28 June 2013


In August 1989, Johnny was 14, Helen 12, Eddie 9, and Adele almost 7 - and all were by now quite accomplished musicians.  I think Helen had, by now, played show music in the Pukekohe Light Opera Club, and Adele may have done as well - if she had not then, she did soon after.  I'm not sure how far they had progressed in acquiring qualifications ('grades' from Trinity College) - eventually Helen did grade 8 both in flute and piano (and, I think, theory); Adele the same in trumpet and piano (though she may have stopped with grade 7 in piano - not sure).  The boys were good musically, though they did not do the 'grades' thing.

But they were all playing music a lot - and the focus was still the Papakura Saturday Music School.  Every Saturday Susan took them to Papakura (whilst I worked at my part-time job).

One day she told me the following story.  Eddie's regular violin teacher (he is now still a stringed instrument musician - but the strings are made of metal and the instrument is amplified :-)) was away.  Mr Cooper was filling in for the regular teacher (whose name I have forgotten - but no doubt Eddie remembers).  Somehow she learnt that Mr Cooper played in the Papakura Civic Orchestra:

Sue: "Oh, interesting!  My husband used to play the horn."
Bill Cooper: "Really?!  He should start again and think of playing with us."
Sue: "Oh, it has been a long time since he played - and he doesn't have a horn of us own."
Bill: "Well, our orchestra happens to have a horn that is not being used.  He should try that."
Sue: "OK, I'll tell him!"

Yeah, right!  I played the cornet from about age 8 or 9, and the horn from 14, both quite seriously until the end of 1962, when I left University and had to give back the horn.  Get serious, Sue!  After 27 years??!!

I couldn't stop thinking about it.  Before the following Saturday, I said to Sue to tell him that, oh, well, I'd love to see what it would be like to have a horn again to fiddle with - but don't count on anything!

It was, in fact, pretty awful - but I was astonished to find that, although, naturally, my embouchure was non-existent, my diaphragm made of jelly, and my fingers like clubs - still, that I had no problem knowing what to do - and perhaps practice would give me the power to do it.

I am surprised to find, looking at timing, what a short time I actually played in the orchestra.  I played my first concert with them in early 1990; I played my last in late 1993.  By the end of that time, I was beginning to be not a bad horn player.

I stopped for a number of reasons.  I think the primary one was that in the middle of 1993, we had a conductor (we did not have a regular conductor - various people were brought in) who had a plan - a good one, I thought - rather to help us become more serious and better as an orchestra.  He offered to be our conductor for all of 1994.  My understanding of what happened - and I must point out that I could be wrong; I was not on the committee - was that our committee at first agreed with him, offered him verbally a one-year contract - and then changed their mind.

I do not mean that I left as some sort of protest.  I did feel, however, that we were missing an opportunity in rejecting this plan.  There were other matters - for one thing, our rehearsal schedule was becoming burdensome - every Wednesday evening.

Nonetheless, I would not, I am sure, have left the orchestra had it not been for something new coming up.  Helen was, by this time, receiving flute lessons from Uwe Grodd - who was the University's flute and conducting teacher.  In October, 1993, she and Adele played in an inaugural concert with a group called, at the time, the Manukau City Symphony Orchestra (since minus the 'City' since we are part of an extended Auckland now).  Uwe was conducting.

They loved it.  Somehow Terry Spragg contacted me.  Perhaps Helen had told her I played the horn.  Why didn't I play with them?

No horn!  I had been using a single-F Yamaha horn belonging to the Papakura Orchestra.

No problem.  Terry was at the time in charge of the Howick School of Music.  They had a horn - an old Meister Hans Hoyer - which I could hire from them very cheaply.

So I did.  It has been a wonderful thing.  I played my first concert with them in early 1994.  Tomorrow evening we will play:

I now own my own horn (a Hoyer as well - but newer :-)).

16 June 2013

Archibald and Associates

We hadn't enough money.

That, I suppose, describes most people most of the time.  But things were becoming very difficult.  When we had returned from Yap, we had our savings - those gold and silver coins - but had used the money from them to buy our house, our car, various things we needed for the house.  We had a mortgage.  We had no expenses different from anyone else - but none less.

I don't really remember the order of events, or even exactly which year they occurred in, that led me to Glen Archibald.  I think perhaps it was about 1988 or 1989 that I began seriously to think I had to do something.

Living in Yap, we had managed to tithe - to give 10% of our income - and we had managed, following advice from Gary North, to save another 10%.  The latter was possible principally because in Yap our expenses were very low.  We paid no rent.  We had no vehicle.  There were no entertainments to take our money.  It is true that we had the costs of providing for home schooling materials.  There was little else.

So I bought gold and silver coins, as I have said.  In Pukekohe, those coins made a down payment on our house; bought us a car; did other things.

And I continued to think I would save 10% in addition to tithing.

I remember that we did a fairly detailed form of book-keeping - writing down our expenditures and running totals on various items - and for a long while I kept a running total of how much I had fallen short in my savings plan.  It was, I thought, merely this or that temporary expense that meant this month I could not save as usual; soon I would be able to run that debit balance back down to zero.

I recall - deeply touching to me - Johnny's discovery, which he brought to me, one day - of a new means to deal with our financial difficulties.  He had seen, on television, something about a thing called a credit card.  You didn't have to have money.  You could buy things with the credit card.  He was quite cast down when I explained that one had to pay back the money, plus interest.  His concern for his family was very wonderful to me.

I had, by this time, got a credit card.  It was much against my inclination.  I knew where it would lead.  I had finally got to the point of having a large debit balance on it, and, in fact, a close friend, hearing of this from me, gave me - without strings - a large amount of money to zero that balance.

Nevertheless, something had to be done.

