Do I Exist?

by Colin Berkshire

I am told by Dave Michels that some people question if I really exist.

It’s a rather existential question. My life has been so wonderful that I do sometimes wonder if I am simply experiencing a self-directed dream. I have no answer for that and will leave the question for the philosophers.

Bell Labs, Holmdel

Colin Berkshire is a pen name. It goes back some 30 years and there is a good joke behind it. Dave Michaels may share the joke with you if you ask, as he was in on the creation of it. Pen names aren’t unusual, Mark Twain was a pen name used by Samuel Clemens. Pen Names are used to prevent confusion between editorials and a person’s private life. I write for several publications as a hobby and use a different Pen Name for each. OK?

I have been in telecommunications for over 40 years. My freshman electrical engineering project was building the first automated attendant. It was the very mid 1970s and no such object existed. An answering machine would answer the phone, a touch-tone detector built from discrete tuned circuits would (often) detect dialed digits, and when four digits were received a second phone line would be coupled to the first and the extension number would be pulse dialed out into the 701A PBX. For the first time a caller could bypass a cord-board and dial directly to an extension. It was used for emergency access by the university staff.

Before then I had a World Book Encyclopedia that I read in my spare time. I would read the section on Bell Laboratories when I was about about 10 or so and dream of working there. That finally happened in the late 1970s and it was an incredible experience to work at the Holmdel NJ facility (the one with the transistor water tower.)

I have worked on several classified military projects, but, rather atypically, never applied for or received a security clearance. When “they” have a serious problem they get your help no matter what the technicalities of clearances are.

Close, but not Colin

Later I worked for Bell Northern Research on the SL-1 PBX. It’s a bit forgotten now, but that R&D group was actually located in Mountain View California. It was a group of super-bright engineers who were passionate about building the best PBX in the world.

If you attended the Texpo conferences sponsored by Pacific Telesis in the 1980s you likely heard me speak at the conference.

Since then I have had responsibilities at various times for being the head of marketing, the head of legal services, and the head of engineering at various companies. I have been a company president.

I set up one of the first commerce fulfillment centers where we managed the then rather incredible inventory of 55,000 different SKUs. We had responsibility for stock management, receiving and shipping. It was breakthrough technology.

I have about a dozen US patents. I’ve hired hundreds of people. I have worked in Venture Capital (or more properly, “Private Capital”) in high-tech. I have the equivalent of a green card for Hong Kong, my wife is Chinese, my family lives in Japan, and I have many friends and associates in Thailand.

I have overseen the design and installation of one of the largest private residential green roofs in North America. I owned the 13th Apple ][ computer ever produced. I had a working DVR in 1992 (but never thought it was worth patenting), and I invented the industry that today is known as Service Provisioning and built the first Service Provisioning software systems…it was used by Pacific Telesis in the 1980s and the company was later acquired by Northern Telecom.


I’m moving more towards retirement now, although I still maintain a title and provide corporate oversight. I am in good health, have three grandchildren, and continue to have what I feel is a special, charmed, amazing, happy life. My wife is my idol.

Yes, I’m real. I’m just not “normal”.