March 26, 2009 – 3:25 pm
I’ve been working with computers and communication for nearly thirty years. I worked as a data control clerk for Reuters in London, at the very end of the 70s, dealing with stock exchange prices from around the world. I was trained as an assembly language programmer by Reuters and worked on a second generation mini-computer (the Ultronics SGS) and the DEC PDP-11. We did development on and IBM 370 (later upgraded to a 4340) and a Vax 11/780.
The SGS was the size of a large wardrobe, with switches and lights on the front panel. To boot it, we’d toggle in the paper tape reader bootstrap on the front panel switches and then run that to load the card reader bootstrap from 8-hole punched paper tape. Running that would then read in the operating system from a stack of 80-column punched cards. At that point, hitting the “run” button would run the operating system and the machine would be up.
The only input and output available to us was the front panel switches and the indicator lamps. We’d debug the software by patching the machine code in memory, via the panel switches. Sometimes we’d put in a jump instruction to divert program flow to a spare part of memory where we’d toggled in a patch to do some test or other. We could read the memory contents in binary on the front panel indicators – a word at a time. Working on that machine, i felt like i had my hands in the guts of its electronics!
I remember, while i was working there, some of the memory in the development machine was upgraded from magnetic core memory to solid-state – a large board with integrated circuits on it, which probably held a few kilobytes of RAM.
Reuters had a network of these machines scattered around the world.
After that, i got a job with Thorn EMI Video Programmes, designing and programming video games for the Commodore Vic-20 – writing them in 6502 assembly language. That job was made more interesting by the fact that the Vic-20 didn’t really have any English language documentation at the time (1981) – so we had to discover most of its architecture for ourselves, by trial and error. We shared information with Commodore in London and often told them things they didn’t know about how the machine worked.
I only wrote one game while i was working there – “River Rescue” – and i was pleased to find out recently that it’s kicking around on the internet somewhere, in a form that i can run in Vice, a Vic-20 emulator, on my Linux system. I wish i’d kept a copy of the source code, because i always commented my code very thoroughly and it would be interesting to read it now. However, i disassembled the binary and i did start going through it to try and work out what did what – and to add comments back in again. I was surprised at how much of it i still remembered. I never finished that process though, and it will probably be a long time before i get back to it.
While i was working at Thorn, i wrote an RS232 driver for the Vic, so we could transfer files between our team and the Atari team (Ataris were based on the 6502 as well).
From there i went on to work as a technical writer up until i went to live in Ausralia in 1985. In the 90s and 00s, among other things, I worked as a Linux systems administrator and IT trainer.
I’ve been using Linux since 1994 and running it on laptops since 1995. I’ve played around with a lot of different Linux applications – including asterisk PABX, multimedia, sound recording and video editing. I remember a kernel build taking over 24 hours on a 386 in the late 90s. And i once successfully edited sendmail.cf rules!
As well as working in IT, i’ve done a mindboggling array of other jobs over the years – including, seaman, builder, carpenter, electrician, taxi driver, farm labourer, housing adviser, tenant advocate, housing manager, gardener, handyman, dishwasher, cook, kitchen hand, radio announcer, radio production trainer, project manager, factory worker, storeman, shop assistant, printer and tree surgeon.
Nowadays I mainly focus on web development and design, copywriting, and search engine optimisation. Over the last year, i’ve been concentrating on XHTML, CSS, PHP, Mysql, and writing web copy optimised for search engines.
I’m also a keen photographer and a compulsive traveller. I’ve lived in Australia since 1985 and I’ve travelled a lot there and in Asia. From 06 to 07 I worked in Afghanistan as a technical adviser and project manager for an NGO that builds and maintains community radio stations there. I’m currently living in England and working as a freelance web designer and developer.