about me

James McGregorSince I saw my first video game machine, sometime around 1981, (pacman or galaga – can’t recall which ) I have loved video technology. None of us had any idea where it would go from that point to where we are today, but from that point in my life, in the Joseph Maxwell VC Soldiers Club, Holsworthy in Sydney I was fascinated. My first micro computer exposure was in 1982. My young sister in law Tracey, still very young, was given this very cool computer with a cassette recording system, and an 8 kb operating system. We spent the entire day typing in hundred’s of lines of an early form of basic and then hours more debugging to get a game of paddle ball going. It was amazing. I was definitely hooked, however I had to wait a bit longer till I was able to take a 2 year loan out to pay for an XP-286 Computer running MSDOS 2.0 .

I had been on a DOS course a few weeks before and knew enough to be very very dangerous. After unpacking, assembling and starting up the computer, the first thing I managed to do, was to delete the operating system. I Rebooted the computer and encountered my first system failure message.

I broke out in a sweat, and my heart started to beat very fast. I did not know if I had caused the computer irrevocable harm or not. I called my boss and arranged for some leave, I ended up taking 2 weeks holiday.

I sat on that computer from dawn till the small hours of the morning, learning how to wipe and reinstall the operating system, about an application programs, how to install , how to uninstall them. I learned to “tweak” the operating system to maximise available memory (640kb -less than 1 megabyte back then) and every other fact I could find out. I learned hands on, breaking and fixing the system, I had no teacher except experience. System Error

In a very short time I went from scared to death to knowing more than anyone else I knew.

Within three months of killing my first computer I had my first job in IT. I had my own PC – an Olivetti 286 with 20mb hard disk running MSDOS 3.1 and also a Commodore 64 and modem, so I could program the teletext screens with the daily exchange rates and other “up to the minute” data, which for a fee people could log in via TV sets to get information.

I walked into a job on Monday, not knowing that on the Friday previous a second staff member had left, the management folded both jobs into one and dropped me into it.
My main jobs through this period were:
Supporting a program called “Stateline Cash Manager” written in a program called Dataflex
Betex Manager – looking after updates to the visual information product running on TeleText an information delivery system for television subscribers. Our team (called convenient banking) worked to deliver products that ran on PC and interfaced with mainframes via modem communications. – The work was really interesting and I learned a lot.

During this time, I became very interested (understatement) in 2 aspects of computing the first was Fidonet – a network of computer users that act as email exchange and information exchange hubs other computer users with a modem and terminal software could log in, browse discussion forums, send and receive email and play multi-player text based games. It was an amazing time, where normal electronic Fidonet email could be sent and delivered within 24 hours. as opposed to “snail mail”, we though this was the most fabulously fast technology. Even more amazing was that it could be run from your pc in your living room, not in some server farm somewhere.

TuxThe second thing taking my interest was Unix. Unix was the ultimate operating system. it was so because it could multi task. I was using unix at work, but Santa Cruz Unix (SCO) came along, designed to run on Intel architecture, and changed everything for me. It was still a massive system though, a small installation was typically 30 floppy disks. It was also very buggy, things tended to go south very quickly and except for the learning experience, was not very useful to the average home computer enthusiast. At this time there were very few people in Sydney that I knew who had even heard of Unix. Information was really hard to obtain. I spent a lot of time on the phone talking to other more knowledgeable, spending weekends driving for hours, carting my computer around to people’s houses to update drivers and fix crashes. I moved from SCO Unix to a new Operating system which had just come on the scene called MINIX, I played with MINIX for quite a while, and then I heard of a new operating system inspired by Minix called Linux by a Finnish guy called Linus Torvalds. Linux became my other passion. This operating system has developed since to become one of the most widely used operating systems in the world,. Importantly though, I really doubt that the Internet would have been possible without Linux.

The year was 1993. It was a very important year. It was when I used my PC (now a 386) with a program called Trumpet Winsock / TCPIP and my trusty 2400 bps modem to log into the Internet for the first time. Back then we had a program called gopher to find information. a little further down the track we got mosaic and cello (early browsers) mosaic later went on to become Netscape.

By 1994, I was teaching computing at The Australian Academy and working as a freelance consultant doing software solutions hardware integration and selling and installing computer hardware and software. By night I was a hardcore Internet junkie and Linux fiend!

