Tech Support During Computing’s Jurassic Era

This is a true story. These events actually happened during June of 1977. There’s little (no) chance that Steven Spielberg will find the storyline worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, though. Please enjoy!

To set the time and place better, let’s explore what was going on in the summer of 1977. Rod Stewart had Billboard’s #1 song of the year, “Tonight’s the Night.” “Margaritaville” was brand new that year, too! Annie Hall, Star Wars, and Smokey and the Bandit were big summer movie hits. Saturday Night Fever would not come out until December. The world record in the one-mile run was 3:49.4 by John Walker of New Zealand. The New York Yankees were on their way to their first World Series victory in 15 years.

The personal computing world was in its embryotic state. The Apple 2 came out in 1977. Radio Shack and Commodore also introduced new computers. Mind you, these were not of the “turn them on and run your application” variety. You turned them on and got a command prompt. The cursor after the prompt would blink endlessly in some shade of green. It was time to write a program or work on one you had already written. Video game images looked like Lego blocks!

Atari Combat 2

Atari “Combat 2

This story took place at the University of Notre Dame. I had just finished my sophomore year in EE there.

It Started Out As Any Other Day

I spent the entire summer on campus working to pay for college. June in northern Indiana is beautiful and the campus was glorious, albeit not nearly as crowded as when school was in session. For me it was an 8am to 4pm shift in the Electrical Engineering (EE) office doing odds and ends to support the professors while making a bit more than minimum wage – but it all went towards tuition. Evenings were spent at an automobile window factory between 5pm and 1am the next morning. The days were long.

This day started out just as any other would. I arrived on time and asked Nettie (the secretary) what she needed today. “Not too much, actually, Michael. Dr. (James) Melsa (Chairman of the EE Department) and Dr. (David) Cohn (EE Professor) are in Chicago doing their microprocessor seminar.” For me, I’d do the normal daily chores, visit one or two professors to make sure they were OK, talk with a few graduate students and try to keep out of the way.

The microprocessor that was beginning to rock the nation and kick open doors for computing around the world was the 8-bit Intel 8080. If you were not working as a university professor or in one of the handful of computing companies in the industry, this was a non-event. On this day, Dr. Melsa and Dr. Cohn were meeting with over a hundred very interested engineering people in Chicago to tell them all about programming the 8080 based on the book they had written that year.

South Bend, We’ve Got a Problem!

The phone rang. It was Nettie’s job to answer and she always did so with the utmost in professionalism. “Electrical Engineering office, this is Nettie.” I was not paying attention. I never got a call.

“Michael, it’s Dr. Melsa, he needs your help.”

“What could he possibly need my help with?” was all I could think. He never calls me!

I picked up the phone and listened intently. “The 8080 development system is not working. We do not have the boot code. Michael, can you go to the lab and write down the boot code for us? Then, call us back once you are done. If you cannot get this, our seminar has to be cancelled.”

“Sure, I believe can do that, Dr. Melsa. I just took the Introduction to Microprocessors course in the spring semester.” I’m sure he was very impressed with that resume.

“What did I just get myself into?” Talk about a test!

One Toggle Switch at a Time

So, why did I consider this the “Jurassic Era” of computing? Well, there was no tech support line. There was no Internet. There were no dial-up modems. There was no documentation. There wasn’t even a “boot disk” to restart the system. There was this rudimentary development system with a computing board and a few mechanical interfaces to allow humans to develop software and programs. I wish our system had the interface that the picture here shows. We had nothing close.

8080 Dev System

Getting the boot code meant turning on the system and toggling the “next address” switch to write down the instructions for each step from the LEDs. The code was somewhere between 50 and 70 instructions.

Boot code is better known as BIOS today for Basic Input/Output System. It was the set of instructions needed for the microprocessor to start the system up and get all the interfaces alive and well, like the toggle switches.

