- About the author -

The Early Years

I have had an interest in electricity and electronics for as long as I can remember. I was fortunate to have an electronics technician for a father that ran a home based TV repair shop on the side. I would spend hours in the shop playing with the various test equipment and spare parts building simple blinky light boxes and noise makers. For Christmas, instead of the Evel Knievel toys that all the other kids asked for, I asked for electronics build and experimenter kits from Radio Shack and Erector set accessories to add to my growing collection. By the age of 12 I was building simple remote controlled Erector vehicles. The neighborhood kids often laughed at them, because they were not nearly as fast or shiny as their store bought versions, but that didn't matter, I built mine! I got my first taste of computing at the age of 12 in December of 1979 when my father brought home a TRS-80 Model I home computer. It was a friend's computer and we could only keep it for a few weeks but it made a lasting impression on me. There were a couple of cassette tapes included that had a few BASIC games but what really caught my attention was a commercial game on one of the cassettes called Pyramid 2000. It was a text based game that put you outside of a pyramid and your task was to get into the pyramid, find your way around, avoid death traps, gather the treasures and get out alive. I was hooked not only with the game but the notion that this box sitting in front of me was creating this world I'm navigating. I wanted to know how this was done and could I do this as well?

About 6 months after my intial contact with the computing world my father brought home a brand new 16K TRS-80 Model III home computer. For some reason it came with a complimentary copy of Business Programs for TRS-80 Model I/III. This was probably some of the most dry, boring reading and programming you could do at the age of 13 but it didn't matter, I wanted desparately to learn how to program a computer. I would spend hours typing in the example financial programs using the hunt and peck method of typing. After all the typing (and debugging all my typing mistakes) I would start modifying the code to see the end results. I would then figure out what different commands did through trial and error and watching the screen for changes. This went on for about a month until I was confident enough to write my own program, "Computer Interview". The computer would ask the user a series of questions and based off the answers rate the user as to what type of person it thought you were. When my mother ran it for the first time she looked at me and said there was no way I wrote this. I must have copied it from a book. That's when I knew I had a knack for programming and my passion grew from there.

As my friends starting getting home computers over the next few years one of them got a Texas Instruments TI99/4A. This thing could do sound and color graphics! I spent many a weekend at his house reading through the manual with him until we finally made our first game, BattleZone. My poor TRS-80 Model III was getting less and less love from me until my father purchased a 300 baud modem and my friend's dad did the same for him. We started learning how to program modem commands to connect our computers remotely using a phone line! Good times! In 1982 my father purchased a TRS-80 Color Computer with 32K of RAM and one 5" floppy diskette drive. I now had color and sound at my disposal (sound of evil laughter heard in the background)! During the summers I would also help my grandfather on the farm bailing hay and straw and working the dirt with the Oliver Super 77. At the end of the season he would always hand me a nice reward, which this year I used to purchase a TRS-80 Pocket Computer II. I could now take my programming with me! I promptly got it taken from me by my junior high principal because, as she put it, "This is the ultimate cheating device!". I tried to explain to her that the only way the information could be in the computer is if I programmed it in to begin with, and therefore, if I took the time to do that I wouldn't need it because I would have it memorized. No, no, this was some sort of magical box in the palm of her hands that needed to be stopped right now. My, oh my, how end users haven't changed. LOL.

My programming really flourished with the Color Computer. My father was also a HAM radio operator and was experimenting with using HAM radio equipment as a modem to connect computers via the airwaves. I wrote a HAM radio BBS program that gew so large in scope that we had to purchase 4 5" diskette drives for the computer (the maximum allowed) just to hold the program and all the files people would share using the BBS. This communication method was known as CW and Packet RTTY and allowed HAM radio operators to "bounce" messages around the world by relaying the messages from HAM BBS to HAM BBS until they reached their final destination. It was an early precursor to today's Internet built entirely by hobbyists. Through my pogramming and my father's electronics know-how the BBS was able to switch between the 2 meter and 440 bands, allowing for very long range communication when needed. We did this by clicking the cassette relay built into the color computer that an electronics board would read and change to the appropriate radio needed. Fun times! We also played with Moon Bounce and Slowscan video.

Over the next few years until my 18th birthday I had programming experience on most TRS-80 computers, Commodore 64s, TI99/4As and the ZX Spectrum in various BASIC dialects, Z80 and 6809e Assembler. The IBM world was still a few years off for me.

