Part III: Canada
To Gram an Gramp’s
A New Home
Toronto, what a sight! After the six-hour flight, Val was exhausted. He remembered Heimaey’s population of 5,000 and Reykjavik’s of 120,000.
He had been brought here twice. Once he was too young to remember, and the other time, still quite young, was a blur. He had read of Toronto having 2.6 million, and the GTA, (Greater Toronto Area), having over 6 million. Seeing it now with more mature eyes was very different, as was being here as a young man somewhat on his own.
From the air the limits of the city and the start of the GTA were indiscernible. About an hour’s drive from the Airport, just on the edge of the “GTA,” was Val’s “home away from home.” It was pretty much a basement apartment that his grandparents Bill & Lily had renovated just for him.
It was not big, but then neither was his bedroom and “lab” at his Iceland home. It was no surprise when he had to pass numerous Bible texts in frames on the wall to get to his new bedroom. There was even one in his room. He would deal with that later.
For now, he was happy to get a small stash of his equipment and supplies from Iceland set up in his new “lab.”
Val had worked up to the last minute with his father. It was good to have had the time with him. Val knew he would miss him. But it had been good to help his father by hard work and make a bit of money in the deal.
It was understood he would be attending meetings with his grandparents, but it was also understood this first weekend before school was not included.
The one major purchase made for his new life was the latest, top of the line laptop. Gramps had been in “Information Technology” for nearly all of his working years but was now retired.
He had “High-Speed Internet” for years, but upgraded to “Ultra High” for Val (well… maybe a bit for himself too).
So much to do, and not much time! With much still to do, he could wait no longer and began setting up his new prize. It would be needed tomorrow.
While the USA led in many things, it was common knowledge Canada had gotten the jump in robotics, even way back with the “CanadArm” the USA sent into space.
What niche would Val fit into? So many new things. He would try to sleep but knew it would not be easy.
The first day of school was a blur. Classes, teachers, schedules, Val’s mind was truly challenged, but not overwhelmed.
Some of the subject he knew he would merely tolerate. They would, therefore, require extra effort.
However, as he entered the Hardware lab he could tell instantly he was no longer the big fish in the small pond as in his high school, but a small fish in a large lake.
Other introductory lectures had left him unimpressed, but “Hardware trends, and the future” captivated him.
The instructor was well read, and a real thinker in his own right. His extrapolations of the “now” into the “soon to come” left Val enthralled.
Software… well, what good is hardware without good software to fully utilize it? Val could certainly get into it, but hardware still ruled in his mind.
After all, software was totally dependent and limited by the confines of hardware.
There were a number of conversations that revealed common interests (or the lack thereof). One conversation with a guy named Tim was the beginning of a friendship Val hoped would last.
He was from just outside Nuuk (Godthab), Greenland’s capital city. His interests were close to Val’s but seemed more into software.
Yes, to Val it seemed they complemented each other. As they chatted, an outgoing fellow by the name of Ron began to listen and eventually joined the conversation. He was taking computer courses, but his primary area of interest was in how computers connected and controlled the world around them. He had, on his own, been able to do some interesting things in this area. Ron was an interesting conversationalist and seemed nice enough. However, something in his personality inhibited the full development of the bond Val felt with Tim.
The first meeting of the assembly of Christians Val’s grandparents took him to was quite different from where his mother had taken him.
The small building seemed stark. He was set at the back. The “circle” his grandpa explained, was for those “in fellowship” which required being “born again.”
There was no signage on the wall to indicate what Hymns would be sung… there was no leader (pastor, minister), just a group of folks sitting around.
Val was told his granddad, Bill was an “elder” here. He had yet to ascertain what that entailed. Val had attended meetings here when he was quite young. When he was a little older, he opted to stay with his father who found other things to do on what they here called “The Lord’s Day.”
Although Val could not see any sign of local leadership, it amazed him how the meeting flowed. Even with his limited understanding of what was going on, he comprehended an overall theme.
The ladies wore very pleasant hats or veils, but Val was the only one giving that much notice. The ladies did not speak, but otherwise appeared as much a part of the proceedings as the men.
