Getting there is all the fun

Volume 3, PC Revolutionary: Computerland, Beehive, Novell 1977-1989

Volume 1: The early years 1948-1966

Volume 2: College, Army, first jobs 1966-1977

Volume 3: PC Revolutionary: Computerland, Beehive, Novell 1977-1989

Volume 4: Beginning The Great Panic: Divorce, bankruptcy, mid-life crisis 1990-1993

Volume 5: Being a Sea Cucumber 1994-1997

Volume 6: Searching for a new life, 1997-2002 (and discovering how deep the Panic Scars are)

Volume 7: Recovering from Panic Thinking 2003-2008

Volume 8: Remaking a home in the USA 2008-2010

Volume 9: Searching for positive feedback 2011-

 

Introduction

It was during these years that I became self-actualized. Everything was perfect: I was contributing to my community by pioneering a new technology. I was starting new businesses -- a long-time dream. And I was using numerous talents -- technical skills, writing skills, managing skills, speaking skills, and flying skills.

I was also very much in love, and raising a family.

These years were hard and demanding, but I knew I was in the right place, at the right time, and doing the right thing.

At the beginning of this era I dropped one of my long-used talents: photography. When I started a company I no longer had the hours and hours available needed for good darkroom work. What little photography I did was mostly color.

But at the end of this era I was starting to develop a new talent: wisdom.

Sue and I with Shade during the Utah Interlude in 1974. This was when we liked each other a lot, but before we were "serious" about each other.
This is Sue and I during the "Computerland Days." This is 1978, we are married, and Sue is pregnant with Altair.

Computerland, 1977-1980

As "the runner" slipped into my distant future and "the program" ran out, I settled on a personal image of Roger as "Roger, the businessman and engineer." I would follow in my father's footsteps and carve out a name for myself by founding a business, and I would use my understanding of engineering to do it. Like my father and my aunt, I would carve my name with new technologies and pioneering techniques.

I did the final stages of this thinking at Thiokol, and based on what I saw there I developed some "not" parameters, too.

As I sorted through my criteria, microchip technology and the up-coming personal computers seemed to be a perfect fit.

And, finally, I really liked what I had seen computers doing while I was at MIT. I was very interested, and I wanted to explore them more.

Going back to Parker and O-rings was not out of the question, but it didn't match the criteria I had laid down very well. (The fish spotting foray I almost got involved in would have been a year-long capital builder for a subsequent Computerland-like enterprise.)

Aunt Peggy's Legacy

Margaret Bourke-White (Aunt Peggy, during my childhood) died childless, as did her sister, Ruth. Only Roger of the three children of Minnie and Joseph had children, and I was one of two. When Margaret died in 1972, I got half the inheritance.

There were some strings attached to when and how that inheritance could be used. My father and aunt were both highly concerned that getting too much money too soon would ruin a child's life. It would be disbursed when I reached 35, and could be dispersed earlier for: education, buying a house, or starting a business.

The Computerland franchise guidelines called for an investment of $120,000 to get a store up and running for three months, at which point it should turn profitable. My share of the Bourke-White estate was a bit more than that. It should have been a straight forward process of taking the money out and getting started.

Instead of being straight -forward, my father insisted I try to get a loan from a bank for the $120,000, and use the trust as collateral for the loan. So, I cleaned up my business plan, donned a suit, and started making the rounds of bankers to raise money.

The experience was not a bad one, although it was frustrating, and in the end proved futile.

It took me three days to hammer out a pro forma budget, P&L and balance sheet. (I remember this, because it made me realize just how valuable Visicalc was when I first saw it. Visicalc was the first spreadsheet program. It took me three days to format my business plan into Visicalc, but once that was done, it took about ten seconds to respond to any "what if?"'s I or any bankers came up with about my business plans.)

That in place, I had a chance to describe my plan to uncounted bankers. Their replies took one of two forms: "No." or "Of course we can help you... if we can get an SBA guarantee." I talked to many bankers, but only one man at the SBA, the man who was in charge of the Salt Lake City region.

The SBA man was never confident in the proposal. "It's not like any plan I've seen before, and your experience isn't sufficient." were the heart of his objections.

But my father was very insistent that I get a loan. What finally evolved was, in effect, that my trust would be used as collateral to back the SBA guarantee, and the bank would loan me money based on the SBA guarantee. It was quite complex compared to just using the trust money, but my father seemed to like that arrangement better -- I could never figure out why. For me, it was just another case of Arbitrariness -- something I would have to put up with to get what I wanted.

But, that deal fell through because there was a "no spendthrift" clause in the trust, so it could not be used to guarantee a loan. My father gave up on the SBA. I did get a loan, but a much smaller one, and the rest of the funds came directly from the trust.

My father also insisted on two more things that seemed much more reasonable: first, that I visit some of the officers of the companies whose products I would be selling, and second, that I spend three months "apprenticing" in an existing Computerland store. I spent a week or so calling on various companies in the southern and northern California areas. (and flew myself between the stops... a wonderful flying opportunity.)

I apprenticed with Jordan Wexler in the Cleveland Computerland store and Chuck Faso in the Niles (Chicago) Computerland store. Not only did I learn a lot about hardware, software, maintenance and retail selling, these people were informal consulting resources for years afterwards.

(It was at Jordan Wexler's store that I first experienced word processing, and fell in love with it instantly. It wasn't until I experienced word processing that I had any interest in writing. Word processing changed my career by allowing me to add writing to my skill set. This is a solid personal example of technology changing a lifestyle.)

