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Entering the Big Bad Bit Barn
Old 01-20-2018, 04:02 PM   #1
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Entering the Big Bad Bit Barn

Recent "first PC" post by rayinpenn got me inspired.

My first computer was a Commodore 64 with a datasette (mid-80's). I could make supper and walk the dog by the time a program loaded. As soon as I could afford it, I upgraded to the 1541 disk drive.

At that time, I was in the army and going to college at night. I subscribed to QuantumLink (later to become AOL), mostly for the on-line encyclopedia, but learned to love the email as well. Burning up the phone lines with my 28K modem.

It was great sipping a hot cocoa (or even an Irish coffee) in my cabin during the dead of winter while doing on-line research, when most of the world was going to the library. Also hooked it to my (then) huge 25" TV and played those awesome games of the day.

I never became a programmer or did coding, but my in-depth mastery of several supply chain management systems got me a great mega-corp gig that I parlayed into a decent career.

So, how did you come to the dark digital side?
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Old 01-20-2018, 04:25 PM   #2
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So, how did you come to the dark digital side?
I'm not trying to top you (there are some here who could easily top all of us), but …

I was introduced to my first computer (the largest mainframe ever built) in 1968. It took up nearly the entire second floor of a large building, and my office was literally inside it.

I started programming a (different) large mainframe in 1971, using machine language (octal) and the computer was booted by throwing a group of toggle switches in a specific sequence.

I bought my first personal computer in 1980 (an Apple II+) with 48K RAM and have been using Apple computers ever since at home. As for online, I think I began with CompuServe and a lot of local bulletin board systems. AOL came later. If I close my eyes, I think I can still hear that odd sequence of tones as the modem made its connection over the phone line.

Started out with an acoustic modem where you put the handset of your landline on a box with two rubber cups to hold the talking and listening sections. I think the first one was 110 bps. They gradually got faster over the years, and the last one I had was 14,400.

While w*rking, I had to learn and use MS-DOS on PCs, Windows, and UNIX. Apart from the Macs, I think I liked using UNIX the best. The modern MacOS is loosely based on UNIX, so I enjoy sometimes opening up the Terminal app and typing in commands for things I can't do with the GUI.
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Old 01-20-2018, 04:31 PM   #3
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My first computer was a Texas Instruments. I think it was a TI-99. Couldn't do much with it. A few games mostly but did have the ability to code BASIC and save off to a tape recorder. Next was a Radio Shack TRS-80 (trash 80). Had a dual floppy set-up. The 5 inch 360K floppies. One to run the program, one to save the data. The main computer I used through college was an Apple IIc. Somewhere in that time or just after, the on-line thing started. Rough at first, but just as described (phone line and "you got mail").

I always liked the new tech but most important for me is that I was able to run the programs when they showed up in the work environment. For me, that was a word processor (Word Perfect) and a spreadsheet (Lotus 1-2-3). It gave me a significant jump on my co-workers and helped me get into management quickly.

I never went crazy since my computing needs were slight but it is amazing to me that for the price of my TRS-80 ($1,200 in the 80's for a 64K ram dual floppy), my current machine has 16GB of ram, a 128GB SSD drive and a 1TB drive for storage. And I think my current machine is about 4-5 years old. Time for a new one
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Old 01-20-2018, 04:54 PM   #4
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My first computer was a C64 with tape drive and a 1200 baud modem. Before that I did some 8080 machine level programming for machine control. 8 toggle switches for the memory location - 8 toggle switches for the word - press the button to write. Repeat.. Repeat... I also tried a friend's Sinclair ZX81 before settling on the C64. After the C64, I built a IBM XT clone with a 20MB hard drive. I actually tried Windows 1.0 on that one. What a dog. Nothing was written for Windows at that time. Then built a 286 computer, a 386 with TI processor running Win 3.11. And the list goes on. Now I just buy the computers as they are cheaper to buy than to build.

A lot of $$ has gone into computers over the years.
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Old 01-20-2018, 05:13 PM   #5
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Texas Instruments TI-99 in the early 80's. I used it to write BASIC programs for work, but was limited to 64k. Had to use a TV as a monitor and save the programs onto a cassette tape!
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Old 01-20-2018, 05:44 PM   #6
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I also had a TI. My smart phone has a bigger memory
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Old 01-20-2018, 05:50 PM   #7
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I was extremely privileged to learn programming on the IBM 1130 in my high school in the 70s. The school up the road had an IBM 360! I was jealous.

This was so incredibly rare. Late in high school, we got to play with a few Apple IIs.

