Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hup! Twoop! Three! Four! - Part 2

My barracks at RAF Mildenhall, 1969

Hard at work on a burger & chips
  Now I am stationed in England, more specifically, RAF Mildenhall, November, 1968.  There is a pretty good history of the base here.  I have previously made mention of England in another entry, so let's review!  Ok, are we up to speed?  Pay attention, there will be a test later.  The unit that I was assigned to (as a 'Tech Controller') was Detachment 7 of the  2nd Mobile Communications Group which had the nickname of Talking BirdTypically, mobile communication groups are over-the-road packages, that, of course, could be transported by air.  We were a communications outfit that was on standby if emergency communications needed to be set up in a hurry.  It was comprised of an HF (high frequency) package that had (if my memory serves me correctly!) a four channel multiplexed system, two voice channels and two teletype channels with encryption.  It was all mounted on a rolling frame of sorts.  It could then be rolled up into a C-130 cargo plane along with the antenna package and all the peripherals.  Then the plane would deploy somewhere and we would set up.  The most difficult part of the set up was the antennas.  They were log periodic antennas which means they were large at one end and got smaller toward the other end.  The large end was a telescoping tower that probably went up about 40 or 50 feet.  The small end was a mast about half as high.  Strung in between were all the elements in incrementing lengths.  It looked like a very odd fence when completed.  Similar to the picture below.
  Unfortunately, I never went on a deployment so never saw the unit in action.  After a year, I was reassigned and I think Talking Bird was phased out.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

(ring, ring)...."Hello, I Want Your Money!"

Image result for telephone  The downside to the advancement in technology is that it provides so-called entrepreneurs more means to get into your face and try and sell you something.
  A large percentage of the phone calls I receive at home are 'junk calls'.  Their uninvited calls interrupt your personal life and demands your attention, then to add insult to injury, they try to convince you that you need something that you don't want.  Or perhaps they are being paid to play on your sensibilities by soliciting donations from you.  How much time and/or money are THEY donating to the cause?  Or they want you to get into debt more so they can 'help' you get out of debt.  I like the sketch where Jerry Seinfeld gets a junk call and asks the caller for his or her home phone number so he can call them back at an inconvenient time to talk to them further.  I was given a ray of hope when the government started a 'Do Not Call' registry so that junk callers can be reported.  That didn't amount to much.  By law, solicitors are suppose to identify themselves on the caller ID, yeah, right.  Then there are the con artists that are trying to steal from you.
  What about those pesky 'pop ups' on the computer.  Do they really think I am going to buy something from someone who practices those methods of advertising?  Or they try and strike fear in your heart by faking that your computer has detected a virus and you need to buy protection immediately.  Not to mention those that pretend (phishing) to be your bank, or other provider, and wanting account numbers and passwords.
  I don't mind junk mail (from the post office).  I deal with that at a time I designate, not on demand like a phone call, where I can simply throw it away.  Sometimes the credit card solicitations get out of hand.  I simply stuff it all into their postage paid envelope and mail it back to them with a 'No Thank You'.  That seems to put it back in check for awhile.
  Thanks for letting me unload, I feel much better, now!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hup! Twoop! Three! Four! - Part 1

A Tech Control mock-up at school, circa 1968.
  This series is a sequel, of sorts, to my September 23, 2010 entry: Good Morning Vietnam! 
  After I finished basic training at Lackland AFB (San Antonio, Texas) in the spring of 1968, the next stop was Keesler AFB (Biloxi, Mississippi) for technical training.  I was to be a Telecommunications Systems Controller.  My original hope was to be in radio maintenance, but it turned out that I enjoyed my designated career field.  Primarily, we were the telecommunications circuit managers and troubleshooters for Air Force Communications. For the time period I was in, the lion's share of the equipment we were trained on was still vacuum tube technology and the solid state stuff was relatively new on the scene.  Normally, the training, which included basic electronics, lasted 29 weeks, but because I had a talent for electronics, I was able to complete the course in 19 weeks.

