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Skunkworks At Apple -- The Graphing Calculator Story 642

Posted by timothy
from the reads-like-fiction dept.
avitzur writes with a link to the story behind the Macintosh Graphing Calculator. An excerpt from this strange account: "It's midnight. I've been working sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. I'm not being paid. In fact, my project was canceled six months ago, so I'm evading security, sneaking into Apple Computer's main offices in the heart of Silicon Valley, doing clandestine volunteer work for an eight-billion-dollar corporation."
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Skunkworks At Apple -- The Graphing Calculator Story

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  • EA? (Score:5, Funny)

    by danielacroft (167383) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:24PM (#11155196) Homepage
    I hope we don't hear from this person's significant other soon...
    • Re:EA? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by avitzur (105884) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:48PM (#11155352) Homepage
      >I hope we don't hear from this person's significant other soon...
      I was dating a high school math teacher at the time, but, unsurprisingly, the relationship did not survive the events of the story.
      • Re:EA? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by DarkAurora (324657) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @10:42PM (#11155660)
        This is - beyond a doubt - the most amazing piece of software I have ever seen. I never knew this gem was sitting quietly on my hard drive.

        At first, I was unimpressed. However, as soon as I saw it animate I was blown away. Of course, when I saw the plane intercept of a 3D function animated, I was visibly giddy. :)

        I so wish I had this while in my vector calculus course. In fact, I think I might stop by former professor's office when school is back in session and show him.

        As soon as your site recovers from this merciless slashdotting, I think I might pick up version 3.

        And again, wow. :)
      • Re:EA? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by caino59 (313096) <jcaino@@@obscure[nospam]reality...net> on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @10:50PM (#11155703) Homepage
        gotta hand it to you - i think thats the best read i've had here on /. in quite a while. That is a truly great story - one to pass down through the generations. Thanks for sharing the story and your creation!
    • Re:EA? (Score:4, Funny)

      by rampant mac (561036) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @10:19PM (#11155516)
      "I hope we don't hear from this person's significant other soon..."

      Somehow, I don't think that will be a problem around here.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:24PM (#11155197)
    Pacific Tech's Graphing Calculator has a long history. I began the work in 1985 while in school. That became Milo, and later became part of FrameMaker. Over the last twenty years, many people have contributed to it. Graphing Calculator 1.0, which Apple bundled with the original PowerPC computers, originated under unique circumstances.

    I used to be a contractor for Apple, working on a secret project. Unfortunately, the computer we were building never saw the light of day. The project was so plagued by politics and ego that when the engineers requested technical oversight, our manager hired a psychologist instead. In August 1993, the project was canceled. A year of my work evaporated, my contract ended, and I was unemployed.

    I was frustrated by all the wasted effort, so I decided to uncancel my small part of the project. I had been paid to do a job, and I wanted to finish it. My electronic badge still opened Apple's doors, so I just kept showing up.

    I had many sympathizers. Apple's engineers thought what I was doing was cool. Whenever I gave demos, my colleagues said, "I wish I'd had that when I was in school." Those working on Apple's project to change the microprocessor in its computers to the IBM PowerPC were especially supportive. They thought my software would show off the speed of their new machine. None of them was able to hire me, however, so I worked unofficially, in classic "skunkworks" fashion.

    I knew nothing about the PowerPC and had no idea how to modify my software to run on it. One August night, after dinner, two guys showed up to announce that they would camp out in my office until the modification was done. The three of us spent the next six hours editing fifty thousand lines of code. The work was delicate surgery requiring arcane knowledge of the MacOS, the PowerPC, and my own software. It would have taken weeks for any one of us working alone.

    At 1:00 a.m., we trekked to an office that had a PowerPC prototype. We looked at each other, took a deep breath, and launched the application. The monitor burst into flames. We calmly carried it outside to avoid setting off smoke detectors, plugged in another monitor, and tried again. The software hadn't caused the fire; the monitor had just chosen that moment to malfunction. The software ran over fifty times faster than it had run on the old microprocessor. We played with it for a while and agreed, "This doesn't suck" (high praise in Apple lingo). We had an impressive demo, but it would take months of hard work to turn it into a product.

    I asked my friend Greg Robbins to help me. His contract in another division at Apple had just ended, so he told his manager that he would start reporting to me. She didn't ask who I was and let him keep his office and badge. In turn, I told people that I was reporting to him. Since that left no managers in the loop, we had no meetings and could be extremely productive. We worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Greg had unlimited energy and a perfectionist's attention to detail. He usually stayed behind closed doors programming all day, while I spent much of my time talking with other engineers. Since I had asked him to help as a personal favor, I had to keep pace with him. Thanks to an uncurtained east-facing window in my bedroom, I woke with the dawn and usually arrived ten minutes before Greg did. He would think I had been working for hours and feel obliged to work late to stay on par. I in turn felt obliged to stay as late as he did. This feedback loop created an ever-increasing spiral of productivity.

    People around the Apple campus saw us all the time and assumed we belonged. Few asked who we were or what we were doing.When someone did ask me, I never lied, but relied on the power of corporate apathy. The conversations usually went like this:

    Q: Do you work here?
    A: No.
    Q: You mean you're a contractor?
    A: Actually, no.
    Q: But then who's paying you?
    A: No one.
    Q: How do you live?
    A: I live simply.
    Q: (Incredulously) What are you doing here?!

