The Green's House

SG Technology Consulting

Well, computing has certainly changed a lot since I first sat down at a computer. The year was 1975.

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). 

Then 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...

The second 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.

I 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 consulting gig.

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).

Meanwhile 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.

I 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 computing!


<<To Be Continued>>

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