Finally, it was time to go to formal franchise training school. Sue and I went together. Sue would be handling the books, inventory and the "inside" functions. I would be handling the sales, management and technical functions.

The class was good, and we met some more people. The first European Computerland starter was there, as well as the group that was opening up the Phoenix area.

Finally the actual building began. I chose to rent a location on 2nd South near 2nd East. It was an area of small, interesting shops with low rent and good parking, and near downtown. In 1977 personal computers were an "interesting" product, not an established high-volume one, so it didn't make sense to set up in a high-rent, high-volume location, such as a big shopping mall.

Even with the six months of financing delay and the three months of apprenticing delay, ours was the fourth retail computer store to open in the state of Utah. And it was certainly the finest -- Sue and I were running it!

 

Flying

This was the era in which I did most of my private flying. I had a commercial pilot's license and an IFR rating, so I took every opportunity to fly from place to place.

I dearly wanted my business to incorporate some kind of flying need in it. Once I got my IFR certificate I could tell that flying was a skill that required a lot of refreshing to stay sharp at. It was easy to find excuses to drive from place to place; it took more dedication to find reasons to fly from place to place, but I did.

If an assignment in Utah took me further away than Utah Valley, I would try to fly there.

Sue and I would fly to Wendover for "$40 dinners". The dinner at the casino cost about four dollars, the rest was the expense of flying there.

If an assignment took me to California, I would always fly there. The trip would take most of a day, and require a fuel stop somewhere in Nevada. I got familiar with the airports at such remote places as Winnemuca, Battle Mountain and Elko. At times I would make the trip a night. This was most pleasurable. One time, I made it at night, without taking out my usual maps. Instead, I just used the lights of the towns along I-80 to guide me. To get through the High Sierras, I simply watched for lights. When I saw lights, I knew I was headed through a pass.

The flying era ended on a trip to California. I hadn't been flying as much as I should, and Sue, Altair and I were meeting my father and Bonnie in northern California. The primary destination was fogged in, so we landed a bit inland, and on a shorter landing strip. But the air was thicker than I was used to in Utah and I kept overshooting the runway. On the second try I tried to force the plane down and ended up porposing, but not landing. When I finally did get the plane down on the third try, I found I had porpoised so hard I had bent the prop tips.

I took this as a sign that I either had to get in the air a lot more, or give up until I could get in the air a lot more. At the time I gave up, and the opportunity to fly a lot has never reoccurred.

But my scariest air accident happened a year earlier while flying in California. I was night flying from Los Angeles to Sacramento on a moonless night, very peaceful, when... without any warning... WHAM! I ran into something. This was most amazing and perplexing. I was flying at 10,000 feet, very high, and I had hit something solid... and I wasn't dead: I wasn't splattered over the side of some 10,000 foot high mountain or radio tower that wasn't on the map, and I was sure I wasn't off course. It was most scary and most perplexing. It was dark, and I had no flashlight, so I couldn't see anything about the plane.... but it was flying, and seemed to respond normally to the controls.

Sacramento wasn't far, so I finished my flight, but not without sweating bullets. The plane was flying normally, so I didn't declare a "Mayday" as I came in, but I wanted to come in fast in case whatever had happened had affected my stall speed, but there was traffic in front of me... I came in normally, and landed. Whew!

When I looked at the plane, I found a bowling ball-size crush in the leading edge of one of the wings. Even more mysterious! What could put a bowling ball-size crush in a wing at 10,000 feet, and just that, not crush the whole wing, or the whole plane?

I slept on it. The next day the mechanic told me I had run into a goose. He had found feathers, and I guess in California they sometimes get that high. It was truly amazing.

This was the plane I flew while I was at Dixie College in 1970. It's a "tail-dragger" Cessna 120, a very old plane even when I was flying it, and fairly rare. More common were the "tricycle gear" Cessnas that replaced this. Tail draggers are harder to land, so learning on this was somewhat like learning to drive a car with a manual transmission: it good to know how to do, even if you don't do it very often.

The doors to ComputerLand of Salt Lake opened early in the winter of 1978. The primary computers we were carrying were Apple II's, North Star's, Imsai's and Cromemco's. Each had it's own operating system. The Apple was based on a Motorola 6800 chip set, and the others were based on a Zilog Z-80 chip set. The Z-80 machines could run Digital Research's CP/M as well as their custom operating system, and we sold most using CP/M. (These were called micro computers at the time, and that name evolved into personal computer about the time the IBM PC came out in 1981.)

There were a few dozen other personal computers available at the time that I didn't carry. Some of the famous ones of that era were made by Atari, Commodore, Heathkit and Sinclair.

The most notable thing about this era was that all these machines were quite different and not standardized with each other at all. Personal computer was not yet "defined" in the public eye, so there were many, many combinations to be experimented with.

The "floppy disk" was just as new a technology as the microchip. Many of these computers used an audio tape recorder to store and load programs instead of a floppy disk. There were experiments with using VCR tapes because the data flow was so big, but they didn't work out well because there were too many data dropouts on a VCR tape. These data dropouts didn't affect watching a movie much, but they played hob with a computer program trying to be loaded.

