I have been interested in electronics and mechanical stuff for as long as I can remember. Whenever I got a toy that was electronic or had complex mechanics I would take it apart to see how it worked. I was always fascinated with technology, everything from the simple operation of a flashlight to the complex operation of a television set piqued my curiosity and I was compelled to learn. This interest in technology has led me to where I am today and the help I received from so many people over the years has compelled me to give something back.
Savage///Circuits provides a conduit with which I can share my knowledge, projects, reviews and videos with like-minded people.
1980 - Radio Shack and Forrest M. Mims III
In 1980 at the age of 11 I got my break when my parents decided to let me purchase some parts from Radio Shack with my birthday money. I bought switches, light bulbs, a crystal radio kit and an Engineer's Notebook Volume 1. This became my electronics bible and I found myself requesting inter-district library book transfers to get more information, since my school only had one book on electronics and it was about Vacuum Tubes. I started hacking toys and appliances at an early age sometimes resulting in interesting changes and sometimes resulting in the loss of the device. Some of my first radios and record players fell victim to my curiosity.
Eventually I got a 150-in-1 Electronics Kit which had the greatest impact on me learning about components and circuits. Over time I collected the Engineer's Notebook II and several Mini-Notebooks to supplement my knowledge and took advantage of Radio Shack's vast array of cool parts to play with.
1982 - Commodore, the VIC-20 and the Apple II
Some time around 1982 my school acquired a Commodore VIC-20 through a grant. It sat in a classroom collecting dust because nobody knew how to connect it or use it. The school actually purchased the VIC-20 Programmer's Reference Guide. Both manuals sat on the corner table and one day I asked the teacher if I could read through them. She was impressed that someone had interest and I spent the week reading both manuals front to back. The next week when I came in I asked if I could set the computer up and program it. She couldn't believe I would know how to do that. Pretty soon I had the thing displaying "HELLO WORLD!" and flashing colors and even playing sounds.
I saved programs onto the datasette recorder and kept a copy of everything I wrote including every revision of every program. Eventually we got an assembler and I learned how to do some assembly programming with the help of the Programmer's Reference Guide. Before the end of the year was out I knew the machine inside and out and was confident I could interface to its user port. Unfortunately those last few months saw it impossible to get to the PC as my interest inspired others to get to the study hall early so they could get to the computer first and pretty soon it was all but impossible. I did get a chance to program the Apple IIc and Apple IIe though, including typing in some program listings from Compute! magazine.
1984 - Commodore and the C=64
While there was something magic about turning on the VIC-20 and seeing, "CBM BASIC V2 3583 BYTES FREE" and the inviting "READY." prompt it was even more impressive when the school got a C=64 and I powered it on to see, "COMMODORE 64 BASIC V2 64K RAM SYSTEM 38911 BASIC BYTES FREE". I had just gone from 3.5K to 38K. I knew I would actually be able to write some useful programs on this new computer. And the colors were awesome.
I had to go back to the datasette recorder for a while (albeit a new model), but it was worth it. Over the course of the next 5 years I had acquired much hardware, joined the local Commodore User Group and started doing repairs and modifications for some members. Modifications included adding the JiffyDOS Kernel as well as Stereo SID chips. I also started doing some BBS modifications and doors and eventually wrote my own BBS software which was later ported to Amiga and finally to PC.
Later a 1541 disk drive came to me. It was interesting to learn from the schematic that the 1541 had essentially a VIC-20 inside of it. An entire 6502-based system with I/O inside each 1541! This led to some interesting disk drive hacks. I modified many disk drives to have a three position switch to override the write protect sensor. I also started repairing and upgrading Apple computers. I started building small control boards around the 6502 CPU and even hacked a few TRS-80 Coco's from Radio Shack for their 6809 CPU. I had this table-driven assembler that could cross-compile for about a dozen different CPUs and MCUs.
I acquired an Amiga 500, 3000 and eventually a 1200. I did some ray tracing in a program called Imagine and started learning how to use MovieSetter to make animations. I wrote music using my MIDI keyboard and Bars & Pipes. I wrote tracker MODs using MED and later OctaMED. I stuck with Commodore until the company went under. By 1997 I had dumped all my Commodore hardware, something I still regret to this day.
1990 - Zilog and the Z80 CPU
In 1990 I was visiting a friend of a friend because he thought we might hit it off. This other guy was into the same things as I was and I was sorely lacking of anyone to share ideas with. When we got to his house we found he had given up his pursuit of electronics and the first thing he did was hand me a programming guide for the Zilog Z80 CPU. On the way home I started reading it and realized this CPU was much more straight forward to me than even the 6502 had been. Instead of dealing with memory-mapped I/O the Z80 had separate memory and I/O banks. And it was also much easier to interface to and had a simpler clock circuit. It also had built-in refresh functions for DRAM though I always used SRAM memory.
