My Computer Background

 

When I was in high school, my dad, who was a radio repairman, urged me to get into computers no matter what else I learned. He said, back in the late 50s, computers were the "wave of the future." I loved Science Fiction, so I decided his advice made sense. That was a decision Ive never regretted.

I was never a computer major per se, but I did pursue coursework and seek employment--through the years--that had me working with computers as much as possible. Consequently, my computer experience is extensive and very much hands on. Ive done everything from programming to software design, from hardware design to beta testing software, from controlling aircraft with computers to interacting with people on the Internet and in computer user groups.

In 1963, as a freshman physics major at the then Case Institute of Technology, I first became involved with computers. My first computer instructor was a fellow by the name of "Freddie" Way who taught Algol on a Univac 1107 (ah, the joys of keypunching your own cards and standing in line to submit them. <g>). Since then Ive extensively used minis and mainframes (e.g., the IBM 360, the DEC PDP series, the IBM 3090 series, the Dec VAX series) in every line of work Ive ever pursued.

In the late 60s, I enlisted as a USAF officer and worked as a Weapons Controller/Director (a glorified military air traffic controller, whose job it was to vector aircraft in on their assigned targets via radar control) in NORAD on the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), computer system, a 250-ton 1950s vintage, first generation computer system which used 49,000 vacuum tubes and was a direct descendent of the "Whirlwind" real-time computer. We had light gun and pushbutton data entry--much niftier than punch cards and much more Sci-Fi-ish.

In 1978, back in the civilian world, I dived into personal computer by purchasing a TRS-80 Model I with 48K RAM and four single-density floppy disk drives. I quickly taught myself Basic (thank you, David Lien) and Assembler and jumped into programming as a hobby. In 1980, I upgraded to the Tandy 1000 and taught myself DOS. Since then Ive owned a 286 portable, a 386 desktop, a 486 desktop, a Pentium MMX, a Pentium II, a Pentium III--and now I own and maintain one Compaq 1255 AMD K6 333 MHz laptop, one Gateway AMD 64 3700+ laptop, one Pentium IV desktop and a Cyberpower AMD X2 5200+ AM2 desktop.

Computer languages Ive learned and used over the years are Algol, Fortran, Cobol, Basic, Focal, Snobol, Pascal, GPSS, Focus, SAS, Visual Basic and Ive dabbled with Assembler in its various incarnations. On the mainframe, Ive extensively used MVS-TSO and the VMS operating systems. On the PC, Im very familiar with DOS, OS/2, and Windows 9.x/Me and Windows XP operating systems.

I was one of the first few end-user programmers at the electric utility where I worked; and I was the first to insist on taking my training with the corporate MIS department to learn how they did things. That ultimately set me up to act as liaison between several corporate departments and the MIS department. Early on, I was known as one of the better "mainframe jockeys" and one of the first PC jockeys in the company. In the latter years of my corporate career (back in the early to mid-90s), I was recruited to be on a very large multi-million dollar project to replace the oldest real-time electric utility computer system in the country. For three years, we worked on designing a networked-based system centered around a VAX cluster incorporating an FDDI backbone and interfacing with several DEC Alpha Workstations as well as with all the mainframes, minis, and PC on the corporate network. That system is now up and running.

Over the years, as an end-user programmer, programmer analyst and systems analyst I was one of the earliest proponents of structured systems analysis and design (thank you, Yourdon and Sarson & Gane), data flow diagrams, entity relationship diagrams, action diagrams, and myriad other nifty design tools. As a result, all major systems Ive designed (a dozen or so) for use in corporate forecasting, statistical analysis, and other applications were virtually bug-free and easily maintainable (some of these systems took 6 mos. to 3 years to build) due to the extensive documentation that naturally results from such a process. And, yes, they were Y2K compatible--some of those systems are still in use today a decade to two after they were created.

Also, from the time I bought my Tandy 1000 `til such products morphed into something more commercial and less professional, I was a beta tester of both hardware and software for various firms. In the software arena, I beta tested for Peter Norton and Symantec (Norton Desktop for Windows, Norton AntiVirus, etc.), WordPerfect (DrawPerfect and WordPerfect Presentations) prior to Novells takeover, and various smaller software houses (everything from comm programs to add-ons for Lotus Agenda). That was a wonderful and fun way to acquire software I couldnt otherwise easily afford.

A few years back, I discovered the Internet and the joys of being on-line. I joined CompuServe where I was recruited as a Wiz*Op for the Time-Warner Authors forum. I also served as co-moderator of the Silver Quill Forum on Delphi for a number of years. Both forums are gone now; but, even so, Im still SysOping. Now Im Moderator of the On Target Fencing Forum on Delphi and Co-Moderator ofand the Ancient/Classical History Forum on About.com.

I was a member of the Greater Cleveland PC Users Group for some five years, one of the largest user groups in the country; and I served on their governing Board as club secretary for three years. I also taught high school seniors Introduction to Computer Programming at Lake Ridge Academy for one year.

The computer is my #2 hobby after competitive fencing, and its absolutely crucial to my work as a writer. I just love computer gadgetry--fun stuff! <g>

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Sunday, January 20, 2008