Teach Us to Profit

Again today I awake early in the morning just as I did yesterday, stunned that it is possible to feel so terrible so early. It has been a long dry spell in the picture taking business, so many miles on the trail with so little to show for it. I have heard it said many times, “The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” and I am starting to believe that! It seems to be getting harder and harder to get up that mountainside in search of elusive wildlife for the stock photography portfolio. Decided maybe it would help to start the day with a prayer and my morning prayer reminded me of one of my favorite Bible verses from the book of Isaiah, “Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.“. Good words I thought.

Gloomy-PeakYesterday I could not face the climb, and I remembered the words of the great Ansel Adams, “Do not confuse hiking with photography, a picture from the road is as good as one you’ve hiked miles to get.”, or something close to that anyway. More good words of wisdom to live by, maybe I should find a less strenuous method of getting pictures once in a while to give these old bones a rest! It was weights day, so I wandered into the gym to complete that regular activity, hoping that I would find some inspiration afterwards.

Still nothing, but I had some time to kill before lunch and decided to stop in at the library and look at the latest “Outdoor Photographer” Mag to get caught up on the latest equipment and  techniques, plus I enjoy sitting in the reading room and looking out at the awesome view of the big mountain available from there. The effects of an approaching storm were already enveloping the peak yesterday morning as snow and fog had begun to roll in. Nothing too earth shaking in the world of photography, the Canon 80D is out, but not significantly improved over the 70D I’m already shooting with, not enough anyway to get excited about purchasing a new camera.

So I wandered over to the book section to see if there were any new photography books, the photography section at the Woodland Park Library is woefully under stocked 😦 On my way out of the section I noticed the writing section, particularly the 2014 Writer’s Market Handbook. I’ve been an avid reader of the Photographer’s Handbook but I’ve never looked at the version for writers, so I thought, “Why not?”! The book is huge and I didn’t get a whole lot out of it, other than the realization that I am clearly not putting enough emphasis on profit from my writing. As of late, from my site statistics I have discovered that my writing receives way more attention than my picture posts do so it occurred to me that I need to put some thought to this matter and resolved to do so at the earliest possible convenience.

Well as it turned out, yesterday was an incredibly slow day and that opportunity presented itself in the afternoon. I have long been intrigued by a phrase I saw a while ago, “monetizing your blog”. Monetizing sounds good… I’m definitely in need of some monetizing.  So after some cursory research it became apparent that my “free” WordPress account was probably not going to be adequate so I took the major step I’ve been kicking around for awhile, which was to get a custom WordPress domain name and with it the capability of installing some income stream plugins, the first of which I applied for immediately.

So even though the old body is still feeling the effects of too many miles on the trail, I start out this day with new hope that one of my favorite passages in the Bible will be applied to my life and that yesterday was a day when “the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.“.

 

 

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Day One

My blog post, “the Interview” continues to dredge up some great memories, particularly our first day on the job at the test lab at Control Data in Arden Hills. Our crew in Denver had written software to expand the amount of memory accessible to the mainframes to the equivalent of 40mb in today’s terms. Which doubled the amount we could previously use and was a very big deal at the time since the new hardware was already available and our operating system could not yet use it.

Well the software was almost ready to test and my boss approached me, of course at happy hour one Friday night so I was sure to be in a good mood, to travel to Minnesota to run the tests. And she offered me my choice of analysts to make the trip with me on the two week journey. For some reason at the time I thought it sounded like fun so I consented and I told her I wanted my buddy Dan to assist me there. Well Dan had not actually worked on that project, but he was an expert with the operating system and I knew he would be a great asset… So I convinced him, “Come on, it’s only two weeks, we’ll run some tests, go to some Twins games, drink a few beers and we’ll be back home before we know it!”. Reluctantly he agreed and the details for the trip were finalized.

So it was June when we arrived in Arden Hills and checked into the Shorewood for our two week stay. Our first task was of course to go in during the day to check in and get badges and briefings, etc. Then it was off to some dinner, which is when I imagine we discovered the mother lode of free tacos at the hotel bar 🙂 Then it was off to work… Now in those days computers had no permanent memory. Everything that we did was stored on tapes and removable disks, but the removable packs weighed about 20 pounds each. Our first task was to go to the tape library to check out our tapes and disks that we would be using. LOL.. up until now I had forgotten about the trips to the tape library… we would return with probably a dozen tapes worn around our arms like a giant bracelet and a disk pack in each hand. We looked kind of like the Michelin Man carrying all that junk probably a quarter of a mile through the building 🙂

Finally we make it through to the test lab to begin the testing… We step into this giant open room and there are desks strewn everywhere, covered in spare computer parts, wires, terminals, tapes, write rings, manuals and boxes of junk and floor tile pullers. There were cables lying around all over the place, sometimes hooked up on one end to something, sometimes to nothing. And there were also mainframes everywhere, and banks of tape drives and more banks of disk drives the size of small washing machines. And the only instructions we had were that we had mainframe #xx for the night, don’t actually remember the number. And we just stood there looking around in stunned disbelief. To this day I remember my initial highly technical analysis of the situation… As we stood there surveying the mess, I just said “Sh*t!”.

