Multics > People > Stories
15 Apr 1995

The Louisiana State Trooper Story

Tom Van Vleck

The University of Southwestern Louisiana was one of the early Multics sales at a university. Known as the University of Shell Oil, USL had real live alligators in a swamp on campus. They were famous for their basketball team, the Ragin' Cajuns. Louisiana patronage politics led them to buy their Multics, forget the details. They used their Multics for both academics and administration, because of its reputation for security, and they were a referenceable account, meaning that Honeywell salesmen could quote their impression of the system.

Honeywell marketing arranged a customer visit, by the Universities of Bristol and Bath, who were looking to buy a mainframe; they visited USL to find out how they liked their Multics. Warren Johnson was the Honeywell site analyst for USL at the time; he remembers that the HIS UK salesman was Neil Aldred.

Anyway there was this rented car full of customers and Honeywell sales guys in suits zooming along the highway, picture those trees with the moss, I don't know, canebrakes, whatever. And they got pulled over for speeding by a Louisiana state trooper. The salesman was probably sweating big drops; this sort of bad experience can lead to a prospect dropping a manufacturer entirely.

So the officer asked to see the driver's license, and the driver had a foreign license, foreign accent, I won't say he looked suspicious but he was certainly unusual. The officer asked what these guys were doing lost in the bayous, and they said, "Oh we're here visiting the USL computer center."

And the officer said, "Oh yeah, they have that Multics system, sure is wonderful, does everything and has good security too." (You'll have to imagine the accents.) "Y'all drive carefully now."

Well, the visitors were flabbergasted; a random state cop knew all about the Multics system! Probably made the sale right there.

Turned out that the trooper's wife was secretary to the comp center director, so he'd heard quite a bit about the new computer from her.. and luckily Multics had made a good impression.

[Kit Powell] At least some of the story is true. It happened during an initial pre-sales trip to the US in the late seventies. Honeywell fielded Neil Aldred and (I am pretty sure) Peter Harding-Jones. The universities (Bath & Bristol) were represented by Alex Nichol and me from Bath, and Mike Rogers and Hilary Muirhead, with Basil (something exotic and Russian, Zaharov?) who was from ULCC.

We went to USL, and were duly impressed by the hardware and the people (and the alligators and armadillos). We left to go to New Orleans airport in two hire cars, one driven by P H-J and the other by Neil. I was in the first one with Peter. Arrived at the airport, whence the university party was to return to Boston to visit DEC, we waited for the rest of the party. As is usual on these occasions, our luggage had not all travelled in the same cars, since Neil had hired something in which most of the accommodation was apparently given over to enormous tyres and a straight-sixteen engine. We therefore hung around unable to leave, since we had some of our colleagues' luggage, and watching the time for last check-in approaching. At the very last moment Neil appeared, ventre a terre. He had turned left rather than right when he got to the main road to New Orleans, and after realising his mistake and turning round had had to press on rather rapidly. He had indeed been stopped by the police, but I don't recall having been told at the time about any Multics involvement in that encounter. I think Hilary was in his car, so I will ask her if she can remember better than I can.

It was a terrific trip: we ended up buying the first (6180) Multics system in Europe, and it changed most of our lives to a greater or lesser degree (mainly for the better).

03/12/95, revised 04/15/95