In the Shadows

Where Throsby interviews the secretive and enigmatical editor of SheepOverboard.

The Internet, the World Wide Web, the information autobahn, the Interwebs - just to serve a sad little website, the one you're reading now.

The web has come an awfully long way since ARPANET - and further in human terms than we realise. In 1990 Berners-Lee wrapped up his WWW browser. Fourteen years later, the odd-named "SheepOverboard" site was publishing 'quaint' (to be kind) flippancy. 

It's now 2022 and those original essays still set the tone of this famously useless domain, with its eclectic collection of... well, I don't really know what they are. The whole thing is still a mystery to me - and I'm on staff.

The Editor agreed to interview in the form of an emailed Q&A. The surreal outcome flows endlessly below.

Throsby: Why did you agree only to an interview by email?

Editor: Clearly because you couldn't find me in person. But primarily because I can't think while my larynx is making a noise. I'm almost lucid when writing, but cannot speak coherently to save my life. Ask me a question face to face and a million possible answers crowd the mind, which effectively freezes. I think it's a brain development thing. One pet theory - to which I'd love a definitive answer to before I die - is whether being forced from left-handedness to right handedness at some crucial age, maybe it was traumatic at the time, has somehow locked an articulate version of me in a the nonverbal hemisphere. Don't scoff.

T: How did SheepOverboard ("SO") begin?

E: SheepOverboard's online presence dates back to 2003 when the name was registered. Originally registered with Hostway, Domain People entered the picture in a manner and for a reason that I'm still unsure of two decades later, and frankly don't care because I continued to manage it via Hostway's SiteControl. Whatever, Domain People's records are screwed because they date the DN from 2006, while the Wayback Machine show's the site up and running in June 2004. As does my memory. The original dot com has migrated to a dot org because it's a personal, not commercial, site. I use lots of third-party images (paid for, in the case of Cagle) and I don't want them to think there's commerce involved. We carry zero advertising. Completely self-funded. Btw, I'm slow on the uptake of new tech, especially online stuff, so I waited a decade to be sure this internet thingy was going to catch on.

T: Yes, but why did SheepOverboard begin and why was it named that?

E: Well, firstly there is the eternal fact that the poor, disabled, unemployed, and lowly-paid workers - dismissed disdainfully as 'the sheeple' - are an underclass being farmed by the wealthy and powerful. Nature at work, say they. Secondly, a story about sheep literally being thrown overboard off a live stock transport ship dominated the news in 2003. Even now if you google "sheep overboard" the original Sydney Morning Herald story still tops the search results (at least, in my Google search results, that I am not confident are what I want, but what it thinks I want). You can imagine the angst when choosing a website name that projects your self. Not easy. Well, lightning struck and the name so became. The idea of sheep, too, appealed to a latent appreciation of what Australia is, and to be Australian is, and of the great debt we owe our ovine comrades who sacrificed so much for this nation's illustriousness. The name also allowed me to ground the site definitively as Australian - sheep, despite their origins and world wide distribution - are quintessential ambassadors of the land down under.

T: Sheep!?

E: Yep, our best mates, sheep. Right from the get go I was musing about sheep stuff. Which led to quite a bit of reading up on them. The first thing their biological family name: ovine (from bovine, apparently) which set off a whole string of ideas. Some of these led to possible (or additional) alternate website names, but I didn't have the capacity, ability, or energy to start more, so settled on some joke about mythical publications where a contributing editor (maybe Ewen Shearer existed back then already) formerly worked. I still find them amusing and wish I'd had the wherewithal to create and populate them. The titles were Ovine Times, Woolly Thinkers' Weekly, and Ewes News. No, I don't feel sheepish about them at all. 

T: Very droll. And what is the website to you? By that I mean personally.

E: Like anyone starting a semi-satirical website to show off their 'wit,' there were vague hopes of it becoming 'famous' which it never could have, considering the paucity of content and the eclectic mess of thoughts it portrays. And thank god it never did, even infamously. Like the first time novelist who flukes a best seller, attention would have destroyed the idea for me, and perhaps introduced a type of pressure to perform that would completely negate what I'm doing. And that is that SheepOverboard is a personal exploration. No-one reads it, no-one visits. And that's a great relief. I just want to pretend to be a publisher and a writer, and the fact that it's visible keeps me tuned in, on my toes, so to speak. But I have zero misconceptions that anything profound, important, or even readable is up there. It's all a personal investigation. I watch myself doing things and evaluate the output while projecting those emerging concepts and thought processes over, or against, my life's experiences. What in my past leads me to say this, now?