    At that point I'd give a demo and explain that the project had been canceled but that I was staying to finish it anyway. Since I had neither a mortgage nor a family, I could afford to live off savings. Most engineers at Apple had been through many canceled projects and completely understood my motivation.

    Apple at that time had a strong tradition of skunkworks projects, in which engineers continued to work on canceled projects in hopes of producing demos that would inspire management to revive them. On occasion, they succeeded. One project, appropriately code-named Spectre, was canceled and restarted no fewer than five times. Engineers worked after hours on their skunkworks, in addition to working full time on their assigned projects. Greg and I, as nonemployees who had no daytime responsibilities, were merely extending this tradition to the next level.

    In September, Apple Facilities tried to move people into our officially empty offices. They noticed us. The Facilities woman assumed that I had merely changed projects and had not yet moved to my new group, something that happened all the time. She asked what group I worked in, since it would be that group's responsibility to find me space. When I told her the truth, she was not amused. She called Security, had them cancel our badges, and told us in no uncertain terms to leave the premises.

    We were saved by the layoffs that began that month. Twenty percent of Apple's fifteen thousand workers lost their jobs, but Greg and I were safe because we weren't on the books in the first place and didn't officially exist. Afterwards, there were plenty of empty offices. We found two and started sneaking into the building every day, waiting out in front for real employees to arrive and casually tailgating them through the door. Lots of people knew us and no one asked questions, since we wore our old badges as decoys.

    We were making great progress, but we couldn't get it done alone. Creating sophisticated software requires a team effort. One person can use smoke and mirrors to make a demo that dazzles an audience. But shipping that to a million customers will expose its flaws and leave everyone looking bad. It is a cliche in our business that the first 90 percent of the work is easy, the second 90 percent wears you down, and the last 90 percent - the attention to detail - makes a good product. Making software that is simultaneously easy to learn, easy to use, friendly, useful, and powerful takes people with an incredible combination of skills, talent, and artistry working together with intensity and patience. Greg and I could do the core engineering, but that was a far cry from creating a finished product.

    Among other things, we needed professional quality assurance (QA), the difficult and time-consuming testing that would show us the design flaws and implementation bugs we couldn't see in our own work. Out of nowhere, two QA guys we had never met approached us, having heard about our venture through the rumor mill. (We had become a kind of underground cause célèbre.) Their day job, QA-ing system software, was mind-numbingly boring. They volunteered to help us, saying, "Let's not tell our boss about this, OK?" One guy had a Ph.D. in mathematics; the other had previously written mathematical software himself. They were a godsend. They started right away.

    Next, we needed help writing software to draw the three-dimensional images that our software produced. A friend with expertise in this area took a weekend off from his startup company to write all of this software. He did in two days what would have taken me a month.

    My skunkworks project was beginning to look real with help from these professionals as well as others in graphic design, documentation, programming, mathematics, and user interface. The secret to programming is not intelligence, though of course that helps. It is not hard work or experience, though they help, too. The secret to programming is having smart friends.

    There was one last pressing question: How could we get this thing included with the system software when the new machines shipped? The thought that we might fail to do this terrified me far more than the possibility of criminal prosecution for trespass. All the sweat that Greg and I had put in, all the clandestine aid from the friends, acquaintances, and strangers on whom I had shamelessly imposed, all the donations of time, expertise, hardware, soft drinks, and junk food would be wasted.

    Once again, my sanity was saved by the kindness of a stranger. At 2:00 one morning, a visitor appeared in my office: the engineer responsible for making the PowerPC system disk master. He explained things this way: "Apple is a hardware company. There are factories far away building Apple computers. One of the final steps of their assembly line is to copy all of the system software from the 'Golden Master' hard disk onto each computer's hard disk. I create the Golden Master and FedEx it to the manufacturing plant. In a very real and pragmatic sense, I decide what software does and does not ship." He told me that if I gave him our software the day before the production run began, it could appear on the Golden Master disk. Then, before anyone realized it was there, thirty thousand units with our software on the disks would be boxed in a warehouse. (In retrospect, he may have been joking. But we didn't know that, so it allowed us to move forward with confidence.)

    Once we had a plausible way to ship, Apple became the ideal work environment. Every engineer we knew was willing to help us. We got resources that would never have been available to us had we been on the payroll. For example, at that time only about two hundred PowerPC chips existed in the world. Most of those at Apple were being used by the hardware design engineers. Only a few dozen coveted PowerPC machines were even available in System Software for people working on the operating system. We had two. Engineers would come to our offices at midnight and practically slip machines under the door. One said, "Officially, this machine doesn't exist, you didn't get it from me, and I don't know you. Make sure it doesn't leave the building."

    In October, when we thought we were almost finished, engineers who had been helping us had me demonstrate our software to their managers. A dozen people packed into my office. I didn't expect their support, but I felt obliged to make a good-faith effort to go through their official channels. I gave a twenty-minute demonstration, eliciting "oohs" and "ahhs." Afterward, they asked, "Who do you report to? What group are you in? Why haven't we seen this earlier?" I explained that I had been sneaking into the building and that the project didn't exist. They laughed, until they realized I was serious. Then they told me, "Don't repeat this story."

