To All The Computers I’ve Loved Before

With apologies to Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias

I’m a nerd.

This is common knowledge among those who have been in the same zip code as me.  You don’t actually have to meet me in person.  It’s kind of like radiation.  No, it’s not contagious.

No, this is my grandma Effie, not my slightly older sister.

Anyway, I was thinking about something my (slightly older) sister and I were discussing a while back regarding our grandmother, Effie Wolfe, and the degree in which technology exploded in her lifetime.   Think about the degree that technology emerged from her birth in 1897 until her passing in 1987. It’s hard to imagine what it was like for her and others of her generation to have been born into a world in which technology was just in its infancy to seeing people landing on the moon.  

For example, the first electric power transmission line in North America went online on June 3, 1889, with the lines between the generating station at Willamette Falls in Oregon City, Oregon, and Chapman Square in downtown Portland, Oregon — about 13 miles.  That’s only 8 years before Effie was born and I doubt tiny Deshler, Ohio was a place where cutting-edge home electricity distribution landed first.

When I was a really small human, I remember she had a phone with no dial.  You picked it up and the local Deshler operator answered and placed your call.  My sister mentioned remembering a phone with a hand crank on it, but I don’t remember that.  

But I DO remember computers. Lots of ‘em starting with this baby:

This is the computer from the Seaview, the fictional submarine featured in both the movie and the absolutely awful TV show “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” and I vividly recall watching this show at Effie’s house.  In black and white, ‘natch.

The TV show ran from 1964–1968, and as an impressionable youngster, I was nuts for this show and its vision of advanced technology.  Mom said that it gave me bad dreams and I would wake up in the middle of the night turning imaginary knobs and pushing imaginary buttons on the wall, presumably dreaming I was operating the Seaview computer.  (Out of curiosity a few months back, I looked it up on Netflix to see what I was so obsessed with back then.  Trust me when I say the show does NOT hold up.  At. All.)

Another Irwin Allen show that prominently featured a computer was “The Time Tunnel.”  Here’s the way it looked on the show:

From the pilot episode “Rendezvous with Yesterday” September 9, 1966.

Something I didn’t know until recently, this was a real computing system, the AN/FSQ-7 Combat Direction Central.  (Click the link to the left or the photo below to learn about it.)  

This computer would show up in a whole lot of movies and TV shows including a couple more from “Tunnel” producer Irwin Allen:  

“Q7 components were used in numerous films TV series and TV series needing futuristic looking computers, despite the fact they were built in the 1950s. Q7 components were used in The Time Tunnel, The Towering Inferno [Featuring O.J. Simpson], Logan’s Run, WarGames and Independence Day amongst many others.”

“The Juice” on the loose in “The Towering Inferno.”

After all that good stuff, I found myself taking a different track into music.  I got a music scholarship to Valley Forge Military Academy in 1971.  In 1974, I believe, they offered a one-semester course in Computer Programming with FORTRAN IV.  I and my fellow students had to take our deck of punch cards on the commuter train over to Villanova University’s computer center to have our programs run through their IBM 370/168.  

I have only vague recollections of running my cards through the reader, waiting for 15-20 minutes for the program to run and then retrieving my printouts from the computer technician through the glass window.  Very old school. The computer center looked something like this 370/168 installation:

There was a watered-down version of either BASIC or FORTRAN on the Academy’s very own minicomputer, the Interdata Model 4.  

It had a single Teletype as its primary interactive device and a single punch card reader which, as I recall, wasn’t good for much since we could never get the Interdata version of FORTRAN IV to run even though it was supposed to.  It was plenty good to teach programming techniques that we could implement in our programs we took to Villanova.  

Many years passed before I did any programming of any kind.  I had access to the Commodore VIC-20 when I was in SHAPE, Belgium and I wrote a BASIC program to do TV scheduling for the American Forces Network TV station there.

When I got back to the US in 1985, I promptly bought a Commodore 64…

… and just as promptly outgrew it, replacing it with a pre-owned original IBM-PC for which I needed a bank loan for something like $3,000.  (Yes, computers were painfully expensive.)  

