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June 20, 2005 [ More archived home pages here ]

One-Quarter Century Of Computing

Twenty-five years ago on June 20, 1980, I purchased my first computer system, a 16K Radio Shack TRS-80 (shown below) with cassette tape storage. It would be the start of a new hobby and then later a new career. In some ways it's hard to believe I've been at this for one quarter of a century. Those years passed too quickly into my collection of life experiences. This message attempts to accurately convey the path along the way.

I took to computer technology like a fish to water. I was never afraid to experiment as I learned my first programming language, Basic. I was still a machinist at the time working the 3:00 PM to 11:00 PM shift at International Harvester (IH) in Melrose Park, IL. I would come home and practice coding from my tutorials until 3:00 AM. It was a captivating experience to create a simple software program and watch it run. More often, I had to fix my typos and debug my errors as I progressed. Whether good or bad code resulted, it was all fun because I was learning. The learning never ended.

About a year later I started creating programs that I could use on my job as a machinist. Computing was still a hobby then. My general foreman was not overwhelmingly impressed with the output of my programs. He wondered why I was "wasting" my time creating computer programs, when I was "just" a machinist. He did appreciate the fact that one of my programs saved 23 man-hours of downtime a day on all those 23 crankshaft grinding machines in his department.

Still he didn't see anything special about the connection I had made by "modeling" a real-world manufacturing problem in a small personal computer's memory banks. I myself, hadn't made the complete connection at that time either, so I can't expect that he would see the value add in the process. He was a "numbers" man. I was a machinist pursuing new territories of my mind without marking my path along the way as I would in later years. Below I explain my contributions to IH in the early years of my hobby.

***

My first two programs that were used commercially came about in 1981. I was working at International Harvestor (IH) in the crankshaft grinding department at Melrose Park, IL plant.

My first contribution consisted of a RPM table of grinding wheel speeds depending on the radius of the wheel. That speed table enabled the grinder operator to make his own RPM adjustments. My idea saved on average 20 minutes per machine per shift. (At that time there were 23 grinders running 3 shifts a day; so I saved IH, 23 man-hours of work per day.)

My second contribution came about one day after I watched those 23 grinders come to a stand-still due to manufacturing problems. Because of the close tolerances used (.0005"), bubble gauges were used to measure the various dimensions of a crankshaft's journals. With six main journals to monitor, it was difficult to maintain a mental image of the combined readings. When adjustments are needed to the machinery and having no way to relate the bad readings to the corrective action required, results in lots of wasted time.

I came up with a program to display the bubble gauge readings on the computer from hand-typed entries. Using the TRS-80 "block graphics" capability, I could display all six main journals at the same time. It took a couple weeks of after-work hours to write the program. Unfortunately, with only 16k of RAM, I could only capture and display 3 crankshafts at a time.

Because of this limitation and no way to automate the I/O from the gauge to the computer, this concept could not be acted upon. Note: I have attached a 1991 version of my crankshaft concept implemented in a HyperCard stack (shown below). That version almost duplicates the screen presentation of the TRS-80 version and only took 4 hours to write in 1991. :-)

***

I was laid-off from IH in October 1981, never to return. In early November of that year I sold my first computer system and purchased a 48K Apple II+ computer with a printer and two floppy-disk drives. I was in heaven, but my posterior was in the credit union's vaults with the loan papers I had signed financing that $3,000 deal. It was that psychic sense I have that told me to purchase it. It wasn't an expense, it was an investment. That sensing has never been wrong, so I trust it implicitly. I didn't know then it would be almost three years before that investment allowed me to exceed the earnings I had made as a machinist.

In the years before my computing income reached parity with my former regular paycheck at IH, I paid my dues by getting a foot in the door as a computer consultant in my own business. I also worked as a Customer Support Manager at a major software distributor for about half of what I earned at IH. Making money isn't everything, it seems.

Below is an image of the Apple Lisa computer I used in 1983-84. I used the LisaCalc, LisaWrite, and LisaDraw applications to prepare my class lessons for my adult students when I taught at Triton College between 1983-85.

Those experiences paid big returns starting in November 1985 when I began earning $1,000 a week. That amount would be increased in the following years when I switched to software consulting and development on the Mac in 1986 and started selling database solutions on a global basis. Those were great years and even better years were yet to follow.

I enjoyed the technology skills I learned in the 1980's. They would be the stepping stone near the end of that decade, to a great corporate career at A.T. Kearney, Inc. (ATK), at the global headquarters in Chicago, IL. I continued expanding my technology skills with my own explorations of software, relational database, and a new slant--automating workflow processes.

Mostly those six years of my life at ATK benefited by the business experiences when working closely with the management consultants, many who I felt were geniuses. My boss helped me understand crucial concepts in business from a management consultants perspective.

By 1993 I was poised to start my partnership and EveryDay Objects, Inc., was born. It would run for five years and be one of my great experiences in life.


Sherry's vocations and my technology career enabled us to move here to San Diego. Together we paid for our portion of our daughter's private college expenses. It gave the Larson family the freedom to pursue and realize most of our dreams.

I was fortunate along the way over these last twenty-five years. I had some people that were there when I needed a break. My heart-warmed thanks to all of them, they are:

  • Ronnie Metzker gave me my first computer job on August 16, 1982; he remains one of my best friends from that experience
  • Ken Bell gave me chance as a computer consultant in a large downtown Chicago business in May 1984 where I was later hired as a Data Processing Manager
  • In October 1987, Mitch Mohr of Ernst & Young hired me as a consultant for a litigation support project later used by the U.S. Attorney General
  • Bill Schultz, and the late, Walter Strauss hired me at ATK in September 1989
  • My friends, Marc Raiser, Eric Knapp, and Don Arbow helped start EveryDay Objects, Inc., with me
  • Fred Bockmann of Apple Computer inspired me since 1985 and remains one of my best friends
  • Mike Regent advocated for me to be ATK's consultant after I left ATK
  • Rick Davidson who worked with me at ATK, later helped me work for IBM on his team during 1998-99
  • My friends Rick White and Fred Brende of Digital Sweatshop Inc. are always there to help me spread the cause here in North County San Diego
  • Scott Chitwood of ResExcellence, selflessly promotes my artistry
  • Mick Calarco of the Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park provides me my most current opportunities

Nowadays, I am an active volunteer in the community and I share my gifts where and when I can. The Internet provides a framework of vast resources and allows me to do more with less. I appreciate the many readers around the world who enjoy my sites: Time Out Of Mind; Digital Passages; and my newest adventure--podcasting. When I look outward, the end of my path is nowhere in sight.

When I look inward, I remember my wife, Sherry supported me from the start and continues to encourage me. My daughter learned about computers by my side and inspires me too. They made the ride of the last twenty-five years possible. Thank you both with my love.

Don


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