My Computer History

My History, My Memories
Saturday Night Genealogy Fun
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.In his blog, Genea Musings, Randy Seaver suggested that people write about their computer history – basically how we “became slaves” to our computers. I figured, because computers are such a big part of my life, it would be good to share my experience.

High School

Osseo High School, New Wing – Source: 1967 Osseo Yearbook

My first experience with computers was the “computer club” at Osseo High School. Members of the club learned to program in BASIC. We used a teletype with an acoustic coupler using a telephone. If I recall correctly, it ran at 300 bits per second. We did our programming offline and created a perforated tape to send our programs to a mainframe computer. (Again, if I remember correctly and IBM 360.) To send our programs, we would dial up the host and send our perf’ tape info. The computer would then do the work and send back the results of running the program. I was terrible at programming. I remember writing a program to generate the prime numbers from one to 1000. Most of the other kids’ programs took a second or two of computer time to generate the numbers. My program took nearly a minute—very inefficient programming by me.  Anyway, I learned enough BASIC to be dangerous.[i]

Navy Days

I didn’t work with computers directly, but I did work with crypto equipment, which was very computer-like. Some of the equipment I used had perforated tape and used the same Baudot code as my high school teletype terminal. While in the service, I took a college course in COBOL[ii] and learned some more computer skills. I also took a college course in “Introduction to Computer Systems.”

TRW

Woman at a Docuteller 300 – Courtesy Wells Fargo Archives

After my Navy time, I got a job with TRW[iii] Customer Service Division. With them, I repaired cash machines (Docutel Total Teller 300), window teller machines, and terminal processors. The Total Tellers had small minicomputers associated with them. The computers were Lockheed and CAI mini-computers. To load the program into memory, you had to enter code directly into memory to create a bootstrap program. That program then accepted the actual code from a cassette tape using a standard Radio Shack tape recorder.  Occasionally, when repairing equipment, it was necessary to write a simple program that would cause the cash machine to do a simple task, such as to pick up a money packet and deliver it to the money drawer, or pull in a card, read it, and send it back. Simple programs, but they were all done in machine language.

Metropolitan State University

commodore 64 – Photo by the NerdPatrol via Flickr. (CC 2.0)

I wrote about my experience at Metropolitan State University in “Schools I’ve Attended.” The bottom line is that I purchased a Commodore 64 and a word processing program to keep up with the rewrites I needed to do for a Non-fiction Writing class I took. That computer was the start of my using personal computers for home use. I’ve always had a home computer since then.

NAVPRO

For several years I worked for the Navy at the NAVal Plant Representative Office in Fridley, Minnesota. I worked as an Engineering Technician in the Quality Assurance Division. The office installed a Wang 2200. The system has a program called IDEAS, which was an interface to a compiler that compiled BASIC programs. I requested access and was granted access to write some programs to track waivers, deviations, and engineering change proposals. I then wrote a couple of other applications for the Quality Assurance Engineers’ use. Meanwhile, the computer programmer they hired could not get any programs he was working on to work well. The commanding officer (CO) asked if I would be willing to go TAD[iv] to the Computer Team and work on some things. After a 90 day assignment, the CO asked if I wanted to do another 90 days. I agreed. After six months, the CO asked if I’d go there permanently. I agreed and was made a Computer Specialist. There I led the integration of Wang PCs into dual roles of office automation and terminals to the Wang 2200.

DCMC

After the NAVPRO, I got a job with the Defense Contract Management Command as a computer specialist. There I worked with several different computer systems, but most importantly, I set up a Novell Netware system using Ethernet. While working for DCMC, I became Netware Certified. DCMC became its own agency (DCMA), and I continued working for them. I became certified in Microsoft Exchange Server and began working as the Exchange “subject matter expert” for the agency.

Technology Chief

I continued working for DCMA and was selected to be the Technology Chief for the Eastern District. As Chief, I had Computer Specialists in some 25 states reporting to me for technical direction[v].

