Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Introduction of the New World

I had purchased an Atari 401. It had been advertised as a computer, not a game console, but it was very restricted as a computer, though most expansive as a game console despite the hype. I could play a multitude of game cassettes through the box, which was fun and my kids loved it, otherwise, there wasn’t much to the system.
There was a keyboard and two cartridge slots above the keys. Besides the usual Atari game cartridges you could also use magnetic tape cassettes. This is what acted as your storage device. You see, you could write rudimentary programs using Basic, but if you wanted to use your program more than once you needed to save it on magnetic tape. Those cassettes loaded very slowly. There was no monitor. You plugged it into your TV. There was no printer so you were plain out of luck if you wanted a hard copy of anything. You could buy some software beyond games, such as Financial Planning.

Then one day in the merry, merry month of May I was strolling through the Christiana Mall and entered an Arrow Camera Shop. I had bought film and other photography equipment there and often went in just to browse. There was a new section at the very rear of the store displaying something beyond cameras and film supplies. It wasn’t even a full section, just a corner in the back and the lone sign said, “Apple Computers”. I wandered on back and when I left that store that day I was the proud owner of an Apple IIc. I bought a printer and an extra external floppy drive as well. The whole kit ‘n’kaboodle cost me $1,200.
There was a practical reason to buying the extra external floppy. There was no internal hard drive in the Apple IIc for storage. There was an internal floppy drive built in the CPU Unit. Everything ran off of floppy discs. There was included in the box software on both 5.25” floppies (true floppies because if you held them by the edge they would flop if you waved them) and on 3.5" discs still referred to as floppies, but these were very ridged and didn’t actually flop. My model only took the 5.25 discs.

You would insert a disc into the internal drive that contained the startup and operating system. You then would remove that disc and put in the Appleworks floppy. Appleworks contained three programs: word processing, spreadsheet and data base. I didn’t use spreadsheet so much in the beginning. I did use data base because all my life I made lists. I listed all the books I owned, all the record album and all the pieces I had written. I guess it is my touch of OCD. The pieces I wrote were typed on 3x5 index cards. On the front I put the title, what byline I was using at the time, date written and type. If it was published I put that info on the front as well.  On the back I put the information of my attempts to publish the work. This was the name of the publication sent to, the date sent and the date returned. The data base made this compulsion to list everything so much easier.
What I used most was the word processor. Oh man, this was like magic. If I added or subtracted any parts of a story I didn’t have to retype the whole anymore.   I loved this machine. It was an answered dream. It was so great I retyped everything I had written onto floppy discs. There was no problem with copies, no messy carbon paper to deal with. I could store what I wrote on floppy discs for future use. This was where having an external floppy drive came in so handy. If I hadn’t got the external, then every time I typed something I wanted to save I had to go through a routine that involved removing the Appleworks disc and putting in a blank disc, doing the save and then switching discs again. With the extra drive I could just save my work and not manipulate discs at all.


If I discovered a mistake or made a change or added or subtracted text to a document I didn’t have to retype the whole thing. No longer did I have to bother with messy things like white out to fix a mistype or carbon paper for backup copies.
The Apple IIc was not the first home computer, of course, but was probably at the heart of home computers blossoming in the consumer imagination. Keep in mind Apple had introduced the initial Apple II model in 1977. Steve Wozniak had created the Apple I in 1976 (Gosh, Woz was skinny in those days). There was a lot going on technically in the 1970s that would lead to the home computer revolution, but it wasn’t until the early 1980s that the public really grabbed the concept. Maybe the first hint of what was to come was when the game Pong was released in 1972, you know, the simple digital ping pong you played on your TV screen. I mentioned how a friend, Dave Mason, was one of the first I knew to have this game. How far we’ve come since.
       In 1973 the Wang 2200 was introduced. An Wang, a Chinese inventor was a pioneer in word and data processing. Remember I put the budget of Mercy Catholic Medical Center on a Wang Processor back in 1979. (By the way, as hard as this may be to believe, the Internet was invented in 1973 as well. It wasn’t invented by Al Gore, but from experiments conducted simultaneously by Xerox in the U.S., France’s Cyclades and Britain’s NPL networks).
In 1974, Xerox came out with the PARC Alto (right). They introduced with his machine such things as the Mouse, GUI (graphical user interface), printing that matched the screen called WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) and E-mail. It was for all intent and purposes the first personal computer. These innovations developed at Xerox would have a profound effect on the Apple people and would next be incorporated into the Lisa and the Macintosh and this changed the world.

