15-Year Appleversary

Today marks 15 years since I started working at Apple.

Coincidentally, as part of the 30 Years of Mac celebration a month and a half ago, Apple put up posters with the name of every employee. I believe there are 12 posters, and I’m in the very top row of poster 3. (That’s actually too high off the ground for me to get a good picture with my iPhone; what I need is a camera with a good optical zoom.) I guess that means I’ve been at Apple longer than over 85% of all employees. That’s a long time, especially in Silicon Valley.

I remember back when I was going to interview, I told two of my friends at my old company. One of them immediately said, “Oh, you are so out of here.” It didn’t seem to clear to me at the time, but she was right!

15 years ago it was me and my two cats moving into temporary housing. The Dot Com boom was in full swing. Mac OS X was under development but wouldn’t be released for another two years.

10 years ago Debbi and I had been dating for almost three years, and she had a couple of kittens. The Red Sox were about to embark on their first championship season in 86 years. Macs still ran on PowerPC chips and Apple stock was riding up on the strength of the iPod.

5 years ago Debbi and I were still living in the townhouse. My cat Jefferson would pass away a year later. The iPhone was already a big thing and I think its App Store was available by then, but the iPad was still in the future.

1999 feels like a different era, yet it wasn’t so long ago. It feels like so much has happened, yet it all felt like a series of manageable transitions while it was happening. (c.f. John Gruber’s “This is How Apple Rolls” piece – for the most part, that’s how a person’s life rolls, too.)

Where will I be in another 15 years?

My One Little Steve Jobs Anecdote

So Steve Jobs stepped down as Apple CEO yesterday, and people far and wide are sharing their stories of the man. Mine might be the smallest of any you’ll read, but I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway.

The reason I tell it is that once I started working at Apple (in 1999, a couple of years after Steve returns to the company), people started asking me if I’d met him. Something about the way they asked, or a look in their eye, made me realize what they really wanted was a “blood in the water” story about the CEO with the famous temper, or temperament, or something. I’d heard stories myself (one is that he’d sometimes ask people he encountered in the elevator what they worked on, and basically make them justify their job right there and then), but they were just stories to me. Oh, I had no doubt that he was emphatic in arguing about things, but I didn’t know any credible stories of him really laying into an employee he’d met at random.

Still, after just a few years it had become kind of ridiculous how many people asked me if I’d met Steve, who seemed to have an expectation of a good, juicy Steve story. I think at least a few of them asked if he’d yelled at me.

Indeed, I did pass Steve from time to time on the Apple campus. At least twice we simply made eye contact, smiled, and said “Hello” to each other, and continued on our ways. Once I saw him approaching with a look on his face that said “I’m on a mission and no one is going to get in my way.” I got out of his way and he walked on by.

But here’s the real story I have to tell:

In 2003 I started biking to work regularly. For a number of years I worked in Infinite Loop 1 – 2 floors below the CEO’s office. Despite being only on the second floor, I always took the elevator to bring my bike to and from my office: My office was big enough to hold my bike comfortably (so I didn’t have to lock it up outside), and it was awkward to carry it up and down the stairs; I was always afraid I’d damage the wall or the bike. I would wait for an empty elevator if someone else was waiting so I didn’t inconvenience them.

So one warm summer day (2004, maybe?) I’m leaving work, in full “biking dork” regalia (biking shorts, helmet, gloves, clip-on shoes), and I go to the elevator and hit the “down” button. The elevator arrives and (of course) there stands Steve. I think, “Great, he’s wondering why I can’t just walk my bike down one flight of stairs rather than stopping his elevator.” But since it would be truly stupid to let him go on without me (“I’m going to inconvenience you and do so for no reason whatsoever because I’m an idiot!”), I get in the elevator. The doors close.

Steve looks at the bike, looks at me, and says, “Beautiful day for a bike ride.”

I’m not very comfortable talking to famous or powerful people (you should see me stammer when I meet a science fiction author whose work I admire). Thinking quickly but not clearly (in other words, being something of an idiot), I say something like, “It’s nice. A little warm, though.” Steve is having none of this and responds along the lines that I’m picking nits. I allow that he may be right. By this time we’ve left the elevator and walked out the front doors of the building.

I remember thinking as we went outside that it was a little warm, but in the grand scheme of things, here we were in Silicon Valley where it’s almost always a beautiful day for a bike ride. So what did I really have to complain about?