T: The Internet certainly turned things upside down for mainstream media.

E: For sure. The Internet had by then (2003) transformed the media landscape, and we were all reading stuff formerly hidden away in dusty cobwebbed corners of news stands. In, for example, magazines like Ramparts. Before the www, we were informed by print and television news. But the web let us reach into anywhere in the publishing world, rather than being confined to those extremely limited news stands. That sudden freedom made me more aware of issues, stirring passions that had lain dormant since youth.

T: How difficult was it to create a website back then? 

E: Relatively hard. I was in tech and had decided time was well and truly due to get stuck into this interwebs business. The natural priority was to register a website name, and then, inevitably, build a website. After all, a domain name is not much use, except for a fancy email addy (a big status measure in those days). Well, web development was still in its infancy, sophistication-wise, because the tools for rapid development of sites were still, you know, in development. Although Blogger (which had begun 4 years prior) and suchlike were the quickest way to get online, they were very simple services that offered neither great individuality in appearance or customisation. Therefore the only option (with a 'professional,' such as they were, being unaffordable) the first order of business was learn HTML and knock something up that, hopefully, would resemble a real site and not a cardboard mock-up of one. It was, of course, a static website. Nice and simple to code, but a bugger to manage because the links didn't automatically update or generate when new stuff was added. But it was great fun, nevertheless, creating graphics and enjoying the design experience. Appearance was everything, even back then when everything tended to look like those original hypertext documents. But with pictures.

T: The website looks great. How did that happen?

E: Fortuitously. When SO was hosted at ScalaHosting, it was still until recently using one of Milo's (3oneseven) beautiful free WordPress designs. I hacked one to death in a belated attempt at personalisation, getting myself deeper into trouble because Milo's code was already beyond me. So it was mainly HTML tweaks. But even the theme had its limits. At least, hacking a free theme had limits for the unskilled dabbler that I was. Because the web was getting far too complex with so many devices ranging from 4K televisions to smartphones viewing it, themes were too. Time was nigh to get a modern affordable design that I could still modify via a 'user interface' front end, while the paid-for professionals kept their back end updated.. That meant parting with a few hundred bucks. Those clever Indian folk at ThemeGrill had a fabulous generic theme named ColorMag, which was spot on. It, and that whole class of drag/drop webdev tools that now let dumbasses like me look so competent, are a absolute gift, and a bargain to boot. Long story short, recently, to save dollars, SO moved to Blogger, and so potentially loomed a whole new world of theme design pain. By a sheer miracle and in desperation (ie: by looking beyond the first 2 pages of Google search) I ran into, yet almost missed, an almost identical set of themes offered by Templateify compiled specifically for Google's Blogger. The front end interface is clunkier, but that's no criticism, because I'm pretty sure it's the only way they could marry my laziness to Bloggers quirks and constraints. What you now see at is Templateify's MagPro theme. It cost me twelve bucks!! It, too, like Blogger (aka BlogSpot) is bulletproof.

T: Where do all those images come from?

