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Personal Computers – 25 Years and Counting – Part VI

October 10th, 2006 by xformed

In Part V, I described some of the wonderous “cutting edge” technologies, such as a Z-80 co-processor and a 300 bps modem. I paid the bleeding edge pricing, ‘coz I wanted them.

I had left FCTCL for Dept Head School in Jan-June 83, hauling my trusty Apple ][+ along for the geobachelor thing. I kept working on th TAGG program, cleaning it up and writing the manual. AFter some extra schooling enroute, I flew south (way south, as in Chile) to catch my ride as Engineer Officer on USS CONOLLY (DD-979). The ship’s schedule was 3 more months of UNITAS, then home for Chritmas and then off to Portland, ME and 10 months in the new Bath Iron Works facility. My CO, CDR Harry Maxiner, had prepped the ship for the overhaul, by having them get as much material as possible to complete the ship’s force portion of the ROH work package, while we were on cruise. He was another man who thought way ahead. Besides being the Naval emmissaries we had been sent south to be, the work that should have been held off until early February 84, was being knocked out daily. Some readers, if you were along for that ride will recall the installation of extra flourescent lighting in the bilge areas, and the replacement of fasterners with stainless stell ones all over the ship. This project to complete the “Ship’s Force Work List” (SFWL) resulted in a few things:

We found out COMNAVSURFLANT had a pile of Z-248 computers to be issued to the ships. Having spoken to some of the shipyard and SUPSHIP people about the upcoming yard period, they indicated they had developed a computerized interface for the ROH (regular overhaul – back then every 5 years, stretched from 3) work pacakge. We could update our work for the SFWL via a computer and modem it into the SUPSHIP Offices, and we could get status on all the shipyard and other organization’s job status in return. Pretty sweet deal. I set about, when we returned from UNITAS, to convince SURFLANT Supply to give us a few of those Zenith computers. We begged, we pleaded, the CO went and knocked on doors around the various offices, but…the “Chops” were not letting us have anything. This adventure gave me my primary education on “programatics.” The computers were bought with funding justified to support an application to assist the shipboard disburing officers, and that was all they could be used for. Handing them over for ROH work package tracking was a non-starter, and would have been a violation of the expediture of public funding. I didn’t “get it” for a while, but my later years helped me comprehend this issue much better. Net result: Updates of work lists by hand…

I will say this about the Supply Corps. They didn’t just get a bunch of computers and toss them aboard ships to the DISBO. They contracted for the design, production, support and training for the life cycle of the plan. By centralizing their effort, a lot of standardiztion saved the day. That, I saw them do with programs for the Ship’s Store, the spare parts and one other area (I can’t recall exactly what it was), all were raging successes. The black shoes never had the logic wear off on them for the most of the rest of my career.

The second effect of the early completion of much of the planned work was the free time made available for the crew to train for the end of the yard inspections, in my case, the “LOE” (Light Off Exam). Captain Maxiner wanted to know whare we were in the process and I sat down, once more at the Apple ][+, armed with dBase ][ and designed and programmed an application to track the items to be done for the LOE. It was an early lesson n relational databases, but you have much more manual work to do to connect the different data tables. I would print out the report of all items daily and hang in on the side of the file cabinets forward of my desk in the Log Room. The people responsible. mostly my five division officer, would mark up the status by the end of the work day and I’d edit the progress/chnages into the computer. Each morning, the CO also got a copy, fresh as of the end of the day before. This helped keep him on top of things without coming down to the Log Room of the Engineering spaces. Not that he didn’t but he didn’t need to come nearly as often. It was a fun project, and helped a lot of us keep on top of the many individual tasks necessary to pass the LOE on the first try. The same POA&M (Plan of Action and Milestones) tracking program was filled out to get us ready for the post-ROH REFTRA (refresher training) in GTMO, where we were also going to have the OPPE (operational propulsion plant exam) Equivalent exam at the end of the 6 weeks down south. Both REFTRA and OPPE went very well, and because we could devote more time to training, and less time to paperwork.

