Short Week This Week

June 29, 2015

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Short week this week, and I will be busy at work. Looking forward to the 3 day weekend!

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Configuring the laptops for VK0EK and setting up DXA is a real blast. After all of the “pre-planning” that went into the VK0EK DX-pedition, I’m having a blast getting things ready. Every single hour I spend preparing the gear is one hour closer to the DX-pedition being on the air, and I get to see first hand – and in my hands – what the operators will see and use while on island.

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Its also a social event – my very good friends who make up the local support team, a.k.a “The Diablo DX-ers” are working shoulder to shoulder with me, and as you might expect, having a blast. The energy and excitement grows every day.

Six Months Until 2016!

June 27, 2015

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Its amazing how fast time is going. Hard to believe VK0EK sets sail in only 8 months, which gives us plenty of time to get ready – and we are already deep into preparations. When you get this busy, time really seems to speed up!

I’ve been setting up the laptops, and we are receiving all of our gear. I’ll write a full news item on http://www.vk0ek.org after I take a few decent photos.

Tales From The Trail

June 26, 2015

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This morning I found a beautiful sky – with a big swath of monsoonal clouds streaming north. We only get barely “grazed” by the monsoonal flow during the summer – but that always means we are in July and August. A great album for viewing this while riding is one of my all time favorites – Wire, and their second album, “Chairs Missing”:

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At the first bridge in Alamo, there were a bunch of what I believe is Canadian Thistle – which is bright purple – blue, but when dried out – I find I like even more:

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During the summer – these plants have a real “antiquey” look and feel – a historical look if you want.

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And on the way home:

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While listening to:

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And the “after party of life” (and after life I am sure):

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And today was a pretty damned historic day in the US of A. Love knows no borders – I support Love of any shape, size or frequency:

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At work, I work with people in India, Hungary, and the users are in Ohio and Kentucky. I loved listening to short wave radio as a kid – because it opened up my world and my mind. I love all people – regardless of what nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation. I just love people for who they are – because they are fascinating and interesting – just like that Canadian Thistle!

What a wonderful day today!

Happy Friday!

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Tales From The Trail

June 23, 2015

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I ride past a historic train station in Danville every day on the way to work, and you can feel the history because they have kept the historic buildings up and even turned the train station into a nice little museum.

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Being at the Summer Solstice, the sun is already up at 5 AM and quite bright at 7 AM when I pass by the Danville train station. Along the way are some nice Mimosa Trees which are really quite beautiful as they are changing.

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Every day that I ride my bike to and from work I catch a glimpse of something I might have ridden past in previous days – but which catches my attention. If you stop to take a closer look – its amazing what you end up finding!

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All aboard!

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Digital PDP-1, born the same year I was – 1959

Kat and I went to the Bay Area Computer Museum after a great lunch at Pizza Delfina in Palo Alto. We were very lucky to watch a presentation from two of the developers of the first computer video game, “Space Wars”, Steve Russell and Peter Samson. They were two of the programmers on a project at MIT, and both later relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where they still live and occasionally give wonderful demo’s of the PDP-1

I was surprised how “touched” I was by this museum, basically because (a lot more than ham radio), it chronicled my life. However – ham radio is one of three turning points in my life that led me to my now 34 year career as a computer programmer.

In 4th grade, Mrs. Gooden taught about the Inventors. WOW – major eye opener. My only “super heroes” now were nerds who invented stuff. While I worshipped the 1969 Mets growing up in New Jersey, my worship of such false gods made a tectonic (teutonic?) shift from the Mets to The Nerds.

In 8th grade, I met Brother Joe Tortoricci at Don Bosco College, a Salesian College at the time (now Sussex County Community College), and he gave me my Novice test. I passed the written and code tests no problem. I also had an 8th grade science teacher, Mr. Baker who took a liking to me because he could see I was one of the few kids who really loved science. I excelled in his class and learned a lot. He wasn’t “easy” – but one of those teachers you respect so much and learn so much – like Mrs. Gooden.

