Stories About Tom (the 2022 NartkerFest tree dedication is another story)

Dr. Thomas A. Nartker, founder of NMT's Computer Science Department and NMT's first Computer Center director, is remembered by his many friends and colleagues in numerous ways. This page is an informal curated collection for stories about Tom, including any quotes or sage advice he has imparted.

In His Own Words

The first and best story about Tom would be in his own words, and indeed UNLV has Tom's own detailed account of his computing career in their digital collections, by way of this interview of Dr. Nartker by Dr. David Emerson (thanks, David!).

A Lifelong Love of New Mexican Green Chile

His obituary may suggest that Tom suffered or sweated his way through many an evening meal of green chile in Socorro. But multiple colleagues independently reported that Tom's sentimental attachment to NMT included raving about green chile...and for many years driving over (perhaps 20 hours round trip) every chile season to load up his trunk with chestfulls of chiles on ice, so that he could have them all year.

Civic Test Drive

Despite the author's protest, I would expect that this story is true, or almost true. I would appreciate corroboration from a firsthand witness, or alternative versions of this story. -ed

A funny (and probably untrue) story about Tom was about a Honda Civic, which in those days (mid 1970s) was a REALLY small car - smaller than a current Fiat 500, about the size of a Smart car. Tom was 6'8" or so. One of his friends bought a Civic, and Tom wanted to test drive it. So being Tom, he opened the sunroof, put his head out the sunroof, wrapped his right leg around the far side of the stickshift into the passenger seat, and drove it.

Traditional Faculty Meetings

Multiple reports indicate that the preferred venue for NMT CS faculty meetings for some time was the Capitol Bar. So, the (alleged) oldest computer science department in New Mexico ran faculty meetings in the (alleged) oldest saloon in New Mexico. They don't call it the Wild West for nothing.

Passion for Software Engineering

For Tom, teaching software engineering was all about Fred Brooks' classic The Mythical Man-Month; he would quote you all the chapter titles. It was also about the "Shock Book" (Schach's SE text). Come to think of it, Tom was extremely enthusiastic about all things software engineering, and it showed.

A Thing or Two About Cat Crackers

No compendium of stories will be complete without some sort of description of what a "cat cracker" is and his time at shell oil research in houston.
I am looking forward to someone stepping up on this. -ed

A Link in the Long NM-Nevada Human Chain

Besides Area 51's obvious connection to Roswell and Socorro's own UFO incident, Tom was just one of many New Mexicans lured to Nevada. He was recruited to UNLV by former New Mexican John Werth, and of course, New Mexico Tech's subsequent CS Chair Kazem Taghva followed Tom to UNLV and worked with him for many years there, founding the ISRI with him.

A (Temporary) Tattoo

Perhaps frustrated by Tom's loyalty to Big Blue at the time, the Albuquerque branch manager for Burroughs (one of the seven dwarves) is alleged to have said: "Nartker has IBM tattooed on his forehead". The tattoo must have been temporary as Tom later bought NMT a DECSystem 20, introducing timesharing to the NMT campus.

Punchcard Riddles

As a high school senior, Dr. Nartker sent me a Hollerith card with the ribbon ink turned off. Once decoded, it exposed an address of an upper classwoman whom I could ask questions about the CS program. That much impressed me that he chose that fun technique to snag a potential new student.

Ping Pong Instruction

Tom was a great teacher and a good department head. Very supportive of students learning on their own. He was at least 6'8" and had been a world class ping pong player. He once told me that no matter what kind of English your opponent puts on a ball, if you hit it hard enough, it will go where you want it to.