Computer "numbers" steadily get bigger, so I'm not going to spend much time on them. But I will give you my starting points: Motorola 6800 and Zilog Z-80's were 16-bit processors with 16-bit addressing. They could address a total of 64K of RAM. The early models were sold with 16K of RAM standard, expandable to 64K. These early floppy disks came in an 8" variety which stored 500K of data, and a newly introduced 5" variety which stored 140K (Apple) or 180K (CP/M - based). A "business" system with twin drives, a terminal, CP/M operating system and 64K of RAM sold for about $2,500 and a top end Diablo Daisy Wheel printer sold for about the same. "Home" computers built around an Apple II sold for about $1500.

There were endless variations and new boards and models being introduced every month. There were even voice recognizers for some of these early machines.

Word processors, spreadsheets, games and programming languages were the most common applications I sold. Accounting packages were available, and I sold a few, but I always regretted it when I did. Unlike these other applications, customers were never clear what an accounting application was supposed to "do", so there were often a lot of misconceptions. People wanted computers to solve their unsolved accounting problems, when the reality was computers could only make a smoothly running accounting system run smoother. I usually tried to sell customer a spreadsheet program to help them with accounting rather than an accounting package.

I loved those applications I sold, and used them a lot. They were all very empowering. I also learned programing in BASIC and Pascal. I built a few of these computers from kits, and I learned to diagnose their problems. At Thiokol I was a rocket scientist, at Computerland I was a computer wiz, later the term changed to computer guru.

 

Care for some nice, fresh kitten?

This is at the farm, at one point while we lived here we had about eight cats and a few kittens. This picture we have Antares, Altair and Thuban cats, and Curley Joe, Heather-kitty and Rudy kittens.
This is the farm house, and that bull is Ferdinand, who later becomes part of the Three Nights in the Garden story, and shortly after that became steak. Yes, I could chop wood with that axe. I learned how at Outward Bound chopping down Aspen trees. Sue and I are wearing shirts that Sue made. (1977)

 

Technology point

When computers were standalone and all the "brains" of a computer were on a floppy disk, security was a non-issue. Secure the floppy disk and all your data and applications were secure as well.

The combination of low security concerns and strictly single user use let the operating systems for these computers be very simple. "One computer, one user." was a dream for operating system developers, and because it was so simple for them, it was also very simple for applications developers. So simple, in fact, that perhaps 25% of my customers in the late seventies were applications developers as well as users. Because it was so easy for applications developers, the fruits of their labors were generally easy to use and very diverse in the nature of the problems they tackled. There were no hard-and-fast standards of how things should be done in those days, so many, many ways of doing things were tried. Many were tried, and out of those many ideas a few endured. But without that foundation of many, many experiments, the few standards that would emerge in the "crystallizing period" would be much poorer.

Microcomputers were considered "toys" by the mini- and mainframe-computer establishment. As a result microcomputer development from the late seventies through the mid-eighties went on without being hobbled by "the curse of being important" -- something I talk about in many of my essays.

Hard disks, Windows and networking put an end to that era. Hard disks introduced security problems and data organizing problems (it held so much data). Windows was complex and patronizing (the OS hid things from the users and applications developers) and graphical and multi-tasking, so applications design was no longer a simple task that amateurs could tackle meaningfully. And networking introduced even more connectivity and security issues. The personal empowering of, "One man, one computer." turned out to be a passing phase.

The computer communities in Salt Lake valley and Utah valley were vigorous and thriving ones. One of these applications developers was Craig Burton and his father, Le R Burton. They bought an Apple II computer from me, and were programming real estate applications in Pascal. Craig would later figure prominently in my career at Novell.

Marketing personal computers was another area that was without standard. Previously computers were sold by computer salesmen (who became computer "sales people" in the late eighties). This concept of walking into a retail store to buy a computer only made sense because the price of a computer had plummeted from over $50,000 to $3,000 or less. Minicomputers cost more than cars; microcomputers cost what a high-end stereo system did. So, the concept of retail selling made sense, but it was yet to be proven in the late seventies.

We tried many different kinds of marketing at Computerland of Salt Lake:

Some of these worked better than others, and the learning was all sorts of fun.

Even with Computerland starting up, vacations still happened. Sue and I are at Vail.
   

 

One of the things I did at Computerland was help train people on their spreadsheet and word processing applications. I loved WordStar in particular as a word processor and Visicalc as a spreadsheet. After teaching people WordStar for six months, and using it for mass mailings and tons of other communications needs, I got to know the product pretty well. In the early-eighties I took six months to put what I knew on paper and got it published as a book.

This was another tremendous learning experience. I knew what I wanted to say, but now I had to learn formal style so I could say it in a way that other people would accept. I worked long hours with George Trosper, a fellow D&D player and an English major and very good explainer of style. With his help my ideas became formally presented.

WordStar with Style, I called it, in honor of what I had to learn and making a play on the famous book Writing with Style, which was so influential in determining how I had to say things. It sold about 20,000 copies in eighteen months and spun off two specialty issues. By the standards of those days, it was a success, and I was now a published author. What a surprise! From a high school student who wouldn't pay attention to English, I was now an author. I owe it all to my fascination with word-processing.

My first published book. It was full of lots of good advice. WordStar was the tool, but I spent most of the book talking about how to use the tool to accomplish various projects, not just a review of its various features.

Then WordStar, the application, evolved and the book became obsolete. In fact, the company, MicroPro, foundered on the MSDOS-to-Windows transition, and disappeared entirely by the late eighties. I found I was an expert at an "orphan" application, and I had to move on to a new word processor. By then I was aware of the Cornucopia Effect, and I knew I didn't have time or interest to master the intricacies of the Windows generation of word processors, so there has never been a "Microsoft Word with style" or "Lotus Wordpro with Style." By then my focus had shifted to local area networks.

