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Skunkworks At Apple -- The Graphing Calculator Story

timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the reads-like-fiction dept.

Programming 642

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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Skunk at Apple (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155192)

More like jackass at Apple?

EA? (5, Funny)

danielacroft (167383) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155196)

I hope we don't hear from this person's significant other soon...

Re:EA? (1)

spac3manspiff (839454) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155274)

yeah it should be called, " the story behind the EA's games"

Re:EA? (5, Interesting)

avitzur (105884) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155352)

>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? (3, Funny)

rampant mac (561036) | more than 9 years ago | (#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.

Article Text without silly next buttons (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#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.

Re:Article Text without silly next buttons (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#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.

Re:Article Text without silly next buttons (4, Funny)

name773 (696972) | more than 9 years ago | (#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.

Re:Article Text without silly next buttons (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155526)

Fucking karma whore.

Dedication (4, Interesting)

dshaw858 (828072) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155206)

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 (1)

seanvaandering (604658) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155232)

Bill?? Is that you??

Re:Dedication (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155280)

Must have heard he was put on slashdot, already seems to have been slashdoted or his server does not share his dedication. Or for some other reason am getting a message that says document has no data in that case I wish my computer had his dedication. Either way tell me in the morning how it goes.

Re:Dedication (2, Funny)

High Jumbllama (412619) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155262)

The words obsessive and idiot comes to mind if this was true.

Re:Dedication (5, Insightful)

Jahf (21968) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155323)

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 (5, Insightful)

badriram (699489) | more than 9 years ago | (#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....

Re:Dedication (2, Insightful)

raindog_mx (842569) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155421)

Hey this guy had no family to support and he could live from his savings. I have a family and even tough I'd love to have a job as rewarding as that one, my savings wouldn't last more than a month. That guy should be praised as he excersiced his choice to do a somewhat heroic task yet he always had the right to be paid for what he did. The story doesn't say so but in the end I believe he should have got more than smart friends and seller badges from his project, and that's ok for me.

Re:Dedication (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155434)

Are you nuts? People like that are worse than the f*cking Indians! Work for free? How are we supposed to compete with that?

frustrated (2)

groups.google (837258) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155219)

An apple a day, keeps your frustrations away

Microsoft Security? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155224)

"...but sadly, Microsoft has effective building security."

I hear you can use Internet Explorer and ActiveX to get around any Microsoft security...

What's with the icon? (1)

tivoKlr (659818) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155225)

Why does such an important and pivotal application have such a lame, generic os x icon?

Working for no pay... (3, Funny)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155242)

This is guy put the "insane" in "insanely great"

Re:Working for no pay... (2, Funny)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155372)

Suddenly I'm typing engrish... should have included the words "the" and "who" in there somewhere.

I like this line (3, Insightful)

iosmart (624285) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155247)

"The secret to programming is having smart friends." hahaha

Re:I like this line (5, Insightful)

KillerCow (213458) | more than 9 years ago | (#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.

Heh (5, Funny)

daveschroeder (516195) | more than 9 years ago | (#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 (5, Funny)

binkzz (779594) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155303)

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.

what do EA employees think of this? (3, Interesting)

djeddiej (825677) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155254)

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!

Re:what do EA employees think of this? (1)

djeddiej (825677) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155292)

EA=Electronic Arts, just in case you don't know.

Here are the URLs for the related EA articles...

http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=04/11/12/05 37234&tid=123&tid=156&tid=10 [slashdot.org]
http://games.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=04/11/11/ 0031259&tid=98 [slashdot.org]

Re:what do EA employees think of this? (4, Insightful)

Fahrenheit 450 (765492) | more than 9 years ago | (#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...

Re:what do EA employees think of this? (2, Insightful)

happyhippy (526970) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155491)

Its one thing making software that you think will benefit people, its another making a generic shitty brand game that'll benefit no one.

High Praise For Mediocrity (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155257)

We played with it for a while and agreed, "This doesn't suck" (high praise in Apple lingo).


"High Praise" is right. Now if they could only find someone that'd work night and day to invent the 2-button mouse they'd have it made.

Re:High Praise For Mediocrity (4, Interesting)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155286)

Now if they could only find someone that'd work night and day to invent the 2-button mouse they'd have it made.

Actually there is only one person preventing a multibutton mouse, unfortunately no one outranks him. He won't even allow a build-to-order option when you are ordering online.

Re:High Praise For Mediocrity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155296)

Yeah, I've heard that that Bill Gates guy is a bit of a dick...