One after the other the men rose either to give thanks for “The Lord Jesus Christ,” or to suggest they sing a hymn from the small black book they used. After three hymns interspersed with a number of prayers what seemed to be the climax arrived. On the table in the centre of the circle was a loaf of bread and a cup of wine. A man prayed to thank God for the bread which he said was “a symbol of the body of the Lord Jesus Christ… a body broken for us.” Then another rose and prayed to thank God for the wine which he said was “a symbol of the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ… blood poured out for us.” Val thought he saw tears in their eyes, but was a distance away and so he was not sure.
Then near the end, a man named Rob got up and suggested they all turn to a certain place in the Bible while he read. After reading it, he spoke about it for a few minutes. He explained the meaning of some Greek words he said were in “the original text.”
Val certainly did not understand it all, but it was obvious there was much more to the “Scriptures” than the English Bible to which he had been exposed in his youth.
After a final prayer, some announcements were spoken, or read. Those read were acknowledgments of money sent to people, some in Canada, but others in faraway places.
This may have been a small group, but it sure appeared they were doing their part.
All were anxious to shake Val’s hand and showed real interest in him after the meeting ended.
After a short intermission, complete with a snack, the congregation re-assembled. They sang children’s songs, asked about birthdays, and even sang a song welcoming Val to the Sunday School.
Val thought ‘God should not feel left out here.’ There had already been a lot of prayer in the first meeting. This time, known apparently as “Sunday School/Bible Study” began with one, and as the two groups separated, they prayed again. Then the Sunday School teachers and students left for their classes.
Given Val’s age, he would remain in the “Bible Study.”
The study was in the book of Jeremiah, Chapter 8. It started out talking about bones and worshiping heavenly bodies. Val’s attention waned, and he tuned back in just in time to hear them talking about worshiping “graven images.” Then the focus shifted to a verse that sounded so sad, and desperate. Verse 20: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”
It was explained armies went out to war in the spring, summer and on into fall as weather permitted. However as winter came on, they seldom began a military campaign. So the lament was that if some army had not delivered them from their oppressors by harvest time, they would not be delivered for quite some time; maybe never!
It amazed Val how close he felt to his grandparents, but how distant from this part of their life. And at this moment, it saddened him as well.
Jorgen’s wife, Crystal, had a cousin. He was the CEO of a company that was researching the development of a module for the control of various types of machinery. It was also conjectured it could develop further into a control device for vehicles.
Originally it was being developed with many different possibilities in mind. One design goal was to share control with a head office base for possible use during various emergencies. The larger container ships were a primary target from early in its development. With cargo priced at over 500 million dollars, they were a temptation to many undesirables in the world. The ability to stop, or limit the movement of the ship, or maybe take over control completely would help protect the profit margins of companies that would pay well for the protection. And if insurance companies saw this addition as meaningful, and adjusted premiums to reflect that, this could be very profitable indeed.
Even though Tim had little time to work due to his study load, his family thought it best he contribute a little if he could, without too much negative impact on his grades. Also, this company could help him get established in the industry after graduation.
An opening became available shortly after Tim’s arrival in Canada for some menial labour, and Crystal put in a good word for Tim. He was soon taking his place at the company, and trying to fit in.
He did his job faithfully, but on breaks, and sometimes for a few minutes before or after his shift, he would talk to the engineers and programmers working on the project. Sometimes his lunch reading was the manuals the engineers loaned him. His grasp and even suggestions caused a stir that rippled to the top. He was soon an understudy of a chief engineer, who assigned him a development strategy that had him spend a few weeks with key people in the various areas of the company. This was to eventually give him an overview of all key components of the device. It was slow and challenging with just a few hours a week available given his study load at school. However, it was so much more complementary to his schooling than the original task he had been hired to perform.
Val was glad of the work, but it started with a very menial task. He remembered his first PC setup. He did not, however, know how many he had set up since for family and friend.
His job was to keep working PC’s on every desk. Of course, the operating system needed to be there. He also needed to have their suite of developer software installed and tested.
He soon realized the wait time for software to load was usable for study, weather-related to school, or the company’s products and systems.
Val decided the benefit would be worth it. He set aside a Saturday (not easy with his workload) and experimented with ways to load more that one piece of software at one time.
