My Digital Journey is not over yet, here is how it began.

I was born in 1949, the year Orwell published 1984 (please note).  I can remember from a very early age playing with instruments my father had brought home for me from his factory work at Smith’s Industries where he worked as an assemblyman. He brought home odometers, springs, switches and round washer type-magnets that could climb pencils the why we still don’t know how – gotta love magnetism. My father was a chef but could earn more in a factory. I built things that didn’t do anything but looked as though they should. It wasn’t until I had a “7” version of Meccano that I built things that could move like 3 ft high robot.

brain tw ge cohen
Ben Cohen

Alas though we were still electromechanical. Ahh Turing started with less 🙂

When I was 10, sound and recording entered my milieu.

A ten year old Christmas brought a spanish guitar and a birthday bought me a guitar pick-up; a fiver bought me an amp. I bought a four track tape deck. I had a church pedal organ with a microphone down the back. I also had the radiogram a lovely piece in walnut.

I had band instruments but no band; I was also being abused by the local vicar which slowed me down a lot. But it didn’t stop me. But it didn’t get me anywhere either.

I used to escape into sct-fi from about 9 years old; Edgar Rice Burroughs and Mars and CS Lewis and Mars and H.G.Wells of course. I devoured books like my mother.

I had passion.

Despite my proclivity for devices I was, somehow, aware that wood was beautiful and immensely practical if you had the right type. I needed a shelf that ran the full width of the room so I bought a slab of oak out of my newspaper round money. My father and I drove 20 miles outside of town to pick it up

oak slab

It was eight feet long and nearly two feet wide and 2 inches thick and was very beautiful. It took me a couple of months to cut it to size, sand and stain it then varnish it. 

It was a platform for my devices; there was a control panel with multiple switches for the eight speakers in every corner (sic) of the room. My amplifier plugged into the tape deck and vice versa. I had radio and 78s and 33⅓ . I had music. 

And you could sit on the shelf with impunity :). 

The next few years I spent mainly surviving. Not appropriate to detail it here.

After a disastrous last couple of years at school I ‘graduated’ with two  ‘O’ levels at 16 and got a full time job in the plumbers merchants where I had worked on Saturdays. 

A year slipped by…..as a shop assistant. There was talk of me applying for management training but nah. Then I heard of work at my local telephone exchange; I applied and got the position of technician IIa. 

I was responsible for Power, Stores and Junction Test. The basement housed two electric generators and a battery room. I had to look after them. They would ‘drop out’ every now and again and lights would flash and alarm bells would ring when this happened – I would have to run, Power was important. 

I was also responsible for the ringing machines, a vital component in the exchange and were tested by me every day. I once had a crash while maintaining the back up and the whole exchange went down for twenty minutes. Well, it was working fine but with no tones, no dial tone, busy, ringing tone – they were there, you just couldn’t hear them. There was an enquiry but I was absolved, I had been working above my pay grade.

Ahh The Civil Service as The GPO was then.

ladbroke te
Ladbroke Telephine Exchange 1000 yards from my home

It was fun and I enjoyed it I guess this was my first job as a techie and I understood stuff. One thing that blew me away was the power system. I had a huge Frankenstien circuit board with copper switches an inch thick and explosive fuses. It was dangerous coz we were running at 4000 amps. Death if misused. The battery room rotted your jeans.

The telephone system was no longer a mystery…. still analog then, digital now.

My next step was purely financial. I became a salesman for British Olivetti. Opposite is the Divisuma, yes levers were the thing. After about six months I graduated to selling accounting machines. My mother died while I was on the course. I was 21. After six more months I was the top salesman in London.

Accounting machines were monsters, huge beasts with innards like the Divi but even more complex.

These had a bar behind them where you screwed lugs, a plus lug a total lug etc. You could have four programs to cover general accounting procedures. Electro-mechanical gone mad ker chunk ker chunk. There was the Logo that used punch cards but this was a bit rad. The only thing that kept me together was taking LSD at the weekends.

