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03 May 2012

Back Story

Greetings and welcome to my blog, which is about my life in relation to art and computers. As a child in the 1960s, I had fun with creative toys and games. As a teenager in the 1970s, I fell in love with computers and have enjoyed both working and playing on them ever since. Read on for some background.

The High School Years

When I was in high school, I had trouble deciding where to concentrate my efforts for a foundation that would take me into a job in the real world. I had always been on the creative side, but math, logic, and solving puzzles were my strong points. My first inclination was to become a commercial artist, so I took art classes. Even though I enjoyed all the drawing and craft exercises, I eventually decided I didn't have the innate talent that would carry me in that field. Rethinking my options, it occurred to me that being an accountant might be interesting and more in line with my skills, so I took bookkeeping, typing, and keypunching classes. Strangely enough, the keypunching class is what started me on the road to my first career — computer software engineer. (Well, that and being a die-hard classic Star Trek fan and devoted Spock-lover.)

The University Years

As fortune would have it, my university started a computer science program for my sophomore year in 1977. I learned several high-level programming languages: FORTRAN, Pascal, SNOBOL, COBOL, APL, and LISP. The university's computer was a DECsystem-10 (KL10 TOPS-10), which took up a fairly large room and had less storage capacity and fewer smarts than any modern-day cell phone. I think it had all of 256k words of actual strung-core memory. But it was fun to turn off the overhead lights and watch the blinking colored lights on the front panel of the machine. Once I learned its assembly language, I could actually read instructions as they were flashing by. (Image how slow that must have been!)

During my time at the university, I fell in love with computer games. I remember playing "advent", a.k.a. Colossal Cave Adventure (my first adventure game love — ack! twisty little passages all alike!), "Star Trek" (my first multi-player game; I remember using a cheat code to surround another player with stars so they couldn't move without blowing up — ack! what a jerk!), "empire" (my only wargame love, which was enormously addictive — ack! built a battleship in a lake again!), "rogue" (my first dungeon-crawling love — ack! died of starvation on level 4 again!), and "dnd" (my first RPG love — ack! teleporters!). I enjoyed them all and became a computer gaming addict.

The Next 23 Years

After I graduated in 1980 with a BS in Computer Science, I worked at various data processing jobs for the next nine years. This was what I called "ACID" work: Add, Change, Inquire, Delete. This functionality covered pretty much every data processing program I ever wrote. I got to the point where I had template programs and could churn out new stuff in my sleep. Having become thoroughly bored with the entire process, I switched over to an area that I knew nothing about — EDA — specifically computer hardware and software simulation. I worked for Mentor Graphics for 14 years on various projects, always learning something new along the way. This work was difficult, stimulating, and always different, which kept it interesting.

In the early 1990s, when home computers had become practical and affordable, I got one and, shortly after doing something serious like setting up something to track my finances, I started playing computer games again. For years I played mostly puzzle and adventure games, such as "Day of the Tentacle", "Alone in the Dark", the "Gabriel Knight" series and other Sierra games, "Grim Fandango (see Grim Fandango: The Movie)", "Realms of the Haunting", "Gobliiins", "The Longest Journey", and many others.

Around 2000 or 2001, I noticed the disk  that came with my PC Gamer magazine had a demo on it for a game called "Diablo II". This game reignited my love of dungeon-crawlers and role-playing games. Since then, not only have I sunk hundreds of hours into Diablo II, but also into Throne of Darkness (best intro!), Dungeon Siege and its expansions and sequel, and my all-time favorite (and I think the best RPG ever) Morrowind. It's hard to describe how enjoyable it is to explore strange new worlds, all from the comfort of my home.

Early Retirement

In 2004, I decided I'd been in EDA long enough, so I retired from the 40 hours a week job scene. In casting about for some way to occupy my time, I first played around with 3ds Max, learning how to create 3D models, and rig and animate them. I found rigging to be the most interesting part, but, since I didn't have any projects in mind, I quickly became bored with the entire concept and looked around for something else to do.

After a while, I decided it would be fun to learn HTML and PHP, so I spent some time creating and using an internal web site with a bunch of personal applications. I learned HTML, PHP, Smarty, and SQLite, all controlled by Apache's XAMPP. Some of the software was for tracking my finances and some of it was to help me learn a little Japanese. I also played around with some simple web-based gaming concepts.

Around 2006 / 2007 I got involved with two more computer role-playing games: Oblivion and Titan Quest. There went a few hundred more hours. Then, early in 2010, I decided to play Morrowind again, but this time I wanted to install some player-created mods first, so I spent three months installing over 200 mods. The game looked amazing and there was now so much more to do! As I was playing, I started noticing little things here and there that I thought would be interesting changes or additions to the game. One thing led to another and I ended up spending the next year and a half creating my own mods to Morrowind, but that's the next story.

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