Re:High Praise For Mediocrity (1)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155427)

Oddly enough the mouse is one thing that Microsoft has been doing a good job at for a long time. Bash them all you like but you could at least pick an area where they deserve it.

Re:High Praise For Mediocrity (1)

VoidWraith (797276) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155463)

I hope you're not speaking of Microsoft-branded mice. In my experience, they're all vastly inferior to my current Logitech mouse. Their scroll wheels also tend to break easily, and wind up going both ways when scrolled one way due to mechanical failures.

Re:High Praise For Mediocrity (5, Insightful)

michaeldot (751590) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155449)

Yep, the evil Steve Jobs personally drove up to my door in his Mercedes and threatened physical violence when I bought my Logitech mouse for my G5.

And I'm still suffering from the torture he inflicted when I dared to use the scrollwheel.

I can't imagine what he did to the Mac OS X engineers when he found they'd built full support for multiple buttons and into the OS, or the fact that all their iApps - iTunes, iPhoto - support full functional scrollwheel movements.

Hmm...

Or maybe's it's because Apple's QA people know that best way to have software designed to be easy to use is to not encourage them to use right-click kludges. It is impossible to use a Windows machine without a two button mouse and learning context menus. That is not true of Mac OS X.

Re:High Praise For Mediocrity (1)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155486)

... I can't imagine what he did to the Mac OS X engineers when he found they'd built full support for multiple buttons and into the OS ...

They were former Next engineers so he forgave them, at Next he allowed multibutton mice, it was a Unix workstation not a consumer system after all. Or perhaps the code came straight from Next.

... I bought my Logitech mouse for my G5 ...

The point you seem to be missing is that folks who buy a computer that is in part sold on its visual style, its look, would like to have a mouse that matches. It is also a bit embarrassing for the Apple folks doing game demos at trade shows.

Re:High Praise For Mediocrity (1)

bladesjester (774793) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155497)

It's not impossible to use windows without a two button mouse (with the exception of some games). The menu key on "windows" keyboards brings up the right click menu and lets me use most things on windows without touching the mouse at all...

I'm a keyboard freak. It comes largely from using DOS for years as a kid and using Unix and Linux when I started programming in college. I usually do most things in windows without touching the mouse. My former boss on the other hand hated anything that didn't have a GUI.

Re:High Praise For Mediocrity (1)

Gruturo (141223) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155471)

Actually there is only one person preventing a multibutton mouse, unfortunately no one outranks him. He won't even allow a build-to-order option when you are ordering online.

No problem. No hurry. I'll wait.

Meanwhile I'm using an Acer Travelmate 803.
I've been thinking about switching to a Powerbook for a few months but that single button truly kept me off.
In no fucking way am *I* going to change my habits due to its lack of a right button - it's a Mac, bloody hell - isn't that supposed to be user friendly?.

Btw, most of my friends who switched use external mice, which are multibutton, so they don't see that as a problem . Personally I'm good with the touchpad and don't like carrying a mouse around, so, until Uncle Steve changes his mind, I'll just wait.

(I'm surprised noone attempted a right button mod :-) )

An engineer's dream (5, Insightful)

silentbozo (542534) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155258)

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.

Re:An engineer's dream (1)

zome (546331) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155285)

sounds like open source programmers :-)

Re:An engineer's dream (1)

spac3manspiff (839454) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155321)

No meetings. No legal worries.
No Pay
Sounds like Slavery if you ask me. Now instead of cotton picking, it's code debugging.

Re:An engineer's dream (3, Insightful)

jsgates (232994) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155404)

Sounds like a volunteer, not a slave. Distinction, he's not being forced.

Re:An engineer's dream (1)

name773 (696972) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155432)

except the key difference that they had no manager, as mentioned by the grandparent poster.

But Apple was flailing at the time (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155339)

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 unsatisfactory performance.

The problem with fairy tale workplaces are exactly that: They are fairy tales that don't last long in reality.

Re:An engineer's dream (1)

Psychotext (262644) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155420)

An engineer's dream ...and engineers wonder why they don't get laid.

Sorry, I like developing, and sometimes I do it for free... but there's no way in hell I'm helping out a company that canned me just because I want to finish a project.

Re:An engineer's dream (2, Insightful)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155528)

I think you missed the part where he said he had money to burn.

If you have debt/family/etc to pay down then free work doesn't make sense. But if you've saved up enough to live a year or two without working I don't see the harm.

Tom

Re:An engineer's dream (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155452)

The only downside was not getting paid, but even that seemed to work out.

Pure luxury. In my day we had to pay to come to work. And we liked it.

