computing has certainly changed a lot since
I first sat down at a computer. The year
I was attending Frankfurt American
High School in Frankfurt, Germany. My father
was stationed with the V Corps there, headquartered
in the I.G. Farben building, a massive marble
edifice built by the chemical giant during
the reign of ole Adolph himself. The allies
grabbed the place after the end of WWII and
it had been in the grasp of the US Army ever
since. But I digress...
The school was part
of an educational test program that garnered
us a small computer. I don't know what it was
called; it was about the size of a small refrigerator
and had about 8 or 10 terminals attached. The
memory could be distributed among the eight;
I believe it had about 64K of main memory.
The programs were written in a language called
Basic 3, which was a simple line language with
a really bad random number generator (the game
programs I wrote were really boring because
they would play the same every time).
I went into the USAF in 1980, and started a
Master's degree while in Germany, stationed
at Prüm Air Station, about 40 miles north
of Bitburg in the beautiful Eifel mountains.
That was a neat assignment geography wise.
We could drive about 1.5 hours south to Trier,
which had a wonderful Weinacht's market at
Christmas (the chestnuts were great from the
street vendors). We lived about 4 km from the
Belgian border, and about 15 km from the Luxembourg
border. The job was very stressful; when I
get time I'll start a page about my experiences
in the Ground TACS (Tactical Air Control System). But I digress...
computer I worked with was a TRS-80 (pronounced "Trash
80"), which ran the CP/M operating system.
I programmed (again in basic) a simple financial
simulation program. As it happened, the 200+
days of Temporary Duty ("TDY", i.e.
business travel) per year caused me to drop
the MBA courses after only the first one.
went from Germany to South Florida, assigned
to the 726th TCS at Homestead AFB. There I
was introduced to my first "PC" computer.
It was a Zenith Data Systems Z100, which ran
a proprietary version of DOS called ZDOS. It
had a 10 Mb HDD, and was a one piece computer/Monochrome
12 inch display with attached keyboard. I didn't
program this one. I used it for Lotus 1-2-3
and WordStar. However, one day I got a call
from the Chief of Maintenance. I was known
for being very proficient with the computer
that we used on the job (a Hughes 4118). So
they asked me if I could look at a problem
with the Maintenance Z100. Thus I got my first
It turned out that someone with
more knowledge than sense had repartitioned
the disk into a single 10 Mb HDD rather than
two 5 Mb partitions that the maintenance machines
were shipped with. This would have been no
problem except that headquarters had just shipped
the Dbase program to run the squadron maintenance.
The problem confronting me was that the program
wouldn't work. I had never seen Dbase
programming before, but inside of 10 minutes
I found the culprit; the Dbase program assumed
- did you guess it? - two partitions, and expected
the data on the D: drive, instead of the C:
drive. It was a 1 minute fix to make the program
work from there. While I was at it I optimized
the computer configuration.
I wasn't into programming
languages at this time. Instead, I was in love
with Lotus 1-2-3. That program introduced me
to what a spreadsheet can do. It was simply
the best program that was produced for the
original IBM PC. I bought my first computer,
a Tandy TX1000, which was OK for a couple of
years. It was adequate for the time (1987).
I got transferred to Keesler AFB, MS, to become
an instructor. While there I worked with the
IBM AT compatible Z286 computers. They shipped
with an integrated program called Enable, which
combined a spreadsheet and database. After
completing my instructor school, I assisted
the base Information Systems office with PC
trouble shooting around the base and ended
up programming an Enable application, which
was interesting. I also taught classes in MS/DOS.
It was a lot of fun, but ended when I parted ways with the AF in May of 1989.
I came to California
in August of 1989 to work at Litton Data Systems,
working on the command and control equipment being bought by the
USAF to replace the 407L system I had worked
with while on active duty. It was in the final
stages of completion, and I remember that it
was here that I discovered that I had a real
talent for breaking software. I still have
that talent, and in fact I am still a better
tester than a programmer. Software wise during
this period I discovered DesQview 386, which
was the most productive software I have ever
used; it was a bit difficult to learn, but
it could turn an AT class machine on it's nose
in a second, and multitasking was it's forte.
What a great product; too bad it didn't survive
the Windows phenomenon. Meanwhile I had moved
from the Tandy (a PC compatible) to a 80386/20
Mhz AT compatible. I kept this computer for
about 3 years (a record!) and then replaced
the motherboard with a 80486/33. Eventually
this machine ended up as a Pentium 166. Then
in 1997 I moved to the AMD K6 family (450 Mhz),
which entailed getting new memory and etc.
That combination lasted until for two years, when
the motherboard failed and I got a socket A
motherboard with a 900 Mhz AMD Thunderbird.
This was a really great CPU (for the time), and really cheap. Gradually, over time, I came to get my computers from Dell; there is simply too much work in bulding them myself.
did a fair bit of consulting in the mid 1990's.
I never made any money at it, but I enjoyed
it. In those days of Windows 3.10 and early
Windows 95 it was a lot harder to make stuff
work with a PC. Trying to make stubborn parts
work together is still my least favorite part
of consulting. These days parts are so cheap
that I generally replace things. While
esoteric knowledge was still at the heart
of Windows (Windows 98 was really MS DOS with
Windows trappings), many people would rather
muddle through than call in someone who knows
the answers. Maybe I was too good, since I
always tried to get the customer to learn more
about their computer. This tends to be a bit
bad for future business!
Meanwhile the contracts
at Litton petered out and I moved to a small
software company called Carlisle Research Inc,
based in Van Nuys, CA, that was taking over
maintenance of the software I had been testing.
After testing for two more years, in 1998 I
moved over to software development as a programmer
in CMS-2. I took general programming
courses at the local Junior College from 1996 - 2000,
not really as a precursor to getting my degree, but as professional development.
In the early to mid 2000's I worked with
charity silent auctions, with a silent auction
database that runs in MS Access. I had the
knowledge to move it to an executable program
using MS Visual Basic, but there really was
no need, and time was in short supply.
So I kept tweaking the program every year (it
was originally just macro driven in Access
2.0, and eventually included code modules and etc.). I had a course in advanced MS Access database
programming and used SQL to make
things more efficient. The last auction I personally ran was in 2000, but since I left the full program on the computers I believe they may have been using my stuff since then.
These days I limit my consulting to maintaining and building websites, plus helping a select few friends and relations. I still don't make any money at it (one site is for a non profit, and the other is simple maintenance), but it is fun.
Well, this concludes
the babbling on part of this area. I plan on
putting in more stuff on computers and the
philosophy behind them as I get time. Happy