Who is Bob Rankin?

Category: Personal

Every so often, people ask about my background, and how I got started with computers and the Internet. I've published bits and pieces of my bio before, but never a detailed account of my professional life. So here it is, with a few interesting personal asides...

About Bob Rankin

Hi, I'm Bob Rankin. I'm a geek, a computer programmer, a writer, a publisher, and an online entrepreneur who enjoys exploring the Internet and explaining technology in plain English. My degree in Computer Science (RPI 1984) got me a job at IBM, but after spending 15 years there, the Internet literally sucked me out. I've been called a "Translator for the Technology Impaired" and I think that fits pretty well.

Over the years, my work has appeared in Yahoo! Internet Life, Boardwatch Magazine, ComputerWorld, NetGuide, NY Newsday and other publications. In 1995, I began publishing The Internet TOURBUS, which was one of the first sponsored email newsletters. I have written several computer books, including "Doctor Bob's Painless Guide to the Internet", "JUNO: Free Email and More", and "The No B.S. Guide To Linux". I am also owner/operator of Flowers Fast, the popular online florist, and creator of the Lowfat Linux tutorial.

Bob Rankin - Bio

This website has a very diverse audience, with people from all over the world, and every level of computer knowledge. I try to present Internet tools and technology in a way that appeals to both gurus and grandmas. My goal is to help you solve your computer problems by yourself, and empower you to help your friends and family stay safe as well. So many people tell me “You’re my computer guru, now my family comes to me for help!”

Everyone Has a "First Computer" Story

TI-58 Calculator - My first computer
Ahh, my first computer... it was actually a TI-58 programmable calculator, which I taught to bark, sit, and play yahtzee, circa 1977. I also found that by making it flash "8888888888" near my old stereo console, it would interfere with the audio signal and generate a buzzing sound. So I programmed it to act as an alarm clock. My high school had a Model 33 Teletype, which was the first computer terminal I used. It was connected to a nearby university mainframe computer with a 110-baud modem (about 50,000 times slower than broadband today) and could save and load programs with paper punch tapes. There was an "OP" command to communicate with the system operator, but none of my messages ever got a reply. However, one day I logged in to find that my programs had been deleted. I sent a string of profanties to the operator, certain that nobody would ever read it. But the next morning, sitting in the assistant principal's office with my father, I learned that someone did. Oops.

Later, I had access to a Radio Shack TRS-80 with 16KB of RAM, a monochrome monitor, and a cassette deck for storage. More than 30 years later, I can still remember my teletype login (HEL-N703,MTH), coding the Fibonacci sequence generator in Fortran, and writing my own games in BASIC, or machine language on the TI-58. "Decrement and Skip on Zero..." that was hardcore!

So I guess it was only natural from that point that I would pursue computer programming as a career. I studied Computer Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) at the tail end of the punch card era, passed my Turing Test, and after two summer internships at IBM (Poughkeepsie NY) I was hired in May 1984. My group provided programming support for the engineers that designed mechanical, thermal and power components of the IBM mainframes. I wrote programs that interfaced with the the CADAM, GDP, and CATIA 2D/3D graphical design systems. I also wrote software for an expert system called CADAR that helped engineers design and route electrical cables through the 3080 and 3090 mainframes. Some of the languages I used include JCL, CLIST, CLIC, FORTRAN, PL/I, PLS, C++, EXEC2, REXX and Unix shell scripts.

At the end of my career at IBM, I was coding DB2/SQL database programs to enable the company to consolidate graphical design data from all IBM sites worldwide, in a single "mega-center" across the pond in Germany. The project, which was estimated to save the company over $20 million, hit a snag because the transfer of large files across the globe was not going fast enough. I spent an afternoon reworking the code, and as El Exigente used to say in the Folger's commercial, "The crop is saved!" But sadly, management did not seem to value my contributions, despite glowing peer reviews.

"Sucked Out By the Internet..."

An ever-growing sense that the Internet held the key to my future, coupled with an entrepreneurial streak, motivated me to walk away from my IBM career in February 1997. It also helped me understand that I was pretty good at explaining technology to non-technical people. For three years prior, I had been doing freelance writing for newspapers and computer magazines. I became more and more fascinated with the Internet, both as an information resource and as a means of conducting business.

