I'm lucky to still have my father around. He was too young for WWII. He did his time as a cold warrior in the 50's and 60's in the Army Security Agency. He described one of his duties as "dressing up in East German workers gear, packing a '45, and slipping across the border" [going East]. He was doing electronics things - tapping phone lines and such.
When the Berlin wall went up, he was in friendly territory on communications duty. He received the first communications from Berlin about the wall going up. After decoding the messages, he would encrypt them again with different keys for transmission to the Pentagon and, in this case, the White house. He was the first military or government person outside of Berlin to know about the wall going up.
A bunch of people were on leave when it happened. He said he had to stay up, awake, and on duty for five days straight (as in 24 hours awake for five days solid). When I was quite a bit younger than I am now, I tried to bead his record but only made it four days.
He ended up a teacher rather than an engineer, and I've never met a more resourceful and clever person than him, nor anyone with more integrity. He totally had the knack and passed, at least some of it, down to me.
It just struck me that my dad was born in 1915, which is almost 100 years ago. He passed just after Christmas 2000 (we all got to see the new millennium in together) -- he was 84 and I was 1/2 his age at 42, which seemed sort of symbolic, which is why I left my job and formed my own company with a couple of friends.
My Dad is still with us, but unfortunately we don't expect him to see another Christmas. 92 years old and deteriorating fast. He was a radio operator on the RCAF Halifax bombers during WW2.
He wrote his memoirs a few years ago (I had never known my Dad was an unsung writer). One of the war stories he finally revealed was an incident during his flight training. He used to get airsick, so to avoid washing out he would go into the restroom a few minutes before flight time and make himself vomit.
One day his name was called for the next flight, one of his buddies replied "Ed's in the can." So they called the next man on the list. My Dad came out and his buddy said "You were supposed to be on that flight." Then the plane took off, lost a motor, and plummeted into the ground. That's why my Dad titled his memoirs "Living on Borrowed Time."
He used to bring home one-shot telemetry units from the air drogues used for training, full of neat parts and miniature vacuum tubes soldered onto phenolic PCBs (FR4 was unheard of back then). I took them apart, and Dad built a workbench out of plywood for me - child sized, two towers on each side supporting a platform. The towers were full of compartmentalized drawers for storing resistors, capacitors, inductors.
Around the time I was 6 or 7 (mid to late 60's), we had a basement that - well, looked a lot like my garage. I was full of boxes and shelves of parts. I still have a few of the transistors and diodes from way back then.
My dad also had a CIE home electroncis course that I would read through now and then just for fun. After 2nd grade, we moved across the country and, aside from those transistors, the CIE books and all the parts got left behind.
I was told that when I was about 18 months old and my dad was out of town, the heater wouldn't light. So my mother called my uncle for help. When he couldn't fix it, I jabbered something unintelligable and my sister translated by saying "he said to push that button." My uncle pushed the button and the heater fired right up.
At around 3 years old I started disassembling things and one of my parents said to the other "he's one of those." Neither of them had any idea what to do with me. I guess it could be said that my father helped me by being my guinnea pig.
He tried to dissuede me from taking physics because he had found it to be extremely difficult. So my motivation was to prove him wrong, which I did.
My dad was my cheering section. He was totally baffled by the things that I did, but he always cheered me on. I really miss my cheering section.
@JimWilliams57: My dad was my cheering section. He was totally baffled by the things that I did, but he always cheered me on. I really miss my cheering section.
My dad wasn't an overly effusive man -- more of a quite, steady presence -- but he always let me know he was proud of me (even though, like your dad, he didn't really understand exactly what it was that I do).
As an aside, my mom emailed me this morning to say: "Dearest Clive, I've just been reading some of the responses to your wonderful blog. Dad would have been really proud of you."
Even her just saying this made me feel really good.
@jimwilliams57: You are a lucky man to still have your mother.
I am indeed -- she'll be 84 this year and is in good health -- her mind is like a trap and her memory is so good that sometimes she remembers things that haven't even happened yet. She's a member of a reading club and all sorts of other clubs -- always out and about -- she bought herself a Smart Car (or similar) last year -- so she's constantly jetting around Sheffield (you can tell where she's been by observing people extracting themselves from bushes or climbing down out of trees :-)
Ahh, my Dad. He had a huge influence on me, for sure! He dropped out of high school and joined the Army during the Korean war and sustained some non-combat injuries. He was the kind of guy who was always tinkering or building something. Of course, I loved to help him and he let me do a lot of things with power tools; pretty thrilling for a small boy!
He would also bring gizmos home from the paper plant where he worked (and retired from). Most of these things were discarded/scrap industrial control panels and such - I had a LOT of fun tearing those things apart!
He lived to 72 and has been wandering the Cosmos for the past 20 years - I do miss his home-spun wisdom every day!
"In the high and far-off times", I had a gig as an assistant professor at a large university. One day a student asked me an interesting question: "How did you learn to debug things?"
I hadn't really given this much thought before, but after thinking a bit it dawned on me that if was probably because of all the detective novels I had read as a teenager. In particular, the policier or "police procedural" is a great model for debugging: an anomaly (a crime) has occurred. First, you try to reproduce the bug ("reënact the crime"). Then you go about interviewing all the possible witnesses (i.e., check the values of signals and/or variables) and you must always assume that they may be lying to you. Don't fall in love with a solution too quickly -- the problem (or perpetrator) could be something (or someone) you've never heard of -- the "J.P. McGillicuddy" of The Naked City (1948). Above all, debugging needs to be a slow, methodical process. If you try to hurry it, you'll miss something important.
