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– Mike Tuccinardi's BTI Stories

I'm Tuch, Mike Tuccinardi, I was at BTI from 76-82. My main contribution to BTI/BMI was running the pro football pool. I had it coded in BASIC and Pascal and C, also. I was a part of the 82 exodus.

I sure was surprised to see some of my PPU code embedded (and awayyyyyyy we gooooooooo) I'll bet you don't know what BFDC stands for, hahahaha. Ron Crandall does.

The BFDC is the Big F------ Disk Controller, as opposed to the smaller one. Those 47 megabyte disks were gigantic, as large as a washing machine, with 20 r/w heads. There ain't nothing like 20 head disk crash, replace and realign. I got good at it.

I notice you have Cargile listed as the BFDC controller guy. Cargile was a guru back there in the lab, he'd dream up stuff. Like a computerized analyzer for shock absorbers that I told him would never fly, he was going to sell them to gas stations, and hey, I worked in gas stations for years.

Gary Mueller, the high-energy manufacturing manager and Jim Koral, my direct supervisor, hired me in 76, Jim Brady, Juergen Kaiser (mfg assembly boss), Howard O. Califf Jr. (he put his name on everything, his workstation, pencils, erasers, test equipment, "Hey, Ha'ard, who you work for, HOC, Inc.?") One time, Howard held up a raunchy centerfold, and hollered, "Hey you guys, check this!", just as Maybelle Thornberg, the grey-hair financial lady walked by. Hahahahaha!!

Let's see, who else, Jim Pichette, oh gawdalmighty, he was in charge of the big disk room. He was going off on the company that day, loud and out-spoken, "They're treating us all like we're just a bunch of f------ monkeys!" and he starts hopping around the disk room screeching like a monkey, when Poulter and some RnR heavies walk in, Poulter's showing them around. (I was standing behind the door), Poulter said, "We do have some off-beat personalities here." Pichette went to work for Thaxton and Thaxton fired him for some reason or another. Pichette was something else.

Don Brazelle, Jim Brady, Juergen Kaiser, myself, Howard Califf, we were all techs together on HP's 2116, 2100, and I stayed around long enough to work on the 3000 line. Those guys hired on in 75, and I hired on in Oct 76. While I was at HP, I played on HP's fast pitch softball team, Poulter was the pitcher, even though he'd already started up BTI.

Jim Brady went to Tandem, he's retired now, hell, we all are. Jim Brady was a funny guy, he kept us all loose. Jim Koral went north to Oregon in the Snake River region. Koral was my line-lead boss at HP. Don Brazelle wound up with Sun Micro with me, and in 1991 moved to the Delta area, and I lost track of him. I really liked ol' Don. Gary Mueller went to BTI field service in Minnesota, and then on, I heard he started up a company that went bust.

Johnson and I were the first two mfg techs to go into the lab to work on the 8000, Johnson was Quackenbush's tech, I was Roger Fairfield's tech. Me and Roger caught all kinds of hell on the PPU, it was slow going, but then, BTI was a country club, too. It really was. Free coffee, free soda, unlimited sick leave, 3 weeks vacation to start, big bucks per hour. Poulter was too easy going, he let Cargile and Quackenbush do their own thing.

As I said, it was slow going on the PPU, we all had two prototypes of each type (CPU, PPU, SSU, BFDC to get running. Roger Fairfield and I were last, and we were getting the business and I got angry. I didn't say anything, but I was writing the code to display a message over on a terminal through one of the PPU ports, all the other engineers were crowded around the terminal to see if anything came through. I finally got it written, compiled, and downloaded, I said, "Here it comes, boys, take a good look." I hit the reset button, and yeah, it worked. The message was, "Stick it in your ear, mf'ers." That's right. First message generated by the BTI 8000 and it was a crude thing like that. I'm sorry about that now, but I wasn't then.

It was John Fuller, microcoder par excellence, who had the large sign on his door that said, "There are no clean deals." (I've used that tagline for years.)

It was in 78 that they hired a bunch of young graduate engineers,

Conroy, Mohme, Libby, they're still friends on Facebook.

Paluch went to be a high-lifer at Everest. Mohme went to Apple. Harlan Andrews went to Apple. Fairfield worked with me at Sun Micro on Sirius memory. I went to Pyramid in '82 then finished up at Sun Micro. I was done. My jobs were always the same, as it turned out, learn a machine in the lab, write diagnostic code/test procedures, train technicians to produce it. I did it for BTI once, Pyramid, once, and Sun three times. I was burnt out. I wasn't the only one. I notice Rodger Mohme is running a vineyard down towards San Luis Obispo.

So after my first wife left me because of my workaholic ways, I quit Sun, sold the house, took my daughters to Florida where my second wife hired me as her lawn guy (I had a lawn service), it turned to a second career, I went to school nights on Florida horticulture, eventually fell into golf courses, where I retired as a landscaper. The Lord has really blessed me the second time around, We bought our last house low, sold high at the top of the bubble, and now here we are debt free in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. We think we died and went to heaven.

