Confessions of a Geek Packrat

I can't seem to throw anything away.

As I sit here in my office, I'm surrounded by teetering stacks of overstuffed file folders, yellowed clippings from old technical journals, dusty old electronics parts, and circuit boards of every description.

These are my treasures.

My inability to throw away software is every bit as bad. Right here in my office, you can find software on old Travan tapes and 5 1/4 inch floppies. I even have a few cassette tapes, 8-inch floppy disks, and a stack of punch cards containing software I wrote sometime around 1972.

These, too, are my treasures.

So, why am I making all these confessions? Because my inability to throw things away is why this page exists. Let me explain:

Walking into my office a few days ago, I accidentally kicked an old Fairchild Semiconductor MAN-2A 5-by-7 dot-matrix LED display across my office floor. These little devices were pretty cool back in their day (in the 1970's). They're little blocks of plastic with five columns of seven LED's embedded in them. By lighting up these LED's in the proper combination, you can form jagged, blocky-looking letters. Line up a handful of these devices side-by-side, and you can spell out words or phrases. (I've since discovered that Fairchild still makes very similar devices to this day.)

The first time I ever played with one of these dot-matrix displays was around 25 years ago. I was taking an electronics class, and our lab assignment was to wire up a circuit to display the letter "A" on one of these displays. Since my lab partner was one of only two females in a class of around 120 students, I decided to show off. I wired up several of these displays to spell out a rather crude, sexually explicit request of my lab partner.

Later that afternoon, much to my surprise and glee, she actually complied with that request.

So naturally, I've been quite fond of dot-matrix displays ever since.

(Now, before my in-box overflows with hate mail accusing me of harassing a classmate, let it be known that this particular girl had been shamelessly flirting with me for weeks. Under the lab bench, her hand was actually on my thigh as I wired up this circuit. What's a boy to do?)

Anyway, after reminiscing a while about this display I'd kicked across my office floor, I sat down to continue redesigning my website. Then, an idea popped into my head. Wouldn't it be cool to scroll a message across the home page of my website using simulated dot-matrix displays? It would demonstrate to potential employers that I can write JavaScript, and use SSI. It might bring back fond memories for other aging geeks who remember these old displays. Who knows, it might even impress the girls. (However, the message to be scrolled would, of course, have to be much more polite than the one I displayed for my frisky lab partner so many years ago.)

So, in order to create this display, I grabbed a dusty old circuit board from my box of treasures and scanned it. (See! I knew there was a reason I shouldn't throw away that board!) To jog my memory of which LED's should be illuminated to form each letter of the alphabet, I pulled an old Fairchild data sheet, copyright 1979, from my bookshelf. (See! I knew that yellowed, old data sheet would come in handy someday!) I then wrote a hunk of JavaScript to make it all scoot.

Here's the result (with a message specifically welcoming you):

Okay - so it didn't turn out quite as cool as I'd envisioned. As a matter of fact, it looked so completely hideous and clunky on the home page of my site that I decided not to use it.

But, no way am I going to throw it away! Remember, I'm a Geek Packrat.

(Curious Geeks may view the scroll.js JavaScript file that makes it all go, along with the companion files scrolla.js and scroll.shtml, and the necessary graphics files. Admit it - this code's just way too pretty to throw away.)