John Santic's Personal Information Page 

[Picture of John Santic as a teenager]  
This is a picture of me when I was a teenager in high school. That was at the end of the 1960's, so I'm much older now.  

Both my mother's and father's families lived in New York City, so it's no surprise that I started out as a New Yorker, too. Unfortunately, I don't remember any of this—we moved to suburban New Jersey when I was only two years old.

I grew up in Cresskill, New Jersey, which is a small "bedroom community" in the northeast corner of the state. Cresskill is within easy commuting distance to "The City", which of course means "New York City", where my father worked. My father worked as a photoengraving foreman for the New York Times. He also was a big do-it-yourself'er around the house. I remember him having many interesting hobbies, which is undoubtedly where I got my enthusiasm for multiple hobbies. My mother taught junior high school English in a nearby town. She always had a piano everywhere she lived, and plays extremely well. This undoubtedly is where I got my enthusiasm for music, especially classical music. Both my parents were voracious readers, and guess what? So am I!

My Early Hobbies and Interests

I remember building a lot of model kits as a youngster—plastic car and ship models, and balsa wood airplanes. One model airplane I remember was a Sopwith S.E.5A biplane that I assembled by gluing little sticks and pieces of balsa wood together and covering the skeleton with rice paper. Once you glued the rice paper to the wood, you wet the rice paper to make it shrink and become taut. Then you painted the rice paper with "banana-oil dope", a very strong-smelling laquer. The model airplane had a wind-up motor made from a big rubber band inside the fuselage that would spin the propeller.

I remember building another balsa model that was a gull-wing glider with a six-foot wingspan. Although this sounds very big, the wing was very narrow and the whole model was very light. This model had a single-channel radio control. With radio control, you held a transmitter box in your hands, and pressed a button that would send a signal to the airplane. The airplane had a receiver that would receive the signal and activate an escapement mechanism. The escapement mechanism was connected to the airplane's rudder to make the airplane turn left and right. This was a very primitive system, though. The escapement mechanism was powered by a big wound-up rubber band inside the fuselage, so the escapement could only turn in one direction. Every time you pushed the button on the transmitter, the escapement mechanism in the airplane would move the rudder to the next step in a fixed sequence. The fixed sequence went like this: left, center, right, center, left, center, right, center, etc. If you had most recently turned left, and wanted to turn left again, you had to press the button several times to skip over the unwanted steps in the sequence. If it sounds confusing, it was!

I spent a long time building the glider model, then came the day for the first test flight. At first, the model was tail-heavy, and wouldn't fly properly. I temporarily attached a weight to the nose of the airplane. Unfortunately, the weight was way too heavy, and the airplane became very nose-heavy. It crashed into the ground nose-first, and smashed all the delicate balsa pieces at the front of the fuselage. I don't remember ever fixing it or flying it again.

[Piper Cub model airplane, with transmitter]  
This is one of my model airplanes, a Piper Cub. To the right, you see the single-channel radio-control transmitter. True to its name, it has only two controls: an on/off switch and a single pushbutton. In the foreground, you see a model airplane engine, probably a Cox .049 (which is the displacement in cubic inches).  

My father built a balsa wood model of a Cessna 172. It was quite elaborate, with a tiny gasoline engine and a two-channel radio control that could make the airplane go left, right, up, or down. It didn't use a rubber band escapement, but instead had tiny electric motors that could move the airplane's rudder and elevator by varying amounts.

For the first test flight, he took it to a field at the local high school. The airplane went flying around and around in circles, just below treetop level. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to respond to any radio commands, but just continued flying around in circles. Eventually, the airplane wound up flying into some tree branches, and was damaged and fell to the ground. Although my father repaired the model, I don't remember him ever flying it again.

My first powered model was a blue plastic dive bomber that was controlled by two strings attached to a handle. In theory, you stood in the center of a circle while the airplane flew in circles around you. You kept turning around so you always faced the airplane. By manipulating the handle, you could move the strings, which would control the airplane's elevator and make the airplane go higher or lower as it traveled in circles.