I want all you guys reading this, we had so much fun working together, I want you to know that Tuccinardi has found Jesus, repented, and asks the Lord what to do next. Life is so much easier that way. Prayer works. And, hey, Mohme, my second wife bought me some suspenders.

Here's another story about Howard Califf. Y'all remember Bob Frankenberg who went on to become the head of Novell in Salt Lake? It was Califf who got Frankenberg his start at HP. The lab needed a guy to debug 2100 backplanes upstairs. Jim Koral asked Califf, "Hey Howard, you want to debug some backplanes up in the lab?" "Hell, no, I don't wanna do that crap. Forget that." So Bob said, "I will." Koral jerked his thumb, "Go ahead." (I was sitting the next test position down from Califf.) Bob was a smart boy, worked hard, earned everything he got. He'd gotten out of the Navy a few years after I did, and earned his first class FCC license while he was in Alaska.

More Memories

Reading Ron Crandall's stories has triggered some memories.

HP 21MX woes

Here's an add on Crandall's story. Crandall's telling it like it was, btw.

I seem to remember a clock interval of 100 nS with a worst case prop delay of 120 nS. Most machines worked fine, but if very many of the parts in a given machine were slow, it would fail. And swapping boards around might totally hide the problem as you matched up different sets of boards.

That's right. What happened was, in an effort to reduce power consumption, in certain circuits HP switched from (S) Schottky parts to (LS) Low power Schottky parts. LS parts were A LOT slower than S. Nobody ran any "four corners" voltage testing or +- 10 % frequency testing in those days. HP did a blind swap of the parts. S yeah, all of a sudden we got a room-full of beeping machines with Halt-88s displayed (crash).

OMG. It was a Wed morning. Getting close to the end of the month. Juergen Kaiser called me, "Tuch, you got a couple of systems with Halt 88s." I restarted them, checked back, same thing, Then a couple of more, then the whole room died. Holy shit! I figured out in about an hour that swapping boards wasn't going to help, with a heat gun and cold spray Craig Johnson and Tom Cahill figured out that swapping a flip-flop seemed to help, but on a real bad board I could see the race condition on a scope and called Gary Mueller - He was in Minnesota, and he saw the same thing, but he'd figured out what HP had done and said, "Put S parts back in that whole chain." Okay, But that meant a whole lot of boards had to be re-worked, Schottky parts had to be procured, not easy, in the middle of an industry logic shift. Thank God for the scrap industry because I was down there bright and early Friday morning buying some. I think, with a hellacious amount of OT we made our numbers.

The 21MX based systems, the signal for a system crash was HLT 88 displayed on the five-seven segment displays on the BTI proprietary front panel, and the front panel horn would beep in the most annoying manner. You couldn't ignore it. You heard it in your sleep.

The story was, when Quackenbush designed the front panel, he didn't know what frequency to use for the horn. So he sat there in his office, twiddled with an audio oscillator until people started bitching at him, that's when he knew he had the most annoying frequency.

On wirewrapped boards

The first go-around in the lab was done with (I think, four-layer) PC boards, two each, meaning, 2 CPUs, 2 SSUs etc, enough for two machines, or one machine with a set of back-ups. Those boards were a mass of red wires on the back.

Then the next go-around, we got enough wire-wrap boards working to get the "seven sins" machines running,

When it the powers that be deemed it time to go into production, we shipped 16 wire-wrap machines. I don't know where they went. They became unreliable after about six months, because the natural heating and cooling of the machine would cause the wire-wrap connections to become intermittent, because the point to point wiring would shrink. Between the end of the insulation, and the start of the circular wrapping around the pin, the wire would start to separate. In order to find these types of problems, I bought wooden knitting needles at the Berryessa flea market for the production techs with which to rake the backs of the boards. All the wire-wrap boards in the field were subsequently replaced with multiple layer PC boards.

There was a lot of money spent on aluminum padded suitcases in which to ship these wire-wrap and PC boards back and forth.

Al zimmerman's screaming funny stories

Gawdalmighty, you surely couldn't print these salacious hysterically funny stories about riding a wave of electrons down the bus. It was the best stuff ever to come out of BTI labs. We laughed until we lost our breath, the tears would come out of our eyes. And then we'd pass each other in the hall, and make some rude comment at each other, a phrase from Al's stories, and laugh some more. You couldn't make this shit up, but Al did.


BTW, Tovar wrote the best text editor I ever used, ever. Unix VI and EMACS couldn't hold a candle to "SCREDIT". I could whip out a diagnostic out in no time with that sucker, all the dupe and repeat commands, and the method used to "gather" up text and put it elsewhere, with a split screen so you could see what you'd "gathered" and where you were going. It was a diagnostic programmer's dream.

Jim Meeker

Oh yeah, big Jim Meeker.

When he wasn't writing code, he was writing King Lear rhymes about everyone, cutting everyone up about their little idiosyncracies, Funny stuff, if they weren't written about you.

So one day I wrote on the company email:

There once was a coder named Jim,
Whose programming talent wore thin.
"My code is so sick,
I need a new schtick!"
And now we're stuck with his ryhmin'.

I got a lot of slaps on the back for that one.

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