The Bill Wattenburg Show
San Francisco, CA – Talk Radio Network Entertainment is proud to announce the addition of Dr. Bill Wattenburg to TRN-E’s Weekend lineup. The Bill Wattenburg Show will begin airing Sunday January 22nd at 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. PST.
Dr. Wattenburg is a nationally known radio talk show host who is also an accomplished scientist. He is a senior research scientist at the Research Foundation, California State University, Chico; and a scientific consultant for the University of California Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and many other institutions. He is a former nuclear weapons designer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; a former member of the US Air Force Scientific Advisory Board; and a former UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering. He was co-founder of Berkeley Scientific Laboratories with Dr. Donald Glaser (Nobel Prize, Physics, 1960).
Mark Masters, CEO of TRN Entertainment stated, “We are ecstatic to have a person of Dr. Bill Wattenburg’s caliber to join our network. His vast knowledge of Science and Physics will enlighten all of his listeners. We believe he will quickly develop legions of dedicated fans that want to improve their personal knowledge and way of life.”
The Bill Wattenburg Show is mostly an open-line listener-driven call-in show, where he answers questions ranging from fixing cars to physics, and everything in between. His combination of experiences and scientific background gives him a great wealth of knowledge that he applies to entertain and inform his audience.
Dr. Wattenburg’s accomplishments are as varied and remarkable as he is. He has personally developed a method to measure explosive yields for underground nuclear tests. He is credited with stopping the waste of blood collected at blood banks. He fixed the BART train control system for the State of California. He improved the security of magnetic strips on bankcards. He developed the plan for extinguishing oil well fires in Kuwait, and many more humanitarian and practical applications of science. For more details go to www.DrBill.us
Join The Bill Wattenburg Show Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. PST starting January 22nd. For more information, contact TRN Entertainment at 888-383-3733.
Dr. Willard H. (Bill) Wattenburg
Web: www.drbill.us Twitter: @BillWattenburg
Dr. Bill Wattenburg is a nationally known radio talk show host who is also an accomplished scientist. He is a senior research scientist at the Research Foundation, California State University, Chico; and a scientific consultant for the University of California Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and many other institutions. He is a former nuclear weapons designer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; a former member of the US Air Force Scientific Advisory Board; and a former UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering. He was co-founder of Berkeley Scientific Laboratories with Dr. Donald Glaser (Nobel Prize, Physics, 1960).
Bill Wattenburg now does talk radio shows on stations all over the United States. For twenty-five years, he was a talk show host on KGO Radio AM810, ABC, San Francisco. His popular nighttime show, “The Open Line to the West Coast,” was the most listened to show in that time slot in eleven western states. Bill Wattenburg was also invited to play the radio/TV show host in three Clint Eastwood movies, The Dead Pool, Pink Cadillac, and True Crime.
Bill Wattenburg’s profession in the media began when he was a young professor at U.C. Berkeley. A group of clever faculty housewives teased him into writing an hilarious satire on male sexual behavior. As author Will Harvey, he wrote How to Find and Fascinate a Mistress --and survive in spite of it all. (Pocketbooks 1970). It quickly became an outrageous best seller. (The initial title was How to Be Good to a Woman. Men would not read it. So, one night he changed the title and the word woman to mistress throughout the book. The media and bookstores loved it... ) Right in the teeth of the women’s liberation movement , author Will Harvey was invited on over 150 major radio and TV interview shows all over the country over the next two years. Women loved him when they heard the main message of the book. Many gave the book to the men in their lives. The national notoriety that Will Harvey achieved transformed into radio and TV shows on the west coast for Dr. Bill Wattenburg.
UNIVERSITY PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Background Report and Major Public Service Contributions
Dr. Willard Harvey (Bill) Wattenburg, Research Scientist, Research Foundation California State University, Chico, and Consultant to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Major National Security Problems Solved.
Published reports cited below cover the following:
Performance of Coaxial Cable in the Vicinity of a Nuclear Explosion (1962),
U.C. Radiation Laboratory Report UCRL-7164, 1962 (Classified). This was the experiment that led to the nuclear test ban treaty verification technology known a CORTEX which Bill Wattenburg invented while doing nuclear weapons tests at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. Wattenburg’s simple CORTEX scheme provided for the first time a way to measure the explosive yield (kilotons or megatons) of a nuclear warhead detonated deep underground without requiring expensive diagnostic equipment placed near the warhead.
Stopping the Waste of Blood Collected by Blood Banks (1965).
Wattenburg’s system is credited with saving more than one third of the blood collected before it becomes outdated and cannot be used. His system was adopted by blood banks all over the world, as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Fixing the BART Train Control System for the State of California (1971-73)
(These improvements were also used the Washington, D.C. METRO system).
Proving Major Vulnerabilities in the First Magnetic Stripe Bank and Credit Cards (1973)
The Plan for putting out the Oil Well Fires in Kuwait (1991).
Rapid Clearing of Minefields with Helicopters (1990-91).
Dropping Food Packages to Refugees Without Parachutes (1993)
Used in Afghanistan, now standard operating procedure for the Pentagon.
Designing Temporary Freeway Bridges for Rapid Earthquake Repair (1994-95).
Protecting Suspension Bridges from Terrorist Attacks after 9/11 (2001).
