Daniel McCracken Interview: January 7-9, 2008

Arthur L. Norberg, Daniel McCracken
2006 ACM Oral History interviews on -  
I'm in the home of Daniel McCracken for Session 1 of an interview with him about his professional career and his activities within the ACM. We've talked a little through e-mail about this interview, and I would like to begin back at the earliest years that you can remember. Tell me something about your education, your parents, any siblings? McCRACKEN: Thank you. I was the youngest of six: four brothers and a sister. All have predeceased me. My earliest memory is around age five, around a
more » ... as tree, where I was expecting to get something. Probably expecting to get an erector set-one of my favorite toysfor making things. I'd build the stuff in the diagrams, and then enhance it somehow. I had a close relationship with my mother, not as close with my father. They were both encouraging in their own ways, but quite different ways. I went to public schools in Ellensburg, Washington. In the middle of fifth grade, somebody decided I was bored, gave me some tests, and I got promoted into the middle of the sixth grade. I've always wondered whether that did me any favors or not. I was less bored, I guess, but my social development wasn't in great shape anyway, and that didn't help. And then my last year of high school, I went to Ithaca, New York. My mother was convinced that I was in a competition with the son of the local college president, and that I would not be able to shine the way she thought I should as long as we were in the same school. That seems kind of silly now, but on the other hand, he won the Bausch & Lomb Science Award at Ellensburg, and I won it at Ithaca the same year. NORBERG: You won the what? McCRACKEN: Bausch & Lomb Science Award. Outstanding high school kids in science. We both won it the same year. Where do you want to pick up next? NORBERG: When you went to high school. Let's pick up there. I should ask you whether you had any interests in mechanical toys, like the erector set that you mentioned. Did you build a radio, for example? Were you interested in these things during your elementary school years? McCRACKEN: Yes, absolutely, late elementary. One of the highlights of my memory in that kind of area is building a radio from scratch, meaning no Heath Kits. This was in the late stages of World War II. You couldn't buy parts of any kind, so I scavenged a whole radio out of the junkyard. I'd learned enough about circuits to design my own receiver, cannibalizing parts from assemblies and whatnot. I put together a...I figured it must have been a...not a superheterodyne, not a superhet. I knew how they worked, but I probably didn't have the IF transformers. I had an RF transformer, a detector, an audio, an amplifier, a power supply, and four tubes. Sounds about right. And it worked. Session 1 McCRACKEN: Yes. NORBERG: And the person who taught that had graduated from one of the écoles in France. McCRACKEN: Something like that. I never saw her résumé, but she had been teaching in Paris, and she had an accent. At that stage, I wasn't chatting up my professors. I did learn pronunciation. It was the old-fashioned way. We talked about the languages in English. I never made any attempt at conversation. Final examination is to recite the Lord's Prayer in French. NORBERG: Now, what occasioned, then, the move from Lee College back to Washington? McCRACKEN: Well, Lee College was a two-year school, so it was a junior college. Went back home and graduated from my hometown college, which was the cheapest way to do it. NORBERG: Which was? McCRACKEN: To live at home and--NORBERG: No, Central Washington? McCRACKEN: Central Washington. At the time, it was called Central Washington College of Education. It's now Central Washington State University. Just seemed like the natural thing to do. With my grades and activities, I surely could have gotten a scholarship to lots of places. University of Washington, at least. A very good school, I thought. Elite at least. Never occurred to any of us. I just went to the teacher's college in my hometown. And same story. I got some good courses. It was not MIT. "The lives I could have led" kind of thought and take back to some strange paths as to how things might have been different if somebody had said, "Well, why don't you apply for a scholarship to Washington State?" Never occurred to us. NORBERG: It didn't occur to me either. I had a similar sort of path. McCRACKEN: Well, that's good to know. NORBERG: In studying at Central Washington, were you there only two years, or did you have more than the two years? McCRACKEN: It was two years. I went to the University of Washington the summer in between the two. Summer of 1950. I was taking a lot of correspondence courses from the University of Washington and the University of Chicago. Accumulated credits. I was able to graduate in four years with two bachelor's degrees. I had no idea how little I was learning that way. So after that, I wanted to try to do graduate school. But anyway, I got a Bachelor of Arts in Math and a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry. Didn't offer a Bachelor of Science. These were for people who were going to teach science and math in high school, which was what I thought I wanted to do. I did take, I think, one education course for sure. I think there was another one. That's two more than the average college professors have. [Laughter] And I had a very fine physics professor and a very fine chemistry professor who encouraged me immensely and explicitly. The chemistry guy tried to talk me into joining a Toastmaster's club and learn
doi:10.1145/1141880.1452135 fatcat:gt5q3aj4ivh3lprllrzbpvdbza