It was 1970 and I decided to drop out.

sitting person

I was a bar tender/DJ in a hippy bar in southern Spain; baby sitted in Tangier for three months; I squatted in London and Wales for a couple of years and took loads of drugs. Then an opportunity came to go overland to South Africa overland!– ended up going to India via the Nile – here’s the story and 4 years later I was teaching English in Japan. I came home (and bought a Sinclair ZX81 – more later); went to Uni joined the London Probation Service did my Masters and worked for three years 5 miles from where I grew up.

I also bought a laptop. It was 1992 and you almost had to know programming to do anything on it. How’s this for ridiculous? I used to type up my own reports but I had to print them and give them to my secretary to be retyped. Eventually I got them to accept a floppy disk from me. (sigh)

Hello World

zx81

The ZX81 released in March 1981 brought computing to the ordinary person. Remember we are a long way from the Internet. It had 1k of memory. So the best you could manage was “Hello World” followed by an input, and the print using BASIC – Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. YAY we were programming!

Fascinating stuff. I also had a 10″ TV I used as a monitor. I put it all in a brief case and had the first laptop. As was and still is my want, I needed an upgrade so I got an expansion board and 16k of RAM. I had to have a cigarette box under it as it used to wobble when you typed and would crash.

A few years later came the Spectrum the feel of a proper keyboard and you could do loads and have almost limitless storage with the microdrive – I had two, chained, for copying reasons.

It was a wonderful machine and I even had voice synthesis on it.

spectrum

Manpower Services Commission

During my undergraduate career I had made a point of taking all the computer options I could. I even sat in on a post graduate course in AI. So I got the basics of computing. My science degree in Psychology was a four year honours course, this meant I had three six month work placements.My second placement was in the psychology department of Manpower Services Commission, a government body. The department was responsible for creating a networked job system for public access using touch sensitive terminals. Yes the job of psychologists as they could get their heads around programming and multi-tasking. They were programmers.

What was created was a touch screen terminal that accessed a central database in real time. Last year I saw exactly the same system in the FAS, Irish government work organisation. We did it in 1984.I tested the first prototype and it worked brilliantly. I learned a bit of code but it was too sophisticated for me, really. However I got a taste of what a network was all about seven years before the world wide web. ( btw Manpower was composed of 80% Guardian readers and was in The Republic of South Yorkshire!)

And we were cutting edge.

The PC and The Internet

Not being daft as I realised that at least as important as everything else was the monitor and I got a 17″. It cost half the price of the rest of the PC. Fast machine it was too with an experimental motherboard –  they ended up coming out (to the farm in Ireland) and changing it. Worked for years after that, I had a massive 500mb hard disk that I thought I would never fill (but I did of course – yeah I now have a 32Gb memory stick on my keyring and my phone has 130 gigs of storage). Anyway this was my base machine for a good while. It was 1994 and the web was catching on. I had a ‘superfast’ lol 56k modem so it only took a half-hour or so to get anywhere, lol.’

crt monitor

Well now what to do? It was time to bring computing to Tullamore. So i set up a teaching programme and enrolled my first five students for a six week course (two evenings a week). One of them was my mother-in-law. I designed the course from zeros and ones to the Internet – three years later they were calling it ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence – bit old hat now but the components are all still the same.) I did the odd bit of tech support, tirelessly loading 16 floppy disks, which were Windows for Workgroups 3.1 plus, on to broken machines; wrestling with modems and convincing people 56k was the way to go.

Keith York - a Tribute

Keith was a genius, no doubt his IQ was off in the 170s easy. When I met him he had just finished a DJ job and radio technician.  He was broke and homeless so I let him sleep in the office. Like me he was mesmerised by the Internet and we both thought yep time to join up. But we would do it big and become an Internet Service Provider. So we built our base, well Keith did. We really didn’t have much money and were running on modems. I went to the bank and we borrowed £60k. We had a good fast Windows machine and we bought our pride and joy A Silicon Graphics workstation as used by NASA it cost £6k in 1996. It was to become our main web server and Keith’s machine the other. I tell you the technology we were dealing with was hard work. It was amazing we got it all working together. 

There was a sting and we got caught giving free software (MS Office) away. We settled out of court for £10k, bastards took all our savings.