A Practical truck stopping device to allow Police to stop speeding hijacked trucks on the highways (2001).
Very few scientists in the U.S have contributed more to public service and national security than W.H. (Bill) Wattenburg has done in the form of simple, sometimes bizarre, but very workable solutions to major national security and public problems. The published reports of his technical creations are listed herein.
Probably his most important contribution to the world was his invention of the nuclear test ban technology known as CORTEX. CORTEX allowed either side to measure the yield, the explosive force, of a nuclear weapon that is tested deep underground without having to put sophisticated measurement devices (called detectors) down the shaft with the nuclear device. For a long time, one side (the U.S. or the Soviet Union) would not allow the other side to place standard detectors underground with a warhead being tested because such detectors could tell the other side a great deal about the warhead design. As a consequence, many nuclear scientists and political leaders on each side opposed a test ban because it was not possible to verify the yield of a weapon detonated underground without placing detectors underground with the warhead. Neither side would allow such intrusion. Wattenburg’s invention of the incredibly simple CORTEX scheme overcame that problem. CORTEX allowed the measurement of the size of a nuclear warhead without using intrusive underground detectors – and no matter how deep the warhead was buried. Bill Wattenburg devised the original CORTEX experiment in 1962 at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site while he helped conduct the underground testing of a nuclear warhead on which he had worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The CORTEX experiment is described in a still partially classified report at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (see below).
Bill Wattenburg’s work in several fields and his publications in scientific journals are listed below. But the public and press know him best for his impressive and often bizarre solutions to highly publicized problems in our society. For example, he did the first experiments in 1991 to prove that food packages could be dropped to refugees from high altitude without using parachutes. It took him three years to convince the Pentagon to try the scheme. Once they did (as described below), they immediately adopted this as “standard procedure.” Thousands of lives have been saved since then because food could be dropped to refugees in dangerous areas.
Wattenburg typically does basic experiments on his own (often at his own expense) to prove that his ideas are feasible before he presents them to government agencies and the press. He actually built a section of a four-lane freeway bridge out of steel modules from surplus railroad flatcar decks in less than a week using common construction equipment to prove that freeways could be repaired very quickly after earthquakes with a temporary bridge that he had designed. The California Dept. of Transportation used his design in 1995 to open the major I-5 freeway after a flood had washed out a four lane bridge. His public demonstrations often irritate bureaucracies that are left with no excuse to ignore his ideas when the public and the national press already know that they are workable. In turn, he has demonstrated a profound impatience with slow-moving government agencies.
Typically, government agencies had failed to solve major problems after spending enormous sums of money and time before Wattenburg was asked to step in by top state and federal officials. His clever creations have saved many thousands of lives and untold amounts of public resources. Dozens of scientific journal articles and major newspaper stories listed herein chronicle his exploits and accomplishments over the past thirty years. Some of his better-known accomplishments are summarized below. These are more fully reported in the scientific journal articles published by Bill Wattenburg and many major newspaper stories about his activities that are listed at the end of this report.
Bill Wattenburg grew up on farms and worked with his father in the heavy construction industry before he was given a scholarship to U.C. Berkeley. He was appointed to the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, at the completion of his Ph.D. in electrical engineering and nuclear physics at the age of 25. He specialized in the design of digital computers for computations in nuclear physics. He took a leave of absence from Berkeley in 1962 to join the nuclear weapons design “A Division” at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where he worked on the initial designs of some of the nuclear weapons in the U.S. inventory today. He spent a year at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site where he tested various warhead designs. There he helped develop and improve underground nuclear testing technology. He continued working at Livermore part-time after he returned to teaching at Berkeley in 1964. He has continued as an unpaid consultant to the Livermore Laboratory since 1975. In turn, the Livermore Laboratory has provided equipment and resources for many of Wattenburg’s scientific experiments described herein. Along with Dr. Donald Glaser (Nobel Prize, Physics, 1960), Bill Wattenburg was the co-founder in 1965 of Berkeley Scientific Laboratories. Wattenburg served as president of the very successful company until it was sold in 1970. Thereafter, he returned to university teaching and research.
Beginning in 1972, the national media recognized his communication talents after he appeared on major radio and television shows as an expert on nuclear technology. For the last thirty years, he has had a second profession as one of the most popular and controversial night-time radio talk show hosts in the western United States. His weekly six-hour broadcasts over KGO RADIO AM810, ABC, San Francisco, reach millions in eleven western states.
It is significant that since he left the faculty at U.C. Berkeley forty years ago, Bill Wattenburg has never taken pay of any sort from government agencies for his public service activities. He has assigned his most significant patents to the university. His often stated position is that the public gave him a free education at two great universities, California State University, Chico, and the University of California, Berkeley. He has said that he can well afford to return a little of the good fortune that the public provided to him.
He does most of his work today as a research scientist at the Research Foundation, California State University, Chico, and as an unpaid consultant for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Many times over the last 25 years he has teamed up with top scientists and engineers at the Livermore Laboratory to test and develop his solutions to national security problems. Dr. Wattenburg is still one of the most active scientists conducting major national defense experiments at the former Nevada Nuclear Test Site.