Sue and I ran the Computerland store for three years. During that time it was mostly modestly profitable, but never hugely profitable... we could never build the sales to where we thought they should be. In 1980, I took yet another serious look at future projections, and decided this business was never going to go where I wanted it to in terms of growth or profitability. I looked seriously at starting a second store to see if economies of scale might produce the profitability we were seeking, but in the end decided instead that it was time to sell out. Sue reluctantly agreed, she was more optimistic than I was. But we began looking for an exit strategy.

We sold out to another young couple very much like ourselves. We sold out for a profit. It took a couple years to collect that profit (the final payment came when they sold out a couple years later.), but we did get out for a profit.

The Computerland years were a huge learning experience. I grew. But I got out in the end thinking that what I needed most was more management experience. The Computerland had not grown fabulously because I hadn't been able to get enough out of my people. So, the next job should be one in which I got to experience and learn good management.

The Computerland experience was also good in that my father helped so much, and his support as much as anything was what got us out of the experience profitably. He helped us stay in touch with the big picture, so that when it came time to get out, we still had the resources to do so without a panic. I say this because our next family business experience -- the Vito's Pizza experience -- turned out so differently, and disastrously.

(Epilog on the Computerland store: The couple that Sue and I sold out to, sold out in a couple years to a multi-store franchise group. The Computerland franchise system was at its peak in those years, and about to fade, in part due to ownership fights surrounding Ray Millard, the founder. The store was moved from 2nd South near 2nd east to 2nd South near 2nd west. At one point a second store was opened in the south Salt Lake valley, but it didn't survive long. The store changed hands a couple more times and ultimately ended up in the Sugarhouse shopping area. I attended Novell training classes at the store in Sugarhouse in the mid-nineties, and shortly after that, it faded from existence. I ran the store for three years, and it had a 20 year life span total.)

 
The Kennecott Copper Refinery, shot from the marina on the Great Salt Lake. That smoke stack is the second tallest structure in North America -- there's a taller smokestack at a nickle smelter in Canada, near Lake Superior.
The Delicate Arch in Southern Utah. This is not your typical picture of the Delicate Arch. It is shot by moonlight, with a flash fill-in to soften the arch's shadow. Taking this picture took two hours of hiking over rough terrain by moonlight.

Novell, 1981-82

As I pulled out of Computerland, I started looking for my next position. As always, I pursued looking for my next position vigorously, but the opportunities I could come up with were not plentiful.

In early winter of 1980 I interviewed with Larry Edwards and Jack Davis about joining a startup company in Utah valley. They were going to make a bunch of kinds of data processing equipment, but in particular they were going to make personal computers and local area networks. Personal computers I knew well, and I'd heard a little about local area networks. (It wasn't surprising that I'd heard only a little, they didn't exist yet!) They needed someone to help them in Customer Support. I was happy to help out there, and in lots of other ways as well.

Novell was a roller coaster. It grew from 20 people when I signed on to 120 people at it's peak in late 1981, then shrank down to 20 people again as the company struggled to find a successful product mix. I was let go as the company plummeted below 25. It was my first experience with a startup manufacturing company, and once again, I learned so much! Much of my experience is written up in my unpublished book Surfing the High Tech Wave: the story of Novell's first ten years.

 
Brainshare: A developers conference hosted by Novell.
Novell hosted these kinds of conferences as well as attending "the trade show circuit" for computer companies.


Computers are a high-ticket item, so computer trade show exhibitors tend to splash a lot of money around at these shows on display booths, concert tickets and other interesting novelties.


I had fun at these shows.

 

Beehive, 1982-86

As the Novell ship was sinking, many people from Novell moved to Beehive International in the International Center west of the Salt Lake City airport. I went too. This was my first experience with "the people conduit", the phenomenon where once a migration path is started, a lot of people will follow the same path.

Beehive was a long established terminal manufacturer who was now jumping into personal computers. Once again, I worked in customer support.

Being long established, the Beehive culture was much different than the Novell culture. In particular the politics of interpersonal relations were much stronger. I remember being given an assignment to become familiar with Beehive's up-and-coming ANSI terminal, and going to the product manager of the project and asking for information on the terminal. His immediate response was, "What's your hidden agenda?" -- something I had hardly heard of at the time. The politics were so strong that, in my opinion, it was the political bickering brought the company down.

After being there about two years, I had a chance to experience my first Chapter 11 bankruptcy. 1986 was the beginning of the big "Savings and Loan Crisis" in the US, and one of the first casualties was Continental Bank in Illinois. Unfortunately, Continental was Beehive's main bank. Top management attributes the company's collapse to Continental's collapse, but I disagree -- that was just the capper on some deep-rooted personnel problems that had been draining profitability for years.

I get my MBA, 1984-6

At first my Beehive position look fairly stable. So while I was working there, I continued my education. I signed up for an MBA program with the University of Phoenix (U of P). I would have signed up for the MBA program at the University of Utah (U of U), but they didn't have any sort of "executive program" in place at the time, so it wasn't compatible with working.

The U of P program, on the other hand, was perfectly compatible. In the early eighties the US was still recovering from the energy crisis, and one of the steps taken by some businesses was to switch the work week to four 10-hours days. This reduced commuting. Beehive worked Monday through Thursday; my classes at the U of P were on Saturday, so I devoted Friday to studying for classes the next day. It worked out famously, and my MBA program was the best schooling experience I ever had.