Keith York
He retired to Spain for health reasons and worked setting up radio stations and DJing

We negotiated a 64k leased line from Tullamore to the Dublin backbone, It cost nearly two thousand a month to run. If we were to become an ISP we needed to have two name servers. These were base machines running Linux – Keith got two machines from the local scrapyard and built two name servers. They worked 24/7 for six years. He configured the whole set up and with the odd bit of help from me – I used to get flashes of brilliance too lol. But Keith – wow! AND I still haven’t told you about our WiFi. 

Wireless Internet

We had a sweet setup and even started a cybercafé that I used for training. We had seven workstations all connected by cat 5 to the main system. We got the routers from the dump too. We would play Quake against UCD and win! As I have said Keith was a radio man and while he was on the radio peace ship off Israel he met another brilliant Israeli. Together they concieved of a plan for wireless Internet using Mossad technology. And they did. Our only problem was that we were limited by line of sight, If you could see the main ariel on top of next doors water tower (which I proudly installed) you were fine and we managed to get all over town and nearly out to the Castle a good few miles away. But it was fiddly technology and making it 100% reliable was difficult. We connected the Midland Regional Authority, the Offaly Enterprise board and about three or four others. But we were still operating in a pre web consciousness in town. 

I designed a few web sites for the council and MRA I was big into graphics in those days. You can see the council site here on the Wayback Machine for 2000. I thought it was good but they never paid me. Web pages were too ephemeral. I was never paid for anything, well, one time we were looking for funding and through connections had been put in touch with this diamond merchant. We met him in a pub in the Dublin Mountains; I gave my spiel and an hour later walked out with a cheque for £35k – I had such enthusiasm! Good money in 2000. 

We had a great set up, the cybercafé was decorated with a purple ceiling and painted stars and planets. The classes helped bring in some money but altogether not enough. 

We had fun and frustrations but revelled in the technology. Yep we were pretty impressive but, unfortunately, only to us. 🙂 We were Irish Secure Internet Services – IrishSecure.com and we had a SSL with encrypted email; we were banned from the China servers too. Other cybercafés opened up a new company in town undercut our trainimg courses – Then all the money ran out and the dot com crash had made our whole venture a sham. We struggled on til 2006 but we were gone. I hit an all time low, walked out of the house and lived in my office. 

I had realised there was something wrong with me and there had been periods of highs, very high and lows, very low in my life. I was diagnosed as bipolar in 2007 which explained a lot. I was hospitalised for a while and came out under the protection of my madness. I was put on disability and they found me somewhere to live. To live I turned to alcohol and began consuming 3 bottles of wine a day. This went on for a couple of years until my liver collapsed and I was hospitalised for three weeks, I came out dry with diabetes. Time for a change. 

2010 / 2012

I wrote in my blog:

“I received a lump sum from my work in the probation service (UK). I bought a decent computer and got a 24/7 broadband connection. I re registered IrishSecure.com [By the way, these links go to the Internet Archive’s WayBack machine. It has indexed web sites from 1994 to a few months ago, 300 billion so far. Pretty Good a, nothing is ever really lost in cyberspace.]. Through my Internet activity I was able to put myself up for a recommendation to Microsoft as a BizSpark start up.

bizspark
This is an awesome resource. All Microsorft software is free. ALL with licenses and most with multiple downloads. You can also nominate 8 other people as part of your team. There are free training events and seminars and tech support.I joined tech support as well. All this at no cost. I was chosen to attend the tech support conference for the launch o Windows 7.

I found it impossible to get staff locally despite the offer of joining BizSpark. I tried continually online and had some success but none were truly committed. I trained and obtained my Expert Microsoft Certification in PowerPoint & Excel. I attempted a partnership with a local cybercafe, no commitment and later closed. I started my own domain registration and web hosting company with a rented high spec high speed server based in Texas.. No local interest in domains. I set up WeddingsOnTheInternet.com where a folder could be bought e.g. WeddingsOnTheInternet.com/PaulandBetty where I would put their photos and videos, a guestbook, plus during the day people could sms me their pictures and they would be on the web in 20 minutes. There was a yearly rental fee. I approached the local county, Offaly Enterprise Board, a government body, for funding. My application was fully backed with research and 5 year financial projections. After 2 months they turned me down saying “the internet is not within our purview”.