I was hooked for life, although I'm going through a little rough patch here in my last 4 months with Megacrap.
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Old 01-20-2018, 06:15 PM   #8
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I was extremely privileged to learn programming on the IBM 1130 in my high school in the 70s. The school up the road had an IBM 360! I was jealous.

This was so incredibly rare. Late in high school, we got to play with a few Apple IIs.

I was hooked for life, although I'm going through a little rough patch here in my last 4 months with Megacrap.
Last four months? Hang in there! I retired 6-30-17, and remember same feelings. Its GREAT (as Tony the Tiger used to say) on this side!
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Old 01-20-2018, 06:40 PM   #9
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Compared to many of you I'm still wet behind the ears. My first computer had a 386 processor, 4MB RAM, (paid extra for that) DOS 5.0, Windows 3.0, a whopping 120 MB HD, and a smokin' 28 baud modem. That was extra too, even though I was a bit fuzzy as to what I was actually going to do with it. This would have been about 1990 or so, and we bought the computer because we were both taking college classes part time and we'd seen how word processing was so much better than the typewriters we'd been using.

I was still in the uniformed Patrol Division of the police department, but about to be transferred to the Fraud Section. When I got there, owning a computer and knowing just a little about PCs and data transfer would change my career.

This thing fascinated me. How does a mouse work? What, exactly, happens when I press the letter "a" on the keyboard to make it appear on the screen in Wordpad or later, Ami Pro and then be able to print it? So I started buying books and subscribing to magazines to try to figure out how this machine-that-looked-like-magic actually worked. Both of us took basic and advanced classes in DOS from the County's Adult Education section, as we both were flummoxed by DOS. Who in their right mind would design such a clumsy interface and limit file names to eight plus three characters and have all those nonsensical sounding command prompt names? Seemed awfully dumb to me when Windows made actually doing anything so much easier. Oh, and I joined a local PC user group, which was a huge help with their BBS service.

In the Fraud Section we started getting cases involving early online fraud, mostly through AOL and local BBSs. I volunteered for those, partly because I thought they were interesting and partly because I was the only one who had a clue of what to do with them, so I got the reputation of "The Computer Guy" although I could barely write a (very simple) batch file but that was because I was the only one who even knew what a batch file was.

Shortly after the transfer to the Fraud Section we had to go to recurring in-service training for a week, which is required in MD to remain certified as a police officer. One of those classes had a one-hour talk by an FBI agent who was then the only agent who had a Ph.D. in Computer Science. He talked of clusters and sectors on hard drives and recovering erased files, and I was the only person in the room who had a somewhat vague and fuzzy comprehension of what he was talking about.

Then he told the story of a case he'd had in PA several years prior, in which (to make a very long story short) a female kidnapping victim had died a long, slow, and tortured death, in part because the police department there hadn't had the foggiest idea that a home computer could possibly be useful as a source of evidence. In this case, the home computer was just about the only source of evidence, and it sent the perpetrator to prison for life with no parole.

The thing that grabbed at me was that I could see the same thing happening where I worked, because at the time home computers were a rare thing, used mostly by math geeks, scientists and engineers. I think market penetration was about 5%. This was way before the release of even Norton's Utilities, which became the standard go-to software for forensic computer examiners until much better software came along so the FBI agent had to write his own software.

So I started reading all I could about computer crime and how I could apply it to my job. Then I got the first of several very lucky breaks. There was a four-day seminar being held at the Northern Virginia Police Academy and the guy from our department originally scheduled to go couldn't go because of a court date and I was asked if I wanted to go. Sure! They went into the minutia of how data is stored on a HD (in DOS, Macs weren't discussed) and how it could be recovered, and how to do it without writing anything on the HD so as not to alter the original evidence which would be crucial in getting it admitted as evidence in court.

I later had a chance to go to another week-long computer forensic class in Morgantown, WV that was free because the DOJ paid for it. It even included the hotel and meals but only at one hotel and one restaurant (I still don’t much care for Cracker Barrel because of that).

I started calling around to other police departments to see what they were doing with this new stuff, and found that there were only four people in the entire state working on computer forensics, which is basically data recovery combined with a knowledge of Fourth Amendment search and seizure law as it applies to presenting electronic evidence in criminal court. At the time there wasn’t much precedent and we were the ones “writing the book” on that.

Lucky break # two came when the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS) held their two-week conference/training class held the class in McLean, VA, within commuting distance. So far, that has been the only time it was ever held there. I asked to go and was turned down because the training budget for the year was exhausted. I knew that, so had the memo prepared and fired right back, saying that I would write the $700 tuition check if I could get two weeks administrative leave and use of the County car to commute. They said yes!

