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O > OHIO SCIENTIFIC  > Superboard II

OHIO Scientific
Superboard II

John Buckner sent us this very interesting information about Mike Cheiky, the founder of OSI:

Hiram, Ohio, is about an hour ESE of Cleveland, Ohio. Dr. Lawrence Becker is a professor of Physics at Hiram College. He knew the founder of Ohio Scientific Instruments, Mike Cheiky, when Mike was a student. The following recounts Dr. Becker's experiences, first as a professor to Mike Cheiky, and later still as an employee of Mike Cheiky's company Ohio Scientific Instruments.

By all accounts, Mike was a very unusual student. From the time he started as a freshman at Hiram College, Mike spent most of his time in Colton-Turner Hall, the science building on campus. The Physics Department occupied the ground floor, and that was Mike's home.

Mike had an intense interest in lasers and holography. While at Hiram, he outfitted a holography lab, made quite a few fairly high quality holograms and put together a laser light and holography display that could be transported to high schools and other locations. He made a holographic movie. He designed the automated equipment that took pictures of a block in thirty-six frames, rotating the block ten degrees between each frame, on 70 mm film. No one needed to attend the camera or other equipment as the process was performed automatically in a completely darkened room on a vibration isolated table.

He designed and built the film transport and display apparatus for the movie. The movie was set up a couple of times for special events at Hiram College. It was quite impressive to see a fully three-dimensional block rotating as one looked through the film loop that went around and around. Unfortunately, the transport mechanism tended to tear the film, so it had a rather disappointingly short life span.

When Mike was a junior, he brought back a prototype super-radiant nitrogen laser from a surplus outlet in Ohio. It had no power supply and no manual. Mike called the person who had worked with the laser and was told it was working when it was put on surplus and that a manual could be sent. During the next week, Mike scoured the Physics Department and came up with a power supply and pulse generator that he modified for his purposes. Before the manual arrived, he had the laser working.

But Mike was amazingly talented in a lot of areas. He had applied for and received a grant for a Student Initiated Research project. Using equipment and the machine shop in the department, he designed and built an automated x-ray fluorescent apparatus that could process a couple of dozen samples. During the summer of the project, he and a group of students from several Ohio schools gathered samples from the four major northeast Ohio river beds and ran them through the apparatus to see if x-ray fluorescence could sort out the pollutants in the rivers. The apparatus worked well, but while the process could identify different materials, it could not be used well for determining amount.

Dr. Becker remembers that Mike had the habit of appearing at his shoulder as he was setting up and checking out some apparatus for use in one of the courses. After watching for a few minutes, Mike would make suggestions for making the experiment better. The really annoying thing, according to Dr. Becker, was that Mike was usually right.

Charity was a student at Hiram College. She and Mike were married when they were sophomores. Shortly after their graduation in 1974, Mike rented space in a building in Hiram and started playing around with microcomputer designs. Dr. Becker couldn't personally recall the original start up of the company, but others have reported Byte #6 containing the first ad for OSI equipment. Byte #6 had an issue date of February, 1976. Byte #6 also included an article (the second of two) about building a micro-computer from a 6800 microprocessor (one of three processors that OSI would eventually utilize).

According to Dr. Becker, Mike was an idea man and really didn't have a lot of interest in running a company. So after developing the first and subsequent OSI computers, Mike let Charity run the business end of the company. Others report that Charity was the first female head of a major Micro-Computer firm. Dr. Becker remembers she had her picture on the cover of Money magazine. (As of this writing the date of the Money issue is unknown, but it was probably sometime in 1979 or 1980.

Dr. Becker's first association with OSI was during the summers of 1978 and 1979. He oversaw a group of Hiram College students who wrote software for the original Challenger 1P. The C1P's RAM memory was a whopping 8K, and they dubbed themselves 'The 8K Programmers'. In the beginning, there were no hard or floppy drives, program storage was on cassette tape which sometimes managed to load a program and sometimes didn't. Each program had to fit into the available 8K RAM.

Dr. Becker was more a figurehead - a contact person at Hiram College through whom Mike could work - rather than a director of any software projects. Dr. Becker set up their work lab, putting together a long, multi-outletted power cord that snaked around the Physics Department classroom. There could have been six to eight programming stations (maybe more). It's likely that the power cord is still stashed in the equipment room next to the classroom.

During that first summer, Dr. Becker just let the students do their thing. He dropped into the room occasionally to be sure all was going smoothly. A few weeks into the second summer, Dr. Becker decided that he should learn a bit about the computers. So he went into the room, sat down at an open computer and turned it on.

