Friday, February 25, 2011

On Being Up...

  My sister informed me that she had learned, from chatting with someone she knew in Maine, of the passing of a mutual friend, Betty.  Sad news, of course, and the chance lost to see her, again.  Thinking about Betty and her husband, Phil, made me think of people like them who always seem to be "Up".  You know the type, it is always a pleasure to be around them because their unassuming and genuine happiness and love for life just radiates from them and permeates everyone around them.  My good friends Mary and Dick definitely qualify for the Up Persons Hall Of Fame.  They graciously opened their home to my family when we needed a place to stay and we instantly felt like a part of their family.  Another couple was Susan and Larry.  Larry would frequently say that he was going to 'pump you full of sunshine' when he thought you needed it.  I could go on mentioning others that I have crossed paths with that carried a positive outlook on life.  I often wish I could maintain a similar steadfast attitude.  Of course well-adjusted, optimistic people have their share of problems like anyone else.  Excuse me if I use the old reference, but when they are given lemons, they make lemonade.  It is as simple as that.  They know life is too short to, as my grandmother would put it, "go around with a sour puss".  Which is ironic, because my grandmother often needed to be 'pumped up'.  She was a wonderful person who didn't always have a positive outlook.  Life is what we make of it so we should set our mind to enjoying the ride!

The most positive person is the most credulous. - Alexander Pope

It's A Living - Part 7

Squirrel POS Systems
Old Squirrel Systems

In 1994, I am still in Boise, Idaho, but now working at NEAT Business Systems.  It was a small company of just the owner and myself, Déjà vu, of the first cash register company I worked for.  When I left the previous company, many customers chose to follow me because they liked my work and wanted to maintain the working relationship that we had.  Of course that was fine with me as well as my employer.  At the new place, I continued to service Panasonic, DTS, and Casio.  A new system was Squirrel, I know, a strange name for a restaurant system.  It was here that I made the transition from Windows 3.11 to Windows 95 and now we had the availability of the Internet.  We also had to deal with IBM's operating system because of Squirrel Systems, it was called OS/2 and I didn't care for it much.  It behaved a lot like Windows 3.11 which is easy to understand why since OS/2 was developed by Microsoft and later used exclusively by IBM.
  Up until now, all of my cash register career included carrying a pager, so it was a landmark event when I started using a cell phone at NEAT, albeit, a bag phone, but a phone nonetheless.  Cellular phones have changed alot over the years.  There have been many, many features added to them to make them more versatile, and annoying.  I think I have mentioned this before, but here is a list of all the features that I like to have on my cell phone: 
1.  Make phone calls
2.  Receive phone calls
We'll talk again, soon, gotta run!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

It's A Living - Part 6

  The family went crazy and moved West in 1991.  I started working in the Salt Lake City, Utah branch of Mid-Mountain Data Systems.  Living in the West was quite different, warmer and much drier among other things.  We had recently taken over another cash register company and have been busy moving and sorting through a lot of equipment from their inventory.  Our main grocery store machine was the NCR 2126 which I never got involved with.  I was always busy with TEC's, Sharp's and DTS's (lots of DTS 2170's) mostly.  I did start getting acquainted with Panasonic products and quickly learned they were an excellent piece of equipment.  PC's (personal computers) were becoming more prevalent in the POS trade as the methodology for communications improved.  At the time, the speed for PC's was all the way up to 60 MHz and we thought that was very fast!

Sharp 4500/Comtrex
(Just the Keyboards)

  We took on a fine dine system called Comtrex that was based and built in New Jersey and later on, became more prominent overseas, I believe.  The models, I think (it has been a long time!), was 480 and 960.  The differences being; the first had a flat Panaplex (an early form of plasma) display and the second used a small monochrome CRT display.  It was a clever piece of equipment that was built around a DOS processor.  Sharp liked it and put there name on it as there Model 4400 and 4500. 
  Even though I had been to Boise, Idaho on a one day trip once before for my job interview at the home office of Mid-Mountain Data Systems, it took the Comtrex system to get me interested in moving to Boise.  The company had a system to install at a Ramada Inn in Boise and since I was the only technician trained on the Comtrex, I was to make a field trip to Boise to install it.  This time I was there about a week and had more time to see the area and concluded that Boise was a nice place to live so managed a transfer to Boise after working in Salt Lake City for nine months.

Panasonic JS-7000
   In Boise, I was mostly busy with the Panasonic 6500, 7000 and 7500 used in Quick Service and Fine Dine applications.  Our most active account was Wendy's which worked for me because I have always been a fast food connoisseur!  As usually the case, when you know a machine well, it becomes your favourite and the Panasonic's were no exception.
  I (there I go again) apologise for using "I" so much but there is a limited number of ways to get around it.  After all, this blog is all about me!  And needless to say, there is more to come....