In 1994 I wrote the "Accessing The Internet By E-Mail" guide which explained how to access almost anything on the Net using simple e-mail commands, and gave it away for free. I took a little heat for having Delrina as a commercial sponsor in my FAQ, but it was hugely popular, eventually being translated into 30 languages. I then sold $5 guides explaining Internet tools for personal and business users. In 1995, I began publishing the Internet Tourbus newsletter, and got my first book published in 1996. I was confident that things would work, so I made the leap to being "gainfully unemployed" and have never regretted it.

Flowers Fast began in 1998 as an adjunct to a retail flower shop that I owned with my ex-wife. I schooled myself in e-commerce, learning about website design, search engine optimization, merchant accounts, fraud prevention, online advertising, email marketing, and other needed skills. Flowers Fast is still going strong, just in case you need to send flowers to someone special.

Lowfat Linux started as "The No B.S. Guide to Linux," a book that was published in 1997. After the rights reverted to me from the publisher, I put the entire contents online as a free Linux tutorial. I'm a big fan of Linux and open source software, so if you're looking for help understanding Linux, especially the command-line interface, check it out.

In July 2005, I began publishing Ask Bob Rankin, a free tech support blog where I answer your burning questions about computers, the Internet, gadgets and technology in general. I operate on the premise that in order to succeed online, you need to offer a high-quality resource for free, build a reputation as a contributor to the Internet community, and be committed to a long-term view.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it! Feel free to post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Who is Bob Rankin?"

(See all 53 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Bob F.
31 Jan 2014

Been reading your tips for several years, thanks for all the good info. Just sent u a cup java, enjoy

Posted by:

25 Mar 2015

WOW!!! Impressive ... Very impressive. I am surprised, that I hadn't read this, before. I knew that you were smart, as all get out ... But, I didn't realize, just how far back in the computer time scale, where you started.

I bow to the master!!! I have so much respect for you, Bob and of course, all of your knowledge. You definitely are the TRANSLATOR of computer knowledge, to those who don't really understand!!!

As you know, I am a self-taught geek. I willing admit, you have been the biggest influence and mentor, to my geekdom. Yes, I had a dear, dear friend Norm, may he rest in peace, who actually started me, from scratch. However, it was he, who told me about the Internet Tourbus or just The Tourbus, back in early 1998, to read all of your articles and to subscribe to your newsletter.

Subscribing to your newsletters, has been the best thing, that has happened to me, in my computer learning. I have always sought knowledge my whole life. I feel that, if, you don't seek knowledge, you whither and die. I know, that is dramatic, but, I really do firmly believe it.

Knowledge is power and helps you grow old gracefully, while you keep alert and on your toes. This is coming from a 71 year old mother, grandmother and great grandmother. I have also, been a wife to the same man, for over 52 years. Not a bad record at all. :)

Posted by:

15 Jul 2015

Congratulations on your twenty years. Thanks

Posted by:

31 Jul 2015

I have been reading since the tour us days. My family calls me the "computer guru" but my secret is you and your website. I never knew I was in the company of such greatness! I would have been too humbled to even read. Thank you for loving what you do and sharing it with others!!

Posted by:

Ron Thompson
06 Nov 2015

Bob.. getting calls from guy names Jason asking to keep my computer hackers out of my computer. My service providers offers free McAfee for all its users. This Jason keeps calling me and told me I have hackers by showing me to go to the C;prompt and type netstat a and a bunch of addresses came up. He said these are hackers. He ask if they were established and I saw lots of them. What do I do .. Can I take out these established connections by myself? Keep in touch.. Love the site. Is Spotmau a safe site for us computer geeks. hell I would not know unless I ask you>?!!? What do you think..Ron..keep in touch..!!

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a scam. The netstat command is not showing hackers. Block that number and don't allow anyone remote access to your computer.

Posted by:

12 Jan 2016

a href="http://askbobrankin.com/ready_for_driverless_cars.html">
Ready For Driverless Cars? (Ask Bob Rankin)
I'm not against advancing technology but I would rather pour the billions of dollars into better ways to restrict terrorists from using the internet to communicate. I don't see the monetary reward
paying off except Google or Apple saying we did it first!!!

Posted by:

08 May 2016


Where I had to click to get Flowers Fast was way below the words. When I clicked on the words "Flowers Fast" I got a paid advertisement for some terrible fix your Apple service.

