Autobiography of Robert H. Long

I was born on August 6, 1924, in Norfolk, Nebraska, the “Hub of Northeast Nebraska”, population then of 10,717. This is also the town that Johnny Carson called home. My father was a machinist, and my mother was a retired school teacher (retired because married women were not allowed to continue teaching). I grew up during the Great Depression days but at the time I wasn’t aware of it. We were poor and struggling, but so was everyone else. My fondest memories were of playing the bugle in the American Legion Junior Drum and Bugle Corps, marching in parades and playing at county fairs.

We moved to Davenport, Iowa, in 1940 when Dad got a job as a tool and die maker at the Rock Island Arsenal. After graduating high school, I started attending Northwestern University in 1942, studying electrical engineering. But I decided the place for me to be was in the service, so I enlisted in the Army and entered service in February, 1943. I began Basic Training in the Coast Artillery at a base near Galveston/Houston. I quickly qualified for both OCS and a new program called the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). I went before the base commander, a Colonel, and had to choose between them. The Colonel asked me, “Pvt. Long, how old are you?” I replied, “18 Sir”. The Colonel said, ” Kinda young to be an officer, don’t you think”. “Yes Sir, I’ll take the ASTP”, I replied. One of those forks in the road we all face at some time in our lives. I spent the next nine months at Baylor Univ., Waco TX. Tough duty! Four hundred GI’s and 800 beautiful Texas women.

When the ASTP folded, I was transferred to the Army Air Force and started a series of training schools leading to becoming a Radar Mechanic, GCA (Ground Controlled Approach). This was the most advanced radar system in existence at the time. The GCA team of which I was a part went to Europe, became part of the 133 AACS (Army Airway Communication Systems) Squadron, and were assigned to work with a P-47 fighter plane group. The AACS primary function was to operate the control towers Landing P-47’s was a lot different than the Cessna’s we had trained on, especially when the fighter planes are returning from a long range mission and are all low on fuel. On VE day we were at the most advanced air base at the time near Munster, Germany. Later that summer we were designated “Presidential Escort” for the Potsdam Conference, and set up the radar at Gatow airport near Berlin. Fortunately the weather during the conference was perfect and our services were never required. Then we were supposed to set up at Tempelhof, but couldn’t because surrounding buildings were too tall for us to establish a glide path to the field. (This problem was resolved a few years later during the Berlin Blockade by a few well placed sticks of dynamite.) I celebrated my 21st birthday in Berlin on August 6, 1945. (Think about it, large bang in Japan.) We then moved to Nordholz, Germany, north of Bremerhaven on the North Sea. We were the emergency landing field for all of Northern Europe. We saved several crews from a cold swim in the North Sea. I was discharged from the service on April 1, 1946. Home at that time was Eastland, TX. That summer Dad then to work for Beech Aircraft and we moved to Wichita,KS. I spent the summer working at the Wichita Wire Works. That was one of those jobs which convinces you that you don’t want to do this for the rest of your life.

I resumed attending college at Northwestern that fall. The engineering program there required spending 18 months in industry in a Co-op program. I co-oped at the Allen B. DuMont Labs. in Clifton, N.J. working in television test, factory engineering, and cathode ray tube research . I was on the team that developed the first successful 90 degree wide angle television tube. I also met and married my late wife there. I continued with Dumont after graduation with a BSEE, and eventally become Manager of Product Design. But DuMont fell on hard times after the death of the founder, Dr. Allen B. DuMont. I relocated to the Seattle area with Boeing in 1958, on the BOMARC missile program. My wife did not adjust well to the coast-to-coast move, so I quit Boeing and went with Curtiss- Wright, back in New Jersey, as a department head. Boeing contacted me about rejoining them on the Saturn 5 Space Program in Huntsville, AL. We moved to Huntsville in 1963. The next nine years, with the successful lunar landings, was a great time to be an engineer.

