To blog or not to blog

A guest blog, by Arlene Ritley

I have been wondering for some time now if I should start a blog.  It then came to me that a blog is like keeping a diary which every girl in the 60’s and perhaps earlier, kept.  Boys might have kept a diary but never went around advertising this to other guys.  A sign of the times.

I’m not familiar with blogs so I went to my good friend Google.  “Google,” I asked. “What is the difference between a blog and a diary?”  And this is what I found.

You probably knew this, but I didn’t, the word blog came from the words “web log.”  Who would have thought? I found this interesting.  But why isn’t it called a diary?  Again I found that a diary contains personal and perhaps confidential information or entries that probably shouldn’t be shared with the rest of the world.

Do I really want the world to know that I was in love with Elvis Presley?  Or that I cut a day of school so that a friend and I could travel downtown to see Liberace who was in Cleveland for the opening of the Cleveland Trust Bank?  Or that the day of becoming a woman finally arrived.  I wrote about the last one in great detail.

                                   CERTAINLY NOT!

Blogs are for people who do or say things that are important to them and who feel that their thoughts or pictures should be shared with the universe.  Some are interesting and general, like travel or photography others are more specific like cooking and gardening.

Did you know that there are companies who will write blogs for you?  They not only compose the blog but also set up the blog site.  Google “blog writing services.”  How can an amateur blogger compete with a blog that was written by an accomplished writer?  I was lucky to get one A+ in high school (and that was in glee club) so how can I compete?

I can’t.  But I do like the idea of writing down my thoughts.  Not to share with others but to cleanse my mind at the end of the day or the early morning hours.  I will write freely and without fear of hurting anyone’s feelings by putting my thoughts in writing.

Dear Diary……


This guest blog was submitted by Arlene Ritley, an editor with the Island Moon Newspaper – one of South Texas’s largest community newspapers.

GUEST BLOG: The Dangerous Summer -or- Matador scrutinizes the Rhine Rider in Nimes

Continuing the series,

A guest blog, by Chuck Ritley

“Manuelito stood there waiting for the bike to charge as had all of the bulls in his career and all the bulls before that when he was young and he twitched the cape hoping to see some action so the crowd wouldn’t think him a coward since crowds judge matadors not only on their courage but on the courage of the bull but the bike had no courage and wouldn’t charge him and the crowd left one by one which is the worst insult to a matador until there was only Manuelito standing alone in the square and he knew he could have killed the bike had it but charged but it didn’t and he thought perhaps another day and another bike or another bull and I can redeem my honor.”

A snippet from the famous book by Ernest Hemingway:

This guest blog was submitted by Chuck Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.  

“The Corsica Encounter”

Continuing the series . . .

I’ve mentioned before that one of my more unusual friends is a man I only know as Mr. Tradecraft.

And I’ve probably also mentioned that my father is an active professor in Texas.

For the record, my father has never had a business that takes him across the world, he’s never made money trading and selling certain difficult-to-track items to people in small African countries with less-than-stable governments. And those items (if they were to exist, which certainly they don’t) would certainly never be items that, shall we say, might have certain unpleasant consequences for some people. Enough said.

After one of his most recent trips to Corsica – which of course never happened – my father told an interesting background story of seeing friend Mr. Tradecraft with another and more well-known personality, Gabriel Allon.

Gabriel wasn’t enjoying the night ferry ride to Corsica.   The weather was chilly and rainy, the sea choppy, which meant staying in the lounge.  Cautious out of habit, he wasn’t concerned about the other passengers.  There was not much traffic to Corsica in this weather.  But he was concerned about how Don Orsati would meet with his proposal.

There was one unusual passenger that troubled Gabriel.  Medium height but wide, he was wearing a fedora hat that was pulled down over his eyes.  Yet Gabriel had the feeling he was watching him.  But every time Gabriel glanced his way, he was engrossed in a copy of Le Monde.

The ferry horn sounded, he felt the deck shift as it slowed. Gabriel closed his case and buttoned the coat around his neck, leaving him free to go for his Beretta if needed.  Just habit, as Don Orsati generally kept the peace in Corsica for his guests.

He stepped onto the dock, and headed off in the direction of the small hotel, ignoring the waiting taxi.  The walk wasn’t far and his appointment with the Don was in the morning; he planned on supper and on a good night’s rest.

Out of habit, he glanced over his shoulder and noticed that fedora-topped stranger moving the same way.  Just as he turned left onto the darkened plaza, he caught movement out of his eye and saw the flash of a knife.  No time for the Beretta, he threw up the case as protection, and saw a dark clad figure attempting another stroke.  The knife flashed again, and Gabriel battered at him with the case.  But another shadow appeared, there was a grunt, and the knife wielder fell. Gabriel stepped back and there was the fedora man, with his foot on the head of the would-be assassin.  He looked at Gabriel – “You’re getting slow, Mr. Allon.  After all, we are in a red zone”.