E: Ah, now that has been, and still is, a challenge. And a long story. Fifteen years ago I just stole them, but quickly realised that would eventually invite cease and desist emails. Or worse, unbudgeted-for invoices. Duh. So I went looking for affordable stuff. There wasn't much. Getty Images charged an arm and a kidney, and not being, as the banner by-line says, the NYT, there are no spare kidneys. It would be a decade or more before wonderful sites like Pixabay and others appeared. Shutterstock were affordable, being a collection of contributors whose  personal photos were licensed for reuse. That got me by. However, my crankier articles demanded an editorial cartoon. I was obsessed with appearance and design, good content being just too hard, if not beyond available talent. Again, after an exhaustive search, I found that Cagle's massive portfolio of cartoonists had the affordable option for "personal websites" at $10 per image. But when one surveys the hundreds of daily works by many of the world's best, it's surprising how many are, well, too childish (to be kind) to illustrate a serious article rant. How many, you ask? Perhaps 99 per cent. The exception, thank god, is the brilliant Angel Boligan whose unique conceptual works are picture perfect to share even the most leaden topic. Lately I also discovered (inadvertently, as usual) that Michael Leunig's works are in the public domain. So that's a boon for our Australiana department. Finally - and this is significant - the move to Blogger means that every pissy little snippet of text want an image. The lack of one ruins both the front page listing and the article search results, which looks like a broken site. It's a Blogger constraint. That lead me back to looking for a 'generic' art generator. A very early one literally lifted random web images and created a montage that relied on "fair use" but it went offline a decade ago. On the Internet there's always an answer if you look hard enough. Artificial intelligence has brought text to image transformers online. Which is why you will notice lots of abstract arty-farty pictures sharing the pages and populating the home page.

T: Before we get to personal matters, are those SO staffers real?

E: As real as you are, Throsby. 

T: Cheek. Why are you avoiding the question?

E: Do you really want readers to know more about you, Thros old mate?

T: Moving on quickly. Why are you secretive about your identity? You're not Ewen Shearer, are you?

E: Initially I chose anonymity for simple privacy reasons. Then it dawned that if friends, acquaintances, and relatives were reading my stuff, it would play on my mind to such an extent that I would not be able to expressively and freely write. I would be embarrassed if anyone that I knew read my work. I'd never know what they were thinking of me. Rapt in admiration? Sniggering, more likely. Strangers, however, don't give a toss. To them I could write as though I were an authority, that is, write authoritatively. And that gave me the freedom to write confidently. At core I'm the most timorous person. Yes, a coward. But - and I appear to be revealing what I've never articulated till just now - the entire project of SheepOverboard was indeed a therapeutic operation to pretend - or, more accurately, practice - being both confident and competent at something that far more capable people than I am, can do without a second thought.  

T: What if SO became popular? You'd be in trouble then.

E: Unlikely. Besides, SO was an experiment in writing. A personal matter that ironically is broadcast to the world. I just wanted to hammer loose thoughts (yes, from loose thinking) and opinions into an essay and see what appeared on the page. Yet even if it all turned out to be genius, I still wouldn't want accolades, because then I'd have attention that, although from strangers, would again constrain my expression. For example, as much as I'd love to be a successful novelist, I would not be able to handle the publicity. I can't speak into a microphone, or to an audience. I would detest the book promotion circuit, and that would probably kill my standing with publishers. And so on. I'm under no illusion about the downside of fame.

T: OK, so why are you so shy? Was it a childhood thing? 

E: I can't say, but's it's clearly my nature. I've three sisters who were dux of their schools and had good careers, a mother who was outspoken and after raising four kids went on to blitz her field in middle age and no qualifications to launch her. A father who ran his small business for 30 years employing a handful of workers, and needing to endlessly socialise to maintain his contracts. And then there's me.

T: You.

E: Me. If I had to guess, and I do, I'd put it down to growing up as the youngest sibling on an isolated small farm near a tiny hamlet in the Blue Mountains, having little interaction with other kids until I went to the local kindergarten at age five. By then no doubt the die was cast. 

T: Tiny hamlet?

E: Springwood, Burns Road, at the very end, deep in the bush, 1947. 

T: Surely there's more to it than that?

E: Dad moved us a lot, so I never had a peer group or friends at a school before starting anew in another. I was always the outsider by circumstance, not by nature. Nineteen fifty-two at Springwood, 1953 at Pennant Hills, 1954 at Hamilton, 1955 at Boolaroo, 1958 at New Lambton, then 1960 at Waratah, which was year one of high school. Not conducive to confidence. Every move was a setback, especially for a little wimp who didn't know which way was up, even on a good day.

T: Could that be all there is to it? Kids in that situation are typically depicted as defiant, rebellious, or self-reliant. 