When I tried again I didn't have the same problem. Very erratic performance.

Take Care,

Posted by:

30 Nov 2016

I always have and do look forward to your articles in my email. I believe I have learned as much and probably more from your site than everything else I've read on the internet since 2003. So this is a thank you and well done for interesting, informative, and entertaining information that is well received and anticipated by me.

Posted by:

06 Dec 2016

The iDrive One
Holiday Offer

Hi Bob
this is Pat in the UK...this offer I guess is not available to guys like me in the UK....let me know if there is something that can be done for us here.
We are a loyal following and enjoy all the help you provide.
ps Happy holidays

Posted by:

04 Feb 2017

Hi Bob, I've been reading since Tourbus and have purchased many of the things you have sold and recommended, just bought you backup cd and downloaded the bonuses using your recommended Foxit free reader.
Apparently my OS (Vista) isn't recommended and I had some trouble with my printer spooling when trying to print their user manual. Did you know that their customer service is in China? They sent me a URL to buy their version 6 downgrade of Foxit Phantom PDF but I am very wary about installing anything else from them. Do you know if I will still be able to read your bonus PDFs that I have downloaded after I remove Foxit? Any suggestions?

Posted by:

01 Mar 2018

If I place the comma outside the parenthesis, will this faux pas prevent my comment from being posted?

EDITOR'S NOTE: As long as you keep the period inside the quotation marks, "you'll be fine." :-),

Posted by:

Ralph W
04 Mar 2018

I've stopped receiving your blog posts, but when I try to resubscribe, it tells me to use a different e-mail address, which I don't have. Please remove this e-mail from your DB, or figure out why I'm not getting your mailings.

They ARE NOT going to my spam folder. Already checked that.



Posted by:

Ralph W
04 Mar 2018

I've stopped receiving your blog posts, but when I try to resubscribe, it tells me to use a different e-mail address, which I don't have. Please remove this e-mail from your DB, or figure out why I'm not getting your mailings.

They ARE NOT going to my spam folder. Already checked that.



Posted by:

Gillian A
02 Apr 2018

You passed your *Turing Test*?? But, Bob, you look so very human!

Posted by:

Hawiian Lion
05 Mar 2019

Hey Bob, remember me from RPI? Your bio on this page ends around 2005. What's been happening since then?

Posted by:

23 Nov 2019

Ah, all my friends think I am a computer guru with such a technical mind, but little do they know of my little secret, Bob Rankin. Between you and Google I can find answers to nearly all computer issues, thus it is a symbiotic relationship, but Google can not give me what I get from you. And that is trial by fire, the thousands of hours you have spent figuring out solutions for aspiring gurus like me. You have saved me huge blocks of my life, therefore enabling me to go out and enjoy the world. I salute you for this. I am fascinated with the history of computing so I loved your background story. Keep those articles coming and thanks again.

Posted by:

08 Dec 2019

I have a hard time reading your articles.
I’m 79 years old and need to have larger text than you provide.
I use an iPad Pro 11”. Most web sites allow me to zoom the text and/or use reader view.
That doesn’t work on your site. Apparently your articles use hard line breaks. Zooming pushes the end of the line off the display. The text doesn’t flow around to the next line.
Would you please fix this? I’m sure your older readers would appreciate it.

Posted by:

Neil Koven
28 Feb 2022

I've subscribed to Bob Rankin's newsletters for about 25 years now. He is an excellent and reliable source for wending your way through the computer and software jungles. While not everything will be applicable to you personally, when one is will be the time he has saved you money and time and has given you a solution to your problem(s).

It is free of charge and I highly recommend it.

Posted by:

17 Feb 2024

Thank you for your "Who is Bob Rankin" article and blog. I am trying to remember when I first subscribed to your tech support blog, but it is the only one I come to for answers to my questions about computers and the Internet (and other things, too). You are the best when explaining things to people at any level of understanding. Again, Thank you.

Posted by:

Debra Severson
15 Jun 2024

Hello, I'm a fan. I have a charge on my credit card statement for $37 on 4/18/24 (for I believe some security information--hard to remember it's been so long!), and I'd like either that information OR my money back.
I've emailed this request twice before. Sorry to do this here, but I can't seem to get through to your office.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Hi Debra, I replied on April 25 with download links. Just emailed you again as well.

There's more reader feedback... See all 53 comments for this article.

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