Gabriel was at a loss, but the stranger spoke: “Even under the Don’s protection you may be in a red zone.  This imbecile just assumed you were an easy target. He’ll be out for a bit.  I’ll call the Don from the hotel for a clean-up.   He doesn’t like competition. Don’t look so surprised.  Go check in to your room and buy me a drink in the café.  After all, I did just save your life.”    Then he moved past Gabriel toward the hotel.

By the time Gabriel entered the lobby, the stranger was gone.  He checked in, left his case in the room, checked the Beretta once more and headed for the small café.

The stranger was already there, with a bottle of the island red wine.  He stood and offered his hand.  “Much less excitement in here, Mr. Allon”.

“How is it”, asked Gabriel, “that you know my name and I have no idea who you are”.

“That, Mr. Allon”, said the stranger, “is how I stay alive in a dangerous business. By the way, the Don was extremely upset about what happened, so I don’t know what will happen to your would-be attacker.  Nothing pleasant, I expect.   But be more cautious making your travel arrangements.   You’re too well known.”

Gabriel looked perplexed.  He asked – first in German, then in French, then in Arabic – if his host would identify himself.  The stranger said “it’s not necessary” in all 3 dialects.  In German, he said “I’ve worked in many countries”, and in French “and used different names in each”.  Finally in Arabic: “I find that names are too easily remembered, or written down.  For that same reason I avoid cameras.”

Switching back to English, Gabriel said “you know I’ve worked with the Brits and the Americans. From your accent, you’re one or the other.”

“Perhaps – or some other – there are so many” said the stranger.  “Permanent allegiance doesn’t work well in Intelligence work.  One gets caught in politics.  And no matter your allegiance, you must work off the grid, have a dozen passports, and no idiot control officer.  So I sell the one commodity I have the most of – my Tradecraft.

You see, Mr. Allon, the intelligence world is too full of gadgetry now.  It makes agents lazy, encourages putting untrained agents out in the street, where they get killed.  They have the gadgets – what they don’t have is Tradecraft.  Even your nation, small as it is, relies heavily on electronics.  So — I know your name, you don’t know mine.”

“But now I’m in your debt”, said Gabriel, “and a debt paid must be paid to someone.”

The stranger smiled: “Then call me Mr. Tradecraft.  It’s the one commodity left in the Intelligence world that doesn’t use batteries – and a dying art.  Even you, and your friend Eli, are probably the only real intelligence operatives in the. . . .  Sorry, slip of the tongue.”

The stranger refilled their glasses.  “You see, the whole alphabet of acronyms — CIA, MI5, FBI, NSA – rely on gadgetry.  But some tasks – as you well know – require a human being going somewhere and getting something.  So, given that our art is dying, there is a market for an aging operative who stills know how.”

“So”, said Gabriel, “you work for anyone?”

“No, Mr. Allon, I am picky about clients and their tasks.  I don’t like communists, jihadists, or oligarchs.   I don’t pretend to work on the side of the angels, but I avoid the devil.  People who have used my services – they know how to call for me.”

“I’m surprised”, said Gabriel, “that we have never met before – or that I have never heard of you.”

The stranger laughed.  “Come now, Mr. Allon.  When you hear of me – when I don’t want you to – I’ll retire.  Organizations of politicians don’t admit use of contractors.  That implies their own ineptness.   But we have met before – only indirectly.  Your pals at MI6 and CIA give you information.  They identified Tariq and they identified the Sphinx to you.  Did you question where they got it?  Do you actually think THEY obtained it on their own?   Ponder this — if they could obtain it on their own, why call you to bail them out?  I find out things for them, and they have friends like you to do the exercises. And I leave no tracks where I’ve been.  Tradecraft, you see.  We all win.”

Gabriel’s eyes narrowed a bit.  Tariq and the Sphinx were closely held information.  “And yet here you are, on the island of the king of the assassins”.

“Of course”, said the stranger, “it’s cheap at the price.  I don’t do assassinations, it doesn’t fit my mold.  But the Don – to ply his trade – is an expert at finding people.  Since I work alone, I use him to locate those who have information I need.  In fact, I get a good rate since I don’t require blood proof. ”

The stranger stood and stretched.  “Well, this has been quite nice, but I have an early appointment with the Don.  I hope your own business goes well.  Stay alert. Perhaps we’ll meet again.”  And he reached over to shake Gabriel’s hand, turned and was gone.

Gabriel finished his wine, and then headed for his room.  If this man was what he said he was, he might or might not be an ally, but he didn’t seem eager to leave an address.  He fell asleep wondering why the stranger shared some thoughts.

The next morning, he washed, packed, and went downstairs to have coffee, pay his bill, and wait for Don Orsati’s driver.  As the clerk riffled through bills, Gabriel turned the guest register around, to see what name he was using.  His own name was the only one there.   Gabriel knew that Don Orsati would never talk about his other clients – might even be hostile.  And Gabriel remembered Mr. Tradecraft’s words:  “I leave no tracks where I’ve been”.