Near the end of overhaul, the Weapons Officer, LCDR John Taylor, was being relieved. He turned over the Senior Watch Officer duty to me. This entailed managing the watch assignments for inport, and also the officers when at sea. About this time I had moved up to an Apple ][e, but was pretty much like the Apple ][+ from a performance standpoint. Using the ][e, I did another database project, where I entered the entire crew into the tables, then recorded their status for the seven major watchstanding duties: Command Duty Officer (CDO), Officer of the Deck (Inport), Petty Officer of the Watch (POOW), Duty Engineer, Duty Operations, Duty Supply and Duty Combat Systems. I also recorded their date of achievement, from their service record entries, and I had the computer assign a weighted value by paygrade. This accounted for experience. Besides just then tweaking the major qualifications portion, all we had to do, as we headed into port, was put in the desired inport section assignments. The initial printout then added up the values and gave an overview of the experience any one section had, as well as the body count. If these values were markedly different, it became an easy task to move people between the sections and balance things out. Someone asked me wahy I spent all the time writing that program, beacuse they could do it faster by hand. I told them they could the first time, but every time after that, I’d win. They got it.

During the ROH, I had the opportunity to pick up my first hard drive, the first one Apple produced. A few days ago, I found a picture of it, but, in amongst the many bookmarks I have, I can’t track it down. It held a whopping 5 megabytes of data and was about the size of a shoebox. That doesn’t seem like much, but given floppies held 134K of data, this was a huge axpansion of capability, not having to constantly dig through showboxes full of 5 1/4″ floppies to run anything. Cost (as best I recall): $1200.

I picked up my first paying job near the end of this tour, when a shipmate, who had retired, hired me to come and assist his programmers in getting their dBase ][ application up and running. I drove for 2 hours to NC, worked most of the day, had the program doing all they wanted it to do, and was paid $200 and a steak dinner. Not bad for one day of work, but it was a result of almost 3 years of creating and managing databases.

Next segment: Auctions, portable computers, SQL before it was SQL, and how to buy smart.

Category: History, Military, Navy, Technology, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

YO! Can I Have the Ferrari This Weekend?

March 30th, 2006 by xformed

It seems there are people are doing the same thing with really cool (read: EXPENSIVE!) cars like general aviation plane owners have been doing for years….time sharing!

Anyone interested in a MilBloggers shared car? 🙂

Oh, and there is Ferrari wallpaper at this website

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The “birthday” of a Nation

January 30th, 2005 by

Today is the day. The news will be full of stories on the Iraqi elections….well, let me reconsider that. If it’s a disater, and many people are killed, the process disrupted and the goal of uncoerced voting occurs, we will be completely overwhelmed by “NEWS.” On the other hand, if a nation decides to step up to the plate, as reports indicate, and begin to make a place of thier own, with women freely voting, right next to the men, and every citizen of legal age even having the right to vote, or not vote, as is their own personal choice, then the news will give us a few brief remarks, most likely with an over tone of “it was rigged.” I’m not prophet, but by using the past (Afghani elections), I’m making this prediction of the future.

This is a historic day. It is also a day that will not reward us with its goodness until many years from now. My evidence you ask? Simple. Japan and Germany. Poland, and a host of other formerly Soviet Block controlled countries.

I spent 6 years developing, distributing and supporting a PC based computer program that took the time requirements out of keeping up to date records on qualification in the wake to the gun turret explosion aboard USS IOWA (BB-62). As a result, the administrative offices actually started keeping the records up to date, and watchbills were more accurately prepared, and the process of planning how to get someone qualified was better managed.

I bring this up because it is like the case of these elections in that I can never prove how many lives may have been saved, or dollars not spent to repair damage, when an under- or unqualified sailor or officer attempted to do something outside of their capabilities, but I inherently know it must have. The program made it’s way to over 120 ships, from mine countermeasure ships and hydrofoils, and all the way up to aircraft carriers.

When this election process reaches fruition, and the candiates are put in place with a mandate (yes, that’s what happens when you are elected, ask Bill Clinton) to make a safe and peaceful country, we’ll not be able to count the lives that are not snuffed out because the hatred dies down.

