MY COMPUTER EXPERIENCE
 

In the 1970s computers were so expensive to own and operate that they were only affordable by industry or academia, and even there they had to be carefully managed and could only be operated by highly-skilled experts. At that time, I was working as an engineering manager at RCA in New Jersey and had some experience with using the company's shared computers for our work in designing television equipment.

"Sharing" a computer in those days meant that you could prepare your requirements and data for a problem and send it to a remotely-located computer for analysis. The results came back maybe a day later and your department was billed for the cost by keeping track of how much time on the computer was used to run your analysis. Typically, a good computer analysis required repeatedly going back to the computer many times as you modified your data based on what the previous computer run showed. When everything was done on a problem, the computer often provided results that vastly improved on what an engineer could do without the computer, but the costs and waiting time were astronomical. Over a month working on a computer problem, the computer costs alone could exceed the engineer's salary.

Late in the 1970s, personal computers began to appear. "Personal" meant that the computer is physically small (fits on a desktop), inexpensive (maybe less than $1,000), and anyone with moderate technical skill could operate it. This immediately attracted my attention. I was always interested in new things (early adopting, it's called) and I could use my technical skills to master a personal computer. I was sure this could help me in my work at RCA, but my managerial role left no work time for learning the computer. So I added computers to my long list of hobbies.

My first computer was the Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I. The principal competition at that time was the Apple. The main reason I didn't choose Apple was that I felt the name "Apple" couldn't be a serious product. (How wrong I was.) Anyway, I bought a TRS-80 and began leaning how to use it in my spare time. There weren't many programs available at that time for any computer, so my main task was to learn programming. I quickly found that I LOVED programming. I still feel that way and programming has been a large factor in my time after RCA.

The original Model I as shown in the photo above had the CPU in the keyboard unit and had cassette tape for mass storage. Later it was expanded to have floppy disks or hard drives for storage, and an "Expansion Unit" that offered additional features. I bought all the upgrades and built a wooden cabinet to house all the units. It became quite a monster. Meanwhile I programmed all kinds of applications, including my own word processing and database apps. When I moved to the RCA Laboratories in Princeton, NJ in 1985, I took a then current TRS-80 model with me and had it on my desk there. The other workers there laughed at that because the Labs had their own shared computers which were thousands of times more powerful than my old TRS-80, and also were convenient because you had your own terminal on your desk that had real-time access to the shared computer. But I was comfortable with using my own programs on the old TRS-80. After a year, we all got our own Apple Macintosh and then an IBM PC; at that point I gave up on the TRS-80. The laughing stopped.

The project I was on at the Labs was based on the IBM PC, so I moved all my programming interests to that platform and even got an IBM PC at home. I have been in that world ever since. I also stopped calling myself an "Electrical Engineer" and used "Computer Scientist" instead. Today (2015), retired for over 25 years, my house is filled with computers--currently working are four desktops, 3 laptops, 1 tablet--all PCs except for an android smartphone.
Below is my current computer workstation.


 

The afore-mentioned Labs project was a team effort (50 heads) to develop motion video capability for current PCs. The approach involved programmable plug-in hardware for IBM-type PCs. It was 1985, motion video had not yet been done on an IBM PC. Since all the hardware was programmable, there was a lot of software, too. I had come from a top-management position in my previous assignment at RCA before coming to the Labs, so I became involved in the management of the project, but I was not the leader. To get Company support for a research project like this, we had to show how the result of a successful project would help the Company and the industry; I did lots of planning for the outcome of the project and produced many reports and presentation. My strong interest and experience in writing was very helpful in fulfilling this role on the project. But that writing did not fill all of my available time, so I also designed a hardware card and programmed the software for it to provide the audio part of the motion video project.

In 1987 RCA was acquired by GE, who already had their own research labs in Schenectady New York. They didn't need another one, so they looked to divest RCA Labs. This made the future of our project quite unclear. The project could have simply been scrapped, or it might be sold to someone else. We asked Labs management for permission to make a public announcement of our PC video project, which was now working; to make sure that our work would not get lost in the corporate transition. We got the permission to reveal our work in March 1987. I was deeply involved in the presentation, planning, script writing, and using some software (called PS [Presentation System]) for demonstrating the new video system. I had been developing PS on the side during the previous couple years of the project and had used it for in-house private demonstrations (see photo below). PS was used to demonstrate the system during the presentation, along with live speakers (I was one of three) during the presentation.


The presentation was a roaring success in getting industry attention, and also to get GE management to see that this project was too valuable to throw away. Eventually, they sold the project to a consortium of Intel and IBM. It was called DVI Technology at that time. I retired from GE/RCA before the sale was completed. After the sale, I spent several years working for Intel/IBM as a consultant. During that time, I partnered with an entrepreneur to commercialize PS into a product that was called MEDIAscript and was sold to people working with DVI Technology. That stage ended when Intel decided to merge the key features of DVI into their CPU chips. There was no longer a need for any plug-in hardware and the DVI businesses closed.

After that I continued as a video consultant, working for a friend who was an inventor and needed an engineer to help him. I also consulted in the patent area, utilizing my hardware and software skills in the digital video field. But over the years all those things faded away. Today I use my programming skills on web sites for myself and friends.

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