After staring at some totally meaningless lines of type on the monitor, Dr. Becker called over to one of the students and said, "Uh, Dave, uh--could you help me get this computer started up?" "Sure," Dave said. Dave came over, his hands flashed across the keyboard, and up came some sort of menu. Dr. Becker didn't have the slightest idea of what Dave had done. Dr. Becker then turned off the computer, turned it back on, and tried to reproduce what Dave had done. Dr. Becker finally gave up and went back to his office, too embarrassed to ask again. It was, for Dr. Becker, a most humbling experience.

During the summers of 1980 and 1981, Dr. Becker wrote manuals for Ohio Scientific. (By the end of the summer of 1979, he had gotten up the courage to again ask for help. By the summer of 1980, he was fairly proficient at using the Challenger.) During this time frame he wrote the introductory manuals for the C1P and C1P MF as well as the C4P DF, the C4P MF and the C8P DF. It was perhaps during December of 1980 that he wrote the Experimenter's Manual for the CA-24 Solderless Prototyping Board. Also, during the summer of 1981, Dr. Becker worked with a group of people who were designing and refining some programs for the OSI computers.

By this time, the company was located in a building just south of Aurora, Ohio, about a half hour west of Hiram. Dr. Becker remembers one day being out on the assembly/shipping/repair floor talking with some people there. He happened to look up at the balcony at one end of the floor. He saw that Mike was up there, standing at the railing looking over the bustle of activities going on below him. Dr. Becker couldn't shake the feeling that Mike looked for all the world, like a general surveying his troops (or a monarch watching the activities of his kingdom).

During the summer of 1981, Dr. Becker took time to go to a Chitaqua workshop on computer interfacing. Early in the fall, he applied for, and received approval for, a sabbatical leave that allowed him to spend the 1982-1983 fall and winter terms at Technical Education Research Centers (TERC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, learning more about interfacing.

The timing could not have been more perfect as far as Dr. Becker's association with OSI was concerned. Ohio Scientific had been purchased by M/A-Com in 1981. M/A-Com moved the technical writing and program development offices to Bedford, MA. So during the summer of 1982, Dr. Becker worked for M/A-Com OSI doing odds and ends of manual editing and starting the KEYCALC User Guide for the ISOTRON. M/A-Com had kept the OSI letters, but in this reincarnation the letters officially stood for Office Systems, Inc., instead of Ohio Scientific Instruments.

Dr. Becker's sabbatical work went well and he designed (both hardware and software) a data acquisition system intended for use in high schools. The system used a Timex-Sinclair micro-computer (the little $99 computer with a pressure sensitive keypad) and an interface Dr. Becker built from scratch.

There could be up to 16 lab stations (each with its own identifying code), at which students could collect and display real-time data for an experiment such as a swinging pendulum. The sine curve of the swinging motion was displayed (in the typically abysmal resolution of the Timex-Sinclair graphics) on the monitor as the swinging took place. Once data had been collected for an experiment, the user at the lab station could send the data to the laboratory "main frame," an Apple computer. Unfortunately, before the prototype could be turned into a product, Timex-Sinclair went out of business.

But Dr. Becker was developing contacts and friends in the Boston area, and returned in the summer of 1983 to continue his technical writing at M/A-Com OSI. During that summer, M/A-Com OSI folded. It was not pleasant to see happen. There were a lot of rumors at first, but the management kept saying that all would be well. Then one day, toward the end of the summer, a fellow walked in and told everyone to go home. Dr. Becker grabbed the 8-inch floppies on which were stored the almost completed KEYCALC manual and headed for the house he was taking care of in Lexington.

(An OSI colleague of Dr. Becker's knew of a widow living in Lexington but had a cottage in New Hampshire where she went for the summer months. The previous summer her Lexington house had been broken into and she lost most of her silver. Dr. Becker contacted the widow about caring for her house the summer she was away. They became fast friends, and Dr. Becker has been taking care of her house every summer since 1982.)

Dr. Becker had an ISOTRON at his Lexington home. It was sort of on loan to him while he was doing the technical writing. There was no company to reclaim the computer, so he took it back to Hiram College with him.

Late in the fall of 1983, Dr. Becker got a call from a long time employee of OSI (both OSIs) who had done a lot of the hardware design. The employee, in turn, had been contacted by M/A-Com officials because (as Dr. Becker recalls) quite a few customers who had purchased ISOTRONS with the promise of a KEYCALC manual wanted their manuals. The fellow knew that Dr. Becker had been working on the manual and asked if, per chance, he had any documentation. Of course Dr. Becker had it all on the floppies he had taken-uh, saved, and he was, in fact, the only one with any documentation. He was in a nice bargaining position. Actually, it didn't take much bargaining. The M/A-Com officials offered him a nice amount for finishing the manual with a bonus if he could get it done by a particular date in the spring of 1984. He did, and it has the publication date of 1984. (This may explain a rumored Swedish connection and a third and final reincarnation of OSI?).

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