Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Road to Somewhere

My experience with computers began with a gift from my father. As he worked for Mountain Bell (yes, part of the former AT&T) in the billing department, he had the foresight to recognize the coming age of computers. The book was "The Analytical Machine" - and frankly I wasn't much interested at the time. Hardy Boys mysteries were more my style (I'd finish off a couple a day). As a matter of fact, I don't know if I ever finished that book.

Those who believe in destiny would probably place the blame there. As a sophomore in high school I found that the math department had two TTY (teletype) terminals in a partition of one of the classrooms. Both used slow acoustic modems -- the kind that Matthew Broderick used in "War Games" with that cool but clunky telephone handset coupler. Speeds of a few characters per second were typical, and communications delays of several minutes were common on the school district's time share computer.

One was a spiffy IBM model 1050 or 2741 with a selectric keyboard and wide-paper printer. The other (Teletype ARS-33, I believe) was something out of an early-1950's movie, complete with machine-gun like sounds, yellowish paper rolls and klunky round electro-mechanical keys. We learned to program in BASIC, and source code was saved on paper punch tape.

One thing led to another, and I ended up studying digital and solid-state electronics design while majoring in Electrical Engineering at Brigham Young University. Growing disillusioned and frustrated by a 4-year program that was quickly evolving into 6 years, and 1-credit classes that required about 12 hours of non-class work per week, in 1981 I left to experience what the world had to offer. For a few months I pushed a lawn mower for my brother-in-law, and then was hired as a clerk for a Las Vegas moving company. 

While the job market had at first seemed a more attractive option, west coast entry level opportunities didn't really pan out as hoped. I soon moved back to live with family in suburban Denver, and explored employment in many areas, including mobile DJ (my first business), 911 dispatcher, and irrigation systems repair dispatch. Then a great job appeared: engineering and post-production of educational video at a studio near Boulder, which was my last full-time employed position.

While there I shared a house with 3 other guys. Two were students at the University of Colorado, and one worked for IBM's production facility nearby (you see where this is going). While production was slow at the studio (which is another story entirely) I became well acquainted with an original dual-floppy IBM PC with a 1200bps modem and 384k of memory (a screaming machine at the time). Those were the days of DOS 2.x and long before Microsoft became a household word. After spending about 30 hours a week on the PC (I did say work was slow, right?), I was far more familiar with the "Personal Computer" than even its owner. Sorry Bob, hope you've caught up.

When the studio became insolvent I moved back to Las Vegas (family had migrated there in the meantime) and found work as a temporary clerical worker, which opened a few doors to people who needed assistance setting up their first PCs, along with small networks and custom databases. Networking led to several other clients, and seeing that computers were going to be an important part of my life I took out a credit line and purchased my first PC - an ITT Xtra 8086-based PC clone with 640K of RAM, a 20MB half-height hard drive, and a 13" amber-monochrome monitor. 

I was in business for myself, where I've been ever since.

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