6: replace "BCLP" with "BCPL"
- page 546, note 3: replace "Garbielís" with "Gabriel's"
We can post additional information on the content of various chapters and new content not covered in the scope of the book. [Let me know if you have something you would like to see posted, including differing perspectives on what is in the book. -DCW]
- BBN and Computers—A History by Phil Bertoni and Paul Castleman, a preprint of an article for the Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology.
[I scanned this a number of years ago before I learned much about how to size scanned pages and adjust photo brightness for posting on the web. -DCW]
- BBN computer technology timeline up to 2000.
[I believe Ray Nickerson drafted this in 2003. If someone wants to work on reviewing it for accuracy and
updating it, please let me know. -DCW]
- BBN Organization and Management (1957-2003), compiled in 2003.
[I could use help to improve the accuracy and scope of this document. -DCW]
A relevant web page pointed out by John Curran.
- Some J.C.R. Licklider stories (collected in the preparation of the Annals special issues and the subsequent book).
John Senders on Lick, a .txt file of an email from Senders to Ray Nickerson.
John Senders was at BBN in the early days of BBN's computing and psychology activities. You can search the BBN computing history book at the above URL for "Senders" to learn more about his involvement at BBN. More about his life beyond BBN is at
Notes on Lick from other BBN people
Relevant to Chapter 1 (Founding a Culture of Engineering Creativity)
- Leo Beranek: Technology,
Business, and Civic Visionary, an article written for the Fall 2014 issue of Acoustics Today which was a commemorative issue in honor of Leo Beranek's 100th birthday in Septemer 2014, with other articles and features about Leo's life
Relevant to Chapter 3
- In Memoriam, John Swets (1928-2016)
Relevant to Chapter 4 (Early Years of Basic Computer and Software Engineering)
- Report on the PDP-1d Exec III time-sharing executive
Relevant to Chapter 5
- Photo of attendees at the 1991 Science Development Program dinner.
- A History of the BBN Piano,
by Beverly Schwartz, August 2001.
- Extra curricular activities in BBN Division 6, circa 1971-1978
Relevant to Chapter 17 (Networking at BBN)
- Chapter 17 is titled "Data Networking @ BBN"; following are more documents on this topic plus links to the IMP system listing from 1973
- About the 1994 25th ARPANET anniversary celebration
Video of "The History of the Future — ARPANET, Internet, and Beyond — a celebration of 25 years of innovation in network communications" (organized by Bolt Beranek and Newman); Copley Plaza Hotel, Boston, Massachusetts, September 10, 1994; the video at another location
Steve Levy, long time BBN CEO until he brought in George Conrades as CEO a while before the 1994 anniversary event, had a copy of the original video tape containing both videos above. Steve graciously had the tape digitized so it could be circulated to interested parties in 2019, this 50th anniversary year.
– Doug Englebart was in Boston for the above celebration and was invited to give a lecture at BBN.
– Some additional artifacts from the 1994 celebration.
- About the mischaracterization by academic mathematicians of the original ARPANET routing algorithm
About the ARPANET IMP development
- Request for Quotation (RFQ) from ARPA
- BBN's proposal in response to the RFQ
- First published paper on the system
- Many of the quarterly technical reports
- 1972 QTR 13 (not in the list at the immediately above link)
- About the design decisions
- Completion report, 1978, 208 pages
- Draft completion report, 1977, 942 pages
- About helping with another institution's network design in the early 1970s
- Resurrection of 1973 IMP system software
- Through BBN's involvement with data networking, a succession of BBNers were the editor of the ACM SIGCOMM's Computer Communication Review. One of these editors, Craig Partridge, recently wrote an article for the CCR relating to this evolution of editors of the CCR.
- See also my list of documents on the Telnet protocol
Relevant to Chapter 18
- An Operational System for Computer Resource Sharing
Relevant to Chapter 19
- Chapter 19 is nominally about email developments at BBN.
discuss the broader history of the development of email.
Relevant to Chapter 20
- SIMNET and Beyond: A History of the Development of Distributed Simulation by Duncan Miller
Relevant to Chapter 21
- Bibliography of documents on parallel processing work at BBN
- Another bliography of documents on parallel processing work at BBN
Other BBN links, etc.
Provenance of the book
Starting in about 2003, we began collecting information and
writings from long-time BBN employees.
Six papers based on this
work appeared in a BBN special issue of the IEEE Annals of the History of
Computing, volume 27, number 2, April-June 2005. These papers were by Leo Beranek,
John Swets, Stephen Levy, Frank Heart, Sheldon Baron, and Richard Estrada
and Edward Starr.
Six more papers appeared in a second special issue of the same journal
(January-March 2006, volume 28, number 1), papers by Paul Castleman, Wallace Feurzeig, Johh Makhoul, Ralph
Weischedel, Richard Schantz, and Craig Partridge and Steven Blumenthal. However, much of the initially submitted content of these papers could not be published because of the journal's page limitations.
More papers went through the Annals peer review process and were judged acceptable for
publication but had to be withdrawn because of page limitations: a paper by
Raymond Nickerson and Sanford Fidell, and several papers by David Walden.
We also had still more material that has never been submitted for
Thus we produced this book, A Culture of
Innovation: Insider Accounts of Computing and Life at BBN, that contains
longer versions of most of the papers published in the Annals, the papers
that were withdrawn, and other content.
Updated 2020-03-20; Walden home