It was Dad who introduced me to detective novels: tough private detectives created by Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, and Dashiel Hammett, as well as policiers starring Maigret. We both discovered Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö when we saw The Laughing Policeman (1973): they wrote a series of what are IMO the best police procedurals ever. They are slow and methodical, lots of details, lots of dead ends, but they sure get you into the right mind-set for debugging.
So that was a gift my still-living non-engineer art-historian father gave me long ago, along with many others including an appreciation for aesthetics, a love of movies, and a sense of humor. These are all vital necessities as far as I'm concerned, and none can be assigned a monetary value.
My dad was, like Max's, not at all technically inclined. But I also got so much from him. He did encourage my obsession with electronics - he worked at Burroughs Machines and would bring me old PCBs and other bits that the techies gave him, that got me started off. He paid for me to attend an evening electronics class while I was still at school - I got an electronics certificate before I did my final school exams. He was a keen writer and made sure I had a good command of English, something for which I am eternally grateful. He wrote a story called "Registration Blues" about getting me and my two sisters' births registered - for mine he could not remember my mother's birthday and for my middle sister she put his profession as certified accountant (instead of chartered accountant) for which he never forgave her. They both went to register my younger sister! I hope my mom still has a copy of the book it was published in.... But most of all he gave me a sense of values - something that seems lacking in so many of the kids of today. My dad died in 1986, of a brain tumour. I still miss him heaps.
Max - what happend to your uncle Pug after the war??
@David: Max - what happend to your uncle Pug after the war??
He became the manager of the Prince of Wales Theatre in London. His wife -- my auntie Mary -- appeared in a couple of films -- just small parts -- she's one of the ladies walking around in the background of the fair scene in Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang.
He was a clever guy -- he was a recognized book-binder by Sotherby's -- when he came to family parties in Sheffield, he'd spend Saturday going round local junk antique shops -- he's return to London with a car boot stuffed full of old books.
When he passed away, I went down to London with my partents for the funeral. The reception afterwards was "interesting" to say the least -- there were a wide variety of folks from all realms of show business, including a guy who was a clown at a circuis who persuaded everyone -- including the vicar -- to take their shoes and socks off so he could prove he had the nicest feet ... and that's when things started to get strange...
@Betajet: So that was a gift my still-living non-engineer art-historian father gave me long ago, along with many others including an appreciation for aesthetics, a love of movies, and a sense of humor.
Let's not forget your legendary good looks :-)
These are all vital necessities as far as I'm concerned, and none can be assigned a monetary value.
Wow!! I'd already heard about Max's dad being a dancer before WWII, but the whole story is much more impressive than I though. Now we can understand a little better the personality of "ours truly": half an engineer + half an artist ;-)
By the way... when is Father's Day in the USA? In Spain we celebrate this day on 19th March.
@Betajet mentioned... "....and a sense of humor." Too right. My dad introduced me to Goon shows - which I love to this day - and other British humor (being English, he would have called it humour :-) I'm eternally grateful for that too. He taught me to laugh at myself too, which is a very useful thing to be able to do....you can poke a lot of fun without offending anyone.
Got a good exposure to engineering from my Dad -- he did not have the benefit of going to a larger school, and had majored in history -- He eventually after retiring from the national park service, started a company that designed museum's and exhibits among other things. There while working as general help, I got exposure to making blue-prints of the plans for them -- he also was kind enough to let me take apart old radio's that he aquired. Through his work he showed what the past was like to millions of museum visitors -- and I even stopped at one of the museums we had worked on together on the way to his memorial service -- everything was so well built, the exhibits all looked just like when we had put them on the truck to go there 25+ years earlier for the opening.
My fathers influence was brief and strong. In my second semester of Community College I vocalized to him that I was doubting this whole college thing. I suggested I might just start working. He said "Okay, start paying rent tomorrow." The exchange quickly concluded with me saying I'd be up in my room studying.
And the rest is history, as they say. Thanks, dad.
@C VanDorne: I suggested I might just start working. He said "Okay, start paying rent tomorrow."
LOL -- that sounds like my mom -- in England you could leave school at 16 (after your O-Level exams) and start work, or you could leave school at 18 (after your A-Level exams) and start work, or you could go on to university.
I had some friends who were planning on leaving school at 16 -- their argument is that they would get a headstart in he workplace over the people who stayed on at school to get more education.
I told my mom -- she said "That's a GREAT idea... you're NOT doing it" ... end of conversation LOL
My dad was a medical doctor (3 months retired) and is one of the smartest people I know. I myself am an Electrical Engineer but until now I've never deeply considered his impact on my life despite having completely different professions. I'll have to write down my findings and present it to him for fathers day next year.
NASA's Orion Flight Software Production Systems Manager Darrel G. Raines joins Planet Analog Editor Steve Taranovich and Embedded.com Editor Max Maxfield to talk about embedded flight software used in Orion Spacecraft, part of NASA's Mars mission. Live radio show and live chat. Get your questions ready.
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