Daily Update: My technological life Part 2
I left off yesterday at the end of my sophomore year in high school. My junior year saw me in front of an Apple ][e and the TRS80 more times than I care to count. I played games like Wizardy, Shadowkeep, Dungeons of Dagoroth, and I kept playing MUDs. I also started playing D&D and we worked up our own character roller for D&D and a separate on for MERP (Middle Earth Roll Playing).
I moved to Minneapolis my Senior year in high school. I kept going with the Apple and did some Pascal programming. It took me a while to go from programming with line numbers to programming without line numbers in a compiled language, but I wanted to learn more advanced programming so I could get into the gaming business.
It was that year I rediscovered my love of electronics during my physics class. I learned all about electronics and it just clicked. Much like programming it was something that just came to me as easy as anything else. The urge to tear things apart came back with a fury and I went to updating my Apple ][e. I also started working on developing programs for my father that he used for doing his billing at his work. They were easy, they were simple, I had a blast writing them.
But hardware took over when I joined the Navy. Computers and programming took a back seat and I was up to my elbows in hardware. In the Navy I studied electronics and excelled in my class even beyond my own expectations.
The instructor liked to challenge me because I was they type that could troubleshoot a problem in a matter of minutes. I’d see the symptom, and either jump straight to the problem or I’d half step through the process so quickly that I’d have the problem identified in five minutes or less. Only two tests took me longer. One was the final examination that was supposed to take an entire day and I completed it in around one hour. The other was a little different.
The problem started out looking like a standard issue. I half stepped, half stepped again and the symptoms changed. I started over. I half stepped and the problem was in a completely different location. I went from looking in one system, to looking in a totally different section. The instructor stood and watched me hunt and peck and get lost. Until I smelled something that just wasn’t right. That distinct smell of burnt electronics. I shut down the power to the system and started looking for smoke. I found that 4 of seven cards had been totally fried. Black marks all over. I pulled them all and to simulate a problem with the system the instructor would put a wire between two pins connecting them together. Well, what he managed to do was connect a 5Volt pin to ground. If you don’t know what that means, it means electricity, taking the most direct route, was going straight to ground with no resistance. Sure it gave me the initial symptoms that instructor wanted me to see, but with no resistance the shielding on the wire melted through and started connecting other pins along that same wire. This caused the wire to connect everything together and have stray voltage running in places it shouldn’t go.
So as I described, the problem started jumping around and some pins from one card that are connected to pins on another card all started to heat up and burn out components and caused even more issues. In about 10 minutes the system was down. Hard. It was a great problem to try and chase, but sadly we took down a multi-million dollar machine in the process.
After my Navy time I spent some time away from technology. Not by choice, but due to finances. The world moved on and I got left behind for a while.
I started to catch up after I went to ITT Tech. Again I went for electronics. I knew computers and the classes were quite easy. I wound up at Qualcomm Personal Electronics. I wound up working for a year repairing cell phones. Of course I wasn’t content just repairing phones. My hacking and programming background came back with a vengeance. I started hacking into the bios of the phone. I did this because I had a phone that I couldn’t unlock. There was a PIN on the phone and I wanted in.
I loaded the software to look at the bios and took a known good phone set a PIN with 4 numbers all the same. Then I started looking through endless lines of HEX code looking for the four matching numbers. I found what I thought was the correct memory location on the good phone, then looked in the same location on the bad phone. Presto, I didn’t have to do anything to fix the phone other than remove the PIN access code. This location moved in subsequent versions of the code, I would find it, and I kept notes of where it was with each software version. You’d be surprised how many phones got returned with PINs on them.
This did me some good when a VP of Qualcomm locked himself out of his phone. He’d been told the only way to get his phone back without the PIN was to remove a chip that basically cleared the memory of the phone. The Director came in and offered $100 dollars to anyone who could unlock the phone. Pfft, I sad I’d do it and have it back to him in less than five minutes. He said he’d make it $200 if I was able to do it that quickly.
I hooked up the phone, got the software version, looked through the BIOS, wrote down the HEX PIN, converted it to ASCII, and BAM, collected $200 for 2 minutes of work and got the rest of the day off with pay. It was the high point of my career at QPE, though I don’t regret any of my time there.
Toward the end of my time I discovered a little booklet of four or five pages entitled HTML 1.0. I’d seen alt.wesley.crusher.die.die.die.die and other usenet groups. They were difficult to circumvent and rather annoying. Then I found myself on WBS, Geocities, and other create your own website for free. Soon I found myself working for Pacific Bell and things really took a change. We’ll go more into that tomorrow!