Monday, November 1, 2004

Past lives come a haunting...

My previous post reminded me of what I used to do before I worked for Borland.  I've been at Borland for nearly 13 years.  Prior to working for Borland, I designed access control and magnetic stripe reading/encoding equipment.  It was a very small company, Elcom Industries, based in St. Louis, Missouri.  Only about 15-20 employees.  I started as a technician repairing the equipment as it came in for repair and mantenance.  After a while started I learning the firmware code and also the microcontrollers we began using at the time (6801/6803/68701).  Previous systems were, I am not lying about this, based on a 6100 CPU.. For those of you who don't know what that was... it was a PDP8 on a chip!  A 12bit CPU.  What a nightmare!  Here's some more info.  Of course, the 6801/6803 microcontrollers are now considered antiques as well... C'mon... I'm not even 40 yet!

Thank goodness that cheaper, more mainstream microcontrollers were becoming popular. When I took the existing magnetic card encoder hardware and designed an RS232 controlled encoder using a single microcontroller (a 68701) and a couple of support chips, the boss took notice and quickly moved me into engineering.  I went on to do a ground-up redesign of the access control units.  Since this was such a small shop, the engineers did *all* the work for a particular product.  From schematic design and printed circuit board layout to case and enclosure design to the actual firmware.  I had fun and learned a lot.  What is frightening is that this company is still selling the products I designed over 15 years ago.  Here's a couple of links... I hope their site doesn't go down from a small “Slashdot” effect ;-)..

http://www.elcom-ind.com/Magnetic-Stripe-EncoderReaders-.asp

Scroll down a little. The A4ER is the first thing I designed.  It had a single MC68701

http://www.elcom-ind.com/Card-Access-Control.asp

This is the staple of this companies' products.  I had designed the mag-stripe and barcode version.  Looks like they finally added proximity readers... those were the subject of many debates about whether or not we should get into that market or not... looks like they did.  I wonder how much of the firware is still my code.  From the specs it certainly looks like the hardware hasn't changed too much.