Category Archives: Apple

Scientific Frontiers

Historical Posts representing Adventure Continues: Second Quarter

I was young and adventurous, which translates to “Anything is Possible”. I was 26, I had sped through a couple of real jobs, so I had life figured out. The microcomputer revolution was beginning and I was going to be a part of it.

The Gateway to Steamboat – Rabbit Ears Pass

The rationale of doing this from Steamboat Springs was a bit skewed economically, but in line with my passion.

Lester Smith at Trappers Lake

My father helped me move back to Colorado which offered us a bonding opportunity. Taking him backpacking to Trappers Lake in the White River National Forest was a highlight for us. Now settled in Steamboat I had to figure out how you do start your own business. There was no roadmap for starting up a computer store in 1980. There were a few ComputerLands that worked in large metropolitan areas and there were Radio Shacks for the hobbyists, but how was I going to make this happen? I had written a software program on my Apple that calculated and tried to manage Coal Testing Data. However, the managing part was a challenge without a random access storage device. Floppy Disks or even hard disks had not come to the Apple II yet. So I fell back on my original entry into computers and chose the HP 85 desktop computer with a somewhat random accessible high speed tape drive. This was the best option at the time and I totally immersed myself into programming as winter set in. My college buddy Jeff (as referenced in previous post) moved in with us and we set out to launch our computer store. This part of the adventure would hopefully generate revenue to live on but probably more important it connected us to the microcomputer revolution that was just taking off. We came up with the name “Scientific Frontiers” for our company and my sister helped us incorporate. We found space to rent for a store in Steamboat Square above the popular Mazzola’s Italian Restaurant. We bought the cheapest best looking chairs and tables we could find, made some signs and started learning how to acquire inventory. Hewlett Packard was extremely helpful and we focused on Commodore Computers for our core offering and more affordable Atari computers to tap into the entertainment appeal of these new computers. The local newspaper reporter, Ross Dolan, wrote up a nice article to help us launch Scientific Frontier’s Grand Opening on January 30, 1981.

Surprisingly we did survive for a while by selling HP devices to the various engineers in the area. We sold Atari computers to the affluent Steamboaters wanting to play a better version of Space Invaders and the Commodore PET to the new aspiring programmers. However, our real money maker was the Commodore 8032 computer that we sold to most every small business in town. The Commodore offered a dual floppy disk drive that allowed for the software to reside on one side and data on the other. BPI Business Software was our flagship solution along with VisiCalc on the Commodore.

Jeff was our Business Software Expert

I provided the hardware support which was mostly about winging it to keep these early devices working.

It was a fascinating time to be immersed into the birth of microcomputers while living the good life in Steamboat Springs. This is what your 20’s should be all about. Just follow your dreams because there is no failure at this time of your life. Connie also got to follow her passion by getting the opportunity to run the Steamboat Repertory Theatre. So talk about about a strange group of Steamboat friends: Thespians and Geeks.

Snow Day

We would typically have some of the actors stay with us at our Logan Street rental. This is also when I learned to Cross Country Ski since I rarely had enough money to downhill. Although, if we did get a major dump of snow, Scientific Frontiers would be closed so Jeff and I could go skiing. Summers were the best since it was mostly just the locals enjoying their mountain paradise. We did have ballon rodeos and some strange promotions such as a professional boxing matches and vintage car races to help promote Steamboat, but for the most part it was our town. The Yampa River Raft Race was about floating down the river consuming mass quantities of beer, unfortunately this race was cancelled a few years later due to excessive trash. The Winter Carnival was and still is a major event to get the locals through the toughest part of winter. Nothing better than watching the lighted man ski down Howelsen Hill. This was also when I started dabbling with backpacking. I think I had a frame pack and equipment capable of surviving in the summer temps, but I did discover the awesomeness of the wilderness around Steamboat.

Scientific Frontiers was always a financial struggle but it lasted into 1983. The Steamboat Pilot (newspaper) Office Supply Store decided to get into the microcomputer game and they had far more clout than we did, so they got the Apple franchise and later the IBM PC so the writing was on the wall for our demise. But what a great run it was. Our HP rep alerted me to a job opportunity at Union’s Oil Shale operation in Parachute Creek which turned out to be my next Adventure.

 

NIPSCO – Life Changing Time

Historical Posts representing Adventure Continues: Second Quarter

What was I thinking? I was a young professional enjoying a great lifestyle in Northwest Colorado. Yes, life was good, but I started thinking I could make it better, but to do that I would need to expand upon this new career as a chemist.