3396 Squadron

  Keesler was a large base with two well defined areas.  The first being the main base, the second was called 'The Triangle' because it was in the shape of, well, a triangle.  It was primarily housing for most of the students in the form of barracks.  There were two to a room and it wasn't bad, considering it was all concrete and tile.
  I was in the 3396th squadron which was in a good location because it was close to a swimming pool and a little BX.  The down side was the necessity of marching to the main base for classes at Thompson Hall.  After awhile I figured out that if you were a 'Road Guard', you didn't have to march, just walk alongside the group and hold out a 'STOP' paddle at intersections.  Well, I found a 'STOP' paddle somewhere and designated myself a road guard for the rest of the time I was in school.

I am the geeky guy in glasses in the front row.

  There were a dozen in the class, as in any military group, a myriad of personalities.  The training itself wasn't too difficult and even interesting.  There was theory in antenna propagation, multiplexing, teletype (yup, archaic stuff), transmitters, receivers, etc.  There were patch panel procedures for managing circuits, as well as how to test circuits.   And of course there was the 'red tape' training that told us all about the dictates from our 'bible', the publication from the DCA (Defense Communication Administration) known as the
DCS 310-55-1, DCS being Defense Communication System.  The military loves it's acronyms! 

  We used what was called a Jack Field for each circuit, four jacks for DC circuits (teletype) and eight jacks for audio circuits.  A 'normal' circuit had no cables patched into it.  If we needed to patch the user to another circuit, we would plug into the user's Equipment jack and plug the other end into a Line of another circuit.  If the user's equipment was bad, we would plug into the user's Line jack and plug the other end into the Equipment jack of spare gear.  There was also a Monitor jack associated with each Equipment jack and each Line jack.  Pretty straight forward, but every move required an entry into the Station Log that was always in the typewriter (remember those?).

I am almost too embarrassed to
post this.....

  Eventually, training was completed and then I had to wait a couple weeks for orders.  They kept me busy, in the meantime, bossing around new troops, fresh out of basic, in the linen supply room.  I left with two stripes which translates to an Airman First Class.  When I was in basic training, they had us fill out a 'Dream Sheet' which asks us where we would like to be assigned after technical training.  It was called a Dream Sheet because it had the reputation of never sending you where you want to go.  I put down as my first choice, England, and as my second choice, Germany.  Well, as luck would have it, when my orders came, it was for England.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ogenki Desuka? (How Are You?)

  Without minimizing the devestation of Japan from the tsunami, I thought it would be a nice change to talk about something positive.
  In 1963, the hit song Sukiyaki came out by Kyu Sakamoto.  It was the only Japanese language song that ever made the charts in the US.  I liked it because it had a great sound even though I didn't know what was being said.  However, an English version of it came out in 1981 by A Taste Of Honey.  Click here and see if it sounds familiar!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

As I Live And Breathe....

  Each life is a singularity, a phenomenon.  Ironic when you consider that there are almost 7 billion people in the world.  What makes this a personal experience instead of a statistic is the fact that we interact with each other at some level.  The World society is made up of many subsets of smaller societies until we come down to our own circle of friends and family. 
  Now that I am somewhere inside or outside the last quarter of my life, I think about my mortality more frequently.  More to the point, I become aware of the mortality of others that I am associated with.  All too often I hear about someone that I know incurring a life changing affliction or even death.  One of my character flaws is that I don't cope with conflict well.  I have a tendency to 'shut down'.  The knowledge of a friend or family member being stricken or leaving this mortal existence is no exception.  I might be perceived as uncaring and unconcerned which, in fact, the opposite would be the case.  It is probably a defense mechanism I developed while growing up and being moved around a lot.  Or perhaps it because I like to fix things and there are some things I just cannot fix and that sometimes frustrates me.  And the fact that they are sometimes younger then me certainly doesn't help!
  The point I am trying to make to you and to myself is that the quality of life is more important then the quantity.  I am rooting for you in mind, heart and spirit, even if I don't seem to show it, although I should.  No matter what our age is, what our health is, and what our social status is; we should keep up the good fight, be an example others and lend a hand when we can, while we sojourn through our lives together.

