On Scientists Leisure | History of Computing in Ukraine

On Scientists Leisure

Sergey Alekseevich Lebedev, Victor Mikhaylovich Glushkov, Nikolay Mikhaylovich Amosov – all these have become well-known names. On hearing them, we automatically think of their scientific discoveries, achievements, and technological wonders. Meanwhile, little is known of their life “behind the scientific scenes”: their childhood, their loved ones, and their interests and hobbies.
EVM_Dosug uchenih


Nikolay M. Amosov

Viktor M. Glushkov

Sergey A. Lebedev

Sergey Lebedev. His sister recalled that, in his childhood, the distinguished scholar liked swimming and could easily swim across the river Oka. The family had a summer house in Nizhny Novgorod on the Oka River and they had a sailboat. Little Sergey sat in the stern while his father handled the big sail. The boat was painted with wild Indian patterns, but its name was “Klyacha” (meaning “decrepit horse”), it had three paddles and it was rather heavy. Sergey was carried away by wild Indians when he was reading The Song of Hiawatha, translated by Bunin. He pretended to be the head of an Indian tribe,and was given wide trousers with suspenders and a hat with feathers for his head, which had been collected in the fields over several years.

He was passionate about playing lapta (a Russian ball game), gorodki (an ancient Russian folk sport, similar in concept to bowlingand horseshoes), and he also liked chess, often playing with his father in the evenings. One day he crafted a generator and Leyden jar, accumulating electrical charge. One of his teenage “crafts” was an electric bell, which he made by passing the wires from the dining room through to the kitchen and his grandmother’s room.

His sister recollects that young Sergey Lebedev also played piano, favouringBeethoven and Grieg, and that he read a lot. The Lebedevs’ house was filled with books yet there were not enough book cases, and so book shelves were installed all over the house, even in the cold inner porch (seni). In his teens, Sergey learnt by heart many poems; Blok and Gumilev were his favorite poets, and he was also deeply interested by Dumas’ novels.

As his friends say, there was nothing unusual or catchy in his appearance or behaviour. Sergey Alekseevich was thin, not overly tall, and his black-framed glasses made his face more severe than it really was.

Even after becoming a well-known academician, Lebedev still enjoyed great parties, and he quite often fooled his friends and told funny jokes. One of Lebedev’s co-workers recalls: “He submitted a request for receiving spirits on absolutely absurd grounds. In the request he had written:Please give us four litres of spirits for the sole purpose of wiping off zero-face-sequence vectors”. The procurement officer read this request, and without any suspicions, approved it. Lebedev shared this story at the Ukrainian SSR Academy of Science’s Presidium meeting, prompting a huge scandal. Lebedev and the procurement officers were thus issued warnings about the impermissibility of such “tricks”.

There were two main priorities in Lebedev’s life: work and family. He treated all of his coworkers, especially the younger generation, like a family. His colleagues always were invited to family celebrations, and he and his wife Alisa Grigorievna were toastmasters of the Institute gatherings.

Lebedev enjoyed sports and hiking in the summer time. S.B.Pogrebinsky remembers that, in the summer months, Lebedev’s laboratory staff played volleyball in the garden during lunch breaks. “Sergey Alekseevich loved this game. He was neither very tall nor slim, nor skillful, and he smoked a lot, but he compensated all that with his passion”, says Pogrebinsky. Quite often the developers of the first computers had two famous comics, Tarapunka and Shtepsel’ (the actors Timoshenko and Berezin), as their volleyball opponents. Levedev’s wife, Alisa, would invite the wonderful actors to rest at the Feofania gardens”.

Lebedev loved his wife Alisa. Their story was quite romantic. Once, young Alisa was swimming in a river somewhere in countryside near Moscow, and suddenly a young man emerged from the water. They got to know each other and after a while they started living together. Sergey Lebedev and Alisa Shteinberg got married in a very eccentric manner. In those days, official marriage wasn’t a popular thing. They didn’t register their marriage, and as a “special celebration” they went to the circus to see the show.

Levedev’s colleague, I.M. Lisovsky, remembers an interesting incident: “Usually they would organize walking or bus trips around beautiful sites in the greater Kiev area, when there was no electricity at the laboratory due to strong winds, or as a celebration of a meaningful accomplishment of a project. Once, in late, chilly autumn, the bus tour was passing by a lake. Alisa exclaimed: “What beautiful water liliesthere are!” Sergey stopped the bus, took off his clothes and jumped into the cold water. A minute later, he presented Alisa with a big bouquet of lilies”.