E: Oh, I was self-reliant, and it's carried me through to old age quite well. But - and here comes the blame shift - Dad was away in the country for much of my childhood, travelling for his work. He would come home every few weeks and I was terrified of him. Though he was a wonderful father, devoted husband, and a tireless bread-winner, he was also a disciplinarian due to his upbringing by two kindly but Victorian-strict aunts. His father, too, was away in New Guinea running a plantation for most of Dad's life. So this disciplinarian, who was also in dread of children who rebelled or gave lip lest they grow into those ruffians who teased my fathers feminine side (courtesy of the two aunts, there's little doubt), would rule me with his shaving strap for indiscretions that I never knew I'd committed. It stung, then some. And the dinner table was a time of sudden retribution delivered by a truly violent open-handed slap across the face of a skinny little naïve child who never ever saw it coming. The hurt, humiliation, and incomprehension (as to why) still to this day evoke an immense sadness. Not hate, but a forgiving understanding bathed in that sadness. For both of us. 

T: Well, almost too much information, but thanks for being so honest. 

E: I seek to please.

T: So, and dare I ask, was your childhood a happy one?

E: Yes, absolutely, and due to the stable family life and a well-provided for household. All courtesy (until Mum began working) of that same father, despite the punishment and constant house-moving. While I forever treated him a little coolly, when my teens arrived he no longer of course resorted to, or threatened, punishment. He would merely express disapproval of sorts. I think by then both parents realised I was not going to "fall in with the wrong crowd." It was a happy childhood too, because my three sisters and Mum all apparently adored me. I didn't give them a hard time, and so they saw me in whatever light fitted. 

T: We're talking mid-last century. Where is your family now? Dare I also ask?

E: Sure. Dad died in 1996, Mum in year 2000 (she at least saw in the new millennium) and the three sisters are pushing their 80s. At this point we are all extremely grateful that our family was an essentially normal one, and there was no significant tragedy that might have ruined the rest of any, or all, of our lives. 

T: Then you're an old codger in every sense of the word. Would never have guessed it, from the often naïve and, might I suggest, somewhat juvenile offerings on this website. 

E: What can I say? Oh yes, maybe that your name's on SO's masthead too, and that you're a contributing editor. 

T: Touché. 

E: Ditto.

T: Did high school go well?

E: I struggled through. It was a selective school, and boys only, common in those days. Being a high-IQ crowd, they were largely arrogant little shits - except naïve little moi who had absolutely no idea what was going on. Which unfortunately also extended to the matter of studies. For some reason I chose, of the six subjects allowed, maths 1 & 2, physics, chemistry, then geography and the compulsory English. I handled that science-heavy curriculum, but only just, and in retrospect should have done history and languages. I loved French. Still do. German and Latin would be useful even today because I'm back reading from early last century about on philosophers, and the authors keep dropping passages in foreign tongues, and so on. Maybe a little Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese wouldn't hurt either. But I'm guessing that without the sciences I would have been forced to include the dismal art of economics, which is just maths for capitalists. 

T: So it didn't go well.

E: Well enough to matriculate and get a job, but compared to the other thousand smart-arsed little turds in the making - sorry, future Nobel winners, statesmen, and captains of industry - I was a poor student and scraped through with percentiles just above pass. Happily, English and geography were a doddle. Nothing arcane there, all straight forward. 

T: And that job?

E: Ah, yes, my brief moment of glory and most magnificent failure. BHP was the big firm around town so I told them I was engineer material and they offered me an electrical apprenticeship. That would have gone down well and I was smart enough to reject it. A friend took one and his life thereafter consisted of crawling along steel girders covered in grease and iron ore 50 metres above the ground to repair broken rolling cranes. Miracles do happen. A letter from the Newcastle Herald and Miners' Advocate arrived, offering me the plum job of cadet reporter, for the princely sum of $23 a week. My parents could not have been prouder, or more relieved. For I had finished 5 years of high school, while my three sisters had been made to leave after year three, Intermediate Certificate Level, because the household couldn't afford them to be at school any longer. Back then, mid last century, the boy would be his family's bread winner and needed a good education, while girls were only going to vacuum, wash nappies and cook dinners as careers. Poor things never lost the bitterness. Despite that, however, they all made good their careers, just as they'd romped through school top of their classes.

T: The Herald, then?