All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Singin' The Blues....

  When it comes to music, sometimes I am in the mood for something that has a blues flavour.  When I was seven years old,  my first exposure to anything close to that was in 1956 when Elvis Presley came out with his first number one song, Heatbreak Hotel.  Even though it is a rock 'n roll song, it sounds bluesy to me!  I have never been a big Elvis fan, but there are a few of his songs that I enjoy and this was one of them.
  Can you handle more blues?  John Lee Hooker does I'm In The Mood with Bonnie Raitt helping out.  Or how about  Muddy Waters with I Want To Be Loved.  They're all gone now, except for Bonnie.  Click and listen.

Go ahead and play the blues if it'll make you happy. - Dan Castellaneta

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Literary Corner

Image result for old book   Unlike my sister and my wife, I am not an avid reader.  When I do read, it is usually of a technical nature but that doesn't really count, does it?  When I was in the eighth grade, I was reading David Copperfield which, I thought at the time, was an enormous novel (over 900 pages) and wondered if I would ever finish it.  Somehow I did and since then, on those rare occasions when I do read a novel, Charles Dickens is sometimes a choice. 
  Those that know me know that I enjoy watching TV which also includes movies.  My taste in movies is quite broad and includes classics and period films.  The last one I saw was Tolstoy's War And Peace which is probably not a book I would read as it contains 1225 pages, but you never know.  I am told the movie follows the book fairly closely.  It was a 1956 production with Audrey Hepburn, Henry Fonda, and Mel Ferrar and runs for over three and a half hours.  It elaborated on Napoleon and his attempted invasion of Russia which did not go exactly as planned.
  Once I was really brave and proceeded to read Homer's Odyssey.  After getting part way through it, I gave up because I have a linear brain and the book isn't written chronologically.  I had a difficult time trying to follow it, but I gave it a shot.  Now Winnie-The-Pooh on the other hand.........

If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do things worth writing. - Benjamin Franklin

Friday, March 4, 2011

It's A Living - Part 10 - The Last!

Fujitsu 2000

Image result for ncr 7445
NCR 7445
  It was a bit of a shock to be laid off (see previous entry).  What made it even more insulting was being told over the phone, at Christmastime, no less.  But it was a blessing in disguise.  I immediately started to think about my options and always thought the best advice was "do what you do best".  Well, that was easy, cash registers.  So after a little scouting around, I applied to and was hired by DUMAC Business Systems, based in Syracuse, NY.  DUMAC. I soon learned it was a sound company that has been operating since 1952.  That is impressive.  I went into the new year of 2004 with a new job.  I wasn't going to be working in Syracuse, but be a remote field engineer for upstate New York, which meant finding a home in the capital district area of Albany.  We chose to live in East Greenbush, on the other side of the Hudson River from Albany.

  My primary area of work is servicing supermarket scanning systems, with occasional installs.  In addition, I may do quick service (fast food) systems from time to time, always Wendy's (a favourite restaurant for me!).  They are always the Panasonic line.
Also occasionally servicing CCTV (closed circuit TV) systems, again, predominately in Wendy's.

NCR 7452

  The prevailing systems  I work on are the Fujitsu 2000 and 3000.  Windows based POS systems using Scanmaster or ISS45 for the store application.  The NCR 7445 has finally died off and the NCR 7452 is almost gone.  We have recently taken on an IBM scanning system.
  I really enjoy this line of work, always have and always will.  I get to work with great co-workers, great customers and there is plenty of variety to the job.
I hope to continue working at DUMAC until I retire and that is good news for you, because that makes this my last blog entry of this series!  Cheers!
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. - Confucius

Musical Intermission

  I thought we were about due for a musical flashback.  Today's song is another I like (why would I play a song I didn't like??) called Raindrops by Dee Clark which he recorded in 1961.  I was a big man of 12 years old at the time which would put me in 7th grade at Frisbee School in Kittery, Maine.  An excellent R&B song.  Just click on the title and give a listen.