Chuck Ritley is an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area, and the orchestrator of the Uncle Eddy persona.

Here are the links to my father’s other blogs on my website:

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 1: “The Way It Was”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 2: “First Wave of Characters”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 3: “Evolution of the Geek”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 4: “When Giant Sold Pork Chops”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 5: “Mr. Yee and the Albrae Street – Taiwan Connection”




GUEST BLOG: Tasks I hate to do

A guest blog, by Arlene Ritley

Everyone has something they hate to do around the house.  So those particular tasks are often put off until the need arises, or the funds are available to hire someone to do them.

My husband would rather have a root canal then do the dusting.  I, on the other hand like to dust.  And if I may say so, I do a great job with a dust cloth and a can or bottle of spray wax.  Proper way to dust is the one chore in my family that has been handed down from one generation to the next.

But to get back to the topic “tasks I hate to do”.  I have two tasks I absolutely hate to do and that is

  • Clean the oven
  • Clean the refrigerator

AH you say.  Only two tasks you hate to do.  Yes only two as I have, over the years, delegated more of these “hate to do” tasks to others in my family.

Cleaning the oven

Cleaning the oven is easy to do now if you own a self cleaning oven.

Not so easy to do if you do not have a self cleaning oven.  What I did years ago when stoves had to be cleaned by hand, was wipe up spills with a damp paper towel.  Then when my oven could no longer pass a sanitation inspection, for example my mother or mother-in-law were coming for an extended visit; I had no choice but to


I actually did this twice during my early years.

Cleaning the refrigerator

Cleaning the refrigerator is a little more complicated and one I absolutely hate to do.

Take all the food out a shelf at a time.  Wash – Dry – Put the food back where it was, throwing out expired and unused bottles and jars.  Shelf, by shelf, by shelf.  That’s only the refrigerator.  You can’t forget the freezer.  But I found a way to get the task done.


One that lasted for a day and a half.  All the food went bad and had to be removed.  While my husband bagged up the food I cleaned and sanitized the entire refrigerator, in and out.  When I was finished my refrigerator sparkled like a diamond.  Power outages happen more frequently now with Global Warming.  When and if this happens again, you’ll know where I am and what I’m doing.

The moral of this story is . . .

     . . . delegate tasks you hate to do to someone else, then

     . . . find a creative and out of the box way to do the few tasks you hate.


This guest blog was submitted by Arlene Ritley, an editor with the Island Moon Newspaper – one of South Texas’s largest community newspapers.

How does anything start?

A guest blog, by Paul Cottingham

“Write me a guest blog,” Ken said. “Me?” I said. “Yes,” Ken said. “OK,” I said. What a fool, I think to myself, not Ken, ME! I agree to something I have not done in years – WRITE! Well, strictly not true, I write most weekends just not in this fashion but I will explain this one day. I am 51-year-old father of two, married to Carole for 25 years, I work in IT and I live in a small city in Yorkshire, England called York and from the age of 14 I wanted to be a rock star, well, sort of. I suppose what I want in life is the same as most others: I want to be happy in what I do and hopefully make other people happy also and if I can use a modicum of my talents to make people happy then it’s job done.

Let me explain. Back in 1979 I was friendly with two local kids and we discovered we liked the same music. We had moved into post-punk era of Joy Division, Durutti Column, Marine Girls and – some may disagree as they were in the punk era but for me as they extended life beyond punk – The Clash. Kicking around the neighbourhood one long summer day in the school holidays, Iain the elder of the trio suggested we should form a band. No hesitation from Pete and myself – we both spluttered out, brilliant! We had no clue how to play, no clue what instruments we would play, no clue how we would perform this task of forming a band. We just knew this was what we should do. Iain had a Clash poster above his bed and they were photographed for their first album with the three of them stood in an alley looking cool into the camera. Sold! That’s us, we are cool, we can be in a band, we can do it! Now all we had to do was go figure out how we could rule the world with our smouldering coolness and amazing music.

Hold on though, we looked at each other and paused. It was a little bit like that moment in The Graduate and a part of a scene that folks often do not notice right at the end of the movie, when Benjamin, played by Dustin Hoffman and Elaine, played by Katharine Ross, leap on to the bus and all the passengers look back at the couple whom have just run from the wedding in an act of spontaneous euphoric love. They too stop and look at each other, pretty much like we were right now, and realise the gravity of their actions, what have we done? Well, maybe not quite as dramatic and romantic as that but nonetheless to a 14-year-old kid whose only goal in life was to look cool and play a little football or soccer as our brothers from across the pond would say and have Sandra Pearson as my girlfriend this was a big deal and we are not backing down now.

It is 1979, Summer, three bored kids with 5 weeks of school holidays ahead of them, on the cusp of being the best band in the world, with no instruments, no talent (that we know of), no record deal but heaps of enthusiasm and smouldering coolness. What could possibly go wrong?

. . . to be continued.

