Who is Peter Weinberger?

2/13/2003 – Do you remember the Ken Thompson's Endgame CDs that ChessBase published some years ago? They were the first databases of five-pieces endings that reached the general public, precursors to the Nalimov Tablebases we have today (Fritz Endgame Turbo). If you still have a copy of the original CDs you may want to take a closer look at the artwork. It contains one of the most famous running gags of the US computer community. Here is the full story.

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The CD artwork was supplied by the author Ken Thompson of the Bell Laboratories, and uses a detail from Michaelangelo's famous picture of "Hand of God" on the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel in Rome.

If you look carefully you will see that in the bend of the wrist there is a strange marking.

It turns out that it is a human face, one that anyone at the Bell Labs would intantly recognise.

It is Peter J. Weinberger, at the time a head of the Computer Science Research Center at Bell Labs.

There is a long story behind the use of Peter's face on the Thompson Endgame CD is revealed in a book called "Beyond Photography", which went out of print in 1995 but has become a cult-classic, cherished by geeks and gurus for its irreverent distortions of the pictures of well-known computer scientists that all worked at Bell Labs at the time the book first came out. Peter Weinberger was one of the first victims of image transformations.

This is the original portrait of Peter Weinberger, taken when he was raised to the rank of department head and was careless enough to leave floating around. Soon Peter's picture appeared and reappeared in the most unlikely places in the lab.

Above you can see Weinberger's portrait on a watertower on the grounds of the Bell Laboratories.

Even chips and circuit boards produced at the laboratories contained the ubiquitous protrait.

The above version appeared in the AT&T Technical Journal in March 1987. If you want to know where else Peter Weinberger has made his appearence you will find a comprehensive list here. The article also gives you an impression of how the scientists at one of the most prestigious laboratories in the world use their formidable creative energies.

 


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