I bought a Needham's PB-10 EEPROM Programmer and a Datarase II EPROM eraser and quickly started experimenting with interfacing to EPROMs, SRAM, LCD, etc. I trained a couple of my friends on Z80 design in the hopes of building a user group around that. Over the next year I had built a small business (Knight Designs) and was building custom controllers for various applications. Later I acquired an EMP-20 and had gotten into security and A/V systems. It was also somewhere around this time that Commodore had gone under, leaving me unable to maintain my Commodore business interests. I dissolved my partnership and started working on PCs after that. This took me through 1995 when I was faced with competition beating me up with single IC-based solutions which were as fast as my Z80 boards but much cheaper. I decided to focus on the PC market for awhile and started looking into alternatives for my next generation of controllers, but the Z80 will always hold a special place for me.
1996 - Relocation and the BASIC Stamp 2
By 1996 I had relocated to my home town of Watkins Glen, NY. I didn't realize how this would affect my business as I had never really felt dependent on being in the city before. Actually the move severely hurt me in a number of ways. For starters I no longer had a local electronics distributor and the closest Radio Shack was over 20 miles away. Contacts were more difficult to get to and there was no local internet service provider. In a magazine I learned about the Parallax BASIC Stamp 2 and promptly ordered a starter kit from Jameco Electronics, finding that I could do almost everything with it that I did with the Z80 except things that required interrupts. Due to the nature of the last systems I built interrupts were not needed in lieu of an RTC chip (DS1302) which could be used for some of the same functions. It took 2 years to get started developing with the BS2 since I still had to get rid of all my Z80 parts and stock and I still had a few commitments I could not break. I also had a lot of code to port over. With my PC business going smoothly I slowed down on design work for year or so, but in 2000 I got more serious about it and started pushing the limits of the BS2.
Soon I started using the BS2p40 OEM exclusively in all new designs. While I was designing in a commercial capacity I decided to become more noticed in a hobbyist capacity and joined the Parallax Support Group (then, a Yahoo Group). I quickly became a contributing member and started sharing some of my non-commercial designs with others. When the group switched to a more traditional forum I started linking projects from my website which had been shut down a few times due to excessive traffic caused by my projects being posted on the likes of Slashdot.
Another thing that happened was that in 2000 my PC business, Knight Designs Computers (closed now since 2005) started picking up but I had been working out of my house. It was clear I needed a downtown store front so eventually I opened a shop in downtown Montour Falls, NY and move my design work to that shop as well. Besides building, upgrading and repairing computers as I had always done, my wife and I started a DJ business called Savage Music Service and did pretty well for quite a while doing weddings, parties, etc. We also frequently hosted LAN parties of up to 12 people focusing primarily on first-person shooters and later some RTS games as well. These were hosted by Knight Designs Computers and we always brought a multi-port switch and cables for everyone to connect and play. Some of the games we played were Quake 2, Quake 3 Arena, Unreal Tournament, Warcraft 2 and Worms Armageddon.
2005 - Relocation (again) and the Propeller Chip
In 2005 Parallax had a Tech Support position open and it was obvious that I was very knowledgeable about the products, but Parallax was in CA and I was in NY. After some background discussion I was offered a position and relocated to CA where I worked in the Tech Support Department at Parallax Inc.
Meeting Chip Gracey for the first was both an honor and a privilege. I knew his name from my Commodore days as the creator of the ISEPIC, which our user group had several of. But it was also a huge surprise when he showed me the Propeller chip, which at the time had not yet been announced or released. My mind immediately flashed back to 1990 and the wheels started turning. The capabilities of this chip were incredible and it would easily replace everything I had done up to now. After being with the company for some time a position opened in the Engineering Department and I was able to get back to my roots of designing new products and improving existing ones as well as creating test procedures, test fixtures and writing example code. Up to this point I have been so busy that my personal projects have tapered off some.
Other Interests & Information
In my free time (I know, right? Who has that?) I like to write music and I play drums and keyboards. You can check out some of my music at my SoundCloud page. I do write some PC applications here and there. Some are in the projects section on this site. I have programmed on the PC in assembly, QuickBASIC 4.5, PDS 7.1 and Visual BASIC. Most of my PC applications these days are designed to interface to my other microcontroller related projects.
I am also an avid gamer. I used to play on consoles back in the day and have fond memories of the many hours spent on my NES, Sega Master System, SNES, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, GameCube and Wii. I no longer have any console game systems. I gave them all away. I prefer PC gaming, especially online multiplayer games. Currently I play games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 as well as many of the other CoD games. I used to play many first person shooters in LAN parties I used to host through my computer business. I even used to play World of Warcraft with my wife and kids, though one at a time we all stopped playing. I still have a ton of games through the Steam interface.
This is a highly condensed history for me as I have done so much more than I could really get into here. If you really want to get to know me chat with me on Google Hangouts since I no longer use Skype. Be sure to check out my blog, Savagisms and don't be afraid to send me an email and introduce yourself. Maybe we'll meet at a future expo or other event. Here's my interview with EEWeb. Until next time, Happy Hacking!