Description of Major Projects:
R.E Duff and W.H. Wattenburg, U.C. Lawrence Radiation Laboratory Report UCRL-7164-7164, December 1962 (Classified)
While working at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site in 1962, Bill Wattenburg invented a particularly simple and inexpensive way to measure the performance of nuclear weapons detonated underground. He devised a simple experiment that he “piggybacked” at the last minute onto one of the nuclear tests that was being conducted. His experiment was a success beyond everyone’s expectations. This technology quickly provided a very inexpensive way to measure the performance of underground nuclear detonations. It was given the name CORTEX.. It became an important part of our underground nuclear test ban treaties. The details of how this invention works are still classified.
Wall Street Journal Europe, 5-6 April 1991, page 8. “Scientists Present New Ways to Snuff Kuwait Oil Fires.”
Months before the Gulf War invasion started, Bill Wattenburg along with some other scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory volunteered to conduct experiments over live minefields at the Yuma Army Proving Grounds to find ways to clear minefields in desert terrain. Their work provided the military with other options for rapidly clearing minefields over large areas in front of advancing troops. The helicopter mine sweeper and the unique chain matrix that Wattenburg designed were widely publicized. The chain matrix design is the prototype for most motorized mine sweeping equipment in use today.
One week after the Gulf War ended in February 1991, Dr. Richard Garwin, a world renowned scientist and an IBM Fellow in the IBM Research Division, began organizing top U.S. scientists and oil industry representatives to help the Kuwaiti government in putting out the 500 or more oil well fires that were raging in Kuwait after the Gulf War. The scientific group met in Washington, DC, April 2-3, 1991. The meeting was chaired by Dr. Garwin and Dr. Henry Kendall, MIT, President of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Top officials and engineers from the Kuwaiti Oil Company (KOC) attended the meeting. The meeting was supported by UCS with funds from the MacArthur Foundation. (Dr. Richard Garwin, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Bill Wattenburg was invited as one of several Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists in attendance. At the conclusion of the meeting, the conference co-chairmen asked Bill Wattenburg to travel to London with the Kuwait representatives to help them implement many of the technical ideas that came from the two-day scientific meeting in Washington. He flew directly to London that day to assist the Kuwaiti Government and Kuwaiti Oil Company (KOC) engineers (Scientists Present New Ways to Snuff Kuwait Oil Fires, Wall Street Journal Europe, 5-6 April 1991, page 8)..
Over the next three weeks, Bill Wattenburg helped formulate the plans and procedures that resulted in the fires being extinguished in the totally unexpected short time of seven months (well known oil well fire specialists on the scene in February 1991 were predicting three to five years).
The plans that Wattenburg helped formulated for extinguishing the fires are documented in the many reports that he transmitted to the U.S. Department of Energy and the university during his day and night meetings with the Kuwaiti government chiefs in London. Some of his ideas were very controversial, as reported in the press.
In his first memo to the Kuwaiti leaders, Wattenburg suggested that they announce certain requirements to the many contractors in the world who were vying to do the work of putting out the fires. He insisted that putting out the fires was not the major problem. The major requirement was that contractors had to be able to cap the wells and stop the flow of raw oil very quickly after they snuffed out the flames. Many would-be contractors sending proposals to Kuwait had assumed that all they had to do was extinguish the fires at the well heads and the rest would be easy. Wattenburg also insisted that dozens of damaged wells that were not on fire had to be re-ignited as soon as possible because they were spewing thousands of barrels of crude oil over the desert floor which would make it impossible to reach the wells later. The Kuwaiti engineers published these requirements immediately and sent teams to re-ignite the wells that were pouring raw oil on the desert floor.
Wattenburg’s next plan became the most controversial -- and the most successful. In around the clock meetings in the London headquarters of the Kuwaiti Oil Company, Wattenburg and the Kuwaiti engineers worked out a plan to divide the burning Kuwaiti oil fields into many working zones. Each qualified contractor from the many nations who wanted to send fire fighting crews would be assigned a zone. The contractors would be paid a handsome fixed price for each flaming oil well successfully capped (like $500,000), with a bonus for accelerated performance. Failure to perform within two months would disqualify a contractor. Its zone would be assigned to others. Two famous oil well fire-fighting contractors from the U.S. and Canada complained loudly because they were already on the scene and assumed that they would get most of the work (which they had stated would take several years to complete). Nevertheless, the Kuwaiti government leaders approved Wattenburg’s plan.
The rest is history. The last oil well fire in Kuwait was extinguished just seven months later in November 1991.
Bill Wattenburg’s reports from London and newspaper articles document another interesting event. Wattenburg declined offers of substantial payment from the Kuwaitis. Then the Kuwaiti chiefs asked Wattenburg before he left London if he could suggest something appropriate that the Kuwaiti government could do to express its appreciation to the British people for their help in the Gulf War. At that time, the newspapers were reporting that the famous London Zoo, the first in the world, was in great financial trouble and might have to be closed. In his last memo to the Kuwaiti leaders, Wattenburg suggested that they might rescue the London Zoo as a “thank you” to the British people. A few weeks later, The London Times reported that the government of Kuwait had donated over $10,000,000 to the London Zoo.