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's A Living - Part 5

DTS 500 at a Wal-Mart

Fotomat Booth
  From 1978 to 1991, I worked at Capitol Cash Register, now called CCR Data Systems, located in Concord, NH.  I worked on only electronic registers which was fine with me!  They weren't quite as heavy, oily, or inky.  Almost all of the ECR's I mentioned in Part 4, I continued to work on plus additional ones.  It remains to be seen if I can find any pictures of them on the 'net.  The primary line was Data Terminal Systems or DTS that had just started in 1975.  They were unique because they were a US based company nearby in Maynard, MA.  One machine that was passe when I got there, was the DTS Dacap.  The DTS 100 was a tiny little thing that was often found in similarly tiny Fotomat booths.  Invariably, I would go on a service call to a Fotomat about the same time they were having a shift change (there was only room for one person in the booth) on a hot summer day when the AC wasn't working.  A common occurrence was having pennies work their way into the electronics through the top of the machine.  The DTS 150 was a little better with a slightly improved printer.  The DTS 200 sported a dot matrix printer instead of typewheel printers that were in it's predecessors but was constantly prone to lock-ups.  The DTS 300 was more rugged with the proven Seiko EP-101 printer.  The machines were more sophisticated with the advent of the DTS 400 and DTS 440.  They still used the 101 printer but had many more functions.  The 400 was designed for restaurant applications and the 440 for grocery stores.  The DTS 440 was my favourite which I knew inside and out, it was rugged, dependable and relatively easy to service.  When the DTS 500 series came out, they had dot matrix printers and much more sophistication in it's programming.  It did a lot more so there was a lot to go wrong.  When this series came out, dealers now had to have a 'programming department'.
Electronic cash register Maconick
  One machine that was fascinating was TEC's very first ECR that I never saw until I was at CCR.  It was called the TEC Maconic BRC-30.  What was interesting about it was the fact that a third of the machine was still mechanical, taking care of all the printing.  The other two-thirds was the electronics.
  We were also Sweda dealers so had lots of Sweda mechanical and ECR's.  As I previously mentioned, the Sweda ECR's were built by Omron and were very reliable.  There was a small population of MKD Bantam and Victor 560 registers, thank goodness!
  In the early days of CCR, before we had a call center to dispatch us to our calls, the service manager would gave us a fist full of slips that had our service calls for the day.  They were organized into areas, naturally, and, in the summer, when he asked who wanted the Hampton Beach, NH run, everyone volunteered, because they knew that there was the opportunity for girl watching on the beach!
  When the CCR building was built, there was a hole left in the floor between the main floor and the basement.  The electronics department, where I worked, was in the basement.  The intent of the opening was for the future installation of an elevator.  The elevator never happened, and it was a standing joke that we never got an elevator, we only got the shaft.

Image result for data general nova 1200
Shaw's Super Markets used a dual
main frame similar to this one.
  Eventually, my primary system that I worked on was the Sweda 80S.  It was a supermarket scanning system using a pair of Data General Nova 1200 computers in a 'backroom' environment.  The scanners and POS (point of sale) terminals were built by Sweda. There were thirteen Shaw's Supermarkets in our area and I had the fun of upgrading most of them from mechanical registers to scanning stores.  By today's standards, the computer was archaic, using 64KB of core memory, which is a fraction of what today's home PC's use.  The hard drive is even more ridiculous, the drawer that is partially pulled out in the photo is a 10MB hard drive and two people can barely carry it.  There is a fixed 5MB disk and a removable 5MB disk (the white circle on top of the drawer).  Things have changed.
  At the frontend, there were checkstand controllers that were a smaller version of the Nova 1200 and were crammed underneath the checkstand.  One of these could control four 'dumb' terminals.  One thing noteworthy about the terminals was the printer.  It was like a Seiko 101 printer, but had a much larger print drum, which made it a slower printer.  What made this printer unique was it's ability to print full alpha, hence the larger drum.  During installation, it was necessary to put pins on hundreds of wires, one at a time, so that the cables could be interconnected to the controllers and back to the mainframe.
  In 1984 I was transferred to Vermont where CCR had established a branch service office in Montpelier.  Hammond-Epco had lost the DTS franchise in the state and we took it over.  Vermont is a beautiful state and it was great to travel all over it on service calls and see it up close.
  The downside to taking over the accounts of another dealer is that you have no programming documentation of the machines.  That meant taking program 'dumps' from the registers and translating them into a hard copy.  The one that was the trickiest was the DTS 440 because a program dump was from a Seiko EP-101 printer.  The printout was whatever the character was on the printdrum for that particular column and position.  The program was written in hexadecimal so there were 16 characters in each set.  It was a matter of identifying the character for each column of each line and convert it to the hex equivalent and inserting it into the appropriate places on the program sheet.
  There were a lot of DTS 440's in many P&C and Grand Union markets.  Later, Price Chopper bought up a lot of these stores.  There were also many smaller businesses with every model of DTS.  In addition, we were heavily engaged in TEC's and serviced just about any other brand; Casio, Sharp, Teknika, etc.
  DTS's new line of ECR's was the DTS 2100, not built by them but by Kyrocera, a Japanese firm.  It was a popular machine that worked fairly well.  It had an interesting bit of engineering in it; if the printer circuit overloaded, it would blow out a transistor to protect the fuse, hmmmmm.  Not long after, Data Terminal Systems got bounced around, first it was sold to National Semiconductor, then they were sold to ICL who was in turn sold to Fujitsu, I hope I have that all correct!
  Yes, I am afraid there is more to come..... 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Your Closest And Longest Friend Is Yourself

