In the Beginning

It all started way back in the hippie days of the 70's. Raised in the mountains of B.C. with forests and trees and the occasional black bear as my friend. I longed for the real wilds of the East and the brotherhood of a hippie. The coffee houses of Yorkville in Toronto beckoned with the opportunity to see Bob Dylan or Janis Jopland in person. I did it !. A friend and I, beards, beads, a set of Bongo Drums and a harmonica hitched across Canada to explore that world of peace and love. Those were the days of youth. Never was there the thought of electrons, computers and High Tech. Little did I know what life had to offer me


 

The Reality of it all !

But even a hippie has to eat. So it was on to the working world and the Auto factories of Windsor and Detroit. Oh they had machines there that made me wide eyed with wonder. It turned out to be more exciting than those long winded poetry readings over hot chocolate in the coffee houses. I don't know if this hot chocolate and marshmellow was just a Toronto hippie thing but all the main coffee houses in Yorkville served hot chocolate ala marshmallow rather than coffee. Anyway at work I saw buttons and I saw lights and 10 tons of thrashing steel controlled from the single push of this little green button. I was hooked. Electrons controlled that stuff and all those clicking, flashing and clacking relays were magic stuff I had to know more about. So it was the end of a hippie career and off to the halls of higher education.

 

Higher Education Needed

I had to go and do the impossible at the time and meet the girl of my dreams and get married. But she helped me study, stay focused, and off the hot chocolate.

So it was on to College. Three long years of hard study at St Clair College in Windsor Ont. The College was part of the Waterloo Education Center out of London Ontario. They prided themselves in University Computer training and they had just instituted the 3 year College Training System. We were the guinea pigs and they made the learning tough on us. I had one Instructor who claimed he could do 4 significant digits on a slide rule. I dislike the work of tedious calculations and the slide rule was the straw that "broke the camels back" so to speak. One day as I sat at this machine to have a flat place for my slide rule I noticed the manual explaining how this machine punched holes in a card. These holes in the card were a code called Hollerith code. This Hollerith code , 80 characters to a card produced instructions in a computer language called Fortran. Soon I was punching holes in boxes of cards and feeding this huge IBM 1130 computer instructions to eliminate my inept abilities with the slide rule. I could print out calculations that made the Instructors green with envy, 32 decimal places sure beat that old slide rule's accuracy. My labs soon became 14 pages long, filled with wonderful and often meaningless data. They finally hired me part time to help feed their new IBM 1130 computer, other student's cards filled with holes so I would slow down my usage of the computer.

 

On To The Work World

If I thought College was tough, I was in for a pleasant surprise about the computer world. ButI had the taste of computers and I was hooked. Reams of paper spitting out of that drum printer were in my dreams. The calculations weren't that important, it was the number of pages of output that you could generate from one single equation. Bill Gates has exploited this exponential ability of a computer to perfection. So with Diploma in hand I headed for the computer companies offices. In those days a computer person had to have blood lines with Albert Einstein and it was a long slow road of education and training. It was James Bond Suits and clean fingernails all the way. IBM offered me a typewriter fixing career, but I was too good for that and politely refused. I failed to count the chickens right on one of Honeywell's tests and was rejected. Finally I was offered the option of writing a set of tests for the number 2 computer company at the time, Sperry Univac. Well I wrote those tests along with 300 other aspiring nerds and lo and behold placed in the top 10. They hired me and I was king of the world. I was off to work with those monster computers....or so I thought.


 

The Big Wonderful World of  Computers

To this day I remember my first computer training session. We were presented with a toolbox, brief case. In this fancy leather case were all the essentials of a good mechanic. Two different size hammers, all sorts of wrenches, but nowhere was there a tool with flashing lights or buttons. We were trained on a keypunch machine, a simple yet mechanically complex machine that put holes in those cards I mentioned earlier. These cards were the input mechanism of the computer. Millions of them were punched daily for the telephone bill to the tax department. These machines were mechanical, with knifes that got dull and clutches that wore out. Many operators were such fast and heavy typists on the keyboard that they would literally wear the keys out. There were only 80 characters to a card. In Toronto at the telephone company they had 300 machines and operators in one room. It was a thunderous industrial atmosphere, and the noise was like a thrashing machine running full bore at harvest time. That certainly kept a lot of us brilliant scientific computer experts busy. This was my lot in life for 2 years. Then on to my first computer training course. Two months of intensive training on the top of the line 9200 with 4 k of memory was one of my first training courses. That was the start. From then on it was tape drives and hard drives and equipment that literally filled full floors of a office building. The courses got longer and the computers got bigger. Then it was a transfer back to my home province of B.C. with the responsibility of traveling the vast Interior of B.C. and repairing computers in Mine sites to municipal sites. In the Interior things were a little slower as the machines were a little older. It should be time to relax, catch up, and do all those modifications that one was always behind on. Wrong, along came this machine from New Mexico.


