The Making of a Nerd

When I was a kid growing up in Kokomo Indiana, I built a soapbox derby car
Didn't win, though
I remember something about a brake problem.

I got my Ham radio Novice license when I was 13, and built my own transmitter. But I can't find any pictures of it.
My call sign was either KN9HUE or WN9HUE... don't recall exactly.

The first computer I ever built had 12 bits
Exactly 12 bits
It was 3 banks of 4 flipflops, hand-soldered in perforated board, from discrete transistors and diodes.
I cannibalized a telephone and hot-wired the contacts so you could add up your phone number.

It won first place in the regional science fair that year (1964)
.... and nobody ever found out where I got that phone

Next year, I built a fourth bank of flipflops, added a crystal timebase, and built a frequency counter

I built a 50 Watt RMS booster amplifier (power output stage) for my guitar amplifier, and wrote a magazine article about it. It was published in November 1966 Radio Electronics magazine. Here's Chet Atkins on the cover.

Here's the article. We called it Thunderbox. I built several of them, and put them inside big plywood speaker cabinets with JB Lansing speakers, covered with black truck seat upholstery fabric. The chrome domes of the JBLs looked really cool.
It didn't do my hearing any good, though.

A guy in the band bought a Hammond B3 organ, and I gutted it and built a plywood cabinet for it. He was sweating bullets because his dad had bought the thing on credit

In high school, I worked in a camera shop, and bought a Nikon F and several lenses.
Here's Pete Townsend (The Who) when they played at a high school gymnasium in Muncie Indiana.

The Who, with a 28mm Nikkor lense on Tri-X, printed on Agfa Brovira 6, from a solarized paper internegative. It looks like a charcoal sketch (Click for full-size, suitable for framing)

Our band was called the Sideways

We were in the local paper a few times

My first guitar was a Kay hollow body electric

Next I traded it for a Fender Jaguar (1964 pre-corporate buyout- wish I still had it)

I traded this in for a Mosrite twin neck 6 and 12 string. I've noticed that this model doesn't show up in any catalogs of vintage guitars. I played it for a couple of years, then traded it even for a Gibson Byrdland, which I eventually sold for $500 to help pay for college. This is my article in the paper for the National Merit Scholarship semifinals.
(Click for full-size, suitable for scaring small animals)

At Purdue, I bought a fisheye lens and had a lot of fun with it.

Here's a scary one.... I found one of my crib sheets for a differential equations course

Halfway through EE school, I came up #9 in the draft lottery, and decided to enlist in the Army. It turns out that they stopped the draft before my student deferment would have run out, so this was not the wisest decision I ever made.
Here I am hobnobbing with the General as Honor Graduate at the signal school in Fort Monmouth NJ. I was a strategic microwave systems repairman (MOS 26V20) - which was cool because you had to sit in an air conditioned building and work on telephone equipment.

In another blinding flash of inspiration, I turned them down on becoming an instructor at the school. .... I had orders for Nam 12 hours later... I'm on a roll here. When I got to Nam, they didn't know what to do with me. They were winding down, and shipping everybody out. I was only in-country 45 days, then was sent to Okinawa. I wound up typing and filing papers at a DA civilian office on Okinawa. Here are my top secret crypto clearance papers.

Here I am in the Bien Hoa signal site, during Tet, 1971
(taking no chances at all)

Here's what passed for money over there (Click for full-size, suitable for your ebay ad)

After I got out of the Army, I finished my EE degree, and took a 1 year graduate internship in medical electronics. Here we are in the local paper again, testing a defibrillator in Seymour, Indiana.

Here is the most electrifying thing I ever got in the mail !


It was only $400 for the kit (not including the 8080 processor) And it came with a whole 256 bytes of 8-bit RAM !
You had to toggle the program in by hand with the front panel switches unless you were lucky enough to have a teletype with a paper tape reader. Obviously, I had to have one.

I started building kits as I could afford it. First, I designed and wire-wrapped a single step circuit with HEX to 7-segment decoders, then burned my own boot EPROMS. I built a Morrow Wunderbus backplane, Processor Technology VDM, cassette, and boot boards, a Cromemco ZPU (8 mhz Z80), and several static RAM boards. I built a Heathkit H19 terminal, and had a KSR33 teletype for a printer. I then bought a Morrow ThinkerToys double sided 8 inch floppy drive with CPM operating system. (The first assembled computer board I ever bought) It was all built inside a plywood Tape Recorder case with fans all over it. It was actually a portable computer !

Here's all that's left of it. (Wish I could find a picture of the whole thing) It's an 8 kilobyte static ram board. I could only afford one bank of 9 chips every month or so. Even with only 1K RAM you could still play cool games on the VDM board. You tuned an AM radio to pick up the timing loops, and it would play music when you scored.

Computers got boring after the IBM PC came out.
(About the time I started making a living from them.)
My next hobbies were rock climbing, backpacking, and caving
Here's a sketch of (a Wild and Crazy guy) by an artist friend

I managed to survive all that, raised a family, and settled down to working with Oracle databases and webpages for a living, with mostly telescope making and finger-style guitar picking for hobbies.
Clear skies,
Bill Prewitt


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