I’ve often thought it would be illuminating to sit down and do some population math. If you begin by computing the annual death rate under Saddam Hussien, you can simply project that since his ousting from power, the people who would have been killed for sport and political expediency, are still here. Each day, more people survive as a result of the freeing of Iraq. The harder math comes when I’d have to study the process of population growth, in order to predict how many births will now occur, how many marriages will do like-wise, and also result in a following generation, etc, etc, etc, to help us get a handle on just how important this entire process of this war has been. Even if you’re one stuck in the “WHERE ARE THE WMDs?” world, can you honestly tell me you hate the fact that the dignity of human life has been enhanced, or might you be so calloused to have allowed Saddam Hussien to continue his fratricidal ambitions?

Greyhawk of the The Mudville Gazette has some excellent reading on reports from different cities in Iraq, complete with comments from those who will risk their lives to vote, becasue they see this as something special.

Category: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

A view from a service members child

January 28th, 2005 by

The guy behind Mudville Gazette is fortunate enough to have a daughter who can step up to the plate and let the world know what she thinks about the situation in Iraq.

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“We’re gonna flood the VA”

January 27th, 2005 by

I met a man who just came back from Iraq and Afghanistan. I met him for the first time two nights ago. He is a reservist in the Navy, rated as an equipment operator in the SEABEES. He is also the Command Master Chief for his unit, so he was the senior enlisted man in his unit, and therefore the one responsible for the morale and welfare of the enlisted men in a very direct way.

What was striking were his few comments about what he had had to do, and some of the things that have happened as a result. His unit was assigned to some “digs.” What this entailed was being guided to a place and then digging to see what they could find. They were searching for the mass graves. His unit found one. While I didn’t hear a number, it was plenty of people who hade been killed, as he spoke briefly about how about 40 of the people had been shot in the temple, yet the others must have been buried alive, as there wasn’t evidence of any similar type of wounding to the other remains.

He then, not in a complaining manner, matter of factly discussed going to some appointments, which most certainly were some type of group therapy sessions for those who had been assigned to recover the bodies. He had some spare time before making it all the way back to the States, and commented about going to the base hospital as much as possible for “appointments.” Then he remarked the military medical system here can’t handle the demand for counseling, and he has been told to go to the VA. He has once and saw about 100 people in line before him for all sorts of appointments. When we wrapped up this part of the discussion, he said: “We’re going to flood the VA.”

I’d ask that you pray for the peace these men and women will need to get on with life, after having to have been a part of details to help heal another nation in the aftermath of so much evil. And, if you get the chance, lobby for making sure the services take care of them at the professional level.

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“US Bloodied in Iraq”

January 27th, 2005 by

What a wonderfully deceptive headline to greet you the day after a helicopter crashes in Iraqi killing 30 Marines and one Sailor. It was on the front of the Tampa Tribune in the driveway this morning.

The article is about the crash, not some ambush, or firefight casualty situation. There is no indication of hostile action, but it seems the press won’t pass up an opportunity to blame commonplace accidents on what they believe is a failed geo-political policy of the President they love to hate.

Amazingly enough, just a few weeks back, there was no similar story when the Navy’s SEAHAWK crashed in Indonesia while coming in to land and deliver aid to the tsunami victims. Based on the reporting this morning, I’m sure they could have somehow linked the SH-60s problem to the stinginess of the United States, but thankfully, they didn’t.

An unfortunate, yet well understood fact by just about anyone with any understanding of aircraft, is that helicopters are incredibly complex marvels of modern engineering. In simplistic terms, it’s thousands of vibrating parts, all trying to head one way under the direction of a human pilot. In addition to this degree of complexity, add the complexity of the human mind, then add some bad flying conditions. Yes, there it is, a recipe for disaster. More often than not, the helo pilots carry the day and achieve success, but sometimes, they are on the other end of the statistics and become the subject of the next aviation safety report.

