my excellent air force adventure


Way way back in 1995, I gave a talk at the national Computer Training & Support Conference on the topic of "Training the Internet Trainer." This was back when the Internet was still pretty new, and Internet trainers were very hard to come by. One of the people in the audience was a military employee from Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio, and he rushed back to tell his colleague Sheila Brennan that she absolutely had to hire me to do some Internet training at the base. And thus began a long and mutually beneficial relationship.

I gave talks at WPAFB in November 1995, February 1996, August 1996, and Februrary 1997. (Sheila, we were wrong; I wasn't there when I was pregnant with Lane, who was born 5/94, I was there when I was pregnant with Alex, who was born 10/96!) Sheila brought some of her colleagues down to meet me in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (where I then lived) in early 1997 so that I could help them develop a structure for a web-based database of training opportunities. And in 1998, after she'd taken a management job at Ramstein AFB in Germany, Sheila brought me out again to do training for foreign nationals on basic Internet concepts. (We also took a lovely trip through the Alsatian wine region, and spent a fabulous weekend in Paris!)

After that, Sheila dropped a little bit out of sight. I received occasional e-mails from her, including one saying she'd come stateside again, and was director of human resources at Hanscom AFB outside of Boston, but for the past ten years we've not had a professional relationship.

Then a few weeks ago I got an email from her asking me if I could come do some training on "social media" (blogs, wikis, social networking sites, virtual worlds) for her staff at Hanscom. The timing was perfect, since it's summer and I'm not based in Seattle this year. So I spent yesterday and today giving talks on basic concepts of social media ("What is a blog?" "How does RSS work?" "What is an avatar and why should you have one?") to members of her staff.

Once again, it was great fun to work with Sheila, who's one of the most intelligent, focused, and tenacious managers I've ever known. It gives me an incredible amount of hope to know that people like her are working for our military, and helping to push things in a direction that could make a difference!

Hopefully, it won't be another ten years before I'm back to offer assistance on technical topics. In fact, my next few weeks will include the process of trying to get my consulting business onto the GSA schedule, so it's easier for her to hire me. Wish me luck...I can't imagine that process will be a whole lot easier than the one I just went through to be able to get paid :)


beautyful history!

Ah dear, taking me back Liz... Wright Pat is a really cool place, even if you don't believe all the stories about underground bunkers and the UFOs in storage there. Wright Pat was the equivalent of Britains Bletchley Park as far as code-breaking and more importantly reverse engineering of captured military hardware for the Air Force was concerned. Before I moved to Nevada in my teenage years to enjoy the mythos of Area 51, I grew up in the Dayton area. I was on the base many, many times because all of my friends in the middle-school advance placement courses had parents who worked for Wright Pat, several of them civilian contractors. One of the parents designed the gyro-stablizer on the F15-Eagle (which did the Air Force equivalent of a shakedown cruise there) and my best friend's father was a civilian contractor who was in charge of ALL computer operations on the base. This was back in the days the IBM System/360 was fairly new and there were only three universities in the country offering a degree in computer science: MIT, Stanford, and the University of Dayton. The co-location to Wright Pat had a lot to do with that fact, plus NCR, Pittney-Bowes and several other business dat companies being headquartered there. My father was VP of research and development at Monarch Marking Systems (a Pittney-Bowes subsidiary) who was in charge of their part of the development of the Universal Product Code (UPC). Other companies involved were Charegon, IBM, Litton-Zellweger, Plessey-Anker, RCA, Scanner Inc. and Singer. Wikipedia states it was grocery retailers who drove the development of the UPC, but that is a common misconception because of how important the code became in that industry. While it was a decade or more before somebody got the bright idea to embed the UPC into package labeling (plus the technology to embed the printing did not exist in the 1960s), it was originally developed at the behest of clothing retailers. The industry's products go through several well graduated steps of markdown before all inventory is liquidated at Filene's Basement, and they desperately needed a way to avoid having to remove pierced tags (because so much stock was ruined by sales staff trying to remove the old piercings and tearing the garments). Having an efficient was to tag the garment once with a code and then reference the price in a real-time transaction was key. My father's specialty was printing and paper stock, as well as industrial adhesives. This explains why so many UPC applications use pressure-sensitive labels (such as those inserted into books in libraries).

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