Paul Bingman 24 January 2008
Web programmer, film junkie, railroad movie consultant
Born & raised in Portland, always lived here. Grew up in SE, went to a mix of public and private schools. Starting taking myself to movies when there were lots of neighborhood theaters, then to downtown theaters like the Orpheum, Fox, Music Box, and the old Broadway.
I worked a mix of odd jobs, like assembling bicycles for a discount store that was on the opposite corner of the block from where Walter Powell was starting to open up a used bookstore.
I also worked 3 years as a machinist.
In the mid 70s I became a telegrapher on the Burlington Northern railroad. The work was interesting – mostly train order and station agent work at depots and interlocking towers around the Pacific NW. At various times I was the railroad agent in Astoria, St Helens, Roosevelt, Junction City, Beaverton, and Camas; the yardmaster at Longview Junction; the CTC and train order operator in Vancouver; and the late night wirechief here in Portland. I worked a lot of depots that don’t exist anymore, like Wishram, Redmond, and Bend, and ones that have been closed a long time, like Maupin and South Junction.
In 1979 I was promoted to Train Dispatcher, sent to 4 weeks of school in St Paul, Minnesota, and then worked as a train dispatcher, chief dispatcher, and assistant chief dispatcher for 2 years. The railroad had an amazingly huge computer network that was online all the time (24/7 hadn’t been invented yet). I could send wires all over the railroad’s network, and even get them forwarded to other railroads. The I/O devices were paper tape teletypes, card punches and readers, and some early IBM smart terminals.
During my stint on the railroad, I built my first computer from a kit – it had 16K of RAM and ran at a blinding 4MHz. I taught myself programming: first BASIC, then assembler, and C. After the railroad, I worked for several years at the now-defunct Control-C Software as a support tech, marketing tech, sales, programmer, lead programmer, and then manager. I did software configuration, operating system ports and ROM BIOSes (including the first true clone of the IBM PC), and managed projects installing and integrating a clone of the PostScript interpreter in a variety of printer hardware.
I left Control-C in 1988 and formed Northwest Software Partners with 3 business partners. That company did custom device drivers and other operating system work for a variety of US and international clients. I put the ABIOS support into Microsoft’s OS/2, wrote the spec for the OS/2 device driver, and put much of the /? support into DOS. I also worked on a big disk array for image storage for the then-not-yet-built lakeside home of Bill Gates.
In 1993 I parted ways with the last of my business partners and started my own software company which is now Edgewood.net. Over the years I’ve done a wide variety of custom programming and forensic software work. I once manipulated an HP logic analyzer into collecting data over the Internet. The programming work became more Internet and database-focused, the programming languages much more web-friendly.
I was the chair of both the Linnton Neighborhood Association and the Linnton Community Center for some years. I’ve started non-profits. I volunteer at various places around town.
And I sat for the Hermit in a new Tarot deck, due out later this year.
What are you up to?
Back-end website programming for a variety of clients, mostly creative studios but also many small clients. Some site design, but my expertise is in wrangling various programming languages, database servers, and web servers to make sites dynamic, interactive, responsive, interesting, and fun.
I’m a big fan of open: open standards and open source. I’m strongly against locking clients into proprietary technologies or frameworks or a single vendor unless absolutely necessary.
You’ll see me around town at BarCampPortlandMeetups, Ignite Portland, DevGroup NW, OSCON, and various events at CubeSpace. I help put on WebVisions each year, one of the best conferences you’ll ever attend.
In the summer of 2007 I launched a new business. I started by asking myself what might lie at the intersection of what I know a lot about besides programming (railroads), and what I really have a passion for (movies). So I created a new business as a railroad movie consultant. I’ve seen railroads done so poorly in some films – they get so much wrong like equipment and language and operating procedures, and leave out other things that would make the story more interesting or give the scene much more character. I’ve built it, now they just need to come.
What are you into?
Movies. Lots of films, mostly indie and foreign. I was worried I had a movie habit, so I started keeping a diary and was surprised to discover I see 200-300 movies a year, at least half of those in theaters. I’m a big fan of the Portland International Film Festival and the NW Film & Video Festival. Both fests give me a chance to see an incredible selection of films and meet filmmakers and other interesting filmgoers. I also hang out at the Hollywood, Clinton St, and Cinema 21 theaters.
People. How we tick, and how we perceive and interact with the hidden world (all those intangible and unscientific things that still somehow affect us). I’m a past board member of the Oregon Friends of C.G. Jung and continue to volunteer for them and attend the lectures and workshops. Portland has the most active lay Jungian organization in the US, if not the world.
Books. I’m a huge book addict with a long list of books I want to read. Now if only I was better at knuckling down and actually reading them. Lots of non-fiction, lots of murder mysteries and Jasper Fforde.
Walking. You see so much from walking at ground level that you never see while driving or riding the bus. Yards, buildings, people – it’s all better at the natural human speed of travel. Read Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.
Writing. I’ve been told I should be writing, many times by many people. Slowly I’m getting the hint.
Dating. Sometimes. When I meet an interesting/attractive woman and work up the courage.
The old part of town, any town. Good beer. Stories. Pipe organs. The green ray. Bruno Ganz. The night sky. Django Reinhardt. Tableaux vivants. Dirigibles. Rumi and Rilke. Pie. Kiarostami, Kurosawa, Kaurismaki. People who are good to each other.
What do you like most about Portland?
All the interesting stuff happens at the edges – where one world rubs up against and cross-pollinates another. That’s always been true of port cities, and it’s definitely true of Portland. This city is one giant convoluted edge, so many worlds to mix and mash up, so many ways to be interesting. Film, books, theater, tech, art, music, religion, politics, the environment, transportation, living and livability – it all rubs together, throwing off sparks as it fuses and melds and reflows again.
Where else would one want to live & work & play? Temperate weather, even if it’s too wet and gray at times. Less than 2 hours driving will take you to the snowy mountains or mama ocean or the desert. Where I live, 10 minutes’ driving will get me to downtown Portland or downtown St Johns or almost downtown Scappoose, to rural Sauvie Island or up in the rolling fields of Washington County. Forest Park is just a few footsteps away.
As others have noted, Portland is full of friendly, interesting, quirky people. It’s so easy to start some innocent smalltalk that slips into quality conversation and ends up out of control as a new friendship.
Sometimes people ask why I’m still here – why haven’t I moved to Seattle or New York, Helsinki or Tbilisi? The answer is oh so easy: because anything you can have there you can have here, but in a much friendlier, more relaxed, infinitely more livable environment. And, most importantly, I live here because this is Home.
What’s it like being an older geek?
Well, it is noticeable at a business meeting or networking event that I’m a whole generation older than anyone else in the room. But that’s about the only obvious difference. We all speak a geekly language, all are interested in technology and especially what we can do with it, all want to work on great projects and see them through.
When I was younger I had lots of energy for surfing all the new technologies, new languages, new protocols, playing with them and seeing what I could get them to do. I’ve probably learned a dozen high level languages and twice that many assembler languages. Each year I care a little less about the nuts and bolts and more about the people involved, about how I can use that technology to do interesting and even useful things for them and their customers.
3 decades of programming has given me a lot of experience with projects. You develop a sense of smell for projects that were ill-conceived or poorly developed or aren’t being managed well. You come to love people who have great ideas, have really worked on them, and present you with a job you can excel at or an interesting, tough problem to solve. You learn to really appreciate the craft of good project management, people who stay on top of their projects and see them through. And you worship at the shrines of clients who pay you on time.
What’s your biggest unfulfilled life ambition?
To be a world-class Mahjong player.