 

Making my own Computer

P opular Electronics a hobby magazine offered a computer in a "kit" special. A fledgling company INTEL had lost a military contract for some radar gear and had put a IC on the consumer market that was a computer in a 40 pin IC package. A small company called ALTAIR in New Mexico had bought some of Intel's IC's and produced a "Kit" complete with memory, and power supply. You could buy this computer in a metal box with it's 16 address switches, 8 data switches, and lots of leds.The deal was that you had to assemble it and all the parts were packaged with instructions. You could buy the components in installments, power supply first, then the case and the leds and switches then the PCB's etc. The Company was sold out of products in a month. The computer revolution began. There was no means to get data into the computer except by the switches. twenty four switches,reset and run. So it was 16 switches for the address and then eight for the data that would be one bye. Instructions were 1-3 bytes long. It was a lot of work. But a 100 byte program could do a lot of work. Ingenious mankind comes t0 the rescue. Amateurs and professionals alike contributed articles to fledgling hobby magazines such as KiloBaud and Byte. These Magazines became our bibles with articles on how to use a ordinary tape recorder to input data to the computer and all sorts of technical data on a computers operation. There were no programs available. But people started contributing their snippets of code, that kept getting bigger and bigger. The magazines started publishing a version of BASIC that you could key in via the address and data switches, 1000 bytes worth of switch work. Or get the soldering iron out and get a tape recorder going. Both methods were time consuming and frustrating. But I still hopped into this wonderful world of frustration. I left Sperry Univac after nearly 8 years and started a fledgling company to make machines that did work.

 

Electronic Engineering and Mad Scientist Work

These were the wild days of scribbling formulas on the back of napkins over a bowl of Won Ton at 2 in the morning. We had to build everything from scratch in those days because they had not invented some of the things we needed. We used that old ALTAIR as our prototype and build all the goodies, like memory cards, floppy diskette interfaces and tape interfaces . The software had to basically be written from scratch as we didn't even have a operating system or math routines. I became a master at machine language and had all 87 instructions memorized of that old 8080 processor. Assembly Language was a must and still remains a favorite of mine. The times were filled with mad scientist stuff. Professionals and amateurs were trying to make this microcomputer do some real work. Magazines like Kilobaud and Byte were just getting off the ground. Bill Gates wrote articles in Kilobaud Magazine about his vision for these MicroComputers. They would be in every home and every business. His version of the Basic Computer language would make these computers run. We used to think he was full of BS as we liked Assembly language and thought his version of BASIC would never go anywhere. We even bought a copy of his Basic on cassette tape and the tape was bad , we could never get it to work. At any rate I was a engineer in no time at all, designing digital and analogue circuits. We built some fantastic machines, Apple sorting machines, a neat machine that could tell the freshness of a apple, and a huge 3 sided, 80 foot billboard sign with hundreds of 40 watt light bulbs. All of these projects were running on our own fully functional computer. We had a library that was second to none and all the magazines and articles that were coming out of the grass roots people were phenomenal. People were helping people. We were struggling for some uniformity. One piece of hardware would work on one machine and not the next. There was little software available except the stuff you wrote yourself, and it never matched up with other machines available. A couple years of this happiness, and along came a computer that had it all. Color, Sound, lots of software, lots of memory, and floppy diskette storage. Named after a piece of fruit of all things the APPLE computer hit the market. Sales of computers of any sort blossomed. Computer Stores were springing up all over the country. They had computers named after Peaches, there was the Commodore Pet and the TRS 80. Industry still referred to this breed as Micro-computers, not even a mini computer and absolutely not in the class to be called a Computer. At about this era of time. and as I watched the stores sell millions of dollars worth of Apple computers I realized that something was wrong with our Company marketing force, as we were struggling for money to continue our projects. So I headed into the north country of  B.C. to use the computer to do some real work in the forestry.

