Bio of: Neil Rieck
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- Born: 1952-09-14
- My father purchased an RCA "black + white" console TV in 1955.
- How does this box display moving pictures and sound?
- What are those
glowing reddish-orange wires inside the glass tubes seen through the
ventilation holes on the back?
- Why do the glass tubes come in different shapes and sizes?
- How does the TV Repair Man know which tube to
replace when they all appear to be glowing the same way?
- Does the signal really comes
into the TV via that flat brown twin wires coming from the antenna on the roof?
does the roof antenna have those odd looking lengths of passive metal not
connected to the flat brown wire?
- Why are all antennas in my neighborhood
- Why do some of the antennas point in different directions?
- I became infatuated with technology while watching NASA manned spacecraft
launches on TV
- I became infatuated with computing devices, including electronics, as seen
in TV movies like
The Day The Earth Stood Still
and Forbidden Planet
- My father woke me early one morning to watch the
travelling north to south (I think) as the sun was just beginning to rise.
- I became infatuated with technology and computing devices in comic books.
(How are computers capable of doing math? Does this mean machines can
- I became infatuated with computing devices seen on TV programs like
The Jetsons and
Lost in Space
- I started reading science fiction authors like
Isaac Asimov and
Arthur C. Clarke (I was introduce to these authors by friends at Forest
Heights Collegiate in Kitchener)
- Studied to become an electronics Technician/Technologist at Conestoga
- Apollo Launches I watched from Titusville Florida.
||January 31, 1971
||July 26, 1971
||April 04, 1972
||December 7, 1972
||This was a night launch. We stood in the water (with a camera and
tripod) of Indian River in Titusville Florida. (near the corner of highways US 50
and US 1 while horseshoe crabs tickled our toes.
- Hired by Bell Canada in 1973 as a "Central Office Technician" (a
non-computing job). Like everyone else, I started on "The Frame" (MFD
= Main Distribution Frame while IDF = Intermediate
Distribution Frame) . During this time I was also introduced to wiring cross
bar number groups.
- While working at Bell Canada I worried that my electronics skills would
become rusty. So between 1974-1976 I worked a part time job at a local guitar shop
called Mother's Music. The money wasn't great but I wasn't
there for that reason I was there. Instead, I received lots of
experience working on electric guitars, amplifiers, microphones, ARP synthesizers, Moog synthesizers, Melotrons, electric pianos, electronic organs,
String Ensembles, and something called
a guitorgan (played like a guitar but sounds like an organ), etc. (Thank
you Dave Boehm
for the experience. Working on the repair-bench at Mother's Music
was my finishing school)
- After doing "my duty" on "The Frame" Bell Canada moved me into a "SxS" (step-by-step electromechanical logic)
switching office. What a shock, they never talked about this in college.
- Since I had just missed the TTL and CMOS
technology revolutions in 1973-1975, I returned to community college in 1976
to learn low-level digital electronics. (What a shock: full-time final-year
students now had access to
a DEC PDP-12 which was really two DEC PDP-8 machines connected back-to-back)
- My first "hands on" computer experience was in 1977 on an
Interdata Model 70 which was a clone
of an IBM minicomputer (yes, people were cloning back then). Bell Canada as
training me as a computer-hardware technician (so we could do 24/7 self-maintenance).
You were required to learn low-level machine code in order to diagnose many
problems as well as boot the machine (does anybody remember "the 50 sequence"?). You toggled the
50-sequence into the processor using front panel lights and switches:
running this stub would allow you to load diagnostics from either
cassette-tape or 9-track tape (HP-7970C).
This was when I was first bitten by the computer bug
(not the same one that causes programs to misbehave :-)
- A friend asked me to fix an annoying key-bounce problem on his
Heathkit H9 Terminal. I agreed to fix it
free-of-charge provided he let me borrow the Heathkit H8 Computer (anyone remember Benton
Harbor BASIC?) and H9 for a month in order to learn BASIC
programming. Four weeks turned into six but this turned out to be the best
deal I've ever made. Now I was addicted. (Thank you Fred
- In the spring of 1978 I received Hewlett-Packard
hardware training in order to install and service HP7970C and HP7970E nine-track
tape-decks in our telephone switches (Northern Electric 5xB, Northern
Telecom SP-1, NTL DMS-100, NTL DMS-200, etc.)