Of course, the boot code instructions were not FORTRAN or PASCAL or C or anything “object-oriented.” We didn’t even have a cross-assembler to convert 8080 code like “MOV A,B” for the boot code. “The instructions” were single byte (8-bits for those keeping score) octal codes like 352. Hexadecimal was not as widely used at the time.

I looked around the building and there was no one around to help. It was up to me. So much for that cushy summer job in the EE office. The task should not be that hard, right? It was 60 lines of 8 bits each. That’s 480 bits or 60 bytes or 0.000058 MB. Computers transfer that in fractions of a second today!

I single-stepped my way through the code twice. Thankfully, the second time through I got the same answer as the first time through. It seemed like an eternity.

Fingers Crossed

Almost one hour had passed since Dr. Melsa’s call. Since there were no cell phones to call with or text messages to update him that I was progressing along, he and Dr. Cohn plodded their way through the seminar with written materials only. I imagine they were not so patiently waiting for my return call.

I called the hotel where he was presenting and they got him on the line. We walked through each instruction line carefully. I’d say, “Instruction 17, 271” and he’d respond with “Instruction 17, 271.” We went back and forth through the instructions twice.

“OK, Michael thanks. We’ll call you back in a few minutes to let you know if it worked.” They sent the attendees off for a break and began to reprogram the system … one byte at a time … one toggle switch at a time!

The clock did not appear to move at all. I waited for what seemed like forever. “Did it work?” I wondered. Finally, the phone rang. “It worked!” Dr. Melsa exclaimed. “Thank you so much. See you tomorrow.”

Disaster averted. Maybe they’ll give me a full-ride scholarship for these heroics. Nope.

So What?

For any of us who grew up in the days where even the full word “application” was not used in the computing community much (they were “programs” back then!), it’s as though we’ve lived through the full Mesozoic timeline of computing from Triassic to Jurassic up through the Cretaceous period of dinosaurs on earth.

Computing has come a very long way from toggle switches to paper tape readers to punch cards up to today, where Siri and Cortana take voice commands from us. Today’s microprocessors are light years beyond the basic central processing units (CPU) they were back then. It’s been a great journey. We can only imagine what it will look like 40 years from now.

ciao…mam

 

Michael Massetti is a global high-tech supply chain executive, and sometimes computer geek, who really does enjoy being a supply chain professional and a leader!

Michael Massetti LinkedIn Profile

 

 Computer History

www.carmenscomputingblog.blogspot.com

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How To Be the Biggest Loser, Like LeBron James (NOT!)

Losers

Let’s get something straight! LeBron James is NOT a loser. He never has been and he never will be. For those who call him a loser, I want you to know that I wish I was that good of a loser!

Let’s face it, in the world of sports, and I do mean the entire world, winning is the goal and the fascination. Unless you live in a long-term deprived city rooting for a perennial losing team (like the Chicago Cubs in baseball in the USA), your dreams and hopes at the beginning of every season are to “Win It All!”

Vince Lombardi, a great winner in American football once said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Of course, this quote originated in a different form from Henry Russell “Red” Sanders, coach of the UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles) American college football team. As the oft-cited rhetorical question goes, “Who ever remembers the team (person) that took 2nd place?”

In addition to the enthrallment with winning, there are the never-ending comparisons to players and teams of the past. With today’s social media providing a platform for anyone and everyone to opine, the “my favorite player (team) is better than yours” debates go on like a perpetual motion machine.

For LeBron James, the comparison is almost always against Michael Jordan, the 6-time NBA champion, 5-time NBA MVP, and 6-time NBA Finals MVP. Is LeBron James a loser because with 2 wins and 4 losses in the NBA Finals he pales in comparison to Michael Jordan’s 6 wins and no losses? Or, Bill Russell’s 11 wins and only 1 loss? Absolutely not!

Just the facts, please

First, let’s take a look at some statistics and facts about LeBron’s most recent performance in the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors and his career to date.