I bet there are lots of employees with stories like this. The “blood in the water” stories seem more like legends (or, more likely, the stuff of high-level meetings among people whose job descriptions include going at it tooth-and-nail with the CEO, meeting a line worker like me would never hear about). Maybe he was different his first go-round at Apple, but if so, he’d grown a lot by the time he returned.

Oh, and no one I’ve told this story to has seemed disappointed by it. So maybe they didn’t really want the blood after all.

Teatro Zinzanni

Those of my readers who know I work on Apple’s developer tools may have heard that we recently shipped Xcode 4. But this entry isn’t about that (since, well, this isn’t a work or an Apple blog). Rather, it’s about our ship celebration, which was dinner at Teatro Zinzanni in San Francisco on Thursday night.

Debbi and I decided to take the bus up with most everyone else, mainly because driving into the city during rush hour wasn’t attractive, but also because driving home after dinner wasn’t real appealing either. It only took a little over an hour for the bus to get there, so it wasn’t much of a compromise.

Teatro Zinzanni is – literally – dinner-and-a-show, the show being similar in some respects to Cirque du Soleil, but with a dash of vaudeville and audience participation thrown in. The show alternates a comedy bit – usually plucking an audience member for their involvement and a little embarrassment – with a musical and/or acrobatic performance, and one of the five courses of the dinner. While the style of the comedy bits were not really my thing (although seeing my cow-orkers’ involvement was greatly humorous, which made up for it), the other performances were very impressive. I was particularly amazed at the feats of strength and acrobatics performed by “Les Petits Frères”, which were frequently amazing.

(I’m amused that Zinzanni’s slogan is “Love, chaos and dinner”, since in order to perform these stunts in a dinner setting what they’re doing is anything but chaos.)

Almost worth the visit all by themselves are the available mixed drinks (PDF), of which I think I had one more than I really ought to have had. (Another excellent reason to have taken the bus.) I think the “Bella Donna” was my favorite.

We had fun socializing before dinner. Debbi met many of my cow-orkers, whom she mostly hadn’t met since I moved to a different team last summer, and we caught up with a few people we don’t see very often.

It was around midnight by the time we made it home, but it was well worth it. We have some friends who are big fans of Teatro Zinzanni, and I can see going back sometime.

I’d just rather not be one of the people picked to participate in one of the comedy bits!

New Nano

Is it silly to be excited to get a new toy like this? Especially since there have been weeks when I’ve spent more on comic books than I spent on this? (Okay, very few such weeks, but still.)

I mainly plan to use this to play podcasts in my car, replacing my venerable – but nearing the end – 80 Gb “classic” iPod.

The iPad Cometh

I’m not buying an iPad this weekend, though many of my friends and cow-orkers are. I tend to trail the edge of technology adoption anyway; I’m quirky for a programmer that way. For me it seems like the iPad is rife with potential, but there’s not a lot I’d truly use it for from the beginning.

Here are some things I don’t expect to use the iPad for:

  1. Reading books and comic books. To me, most books and many comic books are things to be enjoyed over and over, to be collected and shared through lending and borrowing. I own many books and comics which I expect to enjoy for decades to come, and I have my doubts that the evolution of technology is such that I’ll be able to read an e-book I buy today again in 20 years without going through some sort of annoying upgrading process, due to format changes (never mind DRM issues, if any). Reading literature on a device seems better aimed towards disposable works. To be sure, there are some books which I regard as disposable (this one, for instance), but that’s not the case for most books.

    Of course, many readers may consider most books to be “disposable” in this case. (Debbi gets most of her reading material from the library, the long-time gold standard of disposable literature.) Even the classics are disposable to someone who doesn’t plan to ever read them again. But I’m a collector, so I’m just not the target audience for e-books and e-comics.

  2. Programming. One can program for the iPad, but not on the iPad. More to the point, for me, most of my programming outside work these days involves writing complex Ruby scripts to process baseball statistics and my library of Magic cards. That uses programming as a tool to get some information out the other side, rather than to write an application which is itself the tool; it cuts out the middleman, so to speak. I could imagine rewriting all that stuff so that it runs on the iPad, but it’s not likely that I will. Especially the baseball stuff, which is pretty narrowly tailored to my own quirky needs.

