Personal History : 1999 – 2000

Prior to 1999, there really weren’t any decent digital cameras that normal people could afford, which is why most of the ‘memories’ here are tiny images out of cameras that captured digital postage stamps, pictures of pictures, or more recent photos of physical items.

I finally bit the bullet and bought a $900 AGFA “ePhoto 1680” digital camera in 1999, and have a bit of a photographic record of that time onward.


January 1999

Ken sells his ISP “Magibox” in December and moves to the farm in his minivan which contains everything he owns. As is tradition, I add him to the roster of characters on the farm…

The sketch was done in January, and the inks in February – but close enough…

Ken also has three horses; two mares named Tuffy and Lana, and a miniature stallion that I forget the name of.

Thing, Lana, and Tuffy in the ‘back yard’ of the farm in Fredericksburg. Taken November 8, 1999.

Noting that the farm is a short jaunt from the Chesapeake Bay, Ken starts shopping for a yacht… He’s always wanted a ‘floating RV’, and now he’s got the opportunity. He and Scott spend the month of January yacht shopping, eventually locating a 47-foot 1967 Chris Craft “Commander” in Baltimore.

February 1999

We are approached by Ronald Massa Associates (RMA), who we used as a source for the Targa and tri-media image capture boards and Sony cameras we used in the Gen3, to see if we would be interested in developing a digital signage system for ADT’s use in airports. We look over the project requirements and being as it’s pretty simple (sending stills to a monitor over a network) decide to add it to the plate. I start work on it on February 10th, calling it “Arch View”.

Ken purchases the Chris Commander, christens it “StarChaser” (I call it PegaBoat to keep with the tongue-in-cheek naming convention we use for anything Ken works on), and he and Scott start fixing up the boat as the 1999 handyman project. The boat spends several months in Baltimore getting the engines worked on, the electrical redone, and the hull repainted.

Foto Fantasy purchases APBI on February 19th, 1999. With the purchase of APBI we were now working for a different company based out of Hew Hampshire. The purchase was just to do three things: put APBI out of business, acquire APBI’s patents, and acquire APBI’s location portfolio. Foto Fantasy still had to honor the orders for the Gen3 though, so we still had some spot work tuning up the codebase and adjusting the hardware spec as little issues cropped up here and there throughout 1999.

We come up with a name and incorporate to cover ourselves for the contract work it looks like we’ll be doing. PFM Technologies is formed and I bang out a logo for it.

April 1999

On April 12th Arch View Version 1 is finished and I send it off.

May 1999

On the 19th of May, 1999 Gen3 systems are loaded with licensed imagery for the opening of “The Phantom Menace”.

Ken’s “StarChaser” moves from Baltimore to Ingram Bay in Virginia so it’s less of a drive to monkey with it.

June 1999

Scott, Ken, and I go to Kings Dominion in Virginia on June 6th and ride rollercoasters until we can’t see straight.

Ken, myself, and Scott on “The Anaconda” at King’s Dominion.

On June 21st I’m in England on Foto Fantasy’s dime to assist with the setup of an international order for Gen2 and Gen3 systems for the UK. This involves a few minor tweaks to the code for the coinage and installing a new attract loop with a British accent.

Three Gen2 machines and a brand new Gen3. The horizontal crates in the background are more Gen3s.

While there I pal around for a week with Geoff and Matthew whom I’ve known on the internet for a few years.

Geoff and Matthew at Trafalgar Square.

This London trip is punctuated by a riot, and the photo here was taken just before things got going… You can see the elevated police presence in the background.

But I got to see some really cool stuff outside of London too…

Me and Geoff (and the Agfa ePhoto 1680) at the Jodrell Bank Observatory. Fun fact: That shirt I’m wearing is non-photo blue and was actually part of the Gen3 chromakey setup; I would adjust the system until the shirt was visible but the backdrop screen (also blue) wasn’t.

I also got to spend a day at Alderley Edge as well…

I’m told Alderley Edge inspired a lot of the look and feel of Middle Earth – and I can believe it.
A historic site that played a role in alerting the arrival of the Spanish Armada in July of 1588

I also ride more rollercoasters until I can’t see straight…

Geoff and I on “Oblivion” at Alton Towers.