That was the theory, but in practice, the airplane kept running wild and crashing. In one crash, the wing and landing gear broke off, and I remember being pretty upset. Little kids don't understand how things work, and tend to take it personally when their toys fail to function properly. Anyhow, it would be fair to say that the Santic's, father and son, were not very successful aviators.

Getting Into Electronics

I remember watching my father tinker with amplifiers, tape recorders, radios, and televisions. He had a workshop in the basement and spent many hours building electronic projects, including an AM-FM radio, a hi-fi amplifier and speaker system, and a reel-to-reel tape recorder. I remember those items clearly because we used them for many years as our home hi-fi system. This was in the monophonic days before stereo came on the scene. In later years, I would realize that the gear had been state-of-the-art for its days.

We never bought a television until 1968, when we bought our first color TV. Prior to that, with two electronic enthusiasts in the family, we managed to rejuvinate TV's we found in the junk. In Cresskill, the town scheduled one day a month (except in winter) when you could discard big items by putting them out at the curb for garbage collection. They started the collection routes early in the morning, so if you wanted to discard something, you had to put it out the night before. My father and I would ride around in the family station wagon late that night, perusing the junk piles along the street. We would pick up TV's and bring them back to our garage, where we would try them out to see how bad they were. If a TV showed some promise, we would carry it downstairs into the basement workshop for future work. If the TV was a dud, I would strip it for parts and throw out the carcass, sometimes in the same night. Over the years, I wound up with an immense quantity of electronic parts scavenged from TV sets—boxes of tubes, tube sockets, resistors, capacitors, coils, transformers, metal brackets, nuts and bolts, wire.

Back then, TV's had some neat parts. To focus the picture tube, early TV sets used a big ring magnet, or several smaller magnets. These were generally good-quality Alnico magnets, which were fun to play with. Even earlier TV sets focussed the picture tube with a large coil of magnet wire. Some of the coils could have a couple of pounds of fine magnet wire, which was literally a few thousand feet of wire. To this day, I still have all the #28 magnet wire I will ever need in my lifetime, scavenged from TV sets.

Between emulating my father's tinkering and taking apart TV sets, I really got interested in electronics as a hobby. I got my General Class amateur radio license when I was in high school. I remember going to downtown New York City to take the license test at the FCC office. Before you took the written test, you had to send and receive Morse code at 13 words per minute, a fairly rapid rate. Nowadays, you can get even the highest class amateur license by receiving just 5 words per minute.

Other Things I Remember

I was in the 6th grade when JFK was shot; I remember the day distinctly. We were all in the classroom when the teacher was called over to the classroom doorway and spoke briefly with someone in the hallway. The teacher then came back into the room and told us the President had been shot. We were stunned, and several children cried.

This was also around the time we were having air-raid drills, in case of nuclear attack. The students were all supposed to go into the hallway and face the wall. Around the same time, my father was building an extension on the house, including a storage room that was partially below ground. I remember someone asking me if it was going to be a bomb shelter (which it wasn't).

My father did a huge amount of work on our house—remodeling rooms, adding on a garage and attached room, and finishing off an attic dormer to make bedrooms and a bathroom. As usual, I hung around and watched and learned. I remember being particularly fascinated with some of the plumbing work. Unlike today's easy-to-use PVC pipe, the drainpipes back then were heavy cast-iron pipes. Where pipes connected, the joint had to be packed with oakum (a fibrous material), then sealed by pouring in molten lead. My father melted the lead in a small cast-iron pot on the gas stove in the kitchen. For years afterwards, there was a heavy chunk of leftover lead in the basement workshop.

When I was a youngster, my father gave me a set of tools—mostly kid's stuff—to use at my little red workbench. One of the tools was a hammer. Since he gave it to me with other toy tools, at the time and for years afterwards, I thought the hammer was a "kid's stuff" hammer. It was only as an adult that I recognized it to be a 16-oz Estwing hammer with leather-wrapped handle, a very fine tool. It is now one of my prized tools, every bit as old as I am, and still fully functional. Good tools are an investment for a lifetime, and maybe multiple lifetimes!