    Programmers are an exception to Frasier Spears’ commentary on the iPad in this way; for us, programming often is a part of the “real work”. But the point is that programmers are not the core audience for the iPad, and I think one reason behind Cory Doctorow’s ire is that he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t accept this.

  3. Writing and blogging. I don’t see myself writing fiction or essays or blog posts on an iPad: Why use the on-screen keyboard or buy an external keyboard when I can just use my Mac? Will it be as easy to do word processing or use WordPress on an iPad as on a laptop, and if not, will that be a significant barrier? I dunno.

    The question of whether the iPad is mainly aimed at content consumers, or whether it will also work well for content producers, is I think an open question. At the moment my impression is that it leans toward the former, but I can imagine the balance evening out over time. Consequently, I can see myself changing my mind about this one more easily than the above two.

On the other hand, here are some things I do hope to use the iPad for, sooner or later:

  1. As a drawing input device. I expect we’ll see apps which allow the iPad to be used as an input device like the Wacom Cintiq in pretty short order, connecting your iPad to a Mac and using it to control Photoshop or other drawing apps which are too resource-intensive to run on the iPad themselves. (Of course, in the long run, why need to even connect it to your Mac? But I doubt we’re there yet for many purposes.)
  2. Playing innovative games. Computer games have been pretty stagnant for the last 10 years, in my opinion. First person shooters, real-time strategy games, simple arcade-style games, they’ve each made incremental advances over time, but nothing that’s blown me away. The last time I played computer games which felt truly new were MYST and Riven back in the 90s. Sure, they were at their core puzzle games, but they were also immersive experiences in exploring a world. I would love to see a thoughtful, immersive game experience enabled by the iPad.
  3. Reading newspapers and magazines. Speaking of disposable literature, I still subscribe to the daily newspaper (the San Jose Mercury News) in print form, and I even save the funnies every day for Debbi to read. I’ll probably keep doing so, but I could see subscribing to other periodicals – especially niche ones, or ones I don’t plan to keep, such as science fiction magazines – and reading them on an iPad. (And yes, I’d certainly pay for them.)

I have no doubt I’ll buy an iPad eventually (perhaps as soon as this summer). This is just my personal and ruthlessly-practical way of looking at it.

The iPad is already a fascinating device from a social-engineering and technological-evolutionary standpoint (if it weren’t, there wouldn’t be all the controversy surrounding it), and the science fiction fan and casual futurist in me would love to write about those aspects. However, the Apple employee in me thinks I should probably stay out of it. (I don’t think anyone really listens to little ol’ me, but there’s no percentage in risking the Internet Hordes unexpectedly descending on my blog and reading more into it than I intend.)

And on that note, off I go to my fantasy baseball draft, which I manage using the aforementioned Ruby scripts on my MacBook Pro.

Neat Mac Software

I don’t often get new software for my Mac, as I find that the software that comes with Mac OS X, or that I’ve bought or downloaded previously does what I want. And with as many hobbies as I have – many of the non-computer hobbies – I’m not generally looking for software to do something new for me. Despite this, I’ve downloaded two new pieces of software in the past week:

  1. ClickToFlash is a very cool Safari plug-in which masks out all the Flash being used on the web from your browsing experience, letting you choose to view a Flash instance on demand, by clicking on the Flash box. Since a lot of annoying animated ads are done in Flash, it also works as a partial ad blocker. It took me just minutes to be really happy I’d downloaded this.
  2. Tweetie is a Twitter client. (There’s also an iPhone version, but I’m happy with Echofon there.) It seems slightly better than Twitteriffic, although I’m hard-pressed to say how; I tried Tweetie because I have friends who love it. I mostly wish that Twitter had a better Web interface so that I didn’t need a separate app for it at all; the service is so simple, you’d think they could make one. Still, since Twitter is of minimal value to me (Facebook is much more useful and fun), it’s not a big deal one way or the other.

What other Mac software out there ought I to be using?

Snow Leopard Celebration

Often when we ship a new version of Mac OS X, there will be a celebration event for the organization. We were trying to remember the other day whether we’ve had one for every release (I’m pretty sure we didn’t have one for Puma), but I’ve thought in any case that none of them equalled the party for shipping Cheetah (OS X 10.0), which was held in Hangar One at Moffett Field.