I was reminded of a passage from Hamlet, the other day, when Polonius is giving advice to his son, Laetes:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

  It is easier to be honest with others if you are honest with yourself.  To accomplish this may require some work, aye, there's the rub (sorry, Hamlet, again).  Strange as it may sound, you need to treat yourself as an entity, a separate individual, you need to step away from yourself, if you will.  By doing this, you will have a perspective of yourself that is more in line with the way others see you.  When you do this, you will better see what improvements you may need to make.  You will also need the desire to make these changes.  It all comes down to respecting yourself, liking yourself, even loving yourself.  Now, I am not talking about being conceited, everything needs balance.  I am simply saying that for self dignity you need self respect:  This above all: to thine own self be true.
  When you are true to yourself, it is easier to be genuinely true to others and when you are a friend to yourself,  you will find friendship in others:  Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Respect your efforts, respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline. When you have both firmly under your belt, that's real power. - Clint Eastwood

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It's A Living - Part 4

  In the back corner of the showroom at Standard Cash Register, loomed an R.C. Allen Model 700 Electronic Cash Register of '70's vintage.  I wish I had a photo to show you, but after scouring the Internet, I was unable to find any remnants of one.  In fact, I looked for other electronic registers for that era and found nothing. They don't seem to have the endurance of the old mechanical registers!  Anyway, the R.C. Allen 700 was of a rather unique design, where the cabinet was like a tilted banana shaped dish attached to a cash drawer, similar to the early Data Checkers.  What really dates it is the 'nixie' tube display.  'Nixie' tubes (I have no idea where the nick name came from) are little vacuum tubes with digits that glow inside them.  It had a printer with  a receipt and journal tape that were about an inch wide (28mm).  The keyboard was about the size of a large calculator with about a half dozen department keys.  It wasn't a terribly durable machine.  We only had a few in a couple local convenient stores.  Later on, R.C. Allen came out with the Model 100 which was an updated version of the Model 700.  Nixie tubes were replaced with LED's and the electronics became integrated onto a much smaller board.  Another machine we started peddling was the FJay 560 electronic register.  FJay was the Fred Jay Corporation in Chicago.  For many years, they were famous for selling reconditioned mechanical registers and parts to dealers and eventually started selling new machines in the form of JCM mechanical registers (previously mentioned) and FJay electronic registers.  The FJay 560 was actually built by Omron and was a very reliable machine.  Okay, I gotta tell this story;  we had a gas station customer with one of these machines and they were broken into, the FJay 560 was taken away, the drawer was forced open, money taken, and the machine was tossed off a bridge into a river.  Two weeks later, it was fished out of the river and eventually made it back to our shop for estimates.  It still worked!  Except for cosmetic damage, the register still ran.  Impressive.  Omron also built the Sweda electronic registers (which were almost identical to the FJay machines) and eventually started selling them under their own name.  The only shortcoming to the FJay 560 was it's inability to correctly calculate tax.  It was only able to do straight percentages for tax, but most states have what we called a 'tax lookup table' where the 'break points', that is the points where the next penny tax is incremented, is arbitrarily chosen by the lawmakers.  When the FJay 561 came out, it was able to be programmed to follow any tax table.  All of these Omron designed machines had the famous Seiko 101 printer that became the workhorse of the industry.  They used 44mm paper and were very durable, at least for the first ten years, then after that, the 'trip shafts' would wear out and they would drop characters. 
Seiko EP-101 Printer
  Added to our product line was the TEC (Tokyo Electric Co.) electronic register MA-110. It, too, was limited to straight percentage but the problem was corrected with the MA-130 series. They proved to be a reliable register as well as the MA-140, MA-160, and MA-170 series which had a bigger printer, therefore a more substantial sized receipt tape. Unlike most ECR manufacturers who used printers from other sources (usually Seiko), TEC typically built their own printers for most of their models.
  The last 'bercheeb' I would like to talk about is Victor's first attempt at an electronic cash register, the Victor 560, that was a machine I will never forget.
In 1973, Victor had developed a fantastic desktop calculator using a dot-matrix printhead.  They incorporated this printhead into the Model 560.  Although it worked great in a calculator, it did not in a cash register.  Not to mention, the engineers (who must have had some vendetta against technicians) bundled all the circuit boards in such a way to make them virtually impossible to get at.  In theory it was a solid machine with great potential.  In reality it was constant service calls.  The 560 was a general merchandise and grocery machine, they also came out with the 570 for restaurant applications.
  You guessed it, more to come....

