A little about the writer

Steven Bolt, 53 years old. Finished VWO in 1974. Took a brief look at TU Delft. The rather extreme specialization proved too much for me, but electronics still fascinated me. The operator of a number of gambling machines asked me to develop an electronic counter for his one-armed bandits. They were equipped with electromechanical devices (we're talking 1975). In a busy Amsterdam pub such counters lasted a couple of weeks at best. My `solid state' replacement did a lot better! The same guy commissioned Pitronics to design a complete fruit machine without moving parts. Nothing special now, but quite innovative at the time.

The name Pitronics grew out of a nickname poet/writer Lennaert Nijgh gave me - Professor Pi, after a comic character. Another present was the company logo, donated by publisher/graphic designer/truck driver Rob Huygen.

Since the early eighties Pitronics primarily occupies itself with small projects for a column in the popular science monthly KIJK, my present employer. Every now and then something interesting happens between times. The best story is perhaps the data-acquisition for a poultry farm.

In 1987 I learned to fly. My instructor Jan Bovee also happened to be a poultry farmer, and he was very interested in the use of computers. He wanted more information about what was happening in the large shed where he raised thousands of chicks every six weeks or so. Better information should help to make the process more reliable and economical. I designed an interface based on the 6502 microprocessor, to gather data coming from a number of sensors. Every ten minutes a package of info went through a long wire (about 80 yards, current-loop) to an XT-computer in the farmhouse. The sensors measured temperature (inside and outside), humidity, the consumption of water and fodder, the weight of the chicks, the windspeed and the precipitation (the latter with a view to effective ventilation). The scales were on the floor of the shed, and the chicks freely hopped all over the thing. Software in the interface looked for changes in weight en registrated those corresponding to a single chick.

During the trial runs I often sat behind the screen in the farmhouse, watching how the numbers rolled by. The first day I couldn't believe my eyes. You could literally see the chicks grow! Within three lines on the screen, half an hour in time, the average weight was rising a couple of grams. Of course I shouldn't have been surprised. The chicks came as little yellow balls of 50 grams or so, and left a couple of weeks later as four pound chickens...

sbolt@xs4all.nl