But I think we just surpassed that one, with the party for Snow Leopard, which was held on Friday evening at the newly-rebuilt California Academy of Sciences. The museum shut down for a private party for just us, and even though there were hundreds people there, I’m told by people who have been to the new building (this was my first visit) that it wasn’t anywhere near as crowded as when it’s open to the public, so it was totally worth it. I don’t even want to think how much it cost to rent the place for a Friday evening.

I visited the old Academy a couple of times before it was demolished (like the De Young Museum nearby, Cal Academy’s old buildings were damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and had to be rebuilt from scratch), and I recall it being interesting but quaint, in an old stone-and-concrete structure which felt too small for the Academy’s ambitions. The new building is huge, three stories tall with a garden that covers the whole roof, and a spacious floor plan based around the Morrison Planetarium in one wing, and the tropical rainforest in the other. It’s quite a structure.

I love rainforests and we made a point of visiting before it closed at 8 pm (the party started at 6:30). You start at the bottom and walk upwards, with the air getting more and more humid as you progress. There are butterflies and birds in the habitat, and you’re asked to check yourself for butterflies before you leave. We also made a point to get Planetarium tickets, where we saw a show titled “Fragile Planet” about the possibility of life on other worlds. The script was a little dodgy at times (although it might play better to someone who hasn’t been reading science fiction all his life), but the visuals were fantastic, especially the opening sequence of lifting off from Earth. Well worth the visit.

The “living roof” was disappointing only in that you can’t see as much in the dark; I suspect it’s better seen in the daytime. Certainly it looked stunning in the Planetarium show. But the interior didn’t disappoint, with African dioramas, the giant pendulum, fossils and skeleton reproductions, displays and interactive presentations, and the Steinhart Aquarium, which is not as impressive as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but is still fun. The party lasted until 11, which was enough time to see everything, some things more than once.

Debbi came with me as my guest, and were socialized with many of my cow-orkers and their guests. Over the last 10 years I’ve gotten to know quite a few people at Apple, though it’s always a little surprising how many people I don’t recognize, even from just walking around campus. It’s a big company.

Debbi and I left a little early – although things were starting to wind down – and went to Ghirardelli Square to wrap up the evening with ice cream.

I didn’t take pictures of the party itself, but we did take some good pictures of the academy, for your viewing pleasure. I certainly recommend going if you’re in the area – assuming you want to brave the crowds.

Hanging whale skeleton
The hanging blue whale skeleton
(click for larger image)

Blue Butterfly
Large blue butterfly in the rainforest

Blue Lizard
This lizard is smaller than my hand

T Rex skeleton
Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton
(click for larger image)

Sea dragons
Sea dragons
(photo by Debbi)

Sea turtle
A lively sea turtle

White alligator
A rare albino alligator
(click for larger image)

Tortoise and Me
Me and a model of a large tortoise
(photo by Debbi, of course)

Ten Years at Apple

Sunday marked (as the calendar turns) ten years of working at Apple for me. I guess yesterday – Monday – was slightly more relevant, since if course I didn’t start work on a Sunday (although I did go in the previous Friday to get some info from my manager, since I spent my first week in a training class). Yesterday was 522 weeks from that starting date.

But who’s counting?

I’ve spent most of that time working on the Xcode developer tools. Not only is 10 years a long time to work at a single company in Silicon Valley, but nearly-8-years is a long time to be in more-or-less the same role at that company. Of course, every year it seems like I’m working on something new and different, using new technology, so there’s a lot of variety within my job. There’s so much going on here that even if I switched teams every couple of years there’s still more neat stuff to work with and work on than anyone could fit into a lifetime. (Contrast with my previous company, where after 4 years I felt like I’d basically done everything there was to do, on a technical level.)

(Of course, I “celebrated” my anniversary by spending the whole day investigating a heisenbug, but that’s the way it goes sometimes!)

Although the job has its frustrations, there’s no substitute for working with smart people on a project that matters, even if it’s not the most visible or glamorous project around. And I know my work is appreciated, which helps a lot too.

It’s been an exciting decade for Apple, too; the company was just starting its upswing when I joined the company, about a year after the first iMac was introduced. It’s been fun to have been there through all of that.

When I told one of my closest friends at my old company that I was going to interview with Apple, she said, “Oh, you are so out of here.” Ten years later, I’m glad I got the offer, and I’m glad to have taken the job. And I’m glad to have stuck around this long. I hope to stick around a good while longer.

