This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around.“Life During Wartime” by the Talking Heads, 1979.
They say if you remember the Sixties, you probably weren’t there. It was a decade defined by cries of Hell No, We Won’t Go, Make Love Not War, Flower Power, and Ban the Bomb. So, it’s hardly surprising that as the decade drew to a close, I, in my twenties, found myself grappling with the challenge of what direction to take in life.
I managed to muddle through the 60s, now it’s 1972. The world felt both large and small, expansive in its possibilities yet confined by the very nature of my reality. I was a college student then, living on student loans and frozen burritos, navigating the waves of a culture steeped in change, in the midst of the era of hippies, Zen, and a society grappling with its identity. It was in this landscape that my journey into the world of authoring, as unexpected as it was inevitable, began.
Self-Discovery Meets Technology
I found myself, quite by chance, at the intersection of technology and self-discovery. The pursuit of medication, which for me was as elusive as it was fascinating, led me to learn controlling your Alpha brainwaves could attain a similar state of mind. But for a struggling college student, the main obstacle was the price–these devices cost hundreds of dollars–a month’s rent on my room. What to do? Using my knowledge of electronics, I built my own Alpha monitor with cheap parts from Radio Shack. My Alpha monitor worked great; I achieved digital Nirvana. A friend who tried it insisted that I simply must publish the new solution. I contacted Popular Electronics magazine about publishing a story about controlling your brainwaves with an electronic device. They said yes but wanted the device to be sold as kit to their 1 million readers. I was a student living in a small room with no way to supply parts, so I found a medical parts company to take on the sales. They offered me $3 for each kit sold, and I went back to the grind of studying physics.
Alpha Brainwaves and Biofeedback Training
The article How to Build a Brainwave Monitor came out in December 1972, was hugely popular and earned me a $10,000 royalty check. That much cash was like a gift from heaven. But it wasn’t just about the money; it was a revelation of a new path, a new identity. The new money allowed me to drop out of Sonoma State University and turn my attention to a new endeavor: the writer-inventor. I wanted to become an entrepreneur and I wanted fame.
I moved out of my room in Sonoma to a studio apartment in San Rafael and began an audacious quest to write a book about the cool, cutting-edge technologies that most hobbyists had never heard of, delving into realms like biofeedback devices, laser light shows, ESP detectors, a 3-D oscilloscope graphic drawing device and more.
 The oscilloscope graphic artist became the inspiration for a new class of tech called “Glitch Art.”
Projects in Sight Sound and Sensation
I sent off a query to Howard W. Sams, proposing Projects in Sight, Sound & Sensation, which they liked as long as it had enough pages. The project turned out to be journey of immense sacrifice; and in writing this book I had invested every ounce of my being, only to find myself financially and emotionally drained.
Failed and Broke Again
The release of Projects in Sight, Sound & Sensation in 1974 was my moment of reckoning. Proud I had managed to produce an entire book on my own, as it hit the shelves, my heart sank with the realization the book did not capture the hobbyist’s imagination, and now I was financially tapped out. The failure nudged me towards a path I hadn’t anticipated – with the manuscript as my weapon, I landed a technical writing position at a major electronics firm, Digital Telephone Systems, my first “real” job in the tech world: technical writing. I learned a great deal working for a corporation, including that I did not enjoy being trapped in an office for 8 hours a day.
The mid-70s, a time when the microprocessor began to redefine the technological landscape, marked a pivotal point in my career. I tried to convince the engineers at DTS that the brains on the Intel 8080 microprocess chip was the new way to design devices, but then shunned me. What did a lowly tech writer know? It seemed clear the engineers were intimidated by computers, as they claimed, “we are not programmers.” Perhaps they needed a book that showed the value of these devices? Given my own lack of experience with programming, and my unproven skills as a writer, I turned to my best friend, Michael Pardee, to be my coauthor. He accepted and 10 months later Howard Sams published Microcomputer Primer, a foray into this new world. It was a complete success, and with over 100,000 copies sold in year 1, was a reaffirmation of my newfound path as an author.
Your Own Computer
With success of the book about microcomputers, I approached Howard W. Sams, with a pie-in-the-sky proposition: Your Own Computer, a short 80-page, $1.95 book to unveil the extraordinary capabilities of personal computers to the person on the street. The idea the book came from friend and coauthor Michael Pardee, who’s talent at simplifying the complex was remarkable. Sams felt the book was chasing rainbows and I told them that was the whole point, there was gold at the end of that rainbow. Despite initial skepticism, we eventually persuaded Sams. The book was a sensation, selling over 1 million copies, and catapulting me into the limelight. It wasn’t just a book; it was a movement.
BASIC Programming for Everybody
In 1978, fresh from co-authoring two books with Michael Pardee, I ventured into solo writing, having mastered programming the 6502 microprocessor, and falling for the simplicity of Woz BASIC on the Apple One. Writing alone, I toiled over my electric typewriter on my houseboat, but soon discovered writing without a coauthor was a lonely experience. One day a stranger introduced to a white powder, which allowed me to write ceaselessly, even sacrificing sleep and food. In a frenzied three-month burst, I produced the BASIC Programming Primer, ingeniously embedding clever solutions hidden in the text. But it was rejected by Howard W. Sams, who found it confusing and too complex. The blow hit hard. I had to face that my dependence was destructive behavior. I turned to the remarkable therapist Tony Clementino, who guided me out of this dark chapter. I returned to Michael Pardee to help in structuring and beautifying the content. Our collaborative effort led to the resounding success of BASIC Programming Primer. It not only marked a pivotal point in my career with its bestseller status but also left me eternally grateful to Michael for his indispensable role in shaping my future as a writer and Tony for showing me the way out.
Computer Graphics Primer
By 1979, my journey had led me to Computer Graphics Primer. It was a new chapter, a testament to the ever-evolving nature of technology and my own curiosity.This story, my story, is not just about the evolution of a writer. It’s a reflection of an era, a narrative shaped by personal triumphs and despairs, by unexpected turns and hard-earned lessons. It’s about the journey of adapting, learning, and thriving in a world that was, and continues to be, in a state of constant flux.