I moved to Whitsunday Terraces, a resort at Airlie Beach, in tropical North Queensland, at the end of July 1998.
I had been feeling burnt out in my previously enjoyable work as half the team supporting networks and computers in the School of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Technology, Sydney where I had installed every network systems and computer for over a decade. My team mate, our software guru, being brighter than me, left for a much better job early in 1997. He told me I should get out at the same time.
Well, actually, we both concluded we should have gotten into something else after a few years, but the University was mostly a more interesting place to work than commercial sites. I'm aware some people regard a University as a sheltered workshop for the mentally superior, but it remains a more interesting place to work.
Like most people of my generation who were into technology, I figured I could manage to find some way to keep things going, no matter what the staffing or cost constraints. I'd had a decade of experience in running the leanest technical support department in the University, and we both took pride in being among the first to test and install new systems for the academic staff and students. We had moved from 9600 baud RS232 wiring, dumb terminals, and an MP/M system for 20 students in 1986. Through a single HPUX Unix system, the first MIPS RISC machine installed in Australia, to having ten SUN and Silicon Graphics Unix systems. The dumb terminals were replaced by PC XTs and Novell networks, and later by newer and newer systems, until we had a networked Pentium PC on every staff desk, and five laboratories with 120 computers for the students, all with Unix, X Windows and Windows NT access. We had the highest ratio of laboratories per student, the highest ratio of computers per student, the lowest ratio of support staff per student, the lowest ratio of support staff per computer, and by far the lowest cost of support for the amount of gear we ran. We had Windows 95 on the desktop before anyone else in the University, we had Windows NT in the student labs before anyone else in the University.
However during the Tertiary sector funding crisis following the advent of the Liberal government, the School of Mathematical Sciences was really cut back. Mathematics had less chance than some of coming up with some incredibly popular course to boost income (although Mathematics and Finance was a big hit with business students). A quarter of the academic staff had to go, which really did wonders for morale. The technical support staff actually weren't at risk from this; we were already operating on such a shoestring no-one could figure how to cut more from it. But it gets wearing to always operate in crisis mode, when you know that with a 50% increase in resources you can do a far, far better job.
Luckily, there was a "five years in the making" proposal current to restructure and combine us two technical staff with the larger School of Computing Science. I won't go into the politics of it, as I really didn't care much about academic politics (the less important the topic, the greater the fierceness with which it is debated). They ran ten labs to our five, had much better Unix systems, about 350 PCs to our 180, had better funding, and had at least 11 staff ... so we could be pretty sure our staff and students would get at least as good service as the two of us could manage.
Like my team mate at work, I wasn't interested in being part of a larger group, despite getting along fine with the person who would be the new manager, and with the School of Computing Science technical staff. Too many years of doing things my own way, and even more than that, of doing everything I was interested in myself. I had figured I'd start looking for another job around the end of 1997, after getting rid of a lot of older systems, like the Novell network with which no-one else had much experience. I was not a happy camper about dismantling all sorts of stuff I'd installed and that was working trouble free, but I knew I had to reduce the support overheads for whoever took over.
Meanwhile at home, my partner found a real estate advertisement and said in July 1997 that we should go to Airlie Beach and buy an apartment. For a later move, when we retired or something. Well, I've enjoyed every visit, and was getting stressed out at work, so we made a five day flying visit, looked all over, stayed in Whitsunday Terraces, and found a likely apartment. Crunching numbers in a spreadsheet on my palmtop computer didn't make it appear a fantastic investment, but banks aren't exactly providing a great investment either. We bought.
In November 1997 I did my annual trip to Comdex, the big computer show in Las Vegas, and did my usual 18 hour days trying to catch up with every new gadget on display. I'll also admit that in my guise of mild mannered part time reporter for a great metropolitan computer magazine (okay, it is really an obscure techie one), I also managed to hit most of the vendor parties each evening, which is where you often get the very best information on what is coming out, sometimes from the folks who do the design.
I flew home, went back to the University the next day, rushed through all manner of outstanding jobs, and rushed off to catch a train. The next day I had a heart attack. That really did get my attention focused on improving my lifestyle.
I'm getting lightly involved again in designing some interesting electronic circuitry, writing for computer magazines, and perhaps another book, maybe doing a little more with direct use of Postscript as a programming language, and perhaps learn a new language or two, something easy like Rebol. Or maybe I'll get involved with embedded micros and programmable logic devices. And I certainly hope to find time to mess around on boats!
In the meanwhile, I might find time to do a web page or two about Airlie Beach. Enjoy these pages, and if there is something else I should write about, email me. I have to admit that over the ten years these pages have existed, I have of late been very sloppy about doing updates. The entire site needs an update. The shops information needs to be converted to a database driven design. Plus the HTML code is way out of date relative to present best practice.I hope you have enjoyed www.ericlindsay.com. If you have corrections