A musician by degree, Alisa would often hold creative evenings with artists and musicians. Sviatoslav Richter, a famous pianist, was one of them. This allowed Lebedev to enjoy social life to its fullest despite his busy schedule.
Lebedev's son recalls one winter when S. Richter was talking with great sadness about the warm sea before his concert night. The next time he visited them, the Lebedevs organized a view of the sea. They put some yellow sand at the corner of the living room (which they took from their cat’s stocks), above which they hung the inscription "The Beach".

The Lebedevs often invited actors Y.T. Timoshenko and E.I. Berezin (Shtepsel’ and Tarapunka), writers Ilf and Petrov, Yury Olesha, Mikhail Zoshchenko, Valentin Kataev and other gifted artists and scientists. During those evenings, Sergey could not sit at the table with the guests but would sit at the drawing board where he continued his work. At the same time he would listen to everything and make some remarks. When guests departed, Sergey often continued to work until the morning. Doctor of Technical Sciences G.K. Nechayev, who lived under Lebedev’s apartment said: "One night I heard a strong wallop in the Lebedev’s apartment”. The next morning when going out, he met Alisa and could not help asking what had happened the night before. Without any hesitation she said: "We work ’till we drop!" It turned out that Sergey had decided that it would be more convenient if he sat at the drawing boards on a chair back. He perched on his chair and then fell on the floor.

A family friend, Boris Sichkin (famous Buba Kastorsky from the popular Soviet movie ‘Neulovimye Mstiteli’ - ‘The Elusive Avengers’), remembers that Lebedev’s family was one of the most amicable and cheerful. Sergey was a little bit detached from real life as many scholars are. For example, he could never remember when pay day was, and soAlisa would receive his money for him. Once Lebedev remembered that it was a pay day and decided to get his wages. The cashier indignantly refused to give him a salary, saying "And who are you? What do you have to do with it? No one knows you here and we don’t know your signature. Only when Alisa comes will we give her the money”.

Victor Glushkov. Victor Glushkov demonstrated ability and talent from his early childhood. He learned to read very early and before school he read H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and many other science fiction authors. While studying in the fifth grade, Glushkov became interested in radio and learned how to produce radio according to his own schemes. At the same time he became interested in mathematics and taught himself not just how to read a book, but how toapply the acquired knowledge to a practical problem. When the young inventor realized that his reading wasn’t enough, he found a textbook on differential calculus and "Analytic geometry" by Privalov and created a plan for his summer studies -this was before sixth grade. That year, he studied calculus and was able to do equations of curves,differentiate the functions, and so on. In the summer between sixth and seventh grades he studied mathematics according to the university program. While studying in seventh grade, and the summer prior to eighth, Glushkov solved all mathematical problems from a very difficult problem book by Gunter and Kuzmin, which was designed for university students.

Until eighth grade he didn’t like literature, but then he became interested not only in prose but in poetry, and by the tenth grade he knew a lot of poems by heart. Once Glushkov won the argument that he could continuously recite poems for ten hours. From memory, he knew the poems "Lenin" by Mayakovsky and "Faust" by Goethe. By that time he had developed a fairly high speed of reading. For example, Glushkov could read two novels of Turgenev in one night. He could also remember up to 20 pages of a mathematical text right away.

In the first years of his studies at the Novocherkassk Industrial Institute, Glushkov was known as the student who knew all mathematics, as well as the major works of Hegel and Lenin. His classmate Victor M. G. Mokrenko recalls that "Glushkov was very sociable; it was his knowledge and erudition that appealed to people. He was easy going but at the same time he had a titanic working capacity. He sat over the mathematical textbooks every evening and often through the night, writing down all sorts of calculations in his notebook. I used to lookin his notebooks and there were mere integrals and differentials. For us it was incomprehensible and difficult to understand".

Glushkov’s wife Valentina Papkova recalls how he first stunned her with his mind and tremendous knowledge. "I remember Victor as a student in a coat with deep pockets, with strictly arranged and selected books which was his ”library on the go”. He had to read those books in a given time. He studied everywhere: on transport, at the theatre, in the cinema and at parties. He studied with enthusiasm and with zeal. We, the students, listened to his presentations at the seminars and student conferences, looking at him as at a "genius", knowing that his knowledge far exceeded not only ours, but also the professorswho were afraid of him”.

Viktor loved football and passionately supported his favorite team "Dynamo Kyiv". Glushkov’s Institute of Cybernetics participated in the development of a unique training management programme for Dynamo Kyiv, at the request of the famous coach Lobanovsky. They even suggested putting a tiny microphone (similar to the current mobile phone hands-free device in the ear of a football player to report on the location of the other players and the ball on the field.

