Mick's Autobiog

The Most Important Day in My Life

 

Chapter 1:

The New Liberty Magazine

When I was about 10 years of age, I was walking with a friend when a man in a green Rambler Ambassador station wagon stopped beside us and asked if we wanted to earn some money. This was the early 1950s and at that time it was still OK for strangers to do that. He was recruiting kids to sell “The New Liberty Magazine” door to door. I ran home and asked mother - she said OK. When I got a bit frustrated with it mother suggested that I keep track of customers so I could go back the next month for a repeat sale. I eventually got quite a business going. You earned coupons depending on sales, and there was a prize book.

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I suppose many boys would go for the baseball glove, or the Roy Rogers twin gun sets, or the fishing kit, or whatever. I saw the ChemCraft Chemistry Set at the bottom left hand side of a page and immediately felt "I have got to have that". I do not know why that caught the interest of this 10-year old but it sure did. Of course it was the 1950s. Television was new. All of the ad's on TV featured men in white lab coats. Science and technology was king in those days.

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Chemistry became my hobby right through my teen years. Whatever job I had – selling magazines, delivering newspapers, delivering for the drug store, whatever – supported my hobby. By the time I got to grade 9 and grade 12 which had Chemistry as the science, I had done all of the experiments. And I will not deny soaking cheap balsa wood airplanes in methyl hydrate, lighting them up and throwing them at night. My friend Richard, who was Irish, knew how to hammer the end of a pipe flat to make a pipe gun. I knew how to make gunpowder using charcoal, potassium nitrate and sulphur from the formula in the Books of Knowledge so smartly provided by my parents, and how to make a wick by soaking cotton string in potassium nitrate solution. So there we were, two boys out east of the city, along the river, shooting fish. Well, truth be told we did not even come close to the river much less to any fish. And fortunately we did not shoot ourselves or each other.

The most exciting event for this teenage scientist was when the Russians put up the Sputnik in 1957 ...

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An important consequence of all this was that I was motivated throughout my youth to succeed at school. I never went through that “I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up” phase. I always new right from about age 10 that I wanted to be a scientist. Later when I failed grade eleven and then also first year university, I just kept going anyway.

This one incident, that station wagon man, is responsible for putting me on the path to my whole success in life. That day was the most important day of my life.

Chapter 2

Grade 9 Math Surprise

I had never been an academically bright student. My recollection of elementary school is that the girls in the class who knew how to underline titles in red got all the high marks. All of my elementary school report cards said the same thing, “Mickey’s spelling is bad, his writing is worse and he has to learn to pay attention in class”. I always got 50 in arithmetic – I suspect that my grade was actually less and they said “Well, Mickey passed everything else so let’s give him 50 and let him go through”.

OK, so I am in grade 9 now. This is high school. The math teacher comes into the room, an Irish guy name of Mr Boron. First thing he said is “I know you have all heard that Algebra is hard, but it is not so do not worry”. Well, whenever they say things like this they are lying, right? Before that moment I had never heard the word Algebra, and in that moment I had no clue what this was all about. I just knew that it was going to be hard.

It did not take long to figure it out. I never had an easier school subject. All you had to do to solve any problem was move stuff from one side of the equals sign to the other and change the sign. That was the first “A” that I ever got in school. Cool.

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So it worked out math was my best subject through high school, along with chemistry and other sciences. This gets a fair bit of respect which I was not accustomed to. Algebra in grades 9, 10, 12 and 13, geometry in grade 11, and algebra, analytic geometry and trigonometry in grade 13. All was good until that trigonometry. This was 1960. No computers, not even calculators. You had to solve the problem which was easy because it was just more algebra. But then you had to get the answer by looking up fine print tables in the back of the book and do arithmetic. The horrors of elementary school math all over again. I passed, but it did keep me out of writing the provincial math test and having a shot at glory.

Being reasonably good at math was an important part of my life.

Chapter 3

Failed Grade Eleven

For grade eleven my parents wanted me to go to a different high school. The one in the neighborhood had a very high reputation, and it did not have the extra tuition fees that the Catholic high school had. I was lost. I did not understand anything. I did not pass that year.