WordStar, the first great word processing software was created in 1978. The first great spreadsheet software appeared in 1979. It was called VisiCalc and had been initially developed for the Apple II. (Left is Bob Frankston and Dan Bricklin, developers of VisiCalc.) Also in 1979 Atari marketed their first computers, the 400 and the 800. The 400 was the first so-called home computer I owned.
It was in the early 1980s that the idea of the home computer burst free out of the laboratories and techies. In 1980 something called the VIC-20 was brought out by Commodore. Commodore had greater success in 1982 when they introduced the Commodore 64 (right). Meanwhile, in 1981, with great fanfare, IBM brought out their Personal Computer operating from a MicroSoft system called MS-DOS. Soon we would know home computers by two family trees, Apple and the PC.


1983 was a banner year, the Compaq Portable found a niche and Apple brought out both the Lisa and the Apple IIc. Then in 1984 an iconic TV Commercial ran once during the Super Bowl (and only that one time) showing a shorts clad woman with a hammer run between a zombie-like audience and smash a giant screen showing a man’s face. The allusion to George Orwell’s Big Brother from his novel 1984 was obvious. This ad brought the attention of everyone to the Apple Macintosh (left). If the gist of the ad was that the home computer set us free from Big Brother, what was missed was the new computerized world would allow for the creation of Big Brother.
Anyway, enough about the history of home computers. This is supposed to be about the history of me. Let’s get back to that.
This stuff was not lost on me. I began by the time I had the Atari 400 to push for the inclusion of desktop computers in our division’s capital budget, even offering to teach the employees Basic. My request was rejected in 1982 and again in 1983. Our Senior Manager, George Craig, did not see any future in such gimmicks. He was a solid Mainframe guy. For a large institution like The Bank the Mainframe was the only way to continuing going. He viewed the home computers as nothing more than that, something that might have some use in the home, but not in business. I fought hard. Frankly, I wanted our division to be the first to utilize such technology, believing once we had some and showed the benefits, other’s would follow. (Mr. Craig died on May 30, 2016, age 85. That is a photo of him in later years on the right.)

Then in 1984 these machines were added to the budget. Not for our division, however. Senior Vice-President of Operations, George Craig had suddenly decided maybe we should take a look at these things, so he created a new Division of Office Automation, or something like that. It was set up as a time sharing operation. Believe me, I was down there signing up for as much time as I could grab. I was using the WordStar to write my documents and spending time learning Visicalc.
This new Division started with four computers, three of which were Apples. But the IBM PC was capturing the business world and Apple was becoming the computer of the educational system. Within a few months George Craig switched all four computers over to PCs. Meanwhile, I stuck the desktop computers onto our 1985 budget proposal and this time it got approved, although at first it amounted to only one machine and I got it, a Compaq Deskpro (left).
It was going to be interesting times ahead.





Me with my son Darryl, 1984.

Me with Noelle and Laurel, 1984.