- In the summer of 1978 Bell Canada asked me to build a custom digital
clock for use on a 5xB office (telephone
switching center) in Cambridge, Ontario. This office had been installed
without a master timer which meant that the trouble recorder could not be
used to produce time-stamped
trace evidence for legal use by the courts. The clock was pulsed from
the 60 cycle hydro line and used optical isolators to interface between the TTL circuits and the -48 Volt DC trouble-recorder field
relays. In true telephony fashion, we implemented an internal encoding system called
"2 of 5" (each digit was represented by five signals named: 0, 1, 2, 4, 7;
two signals must always be asserted in each field for the digit data to be
- In the fall of 1979 my employer asked
me to build a custom digital "ringing code monitor" (Central Office Alarm) for
use in a Northern Electric SxS (step-by-step) office in Baden, Ontario.
Frame wiring in rural offices like this one were done by field service
technicians rather than central office technicians. Field service people were
constantly leaving solder splashes on the ringing-code blocks (thus shorting
them together) and causing numerous "code-5 errors" (customer complaints
traced to the C.O.)
killing our district's stats.
After installation, whenever someone accidentally shorted the blocks an immediate audible
alarm was sounded which would alert the technician to the problem. My efforts
were an instant success.
- What are ringing-code blocks? Single-party residential lines used a
standard ringing code of 2 seconds on followed by
4 seconds off. In party lines (2, 4, or 8 customers on
one line) each telephone number was wired back to a ringing block which
would provide the coded ring assigned to that customer (everyone heard
all the rings but only one customer should have answered) . One code I
remember was "3-shorts" while another one was "one long followed by
- Visit my Telephony page to see more
about T+R and SxS
the summer of 1979 I purchased
an Apple ][ with 48K RAM, 16K Language Card, two 5.25 inch floppy drives for
over $4000 (Canadian). This enabled me to learn:
- Apple BASIC (integer based)
- Applesoft BASIC (floating point based)
- Apple 6502 Assembler and Sweet-16 (anyone remember
"CALL -151" ?) .
- Apple Pascal (a.k.a. UCSD Pascal)
- Apple FORTRAN (a.k.a. FORTRAN-77).
- Apple DOS 3.2 and 3.2.1
- 35 tracks x 13 sectors = 455 (116,480 bytes)
- "5 and 3" encoding to avoid all consecutive zero bits
- 5 data bits become 8 magnetic bits; 410 bytes are needed to store
- data -> magnetic pattern written
- 00 (lo) -> AB (10101011)
- xx AC (10101100)
which is not used
- 1F (hi) -> FF (11111111)
- Apple DOS 3.3
- 35 tracks x 16 sectors = 560 (143,360 bytes)
- "6 and 2" encoding to avoid all but one pair of consecutive zero
- 6 data bits become 8 magnetic bits; 341 bytes are needed to
store 256 bytes)
- data -> magnetic pattern written
- 00 (lo) -> 96 (10010110)
- 01 -> 97 (10010111)
- xx 98 (10011000)
is not used)
- 3F (hi) -> FF (11111111)
- Third-party tools existed to do cool things like:
- extend the number of tracks from 35 to 40
- remove DOS from tracks 1-3 to them available
for 100% data storage (prior to this, every disk is bootable)
- write data between tracks as a crude form of copy protection
(another program called
Locksmith could be used to
analyze and copy these disks anyway)
- Click Apple-2 Forever for more details
- My buddies wondered how I'd use all that
- In 1980 I started a series of community
college classes that resulted in learning HP-BASIC and COBOL-68 on an HP-3000
minicomputer. Many of these classes were taught by programmers from the
local insurance industry. Many thanks to Mike Purdle.