Viktor worked constantly and everywhere: on the train, on the plane and on holiday. His favorite and only leisure activity was fishing on the Dnieper. Like anywhere else, he would take his notebook and a pen with him, and get right to work the following day.

Every year in late August, Viktor and his friends went to the upper Dnieper, Desna or Pripyat rivers where they spent two weeks secluded in nature.

One of his students and friends, Vitaliy Derkach, says: "We loved fishing in men’s company and sometimes with our families. We would camp on a bank of the Dnieper and fish until 10.00 am. Then we would return from fishing and prepare our breakfast together. Glushkov was always pulling the firewood, kindling a fire and cleaning fish. After breakfast everyone didtheir own thing. Some of us would build an amateur tacking or play chess in shade. Victor loved to sit under a tree or on a mound and make notes. When he would come back from a fishing trip he would give his typist a finished article. He expressed his thoughts so brilliantly that he rarely corrected anything”.

Glushkov's daughter, Vera Glushkova, remembers that her father was busy with his work all the time. “There was always light in father’s library until three in the morning. He worked. The only month when I could talk freely with him was on our holiday to Bulgaria. Apart from then, I can remember he was either working or joking”. Glushkov knew a lot of jokes and funny stories. He loved Vysotsky, and in his later years he often listened to his songs. He knew by heart all of Vysotsky’s poems. Moreover, Victor was a good singer. He especially loved Ukrainian songs "I marvel at the sky," "Two Colours", and "Chornobrivtsі". The only thing he never learnt was how to dance, and for some reason he would always get confused and make excuses.
Anatoly Morozov recalls a special habit of the famous scientist, that when Glushkov was angry he would pull off his glasses. If, when entering the director’s office, an employee saw his glasses moving, the best option was to retire quietly and close the door.

Victor Glushkov lived his life in accordance with the motto on his desk: "Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Do not lose time in vain!" The scientist never lost time in vain.

Nikolay Mikhaylovich Amosov. Nikolay Amosov’s childhood was rather unusual: until he went to school, he did not communicate with other children and he could not read, but he drew a lot and he also dreamt up ideas. However, school became a real experience for him: there was only one teacher for the first and third grades, and Amosov was with the older kids because there was no place among the first-graders. Here he quickly learnt how to read and it took just three months for him to “devour” a “Robinson Crusoe” book.

Though Amosov started to talk to other children and spent a lot of time with them, he still never learnt to swim, he did not fight, he played gorodki and lapta poorly, and he could not ride a bike or dance. Instead of outdoor games, books became his world. Amosov had the following routine: he came back from school, had lunch, washed the dishes and read. He was enrolled in three libraries: the children’s library, the city library for adults, and the school library. Young Amosov was absorbed by Gorkiy, Kuprin, Andreev, Bunin, Cervantes, and Zola, and certainly by Gogol and Pushkin. In his memoirs, Nikolay Mikhaylovich says that all his knowledge and education had novels as the foundation, he did not read scientific books a lot, apart from those that involved history.

Once, the scientist confessed that in his childhood, he stole books. Amosov himself remembers all of them: five volumes of Mayakovsky, an English – Russian dictionary, and “Terminology of medicine”. He carried away books from the book stores with open stalls: he went with the paper folder, looked at the books, turned the pages and hid the book among his papers. And once the store’s manager came to him and took out the hidden Mayakovsky from the folder, saying “Don’t do it, young man”. Amosov ran away, and later on he wrote that he was crushed by fear and shame.

During all his life Nikolay Mikhaylovich “devoured” books, one by one, while managing to write scientific articles and books. He subscribed to up to 20 different magazines and newspapers: popular science series, literary series, philosophy, medicines, magazine “America” and many others. He had a lot of trips abroad and brought back books that were not available to the average USSR citizen For example, in 1971 he brought back from Edinburgh three very important books for his work: “The Limits to Growth” by D. Meadows, “On Aggression” by the Nobel prize winner Konrad Lorenz and Goodwill’s book about life amongst monkeys.

Amosov really enjoyed hosting parties in his house. “Communication with your friends is a great thing”, he said quite often. Among the people, he spent time with, besides his colleagues and students, were his close friends: surgeons Alexey Fedorovsky and Vasiliy Bratus, writer Yuriy Dold-Mikhaylik, aircraft designer Oleg Antonov, writer Grigoriy Kipnis, doctor-publicist Yuriy Vilenskiy, and his long-time coworkers from the Institute, Yakov Bendet and Yuriy Mokhyuk.