During this period I joined a cybercommunity called Second Life, a 3D world where you have an avatar. [article here] I had a big row with them as they said they were not going to support Windows 7. I left and joined Blue Mars a more advanced world. [blog here] . Then I got cancer and lost everything.

2012

I received the all clear in April 2012. I slowly regained my health. I rejoined Second Life. In November I re registered IrishSecure.com. In December I returned it too being a domain registrar and hosting company with a not for profit attitude. I am an active member of TED.com [Technology, Entertainment, Design] and a friend in second life [thank you Lee Aulder] told me of RSAnimate on YouTube. After watching many of these I realized that 21stCentury Networking had come of age. So I created 21stCenturyNetworks.com still a little in embryo being 2 weeks old and I registered it as a business name.

Sites I used to operate

“I’m Back and loving it!”  

Yes I was high again.

Then I was struck down again and was hospitalised and I lost everything, again.

Wrestling with a computer

So I started again and then ran into computer problems. I blogged about it here. I spent a good few months wrestling with RAM and 64 bit computing. I gave up in the end and ran a laptop. Then dear Mick knocked a can of beer over it and it never recovered. I tried the main PC again but with no avail. I needed a new computer so:

Base is an XPS 8700 i7 – 4770 4th Gen 3.7 GHz, which can be overclocked to 3.9 GHz.

This is the current fastest processor around.

Memory 16GB Dual Channel DDR3 1600MHz – 4 DIMMs can be expanded to 32 gigs so I got 32 gigs.

Video Card AMD Radeon HD R9 270 2GB GDDR5 I looked this card up and its pretty good, 2 gigs is good enough memory

(I’m keeping my monitor unless I decide to have two) I have decided to get a 27 inch monitor and go for two.

Hard Drive 2TB 7200 RPM SATA Hard Drive + Intel SRT 32GB SSD Cache 2 terabytes is good for these days, the solid state Cache speeds things up. I have 3 TB on my USB drives

It has lots of room for expansion. Cost €1,239 inc taxes and shipping

I have to wait for new ID so can’t buy until the end of May. I had enough for the deposit and would buy the rest on credit over two years. 

While I was waiting I bought a tablet. I wrote:

Tablet

My computer won’t run Second Life because there is a fault in the motherboard (RAM sockets). I am buying a new computer but don’t know when, it could be a month or it could be three. So I decided to buy a tablet. I chose from three and picked the one with the most powerful spec :

ASUS MeMO Pad HD 7 ME173X …

ASUS MEMOPAD ME173X, MediaTek MT8125 CPU 1.2Ghz Quad-core, 1 Micro USB, 16GB Storage, 7″ HD Display (ME173X-1B018A)

One reason I chose the Asus was because my gf has an Asus laptop. A good name in computing.

It cost €125 and is a nice piece of tech. I bought it from Elara in Ireland and got it in 4 days. Here is the first screen:

 

asus tablet

dual monitors
I just ran tests and the new PC passed all of them as “Excellent” that’s processor, RAM, disk space. The computer is three years old this year. So I configured it wisely. Should be good for another few years.I just bought a curved monitor as a second monitor , my system is lovely and is a pleasure to use.

 

Quo Vadis?

Asking “Wither goest tho?” well what I am doing is great. I have finally realised that I love what I am doing that is: designing websites. http://LoveWhatYouDo.net is coming soon. Below is a section of sites I am working on.

Thats about it I think. My digital journey is ongoing and will continue till I die I guess. I’ve probably got, well who knows? Could be run over tomorrow and with whats hapening with longevity I could have another twenty “To infinity and beyond!” Could have the Singularity maybe in my lifetime that would be digitally exciting! I’m ready to have my consciousness decantered into a machine.

So keep in touch and visit my sites. If there is anything I can help with do get in touch. Here to help. Drop me an email. And leave you with one of my fav vids I like a lot. Using animation of Second Life avatars and taking them through the virtual reality of Blue Mars – all to the haunting sounds of Code Blues Band.

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