Robert Martin Ayers -- Small Biography


I was born in Springfield Massachusetts in the summer of 1941. My parents William Ayers and Margorie Martin were both from Wisconsin and were educated at the University of Wisconsin, my father receiving a PhD in chemistry. My father worked at Monsanto Chemical Company as a chemistry researcher.


I went to Classical High in Springfield, then to Harvard. I started as a math major, then switched to astronomy, getting a BA in astronomy '62.


In the summer of 1960 I was a summer employee at Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff. (I got the job because neighbors in Springfield knew the Lowell sole trustee :-)

After Harvard I went to work at General Electric in their "Missiles and Space" division outside Philadelphia. Aerospace was interesting. One of the projects I worked on was the Nimbus weather satellite program, which became Landsat; another was the very-early GE 625 timesharing system.

After GE and a small startup ("DADMS" -- as I recall that was for "Direct Action Data Managament Systems" which tells you nothing about the company. A good bunch of people and fun while it lasted. I had ten cent founders' stock and lost my dimes.) I went to Scientific Data Systems in El Segundo California right after Xerox bought SDS. I worked there from 1971 to 1976.

A remark about people in the early days of software: I had the pleasure of working with three of the wisest computer professionals of the era. 1. Frank Bosworth, at GE, who created and taught a rigid style of programming in Fortran that I only decades later realized was his attempt at what we now call "structured programming" 2. William Heffner, a manager at GE and DADMS, who really understood how to build large systems, both software-wise and people-wise, and 3. Richard "Dick" Litschgi at SDS/XDS, who, like Heffner, understood large systems and possessed the management skills to deliver them.

In 1976 I moved north to Palo Alto and worked for the Xerox Office Systems Division. OSD was located across the street from Xerox PARC, with much traffic between the two places, and personal computers were "in the air". PARC was building the Alto and OSD created and released the Star Workstation. I did much of the initial user-interface experimentation for the Star (working on an Alto) and then designed and implemented much of the Star graphics package. I ended up as a Principal Scientist and Engineering Fellow at Xerox.

I left Xerox in 1986 and, after interviewing at the young Adobe Corporation, went to work instead at DEC's Systems Research Center in Palo Alto. (SRC was much of the former Computer Sciences Lab at PARC that had left Xerox.) After five years at SRC it was clear that their idea of research and my ideas about development were incompatible and I left and went to Adobe. (I would have been Adobe employee 25 or so in 1986; I was employee number 1006 in 1992 :-)

I spent 13 years at Adobe mostly as a Principal Scientist in R&D. I retired at the time of the Adobe-Macromedia merger in December 2005.

US Patents: 5832530, 5832531, 6915484, 7415452, 7511720, 7793224, 7937654, 8081198, 8495097, 8836729, 9384171. Several of these issued after I had left Adobe -- one a decade after! (Also a few Canadian and EU patents filed, but I believe not persued.)

Interests: Photography

I have been interested in photography on and off since college (back when it was film and making prints with wet chemistry :-) I photographed for the magazine ("Cambridge 38") and for the yearbook in college. I appreciate landscape photography -- but bemoan the recent "Velvia look" practice of dialing color and saturation "up to eleven".

Interests: Climbing

Starting in the 1970s, I became interested in backpacking and then in mountaineering and rock climbing. I did quite a bit of "peak bagging" in the California Sierra (with the Sierra Club's Sierra Peaks Section) and moderate roped climbing in Yosemite Valley and the Sierra with friends. I was never really good, but I enjoyed it.

After I discovered that my one strength was in adaptation to high altitude, I organized several trips to the Andes of South America, climbing peaks including Cotopaxi in Ecuador (5897 meters, January 1997) and Ojos del Salado (highest in Chile, second highest in the Andes, 6891 meters, in November 1998) and a genuine first ascent: Sierra Nevada de Lagunas Bravas (6121 meters, first ascent, 12 December 2000). I summited Vinson Massif, high point of Antarctica, with Rob Hall in December 1995. I climbed New Zealand's Mt Aspiring, "The Matterhorn of the South" in January 2002.

In rockclimbing, I climbed mostly in California and completed ten percent of the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America: Mount Stewart, North Ridge; The Royal Arches; Mount Whitney, East Face; Fairview Dome, North Face; Charlotte Dome, South Face.

I have been "retired" from backpacking and rock-climbing since I broke my back (crushed vertebrae T-12) via a minor fall while cross-country skiing on the Glacier Point road, 1 April 2009 -- I landed on the road on my back on a full one-liter water bottle :-(


I was interested in science in general when I was young (my father would bring home interesting chemical apparatus from work) and I became interested in astronomy when my parents gave me a newly-on-the-market Criterion four inch reflector for my thirteenth birthday. A couple of years later I made a six-inch reflector, grinding and polishing the glass in our cellar. Observing from my yard in the development "Sixteen Acres" outside Springfield Massachusetts was pretty good, although frigid in the winter.

After I became employed, I never again lived near dark skies. My interest in astronomy remained, but at a moderate level. I owned a Questar, good for observing moon and planets in bright skies and easily carried to darker skies and I stayed up to date with the science.

Starting in around 2000 I looked for dark-sky (or darker-sky) property near Palo Alto. One of my thoughts was to "co-locate" with a microwave relay site. (Such a site offers a hilltop, an access road, and power, at the cost of an antenna in your sky.) I never did find a good microwave relay site, though I learned a lot about the existing sites between San Jose and Lost Hills :-) In 2005 I bought forty acres southeast of Hollister, at 3000 feet in the Diablo Range, near Panoche Pass.

My Panoche Pass site is "primitive" -- zero utilities -- and the uphill-dirt road is not drivable in the wet. There are no lights visible from my observing location and it has an excellent southern horizon, although to the west north and east one can easily notice the "light domes" of several California cities.

The Panoche Pass site is not a good place for a "remote observatory" though, due to the poor access (for construction) and the lack of power and communications. I have two twenty-foot shipping containers at the site and two of my telescopes are stored there: a 6-inch f/5 "bent refractor" (see Sky and Telescope December 2006), and a spook-modified Questar Seven. (I still own and appreciate the Questar 3.5 I bought in the 1960s; I keep it at home.)

After I retired, I started to look further afield for dark-sky sites. I was getting more involved with Lowell Observatory, and I "checked out" many locations in north Arizona. Using dark-sky charts and topo maps, I looked at many Arizona locations, from Kingman to Seligman to Flagstaff to Heber-Overgard to Pinetop-Lakeside to Eagar. I also looked at sites near Cloudcroft New Mexico and in Catron County, west New Mexico in the Pie Town - Quemado - Reserve area. I'm happy to talk with interested persons about what I learned during this property-search.

I ended up buying southwest of Ash Fork Arizona: I bought all of "Smith Butte Arizona" complete with off-grid dwelling, in August of 2010. I have been using it as a dark sky site and my larger 8-inch bent refractor is there. I also use binoculars on a mount with nebula filters at both sites. I may decide to leave San Jose in a few years and move completely to darker clearer skies.


My interests in early retirement were mountaineering (see above) and scuba diving (which I took up in 2006) with related travel, and the expansion of my interest in astronomy. The scuba diving ended in 2013, after eight years of ocean diving and 282 dives, when I experienced some major "lumbar stenosis".

The astronomy interest includes working at Lowell Observatory -- I am currently (2010 thru 2017) the secretary of the Executive Committee of the Advisory Board. And it includes the dark-sky site near Ash Fork.

And I am supporting astronomy via my "Sciences Fund", which is discussed back on the main page.