Wattenburg accepted no payment from Kuwait other than his travel and living expenses during his stay in London. He was quoted in the press as saying that he was paid a salary by the university and he had agreed to go to help the Kuwaitis as a representative of the U.S. Wattenburg’s daily reports on his activities and meetings with the Kuwaiti engineers and Kuwaiti royalty in London are on file with the U.S. Department of Energy.
Science, 2 April 1993, page 27. San Francisco Chronicle, 23 March 1993, front page).
During the first months of the attack on Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, there were daily news reports about how the U.S. was dropping millions of food packages to the Afghan refugees who could not be safely reached by relief agencies on the ground. Bill Wattenburg was the one who first did the experiments (1991) that proved that our military could and should drop food packages to refugees from high altitude without parachutes when the refugees are in hostile areas. This is now standard operating procedure for the U.S. military.
In 1991, Bill Wattenburg was the first person to demonstrate that small food packages can be safely dropped by cargo planes at high altitude, as is now being done to fed the refugees in Afghanistan.
(see "Dropping food packages to refugees without using parachutes," Science, 2 April 1993, page 27. Also San Francisco Chronicle, 23 March 1993, front page).
This eliminates the great expense of parachutes and the danger to our flight crews when they must fly at low altitude to drop large food pallets by parachute over hostile areas. But relief officials and the U.S. military would not try his idea for several years -- until a fortunate sequence of events took place.
Bill Wattenburg was asked by the U.S. Government in April 1991 to be the U.S. scientific advisor to the Kuwaiti Government and help them put out the 500 oil well fires in Kuwait. In the course of this effort, he received daily reports on the continuing conflict in northern Iraq and saw films of the Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq being machine gunned by Iraqi soldiers when the refugees flocked to the large food pallets that U.S forces were dropping by parachute in remote areas.
Wattenburg insisted that small food packages could be dropped from high altitude without the packages breaking up when they hit the ground. (See San Francisco Chronicle article above.) He proved that air resistance would limit the dropping velocity to the same limiting velocity no matter how high the altitude of the airplane. Dropping individual packages from high altitude would also scatter the food over larger areas so that refugees would not be easy targets for hostile soldiers who could target parachutes as they dropped. Records show that he did his first experiments at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in May 1991 by dropping supermarket food packages from a small plane flying at 5000 ft. altitude (Granola Bars, cereal boxes, and plastic wrapped items of all sorts).
Relief officials would not try his idea in northern Iraq. But he pestered the Pentagon for the next two years. In 1993, our military began dropping food by parachute on large pallets to refugees in the war in Bosnia. Again, our cargo planes had to fly dangerously low over hostile territory. Hostile forces were targeting the refugees on the ground when they flocked to the food pallets, or the hostile forces would simply take the food. Bill Wattenburg told Dr. Jane Hull in the White House National Security Office about his experiments and how well they worked. She immediately called the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Office in the Pentagon (see Science article above).
The Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered the Air Force to try Wattenburg’s idea as soon as possible over Bosnia by dropping thousands of regular military “Meals Ready to Eat” (MRE’s) packages from high altitude without parachutes by just kicking them out the back of a cargo plane flying at 5,000 feet. Quaker Oats Company quickly contributed 100,000 sealed granola bars to go along with the MRE’s. The procedure was an instant success for all. As Bill predicted, most of the packages dropped without parachutes were unbroken and the food was scattered over a wide area so that all refugees had an equal chance of picking up the food. The kids in particular were most successful (as one would expect in any Easter Egg hunt).
The Pentagon soon announced that this would be the new military standard operating procedure for dropping food to refugees over hostile areas. (Of course, a Pentagon spokesperson soon suggested to the press that the military had been thinking about this idea for many years.)
Thousands of starving refugees can be thankful that Bill Wattenburg took the time to test one of his seemingly silly ideas one afternoon from a light plane at 5000 ft. over a farmer’s field near Livermore.
New York Times, 6 Nov 2001, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, 4 Nov 2001
Since September 11, 2001, Bill Wattenburg has been helping state and federal agencies reduce our national vulnerability to terrorism. In early October 2001, he and another scientist at the Livermore Laboratory, Dr. David McCallen, found a very dangerous vulnerability in the suspension bridges of the Bay Area. The problem was that the suspension cable anchor points at each end of a bridge were very vulnerable to attack. Any terrorist with a small amount of explosives or common cutting tools could easily sever one of the main suspension cables and cause the entire bridge to collapse. They immediately reported this to the California Highway Patrol and the governor’s office. McCallen and Wattenburg worked with state engineers in an around-the-clock, three-week construction project to harden the sites where a terrorist could easily have damaged the anchor points of the suspension cables of the Bay Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge. The media and public were informed on November 1, 2001, only after the work had been completed and other states had been notified to check their bridges.
New York Times, 18 Nov 2001
In December 2001, the California Governor’s office and The California Highway Patrol asked Bill Wattenburg if he could devise some way to allow police to stop runaway or hijacked trucks on the highways. Hijacked trucks are one of the major terrorist vulnerabilities that the nation faces today. A fuel tanker truck in the hands of a terrorist can be as dangerous as the airplanes that were crashed into the World Trade Center. However, law enforcement has had no means or procedures to stop hijacked large trucks other than to attempt to shoot the driver or the tires on the truck. Even when it is possible to shoot either the driver or the tires, these actions can still lead to great damage when the truck goes out of control or continues for miles on deflated tires.
