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John P. Willis
Ordained Minister, ULC
Opinions presented here are held in all of my roles and capacities, both personal and professional.
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Democratic Socialists of America
American Civil Liberties Union
Computers & ProgrammingProgramming Languages I Know
Greatest Common Divisor in 19 Languages
Microcomputer OS History
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ChivaNet Internet Services
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Willis Family Photoblog
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RSS feed generation is done with a BASH script I have implemented, called Syndicator.
I am a largely a self-taught computer programmer and systems administrator/systems engineer. My interest in computers began at the age of three, when my father acquired an original IBM PC 5150, on which I spent way too much time playing DONKEY.BAS and MUSIC.BAS. This machine started out with 256KB of RAM and 2x 360KB DSDD floppy drives, and a green-phosphor Zenith composite monitor connected to an original IBM CGA adapter. It was ultimately upgraded to 512KB of RAM and a 30MB Fuji (not Fujitsu) MFM HDD, with a Plantronics-compatible ATi Graphics Solution board. At one point, a few years later, my dad ended up at the Mayo Clinic for an operation. Stuck at home, and trying to cope with the stress and worry, I began reading the PC-DOS 3.21, IBM BASIC, and Technical Reference manuals voraciously.
In 1986, I met L.D. "Gus" Landis, who was a seasoned UNIX and programming guru. His mentoring and influence would, years later, prove instrumental in the development of my career. But, more on that later.
In 1988, my mom's employer, New Mexico State University, opened up Internet access to faculty by way of offering accounts on their IBM mainframe running VM/ESA. Being seven years old, I had no idea what a 3270 terminal emulator was, and used it with ProComm Plus in VT-100 mode. A terrible user experience, but it somehow managed to give me access to e-mail, and, years later, text-mode web access through the Charlotte web browser.
In 1990, my dad replaced his 5150 PC with an NEC PowerMate SX Plus, which was a 16MHz 386SX with 1MB of RAM, an external 1X SCSI CD-ROM drive, a 60MB HardCard, VGA, running MS-DOS 5 and Windows 3.0 (but no mouse until much later). The PC 5150 was given to me, and I began to learn programming in earnest, beginning with DOS batch files, and slowly building enough skills to build BASIC programs in varying degrees of complexity, some having sections of assembly language code produced with DEBUG.COM. WordStar 5.5 (and later 6.0) were my editors of choice.
During this period, I also became involved in the BBS scene. Art Pike's Waterfront West Wildcat BBS was my main hangout.
In 1994, I acquired a machine that was a beast for its era. It was a 90MHz Pentium boasting 16MB of RAM, an NCR 53C810 SCSI HBA, a 1GB Fujitsu M2694ES-512 hard drive, a Toshiba XM3401TA 4X CD-ROM drive, SoundBlaster 16 audio, and a 2MB Diamond Stealth 64 DRAM video board, running first MS-DOS 6.22 and Windows 3.1, later to be upgraded to Windows 95 during the Win95 Public Preview. This machine had Visual Basic 3.0 Pro for Windows and Visual Basic 1.00 Pro for MS-DOS, as well as Visual C++ 1.0 and later 2.0, Borland Delphi, and a host of other tools. During this time, Microsoft employee Chuck Sphar supported my programming ambitions by sending me boxloads of Microsoft dev tools at employee prices. Chuck was heavily involved in the Visual C++ documentation team, as well as writing many books for Microsoft Press on topics including Object Pascal programming on the Macintosh.
In 1996, the 90MHz Pentium box (built by Don Knapp of Zia Computer Systems), was replaced with an IBM Aptiva 2144-A12. Thanks to L.D. Landis, this machine had Slackware Linux 2.3 loaded on it, running the Linux kernel 1.2.8/1.2.13. It also had a partition containing OS/2 Warp v3, and one with Windows 95 (and eventually Windows 98, and then NT Workstation 4.0).
To be continued...
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