Archive for June, 2004

High school computing

Wednesday, June 30th, 2004

During high school I continued to be involved with computers. Yet it was not done to the exclusion of all else. I was on the swim team each year, did my studies taking numerous honors (now called advanced placement) courses, and was interested in photography including developing and printing prints among other things. So I attended a computer club at our archrival high school where the teacher taught FORTRAN. This language was so foreign to me when compared to my initial exposure to the simplicity of BASIC. I especially remember being absolutely bewildered by FORMAT statements. As part of the club some of the students chose to write different programs. One student worked on a dating program which would match people based upon a questionnaire. We mimeographed the questionnaire and passed it out to everyone. I was more fascinated with the answers that the girls had provided. Think of it as a bunch of geeks having a easy way to meet girls. I don’t think his program ever worked though. My programming was less ambitious. I had become interested in hovercraft, a subject that I had picked up from my father who was involved with them at his work. I had built several of them including one in eighth grade even before being introduced to BASIC. My father found a series of articles in an British magazine that analyzed hovercraft design with numerous equations. This was a perfect match for FORTRAN – formula translator. This was done on punch cards – keypunch cards on the IBM Key 026 Punch, load compiler on cards into an 1620 Data Processing System, load your program cards, punch intermediate results, load second pass of compiler, output results on cards, and print a listing on the IBM 407 Accounting Machine. But alas I never finished it and finally I lost interest in it. I feel this is another theme of my life, I don’t always complete things that I start.

Beginnings of a career

Tuesday, June 29th, 2004

I grew up in Buffalo, NY, and it was the summer after ninth grade. During the summer my mother would sometimes take an art course. She loved art especially sculpture and painting. Some of which has been passed down to her grandchildren, but skipped me. It was a special vacation for her to do this. This one was somewhere in Vermont or New Hampshire and I think it was called “The Old Mill”. We did summer vacations like this several times around then. Another time we went to somewhere in Connecticut, because I remember the beach, the Long Island Sound and the name Brackman for that one. But back to the other…

My brother is four years older than me. At the time he was in college at Dartmouth College. It was a long drive there – over six hours to Hanover, New Hampshire. My parents dropped me off with my brother, and headed on their way to the art school for a week. I stayed in his dorm which was nearly empty and he settled me into an unused room. I have no idea what he was doing that summer, but some job I’m sure. He got me a job in the cafeteria. I scraped food off plates, and machine-washed dishes. Something I’ve never forgotten, nor ever want to do again.

In my off hours he gave me an id number which allowed me to use the campus computer. Down in the basement of the dorm was a terminal, actually it was a teletype. It was attached to the campus computer, a General Electric 235. He also gave me a programming manual. It was for Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code by Kemeny and Kurtz, also known as BASIC. This was the Dartmouth Time-Sharing System, and it was all very very brand new. It was the summer of 1963. Here was an environment where they wanted to make it easy for each student to access a computer. [Only later did I find out how special this was when I tried to program FORTRAN on an IBM 1620 using a two-pass compiler all on punch cards.] So I read the manual, ran existing programs – many of them games, printed them out, tried to figure them out, and in time I decided to write a program myself. By the end of the week I had written a program to find perfect right triangles, such as 3-4-5, 5-12-13 where the sides were less than 100. All this computer business left an impression on me. After this vacation I distinctly remember riding my bike (remember I was in ninth grade) over to a science fair friend’s home to tell him about it. Somehow I remember he was doing something with computers at the local university (University of Buffalo AKA SUNY at Buffalo) and I wanted to find out more. Little did I realize that this was the beginning of my career. Looking back the theme of my career has always been that it was more chance than it was choice, and your siblings have more influence on you that you’ll ever know. Thank you Bro.

A weekend day at work

Monday, June 28th, 2004

It’s Sunday and I worked all day today. I woke early and instead of painting house trim I went to work. It’s been raining here and everything outside is still quite moist – not good for painting. I did do a little something yesterday so I feel vindicated a bit. A triangular piece of trim at the end of the roof was rotted. Last week I removed it while I was finishing my painting. Yesterday I bought a 2×10 that was eight feet long and I cut a two foot section from it to create the replacement piece. I was bothered that I had to buy such a large piece. I reattached it, caulked around it and painted it. It’s much better than the hole which went directly into the attic. For the last week I’ve worried that a squirrel or bird would make its home there. No such luck or at least I didn’t see anything or hear anything scratching around afterwards. So today I played hookey although some people might not think it was that. There were times when the minutes flew by, and others when they didn’t. I couldn’t believe it took me so long to do the things that I was trying to do. Lots of stupid mistakes, but slowly I made progress. I didn’t want to leave until it was working again. The minutes became hours and after 10 hours I called it quits. So my demo for a business partner is ready. Along the way were numerous calls by my daughter. She was keeping in touch, checking up on me and making sure I would make it home in time for dinner. She made a great batch of chicken legs in red gravy, and scratch made mashed potatoes. I haven’t worked during the weekend in quite a while and it felt good.