I really wanted to fly, and while my idea of flying was to have been the real life pilot that they used to model the character of Maverick in “Top Gun,” I did grab stick time whenever I could. I managed to actually get about an hour at the controls of a CH-46 SEA KNIGHT, which is a large aircraft, with two main rotors, so I have a little idea about what it’s like to fly one of those. I have more time in the pilot’s seat of fixed wing stuff, from Cessnas to TA-4 SKYHAWKs, so I can compare and contrast the fixed versus rotary wing experience. In addition to actual control time, I spent a few hours sitting between the pilot and co-pilot of CH-46s, while they practiced vertical replenishment (VERTREP) work at sea. On top of all of that, I have hundreds of rides in Army and Navy helicopters as a passenger behind me, many of which I only rode up in them, then took care of the landing myself. I hung around with the “zoomies” at every chance I got.

What I know about flight is this: There isn’t any such thing as a “perfectly good airplane.” Stop anyone on the street with any life experience and they will have to admit they have heard news reports of those “perfectly good airplanes” falling out of the sky with little or no notice to the flight crew. Here’s the salient point: Aviation accidents happen. Lives are lost and property is damaged and lawyers make lots of money as a result.

What I know about flying helicopters is this: It’s hard and dangerous work. This is not to say flying fixed wing stuff isn’t dangerous, but when you do that hover thing, it’s an incredible load on the pilots mental capacity. I’m sure it’s right up there with night carrier landings. I’ve not had the opportunity to land aboard an aircraft carrier at night, but from all accounts, that’s the most intense flying experience in the world, as pretty much any pilot will attest to. For some “I was there” material on this subject, Neptunus Lex has written about it on his blog. Regardless as to how much fun it was to give the embarked helicopter pilots a hard time during my shipboard assignments, I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. I worked as a fight deck tower officer and landing signal officer on several ships, which was where I got my flight time in. It was especially eye opening to ride during VERTEP practice, and being able to listen to the flight crew coordinating the pick up and dropping off of externally slung loads over the deck of a moving ship. The pilot had three people talking to him, feeding him information, as he had his eyes locked on the ship, so he could gauge how to fly sideways and maintain a zero relative motion condition for extended periods.

Based on the life experience I have and with the comments above, I submit the cause of the crash may well have been just a flight accident; it may have been a mechanical or electrical/electronic problem, or it may have been pilot error. It could have been enemy action, but the initial reports don’t provide any indication of that. Trust me, as with accident of this nature, a very through investigation will follow, with the thrust of it to ascertain the cause, so that any problems found can be corrected before there is another case such as this. That process of accident investigation is highly refined and a seriously undertaken task, as much for preventing the loss of expensive equipment, as it is to prevent the loss of life. Both are of the utmost importance to the investigative team.

I wish the MSM would get on with real reporting, and quit playing the same “I should have won” cards that are the staple of Senators Kerry and Boxer. That attitude won’t restore any life, but it sure can raise the anxiety level for no logical reason.

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A story of a Saudi suicide bomber, who is still with us

January 26th, 2005 by

I found a very interesting story via Mudville Gazette. It came from USA Today, but I’m not sure much farther this has been propagated.

Anyhow, this is a report from an 18 year old Saudi man who became a suicide bomber, and we betrayed. Read it. It will put a face to those who do this type of thing, and how it cnaged his life.

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A view from the deckplates…

January 26th, 2005 by

Here’s a link to a first person report from a Naval Officer on the LINCOLN. He simply states what he sees with all the people “getting in on the act” in the disater relief, and adds a few emotional comments.

I can attest to the proplem of “strap hangers,” or, as my first Executive Officer, CDR Dave Martin, used to call them: Trolls. Just so as not to confuse you, that was back in 1977-78, before blogging, where we have a similar type of uninvited, rude, insensitive, and generally all around selfish people. In March, 89, I had the “pleasure” of having Bob Zelnick and crew, from ABC, riding us during a training day at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Not only where they constantly in the way of the drills, I had to assign ship’s company, who should have been training, to escort them around. That was one experience where I came to dislike the Public Affairs Officers, because they were ashore, drinking coffee….that’s a topic for another post.