MitchelPlant

Dean Mitchell Power Station

So I started applying at other power plants around the country and an option that came up was to be a plant chemist at NIPSCO’s Mitchell Power Station in Gary, IN. So I rationalized that Gary would not be terrible and access to Chicago might be cool, etc, etc. We moved to the armpit of America in the Spring of 1980, finding a rental home in Hammond, IN, for my new job in Gary. It took about a week for us to start making plans for how we could get out of this place. I now understand how that young man with an adventurous spirit justified this move, but at that time I had no idea how life changing it would be.

I think the tone was set when I took my required physical exam for the job. I was from Indiana but I had changed into a free spirited mountain man from Colorado. During the exam the nurse asked me if I smoked. So my reply was, sure I smoked some marijuana occasionally, but never tobacco. It never crossed my mind that one should not divulge such information. So three days later I was asked to appear in the plant directors office where I was greeted by plant leadership. They asked me if I knew why I was there and I truly did not. They said, no one has ever answered the question about smoking the way I had. OK, now I realized what I had done and where I did it. I took a moment to speak, but then with great confidence I said: “Look at it this way, I am the most honest person that works here”. And they bought it. I assured them that I would never be under the influence of marijuana while at work and they could totally trust my work ethic. I still cannot believe that I did this, but I totally understand where my state of mind was that allowed me to.

Connie and I were making the best of this home. We rented a fairly cool old house in Hammond. Connie got a job as a legal secretary, we got to visit our family in Indiana, we checked out Chicagoland. I was enjoying the chemist job helping them create more standardized testing procedures.

Our pets were dominating our attention since Coco was about to have pups, Rusty was playing the father dog role and Barney the Cat was establishing his turf. Unfortunately, Barney did not understand the ways of the urban cat gangs. He had been missing for a few days when he showed up all torn up from fighting. We patched him up but he went right back out to retake his turf and we never saw him again. CocoPuppies80We were sad but also a bit impressed by Barney’s determination. Soon Coco had a litter of 12 cute australian shepherd puppies and we were knee deep in puppy poop in our basement. Unfortunately, Coco developed an infection that prevented her from caring for her pups as we might have hoped so Connie and I provided assistance with baby bottles. It was intense for a few weeks and we lost 2 of the pups, but soon we had crazy playful pups all over us.

If we had lived anywhere other than in the Chicago area we could have made some pretty good money off those pups, but soon it was just about finding them good homes, which we accomplished.

It was starting to warm up and the Indiana humidity combined with the industrial pollution of the area was motivating us all the more to escape this horrible place. AppleIIComputerLandA volcano named, Mt St Helens, erupted in the Northwest which created red skies in Chicago that looked like there was a fire in the heavens. Why were we here? But then I discovered a computer store called ComputerLand that was selling the Apple II computer. OMG, I could own a computer. I was obsessed and scraped together enough money to buy the Apple with a monitor, cassette tape drive and thermal printer. There were very few programs available so I started writing my own, quickly realizing that I could develop supporting programs for the chemist work we were doing. There was a dream evolving in my mind where I could envision my new evolving skill parlaying into a computer career. It was also about this time when our plant’s labor union decided to go on strike.

I quickly learned that a strike in the industrial armpit of America was a significant event. Unions in this area were in solidarity when it came to strikes, so when NIPSCO management did not budge and our workers went out on strike it was no longer safe for us non-union strike breakers to conduct our lives as usual. We went into a total plant lockdown where the administrators, supervisors and plant professionals took over responsibility for running the plant. Oh yes, and they paid us triple our salary which would financially pave the way for my exit.

This experience was fascinating to watch the process whereby company management had to prove that they did not need the union workers. The line was drawn and the two sides were facing off which is why we initially had to stay in the plant for like 10 days. Then it was something like out for 3 and in for 7 days at a time. Accomodations were made for us to sleep in areas converted to dorms, but I asked if I could bring my parent’s camping trailer on the property and stay there. 69ShastaTrailerAnd they said yes which sort of set things up for me to stay more independent which is what I had always been since I don’t think anyone else had ever taken a job there from Colorado. We went about our jobs along with some new assignments but we did have free time and everyone seemed to showcase some hobby or personal interest. A coworker who I had gotten to know was a serious saxophone player so I got to observe what that life looked like. For me it was about my computer but I also had this desire to play frisbee on the turbine floor. To do that I had to find someone who could throw so that I could have fun with my acrobatic catches. I guess we were all just trying to show off. But I was learning a lot about people.

