5 things you may not know about me

Ok, maybe you already know these things. I’m a pretty open person so there’s not much unknowable about me that I know of. But Johanna tagged me to say 5 things, and these are the ones that came to mind:

1. My first real job was as a TV-radio repairman at age 14. My father had driven me out to the shop when I needed some capacitors for a science project. A guy there asked me lots of questions, and said, “When schools out, come back and we’ll give you a job.” How was I to know he wasn’t the owner of the place.

Summer came and I cycled out to start work. The guy who’d offered me the job was nowhere to be seen (since he was a college student and had gone home for the summer). The owner said he didn’t have any openings.

I was disappointed. I was also tired from a long bike ride, so I asked if there was anything I could do for the day, rather than just turn around and ride home again. So I punched some holes in a 55 gallon drum to make it a better incinerator and burned the trash. After a few chores like this, the owner showed me a TV he was troubleshooting and asked me if I could figure out where the problem was. I measured voltages and was pretty sure it was one of the rectifier diodes. I picked the wrong one, but got the job, anyway. At 75 cents an hour, I thought I was rich.

In retrospect, the money wasn’t much, but the education was priceless. I knew a lot more about electronics by the end of the summer. I’d learned a few other lessons, too, such as even if you’re 14, you get a turn to buy the afternoon cokes. And a picture tube without safety glass is really impressive when it implodes. (Glass went about a hundred feet into the air.) And 25,000 volts will really bite.

2. I was once a long-haired organic vegetable farmer. I spent a couple years market gardening in Carroll County, MD, and selling the produce at the farmer’s market there and the one in Baltimore. I worked 12 to 14 hours a day for six and a half days a week, and then took Sunday afternoon off to freeze and can vegetables for the winter. It was a very fulfilling life, but not a remunerative one. Needing to work a paying job in the winter led me back to electronics.

3. I used to go rock climbing. Rock climbing is very cerebral and spiritual for a physical sport. When you’re climbing, it’s just you and the rock having a dance. That is, until you fall. Then it’s you and a partner you trust with your life who’s holding the other end of the rope. I wasn’t excellent at it, but managed to follow some 5-8 climbs at Seneca Rocks, WV. One one of those climbs, I was a hundred feet or so up and had just successfully maneuvered through the crux of the climb. I moved into a short chimney to rest, pressing my feet against one rock face and my back against one facing it. After composing myself, I started to climb up–and my head went back. As I said before, I used to have long hair. In fact, I had a braid long enough to sit on. I had to lower myself down with one hand and reach behind with the other to free my hair from the rock.

4. I published an article in Byte Magazine back in 1986. This was pretty much the last hurrah for Byte as a technical magazine, rather than an advertising magazine. It was an article on a monitor program I’d written to use the Intel 8031 processor to emulate itself. I later found out that Phillips Semiconductor had used (and extended) my monitor to explore the 8051 variants put out by competitors.

5. In spite of a technical background that goes back to childhood, my sailboat has virtually no electronics. The depth sounder died years ago. I use a leadline. The knotmeter also gave up the ghost. I drop a potato chip off the bow and count the seconds until it reaches the stern. I made up a chart to convert that to knots. I’ve got a VHF radio, but it’s an old one that predates using frequency synthesizers, so it doesn’t have all the frequencies now in use. I’ve got a magnetic compass. And paper charts.
That’s it. No GPS. No radar. Nothing fancy, at all. Of course, the Chesapeake Bay is generally a pretty forgiving place to sail. I’ve only been in pea-soup fog a few times. So partly this lack of fancy toys is an expression of YAGNI rather than me being a luddite.

The main reason to sail without those aids is to experience more deeply using my own senses. I’m more aware of my surroundings because I’m looking around, rather than looking at a dial or screen. I feel how the boat moves through the water, how it responds to the wind and to the helm. And that’s really the reason for going sailing, in my opinion. If I just wanted to get to the other end of the trip, there’re faster and more efficient ways.

Like Captain Jack Sparrow says, “That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and hull and a deck and sails. That’s what a ship needs. But what a ship is… is freedom.”

OK, there’s my 5 things. I’d pass it on to others, but this game has gone on for awhile and most of the people I might tag have already played. The others aren’t updating their blogs as often as I’d like. I like what Esther said: “If you want to join the fun, consider yourself tagged.”


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