Thursday, June 18, 2009

StarText People: Rich Casey

Rich Casey had the distinction of becoming the first subscriber to our Dallas metro service in 1983. An avid Ham radio enthusiast, Rich authored a number of subscriber columns, including the popular and long-running "Casey's Place," an eclectic mix of electronics, music and to quote Rich, "an online Irish bar." This is an interview I had with Rich in 1994. Thanks to Dennis Brand for sharing the link.

StarText InterView
Rich Casey - June 27, 1994
Interviewer: Gerry Barker

1. How long have you been on StarText? What attracted you? Why have you stayed?

I was on StarText the morning the metro number and the VAX came on-line in 1983. My original mail code of 91 converted to 1081 sometime in 1984. At the ST 10th anniversary, I was surprised to find I had the lowest subscriber mail code.

I've always liked the open exchange of ideas, the willingness to experiment with new concepts, and the local feel of the service. On StarText, I feel more like a "member" than a "subscriber." I have subscribed to CompuServe since 1979 (one evening there were four users on the entire system), sampled and quickly left Prodigy (I couldn't get past the smell of Sears popcorn), and am now wandering the Internet via Metronet. Still, StarText feels most like home.

2. How does StarText fit with ham activities? Why is that a good fit?

Amateur radio operators delight in communicating, and finding new methods of conversing. A ham, Randy Seuss, was co-inventor of the computer bulletin board system. I got an early demo when he and Ward Christensen were building it in Randy's basement in Chicago. So it's natural that hams would find their way to StarText pretty quickly.

In February of 1984, I started a column here called "Casey's Place," what I called an on-line version of an Irish bar. Well, pretty quickly it spawned a HAMRADIO keyword that has grown into a group of columns hosted by several area hams.

At the HamCom convention that year, we demo'ed StarText in the "Ham Radio and Computers" workshop and started a list of hams that were already on or subscribed that weekend. I believe we had a dozen hams on that first list. Take a look at it now... it's called HAMLIST.

3. Talk about some of the columns you have authored.

Casey's Place was the first, followed by HAMRADIO and HAMLIST. I soon took over the upkeep of the AMRADIO and FMRADIO files, using subscriber input to keep the call signs and formats up to date. Other radio keywords followed, including CLEARCH, RADIOINFO and SKYWARN. A column on "Viewers for Quality Television" led to a VQT keyword that lists recommended programs. And just last year, we added "Zen and the Art of Internet" to the reference room (INTERNET).

Many of my CASEY columns deal with consumer electronics. Stereo TV was an early column (home run!) and AM stereo followed the following week (strike out... but I still believe!). Cordless phones, cable TV and cellular phones were also hot topics, as was PCS (still waiting for that one... it WILL revolutionize personal communications... really!) I mourned the demise of Creative Computing magazine, discussed our experiences as a Nielsen family, explained how to construct the perfect Chicago style hot dog, and predicted the rise of low power television stations (oops).

Short wave listening and the fun of being a ham were the grist of many columns over the past ten years, and I'm proud that some subscribers have become ham radio operators and short wave listeners. I remember helping our own John Rody with the code, and was happy to administer the Novice exam when he was ready.

But of all the columns over the years, the one that generated the most e-mail was my admission of being owned by a cat named Tut.

I still keep all of the info files up to date, and feel guilty for not updating CASEY as often as I should (how DO you do it, Carrington?)

4. What are the rewards of being a columnist on StarText?

It's mostly for feedback I get from subscribers. I've met some great folks on StarText, and have corresponded with some for a decade now. I'm still amazed at the breadth of experience of subscribers, and have found help whenever I've needed it. And the StarText staff have always been very friendly and supportive.

But, honestly, just to be able to have my own corner of cyberspace in which I can wax eloquently (?) on whatever issue pops to mind is reward enough!

5. Tell us about yourself: job, interests, what kind of computers you use and have used, etc.

I'm a systems manager at a defense electronics company, and am currently working on the installation of a product data management system. I'm involved in a government/industry initiative called CALS. I won't bore you with a decoding of this nested acronym, but it aims at moving all product data to digital form using standard formats, and making the information available to both developers and customers. I like to think of it as "shared data on demand."

On the home front, my earliest computing experience was plinking the keys of a low serial numbered TRS-80 Model I, the only computer that required a pencil eraser -- the edge connector on the mother board had to be cleaned once a month!

In '85, I picked up a used TRS-80 Model 100, the first real notebook computer, and quickly discovered the potential of portable computing. I STILL miss that little thing! Later, I traded the Model I for a TRS-80 Model 4, then hopped to DOS with a no-name AT clone. A couple of years ago, I splurged for an Adam 386-33, and recently added a sound card and CD-ROM. My modem speed began at 300 baud, slowly progressed to 1200, then on to 2400. I'm now at 14,400 and loving it-- sure helps on the downloads off the Internet.

I've been a radio amateur since high school, first as WA9LRI in Illinois, and now have the call N5CSU. I operate 2 meter and 450 FM in the Jeep, and communicate via VHF packet radio from the house. As a SKYWARN net member, I'm active during the storm spotting season. The low band rig isn't on much these days, except during the hurricane season. And the BBC is still on in the background when I'm in the ham shack.

6. If you could wave a magic wand, what would you change about StarText?

One feature I would like to see is a set of "customer input mail slots" to local companies such as Tandy, Exxon, Pier 1 and TI. The collective brainpower on StarText could help these companies with ideas, and we would get better products in return. Here's an example: When will we be able to find a weather-radio in which you can disable that heart-stopping alert siren and just get audio?

It's been great growing with StarText, and I would like to see it evolve into an on-ramp on the D/FW interchange of the Infobahn. The Internet is where it's all happening now, and remaining a strictly local service is not going to be enough long term. The trick is to keep the local flavor, hold the price down, and open StarText users to the world of Internet. A gateway for Internet mail would be a good first step, followed by an StarText gopher. A World Wide Web server with the StarText Starmadillo in the corner of the screen is my dream.

All in all, it's been a fun ride with Casey's Place since '84. I hope to be inserting a musical intro one day, and include video clips in a future column!