July 1999

RMA checks to see if we can build a digital video recorder that would replace the analog 7-day VCRs in use by casinos. Of course we can! Ken starts inventing a video storage format (PegaVideo Format or “PVF”) and Scott starts working on the design for DVR servers.

August 1999

RMA returns with the requirements for ADT’s “Arch View 2.0”; four large HD LCD TVs mounted in portrait need to be run from a single programmable controller accessible over LAN, and each TV has to show 30 second full-motion video signs for travel alerts, security directions, etc. on a rotating basis with up to six separate images played in succession. I get started on it…

November 1999

We are contacted by a gentleman in Amsterdam who purchased a bunch of Gen3 systems. He tells us that Foto Fantasy has informed him that they’re not going to continue Gen3 production, sales, or support – so he’s on his own. He wants to contract us to come out and adjust the software to support the local currency as well as localize it.

The “Arch View” project is finalized and sent off to RMA on November 20th 1999.

Final QA testing on the big dining room table / Scott’s workbench on November 15th, 1999.

On November 26th of 1999 I’m in Amsterdam to do work on the Gen3’s purchased by the Benelux company. It’s pretty easy and I get it done and tested in a day. While I’m there I remove the royalty code so that his systems aren’t reporting their sales numbers to Foto Fantasy – if they aren’t supporting him, I assume they don’t need his money either.

A Gen3 with one of the two back doors open. They were triangular and had a very unique, almost SGI look thanks to Scott.

I then spend the rest of the week in Amsterdam being a tourist.

December 1999

On the 3rd Foto Fantasy has a conference call with us and tells us that, due to discontinuing the Gen3 product line, our services will no longer be required after February. And that creates a rather somber holiday for everyone.

We get ahold of RMA and explain the situation, they say they have a few things in the pipeline that should have big payoffs – and we agree to take any projects they have. They mention a portable digital x-ray system that’s in the works – we say we’ll take it.

I get started on that portable digital X-ray system (DVX) for “Innovative Digital Solutions Inc” (IDSI).

Y2K

We survive the Y2K “Clock Apocalypse”; no planes fall out of the sky, no satellites burn up on reentry, the robots don’t rebel… It’s actually kind of a letdown after the 24/7 media fearmongering for the last year.

January 2000

I send off the demo code for the X-ray project (DVX) on January 31st, 2000 for client approval.

February 2000

Scott and Johnna buy me a birthday present – the first one I’ve gotten from someone else in years, and I’m a bit choked up over it… It’s a bleeding edge Compaq Presario with the new AMD Athlon 800 in it.

I was so impressed with the new computer it even got a silly illustration

RMA sends us another proposal from ADT; this time they want a video recorder that can trigger an alarm if something moves from left to right while everything else in the field of view is moving right to left… This is intended to be part of an airport security system that can catch people or objects like a tossed weapon moving backwards through an exit gate. Ken starts on the new ADT project.

I put rihahn.com online and take a few art commissions.

March 2000

March 2nd sees the delivery of the finalized DVR hardware and software to RMA (xDVR uses Ken’s custom PVF video format and wavelet compression routines). It’s been a complicated process to complete as the goalposts moved around – but we still managed to score a touchdown.

On March 10th the “tech bubble” burst. This began the decline and fall of the tech industry though the rest of the year.

Fortunately for us, RMA has another project brewing that requires our expertise; an automated submersible for Woods Hole Oceanographic that will count plankton in a water column untethered for months at a time.

Matt and Chris come out to visit the farm on March 25th.

April 2000

In early April Scott and Ken, and a couple of guys from RMA, are sent to some casinos to sell xDVR systems. They travel to Foxwoods in Connecticut and the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

In late April the fellow we’re buying the farm from decides he doesn’t want to sell anymore, and we’re given 90 days to move out. I’ve always assumed this was because of the bursting tech bubble.

May 2000

We get a 15’x30’ storage unit in Fredericksburg and start moving stuff into it in preparation for finding a new place to live.