I went back to the old school and paid the tuition from my own pocket. I did homework three to five hours every night. It was better than watching TV. It moved me closer to my life goal. I learned to work hard at academic stuff, something I had to do to pass. It gave me the tools I needed to survive and succeed in the rest of my schooling. I did quite well in grades 12 and 13 – good enough to get into university.

Because of the road that it put me on, failing grade 11 was an important part of my life.

Chapter 4

Failed First Year University

My ambition was to be a chemist or a chemical engineer. I chose first year science rather than engineering as rumor had it that, while the science was a hard program, the engineering was brutal. In science we had thirty hours a week, compared to the 16 hours a week that the arts students had. That was four, three-hour labs [chemistry, physics, geology and zoology] plus three hours of classes in each of those four subjects, plus three hours each of calculus and English literature. In retrospect, I suspect that I easily had the intellectual ability to handle that work. But, as in grade 11, emotionally and psychologically it was just not possible. I put in a huge effort but passed only the three easy courses: calculus, chemistry and physics. Physics was my highest mark.

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The next year I registered in first year business. My reasoning was that since I could not now follow my dream I may as well prepare myself for a job. This led me to an interest in economics. The Economics 20 professor spent at least a week of classes trying to explain the marginal cost curve. For a guy with calculus it was almost trivial – the first derivative of the cost curve – and since you know the math you know immediately all of the implications. A new program was rumored to be starting, a four year honors program in math and economics. The rumor said that the graduates would be in high demand and be very well paid. Not wanting to get into another honors program like first year science, but wanting to get in on a good thing, I decided to do a three year general degree majoring in math and economics.

This was a good decision. With the math major I was still registered in the College of Science, and that allowed me some years later to register with Graduate Studies in the MSc Computer Science program, followed by a Ph.D. program in the School of Engineering.

Because of the road that it put me on, failing first year at university was an important part of my life.

Chapter 5

80-Column Computer Cards

It is my penultimate year at university. It is 1964. I am walking across the campus. Some guy crosses my path – he has a stack of 80-column computer cards in his back pocket. It was probably not as hi-tech as I felt in the moment - he was probably just a graduate psychology student taking data on his lab rats to the computing center. My feeling now about that moment is that I had never before, like the word algebra, ever heard the word “computer”. But at that time it caught me just like the chemistry set. “I have got to have that”.

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Back then one of the requirements for a general BA was to have a lab science credit - it was considered an important part of being educated. I asked at the registrar’s office to have a Computer Science course count for my lab science requirement even though it was not a traditional "lab" science. Although I had passed calculus, chemistry and physics in first year they did not count, as in those days you had to pass at least four courses to get any credit at all. But in principle I had lab science education so they let me do it.

During the summer I studied the course calendar, focusing on all the possible Computer Science courses. I went to the Computer Science department and talked to one of the professors about CS 31, a business computer programming course featuring COBOL. Being a pragmatic guy, since I could not do what I wanted – that is to be a scientist – I would prepare myself for a good, well-paying job.

That day when that guy with the stack of computer cards walked by, that was an important day in my life.

Chapter 6

Computer Science 200A

It is registration day. I approach the Computer Science table. The professor looks at my registration card, sees CS31 on the card and sees that I have two math courses. I am double-majoring in math and economics, and looking at this business computer science course to round out my professional, business credentials. This is the professor for the CS200A section, the most difficult introductory Computer Science class. It is part of the advanced, 4-year honors program. He looks at me, changes my card to CS200A, and says “With all that math, you want to be in my class”. My weak protestations are ignored by this good man.

The first couple of weeks of the class I am a lost soul. I don’t understand anything. I sit at the back and hide. He gives an assignment. I haven’t a clue. I come to class empty handed. I ask the guy next to me to show me what he did. I look at his page and my response is “Oh, is that all there is to it?” Just like the algebra. I am in. It was hard work of course. But that professor hired me at the end of the year. I worked for the CS department for six years as a computer programmer, then for the college as a professor for twenty-six years. Life could not have been much better.

That day when the professor changed my registration card, that was an important day in my life.