Was it Johnny this time who baled me out?  Certainly he did so a few years later, with regard to Rob Saunders.  Someone - and it may have been him - pointed out to me an ad for someone with computer skills to work for an accountant in Papakura.

The accountant was Glen Archibald.  He had achieved pretty amazing results in automating his accounting business.  Instead of buying commercial accounting software, Glen had cobbled together a working system using a collection of computers running CP/M and DOS, and enormously complicated spreadsheets of his own design, to run his business.  The machines were not networked.  They communicated mostly by data being carried back and forth on floppy discs.

Glen's biggest headache was tax accounting.  Filing tax returns was still on paper.  But the New Zealand Inland Revenue Department had instituted a system for electronic tax filing.  It was primitive by today's standards.  Tax returns had to be uploaded to the IRD using a 1200-baud modem.

And they had to be in a strict format, and encrypted.

There was one company already selling commercial software to do this, but it was expensive.  Glen hired me, as well as his then 16-year old son Grant (and, later, a database man named Patrick) to write software to enable him to file tax returns on-line.

We did.  We used Kermit (which is open-source) as the protocol - that was what they specified - and wrote a surprising amount of code both in C and in many-thousand-line Unix shell scripts on the Xenix machine he acquired to do database work (which also was where I first learnt SQL).

I worked for Glen every Saturday until, I think, late 1992 or possibly sometime in 1993.  By that time what we had written was doing a pretty good job.  Networking and Windows 3.11 were part of our office.  Glen, Grant, Patrick, and I sat down one day to talk about getting a fully-networked version of his system going.  Glen was very excited.  He wanted to go into the software business.  I remember that he asked us to come up with some idea of what would be required, including a cost estimate.

We gulped.  We felt that Glen was considering only the programming.  We talked with one another about things like user support, manuals, etc.  Finally at a meeting late one Saturday morning we met with Glen.  I don't recall what figure we came up with to get the point of actual production - perhaps $250,000.

I left the office that day at 1PM and never came back.  Glen could see what was and what was not a likely proposition :-)

1989 was a year that brought another change for me - and, as a consequence, for my family.  I returned to playing the horn, after a 27-year hiatus.

02 June 2013

Happy Days

This will be short as I started something and "lost" it - please, no questions - for me this is an easy thing to do.

I was writing about living in Cedar Hills Park on Park Place - about the neighbours, their cars, their kids who were my friends, the area  was beautiful with many trees around the houses, etc.  It was a good neighbourhood and it was safe at the time.  I don't think any of us ever thought about anything bad happening.  We locked our doors at night - that was being careful but no one ever worried about much else.

There was a new shopping centre up the main road.  It had shops that I loved to go into with my mother - a big grocery store, nice clothing store jammed with womens' clothes in local labels which were Jantzan, White Stag, Pendleton - all of these were made in Oregon.  A shoe store, chemist where we took our photos to be developed and a restaurant where we loved to go on Friday night -if we were good.

One Saturday morning my mother took my father's car up to the shopping centre.  We went into Safeway to buy food and returned to the car.  We opened the door and sat there for a couple of minutes and things began to feel "different".  I can remember asking my Mom when my father had bought the wool blanket that lying on the backseat of the car.  She looked around and suddenly realized that we were sitting in someone else's car that looked just like ours - we threw open the car doors and jumped out of the seats - looked a couple of rows down and there was our car.  We ran over to it, jumped inside and started laughing.  In those days people often didn't lock their car doors if they were in their local neighbourhood. 

I can't remember ever hearing of anyone having a break in at their house or car.

Next time I will talk about our move to Seattle.


We networked the student lab.

Before 1988, our student lab had consisted, as I said, of 20 terminals connected to a XENIX machine.  I think it must have been in 1988 that we installed PCs and a network.  These were machines without a hard disc - twin 5.25" floppy drives only - and the network was something I have forgotten now - quite slow.  But we had one IBM XT as a stand-alone print server (walk up to it, put your floppy in, copy your file to the hard disc, and print!) - and an AT running Novell Netware as a file server.  Soon the twin-floppy PCs were replaced with IBM PS/2s with (I think) 20MB hard drives and 1MB of RAM - and 3.5" floppy.  The most wonderful thing about these machines - rather, about the Netware server software - was NSnipes.

The lab had 20 carrels, each with a separate computer connected to the network.  NSnipes was the first networked computer game - one in which separate players played against one another in a virtual space.

The NSnipes geometry was toroidal - doughnut-shaped.  A maze was imposed on the surface of this two-dimensional space (i.e. you could not burrow into the torus, only travel on the outside).  Starting the game selected at random one of a limited number different mazes.  I soon discovered that one of the mazes had a continuous corridor running continually around the torus.  If your 'man' fired a 'bullet' it went straight ahead until it hit a wall of the maze, at which point it disappeared.  A trick I enjoyed was finding the continuous corridor above-mentioned, jumping quickly into it, and rapid-firing down it, ducking back out just as the bullets came around behind you.

None of which did me much good.  Other players - particularly David - ah, I cannot recall his last name! - were much more interested in the game as competition.  I was quickly killed - but my legacy was a series of bullets that divided space into twomutually uncommunicating halves.

We had a lot more spare time on our hands in those days.

By now - 1988 or possibly 1989 - I was beginning seriously to feel a financial pinch.  My income alone seemed inadequate to support us.  We did, indeed, have the extra money from the children's (and Susan's) paper deliveries.  I think we were beginning to get some government subsidy to help with home-schooling (and soon Johnny would be leaving home-schooling to go off to college/high school - but not quite yet).  Moaning about money troubles at work, someone urged me to look for a part-time job - Saturday work.  I answered an ad.  Glenn Archibald was the response.