Tech Time Line

Here is a slowly developing time line of my technical achievements during my lifetime.

1986

First Computer

My father bought me my first computer when I was about eight. It was the Acorn Electron, which was basically a BBC Model B with less memory. I played games on it at first, but after a few years I learnt how to program it with BASIC.

As this computer was similar to the computers at primary school, I was often called in from break or another class to help troubleshoot computer problems at my school. Teachers would always get stuck with these newfangled devices!

1989

Hacking Rediffusion

The Rediffusion Cable selector

In Basildon the television reception available through an antenna was really bad initially, so Basildon Council installed a cable television system in the 1970s to every house in the town. This system was operated by Rediffusion Television, and it meant that we could pick up a very good picture for the four main channels. The added advantage of this system was the extra channels you could pick up. We had Sky Channel way back in the late 80’s, which was free at the time.

Eventually the network started broadcasting a children’s channel and a film channel, which was eventually scrambled by shifting the audio sub carrier away from the normal frequency. I learnt that you could unscramble it by simply attaching a normal loud speaker directly to the cable, which would allow you to hear the audio properly. This worked because very early Rediffusion TV sets picked up the audio as an analogue signal directly off the wire, so they could be used to play radio programmes when the television set was switched off.

1990

Cabling up the street

As an early teenage geek I didn’t really go out much. I preferred to mess about with technology. During this time me and some other kids (Lee, Tim, Brendon) got together and set up our own cable TV network by throwing coaxial cables across the roofs and guttering of our street. It was hardly Virgin Media, as we only cabled up three houses in the end and annoyed countless neighbours by walking on the roofs and causing a mess with all the cables.

We piped through all the main TV networks, plus Sky Channel and The Children’s Channel (Pre-TCC days) to the various televisions in those three houses. We even did our own TV channel! We would go to the video rental store on Friday, choose some films we wanted to see that night, then we used a video player connected to the network to broadcast the film simultaneously to the three households. I even did some basic graphics using my Acorn Electron to display a schedule of what was playing that night. Some of the kids would sometimes broadcast their Spectrum computer games over the network too.

1992

BBS

Using a cheap 286 PC and a 14.4bps modem, I ran a bulletin board system (BBS) with a full node on the Fidonet. I also experimented with setting up a small Essex based Fidonet style network called H-NET at the time. This connected fifteen different bulletin boards in Essex together to create a networked discussion board and network mail (email) system that would connect to each node daily and swap data.

Fidonet was a computer network used for transferring email and shared public messages on bulletin board systems of the time. It was possible to send an email to anyone on the Fidonet system in the world, and to email addresses on the Internet via Fidonet gateways. The system relied on nightly polling of a network node, which meant the data would “hop” slowly to each node, sometimes taking days to route a message to a distant user. Fidonet was very slow considering modern Internet email is instant.

1993

MegaSoft

The Amiga 500

During my teenage years I was highly involved in the Amiga scene. This included running a public domain software library called MegaSoft.

MegaSoft provided all the latest Amiga software sending 3.5 inch floppy disks through the mail. These were the days when virtually no one had direct Internet access. MegaSoft had one of the largest collections of public domain software at the time, with over 1.7gb of data!

Me and a couple of friends even started a disk based computer magazine. It ran for three months; we got bored of writing all the articles! I distributed it through MegaSoft.

1994

Phreaking and Radio

At 16 I discovered Phreaking and Blue Boxing. This involved using special multi-frequency generating equipment to fool the telephone system into allowing you operator access to the whole network for free.

You could use telephone equipment in distant exchanges to route calls through satellites or land trunks and explore the network; it wasn’t all about getting free International calls. You could chat in chat rooms with other hackers and exchange information. Phreaking gave me a freedom that many people didn’t have – I could control the telephone network, not just use it. If I ever needed to use a phone for free, I had that option.

I also met a new friend, Simon in school. We were both geeks for technology, especially broadcast radio.

Broadcasting House

Once we arranged our own “field trip” to BBC Broadcasting House in London to meet a rather amazing engineer called Mark, who was a broadcast engineer for the BBC.

Mark showed us how data elements such as RDS were encoded into the broadcast around the audio carrier and showed us around Broadcasting House. We were in our element, seeing the best broadcaster in the world’s broadcast equipment.

Mark also showed us around BBC Radio 2. We briefly met Jimmy Young, who was not very pleased to see two school kids in his studio!

The next day, our head of year wasn’t best pleased that we’d skipped school a day and traveled to London on our own to meet a middle aged man at the BBC! Looking back on it now, I can see why she was so angry!

During the weekends Simon and I would travel up to Hospital Radio Notley and do a few radio shows there. It was a very small station. Most of the patients were elderly and I doubt anyone ever tuned in to our show. Still, it was practice for the future and I’m glad I did it.