Later on, I upgraded the memory from 384k to a whopping 640k, which at the time was as much as you could stuff into one of these babies.  Down the road, I upgraded it again with an extraordinarily large, thought-I’d-never-be-able-to-fill-it-all-up-in-a-zillion-years 10 MB hard drive. That’s megabyte. To me, it was a huge amount of storage space.

For my nine-week school at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, I bought myself the very first Zenith laptop computer. This one came with 640k of memory, I think, and two of the newest type 3 1/2″ floppy disks, which were really no longer floppy at all. 

This lasted me for quite awhile until…  well, the divorce and the former spousal unit got the IBM and I kept the laptop.  Fair enough.

Jon and Andy hung on to that laptop for quite a few years, most of which were spent gathering dust.   

In 1987, I started working for the newly-formed Information Center at Fort Richardson, Alaska.  ‘Twas there that I met and worked for the brilliant and talented Raymond Brady, a long-time mainframe programmer and Department of the Army Civilian.  Raymond trained me on the IBM 4361 mainframe computer that was the central hub of the Command Wide Area Network encompassing Forts Richardson, Wainwright and Greely.

Publicity still of an IBM 4361.

I recall that Fort Richardson received a cutting-edge DASD (Direct Access Storage Device). Think of it as a mainframe hard drive. Raymond was crazy impressed that it was a half gigabyte system. Let’s face it — we were ALL impressed with this thought-we’d-never-be-able-to-fill-it-all-up-in-a-zillion-years DASD.

Raymond taught me about the 3270 protocol and IBM Operating System, VM/SP.  And I got to be a pretty good beginning REXX programmer.

Since I was one of the few people around who actually had one at home, I became the designated personal computer guy.

About the time Raymond and I started working together in the Information Center, the Army negotiated a huge contract to buy desktop PC’s from Zenith. These Z-248’s flooded very quickly onto desks around Alaska and throughout the Army, armed with an integrated software suite called Enable.

I can’t tell you how many of these machines I installed and repaired in the roughly two years I was in the Information Center, but it must have been well over a hundred if not more.  I got to know the Z-248 quite well.

I would be remiss were I to fail to acknowledge fellow VFMA alumnus Ben Sherburne.  Long after graduation, Ben and I unexpectedly ran into each other in the headquarters building barber shop at Fort Richardson. We wound up working together with Raymond in the Information center until 1990.

Me, Raymond Brady and Ben Sherburne in Alaska during our time together in the Information Center.

In 1990, I got out of the Army for the first time.  The Zenith laptop continued to serve me well. Then I started collecting computer parts. People would just give me their old computers that they replaced.  I sustained my computer habit over the years by rescuing the parts and pieces from these hand-me-downs and building systems that did what I needed ’em to do.  They weren’t cutting edge, but they got the job done.

Not too long after that, PC’s pretty much became a commodity. The brand you bought really didn’t matter all that much as it had in the early days of PC deployment.  In 2008, I bought my first Mac Laptop and it’s still working just fine even as I sit at the kitchen table and type this:

Samsung Galaxy S8.

Of course, even the tiny cell phone with which I snapped the photo of my nine-year-old MacBook Pro has enormous power when compared with the Interdata Model 4, the first real computer I got to use. From 64 kilobytes of ferrite core memory, to 64 gigabytes of solid state storage on my Samsung smart phone, it’s easy to see how drastically things have changed.

Just since I started in the computer business in 1974-ish with punch cards and core memory, to having access to nearly the entirety of human knowledge in my pocket is genuinely astounding when I stop to think about it.

I doubt Effie ever laid hands on a computer keyboard before her passing in 1987.  With new devices and new technology popping up almost daily, I wonder just how far beyond the S8 and Alexa-powered smart homes we’ll be in 20 years.

The Ultimate Star Trek Fan’s Guide to Excretion

If you’re not a Star Trek fan, these won’t be nearly as funny.

There I was sitting on the…

Well, never mind where I was and what I was doing at the time. That’s not important now.

Here’s my list of the top ten ways a rabid Star Trek fan could say they were on their way to the can.