On November 6, 2001, Bill Wattenburg demonstrated a simple device that can be installed on the back of any large truck that will allow any police patrol car to stop the moving truck on the highway– and stop it quickly and safely. And the truck driver is helpless to avoid the stop.
Wattenburg found a simple mechanical way to let a pursuing policeman realize his dream of being able to jump into a speeding truck and step on the brakes. But the policeman does not have to risk his life. He only has to push or tap the rear bumper of the truck or trailer with his police car. This is something that is usually easy and safe for a police car to do because the rear of a speeding truck-trailer can not be swerved dangerously by the truck driver without the truck going out of control. In fact, hijacked trucks are usually followed for hours by scores of police cars that are essentially helpless to stop the truck, even when they attempt dangerous collisions with the truck. Wattenburg’s solution requires much less than that.
The California Highway Patrol has successfully tested Wattenburg’s “Truck Stopping Device” at their CHP Academy test track.
This is the first workable solution to this major problem that has frustrated law enforcement agencies for decades. His solution requires no new equipment be installed in police cars. It does not require electronic devices be installed in trucks. It is simply mechanical. It costs no more than $500 installed on any large truck.
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the CHP extensively tested the Wattenburg truck stopping device at the U.S Department of Energy Nevada Test Site during 2002. The truck stopping devices are now being field tested on commercial fuel tanker trucks operating on the highways of California. The California Highway Patrol has submitted draft legislation to the California State Legislature that would require all trucks carrying dangerous loads to be equipped with apparatus that will allow law enforcement officers to safely stop the trucks on California highways.
Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov 8, 1965, pp583-586.
Bill Wattenburg’s first reported public service project began when he was a young professor at U.C. Berkeley in the Electrical Engineering Department. In 1964, he and his graduate students at Berkeley were designing and building a special purpose computer. Up to 64 teletype remote data terminals could be hooked up over telephone lines to their special purpose computer which could then feed remote data to and from larger mainframe computers of that era such as the IBM 709/7090. NASA and its contractor, Lockheed Missiles and Space Company, were interested in using Wattenburg’s telecommunication computer for their space programs.
Two doctors at Alta Bates Hospital, Berkeley, Dr. David Singman and Dr. William Palmer, approached Bill Wattenburg with a serious problem. They were members of the Alameda-Contra Costa Blood Bank advisory board. They explained that blood banks around the world were losing a lot of the blood they collected because many bottles of blood became outdated while they sat on the shelves in various hospitals.
Up until 1964, the shelf life for whole blood was about 30 days. After that, the blood had to be thrown away. The problem was that a bottle of blood would be sent from a central blood bank to a hospital to be cross matched and reserved for a particular patient. But there was no way for the blood bank to learn on a timely basis whether the bottle of blood was actually used for that patient. So, this unused bottle of blood could sit on the shelf in one hospital until it became outdated, while other hospitals were asking for the same type of blood. At the best, someone might occasionally notice that the blood was unused and send it back to the blood bank. But, by that time, the blood was getting old. Hospitals and doctors prefer to have the freshest blood available for their patients. So, old blood that was returned to the central blood bank would not be sent back out to another hospital unless there was a shortage of new blood of the same type. Hence, even the returned blood was most often discarded.
The blood bank wanted to be able to send an unused bottle of blood sitting at one hospital directly to the next hospital that requested the same type of blood -- before the blood became outdated. But, the blood bank and the hospitals were not willing to assign personnel to do the bookkeeping manually. And there was another problem: the hospitals often jealously guarded the unused blood they had on hand in case they needed it for an emergency.
Bill Wattenburg told the doctors how they could build a remote data collection system to solve their problem. The difficulty was that the blood bank could not afford the computer and the special programs that were needed to do this.
Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in Sunnyvale, California, wanted a copy of the remote communication computer that Wattenburg and his graduate students were building at Berkeley. Lockheed wanted to use it as soon as possible for a contract they had in the NASA Apollo program. As a senior executive at Lockheed later reported, Wattenburg approached Lockheed officials with an offer. He would help the Lockheed engineers build a copy of his remote data communication computer. However, in return, he wanted Lockheed to contribute a few minutes of time on their IBM 709 mainframe computer each evening. This computer time would be used by the Alameda-Contra Costa Blood Bank so that they could collect data on the blood inventory at hospitals in their region.
The rest is history. Wattenburg instructed the blood bank to buy inexpensive teletype machines for all the hospitals they served. He wrote a computer program for the blood bank that let each hospital use its teletype machine to send into the Lockheed computer the I.D number and type of each unused bottle of blood that the hospital had on the shelf at the end of each day. The Lockheed computer then matched the inventory of unused blood on the shelves in the hospitals with the orders for new blood that the blood bank had received from all hospitals that day. The computer at Lockheed then made up a delivery list for which bottles of unused blood at each hospital should be sent directly to another hospital requesting the same blood type for the next day. Each night, the computer-generated blood delivery reports were sent back to each hospital and the blood bank over the teletype machines. Thereafter, new blood was sent out from the blood bank only when there was no unused blood at another hospital that could be utilized.