After the initial shock wore off we started poking around and discovered a piece of paper taped to something that sort of looked like a map of the room. We quickly learned that everything had a number and you just had to figure out what numbers went together and you could assemble a functioning computer system. It wasn’t long before we were crawling around on the floor, and under floor with the best of them, hooking and unhooking cables and after a couple hours we had a mainframe, complete with tapes, disk drives and a printer and a Deadstart Panel. Now the Deadstart Panel is an adventure in itself, a panel with a series of up/down thumb switches that are actually the first 12 or 16 instructions that the computer executes, there was no such thing as a BIOS in those days! And it has it’s own map in a manual that you had to look at to set the switches so that the computer can find the channel that the boot disk is on, device numbers and things like that. Kind of feels like you are getting ready to take off in a 747 or something!

Finally we are ready, and we sit down at the mainframe console. The console for those mainframes was the size of a huge old console television and it came with it’s own cabinet on wheels. Right in the middle under the screen was a recessed red button, the deadstart button. It was recessed so you could not accidentally push it and boot the computer. So, Dan was at the console and I was flying co-pilot when the button was pushed. At first, nothing but a “blank tube”, that’s what we called it then when the screen was blank since it was actually a cathode ray tube (CRT) device, and Dan says, “nothing is happening”. I said, “don’t worry, it takes a long time to initialize all this memory”, lol all 40 megabytes of it 🙂 So we sat there for the usual amount of time, and then a bit longer… Still, the “blank tube”… Once again, after sitting there a few more seconds, I offered my highly technical analysis of the situation, “sh*t”. Well there was a way in those days to have the computer barf up it’s memory to the printer, and that’s what we had to do. Hundreds of pages of octal digits, and using the manuals we were somehow able to figure out what had gone wrong.

So as it turned out, we didn’t have this model of mainframe in Denver to test with and the memory addressing was different. A serious oversight 😦 Our algorithm and methodology were sound, but almost every line of code we had written over the previous year had to be changed to include a variable starting address for the memory. We had counted on it being zero. In that moment, our two week vacation in Minnesota turned into four months of 16 hour nights seven days a week 😦 By the time we were done, summer had changed to fall and all the leaves in Minnesota were off the trees and raked into piles on the ground. There were many setbacks and a lot more software had to be written, but we finally got the job done and we got to see a lot more Twins games than we had originally planned on, and had acquired a semi interesting story to tell to a future generation of “computer people” 🙂

The Interview

Just happened to check in on my blog to discover that two years ago today was the day I signed up at WordPress. Haven’t thought of much to write about in the last few weeks… March has had some rough memories the last couple of years and my inspiration is in a bit of a valley these days. But I was talking to a friend today and something reminded me of a memorable day from my computer programming days 🙂

Now this was back in the 80’s, well before PCs, when graphics workstations were a marvel to the tune of $100k each! My buddy Dan and I were mainframe operating systems analysts and we drew the task of traveling to Minneapolis to test some operating system software our crew had written in the Denver office. The software was extremely important to our company and a number of defense contractors in the Denver area so it was quite an honor to be the ones called upon to head up the last leg of that multi million dollar contract.

Now in those days there were no independent computers, just terminals connected to the mainframe and everyone used the same mainframe. So if you wanted to do any significant operating system testing you had to have the mainframe to yourself, which meant working from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. So that’s what we were doing, 12 hour shifts, then off to breakfast and back to the office for the 9:00 status meetings, seven days a week for several months. No status meetings on the weekends of course but needless to say we were exhausted… all the time.

OK, so that is the background for this blog post. We were staying at a place in Arden Hills called the Shorewood… I think now it is a Holiday Inn. Well anyway, the Shorewood had an awesome happy hour… free tacos, all you can eat. For mainframe software engineers, free is a price too good to pass up, so we pretty much went there every day before our night shift. Computer rooms were cold in those days… Mainframes generated a lot of heat and required massive cooling systems, cold air blowing through raised floors and liquid cooling systems for the mainframes themselves. So it’s summer in the twin cities, temps in the 90’s with humidity to match. But we had to dress for the frigid computer room, which meant layers of clothing, whatever we had, t-shirts, football shirts, flannel shirts, thermal shirts and of course the obligatory blue jeans and tennis shoes.