  1. Vent some drive plasma.
  2. Eject the ol’ warp core.
  3. Dropping some friends off at the Holodeck.
  4. Do an emergency beam out.
  5. Coolant leak.
  6. Preventing a warp core breach.
  7. Emergency separation.
  8. Perform the Corbomite Maneuver.
  9. I’m heading to the Battle Bridge.
  10. Losing antimatter containment.

Qapla’

 

Some Cute Puppy Pictures to Sustain Us Through These Next Days

No politics, just puppies. 

More specifically, puppies and dogs with which I’ve shared space ever since I can remember.  You’ve probably seen some of these photos before, but I’m compiling them here because… well, because I want to. 

So there, too.

Click on any photo to see the large version.

Addie:

Addie was a Wire Fox Terrier born in Germany sometime in the early 1950’s.  My Mom and Dad brought him home with them after Dad completed his assignment there in 1953.  I don’t remember much about Addie except that he would often sleep with me on my bed.

He was a stereotypical male dog who wandered off for days on end only to return roughed up and hungry. He dashed out the door one night and never returned.

 

Schatzi:

A Collie, as you can tell, Schatzi was the family Christmas gift in 1962-ish.  She was loyal, well-trained and just the sweetest dog ever.  She was raised around me and my older sister when we were still in elementary school.  She tolerated without complaint all the relatively unkind shenanigans that kids inflict upon their dogs like trying to ride her like a pony or hitching her up to a sled.  She never fussed.  Not once.

We had to give her away when we moved to Camp Hill, PA in 1969 and she died shortly thereafter.  Dad said that her new owners told him that she was never the same after that and that she died of a broken heart.

 

Myrtle:

After our cat, Sam died, Dad brought home Myrtle from Lebanon, PA near Fort Indiantown Gap, the Army post where he was stationed after returning from Vietnam in 1969.  I remember watching him come up the front yard from the parking spots of our apartment building concealing something under his uniform overcoat.

Myrtle was all Poodle through and through, with all of the frenetic personality traits for which miniature Poodles are well known.  She was a good guard dog and doorbell, would play ball relentlessly, and was an excellent judge of character.  If Myrtle didn’t like you, then it was pretty clear that I shouldn’t either, which made her dislike of the first Mrs. Wolfe so much more contextually relevant.  Of course, by the time the two of them faced off, it was too late for me.

I used to take her outside and smack a tennis ball with a racquet as hard and as high as I could.  She would take off at warp speed often arriving in time to greet the ball as it bounced its first bounce, zeroing in on the sound of the impact.  The last time we got to play ball like this, she was much older. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.   She dashed after the first ball like she was a puppy and them came back so out of breath that it was clear that hitting another one was a very bad idea.  Myrtle and I had to be satisfied with that last moment of play together.

Somewhere I have a picture of Myrtle, but I can’t seem to locate it right now.  I’ll have to add it later.

Alexander:

Alas, I have no photos of Alexander.  He was a large mixed breed dog that we rescued in 1981 when I lived in Augusta, GA.  He was as sweet as they come and equally dumb.  He would jump the fence so we leashed him.  He jumped it anyway.  We discovered him one night hanging by the neck over the fence with one foot on the ground keeping him from hanging himself.  I was horrified.

Later, he went to live in Augusta with my in-laws and finished out his lazy life as the neighborhood dog, wandering about greeting the cul-de-sac house by house and returning home at night for food and rest.

Esme:

I was stationed in Belgium when I heard an AFN radio ad for an American family that was trying to find homes for a litter of puppies.  (Not unusual that I heard radio ads as I worked for the AFN station at SHAPE, Belgium.)  So after work, I dashed a few miles over to a small Belgian village and found Esme.

She was a fierce little thing, and playful.  We’d sit on the couch and watch AFN’s SHAPE’s fuzzy TV signal together.  One evening, Esme and I were roughhousing and she got a little too excited and bit me, not breaking the skin.  I yelped in pain and surprise and she immediately backed off, tucked her tail between her legs and decided that we were done with that for the evening and we should go back to watching TV.  So I sat down with a beer in one hand and started watching TV.  Esme snuggled up next to me and started licking the spot where her teeth had indented my hand.  She sat there soothing my “wound” for a half an hour until the beer finally had it’s effect and I got up to excuse myself.