It was in Huntsville that I got started in the lapidary hobby. One Christmas I bought one of my sons a tumbler from Sears as a Christmas gift. When he found out it would take six weeks for any finished tumbled polished stones, he quickly lost interest. I inherited the tumbler. There is a lapidary club in Huntsville, so I joined. There is a pretty agate material found in the local Paint Rock River. Soon making cabochons occupied my spare time. When the space program virtually ended for contractors in 1972, we relocated back to the Seattle area. In February, 1973, my wife suffered a brain aneurism, which although not fatal at the time, made her an invalid for the remainder of her life, and significantly changed my life. I continued working until I took early retirement in 1985, although at a much reduced level of responsibility. I worked mostly in software testing and validation of missile and carrier software on the SRAM (Short Range Attack Missile) and ALCM (Air Launched Cruise Missile) programs. I decided to take up faceting, since I could do that and still be there when needed to take care of my wife. After considerable research, I bought a Fac-Ette machine, although one without the electronic stop. I contacted the Boeing Mineralogical Society to see if they had any programs on faceting and was advised to contact Norm Steele, the recognized faceting expert in the area. That was the start of a long and productive friendship and later, business partnership.

The general advice to a begining facetor at that time was to start by cutting six standard round brilliants, then a couple of emerald cuts, then you were ready to move on to the fancier cuts. I did that and then looked for an oval design to cut. None of the references gave good, accurate cutting instructions. I asked other facetors how they cut ovals. One answered, “I tried one once and it didn’t work out, so now I just cut SRB’s.” A Master Facetor, Del Gowdy, said that when he needed an oval he just sat down at the machine and cut an oval. Neither of these answers was acceptable to someone with an engineering background. Looking at the problem, I realized that an oval is an ellipse which can be described mathematically by an equation. That being the case, I should be able to come up with some exact cutting instructions. It quickly became apparent that an accurate oval outline was required for there to be repeatable cutting instructions. This thinking led to the Micrometer height Adjustment (MHA) preforming technique. However, it was said that using the MHA method required a Ph.D in Math to develop the data and a Journeyman Machinest to use it. By this time I had developed a working relationship with Phil Bean of Fac-Ette. I realized the cams he sold for preforming were not correct, since they used a point cam follower but the cutting lap is a plane. I redesigned his cams for him using the MHA data. About the same time, I figured out how to simplify the MHA data by going to what is now known as the Centerpoint-Angle Method (CAM) of preforming.

This work was all essentially two dimensional, but facet designs are three dimensional. To do 3-D designs Norm was using a drafting board approach with descriptive geometry relationships . This technique is not adaptable to calculators. I needed an algebraic solution. By this time I had advanced from using a simple, though expensive at the time, manual scientific calculator, to a programmable calculator. Every year in January Norm and I would drive in his motor home down to San Jose to the annual Faceters Fair. One year, while enroute, Norm sketched out a graphical solution to working the three dimensional problem by working in two dimensions at a time. I took the sketch home and worked out an algebraic expression for his graphical solution. This became Equations G7-G9 in the GENERAL EQUATIONS FOR CALCULATING FACET DESIGNS in Facet Design Vol. 1, OVALS, and the equations used in computing all the designs in the Facet Design series of books. These books were produced between 1978 and 1989. The early books were computed using progammable calculators, manual typewriters, and hand drawn pictures. With the coming of the IBM-PC in 1982, the books were produced using a computerized version of the design equations, Pagemaker software, and a HP plotter. Towards the end of this time period, I added a validation routine to the software which used true 3-D equations. If the design did not validate, it halted and advised the user of the error. This calculation forms one of the primary routines in GemCad, developed by Robert Strickland. In GemCad, instead of stopping and reporting the error, the program goes into an iterative loop and reaches a solution. I was not directly involved in the development of GemCad, although I vigorously encouraged its development. I knew the approach that Norm and I used was seriously in need of updating. Norm and I and Fred VanSant were the only ones that could use it. Also, any change in angles required a complete recalculation of all the data, a very laborious job. To simplify this, in 1977, I came up with the Tangent Ratio technique of scaling all the facet angles. This is documented in Volume 1, OVALS.