WWDC 2008

I put in my time at WWDC this week. In addition to staffing the Xcode lab, I also was demo boy for a presentation – the first time I’ve been on stage at a conference other than Q&A sessions.

It all went pretty well, with one exception: Mid-afternoon yesterday, shortly before the presentation, I started getting a headache. In the somewhat overheated presentation room, the headache got worse. I was okay when I was actually driving the demo, but waiting between demos I was feeling really cruddy. Afterwards I went to the lab for my shift, but at that point the headache had gotten really awful and my stomach felt upset. I finally left early and caught the train back home, where Debbi picked me up at the station. At home I went straight to bed and slept for 12 hours nearly-straight.

I’m not sure if I was dehydrated (we’re having another heat wave here), or had a touch or food poisoning, or just had a migraine. But I felt much better this morning, if a little wobbly. Possibly from skipping dinner.

There are a lot of people for whom WWDC is a big social event, and they spend the whole week up there, even renting a hotel room in the city. I’m not one of those people, so I’m back in the office today. In a way I envy those folks, since I’m sure it’s a lot of fun for them, seeing old friends etc. I rarely have that experience, even at SF conventions, and I know a lot more people in fandom than I do in the Mac developer community. Ah well. Diff’rent strokes and all that.

The Scanner Blues

A few months ago I took the plunge and upgraded our desktop computer at home to Leopard. After all, I’d been running it both at work and on both of our laptops, and it seemed fine. Okay, I’d had to update some freeware and shareware, but that’s to be expected. I should probably update them more than once every 3 years anyway. 🙂

Well, it went smoothly, except for one problem: I can’t get my scanner to work under Leopard. Which is a bummer, since I use the scanner to scan book and comic covers for this journal, album art for my iTunes library, and also to scan items I put up for sale on eBay.

I have a Canon CanoScan LiDE 80, which was reasonably inexpensive and (more importantly) small and flat, but with a decent-sized platen for scanning. It’s worked well for several years, on both Panther and Tiger. But on Leopard it doesn’t work at all.

My first problem is that I use the version of Adobe Photoshop Elements that came with the scanner, which means that it’s now quite old, and won’t even launch on Leopard. If this were the worst problem, it would be surmountable; I could try to figure out Image Capture, which comes with Mac OS X, or I could try to use GraphicConverter or buy a copy of VueScan. Or heck, I could just buy the newest version of Photoshop Elements.

The larger problem is that the LiDE 80 doesn’t seem to be supported on Leopard, and in fact Canon seems to do a poor job of updating their drivers – the most recent drivers for this scanner were posted on 10/4/2007, which was shortly before Leopard was released. So I infer that they haven’t really been updated to work with Leopard. And n matter what I try, I haven’t been able to get them to work, even using the TWAIN driver, as other applications don’t seem to recognize Canon’s TWAIN driver. (The drivers also appear to be available only for PowerPC machines, which is fine for my desktop machine, since it is such a machine, but I’d like to buy an Intel-based Mac sometime soon, and that will pretty much hose it.) Someone recommended I check out SANE to see if they have a driver for it, but they don’t; apparently the scanner uses a “backend” which SANE doesn’t yet support. Alas.

It appears that other people have had the same problem, but I haven’t found a concrete solution. This thread has a lot of discussion about the issue, and some people seem to have gotten it to work, but others have not. I’m one of the “have not” people. On the other hand, one person was able to get it to work with VueScan, which I haven’t tried. (Although since VueScan seems to have a free trial, perhaps I should.)

So anyway, my solution to all this was to realize yesterday: Hey, I bought a second internal hard drive for the desktop machine a while back! So I partitioned that drive and installed Tiger on one partition, brought it up to date, and then installed the Canon software along with Photoshop Elements. Sure enough, the scanner works great in that environment. So at least that gives me a solution for the short term.

The longer term will involve buying a new computer, and then probably a new scanner. It seems that Epson has been releasing new drivers for Leopard, so I might give them a try, perhaps the V200 Photo. I’m certainly more inclined to buy a scanner from someone who appears to be actively supporting the platform.

If anyone has any advice or suggestions on what to get, I’d appreciate it.

Of course, I’ve needed to buy a new stereo receiver for months, and haven’t gotten around to that, so who knows when I’ll get to doing all this? (Then again, I installed Tiger on a new partition on a whim last night, so it could happen at any time…)