- I was "very" fortunate to have received
DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) training at their schools in:
- Kanata, Ontario (100 Herzberg Road; just west of Ottawa)
- Hull, Quebec (just East of Ottawa)
- Bedford, Massachusetts (20 Crosby Drive). Just north-west of Boston on
- Maynard, Massachusetts (129 Parker Street). West of Boston
On hardware device which include...
- 16-bit processors: PDT-11/150, PDP-11/04, PDP-11/23,
PDP-11/34, PDP-11/44, PDP-11/73, PDP-11/84
- 32-bit processors: VAX-11/730, VAX-11/750, uVAX-3500,
uVAX-3800, uVAX-4300, VAX-6430
- disk drives: RX01/02, RK05, RK06, RK07, RP04/05/06,
RL01/02, RA60, RA80/81
- tape drives: TU16, TE16, TU80, TU58
- printers: LA50, LA120, LP05, LP25
- communication interfaces: DL-11, DZ-11, DH-11, DELQA
- special hardware: CB-11, PCL-11, DT-07, KFQSA, KZQSA
- this training stint was over a 12
year period between 1981 and 1993
- I've worked on a lot more stuff than listed above (including
Alpha-2100, Alpha-4100, Alpha Server DS20e, etc.)
- you haven't lived the techie life
until you've done a head alignment on an RP06 disk drive. This thing was
the size of a Maytag washer, had 19 heads and was only good for 200 megabytes.
If you ever forgot to take off your wrist watch, it would be pooched as
soon as you moved your hand near the head-positioning magnet. The heads had to
be laterally adjusted to within 200 micro inches while flying 35 micro inches
above the pack surface (why didn't the Yanks ever go metric?)
- In 1982 I bought a clone Z80 card for
my Apple ][ (Apple 2) to get hands-on experience with CP/M-80 and the "8080/Z80 assembler".
Does anyone remember using PIP (Peripheral Interchange Program) to copy files
in CP/M? (This program had the same name in DEC's RSX-11M operating system)
- I received my first exposure to RSX-11M
when I landed a job doing hardware maintenance on a medium sized PDP-11/44 based
- I bought an Apple Macintosh in May of 1984 (the first year they came
out) for three reasons:
- to learn 68K assembler
- to experience what I thought was
the world's first GUI-OS
- it was obvious that Apple was going out of their way to not develop
the still very popular Apple-2
(In hind site I can now see that Apple had changed from a cool
engineering company to a money-grubbing marketing company. Why is it
that "the suits" come in and think they can improve things when they
really don't have a clue? Don't believe me? Just take a look at the
Apple-III which was
designed by committee run by "the suits")
- I received my first exposure to UNIX (BSD
4.2) when I landed a job in 1984 doing hardware maintenance of a system which
consisted of two PDP-11/44 processors running UNIX and one PDP-11/44 processor
running RSX-11M. Processor inter-communications took place over a PCL-11 (Processor
Communications Link) while peripheral devices were connected using a DT-07 Unibus
switch. A very cool setup for 1984.
- In 1986 I bought a 286 clone just to
get experience with MS-DOS based systems. How many of you ever worked on MS-DOS
2.0? At this time I also did some Motorola 6809 embedded design work for Bell
Canada. The code was written and cross assembled on the 286 then blasted to
a 2732 EPROM.
- In 1987 I landed a corporate job programming
in VAX-BASIC on both VAX-11/730 and VAX-11/750 processors which were later migrated
to a dual VAX-8550 cluster (one of the first in Canada). The 8550 was
connected to two HSCs (Hierarchical Storage Controllers) which were
connected to 32 shadowed RA-80 disk drives. I learned DCL the hard way the
leaned how to write code in MACRO-32 and then call it (as well as VMS
run-time library routines) from VAX-BASIC. This was also my first
exposure to packet networking. We used Ethernet, DECnet, LAT (Local Area
Transport), MOP, and CSSI (Computer Storage Services Inteconnect).