Meetpoint faceting evolved from the CAM preforming technique. My article in THE FACETER’S GEM, July 1976 titled “Preforming by the Angle Method”, caught the eye of Tom Ricks of the North Carolina Lapidary Society. This began a long series of exchanges between Tom and myself. In one letter in 1977, Tom wrote, “I would like to develop or see someone develop non-preforming techniques for faceting oval and marquises…”. In the same letter he sent a copy of an oval procedure and stated: “what I had hoped to do was to establish a specific “meet” point or points for each facet. It seems to me that faceting procedures (designs) can be constructed so that each facet can be placed at a predetermined index and angle and cut to a point where it meets its adjacent facet at a predetermined point.” The first design published using “meetpoint” was in the June 1977 issue of FACETS titled “10 MAIN MARQUISE WITHOUT PREFORMING”, By Tom Ricks. It used data provided by me to Tom. Fully implementing the meetpoint concept awaited the advent of the ability to calculate the exact facet angles, made possible by the equations mentioned earlier. My first published meetpoint designs were the SUPERNOVA OVAL series begun in the January 1978 issue of the Seattle Facetor Design Notes. So if you dislike meetpoint faceting, blame Tom Ricks. If you love it, I will be happy to take the credit.

In writing the Facet Design books, we had to decide what accuracy to specify the facet angles. Our software computed the angles to six decimal places, but obviously the facet machines could not be set to that accuracy. To test the waters, we published the first designs in the Seattle Facet Design Notes with one decimal place accuracy. We received some flak, but not too bad. Then one month we switched to two decimal places. We were told loud and clear that the facetors didn’t like it. We went back to one decimal place. That same year, at the San Jose Faceters Fair, I overheard Joe Rubin saying, “Here we were fat dumb and happy turning out faceting machines that could be set to one degree, then along come these guys Long and Steele”. On the other hand, the Jarvi’s had just brought out their Facetron machine which was settable to one decimal place, so they were very happy with our books. In the long run, most manufacturers added vernier scales, and in some cases, used better bearings, in order to achieve the 0.1 degree accuracy. GemCad uses two decimal places, but this is mainly to satisfy the program. It can usually work OK with one decimal place data entry, but is much happier with two place accuracy.

During this time period, working with Dr. Piet VanZanten of the Netherlands, I developed a ray tracing program, RayWin. The connection with Dr. VanZanten was through Alec Wolkonsky of France. Piet had a program, written in PASCAL, which produced numerical data, with no graphics. I converted his program to Visual Basic, and added a graphical presentation of the results, i,e., a brightness plot. Later revisions to RayWin extensively modified the algorithms for finding the facet intersections, which greatly increased its speed. Also, a second light model, SPOT plus ISO, was added to overcome a problem with the ISO light model. Optimizing a design using the ISO light model resulted in designs with low crown angles, and very poor performance in the real world. We know this problem as the “Head Shadow” effect, originally described by Bruce Harding in the article “Faceting Limits”, in the FALL 1975 issue of Gems and Gemology. The use of RayWin is very limited these days, because, unlike Robert Strickland’s GemRay program, you cannot pass variables to it and run in batch mode to optimize a design.

Norm Steele had always maintained a database of all published facet designs. To make this database available to other facetors, I wrote the controversial database “front end” program called DataVue. The first version was very unwieldy, with thousands of small files, and used the Bitmap image format for the pictures. The second version, DataVue2, put all the small files into a few (STO)library files, and replaced the bitmapped pictures with low resolution line drawings (THB). I have to thank Robert Strickland for the STO and THB file formats and the utilities to generate them. The functionality of DataVue2 has now been incorporated into GemCad. At the death of Norm in 1997, maintenance of the database was taken over by John Franke of the Facet Shoppe.

The book business, all the copyrights, was sold to The Graves Company in 1994. My wife also passed away in 1997, after spending the last 14 months in a nursing home. I, in essence, retired from the faceting hobby. Later, my excuse for not faceting was cataracts in both eyes. I could no longer see the meets. The cataracts have been fixed, and I now have 20/20 vision in both eyes. But the time spent faceting has been replaced by other activities, like traveling, flower gardening, doing 10K walks with the Volkssport organization, exercise classes, and doing some entertaining, mostly at retirement and nursing homes, playing the Autoharp and some singing with my present companion, who is a professional folksinger and Irish harp player.

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