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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Space Center History. My Perspective. Brian Hawkins

Hello Troops,
This is a post on the History of the Space Center from Brian Hawkins he sent some time ago and since we are taking time to learn the history of the Center I thought you'd be interested in learning about our great staff from the past.

Brian was our first 'Chief Programmer'.

Enjoy his post and learn more about the Space Center's history.

Mr. Williamson

And now Brian's Post:

As long as everyone's throwing out history, I thought I would add my two (or more) cents. My journey from Space Center participant to flight director was unique, and perhaps the first of its kind-- although it's much more common now. So here goes . . .

I first attended the Space Center not long after it opened as part of my sixth grade class (Cherry Hill Elementary, Orem, Utah). I need not describe how amazing it was--all of us know that feeling. I immediately resolved to return as many times as the Space Center and my parents' pocketbook would allow. Generally, that meant once or
twice a year--always a summer mission, and sometimes a private overnighter during Christmas break if I was lucky. Again, I need not waste words describing how excited I felt about each trip to the Space Center.

After a few years of attending missions I wanted to do more. First, I knew that the Space Center computers ran on HyperCard, and I knew I had HyperCard on my Mac at home. I started wondering whether I could program Space Center-like controls on my home computer, so I taught myself HyperCard. Also, I was a soundtrack junkie, and I began to hear a lot of movie music that struck me as Space Center- appropriate. Finally, I was big into theater at school, so I was gaining a lot of acting and fake-accent experience.

All of these tendencies began to converge when Vic announced a new class at the Space Center--a "story development" workshop. This was in the Winter of 1993. My personal suspicion was that Vic was running out of story ideas and decided to teach a class on the subject as a way of milking new ideas out of us. :^) In any event, it was my first opportunity to interact with Vic in a "personal" setting. It was also during this period that I volunteered to show him some HyperCard tricks I had learned--things that could make the current stacks look and run better. He was somewhat impressed, but, if I recall correctly, nothing came of it.

At this same time, however, I was participating in a Star Trek club (the USS Alioth), which had agreed to do some volunteer work for the Center. In return for a free 8-hour flight, we built an "engineering station" on the Bridge. It was located in that corner room off to your right as you come up the short set of stairs (that is, not the
spiral stairs, but the stairs coming up from the control room area). It's all torn out now and replaced by bunks, but at the time it included a place for isolinear chips (the first ever at the Space Center) and "cooling rods" for the warp reactor. I helped to design and build all of this, and thus gained more exposure to and interaction with Vic and some of the other Space Center staff.

Soon another opportunity arose. The following school year (1993-94), Vic organized the Voyager Society. Initially, the Society included only Space Center attendees who had more than a certain number of flight hours. Having been on a number of overnighters, 48-hour flights, and even the famed 5-day mission, I had plenty of hours. I was "Captain" of the Society for some time.

One of the best parts of the Society was the chance to volunteer on missions. My first volunteer experience was a 48-hour flight during the summer of 1994. I finally got close-range interactive experience with Vic, Mark, Dave Wall, Steve Wall, Bill Shuler, Tony, Jake, Nate, Bart, and all the rest. I also began showing off my HyperCard
experience a bit more, and Vic liked what he saw. He asked me to make a few changes here and there. Then I shared some soundtrack ideas, which Vic also picked up (Clear and Present Danger and the heavy-drums Yanni excerpt come to mind--although Yanni's not a soundtrack). And I had fun with accents.

I volunteered for a few other missions that summer and volunteered for as many overnighters as I could during the 1994-95 school year. Finally, sometime in the winter of 1995, my "big break" occurred. At that time, Steve Wall was driving down from Logan every Friday afternoon to meet his brother Dave (driving from Salt Lake) and run the "X-Craft"--a makeshift simulator inside the Starlab (a primitive
version of the Falcon). However, on one particular Friday, Steve could not make it down. Perhaps it was snowing too much. In any event, Dave was all alone. Vic assigned me to work with him. Dave and I didn't hit it off right away, but we got to know each other and I showed him that I was competent as a "second chair."

From that point on, I almost always worked with Dave and Steve. More importantly, what we now call the Odyssey (then called the "ISES" and after that the "Seeker") was in the planning stages. It was to be built over the summer of 1995. Dave and Steve had heard of my HyperCard skills and tapped me to create the controls for the new ship.