In 1975, after being a Novice for 2 years, I saw this:

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And my fathers friend plopped one of these on our kitchen table:

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And, similar to the “plastics” scene in The Graduate, my fathers friend said “Rich, you have to stop playing with tubes and wires and get into computer programming”. I did – and that changed my life. By 1977, ham radio was deep-sixed in favor of computers, girls and cars. While I saw all of the early Personal Computers that I had owned (Apple II, Commodore 64, Amiga), I was struck by a couple computers that really had a major influence on my career:

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Lock haven State College was switching from one of these mainframes to a 370, but I did learn COBOL and Fortran using punched cards and Basic on teletype terminals with big rolls of yellow paper. Oddly enough, this really, really got my attention:

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Aseembler System Reference cards! I clearly remember how I was scared, intrigued and had to work especially hard trying to program Assembly Language on IBM mainframes. I remember only sort of getting it until one day the light bulb went off. I never enjoyed Assembler as much as COBOL (for whatever reason, COBOL was something I could understand because I could clearly “envision” the data). But I have always respected Assembler and machine language. Today – I enjoy futzing with C on Arduino – its much more fun than machine code or Assembler.

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My first year out of school (1981) I worked at Kodak in Rochester, NY. The pay was the best of any of the three potential job offers I had after on campus interviews and then being flown to Rochester NY (Kodak), Poughkeepsie, NY (IBM) and Piscataway, NJ (AT&T). I had no idea what I would be working on, but after I arrived my heart dropped. Octal Assembler. I asked why I, a business computer programmer would be assigned to code Octal Assembler, and they said “Because you have a ham radio license and are more technical than any of the other candidates were”. Uggh.

I did learn machine language, Octal Assembler and The Kodak Park Operating System – which was a hacked version of either RT-11, RSX-11 or maybe both? And Digital also had a fanfold card like the IBM 360 / 370. No I did NOT wear a pocket protector. But my father did!

I moved to California after one year in Rochester and worked at Lockheed in Sunnyvale – as a COBOL programmer – right near the Computer History Museum. But even COBOL did not hold my attention for very long – I really hated the “stodginess” of an IBM shop. I was actually quite bummed – first Octal Assembler on PDP-11’s and then COBOL on IBM 370 – YUCK, I thought I got into the wrong career. I was so bored.

The next computer that really caught my attention was the one that saved my career, in the company that launched my real computer career:

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There was this little ad in the Chronicle that said “Come to work for Oracle – you can wear jeans”. I was a couple of years out of college, but that was it for me. I didn’t even care what I did. Luckily, Oracle wanted someone with at least a few years experience programming to work in Technical Support. The people with serious experience wouldn’t touch that job with a ten foot pole.

I had to interview with Larry Ellison, and while a bit scared, I found him to be a really pleasant guy. He really liked engineers, and I think protected them in a way. What I learned later is how you better be really tough if you were to work and stay at Oracle. Especially in Sales.

I could only take 3 years of the extreme competitiveness at Oracle, but that launched the rest of my career, which has been wonderful. I still LOVE computers and programming.

One last thing – they had a big chart showing the lineage of all computer languages:

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The one at the museum was much nicer, but this is the idea, sort of a railroad diagram. All of my favorite languages were there – the one’s I have really excelled at:

COBOL, FORTRAN, BASIC, C (Kernighan and Ritchey), Korn, Borne and C Shell as well as Bash, Forth, REXX, Perl, SQL, Python, and Ada. Ada because PL/SQL is SQL embedded in Ada. Oracle had to use Ada because of an early DOD contract that required this. I ended up loving PL/SQL and Ada – because it could process data like COBOL without being ridiculously verbose.

Today, if I had my choice, I would be programming using Scala – its what Java SHOULD have been. But Python is fun anyway. A good second choice. SQL is still there – I have always taken SQL for granted – its just embedded in the “real” language you are using. But here is a little factoid:

In grade school, they foisted this “New Math” on my class called “Minnemath” – Minnesota Mathematics. My Father was furious because it created a terrible math phobia in me because they did not teach us the basics of math. What was Minnemath? Set Theory. In other words – the concepts of working with tuples and sets of data. EXACTLY what I have been working with for 34 years!

In the 60’s, they tried it, called it a failure and then in 4th grade was introduced to multiplication tables and where my class was horribly and embarrassingly behind the others who had “regular math”. Later, I found that I was really good in Geometry and Trigonometry, but calculus, not so much. Luckily, the Advanced and Extra class licenses – especially the Advanced – had quite a bit of Trig – and I aced that test. I passed the Advanced and Extra in 1991. I took those tests at the Sunnyvale VEC sessions – in a park somewhere I think. It was pretty cool. But I only made a very feeble attempt to get back on the air . . .

So – while ham radio has been a major factor in my life – my life line clearly has been in computers – much, much more than on the radio. And this trip down memory lane was amazing – it was like seeing my entire life all in one place in just a couple of hours!

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