    The director of PowerPC software was an academic on leave from Dartmouth. The director of PowerPC marketing was the son of a math teacher. Seeing the value of putting this educational software on every Macintosh in every school, they promptly adopted us.

    Then things got really weird. The QA manager assigned people to test our product. (I didn't tell him that those people were already working on it.) The localization group assigned people to translate it into twenty languages. The human interface group ran a formal usability study. I was at the center of a whirlwind of activity. Nevertheless, Greg and I still had to sneak into the building. The people in charge of the PowerPC project, upon which the company's future depended, couldn't get us badges without a purchase order. They couldn't get a purchase order without a signed contract. They couldn't get a contract without approval from Legal, and if Legal heard the truth, we'd be escorted out of the building.

    Greg was lurking outside one day, trying to act casual, when another engineer accosted him and said, "I'm sick and tired of you guys loitering in front of the building every day!" Later he phoned the appropriate bureaucrats on our behalf. I listened to his side of the conversation for twenty minutes: "No, there is no PO, because we're not paying them. No, there is no contract, because they are not contractors. No, they are not employees; we have no intention of hiring them. Yes, they must have building access because they are shipping code on our box. No, we don't have a PO number. There is no PO, because we're not paying them." Finally, he wore them down. They said to use the standard form to apply for badges, but to cross out Contractor and write in Vendor. Where it asked for a PO number, we were to use the magic words "No dollar contract." We got badges the next day. They were orange Vendor badges, the same kind the people working in the cafeteria, watering the plants, and fixing the photocopy machines had.

    Official recognition made life exciting. Suddenly even more people became enthusiastically involved. When formal usability testing with students and teachers began, we discovered, again, that we were far from being done.

    I had long been proud of the elegance and simplicity of our design. I wanted our program to ship with every Macintosh, so I had designed it for all users, even those who know little about computers and hate math. I wanted to make mathematics as easy and enjoyable as playing a game. In a classroom, any time spent frustrated with the computer is time taken away from teaching. Sitting behind a two-way mirror, watching first-time users struggle with our software, reminded me that programmers are the least qualified people to design software for novices. Humbled after five days of this, Greg and I went back and painstakingly added feedback to the software, as if we were standing next to users, explaining it ourselves.

    Our recognition made life interesting in other ways since we could no longer remain a well kept secret. After a demo to outside developers, one person called Apple claiming that we infringed his patent, causing a fire drill until I could show prior art. Another company, the makers of Mathematica(TM), simply demanded that our product be pulled. Apple very politely declined. One week we were evading security, the next week Apple is rising to our defense.

    By November, we were in full crunch mode, working sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, and feeling the pressure. The home stretch was a blur - wake up, grab a bagel, eat it while driving, work till we drop, sleep, repeat. If this story were a movie, you would now see the clock hand spinning and the calendar pages blowing away in the wind.

    We finished in January 1994. Graphing Calculator has been part of the Macintosh ever since. Teachers around the world use it as an animated blackboard to illustrate abstract concepts visually. It shipped on more than twenty million machines. It never officially existed.

    Why did Greg and I do something so ludicrous as sneaking into an eight-billion-dollar corporation to do volunteer work? Apple was having financial troubles then, so we joked that we were volunteering for a nonprofit organization. In reality, our motivation was complex. Partly, the PowerPC was an awesome machine, and we wanted to show off what could be done with it; in the Spinal Tap idiom, we said, "OK, this one goes to eleven." Partly, we were thinking of the storytelling value. Partly, it was a macho computer guy thing - we had never shipped a million copies of software before. Mostly, Greg and I felt that creating quality educational software was a public service. We were doing it to help kids learn math. Public schools are too poor to buy software, so the most effective way to deliver it is to install it at the factory.

    Beyond this lies another set of questions, both psychological and political. Was I doing this out of bitterness that my project had been canceled? Was I subversively coopting the resources of a multinational corporation for my own ends? Or was I naive, manipulated by the system into working incredibly hard for its benefit? Was I a loose cannon, driven by arrogance and ego, or was I just devoted to furthering the cause of education?

    I view the events as an experiment in subverting power structures. I had none of the traditional power over others that is inherent to the structure of corporations and bureaucracies. I had neither budget nor headcount. I answered to no one, and no one had to do anything I asked. Dozens of people collaborated spontaneously, motivated by loyalty, friendship, or the love of craftsmanship. We were hackers, creating something for the sheer joy of making it work.

    After six months of grueling unpaid labor, Greg couldn't explain to his parents what he had done. They didn't use computers, and the only periodical they read was the New York Times. So as the project was winding down, I asked Greg if he wanted his photo in the Times so his parents would know what he was up to. He gave the only possible response: "Yeah, right." We made a bet for dinner at Le Mouton Noir, a fine French restaurant in Saratoga. To be honest, I expected to lose, but I made a phone call. Greg doesn't bet against me any more: On March 11, 1994, the front page of the Times business section contained an article on the alliance among Apple, IBM, and Motorola, picturing Greg and me in my front yard with a view of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Someone I knew in Apple Public Relations was livid. I had asked if she wanted to send someone for the interview, but she had said that engineers are not allowed to talk with the press. It's hard to enforce that kind of thing with people who can't be fired. It was positive press for Apple, though, and our parents were pleased.