E: Yes, it was the most educational job anyone could have. I still fondly recall the people of that newsroom, the nature of the work, it's freedom and open-endedness. One of the best jobs in the world. It was the sixties, shirt and tie stuff, with editor Eric Lingard and News Editor Harry Dickinson - hard-bitten, grey-haired, old-school - like a Perry White only scarier. Chief sub was Jim ??, editorialist Bill Ormond, police rounds Frank Kellet (he'd drift into a Scotch accent talking to his dad on the phone), art critic Alan Watkins, industrial Ken Longworth, social Marlene McEwan (upon whom I had a schoolboy crush), and historian Percy Haslam. Fond memories return of Adrian Ashford, a man of diligence and detail, Jim Reeves, the most affable and likeable person and with whom I often interned on his around-town assignments, Ian McNamara (his typing skill had me in awe), and my keeper Sue Smith who I fear dreaded wandering the building with me in tow asking stupid questions, endlessly. Also in the team: Jenny McAlister, Lloyd Turnbull, John Bunton, and the swaggering confident Alan Farrelly. Names are probably wrongish, but that's how I recall them. There were artists, particularly editorial cartoonist Les Lumsdon, and photographers such as legendary Ron Morrison. So many others are equally deserving of mention, their names long gone. Special mention of the guys on the Linotype machines. - amazing devices to watch, as were their operators, a fine and intelligent bunch who did their share of spotting bloopers and typos that the subs and proofers missed. So sad I didn't spend more time down there.

T: How did it go?

E: I left in my third year. As the kind letter of reference said, "...He left our employ of his own accord, telling me he was convinced that he should not make journalism his career. While with us he was trustworthy and his work was quite acceptable."

T: Quite acceptable. Glowing praise indeed!

E: Yep, that would have got me a gig writing NYT editorials well ahead of the pack. 

T: Why did you leave - how could you?

E: Mentioned earlier, I'm naturally timid, and at that age was incredibly shy. While I was handling the work ok, I was not handling the people in the real world. I could pass as a reporter dealing with the public, but lacked the confidence and, well, pizzazz to really hit the mark. I could see after two years that I was not improving that vital social skill. In fact - and I think it was an unconscious strategy to force the issue - I began blushing at the most inappropriate times, which made me then blush even more. I had to get out. 

T: That was it?

E: No. This incident pushed me off the edge. The brash young lads - Alan Farrelly and Greg Smith - took me to lunch and as I launched into a toasted sanger they launched their damning critique, telling me that I had to get with it, show some initiative, and (these words are burned in) that "in this job it's sink or swim, and right now you're sinking." 

T: Harsh.

E: Harsh enough for me to bolt out the door and kiss that wonderful job farewell. A better person would have told them to jam it up their overly-confident arses and prove them wrong. But not me, for back then - especially back then - life was a total mystery, and people more so. 

T: What did the senior staff, or management, say?

E: I had long-since passed probation and never got any negative feedback. Apparently I wasn't sinking. I think they were non-plussed. No-one had ever quit like that before. This was a plum job. Eric Lingard's (the editor) only concern was how he would explain it to management.

T: What did you do then?

E: Really long story short, I worked a string of jobs over the next 20 years before settling, shakily at first (who doesn't hate commitment!), into my final 30 year career. Although many of the interim odd jobs were potential careers, most were unskilled labour, and I never stuck at any as they were not in my plan B. What those two decades of bumming around did was allow me to grow confident dealing with people. I'm still not sure if I knew this, or was truly adrift. Which- and whatever, these are the jobs that I worked: Postman (on a pushbike!), milkman (employee) and milkman (owner), cotton mill worker (Bradmill - what a fascinating place is the cotton mill, from bales to fabric in one place), grease monkey (trucks, Young & Green GMH dealership), cool room storeman (Birds Eye), gas jockey, ethicals assembler (Google it - no, don't, Google doesn't know), EEG and EKG technician, hospital nurse, driver (car dealer), commercial flower farmer (owner, farm and all: chrysanthemums), cook's assistant (RAAF, civvy with Dept. of Air), television rental delivery (and repossession!!), labourer (roofing contractor), cleaner and groundsman (telecom radio and television transmission sites), computer, software, and consumables sales (owner), and finally - believe it or not - technician (commercial radio, studio and transmitter), then technician (television studio). Finally, expanded further below, IT tech.