FBI

After 911, I decided to apply to the FBI. I was selected for a computer specialist position at CJIS Division in Clarksburg, WV. I worked in Requirements for a while. I studied to become a PMP (Project Management Professional). I was then selected to lead the test group where we tested changes to hardware and software to IAFIS (Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System),[vi] NCIC (National Crime Information Center)[vii], and NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System)[viii]

Triple-I

After I retired from the government, I used my Program Management Skills and Technical know-how to put together a NOSC (Network Operations and Security Center) for a Triple-I[ix] and SAIC[x] joint project. While there, besides putting my Project Management skills to use as the site leader, I became a CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional).

Today

Today, I use an iMac for my personal use and have for probably ten years or so. I knew Windows NT very well back in the day, but I get confused and frustrated when I need to use Windows 10 (it works very differently from Mac). That said, I and the “Technology Guy” at the Historical Society where I volunteer. I also help out fellow genealogy folks in several genealogy groups I am a member of, particularly if it relates to online systems (Ancestry, Zoom meetings, etc.) or Mac.

I became interested in computers when I was in high school in the 1960s and began working with them as the key component of my employment in the 1980s. I’m not sure I’d agree I’m a “slave to my computer,” but I do use mine 40 to 50 hours a week, so some people (like my wife) might agree that I am a “slave to my computer.”


ENDNOTES

[i] Good thing BASIC stands for “Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code.” I was definitely a beginner.

[ii] COBOL stands for “COmmon Business-Oriented Language,” and was used for data processing in business, finance, and administrative systems.

[iii] TRW stood for Thompson Ramo Wooldrige. It was qcquired by Northrop Grumman in 2002.

[iv] TAD – Temporary Assigned Duty.

[v] At that time the Computer Specialists reported to their local commanding officers for administrative purposes and most command required activities and to me for technical direction.

[vi] IAFIS is the system that law enforcement checks when fingerprints cannot be matched within their own local or state systems.

[vii] NCIC goes back to the 1960s. I remember Harry Morgan tearing off the NCIC printouts from the teletype machine and handing it to Jack Webb in the Dragnet revival.

[viii] NICS is a system used by 22 states to check that a gun purchaser is not prohibited from buying a gun.

[ix] Triple-I is Information Innovators, Inc. The company was acquired by Salient CRGT in 2017.

[x] SAIC is Science Applications International Corporation.

Schools I’ve Attended – Osseo High School

My Life
Those Places Thursday
By Don Taylor

During the summer of 1965, my stepfather decided to sell the house in North Minneapolis and build a new home in Brooklyn Park. Brooklyn Park is a second-tier suburb about ten miles northwest of Minneapolis. I believe Budgar was the first to buy in a development called “Sager’s Acres.” In any event, as is often the case with new construction, building completion was delayed. The house on Bryant Avenue sold and we needed a place to live. We ended up renting a dwelling on Lowry Avenue in Minneapolis between Lyndale and Aldrich Avenue. I registered for school at Osseo with the expectation that we’d move to the new house before school started. No such luck. Somehow, we were able to find an Osseo teacher who lived in North Minneapolis and who would give me a ride to and from school until the house in Brooklyn Park was completed. I’m not sure, but I think I rode with the teacher for about a month, maybe two.  I wish I could remember her name and thank her for the rides.

Osseo Then

Osseo High School, New Wing – Source: 1967 Osseo Yearbook

Osseo was an old farming town that was experiencing the pains of massive growth. The school district (Independent School District #279) was an area consisting of Osseo, Brooklyn Park, Maple Grove, and parts of Brooklyn Center and several other towns. The original building was built in 1928. More classrooms and a lunchroom were added in 1949 and more classrooms again were added in 1957. In 1959 a gymnasium was added. In 1961 a major expansion was added and in 1964 another major expansion was added. With one of the expansions, the old part of the building was designated the Junior High portion of the school and the new expansions were designated the high school part of the building. I started at Osseo in the fall of 1965. As I recall, all of the high school classes were in the two new expansion wings of the school. The newly built gym and the cafeteria were used by the High School.  Osseo had the worst lunches ever. Just plain horrible. One meal I remember vividly was toast with a blob of spaghetti-like mix on top with a little cheese melted on top that they called “pizza.” They were also trying to be healthy, so they took chips and good things out of the machines and replaced them with apples, oranges, and other “healthy” foods. In my junior year, the Junior High students moved to a new building nearby and the old building became a newly established Junior College. Needless to say, our attitude changed greatly when we learned that they had student lounges and more adult facilities. They also had good food in their machines. Occasionally, we’d sneak around the building, enter the Junior College, and buy goodies out of their machines.