Lois and I, 1984.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sorry Orwell, This was the Real 1984 just before the Revolution


My involvement soliciting funds for The United Way was somewhat paradoxical. For most of my life I had been resentful and critical of The United Way. This attitude went back to when I worked for ARCo in the 1960s. ARCo supported the United Way and every year they solicited funds from the employees. They were very heavy handed. You were expected to pledge “Your fair share” to the cause or else.  Now whether you actually pledged or gave anything was supposed to be a matter of free will. It was also supposedly confidential; no one would know if you gave or not, or how much so the company claimed. 
I didn’t give anything. I didn’t make a pledge of so much as a penny from my weekly paycheck nor did I even make a token one-time token donation. I had my own charities I gave to and considered this private business. I also resented being pressured to give to something that essentially gave the company a nice public image. ARCo wasn’t doing this because they cared about the agencies on the list. The company President or Chairman wanted to stand up at the campaign award banquet and be handed a plaque to hang on his trophy wall. They wanted comments about ARCo's generous contribution splashed about in the Philadelphia papers.
So rebellious I pledged nothing.
Then one day I came to work and I was approached by a guy I didn’t know and told to follow him to some conference room. I go in the room and there are these guys from the Atlantic Independent Union waiting for me. The guys surrounded me and they're yelling at me for not giving. They're telling me I better give my Fair Share. It was like a scene from some mob movie. They were big guys, too, probably worked down .at the refinery or maybe they were the same goons who showed up from the Teamsters in my office at Olson Brothers (see my post, “Job Roulette with Egg”). 
And how did they know I didn’t give anything; it was supposed to be confidential
I told them, “Fuhgeddaboudit!”  No I didn’t actually say that. I did tell them my charity giving was my business, then I got up and left the room. Sorry if I ruined the companies 100% participation.
For the next week or so I fully expected I might be jumped on the street somewhere after that, but nothing more ever happened. I also swore I would never give to The United Way. Now, here I was in 1984, more than 20 years later not only making a contribution, but standing up in front of groups of fellow employees making speeches asking for their money. I do have to say, Wilmington Trust never put any kind of undo pressure on their employees to give and the list of donors was strictly kept secret.

On January 23 of 1984 I was picking up Laurel from nursery school and my car brakes began to fail. I took the car directly to the mechanic I used and dropped it off. Laurel and I had to walk two-miles home. The next morning, I got my car back at 8:30 AM, which made me late for work. Laurel didn’t go to school. She was still tired out from the walk(remember she was only 5 years old).

On the 26th I bought a new car, a Ford LTD Station wagon. We had truly arrived at that dreaded point of non-coolness, the suburban family in their suburban wagon.

On Saturday the 28th I left a fidget Philadelphia for New Orleans. It was the annual BAI P.A.T.H Conference, now called the BAI Productivity Conference and this year there was a huge difference. No, not the name change.
I was one of the speakers.

Over the course of my first years at Wilmington Trust my name gradually became known. Originally my fame, if you want to call it that, seeped through the bank. My position had started as an experiment really, which no one quite knew how it would work. I was designing my own job descriptions and creating just what Project Management in Banking looked like. I had started working at The Bank (as we referred to ourselves within Wilmington Trust) on September 3, 1980. By the end of 1983 I had overseen 18 major projects and not only brought every single one in before the scheduled completion dates, but also brought them in under budget. A few of these weren’t overly complex, but many required gaining confidence and cooperation beyond our own Division.
People within our bank were actually talking about me at meetings and conferences in the industry beyond Wilmington Trust. This was not just because of my ability to accomplish the goals set forth, but because I sometimes brought a new way of doing them to the table, for example, the Bulk Filing Conversion. I was an aggressive project manager, as well. I was always suggesting projects, which quite often were rejected because no one else was ready to see the possibilities. Still, I was being talked about. At the same time, Project Management was becoming a buzz word around the banking industry, although it remained a mystery to a lot of old-line managers. Thus in the last quarter of 1983 I was asked by the BAI to put together a presentation (what they called A Breakout Session) for the 1984 Productivity Conference on project management in banking. I choose the title, “Project Management Works!” and sent my synopsis to the BAI content committee.
How did a country boy with Social Anxiety Disorder ever pull this off. I had my bad moments dealing with others certainly, but overall I seemed to have been born for this job. My fears of social situations were offset by my gift of organization and my preparation. These were very much gifts from God.

