The sprocket in the image for this page was made in 1908 by Stockton Iron Works. They were used with cranes and scoops that weighed around 10 tons to scoop mud out of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers in California to make the dikes that allowed over 1100 square miles of land to be used for agriculture.
Stockton Iron Works was started by my great-great-grandfather and his brother (my great-great-uncle). I talk more about my family, elsewhere, but the picture is a reminder that technology has always shaped our lives.
I like to think that being a technological innovator runs in the family.
Though I build shortwave radios and had a little chemistry lab before I was in high-school, I was reading about computers and wishing I could get one. About the same time Jobs and Wosniack were using cast-off parts from the electronics manufactures in Silicon Valley to build their first computers. I lived in a farming community at the time. Though it was just over a two-hour drive to Palo Alto, it may as well have been on the moon. Twelve-year old’s can’t drive.
it wasn’t until years later that computer software became central to my life.
Human Communication, Part 1
In between, I caught a bug that has never gone away. I caught the “Human Interaction Bug.” A fascination with our language and how we work together to create our world. I discovered linguistics and studied it at UC Santa Cruz. In the mid-70’s, linguistics was a fairly new subject.
I got especially interested in “pragmatics,” an area of linguistics that has to do with how we use language to create meaning and act together. I read, Pragmatics of Human Communication, by Watzlawick, Bevin, Jackson.
It was written by researchers at the Palo Alto Mental Research Institute (MRI), where family therapy was developed and has been useful for my whole life since.
Software Development, Part 1
At UC Santa Cruz, besides the brutal linguistics curriculum (it was considered the most difficult major at the school at the time) I taught myself their computer system. They had an early version of Unix (Version 6) on a DEC (called “Digital Equipment Company” at the time) 11/45. The whole school was using one computer with 128K of memory (1/8th of a megabyte).
I learned C, sed, awk, the shells, lex, yacc, the shells, and all the simple utilities and learned how to write them in C. I learned the relationship between the syntaxes of human languages and computer languages. Utilities like ps were still a mystery to me because I did not have access to kernel code, yet.
I got a grant and developed a course called, Computer Literacy for Humanities Majors which is still being taught.
I would hear of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). It was partially developed by a former UCSC linguistics professor, John Grinder along with a therapist named Richard Bandler. Part of what they based it on was the work that was done at MRI. I was familiar with this work so I found this interesting and useful.
The short of its earliest manifestations was that John and Richard looked at the syntax of cognitive distortions and used stock patterns to challenge them. Today, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teaches people to challenge cognitive distortions. The did not invent the idea but developed a formula to easily develop a habit of doing it.
Software Development, Part 2 – Natural Language Parser
John was working on creating a computer program that would parse English and use the results to create challenges. It would allow people to easily challenge their own thinking.