Within three months the system was working smoothly. The result was an immediate savings of thirty percent of the blood that was previously thrown away because it became outdated on hospital shelves. This meant that there was in fact an instant thirty percent increase in available blood, with no increase in blood collections. But equally important from a medical standpoint, there was also a decrease in the average age of blood being transfused into sick patients because blood was not aging as it set on hospital shelves unused.
Both Lockheed and NASA soon recognized the tremendous public health benefit of the blood bank inventory system that Wattenburg had designed. For the very small amount of computer time required, there was an enormous improvement in the efficiency and quality of blood delivered to the public. Lockheed soon assigned a full time staff of engineers and programmers to expand the system for blood banks across the country. The Red Cross adopted the system for its operations around the world, as did other blood banks around the country.
The history and results of this project were reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov 8, 1965, pp583-586. All staff members at Lockheed who sold and operated the system after Bill Wattenburg designed it were listed as authors along with W.H.(Bill)Wattenburg.
Bill Wattenburg was presented with an award by the Red Cross several years later for his public service in designing the first blood bank inventory control system. The presenter of the award from the Red Cross noted that Wattenburg had given his substantial commercial and patent rights to this very marketable design to the public by assigning his rights to the U.S. Government. (Lockheed built a substantial commercial business providing the computer system to blood banks around the country for many years thereafter.)
Business Week , August 11, 1973, page 120.
San Francisco Chronicle, June 4, 1973, page 22
The following story comes from an investigative report on Bill Wattenburg by a major TV network that was interested in hiring him at the time.
Bill Wattenburg’s Background:
Magnetic Credit Cards
In 1973, banks and financial institutions around the world were about to release their new magnetic credit cards (so familiar to everyone today). The Banks and the vendors who supplied the cards had announced that very expensive and sophisticated equipment would be required to copy or counterfeit the magnetic stripe on the credit cards. The Bay Area Rapid Transit district was planning to use the same magnetic cards in their modern fare machines. One day, an enterprising reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle approached Bill Wattenburg in his laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. He asked Wattenburg if he could counterfeit one of the BART cards. Wattenburg had never heard the claims that it would be difficult to copy one of the magnetic cards. Bill Wattenburg was able to copy and “boost” the value of a card in a matter of a few hours. He evidently did not realize the impact of what he had done – or he was just too busy with other projects. He taught the reporter how to demonstrate the simple scheme on his own to shocked BART and IBM officials.
We believe that this event lends some insight into Wattenburg’s integrity in honoring contractual commitments and confidentiality agreements.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported another of Wattenburg’s startling technical tricks during the BART controversy in 1973. A subsequent story in Business Week (August 11, 1973, page 120) stunned and sobered the nation’s banking and credit card industry which was planning to convert all credit cards to the same magnetic stripe system used in the new BART cards. Chronicle reporter Michael Harris approached Wattenburg in his Berkeley laboratory and asked Wattenburg whether it was possible to counterfeit the new multi-million dollar, “fool-proof” BART ticket magnetic stripe designed by IBM. This system was the first to use a magnetic stripe to record the value of a transit rider’s ticket. BART officials, IBM, and the nation’s banks had all said that “anyone would need at least $500,000 worth of specialized electronic equipment to copy the magnetic stripe and fool their reading machines.” (Anyone but Bill Wattenburg, as it turned out.)
We located one of the IBM engineers, now retired, who was on the scene in 1973 in order to verify a couple of minor items about Wattenburg’s financial involvement in this event. We got a lot more than we expected. We were able to get some of “the rest of the story” at this late date that was not available to the press in 1973.
Here is the story from press reports:
On June 4, 1973, in the San Francisco Chronicle (page 22), reporter Harris described how he was able to “boost” a 5-cent BART ticket to any value he wanted using an inexpensive scheme that Wattenburg had invented in a few hours. Worse yet, Wattenburg devised a simple scheme that any housewife could do in her kitchen! Harris described how the idea came to Wattenburg, and how he, reporter Harris, was later able to give startled officials a private demonstration at the Chronicle offices. The banking industry was about to issue the first of millions of credit cards that could have been counterfeited “by any high school kid”, according to Wattenburg. IBM and the banks went back to the drawing board for another year before they came up with a better scheme (that Wattenburg said he couldn’t easily beat—see story below).
When Wattenburg was later asked by the press and angry government officials how he could so easily defeat the efforts of this country’s best engineers, he sent them the following statement: “It’s not my fault. When engineers have too much money, they usually think only of the most sophisticated ways they can spend it. No one asks them to play devil’s advocate and think of the obvious until it’s too late. I never would have bothered to think about the subject. It was none of my business. Hell, I didn’t know that BART and banks all over the country were really planning to use this silly scheme.”
“All that happened is that this reporter, Michael Harris, who is a very clever guy by the way, came along and bet me that I couldn’t find an easy way to copy this funny-looking BART ticket with a magnetic stripe. I thought it was just someone’s prototype idea. But he said that IBM had bragged that no one could do it for less than a half-million dollars. Now, that kind of gets a scientist’s juices flowing. I mean I didn’t interrupt my serious scientific work at Berkeley, but his challenge was on my mind for a few hours. “Suddenly, I remembered an obscure little thing about the physics of magnetic materials that most scientists don’t bother with very often. This phenomenon had given me fits in an experiment that I had done as a graduate student. Even my professor at the time didn’t believe it until I showed it to him. I thought, ‘Oh my God, the IBM guys couldn’t possibly have overlooked that! They’re the world’s experts on magnetic recording.’