T: Surely you jest.

E: I jest not. And don't call me Shirley.

T: Wait...erm. What was your plan B? I gather it explains those radio and television station jobs.

E: Electronics is a life-long hobby. It began in primary school when, for a show and tell, a child brandished something he called a "crystal set" and rabbited on to a bemused class for a bit. For some reason I became curious about what it was, what it was made of, where to get the parts, how to make one. And maybe, though of secondary importance, what to do with it should I make one and should it actually work. So I did, and...

T: Wait, what IS a crystal set, and why would a young boy be interested in jewellery?

E: A crystal set is the earliest form of radio receiver, preceding vacuum tubes, and requires no power to operate. It's the most primitive form of communication (reception only), second only to tin cans connected by string. It's a bunch of coils, a "crystal" detector (germanium, called, in the old days a "cat's whisker") and headphones. 

T: M'kay, but I know not of what you speak. I'll stay with jewellery.

E: So wireless, aka radio, eventually electronics (think Tandy, Dick Smith, Jaycar) became a lifelong and much endeared hobby. It still is. My dabbling was nearly cut short in the early stage. The family's old five valve radio was replaced with a shiny new radiogram because the sisters were buying records. I was mucking about with the old wireless, pulling to bits, rebuilding, adding preamps, generally dicking about, until one frosty morning out in Dad's garage I happened upon the DC HV rail (direct current, high voltage) and for some reason my finger made contact with a terminal sporting 350 volts. Fortunately my other hand was engaged pushing a finger up my nose so there was no circuit for them volts to seek. I was the open circuit incarnate. Which was, has always been, a good thing. 

T: You could have died.

E: On the spot. Assuming the HV rail could supply the current. I think so. I mean, a 9 volt battery across the tongue is bad enough so 341 extra volts would certainly cook some flesh.

T: So, about those tech qualifications that I assume you had, unless you were working a 'Catch Me If You Can' portfolio.

E: At high school I was introduced to a kid - an electronics genius, but like me a lousy student - who really rocked at it. While still a secondary student he made a radio transmitter and broadcast music and highly professional-sounding DJ patter right in the middle of the medium wave broadcast band. While the local radio station techs fell off their stools and damaged their cardigans in shock, the local radio inspector (and greatly feared - those were the dark days of paid licences to own a television set!) went on a pirate hunt. A tip off from a relative who cleaned the RI's building saved the precocious young lad. Before the radio inspector (RI) arrived at this kid's home, he'd pulled the gear to bits, hidden the parts, and was casually sitting (in his very-recently glorious radio-studio) bedroom playing with a train set. Whew for him. I digress. That was the kid who left in third year (Intermediate Level) to avoid the following two (to Leaving Cert Level) and worked on cranes in giant filthy workshops, mentioned earlier. He had a plan that by then had infected me: to gain Commonwealth of Australia certifications know as Broadcast Certificate of Proficiency (BCOP) and Television Operators Certificate of Proficiency (TVOCP). These tickets qualified one to work at on any radio or television studio or transmitter in the Commonwealth. A very powerful qualification. To get one (both) was my plan B, which I slowly put into operation during those 20 years of odd jobbing. It came to fruition while while delivering rental televisions for O'Donnell Griffin. 

T: Mouthful.

E: Rather.

T: And you got those tickets.

E: Got 'em, which led to my final job. Thirty years in a television studio fixing arcane equipment and charged with keeping the place on-air, which was quite scary alone on shift when all the techs who were actually competent were at home asleep. 

T: You mentioned somewhere (the water cooler perhaps) that you were in IT.

