The World of Computers

by | Jul 28, 2013 | About Me | 0 comments

My interest in computers and ultimately website development began in a high school physics course in 1969 (yes, I’m an old fart).  We plugged wires into boxes to make rudimentary computers – something that I was very poor at.  We also were introduced to BASIC programming and I wrote my first functional program – something I did well  and really enjoyed.  In those days, the program was written in long-hand on paper then typed into a machine that produced a punched paper tape.  The tape could then be fed into a reader that transmitted it to a remote mainframe that processed the program and returned the results to a printer.  The program calculated the present value of the $24 that was spent to acquire Long Island from the natives.  I said ‘functional’  not particularly useful.

I went to the University of Wisconsin – Madison to major in Civil Engineering.  The FORTRAN class was full so I ended up taking a class in ALGOL (ALGorithmic Oriented Language) programming.  Once again the programs were written in long-hand then typed into a machine, but this time it produced punched cards (one line per card).  The cards were feed into a reader that transmitted the code to a Borroughs B-5500 mainframe computer that sat behind a window in front of the card reader and the results came back, once again, on a printer.  I learned FORTRAN on my own as it was still needed for other class work.

After earning my BS degree, I went to work for the Federal Highway Administration where I had little use for my programming skills. A few years later I went to work for the U.S. Forest Service.  Initially my programming work there was limited to transportation planning and budgeting programs I wrote on a programmable HP calculator.  Eventually I got into land use planning and spent a lot of time developing computer models to simulate forest growth and the effects of forest management activities.

I went back to school in 1983/1984 to get a MS in Forest Management with an emphasis on numeric analysis at Oregon State University.  During that period I bought a Radio Shack TRS-100 laptop computer that had BASIC built into it.  I did some programming with it to do things like solving linear programming problems for class.  Then I needed to write my master’s paper and it was either a typewriter or Wordstar on a IBM/DOS computer available to grad students.  I had seen an Apple Lisa demonstrated, so just seeing Wordstar as an option made me ill – even the TRS-100 was better than that although available printers didn’t meet the school’s standards.  Fortunately in 1984 I bought a 128K Mac – the very first Mac available – and an Apple printer.  Master committees like to require lots of modifications to papers until, ultimately they have the innocent student put back in all the things that had to be removed earlier.  While other students spent days getting their modifications into Wordstar (when the computer was working) or writing them then hiring someone to type them,  I would use my Mac to produce a finished copy the next day.  It made my life so easy I became a dedicated Mac user.

I continued working for the U.S. Forest Service where I did a lot of Oracle database development using Oracle’s ProFORTRAN to build the user interfaces (using Windows PC’s).  ProFORTRAN links the FORTRAN language to the Oracle database system in much the same way that PHP links to the MySQL database system.  I also got back into writing other types of programs, this time using Microsoft BASIC on my Mac.  I sold several programs that were published in a now defunct magazine called Nibble Mac and a couple that were published again in their “best of” books.

The About Us page explains how I eventually got into web development work.

As far as computers go,  It has been a long journey and I still enjoy making them do useful things for people.