    We wanted to release a Windows version as part of Windows 98, but sadly, Microsoft has effective building security.

    Postscript: After the events described, we made everything retroactively legitimate by licensing the software to Apple for distribution. Pacific Tech started a few years later, and continued to develop Graphing Calculator, both in new free versions that Apple bundled with Mac OS 8 and Mac OS 9, and commercial releases. Visit http://www.PacificT.com/FreeStuff.html to download the software.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:37PM (#11155288)
      Beyond this lies another set of questions, both psychological and political. Was I doing this out of bitterness that my project had been canceled? Was I subversively coopting the resources of a multinational corporation for my own ends? Or was I naive, manipulated by the system into working incredibly hard for its benefit? Was I a loose cannon, driven by arrogance and ego, or was I just devoted to furthering the cause of education?

      Or did they do it because they could? One of the things that so many Free Software users overlook as they use the software they didn't pay anything for is that OSS is more than about just getting stuff without paying, it represents the right for someone to write that code. Imagine a world where if you didn't legally work for Apple, you couldn't write a program for their computer. If you weren't a licensed and regulated programmer, you wouldn't be able to develop your own software or develop software for other people.

      With signed code initiatives like TCPA/Palladium, that world could be coming to a planet near you soon.
      • by name773 (696972) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @10:13PM (#11155492)
        that world could be coming to a planet near you soon
        then it's just the pits for mars, isn't it... we should recall the rover as soon as possible.
    • Sheesh.. (Score:5, Funny)

      by Kwil (53679) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @02:19AM (#11156553)
      We wanted to release a Windows version as part of Windows 98, but sadly, Microsoft has effective building security.

      Wouldn't you just know it.. the one place Microsoft has effective security is the place that keeps people from doing something useful.
  • Dedication (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dshaw858 (828072) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:26PM (#11155206) Homepage Journal
    Wow. This story really really amazed me. It made me think of dedication. I can think of people *cough* EA employees *cough* that work those long hours, and that finish a project, but that's because they're forced to... I really wonder if this type of dedication for just the love of the work is existant anymore... I, for one, wish it was a lot more frequent.

    - dshaw
    • Re:Dedication (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jahf (21968) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:43PM (#11155323) Journal
      Phooey.

      It is one thing to for a person or three finish a project out of love without expecting a reward. Key words "a project".

      It is FAR different for a company to expect that level of work in a non-ceasing manner from their entire dev staff, knowing full well that it destroys mental and social health.

      Not to mention the difference in stress level when you're volunteering that level of effort versus being chided in the hopes of squeezing out even more.

      I've worked in both situations. One is a suite kind of pain, the other is an intense kind of anguish.
    • Re:Dedication (Score:5, Insightful)

      by badriram (699489) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:47PM (#11155348)
      Yup you see it everyday... Open Source.

      Although there are people that do expect fame/ power from open source, a lot of them do the work because they like to do it. But do not blame EA employees, I would never do such work any any For profit company in my life unless they paid me more.

      The first one is giving, the second one is being moronic....
    • by pHatidic (163975) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @10:30PM (#11155588)
      Yeah all this guy's dedication is making me feel guilty for posting while being too lazy to even read the story.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:29PM (#11155224)
    "...but sadly, Microsoft has effective building security."

    I hear you can use Internet Explorer and ActiveX to get around any Microsoft security...
    • by IO ERROR (128968) * <<su.rorreoi> <ta> <rorre>> on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @10:31PM (#11155593) Homepage Journal
      Being the only person I know to walk into a Microsoft building and out of same carrying CD-R's stamped "Microsoft Confidential" all over them, without actually being there to do any work for the company, I think I should comment on what MS building security was like.

      In order to get into the building, I had to use the phone outside the door to call upstairs to my friend who then came down and let me in. (Five-digit extensions starting with 2.) Or you could just follow somebody in, but watch out, the building I went into has double sets of doors, and you have to swipe your card at both sets. And there's a receptionist inside who had to be distracted...

      Once you're in, you're in. If you look vaguely like you belong there, nobody's going to raise a stink. It helps a LOT to wear an old T-shirt and jeans, the standard MS business suit. Wander in and out of offices nobody's in, load up your backpack with cool stuff lying around. Stop by the kitchen and pick up some free soda. (Well they don't have that anymore, I guess...) Play a game of pool or Donkey Kong.

      If someone does challenge you, tell them the connector you're writing is driving you insane, and do they want to pop out for Chinese?

      And definitely swipe 50 of those "Microsoft Confidential" CD-R's.

      Sometime that evening, I notice the building seems a lot dimmer than it was before. When I got outside I noticed Microsoft Security driving around, stopping in front of a building, and pointing some sort of remote control at it. He pushed something, and most of the lights in the building shut off. I STILL want one of those remotes.

      I got in my car, drove back across the lake, and hightailed it up I-5 to Canada...

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @11:50PM (#11155999)

        Just setting straight some of your inaccuracies

        In order to get into the building, I had to use the phone outside the door to call upstairs to my friend who then came down and let me in. (Five-digit extensions starting with 2)

        Internal numbers are accessible via the last 5 digits on an internal phone, but not all (or even most?) start with 2. Or maybe you're trying to get your friend in trouble?

