From: Jim Fehlinger (fehlinger@home.com)
Date: Sun Feb 25 2001 - 10:55:47 MST

I promise these are my last remarks on the topic of _2001: A Space Odyssey_;
I'll make them, and then shut up about it for good! (It's considerably more
frivolous than my earlier posts, though, so be warned ;->)

It has long been rumored that the letters "HAL" were derived by Clarke and
Kubrick by decrementing each of the letters in "IBM", with the intention
of either saluting, or twitting (or both) the IBM Corporation. Clarke has
strenuously denied this, even going so far as to include the denial as a
bit of dialog inserted into the novel _2010: Odyssey Two_ and also in his
foreword to David Stork's book _HAL's Legacy: 2001's Computer as Dream and
Reality_ (MIT Press, 1997) -- the text of this foreword is available at http://www-mitpress.mit.edu/e-books/Hal/foreword/foreword1.html
(full texts of some of the chapters of _HAL's Legacy_ and abstracts of
others are also available at http://mitpress.mit.edu/e-books/Hal/contents.html ).
Kubrick also insisted that the relationship between "HAL" and "IBM" was purely
coincidental, remarking in a newspaper interview "It would have taken
a cryptographer to notice that." (quoted in the Kubrick FAQ
( http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/faq/ ) in the answer to Question 7 "What do the
letters HAL stand for and is there a connection with IBM?". See also the article
"Open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL" by Roger Smith in the Jan. 2001 issue of
_Software Development_ on-line at

If the joke was ever intentional, it's clear that both Clarke and Kubrick
came to regret the possibility of being on the outs with IBM. According to
"Underman's 2001 FAQ" at http://www.underview.com/2001/faqs/faqs.html#faqh
(in the answer to Question 8), IBM initially provided advice and assistance
in the production of _2001_, but changed its corporate mind and withdrew
its support, not over HAL's name, but because the murderous computer
was seen as bad PR for the computer industry in general. This sort of on-again,
off-again skittishness and paranoia is common enough when corporations
are asked for help by artists or litterateurs; I recall that Tracy Kidder
recounts a similar abrupt withdrawal of support by Data General during
the writing of _The Soul of a New Machine_ (Modern Library, 1981), and Edwin
Black says in the Introduction to _IBM and the Holocaust_ "Since WWII, the
company has steadfastly refused to cooperate with outside authors. Virtually
every recent book on IBM, whether written by esteemed business historians
or ex-IBM employees, includes a reference to the company's refusal to
cooperate with the author in any way."

Be that as it may, there is also a visual element to the HAL/IBM pun which I
haven't seen noticed anywhere in print. The logo on all of HAL's camera faceplates
is at the thin edge of visibility in home video formats, even in the closest
closeups, and even with a software DVD player scaling the picture to higher-than-TV
resolution on a computer monitor, but it's always been my impression that the logo
is in an outline font, and this is confirmed by the picture on p. 59 of the Piers
Bizony book, _2001: Filming the Future_ (you'll need a magnifying glass!). The
HAL logo is also depicted that way (but with a spurious white outline surrounding
the box and separating the blue and black halves which is not present in the movie)
at the "HAL Corporation" Web site, as shown at http://guide.net/~mental/hal9000/hal_info.html
(the home page of the "HAL Corporation" is at http://guide.net/~mental/hal9000/index.html ).

Now compare this with http://www.teleport.com/~prp/collect/ibm709.jpg , which
contains a logo similar to that which appeared on many IBM computers of the 50's
and early 60's, including the one which Peter Sellers appeared next to in
_Dr. Strangelove_ (see also http://www.teleport.com/~prp/collect/ibm7094.jpg ).
Unfortunately, HAL's logo is not in a serif font, and the letters are not solid white
rather than outline, both of which would have reinforced the joke. There are other
differences, of course -- in the real IBM 709 nameplate, the left-hand blue portion of
the background just fits the flush-left company initials, the model number (also serif, and
with squarer 0's and 9's than HAL's) is flush right, and there's that 1/3-height silver
strip underneath with the words "DATA PROCESSING SYSTEM". The later
IBM 7094 nameplate in the second picture is a much closer visual match to HAL's
nameplate. Recall, of course, that IBM does in fact get its proper name in the
film on the flight console of the Pan Am shuttle.

To digress slightly, Peter Hyams' 1984 _2010: The Year We Make Contact_, while a
perfectly enjoyable movie on its own terms, does not measure up to the standards set
by the richness and attention to detail of _2001_, including the visual representation
of technology. While the later film takes great pains to make Jupiter and its
satellites match the Voyager closeups, the resurrected and morally rehabilitated
HAL puts on a much shabbier face. HAL's main display board in the centrifuge
on board Discovery in _2001_ is a visual feast, from the mysterious track-lit
glow surrounding the camera faceplate to the eerie black-lit fluorescence of the
distinctively-shaped display panels (according to the Bizony book [p. 123], these
displays were actually painstakingly-animated 16 mm. film projections):
http://members.home.net/fehlinger/2001/2001_HAL_small.jpg (8K)
http://members.home.net/fehlinger/2001/2001_HAL.jpg (134K)
In contrast, the rebuilt HAL display board in the Discovery cockpit as seen
in _2010_ is a bare-bones sketch of the original, with cheesy-looking conventional
mid-80's CRTs inset in cutouts in a black-painted wall replacing the animated projections
of the original movie and with less subtlety of lighting (notice the glare across
the roughly-painted wall and the absence of the soft glow around HAL's camera plate).
The outline font in the HAL logo is replaced by a bland, solid sans-serif font, and
the left-hand blue background has been darkened to the point of being barely
distinguishable from the right-hand black:
http://members.home.net/fehlinger/2001/2010_HAL_small.jpg (8K)
http://members.home.net/fehlinger/2001/2010_HAL.jpg (134K)

One final morsel of trivia from _2010_: if you've ever found yourself
unaccountably reminded of Murphy Brown while watching this movie, it may
be because the voice of HAL's "sister" SAL is performed by Candace
Bergen (credited as "Olga Mallsnerd")!


Jim F.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 09:56:48 MDT