Maxwell J. Toms                                                                                                      

49 Julian Street, Carleton Place, Ontario, Canada, K7C 3W7

mjtoms@sympatico.ca   (613) 257-7290

 

A ‘Brief’ History of Max!

Some of my adventures in technology

 

For the most part, I am what some call a self-made person. This is not really true of course, for in reality the technology drivers and thinkers I have encountered in all the places I have worked and lived have played a significant role in my technical growth. And that’s been plenty for I came from an isolated fishing village in north-eastern Newfoundland, where the only technical items that might be linked to the 20th century were the airplane, the battery wireless, an early one-cylinder gas engine called ‘the Acadia’, and a refrigerator that made things cold using heat. Everything else was done by hand or used real ‘horse power’.

With coming of television and the road, I developed a strong interest, a fascination really, for all matters of science and engineering. I was already imbued with a strong work ethic, part of the nature of rural Newfoundland, where your very existence depended on the resourcefulness of your neighbours and yourself. Being a team player was generally recognized as essential.

While most of my education came from courses and books, it was through my mentors that I have refined a versatile skill set, ranging from Radio Frequency Communications, Wireless and Fibre-optics wide area networks, to software development. Of course the attempts of Memorial University of Newfoundland, Ryerson Polytechnic Institute, and the University of Ottawa to give me a formal education also played a role. Of course, I owe a much to the many screw-ups I worked for and with as well. In many cases the education they provided was equally important.

Further, Interesting sidelines, such as amateur radio, woodworking, and model building projects, have augmented these skills from time to time, providing an additional opportunity for me to refine operational and people skills as well as creative thinking, problem solving and fabrication processes. Examples include a full-scale F-16 cockpit for flight simulation, a project that placed an amateur VHF repeater on a high-altitude science balloon, model schooners (my grandfather was a boat builder), or my current project, a 9-pounder field piece to be used by scouts for War of 1812 re-enactments.

Canadian Armed Forces, 1969-1970

Key Words: Operation & Maintenance, Repair Systems, Test Systems, Automatic Test Equipment, Logistics, Lostigics Support Analysis, LSAIt was in 1970, during training as a communications technician in the Canadian Armed Forces (the last BEC 490 and Comms courses at CFB Clinton, Ontario) I realized I had a gift for technology. What was hard for others was easy for me.  My career in the armed forces was not long. Seems the government ran out of money and could no longer afford to employ me in the electronics field for which I was trained. So after Sea Environmental training, which included firefighting in confined places and restoring watertight integrity, I was released to seek my fortune on my own. The photo above left shows me standing on a Canadian F-86 Fighter Jet, a classic and the best of breed. Aircraft have been an inspiration to me since as a small boy I saw the arrival of a mail plane for the first time.

JML Electronics, Stephenville/Corner Brook, 1974-1978

My first foray into the business world came in 1974, when I joined my brother Larry in a communications repair business in Stephenville, Newfoundland.  In addition to radio communications, this period saw technical growth in new directions including navigation equipment, such as radar and sounders, sound reinforcement equipment and professional sound recording.

There were some of notable achievements during this period. My business partners and I designed, built and installed a number of high performance portable and fixed sound systems, as well as Newfoundland’s first private multi-track sound recording studio, shown in the photo above right.

We developed a keen insight into the art of radio communications, producing several high-performance VHF repeater systems. The photo at the left shows one such repeater we built for Gros Morne National Park, just prior to its installation on top of the mountain at Western Head, Newfoundland.

By late1977 we owned the small but influential market in western Newfoundland. In an effort to grow, my brother and I turned operations over to CMC, which I then joined.

Canadian Marconi Company, 1978

My new responsibility at CMC was in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the sales portion of a small office, which up till then, was not living up to company expectations. They fortified me for this task by sending me on a Xerox training course, Selling Skills II.

Well my initial effort certainly exceeded their expectations, as I nearly defeated their top salesman, Ross Craig, in that winter’s sales contest, which culminated in April of that year. My secret was a high degree of support to the client. I started with the ones I had and built out in whatever circles those clients operated.