My thesis for that MBA program was my first written expounding of wisdom. (And here it is, if you would like to look at it.)

Roger III and I visiting the Air Force Museum in Roy, Utah. This is a replica of one of the atomic bombs dropped in WWII.
The kids at The Pie Pizza restaurant near the University of Utah. This was the only place you could get a pizza with smoked oysters on it. The taste and texture were out of this world, but, my goodness, it had a lot of oil in it!

Family Life

 

Sue and I lived together in many houses in the Salt Lake valley. The first two were before we were married. During the Utah Interlude we lived in a rented house on 4th South and about 10th West. This was a solidly blue-collar neighborhood, and the rent was low. We decided to "liven up" the interior by painting it lots of lively colors -- it took years for us to figure out why the landlord was so unhappy when he saw what we had done -- at the time we felt he should have thanked us for the free paint job.

 

When I worked at Thiokol we lived in a rented house on 10th Avenue and E street. The avenues is a more professional neighborhood, and because it had a lot of tall deciduous trees, it reminded me a lot of Cleveland. It was here that we first started having cats as pets, and we would have friends over to play Dungeon and Dragons.

 

When Sue was working for the Artificial Heart Program at the University of Utah, we had an opportunity to rent a house on the program's farm in Sandy, 106th South and 26th East. This was where they kept the sheep and cows that they would experiment on. Sandy was still rural at this time, but promising to develop rapidly. The house was on a south-facing bluff and nicely isolated from neighbor's eyes. It was here that we raised a cow of our own, and had the "cow in the garden story"...

 

The cow in the garden

 

"Ferdinand" was a cow we bought as a calf and we were raising to eat -- the U of U people said it was OK to use the pasture where we were watching their animals. My how Ferdinand grew! He was about ready to get sent off to slaugther when this incident happened.

 

It was a warm, pleasant summer night, and Sue was about half to term with Altair when we decided we would sleep outside. Sue and I usually slept in the buff, so we were happy to be out of neighbor's eyes when we scampered out onto our back lawn and zipped together a couple sleeping bags. We bedded down...

 

In the middle of the night we woke up hearing a rustling close by, in the garden: Ferdinand had gotten out of the nearby pasture. Kind of bleery-eyed, I scrambled out of the sleeping bag and started yelling at him to get back in the pasture.

 

He took a look at me, then at a fruit tree standing next to him. He wound up and hit that fruit tree with his head.

 

Boooiing! it went, and I watched it shake under his blow.

 

Suddenly... I felt... naked! I was, of course, but when that fruit tree started shaking back and forth... I felt I needed a bit more protection before I faced down that ... now that you mention it... in this light he does look like a big, strong bull!

 

Sue and I got clothes on; herded Ferdinand back into the pasture; made sure the gate was locked tight, and went back to bed.

 

The next night we decided to sleep out again. Somehow, Ferdinand got into the garden again! We never did figure how how that happened, but we herded him back again. (This time we started with clothes on.)

 

Third night... triple checked the gates... and once again heard the rustling in the garden! It can't be Ferdinand! This time it wasn't, it was a neighbor's cow! We herded her into our pasture and laughed all night about that.

 

Back to the big city

 

As Computerland came to life, we dicided that the commute from Sandy was too far. We bought a house on 10th South and West Temple, almost underneath the 9th South Freeway off-ramp. We didn't stay long, we quickly moved to a house on S Street in the avenues, and that became home for our children.

 

The S Street house was a lot of fun. It had started life as a bungalow, and the smallest house on the block. But it had been owned by some precocious tinkerers before we got a hold of it, and it was now one of the most unusual homes on the avenues. Part of the roof had been converted to a geodesic dome; the attic was opened up into living space; the front stairs leading to that attic were a sprial staircase hewn from a telephone pole, and the upstairs bathroom had a sunroof. After we got the Pultrusions windfall we added our own tinkering. We doubled the size of the house by adding to the back. We added a living room, a play room, a bed room and a deck. We also transformed the garage into an office.

 

Sadly, the house is no more. When the divorce came the house proved devilishly difficult to sell -- it wasn't standard, and there weren't that many people in Salt Lake who liked the same kind of non-standard as we had created. Our next door neighbor, the Stieners, finally bought the house, and tore it down to put in a garage for their own house expansion.

 

The big fire

 

Salt Lake gets it's share of thunderstorms. One summer afternoon a windy thunderstorm blew through, and broke off a huge Cottonwood branch in our neighbor's back yard. On the way down, it caught the power line to their house and ripped it down. Power failed on the whole block when this happend, and stayed down for hours.

 

About 1AM, I was up walking around when power was restored. There was a slight problem, though. The neighbor's power line was still down, and it started sparking and hissing like a huge firecracker fuse. I watched as it sparked and hissed it's way clear across the neighbor's back yard, over their garage, down the far side, and up the power pole.

 

Good show! I applauded.

 

Then I noticed an, "Oops". Behind the neighbor's garage was a large stack of dry brush... now with a little, tiny fire in it. I woke up the family; had Sue call the fire department, and then went out to see what I could do about the fire.

 

I couldn't do much. The tiny fire was now spouting impressive five foot flames. I hitched up a hose to see if I could get some water on it, but the hose was too short. At full blast I could soak the ground around the brush, but not get any water on the brush. I was starting to get worried. This brush pile wasn't that far from our newly remodeled office/garage, and it had already burned a hole in the base of my neighbor's garage.