“I did a quick experiment with some magnetic tape that I bought at lunchtime in a music store on Shattuck Avenue, and damned if I wasn’t able to make a good copy of the BART ticket magnetic stripe that Harris had left with me to play with. I didn’t even have time to go to a BART station and see if my counterfeit ticket worked. When Harris came back the next day, I gave him the materials he would need and showed him how to do it in his kitchen at home. Well, you know the rest of the story…”
Wattenburg recently told us that he believed that the 1973 Business Week story contained some half-truths to steer thieves in the wrong direction. The press reports show him copying a credit card with another piece of magnetic tape. But the stories don’t explain that this was no ordinary piece of magnetic tape. He said that the 22 other ways discovered by Cal Tech students were all too clumsy or unreliable to be any threat. He believed that IBM and the banks didn’t really care if thieves concentrated on these. He said that he believed that the banks wanted the Business Week story written that way. He agreed to go along with the story for the sake of all the innocent people who could have lost their money, but it wasn’t pleasing to him to know all the things that were not disclosed to the press.
He told us ruefully:
“At least I didn’t say anything dishonest to Business Week. They came around to see how I did it and I showed them the mechanics of how it could be done, They didn’t ask the right questions and I didn’t volunteer anything more. I hoped they would go out and try to copy a card with a piece of ordinary iron oxide magnetic tape, the way Michael Harris did. They would have discovered in a hurry that the scheme required something else special. But they didn’t. I was really surprised that they wrote the story without checking that… . That was the last time I ever took money to keep my mouth shut. I needed money at the time to do a lot of important scientific experiments that were on my mind, and I had a lot of good graduate students who needed support. The bankers were the big boys. Who was I to tell them what was ethical? But you know, when I asked them to provide a few scholarships, they turned me down. That is why it eventually cost them a hell of a lot more than a few scholarships.”
One of Wattenburg’s scientist colleagues whom we interviewed in August 1990 told us what he thinks happened with the magnetic stripe. He said that obviously the whole thing was hushed up very quickly because of the potential losses due to thieves learning how to copy the magnetic stripe on the new bank credit cards. He said the rumor was that the banks paid Wattenburg a very handsome sum to help them devise a better scheme. He said that one of Wattenburg’s former Berkeley students who worked at IBM was asked to approach Wattenburg and that Wattenburg agreed to help them under the condition that he work only through his former student.
This IBM engineer, Wattenburg’s former student, later went to work at Livermore. We were told that he took great joy in telling the funny stories that happened when the banking association attorneys tried to negotiate a deal with Wattenburg. He said they offered Wattenburg a very large amount of money if he would help them design a new scheme that couldn’t be counterfeited by anyone who did not have at least a hundred-thousand dollars of specialized equipment which they itemized in the agreement. And Wattenburg had to agree to never again talk about or disclose to anyone how he had copied the BART card or anything about new schemes that would be developed. He said that Wattenburg agreed that the payment they offered seemed quite fair, provided there were a few minor changes. One change Wattenburg made to the agreement he sent back was “by anyone other than Wattenburg” in the clause “couldn’t be counterfeited by anyone.” The attorneys saw no problem with this because if he helped develop a new scheme, obviously he would be one of the few who would know how to beat it as well. They accepted the agreement.
But then the bankers realized that Wattenburg could collect his money by only proving that “other people” could not copy some new magnetic stripe that he helped them develop. They protested that they already had a scheme that “other people” could not easily copy. They had paid large sums to universities and major consulting firms to have it tested and no one could copy it easily and reliably until Wattenburg came along.
They demanded that Wattenburg change the language of the agreement. Wattenburg responded: “Well, tell me how much it is worth to you if I take it out.” Before it was over with, they had tripled the amount they first agreed to pay him. The former student said that Wattenburg succeeded in beating the next two magnetic stripe recording schemes that they proposed until they finally came up with one that he said he couldn’t beat without expensive equipment.
Our contact laughed when he recalled what the former student often told his Livermore friends about Wattenburg’s assurance that he couldn’t beat the latest magnetic stripe scheme that is now used worldwide. He said: “I’ll bet that Wattenburg just got tired of fooling around with this business and told them it was ok. But, do you want to bet what will happen if Wattenburg is ever broke and he gets a hold of your credit card for a few hours?”
(Editor’s note: Having listened to his radio shows since the mid 1980’s, corresponded with him since 1996, and having known him personally since the end of 1999, I really doubt that this former student’s perspective is accurate. He simply cares too deeply about helping the “little guy” to give up so easily. Besides, the point is moot since forgers now have the means to copy the mag stripes easily, as the special hardware is much cheaper and more common than before. This is the practice known as “skimming.”)
We later learned that some of the 1973 press stories were probably encouraged for public consumption, and that maybe even Wattenburg left out a little of the story he told us—for a proper reason.