- In 1988 I upgraded my Macintosh to a
larger Macintosh SE. The only reason for this was to get more memory and a big
20 Meg hard drive so I could load and learn MacPascal and Lightspeed-C
- On 1988-Oct-08 I had the privilege to attend a Carl Sagan lecture at
Convocation Hall, University of Toronto. Wow! What an impression he made on
everyone by focusing more attention on the younger people of the audience.
(one kid asked "how do I become an astronaut?" Carl answered "very few
people actually fly in space but many thousands of scientists are involved
in space-related research. Go into science and you life will be more
- I traded up my MacSE to a Macintosh
LC around 1989 (the first Mac really should have been a color machine. What
was Apple thinking?)
- In 1989 I acquired another job programming
as well as maintaining (yes, a hardware and software job) a pair of VAX-11/750.
- In 1991 we moved our corporate application
to a uVAX-3500 which was then upgraded to a uVAX-3800.
- In 1992 our corporate application was
migrated to a uVAX-4300. Of course this lead to more hardware and software training at DEC:
- Hull, Quebec (just East of Ottawa)
- Bedford, Massachusetts (20 Crosby Drive). Just north-west of
Boston on Rte 128
- Maynard, Massachusetts (129 Parker Street). West of Boston
- In 1993 I became SynOptics certified
to work on Ethernet and Token Ring networks. I did the whole TCP/IP, SNMP, RIP/EGP/BGP
- Also in 1993, I did some free-lance
work designing a 68HC11 based controller for a ground-source heat-pump. The code was developed on my Mac using
the uASM cross assembler from Micro Dialects. The printed circuit board layout was done using McCad from Vamp.
here for more info. (Many thanks to
Dave Hatherton for the experience.)
- In 1994 I traded up my Macintosh LC
to a Macintosh Centris 610
- I built a two messaging system between my uVAX-4300 and the ARDIS radio
network (based upon a Motorola DataTAC radio). I did all the VAX-VMS work
while Bell Mobility did the radio side. (our technicians were using an
HP-100 PDA wired to a DataTAC to receive/acknowledge/close work tickets)
- In 1995 I bought a 100 MHz Patriot 486
(an IBM Blue Thunder 486 clone chip on an IBM Microelectronics
Mother Board) to:
- use with Turbo-C so I can do my
C/C++ college programming assignments (I'm just an evening student)
- run a Whitesmiths-C development
package (from Intermetrics Microsystems) for a 68HC11 based controller
for a ground-source heat-pump.
Here are some details
- run a copy of personal Oracle 7
so I can learn SQL
I now live in a dual computing-technology household.
- In 1995 I signed up with and Ontario ISP called
Hookup Inc. I'm now on the net (via dialup) and I've got my own home page.
At this time the Internet is just a plaything for scientists and computer
- I acquired a DEC-C++ compiler for my VAX at work. Our applications are
still written in VAX-BASIC but compute intensive routines will be moved to
C++ and called from VAX-BASIC. I also acquired a GNU-C compiler just for hacking purposes.
- In 1996 our over loaded uVAX-4300 would periodically crash and no amount
of tuning would help. We upgraded the OS from VMS 5.5 to OpenVMS 6.2 and now
its rock solid. Digital really knows how to build an OS.
- In 1997 I took over maintenance of:
UNIX wise, it now looks like I'm back
in the thick of things...
