Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Descriptive History of Me

For some time, I've been writing hobby tutorials at my first blog, Wargaming Tradecraft, and it's been a great time. I've enjoyed interacting with and learning from those involved in the hobby and sharing my knowledge so that others can benefit from what I've learned throughout the years. Apparently I have the ability to share my skills with others and help them learn.

Now, painting wasn't my first interest, nor was it the one I've followed through with as a career. No, that lies in the very broad "technology" field... "jack-of-all, master-of-none" you could say, which works just fine for me.

Those things lead us here. Technology doesn't always work the way it's supposed to, and there aren't always easy solutions to problems. Other times, the solution is just out of reach... easy, but tricky to figure out. (Often because of poor documentation) Tech's not always logical. As such... this leads me to researching or developing solutions to difficult hurdles. I want to place these methods in the cloud, both complicated and easy ones, have them crawled by the engines and make them available to anyone else who might be searching for a way through their own issues.

I'm not going to commit to any kind of schedule and there won't be regular weekly updates, because I don't want this to take away from the effort I put into Wargaming Tradecraft. Mostly, this will become my notebook of technology solutions and the occasional essay - but while I'm not going to seek out problems to solve, feel free to send me an eMail and maybe I can lend a hand... hopefully you don't mind me sharing the solution for others in your shoes. I also invite you to follow my RSS Feed or sign up for RSS by eMail.

By now you might be asking yourselves "Why should I listen to this guy?" and "What kind of technology is he talking about?"

So a little background...

Test Drive, circa 1987
I've been using computers since I was just a kid... it began with video games like Diamond Mine, Beer Run and Dino Eggs on an Apple clone, and moved up to a both time wasters (such as Test Drive, Shark Hunt and some time-travelling dinosaur creator like Spore but in DOS) and educational games (like Sesame Street, Reader Rabbit and Treasure Mountain) on a PC. I remember my parents upgrading the RAM in our computer and still only having single digit megabytes. Before I was 10, I wrote little batch-file programs to make my sound card talk, and had a small stack of boot disks where I had rewritten the autoexec.bat and command.sys (old computer start-up code) to change memory allocation so higher end games (Like World of Lemmings) would run better. I know the hell of installing Windows 3.11 and Microsoft Office from a stack of disks the length of your hand. I was lucky to have parents who not only had and upgraded their computers, but encouraged me to explore them with the attitude "If something goes wrong, we'll just reinstall." While my dad would show me bits of BASIC and Command Scripts or how to navigate DOS and Norton Commander, my mom would spend hours helping me in figuring out and map making in Hero's Quest, 7th Guest, Sam and Max, etc.

In school, I chose the options that led me down the tech tree, (BASIC, VB3, COBOL, VB5/6) and switched high-schools at one point because the first one only offered up to VB3 with a teacher who couldn't even copy code out of her text-book, while the second had advanced courses and even allowed a friend and I to grab a silver at the local Skill Canada competition for 3D Studio Max. (Just a few points shy of the gold-winners who cheated using pre-made textures and models)

I took a year off before college to work, selling computers and business machines at a big box store and learned the importance of customer service... offering solutions, instead of just listing a bunch of confusing options.
(Yes, I was asked for wires for a wireless network once... same guy who told me and his skeptical wife he'd be fine with just a wired router, before returning to exchange for a wireless one after he drilled a hole through the kitchen's AC lines)

College was somewhat of a disappointment, though after 3 years I didn't come away completely empty handed. Between entire courses on navigating Windows Explorer and how to copy and paste, I had coding cleanly and commenting hammered in to me, and I learned a few things about having to work with other people and sleep deprivation.

  At the end of, and after college, I went through the standard initiation rights of working for an internet help desk... (mostly residential, though I became one of the few res guys allowed to help corporate customers) through painful calls during blackouts ("I was told to call if the lights on the boxy thing ever went out.") to amusing ones. ("How can I click on Your Computer?")

This reinforced the fact that it's OK for other people to be clueless about computers - that's why people like me have jobs... just like I give my money to a mechanic when most things go wrong with my car. Some techs really got frustrated while trying to walk people through what "we" considered easy steps, but getting upset or putting calls on hold to yell at a phone isn't going to help anyone. (Especially when the guy next to me would vent so loudly that my customer would overhear his profanity) All I expect is for people to listen when I ask them to do something, and to not be belligerent when I'm trying to help.

My search for a real job had it's down points...a lot of them actually... not hearing back from most of the companies I contacted, and getting responses like "Are you qualified to drive around our offices to change printer toner?" Then, I finally got my break - two of them actually, at the same time. One of the interviews was at the local branch of one of Canada's largest media broadcasters, the other... Microsoft. I think I'll save the details on my reasoning for a later post, but I ended up staying local and accepting a job as an assistant radio engineer.

Something's wrong here...
I worked that job for 5 solid years, and learned / branched out more than I thought I could in such a short time. I had an incredible boss who I credit with most of what I learned while there - he taught me plenty, directed me down paths that would challenge myself, and gave me the freedom to explore my own projects.

From routine maintenance, studio rebuilds, server failures, implementing / tweaking very custom software and operating mixers during live performances of the occasional band to emergency work in the dead of winter [pic left] and even the demolition and decommissioning of an old site. [video]

Me with Great Big Sea
During this time, I also took up a part-time position as the chief engineer at Canada's first community radio station for a few years. There's a big difference between a big corporation and a non-profit. This was another great experience, as I learned about budgeting time and equipment with limited resources.. but that's a tale for another post.

I mostly knew computers with a little electrical going in to that job... I came out with such a vast array of knowledge not just with computers, business domains and Linux, but wiring, audio, transmitters, I/O control and remote monitoring, vehicle repair, building, physical labour.. well, I could keep going on. I thrived on the fact that each and every day meant new and different projects, rather than sitting at the same desk with the same thing up on my screen, day-in, day-out.

I was sad to leave, but a position at my current job opened up which was quite a step up from my old one. Not chief engineer yet, but sites and responsibilities that requires me to take a larger role in the day to day operations of originally one, now two, offices and more transmitter sites than you can shake a yagi at.

Finally, I just want to say that issues I might detail here shouldn't reflect negatively on businesses. We should also be aware that since tech doesn't like to behave the way it should, there's never one solution to a problem, and just because something works for me, doesn't mean it'll work for you. However, I'm a firm believer in doing a job right the first time, rather than placing bandages on problems. For this reason, I hope to post mostly solutions here that are just that... solutions. Sometimes, shortcuts are required temporarily (especially when something fails and time costs money) and I'll share those too - but please don't look down on me for them.

And with that, I'll sign off for now. If you're familiar with Wargaming Tradecraft, you can expect posts with the same level of quality and detail, so stick around.

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