September 1, 1997
By Scott Lewis
For this column I decided to tell you about myself. I will start with my college years, since the time before that doesn't matter anyway. I lived on Long Island until I was 22. I spent 4 years in a junior college getting an A.S. in Computer Science. It took so long partly because I spent the first year without a major. Then I discovered computers. I screwed around some to occupy the rest of the time.
After I finished junior college, I went into the Air Force. I was in for a total of eight years. The first 4 I spend working in a department that ran everything on a Sperry (later called Unisys) mainframe computer. They had their own proprietary language, and a slew of utilities that were written in the proprietary language. Needless to say, this did not give me many skill that were useful in the real world, or even outside the building I worked. So when the time came to re-enlist I asked to be move to an Oracle shop that recently had a vacancy.
I spent 4 years working with Oracle 5 & 6. At least this was world wide marketable. About a year before the move to the Oracle shop, I started programming PCs in my spare time. I managed to learn enough about PCs that I took the reigns when our department received it shipment of 386/20MHz computers. While the others were deciding on a way to load all the machines, I just started doing it. They came up with a plan to fully load one machine then back it up, and restore the backup on each machine. I was 75% done with all the machines by the time they came into the room. I became know as Sgt. DOS. Kind of a neat title. I was given the job of CSSO (Computer Security Service Officer). This required me to track all the the software on each PC in my division. It also had the responsibility of checking and removing viruses form the workstations. This was on top of my regular responsibilities.
During my stint in the Oracle shop, I took it upon myself to port one of our Oracle apps to Visual Basic. I spent a large amount of time with VB3 trying to get the same level of performance the VAX system gave with Oracle. I had to program my one search and navigate routines through the database records, because the built-in features of VB using the Access database engine were very slow. I ended up getting about the same performance as the VAX system. Then I ran the application on a 486/33MHz machine, and performance was incredible. I use to say that programmers should have to write software on slow machine to force them to spend the time to get good performance.
So after 8 years of military service I was ready to get out, and now had marketable skills to get a job. I got a job working for a large insurance company, and have been there for a little over three years now. I am on a project team developing a client/server application that uses a multi-dimensional database. This project is pretty neat in many ways. It really is a cutting (bleeding) edge kind of technology. We are getting ready to start using the web technology to access the multi-dimensional database engine. Sometimes it seems impossible to deliver some of the outrageous requirements we get, but there are sometimes that I think it is amazing that I get paid to do this stuff. Maybe I should pay them. But then reality sets in, and I get back to work.
I bought my first computer in 1990. It was a 386/20Mz. I had enough forethought back then to get 8 MB of RAM. Remember this was a time when 1 MB was standard, and 2 MB was optional. In fact, I remember that a color monitor, 2 MB of RAM, a mouse, and Window 3.0 was the upgrade package. Windows 3.0 was only out for a couple of months at this time. It was essentially useless back then. I even reformatted the hard drive and only install DOS. But then Windows Entertainment Pack came out. I bought it to play Tetris. I also bought Wing Commander (1) at the same time. Prior to this I used the PC to learn software for work, and to do programming in Turbo Pascal. But I decided to try the games. I was hooked. Wing Commander set the standard for arcade style games for a long time, and Tetris was one of the most addictive games I ever played. I firmly believe that it was games like those in the Entertainment Packs that helped make Windows what it is today. Once people got used to using Windows at home to play Solitaire, and other recreational, it was easier to accept at work. The other part was the need for WYSIWYG word processing. Although there are probably a lot of die hard WordPerfect fans that would disagree. In any event, Windows is in and WordPerfect 5.X is out. You be the judge.
I now have a 100 MHz Pentium computer that is 2-1/2 years old. I bought it with 8 MB RAM. That was kind of a neat coincidence to my first computer 4-1/2 years before. This time I knew that upgrading memory would be cheap, and could be added later. With that first computer extra RAM cost $100 per meg, now we all know that memory prices drop faster than almost any other component in a computer, except hard drives. I now have 24 MB of ram, and the original 540 MB hard drive has a brother at 4 GB. I am going to upgrade the processor with a 200 MHz MMX chip from Intel or AMD. I still have a little longer to wait before it is available at a price I am comfortable with, under $250.
Today I spend most of my gaming time playing Warcraft II on Kali. This combination has been one of the best values in gaming I have ever had. I look forward to the games of the future, and look forward to the new technology to play with at work. Well I have other articles to finish for Monday's edition. I am going to a Visual J++ class this week. Like I said, new technology to play with. This is one of those times I thing "I get paid for this?"