She remained behind in Belgium with a trusted neighbor.  Esme subsequently had a litter of puppies and for whatever reason was afterward uncontrollable and dangerously aggressive, so much so that she had to be euthanized for the owner’s safety.

This is the only photo of Esme that I have.

 

Gizmo:

He’s a Papillon, for those curious about the breed.  Like most Papillions I’ve met, he’s ridiculously smart, friendly and craves interaction and activity.  Gizmo’s passion was playing ball, and he would — and has literally played until he fell over unable to move. He would come to you looking for something, a treat, his ball or frisbee or some other item he wanted.  If you couldn’t decipher what he was after, all you had to say was “Show me what you want!” and he’d show you.  If it was a treat, he’d stand near the kitchen cupboard and gesture to where the treats were stored. He was the best companion and while we’ve not lived in the same space for a long time, miss him terribly.  (P.S. He had his own web site at one time.)

 

Chloe:

Chloe was Gizmo’s pal until her untimely demise not too long ago. Although she didn’t share Gizmo’s size, she was otherwise all Papillon — gregarious, playful and happy-go-lucky.  In fact, she and Gizmo both would get together with about 15-20 of their Papillon friends, and not once do I remember any aggression breaking out. Pap’s are the most agreeable pups in my experience.

  

Charlie:

The first of the real canine hard luck cases in my experience, Charlie was a rescue who was in the worst shape of any dog I’ve ever seen.  His coat was matted and sheep-like, filthy dirty and greasy to the touch.  His breath smelled of rotting teeth and he was an emotional wreck.

While that last part only slightly changed before I was forced to find him a better home, the rest changed quickly. Once bathed, his coat grew out soft and luxuriously.  Once his dental issues were resolved, his breath improved because he had no teeth left.

He often tried to bite, but without teeth all he could do was gum you unexpectedly.  Disappointed that he wasn’t able to stay with us, a better home was found for him that immediately enrolled him in obedience classes for abused dogs.  While I have no updates on what happened to him, I am choosing to believe that his life is better now.

Bella:

Bella’s story is here.  Every time I read this it makes me laugh and tear up.  But there’s some fun pics of this truly lovely addition to my life that I hadn’t shared before.  Bella had a huge positive impact on me aside from burrowing under my laptop computer when she wanted attention.  I miss her terribly.

In Bella’s defense, it was warm under there.

This is a video of Bella just after she realized that she was going outside for a “romp.”  That meant that she and the kids and I were going out to the large field behind our home to romp and play off-leash.  She was like this ANYTIME she thought she was going out to play.  The neighbors thought wrongly that we were somehow abusing our sweet Bella, but we weren’t.  She was just that exuberant.  TURN DOWN THE VOLUME on this video.  She gets loud.

You’ve been warned.

And this is Bella behaving as she most often did.

Romping.

Bella and Nathan on a romp.

  

Emmett:

Yes, he’s still a jackass.  But he’s so much improved now that he’s almost like a real dog.  He’s cuddly on occasion, and craves belly and neck scratches, but ONLY on his terms.  He’s affectionate with the family and squeals with delight when he’s furiously licking our faces.  He’s also fiercely protective, as Dachshunds are.  But he’s really only mean to one person.

If he’s outside, off leash and sees the autistic kid down the street, he chases him.  And the kid runs.  Emmett thinks it’s a chase game while the kid is freaking out, being chased by a snarling little wiener dog.  If it weren’t so horrendously un-PC, it would be hilarious. Anyway, we put an immediate stop to that behavior and now make sure that the kid down the street isn’t in the area before we go out.

You gotta admit, that’s kinda jackass-ey.

He does not greet romps with the same exuberance as Bella did. Thank heaven for small favors.

“I’m not a jackass! And I’m hurt that you’d even think such a thing.”

    

That’s it.  Enjoy the puppy pix!