I gotta wrap this up, it’s getting too long.

So I got that certification, and eventually another guy and I got the job of setting up the Computer Crime Unit, where I stayed an additional four years after I could have retired simply because I was enjoying the work so much. I also became a coach and instructor at later IACIS conferences.

It was interesting because to me it was a job that came straight out of a Robert Heinlein story in part because nothing like that was even remotely conceived of when I was hired. “Computer Forensic Examiner? Whazzat?” And at the time it was truly bleeding edge stuff in law enforcement because there were rarely any precedents for the legal issues.

Here’s an example:

It is well established in Fourth Amendment law cases that a search must be “reasonable”. So if I have a search warrant to search a home for stolen car tires I can reasonably search in the attic, closets, maybe even under beds if they’re small tires, the basement, the garage, and so on. But if I open a filing cabinet and find drugs, that is going to be ruled inadmissible because I “exceeded the scope of the warrant” because one could not reasonably expect to find tires in a filing cabinet (unless it is a really huge cabinet, I’m thinking of the normal office size). Now, there is an exception to this (there always is) called the “plain view doctrine”. If I go into the basement looking for tires and find a drug-growing operation, that will be ruled admissible because I would have inevitably discovered it anyway because it is in plain view. This is called "inevitable discovery".

So how does this apply to a hard drive? No one had any idea because the issue has never come up before. Soooo… I get a hard drive on my desk to examine. The suspect is a programmer who worked for a financial data analysis company. This software sells for about $4 mil a seat so it’s not stuff you find at Walmart. He is suspected of stealing the software source code intending to sell it overseas for a nice profit. In the process of searching the hard drive I stumble across child pornography, which in most states is contraband, meaning that mere possession of it is a crime, in MD it is a misdemeanor. The legal question now is “Do I need to apply for a second search warrant to search for the child pornography?”

Going under the plain view doctrine I continue the search of the hard drive looking primarily for the source code files, but noting the porn stuff when I find it. When I finally find the source code (crudely put in a .zip file with the extension renamed .doc) I get the arrest warrants and serve them. Now the fun begins….

This guy is fighting the charges tooth and nail because he’s a foreign national and if he gets convicted of possession of child pornography he’s going to be deported since that is a sex crime. So the main issue before the court is “Should a second search warrant have been obtained?” The answer in this case is “No” but only by the thinnest of margins. With the advantage of hindsight I would have obtained the second search warrant and saved a lot of bother but at the time this was new legal territory.

The judge ruled the porn evidence admissible because the primary focus of the investigation remained on the felony, the theft of the source code. (There is an exception for that one too.) But generally, later higher court rulings were that the second search warrant must be obtained.

I’m absolutely sure that the fact that the judge was female and had four children of her own had absolutely nothing to do with the ruling.
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Old 01-20-2018, 07:01 PM   #10
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Fascinating reading Walt34. Wow! I guess the prince of Serendip blessed you.

My first computer was a Commodore Vic-20. An enormous 3K memory (that's 3,000 bytes - not kilo, mega or giga) that allowed all kinds of games to be played - and all kinds of basic programs to be written and even a word processor! The display was a regular TV as a monitor. This allowed for 22 characters across the screen. How I dreamed of an upgrade board that would allow proper 80 characters to be displayed on the screen but it was not to be - soon the Vic was replaced by all sorts of computers and commercial programs and...
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Old 01-20-2018, 07:36 PM   #11
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I can't spell computur, but the DW spent here entire career in IT. At her first job in 81 she coded software to run on various computers. She had all of the following: Altos, NEC, DEC, TI, Compaq, Apple and others she can't recall. All took floppy disks.
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Old 01-20-2018, 07:51 PM   #12
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Commodore VIC-20 here, 1980. I fondly remember PEEK and POKE and typing in programs from a magazine.
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Old 01-20-2018, 08:07 PM   #13
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I think I paid a few hundred bucks for my Atari 400 in 1982. It had a membrane keyboard, 16 kB RAM, and a cassette tape drive. Most games were on cartridges. Anyone else remember typing in programs from magazines? That would take hours and usually was very disappointing, plus once you shut the power off it was lost.
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Old 01-20-2018, 08:13 PM   #14
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Anyone else remember typing in programs from magazines? That would take hours and usually was very disappointing, plus once you shut the power off it was lost.
Yep, I spent hours typing in a game from Popular Science Magazine using a Commodore 64. It worked great and I saved it on floppy disk. This was in 1983 or 84.
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Old 01-20-2018, 08:13 PM   #15
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Commodore VIC-20 here, 1980. I fondly remember PEEK and POKE and typing in programs from a magazine.
Oh, I used to use those to screw up the c-64's on display at Sears.


