In 1977 I received for Christmas a “150 Project” electronic set. I spent hours going through the manual for each project page by page. Connecting blue wires and red wires to springs attached to the backboard, the springs themselves connecting to electronic components. I built crystal radios, calculators, created various different sounds and controlled an LED. Thus began my interest in all things electronic.
1979 – 1982
Later, during my parents’ rustic living in the woods without electricity days, I hooked up car stereos to 12V batteries wiring speakers throughout the house to ensure that all could enjoy non-stop music (my other blossoming passion). This was often better than trying to figure out how to get new AA batteries for my Walkman when re-chargables were not invented yet.
Then, tired of manually bringing water into the cabin, I engineered a method to bring in water from the nearby creek. I connected a series of garden hoses together long enough to reach from the water source to the cabin. On one end I attached a funnel made from a 2-liter bottle, stuck it into the creek and weighted it with rocks. The hoses were laced through the trees, down the hill, across the open meadow and to the cabin where the other end was attached to a faucet on the deck. Not only did this provide running water during the summer months, but it also had the benefit of being very hot water as the water filled hose soaked up the sun and heated the water.
The hot water was an unplanned for side effect and led me to work on another project . Taking old barn wood, tin roofing material, windows from a camper shell and assorted other recycled items my Dad and I built a solar water heater for the cabin.
I also completely rebuilt a 1970 Volkswagen Beetle engine as part of a weeklong informal apprenticeship. I spent each day during the week working side by side with a mechanic with a copy of How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive : A Manual of Step-By-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot. This later became my first car to which I added an auto-reverse cassette deck, equalizer, four speakers and an air horn.
I received a Commodore 64 as a gift and quickly set off to learn BASIC so I could control color and move sprites around on the screen. I bought a small NTSC monitor so that my programming didn’t interrupt everyone else’s TV time and I bought a tape drive to save my experiments.
I obtained my Radio Operator’s Permit from the FCC and was hired part-time at a local talk radio station as an engineer. Here I learned how to run a circa-1960’s radio control board, read and log antennae output, splice audio and create advertising spots.
I continued to work part-time at the station for the next three years. Every Sunday from 8am until 4am I was the only one in charge at the station. Hosts and their guests would come in and I ran their entire program from intro music, through commercials and outgoing theme. For awhile I hosted my own 1-hour talk show that I named NewSpeak.
I bought a Commodore 128 as the Amiga that I really wanted was out of my price range. I used the 5 year old NTSC monitor I had purchased for the C64 on the new computer, but retired my old cassette drive. Purchasing a Commodore 1541-II Floppy Drive I learned how to program more extensive BASIC and wrote some entry level games using written tutorials (because online wasn’t a thing yet).
I began work as a telecommunications support specialist for Barnett Bank. In this role I supported the IT department in two primary ways. First, I programmed literal switches and individual telephone consoles for a county wide telecommunications equipment upgrade. This included providing individualized training at the branch and office level for using the new phone system.
My second role was creating the monthly audit and billing for multiple switches, extensions and hard lines. For this I used the department’s biggest and best workstation – a Mac SE30 with a whopping big 80MB hard drive. This role had me learning MS Excel and programming in Microsoft’s early Macro language (way before vbscript).
The role also exposed me to the division’s video department where an SVP was putting together a new concept called Wait Station Videos. I was asked to learn how to operate professional linear video photography and editing equipment to support the department. This included learning MacroMedia’s Macromind Director which enabled computer generated graphics to be overlaid on the video as it was mastered.
In the end I co-produced and edited a half-dozen short video segments advertising new banking products to customers in the branch waiting for assistance from the staff. One of the most unique advertisements was for a brand new concept in banking called the ATM card (now Debit card).
I was hired by Harris Corporation in Brevard County, Florida as an administrative temp. I immediately contributed to the administrative team by creating network shares for important executive documents, creating an Excel based calendar that allowed administrative support to view & update executive calendars and providing desktop Mac support to anyone that asked.
By the end of the year the official desktop support team had heard of the support I was giving to executive management – I was hired away from the Government Aerospace division by the Air Traffic Control division with a promotion to my first actual paid computer support role.
Prior to my change of divisions I had begun to provide configuration management services to the team working on the International Space Station – Yes, that one.