I met an old friend I knew from when I worked with who had set himself up as an Internet Service Provider (ISP) Chris was not a very technical guy, his job was was in property valuations, however like me he was a fidonet System operator and we “crash-mailed” programs and email to each other all the time, sharing our knowledge. I went to the bank with a business plan and asked them if they would give me a $15,000 loan to set up a 6 line Internet system. They turned me down flat. The bank manager being very forward thinking, had decided that the Internet was a fad and would die out very soon.

I was annoyed, but I took my business plan around to a few of my clients and told them about the idea. One was interested and told me to stop showing other people till he had time to evaluate the plan. about a month later his company had financed the hardware and installation and initial advertising costs, and despite domain name registrations taking on average of 2 months to be approved, a fax based system run by 1 man for the whole of Australia , we finally got up and running. 6 lines became 12 lines within weeks, analog became digital. within two years we had gone from being Macarthur LocalNet (South Western Sydney) to Cybernet, a Sydney wide full service ISP. The business grew and grew. it was amazing how fast people were getting on board. 12 lines quickly became 60 then 120 then 240 investment went from $15,000 to several million. We learned about a new type of cable called fibre-optic. Line speeds increased. 2400 became 9600 then 19200 (bps) Technology was evolving really rapidly.

Customers went from asking if they could get the Internet by fax and how could a floppy disk holding 1 program (Netscape) possibly have that much information stored on it to actually understanding what it was all about and about that time, we went from being a non-commercial internet to fully commercial. Debate about whether commercialism would signal the destruction of the Internet occured. Everyone had an opinion. In the end it was inevitable, and had a massive effect in the speed everything started to grow.

The demand for websites increased and our team had grown from 1 (me) to a technical support department, website design and solutions programming , sales and administration departments. Along the way I had worked hard to make sure our workflow and billing kept pace, we used that knowledge to build a client base of other ISP’s that needed my technical expertise in building workflow and billing solutions, also email, web, DNS and other special purpose servers, and specialised software solutions to integrate various processes.

I suddenly found myself out of the office and travelling all over the place. USA, all over Australia and the South Pacific. It was heaps of fun at first, I loved to fly and enjoyed the work immensely. It was hard to look after my team back in the office. and my young family missed me.

The dot com era came and the Internet went psycho. The boom, starting in 1999 turned into a bust around 2002. It was also the start of Broadband in Australia. I sold my interests in Cybernet in 2002 and went solo. After the dot com boom busted, there was a big consolidation period in the industry. Larger ISP’s like Bigpond, OZemail, and Pacific Internet were acquiring smaller ISP’s.

A much larger customer volume was required to support profits in a broadband industry than had been required in the modem days. The easiest way for cashed up ISP’s to get customers was to buy them. I spend the next couple of years travelling around assisting in billing integration and software / hardware workflow mergers.

I built another hosting business, completely cloud based which I sold in 2004 and started another which was on my own equipment, co-located in a specialised hosting environment. My clients from this business carried onto my current system, which is completely cloud based and has over engineered for total redundancy, something that was just a dream a couple of years ago.

These days I really enjoy working with small business just like back in 1996 only these days, I can create much faster, using tools like wordpress. WordPress allows me rapid development, standards based code integration, the ability to seamlessly create reusable modules, which are able to be carried across to other projects with little or no additional customisation. My customers these days can take charge of the content themselves after delivery which can be added and changed rapidly with no special technical skills other than that of a normal office environment. This allows for increased satisfaction because information is online faster, on time and cost of update is negligible.

What is next? This was a very short version of the past twenty something years I enjoyed telling you where I came from and where I am at the moment. What is next though? – It is my firm opinion (and has been since 2010) that the next major technological advance is in the portable device area. IP based smartphone’s and tablets are just the tip of the iceberg. I can’t wait!! Bring it on. One thing holds true, every day that you can learn something new is a good day. I never stop learning, so every day is a good one!

I have enjoyed giving you this very brief rundown, as I said, I hope you can see where I came from and where I am now. I would love to help you with your next project. (big or small)

Contact me for more information (or just to say G’day)

James McGregor
Sydney Australia
June 2012