The officer who wrote this ends by making some cogent comments about the decreased readiness of the pilots. One thing the aviation community takes seriously is the maintenance of training for those who fly on and off things at sea. Besides being an issue of life and death, quite pragmatically, a cost-benefit analysis tells you after paying that much for a fancy airplane, and that much more to train the aircrew, it dings the budget quite a bit when one goes in the drink. It’s an all around losing scenario.

I may have been a “shoe,” but I worked enough time on the helo decks to know those aviators need the experience to maintain their proficiency.

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How passionate are you about America?

January 25th, 2005 by

Sarah at Trying to Grok (don’t ask me what it means, I haven’t read enough of her blog), posted this about a man who loves America.

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The short view versus the long haul – Part I

January 24th, 2005 by

Over the last few years, the various random and seemingly chaotic thoughts of where we are going in this society have occasionally rambled through my grey matter. The results, while the judges and jury both are out, show some alarming patterns, that all link back to short term thinking.

Once again, I’ll call on a quote from Patrick Henry to preface what follows: “There is but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging the future but by the past.”

I’ll start with the nay saying about Iraq. Yes, I’m biased about not losing the advantage after losing 1300 lives of our military. Having volunteered in 1972, the year after the draft was abolished, I was one of the many who began the “volunteer” force. There have been millions of volunteers before me, but upon my entry, there were no more men being absorbed into the service against their will. I spent the next 23 years and 9 months sewing this country. I‘m biased in my thoughts that the U.S. Military has been well used in keeping the level of violence down on the face of the planet.

Why is there so much resistance to establishing a democracy in Iraq? I’m baffled by all at this effort to derail an opportunity for another sovereign nation to taste what so often we now take for granted. On one hand, I can comprehend why a small group of individuals (their religious connection not even really being factored in in my opinion) who have made their overly posh lifestyle by taking advantage of the masses, are so desperate to stop this move towards individual freedom. They do not want to be held accountable for suppressing the basic dignity of people. From that stand point, I can almost give them some degree of respect, in that they have some logic to support their actions, flawed as it may be.

On the other hand, those who consider themselves “liberals,” are the very ones who will be quick to tell anyone how they are for supporting human rights, both real, perceived and even concocted ones. They claim a party name of “Democrats.” They are also the ones to demand that we abandon the Iraqi people the few who have held positions of power in a very brutal manner, and even as I write this, are demonstrating they are willing to continue to retain this form of oppression of the masses. Where are the voices of these who decry the abuse of the proletariat? Is it just because the Islamic rulers claim their power of control is due to a religious foundation, and not due to economics? Can they not see it is the same selfish desire at the core of the issue?

We are at a point in time, where it is much like 1945. It takes little mental agility to survey history and realize two brutal dictatorships, full of aggression and national selfishness, were defeated and are now peaceful and democratic as a result of the shedding of blood on both sides. Did this happen over might? No. Did this happen because as soon as the instruments of surrender were signed, we instantly brought all our troops home? No.

So you’d like to say we got lucky? What do you have to say about the aftermath of the end of the Cold War, effectively in 1989? If memory serves me correctly, a great deal of peace broke out in Eastern Europe since then. Not only did it happen in the former Soviet buffer states, who regained their national identities, but within Russia, as well. While Ruskin has some military power, they no longer are the threat to World peace they were for about 49 years. In addition to being peaceful, they are also democratic, where the citizens now have a voice.

We left the 20th Century with about 160 democracies; we entered it with about 100. Applying statistical analysis at a very basic level says that’s a 60% increase. In this century, Afghanistan has been added to the list.

From a standpoint of a “vote count,” I’d say the majority chooses democracy. Who are we to presume the Iraqis don’t want it? Notice how quiet it has been in Afghanistan?

To finalize this post, I ask rhetorically, why can’t we use our experience of the past, specifically the aftermath of WWII and the Cold War, to see the expansion of democracy is a move that is for the betterment of all mankind?

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