Charlie Fenton

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1. Who is the person Charlie Fenton? Has anyone of us ever been able to see you in real life?

He is some guy they found in a trash can. The BOINC and SETI people at U.C.Berkeley have actually seen him in person. But being a privacy wonk, he tries to minimize his presence on the Internet.

2. Your specialism is Mac computers and OS X, has that always been like that? What brought you to choosing Apple over Windows/Linux?

I actually had a Summer job while in college doing data entry on a GE Model 210, which used vacuum tubes and had a rotating magnetic drum as its main memory. I wrote my first Fortran computer program in 1965 and ran it on an IBM 1620, and took my masters degree in Computer Science (when that was a very new course of study) where I used a Burroughs B5500. After working some on big specialized mainframe computers that no one remembers any more, I started out on minicomputers (DEC PDP-11, Data General Nova) back in the ancient history of computers, as well as the IBM XT personal computer. I accidentally got involved with Macs when some people I was working for bought one of the very first Macintosh computers. I guess I ended up specializing on Macs by some chance circumstances.

As you might guess, I have seen the world of computers go through many changes in the 50+ years I have been involved with them. Nobody would have guessed back then that a smart phone which fits in your pocket would be so much more powerful than what we had back then.

3. Is it solely OS X you work with, or does your expertise reach out to other operating systems as well? If yes, which?

Since OS X is based on UNIX, I also can speak UNIX and Linux. I know enough about MS Windows to get into trouble.

4. Do you only have a Mac, or does the rest of your hardware also have the Apple logo?

I have an iPhone 6 Plus, as well as a Windows 7 PC made by Sun Microsystems. I use the Windows machine mainly for testing code I write for BOINC, mostly after getting it working on the Mac.

5. Without breaking any NDAs, what besides BOINC do you do more?

I retired as of May, 2016, and now work on BOINC as a volunteer. But before I retired I did a lot of work writing programs used in the Apple stores, in particular in their front window displays. For example, if you have ever seen one of their displays where they have multiple devices (iPhones, iPads, and Macs) all running related animations / movies synchronized with each other, I wrote the code that enables them to be synchronized.

6. If there was anything about BOINC that you had the possibility to change, what would it be?

Greatly simplify the user interface, then simplify it even more. It's way too complex and has too many "features", which I believe intimidate most prospective volunteers. The "Simple View" helps, but is not enough.

7. What do you hope will be a future addition to BOINC?

Far better communication with volunteers / users and better publicity to recruit more people to run BOINC.

8. David wants to invest in getting GPUs on smartphones to work in BOINC, will that even work on an iPhone?

I investigated porting BOINC to the iPhone / iPad when we first started developing BOINC for Android devices. I fond a long list of restrictions on what Apple allows iPhone apps to do. These restrictions are to ensure nothing compromises the security of the iPhone and iPad. For example, apps cannot download other programs or cause them to run, so BOINC could not download or run project applications. I believe these restrictions would make it very difficult to run BOINC on the iPhone or iPad. I'm not saying it is absolutely impossible, but BOINC would need to work very differently on iOS devices.

9. What is your personal biggest thrill when it comes to BOINC? (E.g. first time BOINC ran on X amount of Macs?)

When I found it mentioned in histories of the Internet, and when I see [email protected] (for which I wrote the first Mac version well before BOINC existed) listed in scientific articles and even regular newspapers and magazines. I like to say that [email protected] and BOINC are a footnote to the history of the Internet. ;=) Also, before BOINC, Apple loaned us one of the first dual-CPU Macs. I modified [email protected] to take advantage of the dual processors, and Steve Jobs used it in a major demonstration (probably at MacWorld Expo, (Youtube video of the PowerMac G4))

10. To recognize you as a true human, what's your favorite game, book, food, sport, vehicle, number, colour, animal?

I am a robot. No, actually I like to do various types of folk dancing (Scottish, Irish, American squares and contra dances.) Though not a musician myself, I am also very involved in facilitating folk music, including putting on concerts for excellent musicians at our home, along with my partner Susan.