Good job, you will probably get security fired (3, Funny)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155259)

... 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.

Re:Good job, you will probably get security fired (5, Informative)

justforaday (560408) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155279)

Ummm, the story being told took place nearly 10 years ago

Re:Good job, you will probably get security fired (4, Funny)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155306)

Ummm, the story being told took place nearly 10 years ago

Do you really think that little details like that can stop Steve's rage?

Re:Good job, you will probably get security fired (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155313)

Your point..?

Re:Good job, you will probably get security fired (1)

ke6 (96078) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155409)

That won't stop Steve.

What a cool story (1)

Omicron (79581) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155261)

Every once in awhile you find some really cool nugget on the web. This is one of those really good ones - what a cool story.

Slashdotted already (0, Offtopic)

Arghdee (813921) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155273)

Typical. Just as it gets interesting, the server goes up in smoke :(

Re:Slashdotted already (2, Funny)

chris_mahan (256577) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155367)

In this case you have to say "burst into flames."

Re:Slashdotted already (1)

Arghdee (813921) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155412)

How is this offtopic?

I merely stated the story was getting interesting (I was reading the 2nd page and couldn't go any further) and then got the message "This document contains no data" or similar.

Re:Slashdotted already (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155445)

Not true...i got the same messages too, but wait a few seconds after that and click again. It should work.

This story makes me feel all warm and fuzzy , right before the holidays!

The real story (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155284)

doing clandestine volunteer work for an eight-billion-dollar corporation.

In short, I'm an idiot.

What an awesome job (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155289)

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.

Hell, if I got to have a job like that, I don't think I'd ever need paying, as long as they gave me a cardboard box and some occasional munchies (water can be gotten out of the sewer).

Making monitors esplode!!! FUN!!!!1111

The software hadn't caused the fire; the monitor had just chosen that moment to malfunction.

Oh...Darn.

Score Chart (1, Insightful)

zmilo (815667) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155299)

Great... People doing free work: Apple-1 Linux-Several Million

Re:Score Chart (4, Insightful)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155350)

Great... People doing free work: Apple-1 Linux-Several Million

So what, its not like lots of people or hours translates to quality. Look at shareware in general, look at MS. There is only a very small core of people that have made Linux useful. Few people can read source code, fewer still can write working code at all, fewer still are able to write good code.

Re:Score Chart (1)

zmilo (815667) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155382)

Yeah, and with several million you're bound to get a couple of those.

Programmers: Please note. (5, Insightful)

martinX (672498) | more than 9 years ago | (#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.

Re:Programmers: Please note. (4, Interesting)

bladesjester (774793) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155464)

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...

The Author has no clue how to write web pages (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155509)

Jebus, each page has five lines on it and requires a click. Fuck that shit.

I Was able to get the first page (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155307)

before the server burned up:

The Graphing Calculator Story

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.

Filled with Gems (4, Informative)

Lizard_King (149713) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155310)

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...

Re:Filled with Gems (1)

YetAnotherDave (159442) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155347)

I was just about to point out the same phrase.

too bad it won't fit in a sig...

Well....color me smart (1)

mr_z_beeblebrox (591077) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155317)

doing clandestine volunteer work for an eight-billion-dollar corporation

He Wasn't Fired from Apple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155320)

He was simply de-hired.

I liked this line the best (5, Funny)

goon america (536413) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155326)

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).

Re:I liked this line the best (2, Interesting)

leprkan (641220) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155359)

and who doesn't like chuck palahniuk? honestly. i can see him writing this. maybe throw in some odd perversion and really weird friends and hobbies on the side.

Wow (2, Interesting)

chrisgeleven (514645) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155335)

Wonderful story. Amazing that this could actually happen.

I don't own a copy of OS X, but is this application still on there?

Re:Wow (2, Informative)

Anubis350 (772791) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155373)

its runs under classic (not osx native unfortunately, though it runs perfectly fine even so), and yes its included. You can find it in the "Applications (Mac OS 9)" folder on your HD (not you you, since you dont run osx, but anyone running osx can).

Re:Wow (1)

Electroly (708000) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155390)

No, the graphing calculator doesn't come with OS X.

Re:Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155419)

uhhhh, yes it does.........

Re:Wow (5, Informative)

avitzur (105884) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155440)

>No, the graphing calculator doesn't come with OS X.
It is available for OS X now. You can download the free release from http://www.PacificT.com/FreeStuff.html [pacifict.com] (Well, at least you will be able to after the server recovers from the Slashdot Effect. :)

Re:Wow (1)

physicsnerd (607860) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155433)

The OSX version is still in beta testing. I don't know if it will be in future releases or not, but I sure hope so. However, you can run the older version in classic or download the beta from:

http://www.pacifict.com/FreeStuff.html

I've been playing with the beta for a few minutes now and I like what I see so far.