- ten Sun SPARC 5's (Solaris 2.5.1)
- three Sun Ultra 170's (Solaris 2.5.1)
- six HP-9000's (HP-UX-10.2)
- five DEC Alpha 4100's (Digital UNIX
- three 486 based industrial boxes
- In 1998 we moved or corporate application
from our uVAX-4300 to a VAX-6420. (Our department is cheap so we bought a used
- I returned to community college to attend
an advanced Microsoft Access 97 course from a professional instructor (you can
learn it on your own, but you'll never get a handle on the gazillion features
of this product unless you learn them from someone else; Who would have thought
that Microsoft needed to include 22 tool bars just to present everything to
- In 1999 I purchased a new Windows-98
based system for home use. I had a local integrator build a system consisting
of the following:
- ASUS P2B main board featuring an
Intel 440BX chip set running at 100 MHz
- 350 Mhz Intel Pentium-II with 64
Meg of SDRAM
- 8 Meg ATI Rage Pro graphics adapter
- Lectron 56K V.90 modem (ISA based)
featuring the Cirrus CL-MD56xx chip set (an internal hardware based modem;
not a WinModem or SoftModem)
- 8.4 Gig hard drive, 40x CD-ROM,
100 Meg internal IOMega ZIP drive (IDE-ATAPI based), 3.5 " floppy drive
- all in an ATX case with an ATX power
supply (not as common a combination as one would think)
- The usual el-cheapo stuff:
By the way, I sold both the Macintosh
Centris 610 and the Patriot 486 to help fund the purchase. (It seems I have
been totally assimilated by the BORG from Redmond, Washington but who cares?
As long as I have a reliable on ramp to the internet)
- Advanced Logic sound card (PCI
- PureData 36 bit Scanner
- Lexmark 1100 Inkjet Printer
- Bell Canada's Sympatico division finally
offered 1-Meg high speed internet in my neighborhood and I was the first kid
on the block to sign up.
- In 1999 our over loaded VAX-6420 would
periodically bog down and tuning would not help. We upgraded the OS from OpenVMS
6.2 to OpenVMS 7.2 and now it's rock solid. Compaq (formerly Digital) really
knows how to build an OS. We also bought a used CPU module in order to upgrade
to a VAX-6430 (this machine can support up to 6 CPUs)
- In December of 1999 I was asked to attempt
the port some OpenVMS apps from 32-bit VAX to 64-bit Alpha. Click
VAX to Alpha Porting Diary for the hairy details.
While the rest of you were waiting for Y2K to destroy the world I was
tweaking VMS-BASIC compiler optimization switches.
- Hardware Maintenance Summary for this decade (199x):
processors (all 32-bit VAX machines):
VAX-11/730, VAX-11/750, uVAX-3500, uVAX-3900, uVAX-4300, VAX-6430
storage: RA80, RA81, RA60, BA565, HSD05,
- As of 2010-01-01
- I'm still developing commercial applications for OpenVMS on Alpha
- On the home front, my wife and I own two PC's based upon Intel's Core i7 860 CPU (2.8
GHz) which do various forms of scientific
analysis when we aren't using them (they are never turned off). They
primarily support folding@home via Graphics Cards as well as Rosetta-at-Home and
POEM-at-Home via BOINC
- In 2010-08-xx I was approached to build a SOAP interface into my OpenVMS
systems (will connect between Waterloo, Ontario and
Montreal, Quebec). After setting up a preliminary demo solution employing AXIS2 under
Apache Tomcat, a better solution was achieved using gSOAP. Click here to
see my notes.
- 2011: More work with gSOAP
- achieved Shodan (first Black Belt) in GoJu Ryu
Karate and Classical Kobudo
- More work with gSOAP
- Worked on a corporate VAX hardening project
- we moved from ten VAX platforms (running VMS-5-5.2) to ten
DL-385 running Windows Server Edition 2008 and Charon-VAX
- inter-platform DECnet connections (banned on the new network)
were replaced with DECnet tunnels via TCPware
- Both Telnet and FTP were secured via SSH
- SNA-LU6.2 was replaced with Java
- Discovered and fixed a serious bug in
OpenSSL for OpenVMS affecting
program c_client.c (used in the OpenSSL CLI used to
- Discovered a bug in the MOD() function of
- Wrote a commercial web-based application (employing AJAX, HP-BASIC,
and RMS) for my employer
- Used FireBug (a FireFox plugin) and YSlow to debug commercial Apache
- Installed MariaDB for OpenVMS into our systems
(MariaDB is an alternate fork of MySQL). Wrote some
apps in C to access them.
Kitchener - Waterloo - Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.