  • First player in NBA history not from the 1960s Celtics to appear in 5 consecutive NBA Finals and the first to do it with two different teams.
    • Three of the six years his teams were in the finals they were the statistically lowest rated players (excluding LeBron) in NBA Finals history.
  • First player in NBA history to lead the both teams in the finals in points, rebounds, and assists.
    • He nearly achieved an NBA “triple double” for the finals (more than 10 points, rebounds, and assists – he averaged “only” 9 assists).
    • Between points and assists, he accounted for at least 50 points per game.
  • 4 times NBA MVP (just like during Wayne Gretzky’s and Michael Jordan’s tenures – they should probably name the award after him and give it to others).
  • 2 times NBA Finals MVP.
  • He played 93% of the team’s minutes during the finals this year.
  • He averaged 38.3% of his team’s points in the finals, 2nd only to Michael Jordan’s 38.4% in 1993.
  • His key teammates missed 21 shots during the precious little time they were on the court while LeBron was resting.
  • His two best teammates, NBA All Stars, went down with season-ending injuries during the playoffs.

 

Winning isn’t everything, is it?

Basketball is somewhat unique due to the fact that there are only 5 players on the court at a time. One player can make a huge impact, especially when one is arguably the greatest in the world. Look at the impact that Lionel Messi has in soccer with a much larger field and more players. Their excellence shines, win or lose.

There are many ways to measure a player’s greatness. While Big Data is now getting attention globally for business, it’s been in sports forever. Comparisons abound. Is Michael Jordan the greatest basketball player ever? Some numbers support the hypothesis that he is. Some numbers suggest others are the greatest.

Does the fact that LeBron lost in 4 championship series reduce his excellence? Does the fact that in each series he led his team and the other team either in points or assists or minutes played?

There is only so much a player can do to win it all. For every Batman, there has to be at least one Robin for the team to win. Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen. Magic Johnson had Kareem Abdul Jabbar and James Worthy. Larry Bird had Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish. Nobody won it by himself.

If you want to equate winning with solo performances, you might want to look at track, swimming, golf and tennis. However, even in individual sports, one can achieve their personal best ever performance and still lose the match. That does not make them a loser!

 

Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t

LeBron did not shoot enough. LeBron shot the ball too much.

LeBron did not drive into the lane enough. LeBron did not shoot enough 3-pointers.

To some, no matter what he did, there was always the more compelling contrarian view. Before and after the game, the talking heads of the media world would argue about what he did, what he didn’t do, what he should have done, and on and on.

LeBron single-handedly took a team to the championship series with one of the weakest championship rosters in NBA history. He’s done that 3 times now. One can argue that not a single player who started alongside LeBron after Kyrie Irving got hurt would have played for the Warriors starting 5. He did everything he could to keep the team in the series, whether by himself (scoring a lot) or enabling others (assists).

Before and after

We have data to show the “LeBron Effect” over a 12-year period. He arrived in Cleveland in 2003. Up until that point, Cleveland finished 2nd place once and 3rd place three times in 33 seasons. During his 7 years in Cleveland, they finished in 1st place twice and 2nd place once – never below 4th place in has last 5 years. They made it past the first round of the playoffs 5 consecutive years and to the NBA Finals once. Including the 2014-2015 season, they have been in 6 consecutive playoffs and a 2nd trip to the Finals.

What happened after LeBron left? Cleveland won 87 games in 4 seasons finishing out of the playoffs and in the lowest tier of the NBA. We already know what happened when he came back this year.

How about Miami? True, the Miami Heat won a championship with Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal in 2006. But, they flirted with excellence for many years and only achieving the pinnacle once. The four years prior to LeBron, they never got further than the first round of the playoffs.

Enter LeBron to Miami: four consecutive NBA Finals and two championships. Say goodbye to LeBron and Miami falls to the bottom tier of their division.

I won’t bore anyone with analytics to show the correlation and causality between LeBron and the success of the teams he plays for. It’s so clear, it’s nearly binary.

