My History, My Memories
Saturday Night Genealogy Fun
By Don Taylor
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.
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]
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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].
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]
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, 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.”
[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.