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– Don Fry's BTI Stories

I purchased the 2nd or 3rd BTI 5000 from Poulter (outside R&R) in about 1972. I was located in Santa Fe, NM and struggled through writing back office software (payroll) first, putting 300 baud Teletype model 33 with HP acoustical couplers at my customers offices, and writing user manuals about how to dial-up, HEL-username, GET-payroll, and RUN and eventually BYE.

All the rest of the customer interface was my code and although I observed the very first mouse by the inventor at Stanford, I still believe the Yes & No question beats a smiley or frowning face.

I charged $5/hr and $.10/record and after 29 years, when micros raised their head, I ultimately had two BTI 5000 systems running full with twenty 300&1200 baud dial up telephone lines. I had plenty of time to hunt and fish but my customers were paying out well over 8,000 payroll & payable checks per month. With 70 or so clerks pounding out these checks on DEC printing terminals and making the normal number of bookkeeping mistakes I was doing less and less hunting and more and more hand holding and training (not computer but bookkeeping skills) with new clerical people.

Micro systems were started with MITS just 60 miles South of me. Gates was clamoring to use my system to write a basic compiler in the basic language. I was well aware of what was coming. Not wishing to write over a million lines of user software, on the then (and still) unstable and flaky systems and selling turnkey bookkeeping systems, one company finally (thank the lord) produced some usable software at an affordable price.

I migrated some of my customers over to their own machines, (they continued to use their DEC printing terminals) and by 1998 I gave my systems to one of my oldest customers and she continued servicing my remaining customers. I only had one 1999-2000 bug that blew up and I found and fixed a (=99 instead of >=99) coding error from my retirement home in Wyoming. In 29 years of 24/7 operation I was never down from a systems software bug or hardware failure. I had lightning damage twice which zapped my external modems and the attached BTI modem interface.

I am starting to forget many things about my 35 years in the computer business but maybe some other early BTI systems users can write their stories to add to the history of our experiences.

I am having to dredge up from my failing memory what I have read and what Tom Poulter told me about his Father and the Byrd Antarctic expedition. I could be wrong on dates but the essence of the story follows:

Dr Thomas Poulter served as a scientist on Richard Byrd's first expedition in 1928-1930. His contributions were so valued that Admiral Byrd regarded him as his second in command on the second expedition in 1934. The expedition planned to leave by ship from a jumping off point in Australia in 1934. Byrd had experienced great difficulty, on the first expedition ship embarkation, in rounding up and keeping some of the crew and many of the scientist on board the ship and ready to leave the Australian port. As a result of this problem he declared that on the second embarkation anyone that was even minutes late on the day and hour of sailing would be left behind. Dr. Poulter had brought his wife and two small boys to Australia a number of weeks prior to the departure date and they were living in a rented house some miles from the port. Early on the date scheduled for departure Son Tom came down with a serious cold or flu. The Poulter family were in a strange country and didn't know where to take Tom for treatment. By the time Dr. Poulter got him doctored and medicated it was past time for the Byrd ship to sail and Admiral Byrd's edict had encouraged the crew and scientist to all be aboard; except for Dr. Poulter. Byrd was a strict disciplinarian however he held the gangway open a few extra minutes past the scheduled departure time. This allowed Dr. Poulter to join the expedition.

It was a good thing that Byrd waited for Dr. Poulter as Byrd foolishly left the expeditions main base and decided to spend a five-month period at a totally isolated meteorological station alone. During this period he was communicating to the main base by radio and Dr. Poulter recognized from his voice that something was dreadfully wrong with Byrd. He took command at the main base and headed a small rescue party that battled the way to the station in time to find that the diesel generator exhaust was being sucked into the small station building and slowly CO2 poisoning Byrd. They fixed the problem and the expedition proceeded as planned.

As you may have noticed when you worked for BTI, Behind Tom's office door at BTI was a great giant stuffed penguin standing on a short wood base which towered higher than my head. A memento of the Byrd expedition.

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