We look at some other farms for a bit before Ken says “Why don’t we just live on the StarChaser for a year or two and save up for something really nice?”

The StarChaser has been mostly revamped over the last year and now houses about $30,000 in radios, radar, navigation and other seafaring gizmos. One of the things all of this hardware does is talk NMEA over a can bus. This means we can do things with it, so I start researching NMEA format communications with the intent of putting the boat on the Internet. (Basically IoT a decade before IoT)

We eventually settle on moving Ken’s boat back to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor as it’s close to DC where all of our projects are coming from, and the berth rent is super cheap at around $300 a month. We also locate a place to board the horses in Marriottsville MD., about 30 minutes from the harbor.

Anyway, after putting 200 gallons of diesel in the tank on the StarChaser, Scott and Ken move her from Ingram Bay VA. up the Chesapeake to Baltimore; It’s 90 miles at 10 knots, so it takes a while.

I meet them at Harborview with Scott’s truck full of stuff. We tie up the boat, get the shore connections set up, and start moving in…

June 2000

I set up the domain for Anna MacBurney’s “Stonemill Farm” on June 16th. This is where the horses are being kept.

I give Ken my hotrodded 1967 Mustang. I figure parking in Baltimore is expensive and I really won’t be needing a car there — and he’s lusted after the Mustang for over a year since he moved in. So it’s my way of saying ‘thank you’ for putting a roof over my head on his yacht.

A week later a herd of deer charge across highway 20 into Fredericksburg while Ken is doing about 60 and total the Mustang – the car is sold for parts.

I’ve been working with some 3D modeling as well…

A render of “Findhorn”, Geoff’s character, created on June 24th 2000.

July 2000

After five major revisions the production version of the DVX code is shipped.

Unfortunately, the guy at IDSI with the demo unit in a van leaves it on while getting a sandwich. It’s equally unfortunate that someone from the NRC was parked next to him and leaves some measuring gear running while also getting a sandwich. The NRC guy comes back to his car to discover something has been delivering high doses of x-ray radiation – and IDSI’s license is revoked. We get paid, but the product never materializes.

August 2000

Scott, Johnna, Ken, and myself all live full-time on the StarChaser in Baltimore’s “Inner Harbor” now.

Scott and Johnna have the back bedroom, I have the forward berth, and Ken resides in the living room / dining room / kitchen area. It’s actually a very spacious arrangement and everyone is pretty comfortable, and the proximity makes working on projects quicker and easier.

September 2000

Harborview Towers, located right next to the marina, is looking for a digital security system, so we whip up a demo and a proposal. By the 6th I have a proxcard reader, database, and can bus door controller ready to go.

On Sept 18th the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute demo code is complete (BIOMAPER).

RMA has another project for us; this one is creating a modular digital camera system for use at DMVs to digitally print driver’s licenses. The camera has to reside in an adjustable mast to ensure a level image for any height. Ken starts designing the circuit board for this and we call it “PegaMast”.

October 2000

In early October I reverse engineer a cuecat for giggles. And by the end of the month I have the data interface to the TINI-based PegaFloat system Ken made running.

November 2000

A few days later I have the UDP data server for the Ships Data Repeater (SDR) running and is just waiting for the web server. And on Nov 11th the PegaFloat and Ships Data Repeater (SDR) demo website is running from 64.0.93.82 – the DSL connection we have on the boat.

The left page is coming out of PegaFloat, the TINI-based sensor system. The right page is coming out of the ship’s navigation system.

On November 26th the prototyping for PegaMast begins and we start buying tools and parts to do so. The soldering station is the second purchase order and is $585.15 in year 2000 dollars.

December 2000

The remainder of 2000 is spent working on pet projects and ‘what if’ ideas from RMA.

One of my pet projects is creating a 3D “world” for my own entertainment, and I’m playing with engines like Genesis3D and WildTangent:

Genesis 3D
WildTangent

We all sit on the deck of the StarChaser on New Years and watch the ball drop and the fireworks being launched a hundred yards away from a barge in the middle of the harbor.