VHSBetaFor entertainment we were fortunate to be living at the time of the VHS and Beta Tape battles and no real legal control over the pirating of current run movies. So we were actually watching movies that were in the local theaters. But the ultimate entertainment night would be on my shoulders. I was telling people about my Apple Computer and that I had some games on it. These were typically simple text oriented games but I started to get some of the guys to checkout my football game. A simple play by play where you would run a play or choose a defense and the computer would randomly provide an outcome for the play. I found a way to put in our own names for the players which gave me the idea to create a game based on our own plant groups playing each other. Somehow the hype took off and everyone ended up in the cafeteria one night with my computer displaying the football game action projected onto a screen. We played an entire game where my computer was giving play-by-play results which included the names of most everyone in the room. These hard core power plant professionals went wild cheering for each play and I just made it run.

Keeping all of this in context: I’m a 26 year old chemist who came from Colorado and by then everyone knew how I had answered the smoking question and I am orchestrating one of the weirdest parties that I could have imagined. I think that is when I realized that anything was possible and I decided to take my strike pay winfall and move back to my beloved Steamboat Springs, CO, to develop laboratory software and open a computer store. I called Jeff, my college buddy who had just graduated with an MBA and degree in Law to see he wanted to join me. Connie was all in and left for Steamboat with the dogs. Soon after that I resigned from my job at NIPSCO and finalized my move back to Steamboat to launch my new adventure.


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Scientific Frontiers – a computer business in Steamboat Springs, CO in the early 80s.

 

Internet TV is Finally a Reality

The end of the coax connected cable TV era is ending. All of the cable providers have been pushing their streaming options, but the major players have not given in to offering us flexible TV lineups. Well, Comcast hit me with my 2 year price increase which took my bill for TV and Internet up to $191. And that is without any premium channels. The service was acceptable when working with their DVR (monthly rental fee for 2), but the nickel and dime costs for fees, and rental was ridiculous.

So I decided to give Google’s YouTubeTV another try. Performance was not acceptable a year ago, but today’s YouTubeTV in the Portland, OR, market is better then I could have hoped for.

“YouTube TV is a paid membership that brings you live TV from major broadcast networks, popular cable networks, and premium networks. With YouTube TV, you’ll get live sports and must-see shows, as well as DVR without storage space limits.”

Assuming you have decent Internet bandwidth the quality is up to 720p. We rely on Apple devices which provide a nice YouTubeTV App and I bought the AppleTV 4K which has the YouTubeTV App native which takes advantage of the remote control just the way the old Comcast Xfinity remote provided. Overall I am happier then I was with Comcast. However, there have been a few hiccups. It is not quite as easy to fast forward through commercials, but you can do it. And when there is a very popular sporting event like the Final Four of the NCAA Basketball games the bandwidth appears to be stressed a bit. So your resolution drops down at times, but I do not think this is the fault of the Comcast Internet feed but rather an over subscription to the Internet stream from the source. Combine that with the high pixel needs of action sports and you do experience some disappointment.

The channel lineup is better then I could have hoped for. All of the local and standard cable channels with their secondaries, all news and sports channels. I even now get the BigTen Network which would have fallen into another bundle on Comcast. I do not get the Pac12 Network, however, that network is not really prime yet and I can watch it online. Oh yes, when I cancelled my Comcast TV subscription they gave me Internet with the basic TV package because it was cheaper then just Internet alone. I have no need to hook up the basic service, but it does allow mw to easily choose Comcast Xfinity as my Cable provider on Apps like the Pac12 Network. You can also choose YouTubeTV for all of the other apps as well. The best deal is the unlimited Cloud DVR. You can record and watch all your favorite programs anytime anywhere on any device and it is personalized to everyone in your family plan. Oh yes, my total bill is now $111, $40 for YouTubeTV and $71 for Internet and I am watching the Masters on the other half of my iMac screen while I am writing this post.YouTubTVScreenShot

My fear is that quality will suffer as more people cut the cable, but for now I am very satisfied.

Get Ready for WYOD

I kicked off the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD): A Summit for Decision-Makers (summary article) as the keynote speaker last week in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This Summit was put on by Merit, who provides the network service needs of higher education, K-12 organizations, government, health care, libraries, and other non-profits for the state of Michigan. It brought together public and private sector technology and security leaders, as well as experts from academia and a wide array of vendor sponsors, to discuss hot trends for employees who are bringing their own devices to work.

