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Experience

Computer experience.
It cracks me up, some of the really good programmers you find out there have a lot of experience,  4 or 5 years seems like a lot when your reading their résumés.

What’s funny to me is when I think back to when I was introduced to a computer and programming..

My First Computer

Other than an Abacus (which iI guess is a computer)
I got my first computer in 1965, I was 8 years old, my mother bought it for me on Valentines day.

My first computer was a plastic toy called Digi Comp,  believe it or not it was a REAL computer.  But NOT what I expected.

To a boy in the 60s watching science fiction movies, a computer was supposed to be a smart machine with a robot voice that could predict the future and  do my homework for me. So this little toy(?) was a disappointment.

But it may have shaped my future.
The computer had a b-zillion small plastic and metal parts to be assembled, most boys might have given up on.

It had a three digit binary readout, you cycled by hand by pushing and pulling on a lever..  It was not electric, it did not speak to me but it was really cool in its own way, the manual for the device taught me what binary was and how it worked which was more than most folks knew about computers in 1965 especially for an 8 year old.

Well it also taught me some beginning programming..  the machine didn’t do anything at all by itself,  it had to be programmed by small plastic pegs..  It was basically some switches or flip-flops that could be programmed.  I figured out how to add and subtract, and I think it was a foundation for what was to come.

1970's Computers

In the 70s during high school I worked for a large bookseller and was lucky to have a large amount of good material on every subject I could imagine at my fingertips. There were not many computer books out there but they were starting to become asked for. Basic, Fortran and so fourth.

I remember when I saw an Apple computer for the first time in a store. I read  about how it could be used for home automation and so fourth.. It was way out of my price range or future expectations ( I thought).

My best buddy Michael was in a computer club and was involved in computers in high school ( computer classes in the high schoolsin the 70s was only 4 or 5 super nerds)  and would show me the mini computer stuff that he wanted. I remember the small computer shops full of really wierd looking guys and things like the SWTP stuff or the  IMSAI 8080 like what was later featured in the movie war games.

My buddy got some credit from his bank  and bought an apple II with 2 disk drives and a monitor.
I still make jokes about how much that thing must have cost back then.. ( seemed astronomical to a young guy )..  But with the new computer he and I had to figure out how to make it do things.

One of the things I discovered was computer bulletin boards.  You could use a modem and connect with other computers though the phone lines!  You could get games and other software as well as information for free without leaving your home.

Note: in the early days software was generally freely exchanged. You wrote software because you wanted the computer to do something!!  Like my first DigiComp plastic computer, even the apple II  didn’t do very much without software.

If you wrote any software then you traded your own software with others for what they had written.  No one back then ( except for Bill Gates) ever dreamed you could sell software for big money..

By the late 70s I was making some supplemental income as a freelance photographer,  chasing news and fire trucks was very exciting and I did some advertising and real estate photography and some wedding photography as well.
I seem to remember I traded in some camera gear and somehow ended up with my own Atari 400 computer.  I remember they bragged that the atari was better then the apple II , even though it was 8 bit and used the 6502 processor like the apple II  but it had its own sound chip, its own video chip and its own IO chip on the board.. I guess the apple II needed plug in cards for each thing.

Well being fascinated by the computer to computer connections, I started my own computer bulletin board system (BBS) .. I called it ACOM and it went online in 1982 which was more then 10 years before folks started getting on the internet ( no the internet hasn’t been around for ever).

I started Acom BBS system and in the beginning I had to answer the phone and stick the receiver into an acoustic coupler modem when someone called the computer line.  It wasn’t long before I got sick of that and traded someone for an automatic modem.  At the time the popular automatic modem was a Hayes 300 baud, but I ended up making a deal on a Penril 1200 baud auto answer modem.  It didn’t use all the standard Hayes commands so I had to use some programming skills to make it work with the software.

The faster 1200 baud made my bbs more popular with the techies, most BBSs used the slower 300 baud at that time. The scientists, astronomers, astronauts, computer geeks, and professionals had access to the 1200 baud modems at work so my ACOM BBS became quite popular. So my BBS became more about technical things than some other BBSs which just traded kiddie games and stuff.

And I really enjoyed writing and modifying the BBS software.  Most stuff back then was written for the apple II which was way more popular than what I had at the time but I had fun and made due with the Ataris.    I was able to get an Atari 800 and highly modified the 400 and 800.   I added a CPM based computer called an ATR-8000 to the Atari BBS as a disc controller.  The Atari disks were expensive and only 77k.  With the ATR-8000 I could use surplus floppy drives 5 inch or even huge 8 inch floppys with much more storage and daisy chain them together..

I enjoyed writing software for database applications,  and communications applications through the computer com ports not only through a modem but from computer to computer through a Null Modem.

(Since I was a home stereo aficionado, and a loudspeaker buff) I also did some design software for loudspeaker box calculations that I modified greatly from an old calculator program i found in a book.

 

In the early 80s the IBM PC started becoming popular.  I bought a used one, it was an early machine, I forget the model but it had a cassette port on the back. It had no hard drive.  I think I put an expensive 10meg drive on it and started running the Acom BBS on it.  Much more online storage than then Ataris had.

It wasn’t long before I expanded and I had three BBS nodes each on a separate PC  linked together, so people could call in on three numbers and actually connect, chat and message users on the other two nodes.  I also let my computer buddy Michael run ACOM II BBS at his house.

I had some friends that were real computer operators. You know,  the big monster mainframes you see on TV with the big refrigerator size tape drives, mega machines in giant very cold rooms..  I would somehow finagle my way into the computer centers usually late night when no one was there but the friendly night operators and I got to play with the big machines. I did a lot of personal programming and experimenting on the DEC pdp-10s and 11s at the computer centers.