However, a key part of the communications strategy was the delivery of coverage and range, generally provided by a centralized ‘community’ repeater. A well-placed community repeater was essential for small operator sales. If you had a good site, you could compete. If not, you got the scraps. We had a site in what looked like an adequate location, but proved to be mediocre in coverage. However, the company refused to support me on an upgrade initiative. I had recently found such a site and to forestall a competitor, I invited a friend from the Saskatoon Police Force to view it. They had had serious problems with their communications coverage during the Queen’s visit that summer, so he was happy to check it out. As my assessment suggested, it was a good site.

As it turned out, the can-do “JML experience” the company wanted me to employ, didn’t sit well with middle management and unionized service staff, even though the direct support I provided to my clients was of a very minor nature.

ADGA, 1978-1980

In late summer 1978, I was solicited by and accepted a position with ADGA on the Canadian Space Program to support rockets and high-altitude balloons for science. That sounded like just the ticket for new learning experiences, so I moved to Churchill, Manitoba, as a contractor at the rocket base there. The range was operated by the National Research Council of Canada and was used to study upper atmosphere chemistry, winds and for Auroral studies. High-altitude balloons were to be launched from a base at the old airfield at Gimli, Manitoba, to be established the following year. 

My initial duty was to help bring the rocket base, electronics and comms, up to operational capability. This involved repair the telephone system, the RocNet, the data lines to the pads, and much of the telemetry equipment. I learned how to do this by reading the equipment service manuals end-to-end. My operation and maintenance responsibility was telemetry data reduction equipment, shown in the photo. Rocket operations are rather high-strung affairs, where months of intensive preparations cumulate in a 20 minute or so mission, where everything must function. It was informative and very exciting.

Over the following year, I helped establish the Balloon launch facility at Gimli, a remote rocket base at Red Lake, Ontario, and a remote rocket base in South End in northern Saskatchewan. These installations were done from the ground up, in an old ex-airforce hanger in Gimli and in forest clearings for the others. The picture, left, shows me setting up a remote balloon tracking system, in a trailer in Swift Current, Saskatchewan.

I made some notable contributions to the overall effort in a number of areas, including:

  1. I insisted on a grounding and power isolation scheme for the base equipment and calibration lab at Gimli, which saved millions of dollars worth of telemetry and calibration equipment when we took a lightning strike near the hanger a few months later. No other electrical equipment in the building survived.
  2. I helped establish up a remote ground station that involved much cannibalizing of equipment to complete a basic dual redundant set-up. This station successfully recorded data from the Red Lake eclipse science rocket mission when the primary station at Red Lake failed. 
  3. I developed a battery management scheme to flight certify balloon batteries after a set failed on our first operational balloon flight. I was given this task because the batteries on the ‘science’ package for that flight (Amateur Skyhook), did not fail. I met this challenge. I established a battery lab and procedures to control the certification process. When the next flight hung up due a cut-down mechanism failure, my batteries lasted almost 50% longer than rated, allowing sufficient time for a safe recovery of the balloon and it’s science package. For those interested, there are pictures of the amateur radio skyhook project in my photo gallery.

For me, this was a period of great advancement in electronics and computing technology. I further broadened my electronics knowledge by taking correspondence courses in digital and microprocessor technology. I used these skills to design the digital electronics for a control sequencer for NRC’s auroral ‘all-sky’ cameras. To make the system immune to power line noise, from the heavy relays and the shutter actuator, I used reverse logic, a real problem for some to figure out. But it worked very well. Years later I received a call from NRC’s Hertzburg Institute with the simple question, “How does this thing work? We want to make another one.”

While I had training in Fortran4 at Ryerson (IBM 360) years earlier, up to now I had no opportunity to exercise my skill in this computing.  The microprocessor course taught me the ins and outs of the Motorola 6800, and with the Base’s HP 9835, I learned HPL and Basic. I quickly put this to good use. I wrote software application to calculate wind-speed and direction from angular data supplied from tracking a pilot balloon (PiBall) with a theodolite. To provide a stable output I refined an old US Airforce algorithm for smoothing wind data.

In between operations, I worked with a Japanese science team supporting their ground-station systems for their EROS-B satellite show in the picture, right.

In addition to the hands-on experience, I owe a debt of gratitude to the NRC staff and the old rocket hands from Goddard, Wallop’s Island and White Sands Proving Grounds, for it’s from these guys I learned the finer points of the operational arts. I was eager to learn and they were happy to accommodate!