The Marine Years

Soon after my 18th birthday I shipped out for the United States Marine Corps on a 6 year enlisted contract. You see, I didn't do well in school being the rather rebellious type, so college was probably not in my future. However, I scored extremely well on the military ASVAB test and was offered any job I desired. At that time all government computer related jobs were handled by civilian entities, so I chose a career that I had some experience in already, electronics. The first two years of my service were spent training, first in boot camp, then electronics school in NAS Millington TN and finally to my aircraft training in NAS Oceana VA. My final destination was for Cherry Point NC to join a Grumman A6E squadron. During this two year process I had pretty much left computers in my past, but I could never get over the feeling that I needed one again. It wasn't until 1989 that I again purchased a computer system, a 128K TRS-80 Color Computer III with dual 5" floppy diskette drives. It wasn't long before I began connecting with others on the base who were into computers, but they were all raving about their Intel 8086 this and 286 that and 386 whatevers. Well, it didn't take a rocket scientist to know that the IBM platform was a winner once I used it. But IBM computers, even the clones, in these early days were expensive especially to someone on a Corporal's pay grade. So I hit the pawn shops and found a Tandy 1000EX IBMjr compatible system that fit within my budget. It had 256K of RAM, a 5" floppy diskette drive and enhanced IBMjr CGA graphics that ran Tandy DOS 2.1. It wasn't long before I had upgraded the RAM to 640K, added a plus modem board and swapped the Intel 8088 CPU with an NEC V20 CPU. I soon discovered GWBasic and was back to programming! Having worked with assembler in the past on the Z80 and 6809e I enrolled in a college course on base to learn 80x86 assembler. The college professor introduced me to Turbo Pascal and needless to say GWBasic was put on the back burner for a while while I went full steam ahead with Assembler and Pascal. Over the next few years of my service I eventually upgraded through the Intel ranks to a 386SX16 with 1MB of RAM and Herculese graphics (I had to settle for Herculese for a few months because VGA monitors were insanely expensive at that point).

The Later Years

Upon leaving active military service in 1992 I landed a job as a database programmer using a language called Clarion. I was tasked with updating the city's databases from an old mainframe system to PC compatibility. I also did some technician work for the company which mainly consisted of new PC installs, upgrades, repairs and network installations. Well, unbeknownst to me the company I was working for had issues that are too long to list here and I left 3 months after I started. A computer store owner in the area heard that I had left and contacted me. He and a friend had worked for the same company 6 months prior to my arrival, knew why I had left and offered me a job as their lead PC technician. While working there I had the opportunity to work inside many of the local area factories upgrading, maintaining and installing computers and networks for them. I learned how to interface PC networks to HP mini mainframes and cut my teeth on Novell Netware network operating systems. I worked closely with engineers who taught me how to burn my own PROMs and program Programmable Logic Controllers on automated machinery. I also taught DOS classes in the evenings to the public which was my first experience as an instructor.

During this time a friend and I also ran a local public BBS running Wildcat BBS software. This was an invaluable experience that helped ready me for the Internet rage that was soon to hit. When the Internet did come to town my friend decided to get out of the BBS business but another local BBS had plans to start an ISP which I was very interested in. I would help them as much as possible gaining experience on how to interface a T1 phone line with 28.8K modem banks they had purchased. I was gaining a circle of friends in the IT community that eventually led to my next job. A friend of one of the ISP owners was leaving his system administrator job for a company called Intuit. He was the company's system administrator and custom software author having written their purchase order, inventory and financial tracking software (now you see why Intuit wanted him). He asked if I would come in and interview, which I did and got the job. I was now a system administrator and computer programmer. My duties there over the next four years increased wildly. When the company's electronics technician left I was tasked with programming the programmable logic controllers and maintenance on the company's phone system. The company owner wanted to delve into the world of CNC milling so I agreed to take a course in MasterCAM. The owner purchased a large tabletop CNC mill and we started milling plastic parts that I would design in MasterCAM. I was also a 3D graphics animation hobbyist at the time using a program called TrueSpace. The company owner approached me one day and asked if I could show another company how their product would look redesigned with our parts using 3D software. I took on the task and we won the contract. I was now able to do some 3D CAD work for the company when needed.

During my time as a system administartor I helped a friend open a computer store and worked after hours as his lead PC technician training other techs along the way. Over a three year period I got to see what it was like to operate and maintain such a business. When I left my position as a system administrator I was hired as lead technician at another computer store tasked with bringing it back to life. Over the next two years the store flourished and I was ready to move on again, although I had no idea the local school system was looking into me at the time. I received a phone call from a computer science instructor asking if I would be interested in teaching CompTIA A+, Network+ and CCNA curriculum to high school students. At first I declined the offer feeling that I couldn't possibly do something like this. However, that darn computer science instructor kept calling, week after week, asking me to just tour the school and see what it was that they do. I finally agreed to have a look and was amazed at what I saw. This was no ordinary high school, but instead a technical high school set up for the sole purpose of technical studies to include CAD, CAM, Information Technology and Robotics. Furthermore, the atmosphere of the school was more like a college where students could come and go as they pleased and they even attended college classes a few days out of the week. This type of school would have been a dream come true for me in my high school years!

I was told they were looking for someone with a broad background in Information Technologies, a jack of all trades if you will, and my name kept coming up through inquiries. I didn't have any type of degree so I was told I would need to attend college after hours and during the summer over a two year period to gain a teaching certificate. I knew this would be a lot of work but accepted the position any way and have been a computer science instructor ever since 2000 ... and love it!