Chapter 1: My Career Gone
Footnote: Freelance Technical Writing
Packet Switched Data Network: technical documentation project
COBOL Soft Machine: a technical sales brochure
Tendering & Ordering System: a documentation project
Accounting Package for The ITT2020: a documentation project
User Manual for The ITT3030: a documentation project
ITT System 1240 Software: wrote the System Description
Two Commissioned Magazine Articles
Generic Link Editor: software documentation project
Third World Telecommunications: a marketing brochure.
My first technical writing project after starting my own business in 1976 was to write an overview of British Steel's new private data communications network. As far as I can remember, this network was based on small Ferranti data switches for which the control software was written by Leasco.
The document included a mixture of diagrams and text outlining the principles of packet switching, the multi-layer communications protocols used, plus the network management system and its procedures. Each node of the network had the general hardware and software configuration shown. Only 2 of the 8 nodes supported mainframes which provided all services for users throughout the U.K. The other 6 nodes gave their local users access to the two mainframes via the network.
This project was originated entirely on my little Olivetti portable typewriter long before the days of PC word processing packages.
During 1977, I wrote technical marketing brochures for 4 one-off clients to market:
- A Bureau Payroll service
- A Production & Manufacturing Control System
- A Freight Forwarding System
- A COBOL 'Soft Machine' Software Development Environment
The COBOL soft machine was developed by Tony Sale of Alpha Systems Ltd in Bedford. The essence of this COBOL Soft Machine is shown below:
I wrote and illustrated the brochure, then subcontracted the typesetting and the printing through EBS. I later wrote a full instruction-by-instruction user guide for the above system.
Two and a half years after leaving ITT, a former colleague there contacted me to ask if I could assist in documenting a Computer Aided Tendering and Ordering system developed by Bell Telephone in Antwerp (now Alcatel Antwerp). An overview of the system is shown below:
The task was to de-compile PL/1 program listings into programming level flow charts, summarise the programming flow charts into system flow charts, and provide a system description write-up.
To assist me in this task, I subcontracted two programmers from one of my client companies, Alpha Systems Ltd of Bedford. The job involved several trips to Antwerp which I did by car and ferry taking one of the programmers with me.
Descriptive texts were derived from interviews and discussions with a Mr Rogier, of the client's development team, recorded on cassettes which we brought back to the U.K. for writing up. As a final touch, I complemented the flow charts and system descriptions by an A1 size dye-line diagram of the entire system.
The ITT2020 was a modified version of the Apple II microcomputer which was sold outside the USA by ITT Europe.
In early 1980, ITT gave me the task of writing an 80-page user's guide for the ITT 2020 Accountant - a software package specially developed for ITT by a software house owed by British Oxygen to be sold with the 2020 computer and specifically aimed at the first-time small business user.
In the book, I covered such things as the sorting out of invoices, bills and credit notes etc, the categorisation of expenditures, the entry of data and the production and interpretation of reports produced by the software. For this I used a unique schematic style of representing both objects and processes to aid understanding.
In 1982, SEL in Stuttgart produced the ITT 3030 - a Z80 CP/M based personal computer (to supersede the ITT 2020 Apple II clone) for which I had written some of the key chapters of the User Guide.
In those days, personal computers had made little penetration into business in general and practically none into medium and small companies. My descriptions therefore included an outline of the areas of a business where a computer could assist as outlined below, the software available for each area and where to obtain it.
Included was a functional description of the ITT 3030 hardware, correct use and care of the computer, do's and don'ts regarding such things as power supply, the environment in which the computer is located, and even the use, care and construction of a diskette. General procedures for using the computer and its application software in the various areas of a business were also covered.
A unique style of illustration using a mixture of schematics and semi-cartoon sketching was developed and applied for this project.
From September to October 1980, I researched and wrote a software functional overview of the ITT System 1240 Digital Exchange. This was almost immediately followed by a 5 month task of writing the software functional overview elements of the ITT System 12 Generic Bid Package for the ITT Europe International Telecommunications Centre [ITC] in Brussels, and a further 3 month task in 1984 for a real System 12 bid to British Telecom by STC.
