History of Numerical Analysis

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Oral Histories

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Tom Aird

Oral History (pdf)

Interviewer Thomas Haigh

Aird describes his career in mathematical software, focusing particularly on his involvement from 1972 to 1993 as a senior member of mathematical software library vendor IMSL. Aird entered Olivet College in 1958, and went on to graduate school in mathematics at the University of Michigan, earning a masters degree. In 1965, he moved to Houston where he provided support to programmers working at the Manned Space Center. After two years, he returned to an academic environment, working as manager of User Services in Purdue University’s computer center while pursuing a Ph.D. with John Rice in its computer science department. Aird also mentions the contributions of Carl deBoor and John Lynch. These early experiences gave Aird first hand exposure to the needs and behaviors of scientific computer users, and to early mathematical software libraries. In 1972, he was recruited by Ed Battiste to join IMSL, a small and young company dedicated to the sale of a packaged library of mathematical routines. Aird discusses the origin of IMSL and the roles of co-founder Charles Johnson and early employees Olin Johnson and Walt Gregory. Aird served as Director of Mathematics and was responsible for the development of numerical routines. Aird contrasts the capabilities and design of the IMSL library with competitors including IBM’s SSP and NAG and discusses its relationship with public domain projects such as EISPACK and LINPACK. He also explains IMSL’s sales strategies and discusses its relationship with customers. During the 1980s, the IMSL library was rewritten in FORTRAN 77, which Aird considers a very important development, and adapted for various microcomputer and workstation platforms. He was active for many years as part of the IFIP 2.5 Working Group on mathematical software.

Key words: mathematical software, IMSL, SSP, NAG, LINPACK, EISPACK, IFIP 2.5 Working Group

Funding Agency:

Time frame: 1960's, 1970's, 1980's

People: John Rice, Carl de Boor, John Lynch, Ed Battiste, Olin Johnson, Walt Gregory, Charles Johnson,

Location: Burroughs Computer, University of Michigan, NASA Manned Space Flight Center, Purdue University, IMSL.

Citation: Tom Aird Oral history interview by Thomas Haigh, 3 and 4 June, 2004, Reno, Nevada.  Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Philadelphia, PA


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