The writer Dold-Mikhaylik was the only patient with whom Amosov made friends. “In 1962 I removed a part of writer Yuriy Dold-Mikhaylik’s lung (because of cancer)”, recollects Amosov. “Two weeks later, when everything was over, I was invited to visit him, and it turned out to be a very warm-hearted and interesting time. So, it became a tradition: two Saturdays a month I went to visit the Dolds. Besides the delight of spending time and talking to him, Dold did two things for me: he taught me how to drink cognac - just to enjoy it without being sick, and he established “Thoughts and Heart” at the publishing house.

There was one more interesting fact in Amosov’s biography: his meeting with the well-known Kiev physicist Vadim Yevgenievich Lashkarev, who discovered pn-junction. Here is how Amosov himself writes in his memoirs about this meeting: “In 1937 I met with Vadim Yevgenievich Lashkarev. He was exiled from Leningrad in 1935, where he worked with academician Ioffe, as though for spiritism. Quite possibly, if he were a “public enemy”, he would have been clapped in the camp. But here, he was even allowed to work in the faculty with the young generation. Moreover, he was given two rooms. I went to sit the physics exam,was not prepared and got a “B”. I was ashamed, and I asked about retakingthe exam. At the time I had started to think about an artificial heart. The invention is trivial, but the idea itself has logic behind it. This principle is used for a heart prosthesis, functioning for several months until a donor for transplantation is found. I showed the drawing to Lashkarev, and he approved it and gave me an “A” grade without any questions. I have not made the heart, but I’ve met Vadim Yevgenievich, and this meeting had a resounding effect on my life”. The students nicknamed Lashkarev ‘VE’, and it was he who revealed “other physics” to young Amosov: spiritism, telepathy, telekinesis, levitation, poltergeist, and yoga. As Amosov noted, his Soviet upbringing and fierce censorship had concealed from him all these things, which had been known for a long time to men of culture. After his acquaintance with Lashkarev, Amosov continued to take an interest in these subjects, though he did not receiveany proof that they were true. Nikolay Mikhaylovich invited “extrasensory individuals” to the laboratory at the Institute of Cybernetics, but they never proved what they had promised. In spite of the failure of direct proofs, Amosov was not able to deny this “science”: indeed, there were a lot of witnesses and publications.

Nikolay Mikhaylovich also knew the distinguished academician Sakharov and his wife Elena Grigorievna Boner. The scientist did not have very good memories about them. Here is what Amosov declared about his visit to Sakharov and Boner:

Little two-room apartment. There was a wide sofa in the room where I was sitting. Andrey Dmitrieivich was laying there and had a shattering cough. And his wife was smoking like a chimney. I got angry and could not bear it anymore:

  • You shouldn’t smoke near someone sick; he is coughing!

  • It’s ok, he knew whom he was marrying; he’d better be patient.

I thought: “She is really mean!”

We were discussing the very essence of different ideologies. It’s not even convenient to write about, but there was an impression that Sakharov was thinking … I say it cautiously, not deeply, that socialism in the economy can be reconciled with Western Democracy. And he did not fully accept my ideas about the meaning of biology in human behavior. I did not try to reassure him; I was under pressure of his authority, and besides, Boner’s venomous words were stopping me. They were drinking tea, and dissidents were coming over. Later on I could recognize some of them by “voices”. They discussed who they could help as prisoners. It was as if I became part of them, for a minute. And I can’t say that I wasn’t fascinated by it. It was the same as meeting with dreamers – Russian populists of 19th century. In other words, everything was right, but unrealistic. I left with the feeling that I had met a great person, but that he could not create the real science of society”.

Amosov had a lot of scientific interests, and it was much more than just a hobby for him. “Everything that he was doing was at the highest professional and scientific level”, says Z.L. Rabinovich, who worked with Amosov in the biocybernetic field. “Just think about it: besides biocybernetics and its different aspects (and this was his professional duty), there was sociology, economics, political science and philosophy. And every subject was studied with deep analyses of special literature,statistical data and other information. It could be said that such tremendous and meaningful scientific research can be carried out only by a person known as a “genius”.

Nikolay Mikhaylovich Amosov’s life was filled with events, interesting meetings, the joy of successful surgeries and endless grief of lost patients. His whole life, he was very emotional over the loss of his patients, and several times he wanted to quit doing surgery because the deaths caused him such sadness. . But nevertheless, in spite of all the sorrows, Amosov was satisfied with his chosen path. He wrote about his life and himself: “If it were possible to start my life from the very beginning, I would have chosen the same surgery, and in addition, philosophizing over “eternal issues”: truth, reason (intellect), the human being, society, and the future of mankind”.