Also, he tested loading to more that one PC at a time. The former was a problem he could not quickly solve due to “registry write” issues and “restart timing” conflicts.
He was able to accomplish the latter, however, loading more PCs at one time. His predecessor had tried and left some notes of his progress. This caused less time going in directions that led to dead ends.
The result was more discretionary time for his pursuits. While he did not solve the problem of completely loading a number of computers at one time, he was able to divide the task into levels. Operation system, custom drivers, middleware, developer software, then collaborating and reporting software. The old “divide and conquer” tactic. Even with having to do these steps one at a time, bringing a number of PCs through them saved a great deal of time.
He was soon given some machine language tasks for inclusion as drivers in PCs to enable the connectivity of certain devices.
This was instantly valuable for the integration of Tim’s module to Bill’s ATV.
Ron had an uncle who sold cars. Ron was fair-to-middlin’ with mechanics, and had a salesman’s mentality.
He got a job with his uncle and did quite well at it. As these were high-end cars, the commission added up.
Ron was soon driving a very nice car, and looking to own one shortly. His social life ran shallow with most.
Tim and Val were inseparable. Tim’s family was more financially well off. That did not seem to matter to either of them. The difference was not that great.
Besides, money was not at the centre of either of their worlds. They both loved technology.
Ron, on the other hand, was a conundrum.
He almost fit in, but then again, not quite. Money, fame, influence, they were all closer to the centre of his world.
He was smart; no one argued that. He also had his brand of social skills. He could be very charming but too often lacked sincerity.
Tim & Val, on the other hand, found interacting with new people a little more challenging, preferring a few good friends to many casual acquaintances.
Ron’s ability to stay on task as they worked in Val’s lab was limited.
But his addition to the team’s genius was in the area of getting the hardware to talk to the real world; solenoids, control circuits, Op. Amps and such.
His favorite times were when they were allowed to use Bill’s ATV on the property.
The downside of Tim’s job was, the time it took. After working, sleeping, eating, school, and study there was not much time left.
The upside was “The Module” (and of course, the money). Tim was allowed to take home a prototype of the module. It was hoped this would reduce the time required for him to learn the product, and to investigate its potential.
This module wound up at Bill’s place connected to the ATV. It was designed to give automation as well as remote control.
Bill often tried to reach out to them. He remembered being that age himself to some degree.
He hoped to see spiritual progress in any of the younger guys, remembering his own conversion. He prayed a lot as it seemed the only thing keeping anything spiritual in their lives was “the agreement.”
After the third warning to use the ATV within the limits Bill imposed, Ron was banned from its use. This was a blow that he found hard to handle.
Val and Tim reached out to him a few times, but it was never the same.
He avoided Bill’s property, which limited his time with Val and Tim. His circle of friends needed to be widened. It did grow but was certainly not improved.
Ron’s conversation with his new friends included the work on the module with the Intel processor. He told them of its being hooked to the ATV to test its potential. Their interest and the questions they asked surprised him, but the impression soon faded. His new friend Walter seemed a good one, so life went on.
School ended, and, no surprise to Val, he had to make up some courses over the summer.
Oh, the fab three had blown the doors off in the technology portion of their course, but some things were just not interesting enough to command their attention for very long.
Well, now it HAD to happen. Meanwhile, the graduation celebration was here. The three prepared. Ron had a date, as he often did, but not the other two.
During the festivities, however, a girl named Irene, who had been eying Val for a while was not backward about coming forward in letting him know the ball was in his court.
When Tim saw the action, he picked up the ball, and she wound up leaving with him. Val was not sure what held him back but felt a loss and relief at the same time.
The summer passed, and the marks had been posted. No one would laud Val’s grades for his summer make-up courses, but they allowed him to move forward.
His Tech. marks ensured him a place in the industry anyway. Ron got a job with Intel in Canada in the “interface team.” Tim went full time with the module company that had given him employment through his schooling.
Val was hired by AMD in Canada. Ron and Val were more focused on hardware, while Tim straddled both hardware and software. He maintained there was a very blurry line between them anyway.
The others had to agree.
Irene had obtained her Chartered Accountant designation and was working at the same company as Tim. They were still “an item, ” and she fit in well with the group.