Chapter 7

Getting Started in Computer Programming

I took my first computer programming course in my final year at university in 1965. The professor hired me and I worked for the Computer Science Dept for 6 years. The two biggest projects were lead programmer on the team that wrote a COBOL compiler, and the design and construction of an interrupt driven OS for a PDP-8/I computer. That COBOL compiler was actually what we called an interpreter, so it was the same idea as the Java system - the compiler generated a list and the next phase executed the program by interpreting the list. The OS for the PDP-8/I was the same idea as the THE Multiprogramming System designed by Edsger W. Dijkstra in the same time frame.

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Another very interesting project was designing a programming system to allow AI [Artificial Intelligence] students to program the PDP-8/I computer to control a Mechano Set robot built by one of the professors. Very cool stuff. We painted a section of the computer room floor like a checker board; the robot had a sensor on the bottom and three wheels driven by individual motors with the front wheel steerable. Another project was writing a set of routines in assembly language to speed up processing of Fortran coded Computer Aided Instruction [CAI] programs on a DEC System 10 computer.

In the 70s I was an invited speaker at a Learned Societies conference at Carlton University, Ottawa Canada, and published a Technical Report on the operating system work.

Those ten years at the university, 4 as a student and 6 as an employee, were important years of my life, and set me up well for the following decades.

Chapter 8

From University to College

A good friend once commented to me that there is not much better in life than teaching what you love. I most heartily agree. I taught computer programming at the community college for 26 years.

It is 1972. I have been working for the Computer Science Department for almost six years as a computer programmer. This is a great job, perfect for me. I love the work; and hey, this is an extension of the 60s – life is free and easy, just what I need. I am reading a publication of the head of the department. I note the curriculum vitae at the back. This man has worked for many institutions including National Research Council of Canada [NRC], and never stayed at any of them for more than about five years. He has been here for about ten. My conclusion: he will be leaving soon. My job here very much depends on him - time to get out of here.

My next older brother was a full time student at the Community College in the School of Business. One of his courses was introductory computer programming using PL1, so I would occasionally go to his place and help him with his homework. He said to me one time that they were looking for teachers. I applied. I got the job. I taught at the college for 26 years. The first three years were very difficult, but by then I had the hang of it as I had developed a successful personal teaching style. The best place for me to be for the next quarter century was teaching what I loved at that college.

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That day talking with my brother, that was an important day in my life.

Chapter 9

A Quarter Century of Teaching

My specialty has from the beginning been machine and assembly language programming. That is what we learned in the CS200 course - flowcharting, machine language and assembly language, with the final project in a high level language - ALGOL 68. Later in the 80s we called it "programming to the metal", getting around the bugs in the board-level hardware on those early PCs. I published a couple of articles on those topics in Windows Developers Journal in the mid 90s. Of course I had to learn all the old high level languages in order to teach them [COBOL, PL1, BASIC, Visual Basic, C, Pascal, whatever]. And I had some fun programming microcontrollers such as the M68HC11. It was all a good time.

At the end I had all my courses on the internet. I had a high speed internet connection - back then you got a fixed IP address and there was only one speed - blazingly fast. I had WinNT Server running at home and students uploaded their assignments directly to my home using FTP. We made extensive use of e-mail for questions etc, all course outlines, exam prep guides, lesson outlines, assignment sheets, grades, etc were on my secure at-home website, all coded up with HTML. I ran a time server to keep the system board clock accurate as one of the evaluation criteria for student assignments was submission by a specific time. At the suggestion of one of the students I started up a chat server that the students could use. The first year students were learning Visual BASIC.

In 1997, the last summer that I was teaching, I ran an HTML course for the second year students and a Java course for the 3rd year students. We all learned it together. They loved it. Although the internet had been around since ARPANET in the 60s, these were the early days of the World Wide Web, and all that knowledge got them good jobs. This was an exciting time. A huge amount of work for me but I loved it. It is mostly all still up and running on my current website at http://www.freewebs.com/mdawdy [Click on Professor]. I coded this website in straight HTML back then, and have since added some parts, including this biograph, using various versions of MS Word from 97 on.

That quarter century of teaching at the Community College was the best years of my life.

