Clubs I Attend
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Pretender is an alias I picked up a few years back when I played a little too much bolo at the University of Chicago. The full title is Pretender to the Throne of God.
Well I don't play a whole lot of bolo anymore, but it sticks as my online nickname. I was living in SF and working down in the SillyCon Valley for a software startups, but now I am a professional slacker in Berlin, Germany.
I hacked my first program at age 7 on an Apple II. It was a text based dungeon game, once I learned the beauty of actually being able to do something with a computer as opposed to doing what it wanted me to, I was hooked. Started typing in (and modifying along the way) programs from 321 Contact magazine. I still have the modify as you go habit whenever I make recipes in the kitchen. I didn't have a computer at home and pretty soon I stopped using them very much.
My next computer to really play with was a trash 80. My Biologic father got me one, because someone gave it to him, and whenever we would go to a department store I would write stupid programs on the C64s in the electronics department that would ask you questions and respond; what they did had to do with how much time they left me in the store. I always hated the games for TRS-80 the C64 was a much better machine, but it could do basic. It also had a list of random numbers, that were always the same. So I had to write a random number generator to select numbers from the random number table.
By the time I had a real usable computer, all I got was a 486SX with 4MB of RAM and 120MB Hard Drive. Really it was an overblown word processor and that was all I really wanted from it at the time. I was going to go to college most likely so I needed a computer.
These were the dark days of being a techno Geek. I had given up on fiction, thought a computer was an correcting typewriter. I spent my time reading philosophy, science, history. My hobbies were bicycle riding, mountain bike Polo, and Academics.
A few summers I worked in some two Molecular Biology labs. I did protein preparations and X-Ray crystallography. Mostly I used the Macintoshes, and some of the UNIX machines, mostly BSD boxes, the core system there was a VAX that was room sized machine. I liked the UNIX machines more than the VMS because I could figure out what to do with it and see at least where the programs were.
When I went to college I had a friend who was into UNIX, he had administered SCO boxes at a Science museum in Philly. He taught me by telling me I couldn't grep a dead tree. Well one day we went into the computer room and the only free computes were the black boxes. I sat down and they had WordPerfect and were just fine for writing my papers on. I did have to login first. The boxes were NeXT machines. There was a command line so you could use that if you so desired. Well I used that command line to type grep. And it was pretty darn unexciting. I just typed things and that was it. Then I tried grep this, and low and behold it doubled every line I typed that contained this. I was still not convinced this was useful program. Eventually someone told me about man and I discovered that you could grep files. This was the beginning of UNIX Geekdom. Well the next quarter I was writing English papers on Shakespeare. I was working with how different characters used the words good and evil. Well first I used the online books that came with the NeXT, but that kind of a search was really tedious and what if I wanted to compare multiple works at once? Well I found the Gutenburg Project, and got the plays I wanted and the Bible. Then I started using grep, awk, and wc to do some pretty interesting studies of the texts. It was easier and faster to write a paper based on that technology than to and write it all down, and with my proofreading skills I couldn't tell you how many times I had seen a word.
Well after seeing that I had to find a better OS for my poor little computer. The BSD people I talked to online were assholes, they didn't want to help out some humanities newbie. I tried OS2, but it didn't have useful tools. Then I stumbled across this Linux thing. I had heard of distributions, but I didn't have a CD, so I went with Slackware as it had nice simple instructions on how to do everything on floppy. I had a half a dozen floppies and I would shuttle them from downstairs on the Macintoshes on the Internet up to my room. Eventually I got it up and running. It was pretty cool. I had X only in 16 colors, but oh well. I wanted a game called Nethack. The problem was that I didn't know anything about C, or make and configure scripts didn't exist yet. Well I would start it off compiling and day or two later it would bomb out and I would have to geuss what I did wrong in the makefiles or header files and try again. I tried for a month, but I never did get it on that computer.
The usual story went along, eventually I got a job with the main computer site on campus Usite. I spent the summer working 60 hours a week and getting payed for 40 in classic University Policy. I spent the next year working two part time jobs for the same department. Considering that I was living in a dump on the South Side of Chicago with 4 other guys and having just been a student I felt like I was rich! I was making at least $8/hr. So I splurged and got into the Hi-Fi scene for a while and got a NAIM amp and some other nice audio components.
I was in charged of the resource lab at the U of C so I had Macs, Pcs, SGI, SUN to play with and do special projects for. I did
My Boss was known as the Witch, at least that is what most of her underlings called her when she wasn't around. I got have a bunch of computers to play with and I had to do telephone support. It wasn't too nasty. One day a Sparc 5 that I had died. It turned out that it was hard disk problems. I got the hard disk replaced, but I still had problems. Then I was told to restore from backup. Well the backups had been done by someone else and that someonelse didn't know what they were doing and I had these incremental, but no full. Then the DAT drive died on me. I asked my Boss if I could just install from scratch. Her response was " You need to do it the hard way." I asked her why and her response was "you don't need to know." She thought I should stay in support and user education and would never make it as "systems person." Well the next day I came to work and worked very hard on my resume. I started doing some interviews, hit some scummy conlsultancies and search agencies that didn't distinguish UNIX from Novell. Eventually I found a cluefull recruiter that got me a position as a junior UNIX Systems Administrator for a Financial company in the Chicago LOOP.
I had a very cool group of guys to work with, including the coolest technical manager I have ever met in my life. The guy was fun, interesting, got everyone to work together as a team without being sappy, and he got us to get a tremendous amount done,and to appreciate our work. Eventually that manager left, but the culture he created lingered on for a while aftward, and we were able to bring some new interesting guys in.
After a while though, I realized I wasn't going back to school at the University of Chicago, I went and talked to the Dean and she wait a couple of years and do it full time. There weren't any classes I could take to help me get a degree that were not in the middle of work hours. So I though about where I wanted to live and what I wanted to do. I thought I would go do the whole Computer Geek thing right so I would move to SF and work in the Silicon Valley. Well I got two interviews lined up from Chicago, came out for a week of vacation and wound up doing six interviews in four days. I had four job offers within the week. I decided to take a position in a small software startup because the main Sysadmin was cool and I was interested to get a little bit closer to the world of software development.. That did go OK for a while and it was interesting living in the Silicon Vally, but I wasn't really being part of it. I wanted to do new cool stuff, not just old technology. I got a chance. I went to Linuxcare and worked with some very cool and some extremely unpleasant incompetent people. Fortunetly all of the compulsive liars who hated Open Source are gone. But I left during some very ugly times.
After that I went to work at Eazel which was a company doing some very cool technology, with some very experienced people, lots of work, but very cool stuff. Linux is the operating system of the proletariat and someday they may even be able to use it. Well the end of free money in the Silly Con Valley, claimed Eazel
Well I was working for the world's largest ISP. The office I worked at is about 4 blocks from my home in SF. It is interesting to work in an organization the size of Nation state. They remain extremly customer focused which is very nice. Hopefully I will succesfully get some development projects done. Streaming media is the name of the game, we will see if it becomes a daily part of people's lives in the next few years.
These days I am a professional slacker hanging out in Berlin, Germany. Ich habe ein bissen Deutch gelernt, aber nicht so viel.