Why I’ve Not Written Much Lately

I certainly have nothing cogent to add to the already ridiculous political discussion on Facebook. No sense in joining that shit show. So in addition to recusing myself from the cacophony that is Facebook politics, here’s my list of ten other reasons I’ve not written much lately.

1. Winter’s here and it’s hard to type when wearing mittens.

2. My give-a-shit meter is pegged.

3. Lamenting the dreaded holiday season in writing makes me seem like a non-McDuck Scrooge.

4. Because I’m cold all the time, my brain functions more slowly.

(Now this requires a brief explanation. As a rough approximation, for many chemical reactions happening at around room temperature, the rate of reaction doubles for every 10°C rise in temperature. Therefore, it stands to reason that there would be a commensurate reduction in rate for similar drops in temperature. It is winter. I am cold. My brain is also cold. Therefore, my brain chemistry is slowed and there exists a reduction in brain function sufficient to inhibit writing. QED.)

5. See reason #2.

6. I’ve been unusually busy at work. (This one’s actually true. I’ve been unexpectedly busy this year during the weeks when it’s usually slow. I suspect that’s just probably procrastination and piss-poor prior planning on my part.)

7. Supporting Emmett during his recovery from a recent muscular injury and upset tummy took up much of my attention. (He’s fine now, thanks for asking.)

8. I was busy binge watching a season and a half of “Daredevil,” the entire season of “Luke Cage,” both on Netflix, and the “Star Trek: TOS” marathon on BBC America. Priorities, people. Priorities.

9. Wild horses kept me away.

10. See reason #2.

Things I’m Keeping in Mind Today

1. In spite of the political flame throwing, Facebook is still fun.

2. Regardless of who wins, we’ll all be OK.

3. “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” notwithstanding, the Three Laws of Thermodynamics still apply.

4. Exercise still sucks.

5. News hasn’t been news for years.

benedict-cumberbatch-filming-doctor-strange-set-pictures6. Benedict Cumberbatch is a tremendous actor.

7. So is Tilda Swinton.

8. I’m the worst political pundit ever. I’m not making any political predictions because I’ve been surprised at every turn.

life-regular-50th-detail-sflbec4155418cb46e438643ff2300547e50

9. Life cereal is a gift from whatever gods there may be.

10. Emmett, the family Dachshund, is still a jackass.

img_20160818_185902-picsay

Yes, he’s wearing a bow tie.

Cool Pictures That I’m In or That I Took

Here’s another in a series of posts I’m going to make when I find some of these treasures. Some will be captioned, others will not. The only criteria for posting in this series is that:

a.) I’m in the photo or…

b.) … I took the photo.

DachshundasaurusRex-Edit

Emmett captured while asking politely for a taste of dinner. I call this his Dachshundasaurus Rex pose because he’s got those T-Rex hands going on there.

 

TRB-2016-At-A-Glance

This is a panorama I took with my cell phone of the Transportation Research Board exhibit hall at their 95th annual meeting this week. Click on the photo to open at full resolution in a new tab.

 

Nate

The Nathanator, of course. He has a natural comfort in front of the camera that can’t be taught.

 

DanEmmett

Emmett and I take short road trips when we’re batchin’ it.

 

Dan-at-TRB

This is purported to be the only known photo of me working. Truth is, I was just talking with a friend. So no, there’s still no photo anywhere of me doing actual work.

Dan’s Ten Rules for Critical Thinking on the Internet

Feel free to add your own rules in the comments below.  

CriticalThinking

1.  One statistic can never tell the whole story.

2.  A meme does not constitute an argument.  It is an advertisement for a particular point of view.

3.  Do not agree or disagree with anything based solely on Rule 1 or Rule 2.

4.  Always seek and cite multiple original sources.

5.  Life is not simple and cannot be boiled down to a catchphrase.

6.  Exception to rule #5:  “Life’s a bitch and then you die.”

7.  Strive to be fair in your thought process.  “We can never hope to be objective we can only hope to be fair.”  (I am paraphrasing and I don’t recall the original source of this quote.)

8.  Read “How to Lie with Statistics” by Darrel Huff.

9.  Freely allow facts to get in the way of your preconceived notions.

10.  Be willing to change your mind in the presence of a winning argument.