SPAR, 1980-1989

I joined Spar in the summer of 1980, at Kanata, Ontario, where I had the pleasure of working with some of the team responsible for developing Canada’s first satellites. For me, this was a very enjoyable experience, if altogether not “heady”. At Spar, I had a first class mentor in the person of John Kennedy, a senior engineer with much design and field experience in electronics.

My fist duty was to establish an RF Test station to flight test and certify Traveling Wave Tubes (TWTA) for ANIK C & D satellites. The effort started out as a group of computer operated test instruments but was refined into an automated test suite. John designed the routines and fixtures and I did the rest, including the test software. I also did much of the testing, shared with the other production test staff. This work cumulated in the Intelsat 6 TWTA test system that folks likened to a NASA control station, a U-shaped console, a HP red-light district, full of screens and Honeywell lighted switches typical of the times. 

I was a trouble-shooter during this period, solving problems on the flight-battery test set and infrared night sight, NODLR serial interface. It was here I took my first foray into formal project management, complete with a WBS, PERT and Gantt charts, organizing and managing the build of the I6 K-band test station, a project worth nearly a million dollars if you include the cost of the test equipment.

My next project, again under the guidance of John Kennedy, was the development and testing of two modular radar receivers, replacements for the SPS-10 and SPS-12 Radar sets used on the older steam destroyers of the Canadian Navy. The work involved much design verification, problem solving and prototype development. .  I accidentally proved just how good this receiver design was, when the qualification model was cooked in a runaway oven.  The temperature reached 120C before I noticed a drop in performance and then discovered the problem, a tad over the +55C rating. The system survived.

I designed and built the test station, shown above right, a manual set, from the ground up, to John’s requirements. I also provided the electrical design for the installation test kit, trained navy staff in design and maintenance of both sets, and introduced the system to interested US suppliers.

My next duty, and the biggest challenge, was team lead for the refurbishment of shipboard stable platform for testing of a Low angle tracking radar being developed by DREO/CRC in Shirley’s Bay, Ontario.

I led a team that designed and built the inertial reference unit, repaired and refurbished the drive system, built a dummy radar assembly, and built a barbette and windscreen for shipboard installation. The completed system was lab-tested at Spar, and sent to Halifax for installation and trials on the Naval auxiliary vessel, Quest. Testing took place the following winter, and the weather was not kind.

Trials were difficult, but operational objectives were met. The system performed as expected, but there were many additions to my storehouse of operational lore. Ah Billy, those that go down to the sea in ships better have designed their gear properly!

In addition to test programming, I authored and co-authored a number of business applications, including a timecard verification application and a basic computer aided drawing program.

By the late 80s, work at Spar was becoming uncertain. In my view, a decade of underestimation of our real potential by management, undermined our corporate visibility and sense of worth. Cutbacks were in the air. I was finally downsized with the few remaining system engineering staff in late summer on 1989.

European Helicopter Industries & the EH101, 1989-1991

In the fall of 1989 of I was retained by EHI to work with a consortium to complete the definition phase of the Canadian Defence Department’s New Shipborne Helicopter (NSA) project. At that time the project was over budget and in serious difficulties. DND had recently threatened cancellation if the six points of their “Show-Cause” letter were not addressed. One of these items was support equipment, in particular, Automatic Test Equipment (ATE), and it was this I was hired to fix. This was a sensitive issue, and boy did I have scrutiny. With in hours of arriving, Mr. Harvey Neilson, the DND project manager was in my office sounding me out. I got similar attention from Mr. Paul Flagg, the new consortium PM. My log shows there were 17 attendees at the first meeting with DND-NSA, including most of the top people.  I faced these people alone.

The central question was, how could you define the scope of testing for a vehicle not yet defined. I fell back on my direct test experience, and an important tenant of the operational arts; don’t waste time on a 100% solution when an 80% solution will suffice (perfection is the enemy of good enough). My response to EHI and my client, I would find an 80% solution, and define and quantify the risk for the remainder. This would satisfy Treasury Board’s requirements for project definition.

The plan:

  1. Quantify the scope of test, using available system information and equipment proposals, and
  2. Minimize the risk by comparing the development scope to like projects for which the data is available.