 

The IBM Personal Computer

I designed and built computerized machines for the sawmills and forestry operations with terrible success, the industry was in its infancy. One time, while loading a program from cassette tape into the controller the program transfer got a small blip of misinformation, common with the tape recorder method we were using. When we ran the program a 40 foot log was pushed the wrong way and nearly nearly tore a hole through the roof of that sawmill. The machine had interpreted that blip to mean close the jaws instead of opening up. The log hit those closed jaws at 30 ft/sec and had nowhere to go except up. Some machines did work well and paid for themselves over and over again. There was no software of any uniformity, storage capabilities were just starting with floppy diskettes, and main memory was limited to 64K that was power hungry intermittent and expensive. Then along came the computer giant IBM with their answer to the personal computer problems. It came with the young upstart Bill Gate's Basic Language Software and had a command line I/O system , good old DOS. What was so terrific about it was that there was software that worked with the hardware. The hardware which was my main concern was beyond anything we could ever use to full capacity, a hard drive for storage. The massive amount of data, it could store 10 Megs. Up to 1 meg of main memory, a massive amount when we were used to having 16 or 32K at the most. And best of all, in my opinion it was the best processor, Intel's 8088. There was quite a feud going on in those days between Motorola, and Intel as each company had its own processor. It was something like the feud these days between Intel and AMD. Apple was still in the running but in left field with a fast but weird CPU, the 6502 which none of us liked. The Apple was considered to be nothing more than a game machine. Now this machine could be called a computer and not a mico-computer, because it had the name IBM stamped on it. Yet IBM still labeled it "The IBM personal computer". The IBM did become a serious machine. The insuring years have sure shown this to be true but I don't think most of us really saw the true future of the IBM PC. I know Bill Gates was confident because he was still writing articles for the major magazines with his visions. The fledgling company Microsoft was expanding exponentially because of its software licensing. Now I finally had a copy of his Qbasic that actually worked. I still have the Bill Gates cassette tape with the version of Basic that won't load properly. Maybe I should put that tape version in a auction and ask for big bucks or ask for a replacement from Microsoft. At any rate I changed directions in my career in this point of time.

 

Becoming a Educator

The local College had heard of my reputation and approached me to see if I could set up some training courses for the Apprentice program in the Electrical Department on the use of Electronic Controllers and Computers in the Forestry Industry. Now this was a challenge for me. They had probably heard about the tree that had nearly went through the roof of the sawmill. I accepted and proceeded to learn the intricacies of explaining to others how these things work. It was very challenging as I had been through all phases of electronics from design through to the maintenance of these machines.It was a difficult task and hard to come down to the level of the apprentices. But I found as I explained the operations I gained a deeper understanding of what was happening. Instructing was actually helping me to learn. After about a year the College asked if I could help out the local high school for a year and substitute for a teacher who had a heart attack. This I did for a year, teaching electronics and computers to high school students in Industrial Education. I had fun but teaching high school students was "not my cup of tea" so to speak. At about this time I was offered a position that was intriguing to me and profitable so I was off on another adventure in my Career.

 

High Tech Service

The City had just purchased a badly needed Cat Scanner for the Hospital after a extensive fund raising campaign. Technicare, a division of Johnson and Johnson approached me and asked me if I would consider being the Service Technician for this machine and a second one being set up in another interior city in B.C. At this point I thought that all medical machines were crude, brightly painted green, over sanitized and safety protected. I guess I was thinking mainly of the old X-ray machines. Was I in for a surprise. I fell in love with the challenge of this Hi-tech machine. It had everything that was hi-tech from its floating point array processor to the 100KV power supply. The X-ray tube weighed 200lbs and was propelled around the patient by the gantry motor which was a army tank turret. For those of you that don't about a Cat Scanner, a rough explanation is that it is a X-ray machine that can take a picture of your body parts as cross sectional slices. Whereas a normal X-ray can show a broken bone, a cat scanner will show a slice of the same bone showing the marrow inside. Thus the term "computed axial tomography" or CAT for short. It accomplishes this task by rotating the x-ray tube completely around your body and passing a beam through your body 720 times. This beam is analyzed by a computer mathematically using a Fourier analysis. From this data they can calculate the densities of the different masses as that beam was bouncing through your body and produce a picture on a monitor. Taking a picture of the screen and reproducing it on film gives us the old familiar X-ray picture for the doctors analysis. To make a long story shorter. I accepted and enjoyed great success. I became skilled and was called upon to travel to Europe to help out new installations. I also was introduced to NMR (Nuclear Medical Resonance) which is intriguing. Instead of using X-rays they put your body in a powerful magnetic field and from the reactions of your ions all shifting dramatically with the field they can measure the changes and get a picture of the inside of you body. These 4 years were exciting times but very demanding career wise. In addition I developed some problems in my personal life. The children were growing fast, we were living on a small farm so there just wasn't enough time for everything: Something had to give. So I left this position and took a year off in Europe to reassess the situation. Meanwhile the IBM PC was booming and had moved from a XT to a AT and all the way to a 40 Meg Hard Drive.