The System 1240 design comprised a central passive digital switch surrounded by a number of active Terminal Control Elements [TCEs] based on the Intel 8086 processor family.
Each TCE serviced up to 60 digital subscriber lines (ISDN B channels) or 30 trunk or service circuits. All exchange functionality was placed in the software which was replicated in each TCE.
In large exchanges, some less time critical and less subscriber oriented functions were concentrated in Auxiliary Control Elements [ACEs} which were processing elements similar to TCEs except that they did not serve any external lines or trunks.
One of the features of the software was that it was written in the form of message driven finite state machines [FMMs] which permit an almost unlimited number of concurrent tasks or processes. An FMM is an element of software which only activates in response to certain formal messages from other FMMs or hardware message sources.
The receipt of a valid message or sequence of messages causes an FMM to 'change state' between two of a finite number of internal logical states which reflect a condition within the exchange such as the phase of a call. Certain changes of state result in the FMM sending an output message.
From mid-1981 to the end of 1990, I devoted 15,000 hours of my time to developing a 2MB commercial software package built almost entirely of intercommunicating Finite State Machine program units based on a variant which I originated of the FMM principle. This software is now in place in 15 working installations, the first of which became operational in March 1986.
At the end of 1983, I spent two months writing a user guide for an Ada development environment called ACID. ACID ran on a DEC VAX and was used via a VT100-type terminal on which the screen was divided into windows:
The tool allowed the programmer to write and develop functions in the Ada programming language and then compile and run (possibly nested) functions which could be performing multiple concurrent tasks. It allowed the programmer to insert and remove break-points within his code at which the values and behaviour of variables could be observed (taking full account of each variable's scope of cross-function visibility) in a separate overlay window which could be brought into view while the functions were being run.
i) Article on an ITT Exhibition Stand
In July 1983, I ghost-wrote a draft article for the ITT journal 'Electrical Communications' on the designing and planning of the ITT Stand for the Telecom 83 Exhibition at Geneva. The article covered the design objectives regarding the effective presentation of the full range of ITT telecommunications products in actual operation on the stand. It included diagrams of the stand plus block schematics of the stand's special audio-visual, lighting and laser systems.
ii) Article for F International
In June 1980, I wrote an article called 'Speaking to the Client in his Own Language' at the request of Steve Shirley, director of a computer consultancy organisation called F-International for publication in a computer industry journal.
The article explained that although plain words were a desirable start, they were ultimately inadequate for probing the necessary depths of concept and detail for communicating effectively with a client while doing a systems analysis of his business in order to improve its efficiency and profitability. It went on to reveal a different yet equally if not more universally understood language which is more than adequate to this task.
I have since written other articles on my own initiative, some of which have been published in the industry press. Letters to Computer Weekly and an article in the Platform section.
The software of the ITT System 1240 digital exchanges was made up of units called Message-Driven Finite-State Machines (referred to as Finite Message Machines or FMMs). FMMs were written in a communications-oriented high-level source language called CHILL.
FMM source files were kept in a Generic Source Library, from which they were compiled into relocateable object code, and placed in a Generic Object Library.
The specific functions required for a given processing element of a particular exchange were then entered into the Generic Linker/Editor which then used this information to select only those object files required for the processing element [TCE, ACE, etc] concerned.
I spent 4 months in 1981 writing the description and user guide for the Generic Linker/Editor, which included several trips to ITT's International Telecommunications Center [ITC] in Brussels and one trip to their Advanced Technology Centre [ATC] in Shelton Connecticut.
In March 1982 I spent a whole month writing a market-educating brochure directed at third-world governments and administrations covering political, financial, technological, demographic, topological, geographical and geological considerations for establishing a communications network in remote areas to pave the way for their future economic development.
Emphasis was placed on the long-term benefits of a stronger regionally-devolved economy and the resulting enhanced quality of life encouraged by a modern rural communications infrastructure.
Parent Document |
©Apr 1994 Robert John Morton