Keynote Address for BYOD Summit

Keynote Address for BYOD Summit

I was interested in presenting on this BYOD topic because I understand the concerns but I also feel we need to put the issue into proper perspective. BYOD is officially defined as the practice of allowing the employees of an organization to use their own computers, smartphones, or other devices for work purposes. This is the valid concern which causes us to question our preparedness for dealing with bandwidth and security issues associated with BYOD. But the acronym has become synonymous with challenges relating to the explosion of mobile internet access devices which tend to pressure our network management more than security risks. My Keynote entitled, BYOD: We just need to keep up, focused on the emerging concerns from Wear Your Own Device (WYOD) and the evolution of The Internet of Things (IoT).

Wearable devices today are not really pressing our infrastructure or security concerns, however, that is the calm before the storm. The focus for these wearables today typically points to some form of activity or health monitoring. Interaction with the Internet or local WiFi is minimal now typically because of power consumption issues. However, the stage is set for these small useful devices to interact with our personal Internet space. And the most significant use will evolve out of the NFC based authentication made popular by the Apple Pay entry for transacting purchases. The key here is the validation of mobile devices, typically today’s smartphones, as authenticators of our personal identity. Replacement of the credit card swipe for retail purchases will lead the way, however, we in IT will get to explore and support all of the other uses that will play off this technology. For us in higher education we will see this become our student’s ID Card for building access, attendance and even remote test proctoring. The technology challenge is not daunting, however, the shift of our support mentality may be difficult. We will need to protect the effectiveness of these activities along with ensuring the security. It will mean a lot more technology responsibility on our plates.

Cell Phone Authenticating our Identity

I was chatting with one of our professors and our conversation ventured into the importance of mobile devices. The topic related to why it was so important for Microsoft to gain a foothold in the mobile phone market and I explained to him the intricate connection between the consumer’s phone and their computing platform of choice. But I also told him that the mobile phone would someday be the most important component for authenticating identity which is critical for financial transactions. I’m not sure I knew exactly how that was going to play out but it is always fun to stimulate non-techies into imagining what the future might hold. I did tell him about how important cell phones were in Africa for providing a means of transferring money. So it was a natural assumption to connect the cell phone to the online or digital economy as a means of providing more secure form of authentication. And when you talk more secure you typically relate that to a dual form of authentication based on something you have and what something is better than cell phones. Anyways, this conversation led to being asked to give a talk on this topic for the local Rotary.

I relate this conversation as a lead in for the story today about how Apple might offer a means for how we pay for stuff. Apple is hinting that it may explore this territory of payment services and that the fingerprint authentication on the new iPhones was implemented with this in mind. But the real impetus may be that Apple has amassed the most impressive number of personal accounts, about 800 million, that are connected to a credit card. This number is huge especially when compared to the next closest, Amazon’s 237 million. And what was the trick to getting this many purchase ready accounts? Music Downloads through iTunes. Yes, the convenience of impulse buying for a song that I hear justified my synchronizing my credit card with my iTunes account. And I have been very pleased with the results; quick, efficient, receipt email, and trust. Yes trust, there has not been a significant security breach of Apple’s accounts.

So is Apple going to expand their payment services to include any online or even checkout counter transactions? Lot’s of issues that have to be worked out before that financial model is justified, but I would bet on it. I was originally thinking the mobile phone could provide an identity solution for verifying who you are using the 2 step authentication model. Apple has successfully expanded that to include biometrics which I think will inevitably be required in our insecure identity compromised world. Makes a whole lot more sense then offering a credit card and signing a receipt. Needless to say, control of the mobile phone market continues to grow in importance. The next authentication phase will probably involve scanning that chip they want to insert into our body, but I think for now we work from something that everyone wants to have on their body.

Growing up with Steve Jobs

I am about the same age as Steve Jobs and in many respects we did grow up together at least with our involvement with technology. He obviously was a bit more involved which was good because that had a significant influence on me. I was supposed to be a doctor but realized that was not my real dream however, I did get a degree in Chemistry out of it. As a chemist I discovered “computers” or powerful calculators that controlled analytical instrumentation in the laboratory. Yes, college courses introduced me to computers that you interacted with via stacks of paper cards but the concept of creating something on your own computer just totally grabbed me. I then heard of these personal computers like Heath Kits but it was the discovery of a ComputerLand store in Chicago that did me in. This is 1979, an Apple II computer emerging and I had to have it. The serial number was 2014. So began the journey that placed me very much in tune with what Jobs and Wozniak were up to. Owning my own computer at that time was amazing.