Paul Cottingham is one of those amazing senior IT leaders you run into all too infrequently: he has an innate sense for true leadership, and out of an interest in the well-being of his team he won’t stop until he has everyone fully motivated and pulling together. Paul is an accomplished musician who’s original compositions and multi-instrument production work is regularly aired on international radio programs such as the BBC. You can find links to his music here: (add link).


Perpetual pursuit of the perfect purse

A guest blog, by Arlene Ritley

Hello, my name is Arlene.  And yes I am addicted to buying new purses and handbags.

I currently have, at last count, at least fifteen handbags.  Some are very expensive and come with their own dust bag.  Others are fine leather ones I purchased at discount, paying very little considering the quality of the leather and trim.  Some are made of fabric not to be used when we have inclement weather.

Some people make fun of me – “What! Another purse?”  I simply laugh it off and say I really needed a new one.  I often give them as gifts for birthdays or Christmas.  I fool myself into thinking all my women friends are just waiting for a new handbag.

I have given much thought as to when this obsession had started.  I have come to the conclusion that it started when I was about seven or eight years old making my First Holy Communion.  My mom and I went shopping to buy a communion dress and veil.  But along with the ensemble there was a very small white purse with a gold religious emblem sewn on the front with a prayer book inside.  How could you not feel special carrying this purse?

But like all items people obsess over, the euphoric feeling doesn’t last long.  And before you know it you will find me in the handbag section of the department store.

BUT – this all changed.  Finally, finally I found the one purse that fulfills my every requirement.  It is large but not too large.  It has an opening on the outside for a cell phone plus a charger.  Once I open the zipper of the main compartment I find six compartments to hold everything I need.  I’ll never have to buy another purse again!

(Who am I kidding?  Just thinking about not purchasing another purse makes my hands shake; I feel dizzy, nauseated and agitated.  Am I addicted – you bet your bottom dollar I am.)


This guest blog was submitted by Arlene Ritley, an editor with the Island Moon Newspaper – one of South Texas’s largest community newspapers.


Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 5: “Mr. Yee & the Albrae Street–Taiwan Connection”

A guest blog, by Chuck Ritley

Here’s a bit of history: Intel introduced the 16-bit 8086 CPU in 1978. It was a tad expensive, and soon followed by the cheaper 8-bit 8088. These little gadgets put mainframe logic in a tiny, affordable package. And soon garage wizards figured out how to build full computers.

IBM jumped on it and did the world a big favor: they invented “Open Architecture” with the release of the first IBM Personal PC. A simple design, freely publicized, it opened the door to anyone who could assemble: a motherboard with BIOS, expansion slots, and controller chips; an 8088 CPU; some memory; keyboard; monitor; and floppy disks for storing data. No big deal.

The floodgates opened. Everyone who assembled electronics brought out “IBM compatible” PCs: Zeos, Tandy, Compaq, Packard Bell, AMD, Gateway, H-P, Wang, TI, Sanyo, and – of course – Dell.

For the first time, there was a “free market” for computers. Good? Well, almost. Everyone wants to make money, and the industry had a “price point” of about $1000. You could save a few bucks by buying from Dell or Zeos – but only a few. So “IBM clones” were cheaper, but not that much.

This tidal wave rolled over The Valley, and entrepreneurs started “White Boxing”: building clones from parts at discount prices. The heart of the White Boxing “industry” was Albrae Street, a small street of storefront-warehouses combos, like mini strip malls, right near the mud flats of San Francisco Bay.

DiskDriveThe local “computer press” (like “Computer Currents”, free at the 7-11) ran huge ads, offering PCs for $700 or so. Still too much for the true geeks who thought “If they can assemble one, then I can, too.” So they descended on the White Boxers, not for PCs – but for parts.   I know – I was one of them.

We haunted the warehouses, hunting bargains. And found that even parts could be “cloned”. (Whether or not this was legal is not a priority with geeks.) For example, when you wanted a 5-inch floppy drive, you could buy a Shugart or Memorex (the same as IBM used), OR – – – – you could buy a “knock-off” with no label and manufactured in Taiwan for much less. But, hey, it still worked.

Enter Mr. Yee – who soon became The King of the Bay Area parts empire. Mr. Yee sold full-size clones, with name brand parts, at good prices, and clones with no-name parts at even better prices. His whole extended family worked back in his warehouse, and could assemble a PC in minutes, “burn it in” that night, and you pick it up tomorrow. (I suspect that they all lived back there, too, but parts were cheap, so Immigration can mind its own business.)

Parts – that’s where Mr. Yee shined. Whatever you needed – Mr. Yee had one cheap. No name, no label, but it always worked just fine. Truth be known, this was the beginning of the end for “Made in America”.

I saved up, bought parts for my first PC, and Mr. Yee threw in a copy of DOS and an x86 assembler. A few hours with tools, and it ran. I got a copy of Lotus 123, some utilities, and started on the road to expertise.