 

I started collecting computers, playing with them, programming them and learning about them.  I had two osborne portables, they were CPM operating system with a Z80 processors, they looked like a sewing machine in its case, I had several PCs and PC clones, including a sanyo pc, a neat business desktop pc with an integrated phone and dialer called a Zizan, and a pc jr, an a big desktop s-100 computer with 8 inch drives and giant plug in boards, a trs80 and several of their model 100s ( like a notebook almost) and some compaq models including an early high end model a Compaq Portable III with gas plasma display, I think it was a 286 processor and very portable for the 80s.  I carried it with me and did a lot of programming on it.

I modified and wrote some BBS software and some applications for BBSs we called doors. The door programs would allow the user to step out of the BBS software and use the stand alone programs which could be games, database lookups,  or other things. I made many radio related doors ( since I was interested in ham radio) including frequency database lookup and radio packet programs which allowed a BBS user to connect with a ham radio from his computer, though the phone line to my BBS then through my private ham radio then over the air to another ham radio and to that users computer or another BBS.

I worked with an amazing programmer named Pat Forbes and developed a fantastic door program called BBSChess which we sold all over the world through the BBS systems.  We eventually sold BBSChess to US Videotell ( a commercial online provider before the internet became popular )

 

In the late 80s i got a Macintosh, which i ran a startup car stereo and electronics business on ( for a while) The Mac was easy with its graphical interface.  I preferred the old DOS PCs which i had several of, but placing a MAC on the desk made it simple for running the store.
UNTIL the MAC crashed.  After a few years the Mac floppy disk failed.  The Damn thing was preparatory and expensive in the early 90s.  It was around $400 and at the time a surplus PC drive was about $50..  so I had to change the running of the store to a PC.   How to get the MAC files with all my business information off the Mac computer to the PC so I can continue business??   Remember, the Floppy was broke and there are no thumb drives or USB ports yet.

I used Serial cables and a cable reverser called a null modem, then I used the same xmodem protocol we used to running the BBSs so I basically downloaded the files from the MAC directly to the hard drive on the PC.. converted them to run on the PC programs and for the most part it worked out great .

 

In the early 90s with the Internet becoming popular and affordable to use, everything changed.
Which is really great. Its what we are all used to now, working with a browser and finding anything you ever wanted to know about any subject.
In the 90s for my own websites, and for my programming and development work I leased some online servers out in cyberspace which gave me tons of bandwidth and access from anyplace .

Friends started coming to me asking how to make a website, and even how to make their web business successful.
I started txsoft in 1999 we have been building websites for people, developing websites for business and information exchange ever since.

Lately we have been spending a lot of time with customers on unusual web projects,  and helping web owners understand and master Search Engine Optimization.

I would say we specialize in the more advanced web sites, when a web owner wants to move up to something custom, exactly to his standards, to e-commerce, or above  the now popular WORDPRESS canned websites that everyone else sells.

I had a customer just the other day send me an email and asked for an advanced website and in the email she told me “DO NOT SAY WORDPRESS! ”   ha ha   yes, it is what most of the web places push on their customers, and yes we sometimes recommend WordPress here as well, but we are well capable of taking it above the level of the CANNED web sites that have their built in limitations..

We also specialize in helping a web owner understand how to get recognized by Google and the other search engines. We call that SEO ( search engine optimization)  If a customer cant find your website then what’s the use?  There are tons of companies that promise they can get a website to the first page of google but its all a gimmick to get your money.  There is no secret way to guarantee first page ranking.
Instead Google has a preferred way of doing things.  Its really simple.  If you do things on your website the google way then you stand a good chance of ranking higher. But there are a lot of small simple things that you have to pay attention to.  We understand that and we can help a web owner understand that. And of course we can do it for them as well.

And we also specialize in the simple beginner websites. So many people come to me and say “Eddie, I don’t know how to make a web site but for my business I am told I need one.”  ha ha   Of course, every one needs a website..  We get so many of this type of customer by word of mouth.  When they get an interest in having a website they do an online search and are confused by what they see. So they ask someone they know and I am happy to say our name is recommended to them quite a bit.

I had a web guy that works for a different company walk into my office not too long ago. He glanced at my screen and said ” Oh my God, you are working in BRACKETS!?”

Most web makers do most of their work using WYSIWYG ( what you see is what you get) web development tools like Adobe Dreamweaver or Microsoft Front page and they hardly ever see the HTML code ( in which everything is surrounded by BRACKETS )..  ha ha

I learned HTML from Netscape back in the 90s which was the first really popular internet browser. Since the browser makes the HTML work and Netscape was the most popular browser, Netscape set the early standards and we did it all in a text editor which I still enjoy using.

If you have an important web project, you may want to find out if your web person really knows HTML or can only use a WYSYWIG ?

Currently the web standards are called W3C.

 

Many web guys now days work in more then just plain HTML.  If you want the website to be interactive of dynamic, or read and write to a database or do e-commerce or just about anything worthwhile, your web person will need to be familiar with languages like Javascript or php or some other languages.

No, they need to be more then just familiar with it they need to be good at it.

Javascript might be the most common, we use it for the animated drop down menus and some things that seem to move like a slide show, or to validate customer information in a form.

Something like PHP is more advanced, very much like a real computer language, in fact it is!  With PHP a programmer can do nearly anything on a web page.  Most of the canned web programs are programmed with PHP.  But do yourself a favor,  don’t just find a web person that can use a canned PHP program that someone else wrote,  find a web person that can write with PHP or a similar language FROM SCRATCH!  Then even if you are using a canned ( popular already written and distributed application ) then the REAL PHP person can modify it not just use it for you.