New Orleans was fun, even though I was all on my own. I flew in on Saturday. On Sunday I took both a bus tour of the city and a steamboat cruise down the Mississippi.
I loved the city, but was disappointed by the Mississippi. The Mississippi just didn’t seem all that large where I was. I realize it is the longest U.S. water and a major course of transportation through many a state. But I was used to living near the Delaware River and somehow the Delaware looked wider than the Mississippi in New Orleans. Actually, this is true. The Delaware River where I am from is almost 3 miles across. The Mississippi in New Orleans is 2 miles.

Anyway, I rank New Orleans as one of my favorite cities because it is a great walker’s city. My favorite cities are all walker cities: Philadelphia, New York and New Orleans. You can walk about these places even at night and feel safe because there are so many people about. I would put Washington DC on my list, except there is something about it that isn’t comfortable after dark. And once more I was hitting the marathon circuit.
I stayed at the New Orleans Sheraton, just a short walk from the heart of the French Quarter, and I was in the French Quarter about every evening.

Every morning I would get up early and saunter down to Decatur Street to the Café Du Monde and get a couple Beignets and some café au laits. Ah, it was a little bit of Heaven. I have missed those Beignets all these years I have been home.

My session was late morning on the first day of the conference. I had designed my presentation to involve the audience. Unfortunately, the lighting in the room was terrible and I struggled reading my own script, which I think confused some of the people.
The BAI treated all the speakers to dinner at Arnaud’s Restaurant (left). This establishment has an extensive Mardi Gras Museum inside (right) and we were given a personal tour. The food was excellent. They served Shrimp as an appetizer. It was a huge tray of shrimp in a Creole Remoulade Sauce. This was the only time I ate shrimp and enjoyed it. I am not a big fan of seafood. I had Filet Mignon au Poivre. Why not, the BAI was paying for it. Several of the other speakers near me told me they had attended my session and really enjoyed it. I was surprised since I didn’t think it went well due to the lighting.

The next night I was alone for dinner and ate in the Hotel restaurant. I still wasn’t paying, the Bank was paying for this meal. I had a table sort of toward the middle of the room, unusual since I had found restaurants usually sat lone diner a bit out of the way. As I enjoyed my drink, a woman approached and asked if she could join me. She was young, trim and pretty. She explained she was attending from Pittsburgh National and hated eating alone. We talked about Information technology, of all things. As we neared the end of our meals it became obvious she did not want to go back to her hotel room along. As we got up, she invited me to join her. I turned her down. I had opportunities, but I never had and never would cheat on my wife. There was one time I came close, but we’ll get to that later.
I had been propositioned before her during my stay at the Sheraton. The second night I was there two prostitutes entered the elevator with me. They got turned down as well.
The conference ended on February 1. I came home on the 2nd, a Thursday.
That weekend Lois and I went away while my parents took the kids.

We had a celebration for Laurel's birthday on Sunday the 26th.
That Monday my wife went back to working. She has been home quite a while after the children were born, but money was getting tight and she decided to return to the ranks of the employed.
She was able to get a position in the Data Preparation Division of Wilmington Trust as an encoder. She ran into a couple obstacles. First was a company policy rule, wives were not supposed to work in the same area as their husbands. Walt went to bat for us on this one and Personnel decided there was enough separation between my position and hers and allowed the hire. However, the Supervisor of the Encoding Unit was dubious whether Lois could do the job or not. Lois is left-handed and all the encoders were made for right-handers. My wife got the job and proved to be one of the best encoders they had.
The big draw back for us was I worked the day shift and she worked the evening. We would literally pass going between. But she got to be there for the kids all day and I took over at night, so they never needed day care. It also tended to wear her out going in and working so late. Her hours were from 6:00 PM to Finish. She never knew what time she would get home. Some days it was early, but some days she was there until dawn. Other then this shift difference, life got back to being fairly normal. In April Lois met my mom and grandmother at Granite Run Mall and had the children’s photographs taken.

On April 14 I attended training called “Counselor Relations”. Sometime around this time of that year I also attended The Writers Group Workshop. I think I had more interest in that than the Counselor stuff.

And then came April 1984 and the whole world was about to change.