The Shorewood was a fairly upscale place and the hotel bar attracted a pretty good crowd of suit wearing professionals for happy hour, but Dan and I were in no mood for anyone’s preconceived idea of proper attire, we just put on our layers and went for our free food and cheap beer regardless of what anyone might think. So one evening we showed up as usual, with our layers of hodge podge clothing in the 90 degree Minneapolis summer heat, tired and bleary eyed from weeks of sleeplessness, basically having beer and free tacos for breakfast 🙂

So this beautiful young woman comes into the bar with a clipboard and tape recorder and we are just sort of stupefied watching her get ready for some obviously extremely important engagement. After a while she appears to finally be ready for the important executive who is sure to appear any minute. Much to our surprise she saunters over to our table and introduces herself, a reporter from a local news agency.  Of course we are so stunned that we can barely speak coherently, but it turns out she is there to interview out of town computer professionals and when she discovered that we were software engineers from Denver she was intrigued and began peppering us with a million questions that we were really in no mood to be answering… Not to mention the fact that we were there working for the only major computer firm in the city, and we were drinking our breakfast just prior to going to work!

However, she was pretty and we were young males, and somewhat impressed that she was interested in our activity there so we were polite in trying to explain what we were doing there in the best layman’s terms we could think of, which wasn’t that easy back in the mainframe days when nobody had any idea what programming a computer was like! Well after awhile more people started filing into the bar… men with suits and briefcases. Soon our new friend was looking around and getting a bit fidgety, and after about 10 more minutes of this she just turned to us and said, “Do you guys mind if I go talk to these other guys…. ?”.  We of course were totally relieved to get off the hot seat and go back to our beer and tacos in peace 🙂

But to this day the whole episode is one of my favorite memories, our big but reluctant day in the sun and subsequent rejection for the fancy guys in the suits who’s jobs were probably not half as important as ours in the overall scheme of things.  And to this day we laugh at the stress on her face as she worried that we would be insulted by her ditching us for the suits when we were actually so happy to be just left alone for a few minutes before our long night began 🙂

 

 

Nocturnal and First Snow

Two o’clock a.m. and I’m wide awake, too awake to sleep and too tired to do anything constructive. Starting to wonder if I’m becoming nocturnal! I hope not, hiking at night would be a real bummer! Guess I’ll write a blog. Nothing like throwing a bunch of random thoughts onto the virtual paper to bring it all together. LOL… not everything that comes together is good though! We’ll see how it turns out 🙂

Pikes Peak

First Snow on Pikes Peak

Now that I mention things that aren’t good coming together… I recently saw a position available for a sports writer / photographer, which sounded perfect for me! Wasn’t too sure if my writing experience would be the right fit for a CSU Rams reporter, but I was especially excited about having access to the press box for game photography. I’ve always wanted to be one of those cool guys with the big white lenses running up and down the sidelines and hanging out in the press box 🙂

Much to my surprise, within hours I was turning in my first article. The second article, however is proving to be more difficult. Don’t seem to have the attention span to analyze a pile of statistics and come up with a meaningful story out of it. I feel like I’m back in my cubicle in the dungeon at Raytheon, totally stressed out and beset with a completely blank mind. Just like it was at the last with Raytheon, all I can think of is running away from the desk, fleeing the dark caverns of the programmer basement and getting outside! I think today I’ll try to find another subject to write on. Perhaps today in the cold and the rain maybe I won’t be longing for the outdoors so much. Maybe there is a standout player who could use some ink. At any rate, looking forward to being in the press box on Halloween day when CSU takes on SDSU at home in sunny beautiful Fort Collins, Colorado.

There are some other statistics this fall that I find myself very interested in studying. A few months ago when this new chapter in my life began I was excited to set a goal of breaking the 3,000 approved image mark at my agency, iStock / Getty. It didn’t take me long to do that and now as I look at my account, the number 4,000 has come within striking distance. A few more sleepless nights and who knows, perhaps I will achieve 4,000 before year’s end.

Today the clouds parted for a bit and the big peak became visible and it is clearly sporting a new mantle of snow to remind me that this year is rapidly winding down. So right now, as long as I’m awake anyway, I’m going to load up the chip from yesterday’s trek up Bald Mountain so that I can mark the first day of significant snow on Pikes Peak with an image.