 

By the time the fire department got there, the flames were leaping twenty feet high, almost into another branch of that same cottonwood tree. But it didn't last long once they got organized.

 

It is always impressive just how fast an uncontrolled fire can grow.

 

Bicycle Journeys

College journeys

I had a bicycle as a child, and I picked up bicycling again when I went to Dixie, and then again at MIT in Boston. There I bought one of the newer, and much more expensive, racing-style bicycles that were just coming into the bicycle market. I paid about $200 or $250 as versus $50 to $100 for one of the older style. These new bikes were much lighter, had the low handlebars and the hard, narrow seat, and had derailler gear shifting. They were about to change the nature of the bicycle market in the US, and bring adults back in to bicycling in a big way.

It became a ritual for me to take a long bicycle trip to start the summer break. My first summer break at MIT I pedaled from Boston to Cleveland in about ten days. This was an exciting trip over the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts, across New York state, through the "panhandle" of Pennsylvania into northeast Ohio. It was stormy on several days. About half the time I slept in motels, but the last two days I could find none as sundown approached, so I camped out. The last night I camped out was in a driving thunderstorm. I camped in a small forest, and when I awoke the next morning I found myself covered with icky, slimy slugs. <Ugh!> But I had fun.

My second summer break I pedaled from Boston to New York City in about four days. The highlight of the trip was taking a ferry from Connecticut to Orient Point -- the east-most part of Long Island, New York, and then pedaling down Long Island to New York City. Watching the transition in housing from huge, stately manors to middle-class residences and finally to skyscrapers was fascinating. I had planned to go on to Washington, DC, but, in spite of the fun of pedaling down Long Island, I was bored, so I flew back to Cleveland from there.

My third summer break I pedaled from Boston to New Ulm, Minnesota. I started this trip with Sue and another couple, but in New York we got split up, and in Buffalo, Sue decided she had had enough. On this trip we visited a chunk of the original Erie Canal, and ate wild strawberries by the modern Erie Canal. We visited my old U of R college roommate, Kal Jones, at his father's farm, and we got our bicycles stolen from out of the garage of an old army buddy, Dan Cullis, in Buffalo, NY. I pedaled across Ontario uneventfully to Sarnia, just north of Detroit, and then across Michigan. In Frankfort, Michigan I watched a hang gliding convention, then took the ferry to Wisconsin. In Minnesota I met up with an MIT college buddy. When I got to New Ulm, I was bored, and my digestive system was getting unhappy. (I think it was all the raw eggs I was eating as snack food.) So, rather than finish crossing the US to Washington state, I flew back to Cleveland. I had been pedaling for 30 days on that trip.

 

The Antelope Island bicycle trip: Two days of unexpected surprises, all bad

The final memorable journey was in Salt Lake. Sue and I decided to tour from Salt Lake to Ogden, but we would make a giant circle of the trip by pedalling north to Ogden using Antelope Island as our way north, and south to Salt Lake using the roads in the Wasatch Front communities as our way south. Antelope Island is the Great Salt Lake's largest island, but it is uninhabited. Ranchers graze cattle there, and the north end of the island is an undeveloped state park, but we were on our own as far as food and other essentials were concerned.

I studied a topographic map (topo map) of the island carefully. There was a north-south dirt road, and fences, and a spring or two on the island. There was a south causeway that connected the island to the mainland just west of the Salt Lake City airport, and a north causeway that connected the island to the mainland west of Syracuse, Utah. Three years earlier, the north causeway had been washed out by the rising lake, but I was pretty sure that was fixed by then, and I was more concerned about the south causeway. That I knew nothing of the condition of. But... that was the first leg of our journey. If the south causeway was washed out, we would turn around and go another way.

So we started our journey... and what a journey it was!

The first unpleasant surprise was encountering a thick field of horse flies west of the Salt Lake airport. And, I mean thick! In my youth, while at summer camp in Ohio, I had encountered horse flies. These are huge insects, with a bite to match. They are also heavily armored. Slap one successfully, and he doesn't squish, he just falls off... stunned for a few seconds. Give him a moment and he rights himself, flies away and is ready for more action! But at camp they were sparse. One hung around the camp swimming pool, and once I got him, (and squished him with a follow up footstomp) it would be minutes before another showed up. Here, on this sage-brush covered flat west of the airport, Sue and I found ourselves being dogged by thirty or more, each! I learned a lot about horse flies that day... much more than I ever wanted to, but, I will pass on what I learned to you, Oh Gentle Reader...

  • The flies are motion sensitive. They would chase after us when we pedalled, and slowly disperse when we stopped for breaks. They were also good about staying behind us. They didn't fly in front of our faces until we slowed down.
  • They can bite through clothing, but when they do, it isn't painful. Apparently, their probiscus is designed to bite through thick fur, and it's only when they bite "short range" -- on bare skin -- that they cause a lot of pain.
  • They are very territorial. We finally reached the causeway, and when we had peddled only fifty feet out of the sage-brush field, the flies vanished -- they wouldn't follow us over the lake. They also didn't reappear on the far side. (Had they, this story would have had a very different ending.)

Having successfully run Horsefly Gauntlet, we continued, and we were sure happy we weren't going to have to go back through that! We had a pleasant, wandering bicycle trip the rest of that day. We climbed to the top of the ridge that is the center of Antelope Island, and got about halfway north when we reached the first spring that was on the topo map. It was there, with water, but it was a mosquito-infested cow trough of a spring. We decided to pass on getting any water from that!