At this time in my career as a chemist I just happened to be making a lot of money, at least for me, due to working through a strike situation with my job. In late 1979 I convinced my college buddy who had just graduated with an MBA and Law degree to partner on starting a computer store/software business.  Jobs and Wozniak we were not but what a great adventure, start a computer business with about $10K in Steamboat Springs, CO. Maybe the location doomed ultimate success, but the adventure was real. Programming on an HP 85 actually was my best option for the lab management software I was developing but Apple was a part of our lives. Well this is a just a teaser for my life growing up with Steve. There is a book in this but the story is still evolving. I did actually run into Steve at the Frys in Milpitas back in 1987. As I remember there was a NEXT facility nearby. I have gone through the Apple roller coaster of love, confusion, pity, and amazement. Yes Steve was amazing and Apple Inc. is an impressive portion of his epitaph. I do feel fortunate to have lived during the life of one of the greatest people of all time.

Apple – Apple Events – Celebrating Steve

The iPad will be Successful

I probably should be posting everyday if I wanted to keep everyone up-to-date on the many discussions and issues circulating around our investigation of the iPad as our university’s recommendation for a student educational technology device. But I took 5 days out to celebrate my dad’s 95th birthday and now the SuperBowl will require some attention. Go Colts.

So a quick update – the excitement that the iPad has generated was summed up well by our President who was in Washington DC during the Apple iPad event where he observed that the iPad announcement received more media attention then the State of the Union Address. Many who fear the change that the iPad will bring have argued for what it can’t do. Here is an example: “but it does not do handwriting recognition” or “it does not have a camera”, “it does not multi-task”, etc. So let’s be clear – the iPad is not a Tablet, or Laptop, or iPhone. It is an iPad and it is not intended to be like anything else, it is a NEW and innovative technology.

Many play the skeptical role questioning whether it will be successful and they are content to wait and see. I say the iPad has no risk of failure, worst case it will be successful if nothing more then as a replacement for our love affair with having a morning newspaper. There is a reason why the book publishers are embracing the iPad and this is different from the music industry and the iPod. First, the music industry did not see or understand what hit them. Second, the iPad comes in as the second or third generation eBook reader that solves most of the problems. Third, the business concept has already been defined and Apple is not the enemy, Amazon and Google have been.

So I need to allocate enough time to fulfill my obligation as a die hard Colts fan this weekend and then I have to present a proposal to my university for why I believe the iPad would be a more effective education technology device then the current MacBook that we give to our students. However, the iPad has no chance of winning that role without the support of our faculty to leverage the iPad’s technological advantages in the classroom and on campus.

Writing, Printing & Publishing has Changed

Document format has always been a key to control of software selection and retention. That dominance not only guaranteed Microsoft’s control of the Office Suite market but also allowed them to create a renewable market with manipulation of their format. We in tech support were forced to upgrade our MS Office Suite in order to eliminate the user hassles with their inability to open the new formats. But what about all of those great new features in MS Word that allowed us to be so much more effective writers.

The point of my post – communication has changed. Those impressive writing features in programs like MS Word are more in the way now. 20 years ago we communicated by means of a printed document, 10 years ago printed format was still important. But how many printed documents do you create today? We write for electronic distribution today and that medium handles the format for us. Benefits of MS Word have allowed for more elegant authoring in Outlook, but again, the trend is obvious. It reminds me of the advice offered in Paul McDougall’s InformationWeek article: “7 Things Microsoft Must Do in 2010”. Cut the price of Windows and free Office. I actually thought of this post while reading about competition between Apple and Google. Competition based on the relevant tech business market that Microsoft is not a part of. And I realized that Apple’s publishing tools such as iLife and iWork and even Google Apps are so much more relevant to this electronic publishing era, price is right as well.

Apple’s Marketing Strategy

This post is to applaud Apple’s marketing strategy. They have truly parlayed the art of competitive silence into the most effect marketing strategy a company could ever hope for. The iPhone set the stage for this and carrier agreements somewhat justifies it. Pretending that the silence is for strategic protection is brilliant. I love the Apple employees who do actually buy into this completely, kind of an oath of operation. But the result is an immense amount of free advertising based on anticipation. Who had the greatest impact at the CES last week? The company that was not even there. Aren’t we all anxious about what Apple might announce on Jan. 26th or 27th?

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