Some background: I started with the phone company (Pacific Northwest Bell, then a subsidiary of AT&T) long before cell phones (whaaa?? Before cell phones??). While at PNB and working in the “Minicomputer Maintenance Center” I got started in programming in Bourne shell and in the C language with PWB (Programmers’ Workbench) on UNIX System V back in the late 70’s not too long after UNIX was invented and got my feet wet using (and maintaining) DEC PDP11’s: 11/05, 11/40, 11/70, VAXen. Minicomputers, BTW, usually had like a maximum memory size of 128K words (256K bytes) of core memory… actual tiny toroidal ferrite cores! Here’s a good Wikipedia page if you’re interested in how ferrite core memory works. While at USWest Newvector Group (a cellular service provider before being part of Verizon), I was fortunate enough to meet the late Dennis Ritchie (one of the creators of the C programming language and the UNIX operating system and shown standing in the header image on the home page), Larry Wall (THE Perl Guru), Tom Christiansen (another Perl Guru), and other UNIX/Linux/OpenSource notables at USENIX conventions. Larry signed my Learning Perl (the Camel) book and Dennis signed my USENIX badge (didn’t have my K&R C programming book with me – nuts!). (OK, I’m a true geek.) I was also able to meet the late W. Richard Stevens who was the author of UNIX Network Programming and Programming in the UNIX Environment books and attend his network programming classes at USENIX in San Diego many, many moons ago. Very good books and a cool guy. RIP Richard and Dennis. And I still have my book The C Programming Language by K & R (Brian Kernigan and Dennis Ritchie)! I got started with Linux back in the late 90’s with Slackware and it was very cool to be able to meet Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux operating system, when I was at a USENIX conference in San Diego many moons ago.
I’ve been interested in all things electrical/electronic since I was about 13 years old. Thinking back on it, I’m not sure where this interest in the sciences came from – my dad worked for a lumber packaging company on the Tacoma, Washington tideflats. Heh, at that time I was dabbling in atomic energy (I built a small cloud chamber for viewing atomic particles, a Van De Graff generator, and was trying to build a linear accelerator), robotics and rocketry. I did manage to build a solid-fuel engine that worked great but I wasn’t able to actually test it in a rocket…oh well…but I DID manage to probably scare the living daylights out our neighbors with all the smoke from my makeshift engine test stand. 😮 I built a whole slew of Heathkits (mostly test equipment like voltmeters, scopes, and such) and Knightkits by the time I was 20. Also built a Heathkit AR15 (no, not the assault rifle) stereo receiver that I had for like over 20 years. It pained me to give it away – I spent hours and hours making the soldering and all the wire runs beautiful. (RIP Heathkit and Knightkit) For those that don’t know, Knightkits were sold by Allied Electronics, and it was fun to see the latest catalog in the mail. I just saw on another website that reminded me that Allied was bought by Radio Shack (like really?!?). And I think we all know what happened to Radio Shack! I used to also get catalogs from Burstein-Applebee – they had some cool stuff for electronics geeks like me. Not sure when the last catalog was, but I lost track of them after I went off to college in 1970 (!).
As a teen, there was a local TV/radio repair shop where I would go to buy transistors. I don’t know how many of these transistors I let the smoke out before I knew what I was doing. :-). Growing up outside of Tacoma, I remember patiently (?) waiting for the mailman to come with my package of electronic parts from Allied Electronics or Burstein-Applebee for my next project. I was fortunate to be able to go attend electronics classes at Franklin Pierce high school; took 2 years of electronics (great enthusiastic teachers!), and for my last year my instructor saw my talent for electronics and I became a “lab assistant” helping others out for the lab experiments. I subscribed to Popular Electronics and Radio-Electronics magazines since 1963. Pop’tronics was a great magazine and I built quite a few projects from articles featured in the magazine like the “shotgun sound snooper”. When Pop’tronics went the way of the dodo bird in the early 1980’s, I wrote to one of the first editors of the magazine, Art Salsburg, and he said that the publishers, Ziff-Davis, in their infinite wisdom, decided they wanted to make Pop’tronics more like a computer rag, which were all the rage then. I noticed the change right away. Gone were the electronics project circuit diagrams and descriptions of how it works, and in their place were the glitzy color pictures of modems, how a modem works, and all that crap. After that, the magazine didn’t last very long. It’s too bad – there are virtually no electronics magazines, except Nuts and Volts, which is a British rag, I think. And it’s OK…it just doesn’t appeal to me the way Popular Electronics did. There’s SO much stuff online now, that it’s totally mind-boggling!
Now I’m over 70 (aaaacckkk!!) and I’m still very much the geek, writing firmware in C++ for the ESP8266/ESP32 devices using the PlatformIO extension to Visual Studio Code (aka VSCode). It’s fascinating to me that home automation is now all the rage, with Alexa, Google Assistant, etc. When I bought my first house there was no Internet or WiFi, so I had wires running all over the house (much to my wife’s dismay), the goal being the home security, lights and heating eventually controlled by a microcontroller running NSC Tiny Basic. (See More Stuff” page on this site.) Well, I never completed that; sold the house. But I learned a lot! So, now there are SO MANY platforms for the Internet of Things it’s hard to keep track of all of them; you have MQTT, Node-RED, Blynk, IFTTT (IF This Then That), Cayenne, etc, etc. And it’s frankly a bit overwhelming: there is SO much information now.