Raisin bran gene

Thursday, June 24th, 2004

Each morning after running I cool down outside then creep back into the house and have breakfast. I try to be quiet, but I’m not too good at it. [I’ve noticed in the past few posts that I’m not very good at many things – ho-hum] The spoon, a large tablespoon not the dinky teaspoon, always clinks the other silverware. The bowl, a handmade blue large cup with side handle from Blue Hill Maine, always bumps other bowls and the shelf. I place the bowl near the sink, go get the cereal box, and fill it to the top. I brush any spillage into the sink. Then I carry the spoon and bowl to the kitchen table. However, before I set it down I always put down a cloth placemat, again to eliminate noise. Now back to the cereal. For some strange reason I found that I like Raisin Bran. I’ve eaten it for years and years. I don’t get tired of it. I’ve tried many other types of cereal, but I always come back to my Raisin Bran. Now every so often I take a short break and my back up is Post Selects Cranberry Almond Crunch Cereal. Now all this is very interesting, but what is more intersting is that my father also likes Raisin Bran. Could there be an inherited trait that I’ve gotten from my father. Possibly. However, as in any genetic situation mutations can happen. And you know what, it happened to us. My father prefers Post Raisin Bran, whereas I’m a tried and true Kellogg’s Raisin Bran kinda guy. Now what would be freaky is if any of my children become Raisin Bran eaters. Only time will tell.

End game

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2004

I’m getting old enough and have worked long enough that I’m starting to think that maybe the next few things I do for my company will be the last I do for them. That is to say, I’ll be retiring from that position. My children are at the opposite end. They are just beginning their careers, or are about ready to in the next few years. I call my situation “end game” because one tends to play the game differently as one approaches the end of it. So far I’m not doing things very differently, but I’m wondering if and when I will. Also I’m just aware of it and that makes things different. Conversely my youngsters are seeking challenges, promotions, and raises, whereas I’m probably not going to get promoted to the next level, which is exceedingly difficult to achieve. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to decline a promotion if it does happen and I’m considering doing what I needs to achieve it. But I have an honest appreciation of what it will really take to do it. Also, by the way, my manager has told me that I’m being overpaid so there would be no raise this year, nor would one next year be very likely or very much. Luckily my manager said that they were not going to take it away. So even knowing these things I still wake up and look forward to work each day – to interact, to contribute, to accomplish, and to achieve. That doesn’t sound like “end game” to me, but in the back of my head it’s still there.

System entropy and beauty

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2004

I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, but I’m starting to think I am. Organization is good. Structure is right. Consistency is my goal. Complete and logical obviousness is sought. All of which is a form of beauty. What I don’t like is extraneous, useless, and unbalanced things. It takes energy to take a poorly structured system and reduce its entropy. I consider this a waste of my time to reduce this randomness, but sometimes it’s required. Sometimes I caused it. Sometime you don’t know what is better until later when you’ve seen it from the whole system’s viewpoint. Then you’ve got to work, sometimes real hard, to make things better – to put everything in its place. Sometimes it’s not even possible to rectify. Why is it that some people don’t understand this. Maybe they are immature or inexperienced. I have hope that they will learn someday and they will care enough to not let it happen. Though maybe they’ll never get it which saddens me. Rarely have I found someone who does this on purpose. In any case, these souls inadvertently tangle things up. They increase disorganization, reduce structure, and make it all so inconsistent. They don’t or can’t see or understand the system view. They do incomplete, and illogical things. These things greatly increase the system entropy. And after a number of these types of changes, the system slowly descends into spaghetti. Strings of congealed glutinous process that is unredeemable. And it is not art, it is ugly, it is not perfection.

Morning jog

Monday, June 21st, 2004

Each weekday morning I follow the same habit. It’s taken me years to create this complex behavior. As soon as I’m traveling or on vacation it all falls apart. That doesn’t bother me very much especially if it’s vacation, but why am I not stronger to maintain it. Sometimes I try, but most times I don’t. With all my other responsibilities, such as family and work, the early mornings are my time. It’s so quiet and, where I live, it’s cooler. I begin by dressing for running my standard three mile jog around my neighborhood. Everyone else in the house is sleeping. I creep downstairs and out the front door. It’s typically 6:30 AM when I start. Now you would think that I would follow the same route, and I have for the past 8 years since moving to this house, but recently, that is in the past two years, I’ve begun to change things a bit. I sometimes run the route backwards. I decide at the last moment. And you know what, it’s harder and I don’t like it as much. Before last year, I liked to run by myself. However for long runs chatting with a good buddy is the best. These short morning runs take about 30 minutes. I’m not a fast runner, more turtle than hare. It let’s me think, ponder, and possibly solve the previous, current and upcoming day’s problems. I find there is nothing better than for the run to go by, the time to pass, and I’m back home having been totally absorbed in thought. It’s also a good workout. In other words, I gotta get sweaty. Nothing else does this for me – not weights, bikes, inline skates, swimming, etc – the way that running does. On most weekends I take a break, and then it starts all over again – unless I’m traveling or I’m on vacation, then we’ll see…

Waking up

Saturday, June 19th, 2004

I wake up early each morning. It’s not something I can stop. My body just says it’s time, and ta-da I’m up. It starts with me waking, but then I start thinking about things while I lay there. Mostly about work and family and what’s going to happen that day. Sometimes while lying there I’ll doze off again, but that’s only on weekends. On weekdays I set the alarm to radio and reset it after they announce the current temperature. But I typically wake before the alarm goes off, and I wait for it to turn on. I don’t use the beeper, but use the radio. It is less jarring. I always listen to the same station. Recently the radio station changed its format. They used to do the traffic and weather together on the hour. Now they do the traffic, then a bunch off commercials, then the forecast, then the temperature. I wish they wouldn’t have changed. I’ve been too antsy to listen to all this other stuff when all I want to know is the temperature outside. So I typically turn it off during the commercials. Right now I really don’t need to know the temperature because each day is the same. It starts out at 75 and goes to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. So after I reset the alarm I roll out, drag myself across the bedroom, shuffle down the hall, and go to the computer. The LCD display lights up the whole room like a major fluorescent panel causing me to squint. It’s fun finding the cursor while covering your eyes with one hand and peering though the slits in your fingers. I always do e-mail and then I look at the news. Somehow this wakes me up more, and I’m ready to begin the day…