John Impagliazzo Interview: Selected Quotes

This page includes a number of quotes from the John Impagliazzo interview. The interview overview page provides access to some background information, the audio from the interview, a transcript of the interview, and two video snippets.


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The first stereo system?

It sounds silly now, but I used to go to the town dump and fetch out all the old radios that were discarded and then I would disassemble them, save all the good parts, and reconstruct them into other parts. My friend and I, I think we built the first stereo system ever on the planet. It was probably in 1956 or 1957 that we did that. In fact, at that time, they had binaural sound, which was mixed sounds with two speakers, but was never stereo. And we built a pre-amplifier that would actually split sound into separate components and therefore could channel it in a mixed way, into what we know today as stereo.

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Early teaching experience giving music lessons

I did enjoy teaching. I guess it had to do with the music, because since I was 16 years old I was always teaching young students music, the guitar or piano. And I just enjoyed seeing these youngsters accomplish things. Probably one of the pinnacle areas was when I organized a piano recital. All of my students got together and we did a piano recital for their parents and relatives; it was very, very nice. It was so grand to see youngsters learn and accomplish something.

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Early on-line courses via TV

This is like, I guess, the early 1960s [...] And I also had taken -- I guess audited -- an on-line course through television (on-line was television in those days) at MIT on the theory of computing and how computers worked.

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Students need to become engaged

Well, I think students need to become engaged. They need to try to understand what they are doing, why they are doing the things that they do. It's okay to show them tricks and how you can take shortcuts to do things. But ... I was always the type that, whenever a student had a question, I would go back and do it from foundation up so they understood where the result came from.

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Less "hit and miss" in the good old days

Sometimes computing can become a little bit "hit and miss" -- you know, try this and recompile, try that and recompile -- and the students constantly do that and they spend endless hours in labs doing that. Probably, the good old days were better with the punched cards, because you had to think five times before you submitted the punched cards because you didn't want to wait for the 24 or 48 hours for the turnaround. But I think my style generally is still the same, to engage students.

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Conference on perspectives of Soviet and Russian computing

But I guess the feather in the cap is the SoRuCom conference that I'm doing in a couple of days. This is a very high profile, week-long conference on perspectives on Soviet and Russian computing. It is a ... I don't know how it happened, but I was able to reconstruct the former Soviet Union historically, including the Russian Academy of Sciences. In fact, I am doing a presentation next Tuesday, which will involve comparative computing education, east versus west. The Eastern perspective will be given by the director of the Russian Academy of Sciences and also the chief industrial representative for Microsoft Research Russia. For the Western part I will be doing the comparative history, the US perspective. And the president of IFIP will be doing the European perspective.

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Music as a mental transport

[I]f there were a second chance around, I might try music again. I always wanted to be a composer and a conductor. I guess since I was a teenager, around 15 [years old], my ambition was to go to the Julliard School of Music and do that. I started doing orchestrations when I was around 16, 17, 18 [years old]. But I realized that [career] wasn't for me. So music has become a way of relaxation or a mental transport to ... I guess some of the aesthetical things of art, as opposed to just science. So to me it's a healthy balance.

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Be diverse in your thinking

So I think the attitude should be to do what you love and have an open mind about it and be diverse in your thinking. And you should always do the best you can do. The motto for the State University of New York is "become all you're capable of being." If a student chooses to go into computing -- notice I said "computing," not necessarily computer science -- that it is important for them to see computing in its full context, as well as some of the social and legal issues. (I teach the ethics and professionalism course at Hofstra.) So it's important that students see computing in its full picture as opposed to just lines of code.

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Learn as much as you can and put it in your pocket

[The story would be] that education is important, repeating -- people can steal everything from you, but they can never steal your education. I still can hear the voice of my mother and father: "Learn as much as you can and put it in your pocket; you never know when you might need it." Some of the things that we learn, we think we'll never need or use and then -- Voila! we realize we need it. So, I think the story from childhood is very simple, and that is to value education, not necessarily for a job, but because education is important for life.