When sundown came we were midway up the island, roughly on schedule, but low on water. We camped without a fire, as we had planned to do. What we hadn't planned on were the fierce wind, the threatening rain and the new breed of mosquito we discovered. This new breed was small, about half the size of a "regular" city-style mosquito, and very light colored. Such details would not have brought it to my attention, but it's bite sure did! Holy Crow! I literally jumped up yelling the first time one got me! I thought a bee had stung me! The good news was: they weren't numerous. The bad news was: they seemed well adapted to finding us in spite of the strong wind. Sue and I slept that night cowering inside our sleeping bag so those white monstrosities couldn't find us. We talked of turning back then, but we didn't want to face those terrible horseflies again.

Day dawned, and, fortunately, the white monstrosities were not day feeders. We continued our journey. We saw a skunk, who did us no harm, and vice versa, and we finally made it to the northern ridge, overlooking Antelope Island State Park and the north causeway. We were cheered by the sight. The causeway was there, and we would soon be back on civilized roads.

Well... we soon found out the causeway was ONE THIRD there -- construction on the remaining two thirds was not finished. <Sigh!> After all this, were we really going to have to back track? We we going to have to cold camp in Mosquito Haven? Were we going to have to run Horsefly Gauntlet? I looked again...

"This part that isn't finished yet is only six inches under water." I told Sue. "It'll rust the bikes really fast, but we can wash them off when we get to the far side."

She agreed, so we plunged off the finished part of the causeway, and walked our bikes along the unfinished part, in six inches of water.

Well... that unfinished part ran another third of the way across the lake. We walked in a sort of surreal world, surrounded by water on all sides, but not in a boat, and not swimming. Then we came to a part where there was a small hole in the road. We walked around that, and came to a bigger hole! We walked around that... and came to a hole that spanned clear across the causeway!

Well, the mainland shore was in sight, and now more than ever we didn't want to back track. Our clothes were soaked with salt water in addition to all our other reasons for not wanting to go back. I clamored into the hole... It was about five feet deep, and I"m six feet tall. I carried the bikes across the hole.

... Yet another hole... even bigger and six feet deep this time. We got out some twine and I dragged the bikes across this hole.. but I was worried. This was twine, not rope, I was dragging the bikes with. If it broke, I'd be fishing bikes off the bottom in water over my head.

... Yet another hole, even deeper. With that, we gave up on the bikes. We kickstanded them, and tied them down with the twine so the wind and waves wouldn't blow them over, and we swam across the hole. We got to the mainland without difficulty, and called for rescue from Sue's family. (The curious part here was that we continued to follow the drowned causeway and came back on land where there were a half dozen or so people fishing... none of them seemed at all curious about the two people (us) who had come out of nowhere.)

Sue's family came and got us, but it was two days later before we could get back to the causeway, armed with a rubber raft, and rescue our bikes. Even the rescue opertation was exciting because an evening thunderstorm was coming up, and the wind was swirling the water through the causeway holes at a pretty good clip. We lost control of the raft at one point, but we caught up with it, and discovered that the hole was two feet deeper than the surrounding lake bed. I could have walked around the holes, and stayed in five feet of water! Live and learn...

We got the bikes, and our equipment, and the only things that rusted irreparably were the hubs and the cables. We replaced those and used the bikes for another couple years... but never on another trip to Antelope Island!

 

Novell again, 1986-89

Beehive collapsed, and the people conduit reversed direction -- the flow was now from Beehive to Novell. Amazingly Novell had survived, and then prospered mightily. Watching Novell's experience was when I started considering electronics companies, "vampires" -- you had to drive a wooden stake right through their hearts to finish them off. (Beehive, it turned out, was finished off.)

Novell had changed a lot. When I left it was twenty people in a single building with just a prayer of a product and a prayer of surviving. When I came back it was 500 people, in two buildings, and the main product, Netware, was well accepted.

I came back into the Developer Relations group. The goal of developer relations was to promote Netware to software developers so they would write their applications with Netware in mind. In addition to working with developers, I worked with MarCom (Marketing Communications) and wrote two columns for the LAN Times.

I was an unusual member of the Marketing Department because I was comfortable with engineers and understood what they were saying the first time. Most other members of marketing feared and dreaded their excursions over to Engineering. And, in fact, they were generally discouraged from going over there because management felt that what they hadn't heard about they couldn't leak.

 
One of my favorite shots of Altair. Taken in October or November in the Mirror Lake area, east of Salt Lake City.

Toastmasters, 1987, I start amateur pontificating

During my classes at University of Phoenix the subject of Toastmasters came up a couple of times, so I investigated it further. It was a social club set up to promote skill in public speaking, and there were several such clubs set up in the Salt Lake area. I attended the one meeting in the Salt Lake Public Library, and became a member.

Toastmasters had a speaking program, which I went through. It consisted of making ten or so speeches, each emphasizing a different skill. I used those speeches as an opportunity to pontificate on many topics ranging from history to science to religion to current events. I was diligent, and always wrote out my speech first, so as I spoke, I amassed a collection of essays.

I also became fascinated with a slim, dark-haired, very intelligent woman in her mid-twenties. She was just what I was looking for as Sue's ability to keep up a romantic relation within the marriage waned. The fruit of my fascination was not an affair, but an extended stay at the Toastmasters Club. I did a lot more speaking, became part of the club executive, and later founded a Toastmasters Club at Novell in Provo.

