I was at Virginia Tech working on an engineering degree. Susan and I had our son, Ben, and I needed to work part-time. In a town the size of Blacksburg, Virginia, good jobs were hard to find with the school there. I lucked out somehow. My first job was at Scotty’s Lafayette Store. We old guys remember Lafayette stores as THE place for electronics, way before Radio Shack. I sold stereos, CB radios and lots of electronic parts. I could also buy things at a discount. One day we were looking for something in the back, and I came across some Dynaco kits – a tube preamp and tuner. I was in heaven, and thus started a long love affair with tube amps. You know? Those funny looking glass things that preceded transistors?
Back to the picture. Lafayette closed later that year, so I had to find other employment. I remember my mother saying that I should take any job, such as washing dishes. I held out and looked harder. I had read Jon Titus‘ Bugbooks, particularly the The 8080 Bugbook. These were hands-on, experiment based books that combined with “trainer kit” electronics to teach fundamentals of microprocessors and interfacing – new stuff in 1976!
Jon and his brother Chris ran a little electronics and software company called Tychon, Inc. Sound out that name – its derived from “Titus”, “Chris” and “Jon”. Chris’ wife, Sarah, was the glue that held it together. This was an early example of small business, high-tech entrepreneurship at it’s best.
Well, somehow I talked my way into a job there. It didn’t hurt that I’d spent the summer of ’76 immersed in the 8080 Bugbook. That book opened my eyes (and brain) to how a microprocessor worked. This new job was like working for the Allman Brothers Band after spending time admiring their work and wanting to play like them!
I swept floors, soldered (a lot) and maintained equipment. I eventually learned to lay out circuit boards with black tape on mylar. Wow! I couldn’t help learning to program 8080 assembler. Back then, octal notation was popular. Hexadecimal replaced it soon thereafter, thank goodness. For example, the decimal number 255 is 377 octal and FF hex. Old DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) equipment used octal, and the Ph.D chemists-turned-8080 programmers that I worked for liked it.
One of the products that Tychon made was a keyboard/LED readout board that allowed you to plug chips into a breadboard and then perform experiments with software op codes that you entered on the little keypad. That was cutting edge back then! And what a way to learn! The picture included in this blog is me sitting in front of a CRT, a luxury in those days, and Jon leaning over explaining something.
I eventually graduated from Virginia Tech. My son Ben, now president of Sealevel, was there at two years old. I’m extremely proud that my kids have taken such an interest in the company. Of course, they grew up with Sealevel discussions at the breakfast table every day!
Those years were inspirational for everything I did after that. I went to work for NCR upon graduating. I stayed in touch with Jon, and eventually started Sealevel with the confidence I needed. Chris Titus had an unfortunate accident that left him unable to continue the work he and Jon had started. Chris was absolutely brilliant, and Jon loved to argue with him (sometimes even when he agreed with him) because Chris would get so into it. I owe volumes to both of them. Jon later helped me write The Digital I/O Handbook.
Thank you for reading this, and thanks especially to all those brilliant people that have influenced my career!
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