Today's e-mail from new member Norman Foster fills us in with some fascinating facts about jobs he's held. He writes, "I can't say any of my many jobs have been uninteresting. I worked in Air Force Ground Communications Maintenance for 23 years. My assigned specialty was data and voice encryption. A fascinating field, there was always new equipment and methods to learn. At Offutt AFB we put the voice and data ciphony equipment on six "Flying Command Post" (Looking Glass) aircraft. As my assignments took me to other stations I lost track of that project. I know that for well over 10 - 15 years at least one of those planes was "On Station" (in the air) 24/7.
After AF retirement I took a position in the Utica, NY GE Component Lab. That was like going to the playground every day. Run life tests on new electronic components. Take units that had failed, open them up and determine how and why they had failed. Record the results using microphotography, X-rays and oscilloscopes. All that fun and got paid too.
Still there was more out there. It was 1971 and what was the big new challenge: COMPUTERS. Off I went to Mohawk Data Sciences in East Herkimer, NY. Eight years as a Quality Control Engineer, testing and making small changes to all of our units to improve the reliability of the complete system. We lacked one thing: a computer program to prove that certain units needed improved design. The Corporate Programming section said, "Sorry, it has nothing to do with personnel or finances."
Guess who got the job of learning to program and build a computerized manufacturing control system? Our programming language was MOBOL. More fun; that was an in-house combination of Basic and Cobol. It was very good for the task, but there was no text books and not a lot of documentation.
So what was my most interesting job? In 1983 (remember that was only two years after the IBM PC was put on the market) Management said the PCs were Tinker Toys and we would continue to build real computers! We did need to automate more to improve costs. Let's build a station to final test and burn in a finished system just before it is shipped to the customer. This phase was called the BLESS cycle and took two technicians from two to four days to complete.
Our team was a Test Equipment Engineer for the mechanical interface, a Software Engineer to program the interface code (low level drivers and a transmission protocol) and I had the job of programming the control and logging system in MOBOL. It took us 8 months, and we had a working station that did the task very well on one shippable system. To be real cost effective we could not have a test station of each shipping system, so it was back to work to extend one test station to take multiple systems that might be started at random times.
Two months into this second phase it became apparent to Management that the Tinker Toy boys were winning, and that our company was coming apart. A week before Thanksgiving 1984 was the bitter end. Even if I did not see it to the finish, I knew it worked and I consider it the most enjoyable job I have had.
When I look at the equipment and programs we have today it is not a big task to have one computer test another. It is done every day over the networks, but in 1984 we broke our arms patting ourselves on the back.
Ah, the good old days! I am glad I didn't miss them, but have no desire to go back. I am 80 this year and wonder what in the next 20 years will make today look as primitive as the 70s and 80s. Hang on, Boys and Girls, it will continue to be an exciting ride."
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