Musical Interests

We were a fairly musical family—everybody played something. My mother was the big musical influence. She played piano very well, and earned money with her skills when she was younger. I grew up hearing lots of Beethoven and Brahms, and Gershwin, too.

I took piano lessons at an early age, but I later switched to the accordian. I'm not sure why I switched, and I now look upon the "squeezebox" as a rather gauche instrument. After not playing anything for a while, I took up the piano again when I was in high school. This time I didn't take lessons, but just started playing from a book of beautiful four-part Bach chorales, transcribed for piano. I still remember them fondly, and would like to take this opportunity to thank J. S. Bach for rekindling my interest in playing music.

As an adult, I continued playing both classical music and "old standards". When I lived in my house, I had a piano and later an electronic keyboard. At present, I live on my sailboat, and unfortunately, there's not enough room for a keyboard. I'm still trying to decide what type of instrument to get, since I still get the urge to play.

Traveling While Growing Up

[View of the Grand Canyon]  
View of the Grand Canyon, from the start of the Kaibab Trail. To visit the web site for the Grand Canyon National Park, click on this link.  

During the whole time I was growing up, we went on family camping trips during the summer. When I was very young, we rented a Nimrod trailer and went to the Adirondack mountains in New York. We later bought a family-sized umbrella tent and used it for several seasons while camping around the country. After that, we bought a new Nimrod trailer that we used for many years of additional camping.

A Nimrod trailer is a tent trailer, which is sometimes called a pop-up or pop-top trailer. When it's all closed up, it's not much bigger than a utility trailer and is a little more than waist-high. When you get to your destination, you pull the bed platforms out of each side and brace them with metal rods. This basically doubles the usable size of the trailer. As you slide the bed platforms out, the canvas top of the trailer starts to pop up. After attaching all the canvas snaps around the perimeter of the trailer, you step inside the trailer and extend several metal poles to raise the tent portion to its maximum height, producing a full-height room inside. The basic trailer could sleep four, but had no real amenities like water or electricity. My father improved the interior by building some lockers and seats, and adding a small electric light that could be hooked up to the car's battery. We also used a metal folding table if we were eating inside. We almost always cooked outside, using a Coleman stove that ran on white gas (which was what they called unleaded gas back in the days when all gasoline had lead additives). We used a Coleman gas lantern for lighting.

We went on many trips, generally one big trip each summer. Early on, the trips were two weeks, but as my father got more vacation, they grew to be four weeks long. We traveled through the Northeast, and up to Maine and the Canadian Maritime Provinces. We went to the Mid-Atlantic region, including several trips to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina. We went to the Everglades in Florida, the Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Parkway in Tennessee and North Carolina. We went through the Midwest, with its vast cornfields, and through the hot plains of Texas and Oklahoma. We saw the exotic thermal terrain of Yellowstone, contemplated the vastness of geologic time at the Grand Canyon, and soaked up the rich grandeur of nature at Yosemite Valley in California.

As an adult, I came to realize what a tremendous advantage it was seeing so much of the country at a young age. You realize that the country is an amalgamation of wildly different peoples, places, and things. And yet we're all Americans, and have many common values. It was one of my greatest childhood learning experiences, and it helped me to develop a broader perspective. The same learning experience would have been hard to achieve as an adult. For one thing, it's hard to take off for a month and just travel. For another thing, as an adult, your mind is pretty much made up. If you're exposed to a wide range of experiences, instead of developing a broader perspective, you might just tend to be judgmental.

Cars I Remember

The first car I remember was the blue Plymouth we had when I was very little; I don't remember any details. The next car was a two-tone '56 Chevy—a classic today, but an ordinary car back then. The Chevy burned so much oil that my father always carried a case of oil in the trunk. After the Chevy we owned station wagons, starting with a '64 (or '65?) Ford. This car was not particularly reliable, and I remember my father repairing nearly every part of the vehicle. One time, he disassembled the differential in the rear axle, and I remember him carrying the set of gears downstairs to the workshop in a bucket.

