Once upon a time, I worked at a little company that specialized in adaptive optics. The boss was an ex-particle physicist, a sharp guy. He liked to tackle problems from scratch, without looking much at prior art, which was sometimes productive and sometimes quite silly. He was often tasked to review projects, which in practice often meant that the Feds paid him and his minions to spin up on a subject, enough to analyze a proposal – usually in various areas of optics.
Back in those days, there was interest in finding better ways to communicate with a submerged submarine. One method under consideration used an orbiting laser to send pulses of light over the ocean, using a special wavelength, for which there was a very good detector. Since even the people running the laser might not know the boomer’s exact location, while weather and such might also interfere, my old boss was trying to figure out methods of reliably transmitting messages when some pulses were randomly lost – which is of course a well-developed subject, error-correcting codes. But he didn’t know that. Hadn’t even heard of it.
Around this time, my old boss was flying from LA to Washington, and started talking with his seatmate about this submarine communication problem. His seatmate – Irving S. Reed – politely said that he had done a little work on some similar problems. During this conversation, my informant, a fellow minion sitting behind my old boss, was doggedly choking back hysterical laughter, not wanting to interrupt this very special conversation.