Published on October 10, 2012
Last Modified on April 28, 2016
Somewhere around when I was in 4th grade, my class had a field trip to the Ford River Rouge Assembly plant. It was fascinating. The Rouge Plant was a full service affair. They made their own steel, their own glass, and ultimately assemble various Fords out of these materials. This was a giant systems engineering project. I got to see how it worked!
I grew up in the late 60s when the NASA space program to reach the moon was a very big thing. This got me curious about astronomy and I soon found that there was a local astronomy club (The Detroit Astronomical Society) where more experienced members would help new members built their own telescope. I built a 6 inch Newtonian telescope, grinding the mirror to a concave spherical shape, and then polished it to a very accurate parabola. The equatorial mounting was made with a variety of pipe fittings. So, this was my first engineering project.
I began college expecting to study electrical engineering, especial analog circuit design. But those were the years of the beginnings of microprocessors. Digital was taking off in a big way, and it was possible to build your own computer. I did. It was an S-100 Z80 system with a North Star floppy disk drive. To get it to work needed code written in assembly language that interfaced to the keyboard, disk drive and video output cards. My second engineering project!
By the time I graduated, I was hooked on software development, having learned how to write assembler code, Pascal, and a little PL/M
My first appearance on the internet was a post to the alt.psychology.personality use-net group on March 1, 1995. I haven't really been interested in the enneagram in some time, but I read a lot about it in the early 90s
I actually appear as a co author to a paper describing the first project I worked on out of College at Brookhaven National Laboratory, on Long Island. Looking at the specification for the microcomputers will seem quaint today, but this was cutting edge technology then. This was the first time microprocessors were used to control instrumentation at Brookhaven. I wrote a program in 8080 assembly language that control three motors to control the movement of a lathe bed. A magnetic field sensor was placed on the bed, and the application provided a detailed mapping of the magnetic properties of some very large magnet cores that would be used in the National Synchrotron Light Source particle accelerator.
A few years later I landed at a start up near Boston called Microcom whose flagship product was an early electronic mail program that let Apple ][ users and IBM PC users send emails to each other's computers using direct modem connections. This was written in Basic
When Microcom decided they could make more money making hardware (modems) than selling software I left to do contracting for various companies around Boston. Most of this work was written in C for MS DOS machines. dBASE was the data base component of choice in those days.
In the very early days of Windows, it was difficult to write Windows applications in C. Visual Basic was the quick route to doing that, so I switched over to that. I did a fair amount of Access development for desktop applications. Although Access lets the developer create tables and relationships with drag and drop forms, it also would translate the queries to SQL if you asked it. So, I began to learn SQL. Eventually, when the web arrived, Microsoft created VB Script and ASP for building interactive web sites. I was a Microsoft developer completely until I came across PHP which was quickly surpassing Perl as the 'cool' language for website development. My earlier interest in SQL was useful in making PHP/mySQL websites
PHP introduced me to the open source world. This was great because I was doing a lot of small contract website development jobs, and open source development environment was free, while Microsoft went more 'Enterprise' with the related costs for developers. I was still using Windows XP at the time, but curious about the emergence of several Linux Distributions. I tried Knoppix, which you could run directly from a CD in a Windows machine. Eventually I settled on Ubuntu and left Windows behind for good.
Since 2008, when I moved to New York City, I have been maintaining a lot of legacy code written in PHP. A big problem with PHP is that the barrier to entry is so low that lots of unqualified people can 'make things work' -- sort of! This gets old quickly. So for all of my new development I began using Python, and Django.