        Or you could just follow somebody in, but watch out, the building I went into has double sets of doors, and you have to swipe your card at both sets. And there's a receptionist inside who had to be distracted...

        If you tailgated in years ago, that may be true. These days, good luck tailgating if you're not known by the person you're following, even if you have a valid badge. Also, while all buildings have a double set of doors (access to the lobby from outside, and access to the inside from the lobby), the outside doors (into the lobby only) are unlocked during business hours. Good luck distracting the secretary (or more likely, secretaries). You'll need more than one accomplice to do that for you (they're really not busy enough for you to bank on random traffic, and even when they are busy they have a clear view of the doors and will stop you from tailgating), at which point you could just get a valid visitor's pass instead.

        Wander in and out of offices nobody's in, load up your backpack with cool stuff lying around.

        Cool stuff generally is not just "lying around", unless you want posters and such off of the wall. Everything else is in a locked lab or occupied offices, and in the latter case anything you could easily get away with is personal property. Do you feel good about stealing from people? (ignoring that you're suggesting stealing from a company)

        Stop by the kitchen and pick up some free soda. (Well they don't have that anymore, I guess...)

        The free sodas are still there.

        Play a game of pool or Donkey Kong.

        If that's your goal, you need to have good inside sources. Entertainment items vary from building to building and floor to floor. If your heart is set on Donkey Kong, you'll be disappointed to find only Street Fighter 2 if you didn't do your research (and that's not publicly available, or even easily internally available aside from visiting every building).

        And definitely swipe 50 of those "Microsoft Confidential" CD-R's.

        Which are not sitting out in plain view, if available at all in that building. If it's software available to all internal employees (for example, connection manager software to connect to the VPN from home), you have to get it from the receptionist. If it's for a product group, it's either locked up in the lab or in the group admin's office (or more likely, not available in CD form, but on an internal share you'll not have access to). Either way, don't expect to find piles of booty just laying around.

        Sometime that evening, I notice the building seems a lot dimmer than it was before. When I got outside I noticed Microsoft Security driving around, stopping in front of a building, and pointing some sort of remote control at it. He pushed something, and most of the lights in the building shut off. I STILL want one of those remotes.

        I've never seen that, but most buildings are on a timer to shut off lights (not power) after a certain time of night. There are internal overrides if you're still working.

        I got in my car, drove back across the lake, and hightailed it up I-5 to Canada...

        There's a good chance your car would've been towed if you weren't showing a valid parking pass or visitor's parking pass. And if you drove back across the lake to get to I5, you wasted a whole lot of time sitting in traffic on the floating bridges (I90, SR520). If Canada is the goal, better to take I405 up around the lake and meet I5 there.

      • I got in my car, drove back across the lake, and hightailed it up I-5 to Canada... Well, there it is. The proof W was looking for all this time. Canada really is arboring terrorists and other assorted bad guys (tm). You guys really need to invade us soon. Who knows, as soon as we get helicopters powerful enough to cross the borders, imagine what we could do!
  • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:30PM (#11155242) Homepage
    This is guy put the "insane" in "insanely great"
  • I like this line (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iosmart (624285) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:31PM (#11155247)
    "The secret to programming is having smart friends." hahaha
    • by KillerCow (213458) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @10:10PM (#11155475)
      "The secret to programming is having smart friends." hahaha

      I have to agree with that. I've solved many of my problems by IMing a friend. I might not know how to do X, but PersonA does, and he can shave a few days off of my learning curve by sending me in the right direction when I get stuck.

      Sadly, some of my employers have had "no instant messaging" policies.
    • by MikeFM (12491)
      Isn't that really the key to success in all parts of life? It's not what you know, it's who you know. If you know the right people and they like you well enough to do favors for you then you'll likely be a success.

      Opensource plays this card a lot. One of the best ways to earn favors is by giving favors. If you write some cool code and give it away then people who use it will often be willing to return favors of one kind or another back to you. The fact that copying is easy in the digital age, the horror of
  • Heh (Score:5, Funny)

    by daveschroeder (516195) * on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:32PM (#11155253)
    The last line of the story:

    We wanted to release a Windows version as part of Windows 98, but sadly, Microsoft has effective building security.

    Too bad that security didn't translate to other areas...
    • Re:Heh (Score:5, Funny)

      by binkzz (779594) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:39PM (#11155303) Journal
      We wanted to release a Windows version as part of Windows 98, but sadly, Microsoft has effective building security.

      I heard that if you issue any sentence longer than 1024 characters to the first guard, he'll obey any command you give after that.

      For the second guard, keep shift pressed before he sees you and he won't notice you.

  • by djeddiej (825677) * on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:32PM (#11155254) Homepage

    Recently there have been a number of slashdot postings related to the conditions of working for EA (can't recall the exact URL, but summary best described as "slave-labour like"). I wonder what those folks think of this level of dedication?

    On another note, it was a nice holiday feel-good read for the techno-geek developer. Also inspires me to finish the damn project that I am on right now so that I can "be home for Christmas".

    Happy Holidays!