Well senior management was relieved and gave me carte-banche to carry on. This I did.

I built up a concept vehicle requirement by consolidating data of the system engineering design (system specification) and all the equipment parameters of proposals into a composite (averaged) system. Then, with the help of Dr. Bernie Hough, I built a failure model that told me, in detail, the failure quantities, thus the test requirement for individual repairable items. Item costs came from the proposals, which I averaged across similar items to get a composite price for each individual item in my straw-man vehicle.

I then developed a composite test requirement for each of my repairable items, and produced a consolidated equipment list that would meet this requirement. Then with the guidance of experienced logistics analysis and maintenance staff, I developed an operational order of deployment, from which I could reliably estimate the scope of each test system for the operational requirement identified.

By melding the two, a high probability of what to test and where the test would be done. In fact, I had a project definition well within Treasury Board’s definition of a Class C estimate.  Management and the client were very pleased, so pleased in fact, I was handed the additional responsibility of defining the “yellow gear”, tools and fixtures, and finally Condition Monitoring for the vehicle. Even then, I completed the remaining contract deliverables to the client’s satisfaction two months ahead of schedule.

Monenco AGRA, 1992-1998

The next 6 years were spent at Monenco as a senior consultant specializing in logistics analysis and life cycle support planning. Key projects included:

1.      Canadian Coast Guard, DGPS Support: A life-cycle management and spares requirements study supporting CCG’s countrywide differential global positioning system. (1996)

2.      SpectroCan: Here I developed functional specifications and full-scale panel mock-up of a vehicle mounted frequency spectrum monitoring system for the Government of Singapore. I supported a similar project for the Government of Indonesia. (1996)

3.      Transport Canada VOR/DME: This was a life cycle management and spares availability study for TC’s countrywide air navigation system. (1995)

4.      Transport Canada, CAATS Project: This involved a life cycle management and support requirements study for TC’s new air traffic control and management system. (1995)

5.      Reserves Integrated Information Project (RIIP): Completed a life-cycle support plan complete with cost models (Anderson METHOD_1) for this major DND IT/IS system development.  Liaised between the client representatives as well as joint venture partners and vendors. (1993-1994)

6.      Transport Canada, Central Repair Facility (CRF): This was a study of automatic test alternatives, including software translation, to replace an obsolete hp3065H test system with modern equipment. I also participated in an operations study to review CRF business and work processes with the view of improving efficiency and ensuring costs are comparable to that private industry (1992-1994).

7.      Tactical Command, Control and Communications System (TCCCS) Project: Basically a repeat of the NSA work, to develop a support plan before the actual systems are defined. Here I followed the same basic process as with the EHI project. I reviewed project plans, estimates, justification studies and ATE documentation, developing a position and presenting solutions to PMO Staff, the Prime Contractor and Sub-Contractors. Responded repeatedly to requests for cost re-evaluations, providing effective justification, estimates and support documentation to satisfy PMO concerns for an effective program. (1992)

8.      Low Level Air Defence (LLAD): Here I developed and refined ATE project plans, estimates and Statements of Work, as well as providing support documentation to satisfy customer concerns for an effective logistics support program. (1992)

During this time I updated my assessment methodology to include using a relational database to contain and calculate various summary reports. I used these tools, an ATE & Spares database utility I developed, for estimating support equipment resource utilization requirements used for CCG DGPS and CAATS VSE project definition. I also developed a number of other relational database applications including:

1.      A Time collection system developed to record employee weekly time for direct entry to payroll, accounting and project management.

2.      An Expense claim system that permits the collection of travel and domestic expenses while calculating the correct GST, PST and HST for tax collection and claw-back purposes.

3.      A Procurement system to manage and control the purchasing process for AGRA Monenco’s POSTEL AFMS Project.

4.      A Procurement system to manage the purchasing for the RAMS consortium RIIP Project, noted above.

 

APT Prophet Technologies Inc. 1998-Present

My business partners and I initially started @Prophettech as a vehicle to develop and sell application software for business. And, over the first years we provided project definition, design and the implementation of a number of relational database (RDBMS) applications including, time & expenses, contact management, procurement, inventory management and manufacturing management for a number of corporations. We were assisted by NRC’s IRAP program in new development initiatives. However, the ‘dot.com’ bust forced us to broaden our base, so we added network systems development, both wireless and fibre-optics.