Ron’s social life was more the revolving door type. They all tried to show friendship to the procession of female interests, but relationships never had a chance to run deep.
Val was focused to the point of having little to no time for further relationships, although he enjoyed time with the group.
The first day at work for Val was a quick history lesson. Much of his personal work and even training was with Intel processors, so the nuances that distinguished AMD’s processors needed to be learned.
That was short lived since his abilities were soon evident. As time went on and the “new job trauma” wore off, he settled into a comfortable routine.
His first real impact on the company was related to lessons learned at his father’s side. Their testing was somewhat cumbersome. He designed a test sequence based on what he called “the back door.”
The processor could be switched to an alternate mode giving much more manual, and granular control of the processor, and of course, whatever software it was running.
As a result, more thorough testing could be accomplished in less time. Management, seeing the immediate benefit, agreed to maintain this capability up to the Beta versions, but were adamant it not leave the building. As his influence increased, he talked them into allowing him to take a processor home to his lab at Bill’s. This, he assured them would further his ability to test its interaction with other hardware.
Device after device was interfaced to the processor. Most functioned as expected. However, certain devices required more current than the processor provided when in lesser used modes. This enabled AMD to fix a problem that well might have made it out the door.
It was with fear and trepidation Bill had originally OK’ed the attachment of the module Tim and Val were working on to his ATV. Despite his consternation, all seemed to be going well.
The tests were moving through what the module would or could control. Tim had talked his employer into allowing him to borrow the latest version of the module.
They removed the Intel processor and shoe-horned in the test AMD Val was testing. Nuances needed to be handled, but the differences weren’t extremely difficult to overcome.
Until the “Programmable Brain” they envisioned was created, they used a sort of video game/small vehicle style remote controller to remotely control the functions of the ATV. Ignition, Choke, Primer, accelerator, and steering all remotely controlled and of course a remote kill switch. Ron had left his “thumbprint” on the project in its interfaces, but Val and Tim had been paying attention, and were able to take over in “real world connectivity, and control.”
Bill had even helped out with the purchase of the required solenoids. It got a little scarier for him when the final solenoids were installed to change gears. It had been more comfortable to see the lower speeds that low gear permitted than now with all gears usable. But, since Bill insisted there be a person on the unit at all times during motion, he was able to live with it.
Progress was steady until one Saturday when their schedules promised them a full day of play/testing. When they got the ATV out, it had hardly gone any time at all when it ran out of gas at the corner of their property the farthest away from the house.
Tim and Val headed in for Tim’s beat up VW and headed out for gas. Tim’s car was low on fuel too but used diesel, so they had to go a bit farther.
They returned to take up where they left off. The remote control unit was nowhere to be found. They scolded each other for misplacing it. Both thought it was just left on top of the machine. After exhausting all possibilities they could think of, they decided to work on the module while they gave it some more time, and thought. This was a mystery. As Val removed the covers, he noted the screws and bolts were loose. Bill had cautioned them about the level of vibration, and the need to keep all fasteners tight. This was another mystery however since they had been careful to check them regularly, and had done just that recently. The third mystery was the worst though. Having removed the covers, they found the space that had contained the module was empty!
His dad had an old one-liner he liked to use. Val usually smiled when he heard it. “And there it was… gone”. But the quip was not so humorous here and now. He was responsible for the processor, and Tim for the module! It would not be pleasant explaining why these items were not returned. But they were gone, that was for sure. The ATV was not harmed, other than having to fix a few wires. All mechanical hardware was soon removed to put the ATV back as it had been from stock. The rest of their dreams for the module would have to wait… maybe indefinitely.
The processor was soon obsolete. Val breathed a sigh of relief when a new version was released knowing they would not likely ask for the obsolete one back. The same was true of the module’s circuit board. The module power supply and container were another matter. In the end, they both confessed to their immediate superiors. There was some anger, and they lived under a cloud for a while.
Their managers were concerned that the parts, although not the latest, still might fall into the wrong hands, maybe a competitor. But this was a situation that time would indeed heal given the speed at which both the companies moved on.
Val and Tim finally realized their bosses likely had not sent the request to borrow too far up the command structure, and so the damage was also contained at a low level.