Chapter 10

A Day in the Park

Victoria Park is the real center of culture and what’s goin’ on in my home town, especially in summer. Local bands playing, festivals going on, etc. There is always something. Nothin’ to do? Just go to Victoria Park and hang out.

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This day there is a music festival going on and i run into a family member there. We had not seen each other for a while so we talk and get caught up. He has his Black Belt and his own martial arts school. The building is a bit run down so I volunteer to help with painting, drywall repair, plumbing, whatever. I am 54 and concerned about what my physical condition might be 20 years hence. I need to do something. I do not do well with running. Bicycling is too dangerous. Martial Arts looks pretty cool. It would be nice to someday retire, have a Black Belt, and teach Karate. So eventually I start training.

A year later I do retire; another year or so goes by and I am far enough along to do some teaching. Eventually I am teaching full time and at one time or another doing each of the classes: Little Dragons, juniors and adults. I loved all of it. It was hard work, frustrating at times, but overall a good part of life.

During three years of teaching Little Dragons, six students worked their way right up to Little Dragons Black Belt - at this school that is getting close to adult Purple. Many more worked up to high belt levels. All of them learned stuff that would make their lives better forever. We did not teach just punching and kicking. Every class ended with a discussion of an important philosophy as it affects their life: honesty, integrity, courtesy, respect, courage, helping at home, and much more. We must have had a hundred topics like these.

It was genuinely wonderful to look at those faces, to see through those eyes and into those child spirits, to watch them grow as people as they grew physically, especially those six that earned their Black. It fills me with joy to this day just thinking about it.

Training and teaching martial arts is one of the best things that I have done in my life.

Chapter 11

Life Goes On

I retired in 1998, and for the ensuing years my focus has been on things other than computers - my home, my "Forest Edge Meadow", martial arts, hiking, photography, and my motorcycles - especially the IronHeads. Here are a few short videos ...

 

Summertime In My Meadow

 

1978 Harley Davidson IronHead Sportster
 75th Anniversary Edition

A Charity Motorcycle Ride That I Lead

 

I bought my first motorcycle in 1993 and my first IronHead in 2004. I found the IronHead forum at www.XLForum.net early on, made significant contributions, and after a few years was appointed to the moderator position of the IronHead forum. With the help of good forum friends I have completely refurbished two IronHeads and helped many other forum members refurbish theirs. My work on the forum is a simple extension of my teaching, and I love it equally.

There is lots of info about these hobbies elsewhere on this website. And now I am getting back into computer programming and loving it.

Even with all that hi-tech computer stuff years ago I did not learn much Java, or for that matter any object oriented concepts. I did become somewhat familiar with the terminology, but the students learned far more than did I. I have never been a high level or abstract thinker, hence the machine and assembly language preference and teaching at college rather than university. Learning C with all its data types, data type rules, strange syntax, libraries, abstractions, etc was far more difficult for me than learning what I viewed to be a simple CPU. But hey, I do still have my t-shirt from the 1997 Java World Tour in Toronto Canada - "Write Once, Run Anywhere."

So I am a complete beginner with Android, with Java, and with the eclpise/ADT and Android Studio IDEs. It has been difficult as I do not accept abstract stuff easily, but I am getting along well and enjoying it immensely.

It had been more than a dozen years since I had put down any code - but my enthusiasm has always been my most important characteristic. This is interesting stuff. I have done many things in my life, but this computer programming is the only one that I have gone back to. The world has moved on while I have been doing other things. Perhaps I'll catch up, at least a little.

Being the IronHead forum moderator and getting into Android programming is the best choice for me at this time of my life.

Chapter 12

From Now On

So, did I realize my childhood dream? Well yes! I did not become a chemist but I did become a scientist – a computer scientist to be precise. Having a goal in life, especially one that requires dedication to achieve, is very important. Equally important is having the ability to shift the goal as life circumstances evolve. I am a scientist and since my childhood have always been such. It is inherent in the way that I think and in the way that I view the world, and has always been so – perhaps even before that chemistry set.

Mick

Update, March 2015: I now have two apps in the Google Play Store J

Mobile Data Toggle

HTML Spy II