    • by Fahrenheit 450 (765492) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:51PM (#11155365)
      But there's a huge difference between working long hours when you want to, and doing it when you're forced to. I worked for a while at Rockwell Automation, and I had one winter where I was working 16 hour days for a month, and I didn't mind because it was my decision to do that so we could help get our guys home from Korea in time for Christmas (they were upgrading the control systems at a steel plant).

      Now if I was forced to do that to get some rod mill in PA up and running on short notice because management screwed up and set a poor schedule, I'd be pretty pissed about it, and those hours would get mighty long mighty fast.

      These guys wer working out of love (or insanity, you decide). That makes the long hours a lot more palatable...
    • Its one thing making software that you think will benefit people, its another making a generic shitty brand game that'll benefit no one.
  • by silentbozo (542534) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:33PM (#11155258) Journal
    No meetings. No managers. No legal worries. Not having to kowtow to public relations or marketing. Shipping millions of copies of your software.

    The only downside was not getting paid, but even that seemed to work out.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The story he describes occurred in the early 1990's, when Apple was beginning to hit its skids. Projects would be raised with a flurry of energy, then cancelled, and there was a general sense of chaos. That was either in the latter part of the John Sculley era or the beginnings of the Michael Spindler, which were NOT good years (eg., the failed Newton, the failed Copland system, and merger talks with Sun Microsystems, etc.) Scully, Spindler, and Amelio were all shoved out of their CEO positions due to un
    • Whats worse is seeing a project that IS making money and is NOT a redink sink being cancelled, even though it was making $2m a year in revenue out of 2.5 programmers fulltime. But we know how NASDAQ corporates like to inflate development costs by counting the managers time, the marketing staff, the HR and insurance rates etc... all up to about 120k/person even though the end person only gets 80k.

      So typical company cancels the product while it is selling, and at the same time invests 100m+ into take overs t
  • by AHumbleOpinion (546848) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:33PM (#11155259) Homepage
    ... my project was canceled six months ago, so I'm evading security, sneaking into Apple Computer's main offices in the heart of Silicon Valley ...

    Good job, Steve will probably hear about this tomorrow and start firing people working security.
  • by martinX (672498) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:39PM (#11155301)

    Sitting behind a two-way mirror, watching first-time users struggle with our software, reminded me that programmers are the least qualified people to design software for novices.

    • I have this theory that programmers who write software should have to do in person tech support for that demographic for at least a year or so. It really opens your eyes as to what users are actually doing, why they're doing it (if you can get them to be frank with you), what they like, what they don't, what works, and what doesn't.

      It makes some decisions about how to do things a whole lot easier...
      • by eyeball (17206) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @11:22PM (#11155865) Journal
        I have this theory that programmers who write software should have to do in person tech support for that demographic for at least a year or so.

        Years ago when we developed a replacement CRM application for a large telco ISP, we did something unheard of - we integrated the customer service reps into the development process. At first we shadowed them for days to get a feel for how they use the existing application, and interviewed them to see what they liked and disliked. Then we invited at least one rep to every design meeting. During development they were constantly reviewing the work, making sure it was perfect. They almost cried they were so happy.

        As an aside: their number one complaint was when they were doing data entry on the very long web form, they constantly had to take their hand off the keyboard, find the cursor, position it over the scroll bar, scroll the page down, then position the cursor over the text field, and resume typing. Tabbing took care of some text field focusing, but wasn't intuitive and predictable enough even when combined with javascript. We broke the data entry into multiple pages with simple navigation. I really miss the old days of character-based terminal applications (so do a lot of end users).

        • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @11:34PM (#11155916)
          Years ago when we developed a replacement CRM application for a large telco ISP, we did something unheard of - we integrated the customer service reps into the development process.

          Smart companies do custom development by involving the end users in all steps of the process.

          Stupid companies off-shore development to somewhere as far away from the end users as possible and think they are saving money by doing so. All they end up doing is shifting the cost from the development group to the end users, often multiplying those costs by an order of magnitude.
  • Filled with Gems (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lizard_King (149713) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:40PM (#11155310) Journal
    The secret to programming is not intelligence, though of course that helps. It is not hard work or experience, though they help, too. The secret to programming is having smart friends.

    classic...
  • by goon america (536413) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:44PM (#11155326) Homepage Journal
    I liked this line:
    I asked my friend Greg Robbins to help me. His contract in another division at Apple had just ended, so he told his manager that he would start reporting to me. She didn't ask who I was and let him keep his office and badge. In turn, I told people that I was reporting to him. Since that left no managers in the loop, we had no meetings and could be extremely productive.

    Someone should write a novel about this. ... Come to think of it, this is exactly the sort of thing Chuck Palahniuk would write (author of Fight Club).
  • Wow (Score:3, Interesting)

    by chrisgeleven (514645) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:45PM (#11155335) Homepage
    Wonderful story. Amazing that this could actually happen.

    I don't own a copy of OS X, but is this application still on there?
  • by Russ Nelson (33911) <slashdot@russnelson.com> on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:45PM (#11155337) Homepage
    You can't legally volunteer to help a for-profit corporation. And for IT staff, there is a minimum amount you have to pay them (well above minimum wage; don't worry).
    -russ
    p.s. R0ML says that this is why he couldn't get a carrier-grade accounting system turned into open source.
  • All too true... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by stubear (130454) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:56PM (#11155395)
    "Sitting behind a two-way mirror, watching first-time users struggle with our software, reminded me that programmers are the least qualified people to design software for novices. Humbled after five days of this, Greg and I went back and painstakingly added feedback to the software, as if we were standing next to users, explaining it ourselves."