Foster Home

In the spring of 1966, I got into a big row with my stepfather. He and my mother had been fighting, which typically occurred when he had been drinking, and I broke it up and beating him until I got tired. He made it be known that he would kill me in my sleep for it, so I decided it was time to leave. After a few weeks on the street, I was arrested for trespassing (Two other runaways and I were sleeping in a model home at night.) Budgar didn’t want me back, so I was ruled incorrigible. I was lucky enough to be sent to a foster home in Brooklyn Center (not a group home) and I was able to continue at Osseo High. It was while living in the foster home I met my best friend, Doug, who lived a few blocks away from the Olson’s house on Perry Avenue.

Osseo Interests

Don Taylor junior class photo, 1967
Junior Class Photo – 1967

I was in the audio-visual group, chess club, computer club, and was seen as a generally geeky, nerdy, kid.  I was over six feet tall and under 150 pounds –skinny. I did well in high school and never needed to study to get a “B.” If I really liked a class and I decided to work for it I’d get an “A.”  At that time, they gave students two grades, the standard A to F letter grades for academics and a “Citizenship” grade from 1 to 3; three was a “misfit.” The vast majority of students received a “2,” meaning “Satisfactory.” Once, I receive an A-3. Academically superior but a misfit.  It was Spanish class. My teacher was from Boston and couldn’t trill an “r.” I, however, could trill my “r’s” and would correct the teacher’s pronunciation regularly. She was really frustrated with me. Basically, if I liked a teacher, I did well in school, if I didn’t like a teacher, I cut up constantly and did poorly.

Senior Photo – 1968

I didn’t do anything in the way of sports in high school.  Living in the foster home, I didn’t receive any type allowance or income, but my foster parents encouraged me to work to earn money. I worked at several different jobs during high school. I was a fry cook at a greasy-spoon restaurant in Crystal called Marty’s Grill. Doug worked there also. We were both stiffed on our pay when the place went out of business. I also at International House of Pancakes (IHOP), Sweden House, a smorgasbord (buffet) in Crystal and several different Embers Restaurants. I also worked at a large Holiday gas station in Crystal. (My best friend Doug worked there too.) Twelve years later, when I got out of the Navy, Doug and I also worked together at TRW in Arden Hills. So, we actually worked at three places at the same time over the many years of our friendship.

While I was living at the foster home, I really needed and wanted a driver’s license. In order to get one, I needed to get a copy of my birth certificate. That is when I learned that my birth surname was Taylor. A name I had never heard before. It was shortly after that when I changed my name. My foster parents couldn’t put me on their insurance, so in order to afford insurance, I decided to try to move back with my mother, who truly missed me. Budgar and I were able to co-exist for much of my senior year. However, once I graduated, Budgar want me gone so I moved into a small house in Northeast Minneapolis with a couple friends.

Osseo Today

Image of Osseo High School Today (from air) source Google Maps.
Osseo High Today – Source: Google Maps

Today, Independent School District 279 serves Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Corcoran, Dayton, Hassan Township, Maple Grove, Osseo, and Plymouth. It has 19 elementary schools (K-5), four middle schools (6-8), three high schools, including Osseo, and an area learning center (9-12). Osseo High School is a four-year school with a huge campus. The old 1924 building with the 1935 and 1948 additions were demolished for a new gymnasium. The 1959 gym was converted to a new cafeteria in 2002 along with adding new office spaces. From 2002 to 2005 the exterior was renovated. Finally, in 2014-2015, more classrooms were added along with a choral rehearsal room. Frankly, I don’t think I’d recognize the school today as the same one I attended 50 years ago.

It has been 50 years since I graduated from Osseo. I hope there is a reunion. I’d love to see the old school and possibly catch up with some old friends.