1995

Black Hat / White Hat

I was arrested (but not charged!) for Phreaking and Blue Boxing. The police took my computer equipment away. I was devastated. I moved away from “black hat” and stopped phreaking, unless I needed a free call somewhere and I didn’t have any  money. The skills I obtained in this field were later put to good use in IT securing computer networks from hackers.

1996

Television School and CB Radio

I had the pleasure of doing six months of work experience at South East Television and Media Workshop (SETMW) in Basildon. A fully operational television studio which produced programmes for local cable and corporate customers. Their studios were next to my house at the Parkside Centre.

During this time I learnt how to operate virtually every piece of television equipment there was. They had just won a lottery grant and were in the process of updating their equipment. They went from using an Amiga with Genlock, to a professional Quantel Paintbox which was donated by ITN. They installed new cameras, a new television mixer, new edit bays and audio mixing equipment. Everything was brand new and I was lucky enough to experience this equipment and taught to use it correctly.

I also discovered CB radio this year, as the television studio had an old CB radio they were throwing out. This reminded me about my old fascination with broadcast radio I had in school, and eventually inspired me to get into broadcast radio.

1997

Telewest Broadband

I worked in Network Delivery, the department responsible for building and maintaining the cable network of Telewest (later Virgin Media). This was an interesting job making sure the network ran properly and fixing any issues with initial installation of the network ducts and cables.

1998-2001

Basildon Networks

A collection of local geeks including myself worked on websites. Our main project was Basildon NOW!, which was the first local online newspaper for Basildon, including a local business directory, employment listings, local events, local information and even horoscopes. We updated the website daily with the latest news and events for Basildon.

Later on we produced a weekly video streaming “podcast” with news, weather and a little humour for the local area of Basildon. We used a single webcam and took several “takes” of each scene to produce a multi camera edit, with presenters sitting on our sofa.

1999

The First Radio Station for Basildon

I was head of the IT team at Eastgate FM, the first legal FM radio station for Basildon since Radio Basildon had closed fourteen years before.

It broadcast for 28 days, 24 hours a day, and back in ’99 there was no easy way of automating the broadcast, so the studio was also live constantly during this 28 day period.

I experimented with providing the best possible live streaming of the broadcast online, especially since we had such a low powered FM transmitter. We only had a modem (45kbps max) connection to the Internet as broadband was unavailable. I set up an external server which took a single high quality stream from our shaky Internet connection and rebroadcast it to our online listeners.

I presented for at least 15 hours on air, including preparing and presenting the news and travel, voice over work for promos and adverts, and five three hour night time shifts, filling in for other presenters.

2001-2005

Essex Broadband

Essex Broadband provided wireless Internet service throughout most areas of Basildon in Essex. We offered a service better than BT was providing at the time to home customers. As ADSL and Cable technology became cheaper, wireless service wasn’t necessary any more, so I closed the service in late 2005.

2005-2006

Basildon College

I studied two courses over a year, CompTIA A+ and an NVQ in Computer Repair.

2007-2015

Computer Repair to Network Administrator

I generally freelanced during this time, repairing home computers at first, but I progressed quickly into setting up larger office computer and telephone networks and maintaining them for many companies.

2009-2011

Gateway 97.8 FM

I was the head of IT when the station was transformed from an Internet only station to the first full time licensed FM radio station for Basildon in 29 years since the original Radio Basildon closed.

I set up studios and trained new presenters in how to operate the equipment, set up outside broadcast equipment, edited and voiced promo’s, read the news, operated the desk for certain presenters and was on call for breakdowns 24 hours a day.

Bob Le-Roi has a very interesting page showing the early development of the radio station. There is also a good description of the station here including my name as a presenter.

More information on Gateway 97.8 on my Media page.

 

2012-2013

Webcam Models!

I ran technical support for several adult websites, including Glamour Stars Live, which is a live model webcam website. This involved editing video, configuring equipment, maintaining webcams and providing telephone support for the models.

Before every live broadcast I would call the model to make sure they were ready for their show, remote connect to their computer and test their Internet connection, then configure the webcam software to the highest quality that their computer and Internet connection could sustain. As the members could chat to the model in a live chat room, that also needed moderating.

I saw a lot of naked models over those two years. At least five a day for at least 600 days in a row. Blimey! That’s 3000 models, or 6000 breasts! After a while the novelty does wear off.

 

2014-2017

Via Wire

I worked with Via Wire Ltd as their head of support, answering inbound calls from customers requiring technical support and visiting businesses to maintain and fix issues on-site.

I helped set up various outdoor events for Silverstone Auctions. During this time I was an on-site engineer for outdoor events at Car Fest South 2016, Blenheim Palace Classic and Supercar Show 2016 and the 2016 Classic Race Aarhus, Denmark. My task during these events was to set up and maintain a computer network and wifi network with up to fifteen telephones for auctioneers and live webcasting direct to their website and various live car auction websites. At Blenheim Palace I was tasked with the set up of a wifi network for the whole event, allowing hundreds of visitors access to the Internet including PDQ (Credit Card) machines for event vendors.