Leadership

The last point to address regarding LeBron is his role as a leader. This young man entered the NBA at 19 years old with a degree of fanfare rarely seen in sports. The NBA is one of the few sports where a child can become a man quickly. He was anointed to be the savior of Cleveland – no pressure on that young man. He’s been in the media spotlight for his entire career and the main face of the NBA globally.

As we scrutinize his 6 years of championship series performances, not once did you hear LeBron blaming or deflecting performance issues to his teammates. To the contrary, he’s taken a disproportionate percentage of the “blame” on himself. He speaks positively about his teammates. He talks about hard work. He gives 100% on the court every night – heck, I get tired watching him toil and work harder than anyone out there.

If there is ever a mark of a true leader, especially when you are one of the players (not a coach), it’s how you perform and work with your team. The respect that his teammates have for him is glaringly evident. Regardless of what words they use when asked, their play on the court says it all – he lifts them up to levels they’ve never experienced before. He’s the modern day Wayne Gretzky of basketball.

The greatest?

Finally, just this week the spotlight shone down upon him brightly once again. And, yes, he clearly brought it upon himself. When asked about his confidence for the clearly wavering Cleveland Cavaliers to win the championship while down 3 games to 2, he said “I’m confident because I’m the best player in the world. It’s as simple as that.”

He was trying to inspire his teammates, trying to take the pressure off of them. He could have easily said “If my teammates could only hit a few shots …” He didn’t.

I grew up watching Cassius Clay become Muhammad Ali when he proclaimed, “I am the greatest!” At that time, Ali was raked over the coals for his brashness, but not his heart or his performance. Today, with time providing perspective, he’s revered as one of the greatest boxers and athletes ever. The admiration is global.

“Despite James’s performance for the ages over six games — he averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists — why are there always haters, nit-pickers and naysayers always diminishing his accomplishments?’ (From ESPN)

As Taylor Swift laments, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate …!”

LeBron will have his time, too. And, he will be looked back at as “One of the Greatest!” Not a loser!

Biggest loser?

Don’t you wish you were that great of a loser? I wish my resume were as amazing as LeBron’s!

ciao…mam

 

Michael Massetti is a supply chain executive and a life-long athlete who loves sports and the analogies and metaphors comparing sports, leadership, teams, and performance. He’s also a die-hard Notre Dame and New York Yankees fanatic.

Hello world!

I am an inspirational and passionate supply chain leader who thrives in an environment loaded with complex organizational and business challenges. I am fortunate to have worked for some of the greatest Fortune 500 international brands in high-technology history.

My professional experience spans multiple disciplines across new product development, field technical sales/applications, cross-functional program management, procurement, global sourcing, quality, supply chain strategy, new product introduction, product engineering, manufacturing, and global operations. I’ve worked in mature, fast-growth, scaling, and turn-around situations.

Through all of this, I have cultivated a diverse portfolio of leadership experiences:

➢ Drove the largest and fastest new product ramp for a global Fortune 500 brand to the top two customers in the market concurrently
➢ Architected and implemented innovative supply planning solutions for a $5B brand for inventory reduction
➢ Implemented multi-million dollar savings programs in multiple firms
➢ Developed a new business intelligence platform for supply chain
➢ Drove a comprehensive supplier development and quality improvement program for a contract manufacturing partner
➢ Developing the talent bench in the organization including my successor at a Fortune 500 company
➢ Mentoring multiple young executives in leadership development programs and managing organizations with diverse global footprints, including Asia and Europe

My strong leadership, collaborative and communications skills are the cornerstones of my career. I thrive in atmospheres that encourage talent, leadership, and organization development from their executives.

I am honored to have been named a Supply Chain Executive of the Year, awarded an inaugural Supply Chain Sponsor of the Year, recognized as a “Pro to Know”, and a Top 25 Supply Chain Executive.

I’ve had the pleasure of presenting at multiple industry conferences and been a guest lecturer at top universities.