Don't threaten me with love, baby. Let's just go walking in the rain. - Billie Holiday

Thursday, March 3, 2011

It's A Living - Part 9

A 300mm tool that I helped install.
  In 1999, I was looking to boost my income, so I left the world of cash registers and made a career move to
SCP Global Technologies. It no longer exists because it was taken over by Akrion Systems
  SCP manufactured "wet benches" for the semiconductor industry with which silicon wafers are processed and eventually become computer chips, to put it simply.  My job was to go as part of a team to various places, nationally and internationally, to install wet benches.  At the time, our primary customers were Intel and Motorola.  It was very interesting work and very multifaceted.  The machines, referred to as 'tools', contained various technologies, including:

1.  Robotics to move the silicon wafers around.
2.  Pneumatics to control valves.
3.  Computers to manage the automation.
4.  Fire suppression systems for safety.
5.  Ultrasonic systems for cleaning.
6.  Plumbing to handle the fluids.
7.  Plastic welding technology to fabricate the tool.
8.  Electrical technology for the power distribution through the tool.
9.  Chemical engineering to develop the proper 'recipies' to process the silicon wafers.
10.  Air filtration systems to keep the air clean to a 'Class 10' category where there are no more then 10 particles that are ≥0.5 ┬Ám per cubic foot.

  Because  the air has to be kept very clean, anyone working around the tools has to wear a 'bunny suit'.  A person's body is loaded with contaminants that can get into the processing equipment and ruin the product.  A tiny particle smaller then cigarette smoke particles can get onto the silicon wafer and literally 'short out' the micro circuitry on it.  So to prevent this, we cover ourselves up.
300mm Silicon Wafer
  One of the worrisome parts of the job was working around dangerous chemicals.  These were necessary to process the silicon wafers by dipping them into hot chemical baths.  Some of these lovely liquids were hydrochloric acid, sulphuric acid, and hydroflouric acid, among others.  Hydrochloric and sulphuric you can feel if it gets on you, because it burns.  Hydroflouric, however, you don't really notice, if it gets on you, because it is quickly absorbed into the skin and interferes with nerve function, so you don't feel it.  It has an affinity for calcium and will react with the blood calcium and cause cardiac arrest.  I have also heard that, because it reacts with calcium, it can break down the bone material in your body.  Nasty stuff!
  After almost four years, I was laid off from SCP.  The semiconductor industry is very unstable with constant hirings and lay offs.  To add to the mix, SCP was in financial straits and had to trim down.  So they let a bunch of people go.  Deep down, I was somewhat relieved, partly due to the dangers in the job, and partly because all the traveling was starting to get old.
  Take heart!  The next installment of this series is the last!.....

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

It's A Living - Part 8

Image result for micros 2700
Micros 2700
Image result for tec ma1650
TEC MA-1650
RVP Business Systems, Boise, ID,  was my place of employment in 1997.  As before, some customers followed me from my last employer, which was nice.  At RVP, I continued working on the same product lines with a heavier emphasis on TEC's and Micros. It was a substantially bigger company then my previous employer where there was only two of us.  RVP had about a dozen employees and I made some good friends there.  One thing that was different, I was allowed to sell supplies, i.e. ribbons and paper, for commission.  I liked that and did pretty well.  It wasn't difficult, I already had a working relationship with the customers and they need supplies, anyway.  All I had to do was open my mouth!
  Sometime after I left RVP, it was purchased and reorganized and became DirectPOS.
  Big career change next!.......