    I really wish more programmers, engineers, and managers understood this.
  • by xtal (49134) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @09:56PM (#11155397)
    There's a hidden trick in OSX to get a graphic calculator from the standard one. I never knew why it wasn't there all the time - there's one or two easter eggs in there - and they're all fully functional from what I can tell.

    This would explain it nicely, or at least, provide more romantic one than a plain old easter egg.

  • by poena.dare (306891) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @10:03PM (#11155442)
    Does anyone remember the demo Ron gave at the World Wide Developer's Conference? Was it May 1993...?

    Anyway, I remember it was supposed to be a lecture about pen computing, and Apple had Ron come out and show the equation solving interface of the proto-graphing calculator. He threw a bunch o' X and Ys on the screen with some sins and coss for good measure. "Now if you want to solve for X"... and he tapped an X, dragged it to one side of the equals sign, and the equation solved itself.

    We were floored. There was this deep silence for a couple of millisenconds and then everyone broke out in thunderous applause. He did more tricks with the equation interface and people hooted and hollered. It was a geek wet dream. After he finished he got a standing ovation and there was a long line of people who wanted to shake his hand.

    Good times.
    • by BWJones (18351) * on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @10:33PM (#11155605) Homepage Journal
      Yes indeed. This was kinda one of those moments when everybody smacks their collective foreheads and says "Of Course!" "How Cool".

      Kinda like the beginning of Quartz at a meeting of engineers when "Engineer X" speaks up and says "you know, instead of using the CPU to render all of this 2-D stuff, we could use the GPU............." This statement was followed by a long pause while the implications of this statement sunk into everybody's wetware (brain) only to be followed by a quiet "sunofa....." by the senior project manager.

      Of course Microsoft is busy co-opting this idea which has been shipping now with OS X for a few years but, what else is new?

      • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @12:11AM (#11156100)
        Actually Microsoft has a hardware accelerated UI in Windows XP. Read up on GDI+. Also, for newer cards with real programmable GPUs (pretty much Ati 9000, and nVidia FX and up) they use the shaders to accelerate Windows Media playback.

        Either way, I'm not so sure the UI acceleration thing was a blinding flash of the obvious, I think it was more hardware needing to get to a certian point. It wasn't until about mid 1999 that a card (TNT2) existed that even had the basic 3d capibility to do what would be needed for a user interface. Even so, at that level, all you could really do was make a window a big texture stretched on a polygon. Neat, but faily useless.

        Real useful UI acceleration didn't become feasable until cards became Graphics Processing Units in fact, which means some programability. The GeForce 3, which came about in 2001, was the first consumer level card that could be really considered for that.

        So I don't think it was an idea that really had to think in. I remember hearing people musing about using the Voodoos for UI acceleration (and having those more knowledgable tell them why that wouldn't work), I think it was just a matter of the hardware advancing to a point where it was sufficiently useful for things other than playing games.
  • Bravo! Bravo! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ZebadiahC (125747) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @10:31PM (#11155591)
    The classic silicon valley hacker/enthusiast vs. big corporate culture. It says alot (in a positive note) on the type of people who worked there and helped these guys along.

    I've worked in a big company like Apple in the past and with the right people this just shows how far someone can really go in the most ideal situation. (not really needing a job in the short term)

    Good Job Ron!
  • by Jester99 (23135) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @10:36PM (#11155626) Homepage
    100+ comments, and nobody's yet realized that this guy is Milton from Office Space?

    "They fired him, but he doesn't know it. He just comes in every day and works."

    (And despite Milton's, ah, interesting character traits, I find him the coolest character in the show; or perhaps it's because of them. So, I mean this in the most praiseworthy manner possible. Rock on!)

  • by heroine (1220) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @10:43PM (#11155670) Homepage
    Apple has so much luster it isn't suprising that people would sneak in to work there for free. More interesting than the fact that they continued to work on company projects after being laid off was that they insisted on doing it in the Apple building rather than in their bedrooms. It doesn't matter what they're doing, just being a part of Apple culture gets people real excited. Not sure whether it's the counterculture, the kind of people Apple hires, or the management style of Steve Jobless. No other company motivates as many people to spend the rest of their lives working for free on its products as Apple.

    • Well, it wasn't Steve. He wasn't even at Apple when Graphing Calculator was done. :)
    • Ron's story points to the reason he and Greg felt compelled to do it at Apple. It was the best environment in the world to accomplish the Graphing Calculator. The resources were there. There was a top-notch research library there at the time. Many of the people who are determining the course of computing at Apple and in other places today were either interning there or working there after graduating from college or had been there for a while. He mentioned the QA people. They were and are true advocates of t
  • Golly... (Score:3, Funny)

    by CodeWanker (534624) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @10:57PM (#11155736) Journal
    Apple is so cool it has stalkers.
  • Hire the guy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by utlemming (654269) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @10:57PM (#11155740) Homepage
    And why didn't Apple hire the guy after this dedication? I mean he proved that he not only had the dedication, but he also proved effective inter-department communication, team managment, "hiring" skills, and the ability to produce quality. If I were Apple I would have begged him to stay and given him a nice job -- if I didn't reward him financially for the project.
  • by bossesjoe (675859) on Tuesday December 21, 2004 @11:15PM (#11155830)
    We wanted to release a Windows version as part of Windows 98, but sadly, Microsoft has effective building security. Never thought I'd ever see "microsoft" and "effective security" in the same sentance
  • by serutan (259622) <snoopdoug.geekazon@com> on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @12:39AM (#11156216) Homepage
    This story is guaranteed to be very boring for 99% of readers, but it's probably my only chance to tell it where anybody might be remotely interested.