A few months later, my son Ken returned from a summer internship at the Oak Ridge National Labs where he had worked on Cray supercomputers, wanted his own computer (not a Cray), and had been saving up. Not impressed that his old man had actually built a PC, Ken preferred one “professionally assembled”, so off to Mr. Yee. Ken went first-class on his order: a full 640K of memory and, as I recall, it was a turbo-chip 8086 which could shift up from its usual 4.7 Hz cycle to a screaming 8.0. The frosting on the cake: a 1200 baud modem.

Those days are gone. Today few users can change a battery. No one has any tools, and help and advice comes by phone from someone in a different country. We used to grow our own food, fix our own cars, sew on our own buttons, and build – and “burn in” – our own computers. Have we evolved? I’m not sure.


This guest blog was submitted by Chuck Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.  

Here are the links to the other blogs in this series:

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 1: “The Way It Was”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 2: “First Wave of Characters”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 3: “Evolution of the Geek”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 4: “When Giant Sold Pork Chops”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 5: “Mr. Yee and the Albrae Street – Taiwan Connection”


Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 4: “When Giant Sold Pork Chops”

A guest blog, by Chuck Ritley

If you’ve been to California you’ve seen one of the Fry’s Super Stores. They’re fun to shop, with a huge selection of electronics. Or maybe you bought from their web site?

PorkChopsHere’s a little story. When I moved my family to The Valley, there was a Fry’s Supermarket less than a mile away – walking distance. Smaller than Safeway or Alpha Beta, with good prices and open 24 hours a day, so groceries were close to home.

Fry’s, a family-owned company, had about 10 of these stores in The Valley, and several brothers and sisters ran it. Back in the 70’s, one of the siblings was also a computer fan, and decided to test out a new section in one Fry’s market, down on the Lawrence Expressway. And this section was to be stocked with stuff for true computer aficionados, in between the grocery aisles. It soon became a favorite destination for all computer nerds.

I heard about this, had to see it, and one Sunday, since we needed stuff for dinner anyway, I loaded the family into the Jeep and headed for the Lawrence Expressway.

ChipsArriving at the “new” Fry’s was pure heaven for a computer nerd. Oh, it was still a true supermarket, but there were aisles full of “stuff”. (Bear in mind there were no ready-made PCs. Whatever you needed, you made.) And Fry’s had bread boards, wiring, chips, power supplies, connectors, memory, resistors, CPUs, and tools. Anything you needed to build your vision. (I never ran into Steve Wozniak, but I have no doubts that he was a frequent visitor.)

The family went separate ways. My wife had a grocery list, my youngest son found the aisle with comic books, while my oldest son started perusing the electronic stuff. (This should have given me a clue that he would soon be drawn to computers.) I marveled at a Zilog Z80 – although I wasn’t quite sure how or what I would do with one. But I did find a memory chip that I needed, and put it in the cart.

We left for the day with enough stuff for an evening barbecue: ground sirloin, buns, salad stuff, gallon of milk, 2 comic books, and a 2 mb memory chip. And then went back to search for my oldest son, still perusing the logic section.

So it was a fun stop.   But also a go-to late-evening stop for Valley denizens who were inventing the next generation of electronics. Because it was open 24 hours, at 2 to 3am it was haunted by garage inventors who needed a power supply, bread board, or a handful of connectors. Why wait until the next day? And to fuel these up-all-night pioneers, Fry’s had the junk foods needed to keep them going. Stuff like high-caffeine sodas and Slim Jims. Remember Jolt Cola?

Many years later, I walked into a spanking new Fry’s store near my home. Boring! Just another big PC store.    And a boring crowd debating which mouse was better and asking for the free Windows T-shirt.

Much time has passed, and Fry’s has 2 kinds of stores now: food markets and computer bazaars. But I often wonder. What ideas were born in that one old Fry’s on the Lawrence Expressway? The Altair, the Adam, or the PET computers? Did Steve W. come by for solder and a Jolt Cola? Did some guy tired of floppies come up with the Quantum, Maxtor, or WD hard drive? Or the Hayes or 3Com modems? Did Adam Osborne stop by during a long night of development? But like the apricot orchards, it’s long gone.



This guest blog was submitted by Chuck Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.  

Here are the links to the other blogs in this series:

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 1: “The Way It Was”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 2: “First Wave of Characters”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 3: “Evolution of the Geek”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 4: “When Giant Sold Pork Chops”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 5: “Mr. Yee and the Albrae Street – Taiwan Connection”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 3: “Evolution of the Geek”

A guest blog, by Chuck Ritley

We think we know what “geek” means. Wrong! We believe anyone who downloads “apps” to a pad or tab is a geek. Or kids who download free “hacks” (posted by genuine hackers) are hackers. Wrong again.