This initiative included a return to radio communications, now referred to as wireless networking. Earlier, for the Canadian Coast Guard, I completed an investigation into using a wireless Ethernet Bridge as a potential means to replace the ‘jetty cable’ used by CCG ships when alongside. Of course the wireless Bridge proved to be the most versatile as the ships did not have to be at a jetty, but could be anywhere in port. I tested and analyzed the bridging shipboard telephone service to the shore, now called VoIP, using a point-to-multi-point system. From actual trials, I built a model to show a 2 Mbps base could support 4 lines on each of 10 ships without interference.

This work led to a request from the BristerGroup Insurance to assess problems with the Company’s newly installed wireless network, consisting of ten microwave links, connecting Winchester, Prescott, Morrisburg Avonmore and Crysler, an 80-kilometre network in eastern Ontario. These efforts led to a system overhaul and upgrade of the poorly performing links. As the picture shows, I also did much of the climbing for survey, installation and maintenance. This hands and eyeball-on approach produced much better assessments of installation and propagation issues. There are more pictures of this work and equipment in the photo gallery.

By early summer 2000, the Community Council at South Dundas, Ontario had become aware of our success with the BristerGroup and contacted us about the potential broadband might have to offer for local economic development. 

For the decade up to then, the township has suffered several plant closings and a job loss of 600. They were looking for help with job retention and if possible a trend reversal. With the expanding Internet, APT Prophet Technologies Inc.
Fibre-Optics, Sales, Installation & Service 
Wireless Internet, Sales, Installation & Service 
Community Networks
Wide Area Networks
Gigabit Ethernet Switching. “Information Age”, revolution, a good community broadband network seemed just the ticket.

Their and our inquiries came to the conclusion that the existing communications infrastructure would neither be adequate, nor timely, to fulfil the community’s need. At that time the Township owned their own power distribution utility, so rights to use utility poles was not be an issue.

In June of that year, South Dundas Council formed a committee to proceed with a comprehensive multi-phase plan to cover the entire township. My business partner, Michael Kelly and I were retained first to do the data required collection and analysis for the project plan and then to oversee procurement and installation.

The South Dundas was a relatively large fibre plant for a small township, some 400 pairs, some 600 km of glass, complete with three central offices and wireless trunking. Three of the township’s villages were fitted out with Gigabit Ethernet switching and networked with a 45 Mbps wireless trunk. The fibre was hung, junction boxes installed, fusion splicing completed, electronics installed, web access secured, and the initial set of clients were connected in a whirlwind of activity. In addition, Mike and I established an Internet Service Provider operation that included high-performance Dell industrial servers, with Email, Web-hosting and FTP services. The system went live in June 2001, less than 12 months after the original committee-of-council was formed! There are a number of photos showing the construction phase in the photo gallery.

Mike and I managed all aspects of design, procurement and implementation tasks for this broadband fibre-optics delivery systems, including fibre and wireless, point-to-point and point-to-multipoint. We also took part in installation activities to reduce costs. I designed of much of the special fittings, equipment and cabinetry to house fibre-optics components in exposed areas and for antenna mounting.

The affect on the economy was immediate. Within a two years, the community experienced a growth of over 700 new jobs, more that the losses for the ten previous years. The council attended delegations from many communities to inspect the system, including one from Scotland.

The UK, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) commissioned an economic evaluation of the system in late spring 2003. A copy of their report is available on this site: http://www.maxtoms.com/5_DTIR.pdf. Their investigation was quite exhaustive, with an effort to account for the reasons for the job increase. While, they attributed only 69 of 717 new jobs directly to the fibre build, there was a compelling link to firms using the Internet, of which fibre supported clients had the bulk. 

It is a given that business investment comes only when there is investor confidence, and I believe it was the South Dundas Township’s decision to invest in a local business capability, the community network, that was the chief catalyst. By showing the township was prepared to directly back its business community was a (the) major factor in these investments in new plants and expansions. Therefore, indirectly, it was the Fibre project that was responsible for most of the growth, whether the growth was in a firm connected or not.

And the saga continues.

 

 


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