Can't legally volunteer (3, Interesting)

Russ Nelson (33911) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155337)

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.

Great Story but... (0, Redundant)

speedplane (552872) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155362)

Great Story, but I have no sympathy for big profit hungry coporations like Apple. They can make their own graphing calculator

This sounds like a Wired story (1, Interesting)

Saint Stephen (19450) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155379)

I've been burned by too many Wired stories that sounded just like this and later turned out to be "creative fiction about real events."

This one stinks of a magical "how my company got started story." I bet the real story is far more prosaic.

This just seems like Wired wrote it, bad.

In Soviet Korea... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155383)

In Soviet Korea, only old people get hot grits poured on them by petrified Natalie Portman.

All too true... (3, Insightful)

stubear (130454) | more than 9 years ago | (#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.

Re:All too true... (4, Funny)

nihilogos (87025) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155480)

I really wish more programmers, engineers, and managers understood this.

And I wish first time users weren't so flipping clueless ;)

Is this the explanation behind OSX graphing calc? (2, Informative)

xtal (49134) | more than 9 years ago | (#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.

Re:Is this the explanation behind OSX graphing cal (1)

davebo (11873) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155478)

Feel free to share the hidden trick with the rest of the class :)

OS X version... (1)

CODiNE (27417) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155403)

For those of you like me with no pity for a webserver... there's a version for OS X on the front page of pacifict.com

Man I missed that program, having to start classic just to fool around with graphs wasn't worth it to me, now it's in my Apps folder WHEEE!

-Don.
P.S. The surface demo is still schaaawweeeeet. Amazing that it had exactly the same performance on 66MHz 601 chips!

forget WWJD (2, Funny)

bird603568 (808629) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155406)

man forget wht What Would Jesus Do, from now on for coders it should be WWGATOGD - What Would Gregg And The Other Guy Do?

Memories (1)

SWTP_OS9 (658064) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155410)

Did something like that with two other good friends at a company 12 years ago. Was not on the schedule. Not authorised. Etc. Turn out to be the best feature of the final release of the project.

Sorry guys, I readTFA (1)

deft (253558) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155414)

Thats why I'm here so late. Did I miss anything good?

Seriously though, this "corporate hacking" is so much more impressive than that silly bike thing we had to read earlier! (and it helped teachers..always good).

Ron Avitzur's Demo @ WWDC (5, Interesting)

poena.dare (306891) | more than 9 years ago | (#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.

motivation same as OSS (2, Insightful)

aoe2bug (625814) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155466)

to me, it seems that many of the same things that motivated this (these?) guy(s) are the same as the motivation for being an Open Source Programmer. Just my .02

Well Thank god... (2, Funny)

Opticalsky (785289) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155470)

"Microsoft has effective building security." Well thank god, they at least have that.

Smart Friends (1)

Humble Star (636929) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155483)

The secret to programming is having smart friends.

Maybe /. isn't the place to ask, but I could use some smart friends for my own graphing calculator project [gcalc.net] . It's Java and open source.

Any takers?

'retired' people do this too... (1)

realitybath1 (837263) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155503)

Especially in the sciences.
My dad works for the canadian gov. under 'contract' for 0$ a year, maintaining glaciological arctic research that would be seriously hit if he left. The unions hate him.
A woman he worked with did the same thing for a few years to finish off her work(except she wasn't under 'contract').
The newer cast are unfortunately more devoted to getting flat screens and credentials, though there are great exceptions.

Security (1)

chill (34294) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155508)

This makes a good anecdote on how security is really built on trust, and not technology. (Or code signing, for that matter. :-)

Am I the only one... (1)

agraupe (769778) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155512)

...who thinks it would be nice to see this come full-circle and be released as Free Software? I remember many days of fooling around with it when i had no idea what it could do or why, but now that I'm getting close to where I could actually understand things, it would be really cool.

Very Fishy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11155524)

Gee, this looks a lot like NuCalc http://www.nucalc.com/ [nucalc.com]

In fact, the domain of this story http://www.pacifict.com/ [pacifict.com] is mirror of NuCalc's site.

Stapler (1)

whackedoutgeek2004 (795186) | more than 9 years ago | (#11155535)

I think this guy may still be looking for red swingline stapler.
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