Geek-dom is an evolution. When I traveled and wrote about The Valley – and when I moved there with my family – I met the real thing: folks who invented geek-dom. Here are some of them. (Yes, I have changed names and identities.)

geekThe Ice Cream Man: I noticed this at a software development facility – every day at 2 o’clock, an ice cream truck rolled into the parking lot and a mob of programmers met it like a “Star Wars” opening. Curious after he left, I strolled through the coding department – and discovered the engine that drove operating system development.   Windows were open and the air was fogged and pungent. In a minute, I was pretty high myself. “Okay”, I thought, “now I know why I have trouble reading code.”   Argue if you will, but the OS always worked just fine. When I visited similar spots, guess what — an Ice Cream Man.

Today, we have a DEA. Because of that, I think OS’s don’t work as well (Microsoft sends hundreds of patches a week). That’s because the Ice Cream men are gone.

Beatrice the Micro-coder: not many of us micro-code. Yes, we write programs, high or low level, forgetting that control chips are also programmed. Chips and controllers have tiny programs supplying logic. Compact stuff, this is written in languages close to pure binary. Even X-86 hotshots are stumped.

Beatrice was the star. She thought in binary. I can’t verify this, but it must be so because she rarely conversed with her fellow beings, except for one-word answers. But all of her controllers worked.

Being a star, she could be odd. She never wore shoes – summer or winter, only seemed to have one outfit and – this is a guess – only bathed in months without an “R” in them. (A good reason for limiting conversations.) She also brought pets to work – sometimes cats or strange creatures.

Gregory the CPU Genius: multi-degreed from Cal Tech, he was a true logic genius. He designed internal CPU logic and, like Beatrice, seemed to think in binary. I say “seemed” because he rarely, if ever, spoke. (There being no verbal equivalent for “XOR”.) In engineering meetings he scribbled notes, and silently passed them to the engineering director. If he scribbled a lot when you spoke, you were probably wrong.

His daily dress was in Hong-Kong casual style, with black smock and cloth slippers. I never saw the slippers wet, so he didn’t go out on rainy days. He might have lived in his office.

That said, here’s how to recognize a genuine geek:

  • They don’t brag – having no interest in talking with ordinary mortals who can’t understand.
  • They don’t wear T-shirts with funny slogans. Those mark pseudo-geeks.
  • They can think in binary or assembler. Anything else loses something in translation.
  • They often smell bad. Not to be offensive, mind you. Hygiene is just low on their task list.
  • They rarely “hack”. Everyone else’s code is child-like – they prefer their own.
  • They ignore your new iPad as it’s too damned inefficient and retarded.
  • They don’t wear Birkenstocks, leaving them to tree-huggers. Having no logic, trees are boring.


This guest blog was submitted by Chuck Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.  

Here are the links to the other blogs in this series:

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 1: “The Way It Was”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 2: “First Wave of Characters”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 3: “Evolution of the Geek”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 4: “When Giant Sold Pork Chops”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 5: “Mr. Yee and the Albrae Street – Taiwan Connection”


Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 2: “The First Wave of Characters”

A guest blog, by Chuck Ritley

TV gigs like “60 Minutes” show life in The Valley today. Everyone chuckles at bearded Google programmers with bicycles by their desks, environmentally correct sandals, and the engineering gang drinking macrobiotic smoothies.

But these are kids! Newcomers! Freshmen! Squatters writing game code for adolescents in an arena whose history they don’t comprehend. The Valley is an arena, an arena built on blood and grit, by a bunch of tough, smart, future-seeing characters, not afraid to get their hands dirty. They took apricot orchards and turned them into the electronics industry.

Valley_machineThe 70s: I was a mainframe systems engineer turned journalist, covering the computer industry for a publishing house. New companies sprung up: DEC, General Automation, Microdata, Qantel, Basic Four, Four/Phase, Nixdorf, Lockheed, NCR – and more. I wrote about them, and I was welcomed in their offices. And most were in The Valley.

I had a great opportunity to meet some of these characters who shaped the industry. Were they my pals? A couple of them became that. But mostly I’m just pleased to say I met them.

Regis McKenna – You never heard of him? But you know Apple, Intel, Compaq, Microsoft, Intel, and Lotus. Regis is a marketing and advertising genius. Neat inventions need a market. Regis made Apple and Microsoft household words. (Bill G and the 2 Steves had ideas – Regis sold them.) I met him at his office in Palo Alto, trying to sell ads in our magazines. We didn’t. But I had a chance to interview the man who knew where the computer industry could go and HOW to get it there. He was generous about sharing his vision. I doubt he remembers me – but it I’ll remember him.

Gary Kildall – he never bought an ad from us. But Dr. Kildall did two critical things that made the whole industry possible: he invented the BIOS – Basic Input Output System. (It boots up your PC.) Then, he invented the Operating System.   The first was CP/M, the forerunner of DOS. Companies as big as IBM used CP/M. And Dr. Kildall invented it in his garage.

Dick Pick – CP/M and DOS were ground-breakers, but only geeks like me understood them. Dick created a full operating system called PICK (still in use today) that looked like – well, English. No weird codes, and programmers could use: add, subtract, write, compare, input, and print. We never did sell an ad to Microdata, but I’ll remember Dick Pick.