The next car was a '68 Pontiac Tempest station wagon that we bought "new". Compared to today's cars, the Tempest was a big and powerful car, although back then the Tempest was actually one of the "small" Pontiacs. I learned to drive on the Tempest. This is the car that we used for most of our long-distance camping expeditions, and I remember driving it on the Kansas Turnpike at 80 mph, which was the speed limit back then.

The next car was an infamous '76 Dodge Aspen, probably one of the worst cars ever built. This was the kind of junk that Chrysler was turning out back then, when the company was on the rocks and quality was at an all-time low. Thankfully, I had my own set of wheels by then.

My first car was a '62 MG sedan, which I bought (very) used when I started college. Although the name MG conjures up images of exciting sports cars, mine was the rather staid sedan model. The design, in principle, was very advanced for its days—it had a transverse-mounted four-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive. In reality, the car was a mechanical disaster. The car seemed to spend most of its time in our garage, in pieces, while I waited for parts from the British Leyland shop. The British must like to spend hours tinkering with their automobiles; this one certainly required a huge amount of work. Ever since then, I've had a strong distaste for British cars, and would NEVER, EVER buy one! (Did I make myself clear?)

After I sold the MG, but while I was still in college, I bought an old Dodge from a college friend, but this car never worked out. There were title problems and mechanical problems, and I finally wound up practically giving it away to my uncle. Once I got out of college and got a job, I bought a brand-new '76 Dodge Colt. This was when cars started to get smaller as gasoline started to get more expensive. The Colt was made by Mitsubishi, and was very reliable. After the Colt, I went through my "sports car" phase, buying a red Pontiac Fiero. This car was another mechanical disaster, and I wound up unloading it quickly.

The car I owned the longest, and the best car I ever owned, was my '87 Ford Taurus station wagon. This was a great car—reliable, economical, roomy, comfortable, and it had good performance to boot. I racked up over 240,000 miles on the car and finally sold it in 1997. The only reason I sold it was that I had bought a sailboat and was leaving to go cruising, otherwise I might still be driving the Taurus. After cruising and being carless for a while, I decided I wanted some wheels so I could get around more easily. I actually looked for a Taurus wagon but didn't find one that met my requirements, so I wound up buying a '93 Mazda minivan. So far, the Mazda seems OK, although it did have a few problems caused by the previous owner failing to do required maintenance (like changing the timing belt!).

Memories Of School

I don't remember too much about high school, although I remember I liked to sing and was always in the chorus through junior high and high school. I was also in the county-wide chorus a few times, and I still have a few LP records that we made of our main performances. I also remember taking French classes all through junior high and high school. Although it's good to learn a second language, I regret not taking Spanish, which would be much more useful today.

Due to my interest in electronics, I decided to major in electrical engineering in college. I went to New York University, first at the University Heights campus in the Bronx. NYU at that time was going through some financial difficulties, and wound up selling the University Heights campus to the city to be used as Bronx Community College. I finished up my last year at the NYU campus at Washington Square, in Manhattan. I took some courses at Brooklyn Poly, and to get there from Washington Square, I would frequently walk. One of the great walking experiences in New York City is to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, which has an elegant pedestrian promenade. (By the way, another great experience is to walk across the George Washington Bridge.)

The electrical engineering curriculum was pretty tough. EE's have to take about as much math as any profession, and I just barely squeaked by in a few math classes. I was a reasonably good student—no Einstein, but I made it through and got the all-important sheepskin.

I remember my first year in college, driving down to Florida during spring break with my friend Howie in his oil-burning Chevy Vega. (That was the Vega model that became notorious for burning oil, since it had an aluminum block.) Of course, we were two engineering students, so we were a little "geeky" even back then. Instead of hanging out on the beach in Daytona and partying, we drove on down to the Everglades and went camping and canoeing in a swamp. The thing I most remember about the trip was listening to the radio all the way down I-95 from New York to south Florida. I think I heard Don McLean's "American Pie" about a million times on that trip. To this day, when I hear that song, I think of driving down to Florida during spring break.