 

New Challenges

After my hiatus in Europe I moved to the Lotus Land of B.C. and had a interesting time participating in the design of a couple of electronic projects. I also kept my Instructor skills honed by instructing some courses in Electronics at B.C.I.T. Then I was offered a position as Instructor at CompuCollege. CompuCollege was a fast growing private College organization that specialized in practical industry related training. My position was to train budding scientists in basic electronics and the operation /repair of a PC Computer. This turned into a five year fast paced and enjoyable experience. I had to keep up with all the advances in software and hardware as the PC progressed from the XT to when I left it was at the 486 DX level. We had to keep the courses current. There were constant curriculum changes and new batches of bright minds coming on board. I was also busy with consulting and had a number of software projects to complete. Then it was the call of the North again. I am definitely not a city person and I longed for the smell of the air up north. So it was back to northern B.C. for new challenges.

 

On My Own

After moving to the North I went into business for myself. I sold new and used computers and did repairs on anything electronic. I participated in a interesting design project using CADD that brought back fond memories of my mad scientist days. Now when we design circuits the computer is there to help us in mind boggling ways. The principles are the same for electronic design of a circuit. We still have gates and transistors and a myriad of discrete parts. Now with the computers help one can draw the schematic with these parts and imbed them into a hardware Integrated Circuit. Possibly like the idea of writing on a piece of paper the map of what you want and then turning that piece of paper into a piece of Silicon and plastic that does the job that was written on the paper. I also had the opportunity to get trained and operate a robot machine called "a pick and place", that puts these parts on the PC board. I have a fascination with Robotics and one day may get a chance to work in this field. Best of all was I finally had some time to sit down with the computer and make it work . Things move so fast in this trade of Electronics and Computers. I would learn some of the basics of a program so I understood the principle of it but would have no time to really make it do any of the extended functions. Using the computer and pushing its limits on designing those complex PC Boards was a pleasure and got me keyed up for other Cadd related work. So I honed my skills on AutoCad work doing forestry mapping.or anything that was CADD related. I also taught night school courses in Computers and operations. I was busy and challenged but the business wasn't doing as well. I was doing great technically but not too good as a businessman. I needed a better income to support my thirst for better computer equipment. So it was off to the booming economy of Alberta.

 

The Flatlands

I had a contact who asked me if I could help set up a new and used computer store in Alberta. The principle should work of old and new. Computer equipment goes out of date so fast. The replacement of a few parts and one should have a new computer, at a real bargain to the customer. It didn't work out too well for me. A computer user can purchase new equipment that is much more powerful than the older equipment even if the older equipment is upgraded. So the older equipment becomes about as useful as a boat anchor. The hardware just doesn't hold my interest too much these last few years as it has become too consumer oriented and not meant to be repaired or tinkered with. But the software and the Internet access is a phenomenal benift to anyone with an ounce of technical ability. The Internet has become my fascination and I have formed a company to develop business in this direction. Visit my Portfolio Section for companies that I have developed Web Pages for. I am totally enjoying this phase of my Career although it could be a little more profitable, it is definitely a talent that fits with my expertise as one can see from my Testimonial Section.

Well that flatland experience was a bust. I was doing fairly well and was building up a good clientel with the Web Design but got hooked up with a company and they did me in. More poor business sense that seems to haunt me throughout my history. Broke and miserable in Alberta where things are booming all around you is not good for the ego at all. So I toke a summer break and went to work at a very large farm. That was a great experience to be with the land again and work your butt off. But 14 hour days on a tractor and hard labor nearly killed me. All this running around and high tech learning has taken its tole and I am not a young spring chicken anymore. So it was back to the mountains of B.C. with my tail between my legs and Ralph Kliens $300 gift to all loyal Albertans.

 

The Mountains of B.C. Keep Calling

Things are going great in the mountains of B.C. I have developed my skills with Web Design to encompass the latest and the best. I service a limited amount of clients to keep my skills on the top and the learning curves for the new stuff to a minimum. I have also developed some impressive audio/visual abilities. My equipment is top notch, the software is all the latest and best on the market today, and I am making the computer work its butt off to keep up with me for once. I also have a fully operational hardware design shop with modern equipment and the ability to test and produce electronic controls of any sort. Just recently I have decided to give business one more try, and with some good luck and the good Lord's blessing I will make a sucess of this one. I am going to go into the e-waste business. There are tons and tons of obsolete computer equipment clogging up our landfills and being wasted because nobody knows anymore what is useful and what is scrap. With my skills and knowlege of being around just about every piece of equipment mankind has produced, (a little bragging there,but it sure feels like it when I look back on things), I will be one mean assimilator of electronic machines. I expect to produce many tons of Re-used , Re-cycled and Re-tested electronic equipment.

     
     
Revised 2013 by Larry Gentleman