Jim Fensel – Jim knew everyone in The Valley. He ran a small marketing firm, but put together big deals. Software guy needs a hardware guy? Jim made the intro. Someone had a good idea, but couldn’t afford Regis McKenna? Jim knew who to see and get it done. A great find for a writer, and any time I needed a story, Jim knew of one. I came to rely on his tips and we became pals. In fact, every few years, we’d get together on something. We even put together a product deal about 20 years after I had met him. Sadly, I’ve lost touch. Life works like that. But somewhere in The Valley, Jim is putting together a deal.

Doug Baker – a Canadian hockey player who moved South, Doug was a true visionary. He knew computers were useless without programs, and that business programs needed to be so generic that any company could use one. He worked as CEO of a little company called Basic/Four (now the giant MAI Basic Four) in Orange County, took small Z80-based systems, added an OS, and directed development of a set of universal business functions, written in BASIC, that most companies need. And – Wow! – up to 4 users could work simultaneously. Result: the “turnkey” system. A rush of competitors started doing it too – and this was the way the industry went. I was fortunate to work for Doug in later years and I learned this – if Douglas K. Baker said “here’s where it’s going”, that IS where it went.

There were so many more: engineers, programmers, marketing guys, promo guys – all builders. Guys like: Al Cosentino at MAI, Harry LeClair at Tab Products, Adam Osborne, Don Schnitter, Gene Sylvester, Jerry Cullen, Bo Frederickson, Noel Kyle, Mike Dakis, Dallas Talley, Jim LeBuff, – my memory is over-flowing. I’m the richer for having met them. They built the foundation, they made it happen, they were the first. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the other kids – they owe these pioneers a debt they can never pay.


This guest blog was submitted by Chuck Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.  

Here are the links to the other blogs in this series:

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 1: “The Way It Was”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 2: “First Wave of Characters”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 3: “Evolution of the Geek”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 4: “When Giant Sold Pork Chops”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 5: “Mr. Yee and the Albrae Street – Taiwan Connection”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part I: “The Way it Was”

A guest blog, by Chuck Ritley

Few people know this: Silicon Valley wasn’t always its name. Nope. It used to be: “The Valley of The Heart’s Delight”. Nothing to do with printed circuits, web pages, iMacs, Google, or the Cloud. No – it was the apricot capital of the world.

I moved there in the 70’s, with my family, just when it was slowly acquiring that new appendage – Silicon Valley.

SV_ApricotsUntil Hewlett and Packard started doing electrical things in their garage in Palo Alto, the Valley was a giant apricot orchard. You see, the Valley is a bowl, surrounded by the Santa Clara Mountains on south and east, and the Santa Cruz Mountains on the west. While San Francisco, 50 miles north, is cold and foggy, the Valley, protected all year long by the hills, is 20 degrees warmer than SFO, and sunny – in short, the perfect apricot climate.

Ringed around downtown San Jose, the Valley’s hub, companies like Dole, Libby, and Heart’s Delight had huge canneries. Empty 6 months of the year, during the summer and fall when the ‘cots were ripening, they came alive. With the harvest, thousands of migrant workers came in for the picking. The canning and packing was done by mostly local help who worked part time for those months of the year. And the factories spewed out train loads of canned, dried, preserved and juiced apricots.

In the spring, the Valley was beautiful. The trees started blooming, and everywhere you looked there were gorgeous blossoms. Places were named after them: Blossom Hill Road, Old Orchard Drive, and even a town: Blossom Hill. It was odd driving the roads and even the expressways. Here would be a tract of houses, and there a huge apricot orchard. Even the streets in the housing developments were often lined with apricot trees, making for a slippery walk when they were falling.

But – Wow – what a wonderful place to be in the spring. We lived at the far north end of the Valley, but close enough to enjoy it all.

How many apricots? I have no clue. But I do know that a few miles from my home, on the mud flats of San Francisco Bay, there was a charcoal factory. I couldn’t figure that out. Why build a charcoal factory where there aren’t any forests? Well, next time you eat an apricot, notice that half of it is in the seed. Little fruit, great big seed.

So, if you ship out 100 tons of canned apricots today, what do you also have? 100 tons of apricot seeds. You can’t eat them. Can’t throw them out, else the Valley would be awash in pits 3 feet deep. So – since they’re fiber – you dry them out, roast them, burn them in a kiln, and press them into charcoal briquettes.   And, you need a giant factory down on the mud flats to do it. Here’s a fact: for every pound of apricots, half a pound of charcoal. But then no one really wanted it known as “Charcoal Valley”. (Sound like a bluegrass song title?) So the factory sat a few miles north on the mud flats in Alameda County, and garden of beauty remained beautiful.

But like the Eden of the Book of Genesis, big changes were afoot. Man was coming. Binary man, AC/DC man, silicon man, logical man, and program man. They were on the way and nothing could halt the tide.