    Back in the 80s I was part of an IT group in a manufacturing dept at Tektronix. Our software involved inventory control, tracking batches of work through assembly steps, that sort of thing. One of the computer operators asked if I could help him solve a problem for the stockroom people. Their job was to hand out parts to assembly workers, receive and store the finished subassemblies and hand them out for additional steps until they left the area as finished goods.

    All movement of material was tracked by a giant MRP system on an IBM mainframe in another building. The IBM machine generated stacks of PUNCH CARDS which were delivered to our computer room and loaded into our VAX 11/750. As the stockroom people handed out and received material, they had to manually keep track of what they did, noting shortages and errors. Then they entered the information into the 750, which wrote it nightly to a tape that was hand-carried back to the building where the IBM system was.

    The stockroom data entry program was very cumbersome to use. It simply did a one-way scroll through the entire inventory -- thousands and thousands of parts and subassemblies -- and allowed the user enter a code on the few items that mattered. To get to an item near the bottom, the clerks had to hit the Page key dozens of times and wait for the slow page refresh in between. Sometimes they would hold the Page key down for a while and go away until it caught up. If they overshot they had to start over because there was no Back function. The stockroom people spent most of their time doing data entry and were consistently several weeks behind, which forced them to come up with various manual ways of keeping track of things. This affected their ability to hand out parts and was starting to have an impact on manufacturing deadlines, and ultimately profits.

    In spite of the importance of the situation, the stockroom was low on the IT priority list. So we had a couple clandestine meetings in which the staff told me how the business end of the system worked and the computer operator explained the behind the scenes parts. Working a couple hours a day on the sly for about 2 weeks, I came up with a new data structure and an editor that let the users search for what they wanted and produced various on-screen reports. I also changed the loading procedures to use a tape instead of the stupid cards, and my operator friend persuaded an IBM sysop to bypass the change control process and generate a tape for us instead of cards.

    When the users were satisfied with the way everything worked, we put it into production one afternoon as the swing shift person came on duty. In that one shift she cleaned up their entire 3-week backlog of data entry. When the morning people arrived they were speechless. With the extra time they now had, they set about reorganizing their operation and making improvements that they had wanted to do for months.

    It was amazing to see what this change did for the morale of these people. Their jobs had been absolutely miserable when they had to work with the old system. They were so happy they brought me a great big apple pie, and were almost in tears giving it to me. Best award I ever got.
  • by multiplexo (27356) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @01:12AM (#11156333) Journal
    I remember getting my first PPC 601 back in '94 and playing around with this. One of the research scientists I worked for came into my office and saw it at work and I showed him what it could graph. We played around with it for a couple of hours and then he went out and ordered new Macintoshes for his research group to replace his aging Sun workstations.

    Apple squandered a great opportunity in the 90's. Macs were much faster than many Sun workstations with the kind of work we did (computational fluid dynamics), much cheaper and ran a broader selection of applications. Despite this Apple knew nothing about the scientific market. I remember going to a seminar at MacWorld Boston in 1996 on scientific uses of the Macintosh. None of the presenters talked about how a PowerMac 7500 with a 3rd party 604 accelerator smoked a Sparc 20 for about 33 percent of the price. Instead they talked about how they could use a Mac to model the behavior of a lobster. I felt as if I was in crazy world, here was Apple with this insanely great line of CPUs and they basically ignored a market that would have gone for it lock stock and barrel.

    Things have gotten better since then and I have been pleased to see that Apple is targeting bioinformatics applications with the Xserve, but they're going to have a lot of work ahead of them to keep up with Linux's inroads into the market.

  • by Ariane 6 (248505) on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @02:54AM (#11156685)
    I was struggling through algebra I not long after this program came out (1995). I just wasn't "getting it". I know the phrase is cliched now, but this program was just so *intuitive* that after a few days of fiddling I understood almost all the math I'd ever take right up to 1st semester calculus on a conceptual level.

    For me, at least, seeing things in motion (that nifty little value slider) made the concepts just click. Once they were there, the actual mathematical manipulation was much easier, because I was able to visualize "they way this should work out". My teachers were trying to show it on a static chalkboard, and it just wasn't getting through.

    I just got my BS in Physics, and without Graphing Calculator, I doubt I'd be where I am today. To the author, if he reads this:

    Thank You.
  • PowerCalc (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Domini (103836) <lailoken@gmail.com> on Wednesday December 22, 2004 @03:50AM (#11156843) Journal
    On a side note, something similar and free already exists for windows:

    You can download Powercalc.exe [microsoft.com] from Microsoft's XP PowerToy page [microsoft.com].

The greatest productive force is human selfishness. -- Robert Heinlein

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