And Walt34. Thanks for sharing that. As a veteran, I have a strong affinity for the thin blue line, and firmly believe Blue Lives Matter. Thank you.
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Old 01-20-2018, 08:30 PM   #16
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I started in a trade school in 1983, our first computers were Commodore 64s. We wrote basic code. I absolutely hated it, all this magic going on. We saved our code and data on cassette tape.

After that I learned S-360 assembly language. Oh, finally something that made sense. Like a mechanical device in a way. It was sad, our class of 45 dropped to 7 in a few weeks. The technology changed my career and in a way my life.

I got an entry level programming job writing business applications in assembly language! I was writing code that supported much of the financial services industry. At first I no idea what much of it was doing from a business perspective. I mean what is a distribution on an issue?

They allowed me to write many calculation routines in assembly🤣. That's like 5th grade math, keeping track of the decimal and all. I guess I was to stupid to say no.
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Old 01-20-2018, 08:38 PM   #17
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My first computer I built myself from a kit in 1968. It was a Digi-Comp I made from plastic and a few metal rods.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digi-Comp_I

I remember the year very clearly because my dad spent the whole year in Vietnam.
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Old 01-20-2018, 08:47 PM   #18
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I took a 1 semester Computer Math class in high school. There, we learned a few Fortran and IITran basics. We wrote programs on pieces of 8-1/2 x 11 paper. Then a couple of us (another classmate and I ) would type those programs on a teletype machine to make a paper tape. Then, using the teletype machine as a reader, we would dial up the computer at IIT, upload and run those simple programs. In College, I learned Neat3 with IBM cards as the programs.

I entered some Basic programs from a book into my C-64 making the small changes that Commodore system required. I even was a member of the local C-64 club. Later, I learned to read NC drill tapes for PCB layouts. Also followed some Motorola embedded computer programs written in machine language.

I never became a computer geek. Computers were always a means to an end. Today, computers allow me to follow this group of eclectic people.
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Old 01-20-2018, 08:57 PM   #19
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What, exactly, happens when I press the letter "a" on the keyboard to make it appear on the screen
Well, what happens is this. The key presses on a membrane which completes a circuit. Somewhere inside that keyboard, a small dedicated processor sees that circuit complete, and looks it up. This itself is no small feat. That results in a code, usually in ASCII, the American Standard Code for Information Interchange, to be presented to a set of software in the computer. This code, is 097 in human form. Octal, that would be 0141. Octal is base 8. Recall this from your new math that most ERers grew up with. Chop off your thumbs to count. Octal is a bit old school, mostly used for the Linux chmod command, so mostly today it is Hexadecimal, 0x61 in this case. Hex is base 16, which new math couldn't comprehend very well for 6th graders. But everyone knows binary, right? So that 'a' key really is 01100001.

Meanwhile, a layer of software in the computer, probably BIOS (basic Input Output System) received an interrupt, a "hey, something is here!" signal and sees that a 01100001 came from the keyboard. BIOS in turn interrupts the operating system, probably DOS in your case which accepts that an 'a' was pressed. DOS then looks up in a table who wants this 'a'. If nobody does, the computer appears "hung" and people start to do things like power cycle it. But probably, someone wants it, probably DOS or a program running. In this case, they accept the 'a' and take action. In the case of DOS, the first thing it does is deposits it in a memory area, that same 01100001, and interrupts the BIOS vector for the video system. The video system wakes up, sees the 'a', and then does a whole-lot-more-of-this-that-i-am-tired-of-writing to present the 'a' to the screen.

Whew. You get the idea. It is wonderful stuff! A lot more complicated than a little lever throwing a hammer back at a ribbon in front of paper -- which is a thing of beauty in itself too!
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Old 01-20-2018, 09:02 PM   #20
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Recent "first PC" post by rayinpenn got me inspired.

At that time, I was in the army and going to college at night. I subscribed to QuantumLink (later to become AOL), mostly for the on-line encyclopedia, but learned to love the email as well. Burning up the phone lines with my 28K modem.
Ohh man....Q-LINK with a 28K modem? I was using 300baud and later 1200baud!

To test your knowledge. Do you know what QArmor was?
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