This guest blog was submitted by Chuck Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.  

Here are the links to the other blogs in this series:

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 1: “The Way It Was”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 2: “First Wave of Characters”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 3: “Evolution of the Geek”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 4: “When Giant Sold Pork Chops”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 5: “Mr. Yee and the Albrae Street – Taiwan Connection”


A Texas Safari

A guest blog, by Charles Ritley

South Texas, East of San Antonio, is a giant cattle ranch: grassland chock full of quail and deer—and those who hunt them. While Californians discuss ways to save endangered species, Texans swap recipes for cooking them.

But hunting, like golf, is a socio-drinking experience. Guys form clubs that sub-lease tracts on the large ranches—-and build fancy clubhouses, with overnight accommodations, air conditioning, and satellite dishes. They co-exist well with the cattle, it’s extra income for the rancher, and the basic ground rules are: OK to shoot quail, OK to shoot deer, not OK to shoot cow. (But after you pay the rancher, you may keep the cow.)

Now, I don’t hunt. I did hunt when I was a kid, because everyone did. I was a trap shooter for many years and president of a trap club —- but in my later years I chose not to kill things.

But I had a client who wanted to go hunting. I knew a local business who had part of a game lease, and asked them to help. They set up a quail hunt on a big ranch, and I went along as my client’s bodyguard.

QuailThis hunt was a circus. They had a large 4-wheel drive truck with two chairs bolted to the front, where hunters sat, and two bolted to the sides. In the bed of the truck: extra passengers, the dogs, and their handler. Plus, it held 4 people in the cab. Periodically, when they passed a likely spot, the truck stopped, everyone dismounted, and the dogs were set loose to sniff out and flush quail.

(Now this whole thing made no sense to me. I grew up hunting birds. They have a very sharp sense of hearing. A quail can hear a truck this size when it’s two miles away. But, I withheld my advice. I was just another outsider.)

Eventually, the dogs would flush something, birds would scatter through the sky in all directions, and everyone would start blasting away. (Like London in 1940, but without the sirens and searchlights.)

GinThen everyone would pile back into the truck, where they had: 2 liters of gin, a large bag of limes, and a couple of jugs of tonic water, and proceed to make a round of Gin and Tonics. (One part gin, two parts tonic, one slice of lime.)

After several stops, about a hundred rounds were fired, no birds were harmed, and everyone had consumed at least one G-and-T per stop. At this point, my client—-a nice guy and a close friend—-said he wanted to come because he once sold shotguns but had never been hunting. But now he had enough. In fact, he was scared – really scared. So, I had a conversation with our hosts, but their engines were running, and they weren’t about to stop. So, the client and I just stayed close to the truck and out of what we believed to be the line of fire.

But then another problem arose: when the guys climbed back into the truck, some were full of gin and didn’t bother unloading their shotguns. Now, trust me, you do not want to be bouncing along a pot-holed trail in a 4-wheel drive truck in compound low, crammed into a cab with 4 guys full of gin and 4 loaded shotguns. You really, really, really don’t. So the client and I—-claiming we wanted a better view, jumped up into the bed of the truck with the dogs. The dogs, at least, were stone sober. And unarmed.


They got a few quail that day, and as I recall they were thrown away. Quail are good to eat, if you pick out the shot, and no one would do that. Eventually, the gin ran out and we headed home. The client and I fired a few rounds into the air, just to act like good ole boys, but I managed to do no harm to anything or anyone. The client, however, did manage to hit–quite by accident–some kind of little wild canary. It kind of exploded in this yellow poof. He felt rather bad about it.



This guest blog was submitted by Charles Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.


The Zen of Polished Chrome

A guest blog, by Arlene Ritley

We all want to be rich.  Being rich means living the good life.  Being rich gives us the freedom to go where we want to go and buy what we want to buy.  Being rich can and often does create a feeling of happiness or euphoria.

Sooner or later, however, we come to realize, whether consciously or subconsciously, that happiness and contentment is fleeting.  Happiness doesn’t last long.  We want this feeling to last a life-time but it truly is short lived.

Pearl S. Buck once said, “Many people lose the small joys in the hope for big happiness”.  How true.

I have found the small joy in my life that brings me continual happiness.

You are probably sitting on the edge of your seat, waiting to read what this small joy is.

I will gladly share it with you now.

New Faucets


You laugh.  You think I am a crazy old woman.  How can you find happiness in a new faucet?  But I do!

Keep in mind the last thing I see before going to bed is my new faucet.  I stand there admiring the newness, the shine and the sleek sensual look.  My spirits soar, joy bubbles up, and my outlook for tomorrow becomes positive.  I go to bed knowing that in the morning my friend the faucet will still be there shining light on a new day.

Day after day, night after night, for a short period of time I’ll feel rich and, yes, happy.


This guest blog was submitted by Arlene Ritley, an editor with the Island Moon Newspaper – one of South Texas’s largest community newspapers.