E: Back in year 1985, like any small corporate, the place had only a few computers. Two in engineering that did specialised tasks, and a few upstairs for secretaries to replace their typewriters. A subsidiary spin-off had a minicomputer (small server) feeding dumb terminals. And that was it. A decade later upstairs the secretaries' PCs were talking to a server of their own, managers were diffidently imagining laptop computers on their desks, and it was all still under the management of a quite clever chap whose accounting role had naturally led (i.e. trapped) him to administer the upstairs company net. Downstairs, meanwhile, the engineering department had an old XP (first generation IBM compatible) managing a small group of transmitters, a dumb HP terminal controlling the main transmitter on the hill, and a Digital PDP miniframe server bored witless with its task of generating Teletext. What's significant about this setup is that the engineering team comprised the smartest technical minds in the city. These guys were rock stars. Thinking back I'm still humbled by their talent. They ran circles around me with their grasp of electronic circuitry. BUT - and this still blows my mind - they were computerphobes. I had been selling computers and software from a home business and was completely at ease with Apple and IBM personal computers, while those masters of technology were still timidly eyeing off Tandy and Dick Smith offerings and wondering which they might dare tangle with: a Trash80 or a VIC20. 

T: The entire technical department were intimidated by computers?

E: At the time that idea was so ridiculous it was beyond my ken. After I had effortlessly, if not innocently and thoughtlessly, romped through the set up of a transmitter control/monitor network and written some software for the commercial bookings PC, while advising all and sundry to skip the toy boxes and get a real personal computer "and this is what you'll need," well, they thought I was some sort of guru. Which I truly was not. Inevitably, it transpired, in 1998 the engineering department heads tapped me on the shoulder to be the inaugural employee of the fledgling IT department for the entire company - one which would consume also the upstairs network which would spread to sales, the newsroom, and commercial production. It was also to lay the groundwork of the engineering departments looming task, the paradigm shift of paradigm shifts: the transformation of the entire infrastructure of the television studio from large, expensive physical analogue machines to fully digital equipment, literally swamping the place with PCs and servers.

T: So you aren't such a loser after all.

E: It would seem not. My confidence still wavers. But I feel better, considering how easily life could have been a wasted had I not followed through with plan B. I'd have died in some obscure job, still wondering what went wrong.

T: Skipping back some decades, how the heck did you arrive at selling computers from home?

E: For reasons that escape me now, I left the TV station tech job and bought a milk run. That was a terrible idea because, while those businesses were quite profitable back then (in the 1980s), I could only afford a cheap one and, ergo, that was in a housing commission suburb with many bored youth who wandered the streets at night. I managed to flog it off and, on the strength of my tiny experience, land a job at a local radio station...

T: We are getting to the computer bus...

E: Yep. Real soon now. Well, soon after the chief engineer retired, and his natural successor bought a motel and also left. I was in no position to look after the place, and only just smart enough to realise it. So management hired an outsider who soon assessed me as useless as tits on a bull and rather out of my depth - I had only acquired about 3 years experience overall in the industry, still in a practical sense at apprentice level, qualifications notwithstanding. I sensed his contempt and chose (yet, yet, and yet again) to jump ship. This time: "Hey, it's 1983. I'll sell computers - whatever they are!"

T: My head is spinning.

E: So was mine. I began low-capital, selling computer disks - 5 1/4 inch "floppy disks." A new manufacturer came on the scene to compete with Verbatim and 3M, etc. They were labelled XIDEX. I moved tens of thousands of those things. It sure was fun. I had a huge price advantage, a dollar each was my sell price, and an excellent quality disk. Hot cakes and queues of customers because the mid-eighties was the golden age of early personal computing. Being in the computer consumables business I naturally needed a computer myself, if only for self pride. When I sourced one, mastered it, and got the business onto it, clearly I should get some more and sell them. They were IBM clones, and it was illegal at the time, but IBM weren't all that fussed about it. Apple, however, were particularly hostile, so although I owned a few II+ clones, I didn't sell any. 

T: Where did you get them from?

E: The diskettes came from the manufacturer direct, XIDEX. Other consumables were supplied by a supplier called Imagineering. The computers were supplied by a Malaysian-born Australian importing and selling from home. I drove to his place in Sydney to insist that he sell to me, because he was reluctant to deal in small quantities. So I got them in bits for reassembly. His name was David Teoh. The invoices were imprinted "Total Peripherals" and the company continued to expand. He was, is, quite the businessman. You might of heard of his company. It deals in the Internet space and is known as TPG

T: Yes, it rings a bell. A loud bell.

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