At this point, I began spending so much time at the Space Center that Vic took notice. At the end of an overnighter, he announced to me nonchalantly, "Brian, you're doing all this stuff . . . we're just going to hire you, okay?" I was taken aback. I had wanted to work at the Space Center for a long time, but I thought I would never get hired. Aside from adult employees, it had been Vic's policy to employ only students who had attended Central Elementary. So, as far as I am aware, I was the first volunteer to break the "Central ceiling" and actually get on the Space Center payroll.

Meanwhile, as the new "Chief Programmer" (an informal title at the time), I was working away on the controls for the Odyssey. Because the new ship would be the Space Center's first to have color computers, I created the Space Center's first color stacks--very primitive by today's standards, but they looked cool to us back then. The Odyssey launched in the fall of 1995, with my stacks, and so I spent most of my time working in the Odyssey control room-- usually as second-chair to Dave Wall. Dave and I became good friends, and still are.

It was in the fall of 1995 that my second "big break" occurred. At that time, both the Odyssey and Voyager kept track of what the kids were doing on their computers through the Timbuktu system, which slowed down the computers immensely. I had come across something in a HyperCard book that could help us break free from Timbuktu-- AppleTalk messaging. For example, if Left Wing goes to Warp 6, instead of having to see a graphical representation of that kid's computer screen showing the ship at Warp 6, the kid's HyperCard stack could send an AppleTalk message through the network telling a control room computer, in effect, "Left Wing has taken the ship to Warp 6." Then the control room computer would have a little text box labeled
"Warp Speed" and HyperCard would insert a "6" into that box, and perhaps even make a noise and/or use the computer's "speech" function to say, "Warp 6." And everyone would know that the ship had gone to Warp 6, but without wasting so much processor time. (This should sound familiar--it's the way things run now.)

Well, this was a great idea, but I could not get it to work. Specifically, I could not get two computers to permit the other to send messages to it. Then along came Kirby Glad, who had also taught himself HyperCard. Kirby had programmed his own stacks for use in the special missions he was developing, and I noticed he was using AppleTalk messaging. I asked him how he got it to work, and he graciously showed me what I was doing wrong (it had to do with "Users and Groups," for all you old Mac hands).

Suddenly, everything worked. (Thank you, Kirby!) Within a month or two, I reprogrammed the Odyssey computers to use AppleTalk messaging rather than Timbuktu, and it was like a whole new ship. All the computers ran at the speeds of which they were capable, and we in the control room didn't have to worry about those silly Timbuktu windows. Half the time, we didn't even need to look at the control
room computers. They would simply speak to us: "[Ding!] Warp Six." (Sometimes I programmed them to say something sassy, like, "Warp Six, you fool.")

Soon, Vic wanted the Voyager computers to run on the same type of system. Over the next several months, I completely reprogrammed the Voyager stacks to look better, and to use AppleTalk messaging. The computers were still black-and-white, but it was nonetheless a needed facelift and internal upgrade.

Also during this time, I produced all the Tactical and Sensor stacks. I found those projects pretty fun, and I amassed a wealth of Star Trek bitmap clip art (which I still have on my hard drive-- somewhere).

As the years progressed, it became more burdensome for Dave Wall to come to the Space Center every weekend, and so I gradually assumed the Odyssey flight director's chair. Although Dave and Mark Daymont would still run the ship on occasion, I got to direct numerous missions from about January 1997 through September 1998. During that time, Allan Stewart and Stephen Porter became my second-chairs, and Allan Stewart took it upon himself to learn HyperCard. As I prepared to leave on my mission in September 1998, he was the obvious choice to assume the role of Chief Programmer, with Steve as his back-up.

After my mission, I maintained contact with the Space Center (a few small HyperCard projects, and a short-lived programming class--the first "Multimedia Development Academy"), but it dwindled gradually. School was just too demanding, and I had a job on campus. Then I graduated and moved away.

I'm now a lawyer, graduated from University of Michigan Law School. I'm married and have a family. Nonetheless, I confess that the Space Center is still on my mind. I
get the daily digest e-mails, of course. But more than that, I see a new sci-fi show, play with a new gadget, hear a new soundtrack, etc., and my first reaction is almost always: "Wow, the Space Center could really make use of that."

I'm also pleased that a lot of my innovations live on. I visited the Center briefly in August 2005 (my most recent visit). Although the Space Center's stacks have now all been completely reprogrammed in a new programming language, they all contain graphic design elements and programming processes that I helped to develop.

Brian Hawkins
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