Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Question of Power

I just saw a news item about a former elementary school vice principal convicted of murdering his estranged wife, three children and mother-in-law in Bakersfield California. I had to check to see if I knew the guy (I didn't). I've mentioned before that in 1990 I quit my job at EDS and moved to Taft California, where my wife took her first job as a City Manager. Taft is a small town of six thousand people in Kern Country, 35 miles southwest of Bakersfield. Given that, I spent some time in Bakersfield, mainly when I was a member of KIPUG, the Kern Independent PC Users Group.

Strange things happened back in my three years in Taft; strange death-related things. The first had to do with WESTEC, the Westside Energy Services Training and Education Center in Taft. I owe most of my career since I left Taft to WESTEC.

I was a member of the Taft Rotary Club when one day a fellow member said he wanted to talk to me about an idea he had for some software. Dick Mallard was the head of WESTEC and he told me about something he wanted to call Skill Trac. It seemed too ambitious for a one-man shop like me, but a few weeks later I got a copy of Microsoft Visual Basic 1.0. I remembered everything Dick had said about Skill Trac and the first program I ever wrote in Visual Basic was an abbreviated demo of the basic Skill Trac screen.

I showed it to Dick and got a contract to finish the demo to show the WESTEC board and from there I got another contract to build the entire system. I later got another contract to build a version that used Microsoft Access as a database rather than the home-grown engine I had written for Skill Trac 1.0.

I only found out a few months after I signed the initial contract that Dick had already found another programmer to write the software, but that the day he was to come in and sign the contract he had a heart attack and died. His death is the only reason I got to write Skill Trac, and Skill Trac is the only reason I've had a non-stop Visual Basic career ever since.

At KIPUG I was the editor and main writer for the group newsletter and I was constantly locking horns with two other KIPUG members, both who were also KIPUG board members and both of who happened to be named John. Except for the two Johns, I was pretty much loved by everyone in the group. My problems with the Johns became more and more heated over time and who knows to what level it would have escalated to had they not both died within a month of one another.

It seemed like every time I needed a break in Taft, someone died and gave it to me. It was a strange power to have and I'm glad when I left Taft I seemed to have left it behind.

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