Monday, February 14, 2011

It's A Living - Part 3

 I don't expect you to share my passion for cash registers, so I won't be upset if you skip over this entry.
Image result for anker f7
Anker F7
As I previously mentioned, my internship with cash registers started in 1974 at Standard Cash Register, located at 301 Central Avenue, Dover, NH but it is no longer there.  We referred to the cash registers as 'machines', and the owner's daughter picked up on the term.  However, she was very young and couldn't pronounce 'machine' so it came out as 'berscheeb'.  So the very first 'berscheeb' I became proficient at, was the German-made Anker, the model F7 shown at the left.  It was a very well built machine used in many markets in the Boston area, including Purity Supreme and Star Market.  It was always the goal to sell maintenance contracts to the businesses we serviced.  That was a good thing for both them and us, we had guaranteed income and they had fixed costs they could budget for the year.  When I had started working for Standard, the largest account we had was Rigazio's Market owned by John Rigazio, an interesting person, in Rochester, NH with three Anker Registers.  For extra income, I could sell contracts and receive a commission and being a young father and husband, I needed the bucks, so I went for it.  I managed to sell contracts to eleven Star Markets and thirteen Purity Supreme markets.  The downside was they were predominantly in the Boston area and that made for long days on service calls.  We were a small company and there were only two and sometimes three of us to do the work.
Cash register. Photograph Joanna Boileau
NCR Class 51
  Along with Anker registers, we would service other makes.  There were a lot of NCR's out there.  A common supermarket 'berscheeb' was the Class 51.  It's predecessor was the Class 6000.  One thing I could never figure out was why the older models had larger model numbers!  For smaller markets and restaurants, you would often see the Class 21.

NCR Class 6000
Image result for chrome ncr 1900
NCR Class 1900
Image result for ncr 21
NCR Class 21
In bars, the machine you would see most, was the Class 1900, though sometimes you would see a 51, 21, or 24.  The last mechanical machines that NCR produced was the Class 24 and the Class 5.  That was easy to tell, because the cases were plastic instead of metal.  The 24 was a smaller machine, basically an updated version of the 21 and the 5 was a monster that was the high end machine for supermarkets and the like.  Fortunately for me that was one machine that we wouldn't service, whew!

NCR Class 24

Victor 45

R.C. Allen 'A-Mod'
We also sold and serviced Victor, JCM and R.C. Allen cash registers as well as servicing Hugin and Sweda. Interestingly, the Victor, Hugin, and Sweda mechanical registers are all cousins to each other where the companies have all tied in together at one time or another. The most common Victor we sold and serviced was the Model 45 for general retail and the Model 40 for restaurants. The JCM's were Japanese machines that was our 'econony' line. R.C. Allen had been around a long time making adding machines. I think one day they decided to put their adding machine on a cash drawer and call it a cash register, because that is what it certainly looked like! The term that applied to this fabrication was called an 'A Mod'. The owner of Standard Cash Register, Dick Lemke, got his start working for an office machine company in Dover, NH, and he asked if they could expand into cash registers and eventually Standard was a spin off of that company, focusing on just cash registers. I believe it was the R.C. Allen line that started that, because Standard was heavy into the R.C. Allen machines.

Image result for sweda 46
Sweda 46
  The most common Sweda we serviced was the Model 46 as well as some of it's bigger brother, the Model 76.
  Eventually, the technology took a big change and the electronic register came along.  When I first started at Standard, there was one, lone, ECR (electronic cash register) in the back corner of the show room.  More of this exciting story to follow!....