Sunday, July 1, 2007

PROFILE: Robert Heller – From Hippie to Programmer and Back Again

How many people have worked on potato farms and saw mills, are self-taught in almost every computer language imaginable, love model trains and helping teenagers?

Robert Heller, fits this description. A baby boomer from Bethlehem, Penn., he can claim residence at two hippie communes in the 1960s and a huge knowledge of computer programming. Today Heller is owner of Deepwoods Software, based in very woodsy Wendell, Mass.

As for formal education, he says "this is a bit iffy. I went through the usual public school scene while in Phily, but there were many mis-match problems. Lots of random Permission denied, Invalid arguments, Bus Errors, and the ever popular Segmentation Fault. Not a very good experience." Eventually, he dropped out of school and gave it up as a dead loss. I was learning more at home anyway."

By the time he ended up in western Mass. in the mid-1970s he already knew a huge amount about computers. Turning to the University of Massachusetts for continuing ed courses taught by Edward Riseman, he said he "did so well that Ed hired me to do some LISP programming for him." Since then, Heller has learned these programming languages:

* BASIC (who doesn't?)

* FORTRAN (yeah, I've even used it)

* APL (a small amount)

* COBOL (I've written one COBOL program)

* SNOBOL (one of my favorite languages)

* LISP (another favorite language)

* Pascal (I know it, but hate it)

* C (of course)

* C++ (the wave of the future)

* Asssembly language for:

o 6502


o 68000

o CDC Cyber (some)

o 8008 (useless at this point)

o 8048 & 8051 (not quite useless)

* Several shell & scripting languages:

o csh (barely)

o Tcl/Tk (getting quite good at this one)

o DCL (used to be very good at this one, but am somewhat rustly now)

And have used these operating systems:


* XVM DOS (PDP-15)


* VAX/VMS (one of the best O/Ss)

* UNIX (several flavors: Ultrix, Iris, SunOS, & Linux)

* OS-9/68000 (another one of the best O/Ss)

* CP/M-68K -- a 68000 version of CP/M 2.2

* Apple DOS

* ProDos

* MacOS

* TI Explorer System (runs on TI Explorer LISP Machines)

* p-System (gag me with a spoon)

* MS-DOS (gag me with a fork) & MS-Windows (gag me with a turkey baster)

Although he still works for Riseman and his VISIONS group, Heller started his first virtual business – Deepwoods Software – in 1995. "This a shareware and consulting business. It presently has two shareware products out now: Home Librarian and Role Playing Database. Deepwoods Software (me) owns a virtual web and E-Mail server and now can offer Web Hosting. Deepwoods Software presently hosts the Town Of Wendell's web site and the Wendell Full Moon Coffeehouse's web site," he explained.

And, by the way, despite being 90 miles from Boston, Wendell is very woodsy and remote. It's not the sort of place once usually thinks of for running a business, but the Net/Web has made that possible for Heller and millions of others in the virtual work place. Writer to this blog and tell us how you are making it out there in virtual work land.

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