Into The Job Market

After so many years of school, it was finally time for my introduction to the "real world" of earning a living. It took me a year or so to find my first job. Although there was an economic downturn, the main reason for the delay was my general lack of confidence. But I finally went to work for Western Union Data Services in Mahwah, NJ, writing microprocessor software for teletype communications systems.

A year later, the manager I worked for at Western Union changed jobs and hired me over to his new company in Virginia. I lived and worked in Bailey's Crossroads for two years, still writing microprocessor software for communications systems. As an aside, the typical systems we sold back then had an Intel 8008 microprocessor with a 20 microsecond instruction time. This works out to 0.00005 GHz—modern PC's are more than 20,000 times faster. Our systems typically had 128 bytes of RAM—a modern PC's memory is one million times bigger. Despite the limitations of the early systems, I did a lot of good work with them.

I changed jobs again and started my love/hate relationship with a company I worked for three times: once when they were Digital Communications Corporation, again after they were acquired and renamed M/A-COM DCC, and yet again after they were acquired and renamed Hughes Network Systems. On the plus side, they always had interesting and challenging projects, and had some very talented engineers (including me!). On the negative side, the workload was heavy and stressful, the schedules always seemed too short, and quality sometimes suffered in deference to the almighty schedule. As I have told some people, I would work there as long as I could stand it, then go work someplace else for a while.

One of the other places I worked was at the 3M branch in Gaithersburg, MD that designed and built video titling equipment. TV stations use these machines to roll the credits at the end of a show, or crawl a message across the bottom of the screen, etc. Our engineering staff was very small, just two hardware engineers, one software engineer (me), one technician, and a draftsman. But I did the best work of my career at this company, including winning a Circle of Technical Excellence award from 3M "in recognition of outstanding contribution to technical excellence" for the D-5000 Graphics Generator software.

One of the other places I worked between DCC/MA-COM/HNS stints was Denro Labs, also in Gaithersburg. This job turned out to be a disaster—in my first week, I got such a poor impression, I left right away. I don't even put this one on my resume.

It seemed like I was changing jobs a lot, so at this point, I decided to do that for a living and hung out my consultant's shingle. I consulted for a number of companies over the years, specializing in real-time communications software. I did some good work and had a reputation for doing a thorough and meticulous job and being a stickler for detail. And if you've ever written software, you know the devil is in the details.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Although I liked the kind of work I was doing and was good at it, after a while it began to take a toll. The jobs were getting bigger and bigger, and the schedules tighter and tighter. By 1997, more than 20 years into my career, I decided that I had had enough for a while. It was just too stressful, and I needed to take a break. I quit my job, bought a sailboat, sold my house, and took off cruising. I suppose you could call it a mid-life crisis, but whatever it was, it was a huge change.

I spent more than a year refitting the boat for cruising, which was much longer than I expected. The boat work was quite complicated and difficult, even for a skilled do-it-yourself'er. It didn't help that the engineer side of me was somewhat of a perfectionist—I like things to be "just so". Originally, I was fiendishly preoccupied with refitting the boat, and did boat work to the exclusion of everything else so I could get all the work done. But I discovered what every boatowner has discovered: you are never done. Maintaining and upgrading a cruising sailboat is a continuous process that goes on forever. Now I just putter along at a modest pace, so at least I have a life besides boat, boat, boat.

I will give you just a brief outline of my cruising activities here, since you can visit my Sailboat Cruising Page for the full story. I started off cruising down the Intracoastal Waterway to Florida for the winter, then came back north to Chesapeake Bay at the beginning of the next summer. I wound up living on my boat in Solomons, MD for a year and a half while I worked at a marina. After that, I headed south again and spent winter 2001/2002 in Charleston, SC. After cruising north again, I am now in Baltimore, MD. I enjoy cruising very much, but there are many challenges. Throughout it all, my mother has been very supportive, and it wouldn't have been as much fun without her help (Thanks, Mom!).

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Feel free to contact me with questions or comments at this address: johnsantic at gmail dot com

If you have problems using the above email address, here's another email address you can use: john at johnsantic dot com

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