Since this was the only episode in Wattenburg’s public exploits for which he admitted taking payment for his services, we decided to investigate it more deeply. In particular, we thought this would be a good situation in which to explore how he handled the confidentiality of his dealings with those who paid him in return for the same. We were able to locate the “Wattenburg’s former student” mentioned above. Now retired, he was willing to tell us almost all of “the rest of the story” since he felt that there was no danger at this late date. The information below comes from him.
All of the above story is mostly true, as far as it goes. But there was more that the public was not told, and for good reason. Our contact said that in the contract that they wanted Wattenburg to sign, he refused to disclose, even to the banks, the nature of the magnetic material he used to copy the BART and bank cards. Wattenburg had made some magnetic strips that looked like the ordinary Mylar-backed audio magnetic tape with the usual iron oxide magnetic surface, but it really had been coated with another special material. Wattenburg gave the reporter Michael Harris enough of this special magnetic tape to do his experiment at the BART ticket machines and for Harris to later give another demonstration to various officials at the Chronicle offices. They never knew for sure what the material was.
He further explained that, unknown to Wattenburg, the banks and others had deliberately arranged a competition with Cal Tech students to see who could counterfeit the BART cards. But, the BART cards didn’t include all the coding safeguards that were used in the scheme that was designed for bank credit cards. He says he believes that they knew that most anyone could use simple magnetic tape reading equipment to read a BART card magnetic stripe and make a copy, as the Cal Tech students and others quickly proved. But, they were confident that no one could counterfeit the more valuable bank cards the same way because ordinary magnetic reading equipment could not read the special magnetic coding that they intended to use on the bank cards.
He said that Wattenburg refused to tell IBM or the bankers what the material was that he had used to make his special magnetic tape that could capture an image of their magnetic stripes—and could be accomplished in the kitchen. This was the real sticking point in the agreement that they wanted with him. Wattenburg insisted that if they used their heads they would soon figure it our on their own. He felt that he didn’t want to be the one who gave license to thieves by being the first one to disclose it. He felt that the university would get a bad name. They finally settled on an agreement with him to help them anyway. And, they had to pay him handsomely to take out the “anyone other than Wattenburg” clause.
Our contact was working at IBM at the time. He said that it became an obsession at IBM San Jose for the next year to figure out what Wattenburg had done. He remembers engineers and scientists meeting at lunch time to compare notes on their latest ideas and experiments. They even hired a guy from Livermore who had worked with Wattenburg to help them as a consultant. They found all sorts of new ways, but none of them could be accomplished with something so simple as a clothes iron in the kitchen. He said that the bank attorneys got very angry with Wattenburg. They essentially accused Wattenburg of being a fraud and demanded that he disclose the answer or they would recommend that his future payments due under their contract be stopped. Our contact says that he had to take these communications to Wattenburg at the university. Wattenburg’s answer to the attorneys was that they should be very happy that their engineers were discovering so many new ways on their own that they never would have considered if they had not been trying to discover his way. He offered to demonstrate his scheme again anytime they would like.
He says that he never heard whether they figured it out on their own or whether Wattenburg eventually told them. All he knows is that they eventually came up with a new scheme that Wattenburg said he could not easily counterfeit, so he said.
Our contact told us that he was impressed that, for ten years, Wattenburg would never tell even his best friends at Livermore who insisted that he could tell them his method under the strict security rules that prevailed at this nuclear weapons laboratory. He heard one senior laboratory official jokingly promise Wattenburg that he would personally stamp the document “classified” if Wattenburg would write it down for them. He said that Wattenburg would not even confirm what the answer was long after it had became generally known to scientists and engineers what the special material was that he had used.
Our contact said that he always respected Wattenburg for never violating the agreement that he knew Wattenburg had signed with the bankers. But then he added: “If you knew how much they paid him in real dollars today, you would not have taken a chance on losing it either by opening your mouth just to show off.”
Wattenburg’s two-year running battle with the BART agency appears to be the first time he publicly confronted a government agency as a scientist. We found over fifty-five press reports with his name involved with this subject during the period 1972 to 1974. Some of the history we summarize below comes from a U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) internal report we obtained from a congressional staff member. DOT was evidently funding BART and concerned about Wattenburg’s highly publicized criticisms of BART management.
The State of California asked Wattenburg to fix the electronic train control problems that plagued the new Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART). BART and Westinghouse Corp. engineers who designed the system for BART insisted that there were no problems and essentially told the State of California safety officials to go to hell. BART claimed that the state safety officials were needlessly preventing Bay Area commuters from getting full benefit of the BART system.
With the encouragement of exasperated state officials, Wattenburg, acting only as a taxpayer, confronted the local BART managers at their bi-weekly public meetings for two years running while many of his public predictions of safety problems came true. BART management was eventually fired, and the State demanded that Wattenburg’s clever design modifications be installed before the BART system could run full service. The press confirmed that Wattenburg refused all payment from BART and the State for his efforts.
During this nationally publicized battle, Wattenburg first described many of his design improvements for BART to the press and over KGO Radio, San Francisco, in terms that the lay public could understand. It became a popular game for his KGO listeners to know more—and sooner—about BART design problems than the BART engineers. He generated press headlines the next day for months on end. His radio shows and the subsequent press stories each week carried his predictions of the next problem or accident that would occur on BART—and they invariably happened on schedule.