That inspiration she gave me was the first thing I wanted out of any serious relation with a woman: She inspired me to do a lot more than I was going to do for myself. As I am now a pontificator, I have a name for what I was feeling. I call that effect the Taj Mahal Syndrome, and she was my Touchstone Girl.

The unfortunate part was she had other aspirations, and those involved other people, so she stopped attending Toastmasters and left my life. I had very much wanted that inspiration to continue for years and to develop into a much deeper and richer relationship.

 
Astronomy was another hobby. This the telescope of the Salt Lake stargazing club, located in a retired gun turret from some warship. Sue and I got a white kitten with one gold eye and one blue eye. We decided to name her after a star. A friend, Chuck Hards, took us here and showed us the binary star Alberio -- our kitten had a name!
Sue and I had lots of cats, and we would practice names on them that we would later use for our children. We figured if we liked the sound of the name after using it for many months on a cat, it would rest easy for our children as well.
So, we had an Altair and a Heather kitty a year or so before we had an Altair or Heather child, and we decided that Adrienne was going to work out better than Alberio.

 

Science Fiction and Radio Spots, 1989

In the year or two just before my world imploded, I was getting into some fun ways of pontificating. The two funnest were writing science fiction stories and doing a series of radio spots for the local community radio station. I called the radio spots Computer Quickies.

The Computer Quickies were modeled after Star Date, and designed to be segways between radio programs. As I listened to Star Date, I learned how to make the Computer Quickies all last exactly two minutes, even if the main topic varied from a minute to a minute thirty seconds. The secret was to have tails of "boilerplate" that varied in length, and to slap the appropriated length tail on the end of the main topic.

I produced and narrated thirteen of these for KRCL, the community radio station in Salt Lake.

I also hosted a half hour discussion on the then-breaking topic of Pons and Flieshman's Cold Fusion announcement of that year.

All-in-all, I was finding radio to be an interesting medium, and I was laying the foundation for my next career evolution -- into professional pontificating of some sort.

The science fiction writing was a direct evolution out of my Dungeon and Dragons playing. Playing D&D give me hours and hours of practice as a story teller and scenario builder. I merged that story telling skill with my love of history and science to start telling science fiction stories.

These were really good stories, in my mind. I wrote about thirty five of them, and then started submitting them for publication in science fiction publications. For about two years I wrote and submitted, and wrote and submitted. I attended science fiction writing club meetings, science fiction writing seminars, and science fiction conventions in Salt Lake and Utah valleys. These science fiction conventions were a mix of many things, but I came to listen to the writing seminars and to play the Role Playing games... I still liked D&D and I was still dungeon mastering. My dungeon adventure "Orthanc" and wilderness adventure "Valley of the Jolly Jade Giant" were my two major contributions to D&D scenarios. And one adventure in which I played as a player produced "The Drowning Paladin", which became a legend in D&D circles in Utah and California.

Alas, I couldn't find a publisher for either my science fiction, or my D&D scenarios. In the effort to find a publisher I discovered two things: first, that there were a whole lot more people writing science fiction than there were places to publish it, and second that the theme I wrote to was not quite the same theme as publishers published to. At one writing seminar that I attended the publisher who was conducting it blasted (critiqued) one of my favorite stories, Intellitan the Destructor. I didn't mind him doing so, that's why I was there and why I gave him Intellitan to read. His harsh critique give me a lot of insight into what he was thinking. It was clear that the issues of story-building that he thought were important, and the issues of story-building that I thought were important, were quite different. He wasn't complaining about my skill as a writer, he was complaining about what I chose to write about, and the seed of Technofiction germinated.

In time, I found I was writing what I call Technofiction, and it was enough off the mainstream paths of science fiction writing that publishers weren't giving my stories much attention. So, I found I was writing my science fiction / Technofiction for myself. I continued to do so for quite a while, but without any positive feedback from getting something published, the writing kept getting put further and further on to the back burner.

 

The Roger Shot

This is my self-image shot. From my twenties through my fifties, this is what I felt I looked like.
This was taken while I was at Sue's family's home in Bountiful, Utah some time in the 70's, riding one of their horses.
A mesa near Hanksville, in central Utah (central on the map, but called southern Utah by locals). This area is dry and alkaline, even by Utah standards. This is a deep-winter-at-sunset shot.
The ruins of a home in near Mount Deseret, south of Grantsville, Utah. This is springtime in Utah.

Summary

This was an era of self-actualization for me. I had a chance to use a wide range of the skills I had developed earlier, and I had a chance to add enormously to my skill set. I became a businessman, writer and pontificator. I evolved.

The work was hard and challenging, but I was up to the task, and I really loved stretching out and being able to use many of my talents.

I had laid the foundation for becoming a "wheel" in the computer industry: a director or VP-level position at some startup company, perhaps even Novell.

Then <blip> it all went away. Thanks to the actions of one woman, and a community image, the course of my life was changed completely.

Volume 1: The early years 1948-1966

Volume 2: College, Army, first jobs 1966-1977

Volume 3: PC Revolutionary: Computerland, Beehive, Novell 1977-1989

Volume 4: Beginning The Great Panic: Divorce, bankruptcy, mid-life crisis 1990-1993

Volume 5: Being a Sea Cucumber 1994-1997

Volume 6: Searching for a new life, 1997-2002 (and discovering how deep the Panic Scars are)

Volume 7: Recovering from Panic Thinking 2003-2008

Volume 8: Remaking a home in the USA 2008-2010

Volume 9: Searching for positive feedback 2011-