When rainbows collide

RainbowHere’s something you don’t see every day: almost every rainbow attribute in just one photograph, taken just outside my apartment on Lake Thun, in Switzerland. Clearly visible are a primary rainbow, a secondary rainbow, supernumerary rainbows, a reflected rainbow – as well as two clear dark areas known as Alexander’s bands. The region between the secondary and reflected rainbow is especially dark, and that is very rare to observe.

 

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 2: “The First Wave of Characters”

A guest blog, by Chuck Ritley

TV gigs like “60 Minutes” show life in The Valley today. Everyone chuckles at bearded Google programmers with bicycles by their desks, environmentally correct sandals, and the engineering gang drinking macrobiotic smoothies.

But these are kids! Newcomers! Freshmen! Squatters writing game code for adolescents in an arena whose history they don’t comprehend. The Valley is an arena, an arena built on blood and grit, by a bunch of tough, smart, future-seeing characters, not afraid to get their hands dirty. They took apricot orchards and turned them into the electronics industry.

Valley_machineThe 70s: I was a mainframe systems engineer turned journalist, covering the computer industry for a publishing house. New companies sprung up: DEC, General Automation, Microdata, Qantel, Basic Four, Four/Phase, Nixdorf, Lockheed, NCR – and more. I wrote about them, and I was welcomed in their offices. And most were in The Valley.

I had a great opportunity to meet some of these characters who shaped the industry. Were they my pals? A couple of them became that. But mostly I’m just pleased to say I met them.

Regis McKenna – You never heard of him? But you know Apple, Intel, Compaq, Microsoft, Intel, and Lotus. Regis is a marketing and advertising genius. Neat inventions need a market. Regis made Apple and Microsoft household words. (Bill G and the 2 Steves had ideas – Regis sold them.) I met him at his office in Palo Alto, trying to sell ads in our magazines. We didn’t. But I had a chance to interview the man who knew where the computer industry could go and HOW to get it there. He was generous about sharing his vision. I doubt he remembers me – but it I’ll remember him.

Gary Kildall – he never bought an ad from us. But Dr. Kildall did two critical things that made the whole industry possible: he invented the BIOS – Basic Input Output System. (It boots up your PC.) Then, he invented the Operating System.   The first was CP/M, the forerunner of DOS. Companies as big as IBM used CP/M. And Dr. Kildall invented it in his garage.

Dick Pick – CP/M and DOS were ground-breakers, but only geeks like me understood them. Dick created a full operating system called PICK (still in use today) that looked like – well, English. No weird codes, and programmers could use: add, subtract, write, compare, input, and print. We never did sell an ad to Microdata, but I’ll remember Dick Pick.

Jim Fensel – Jim knew everyone in The Valley. He ran a small marketing firm, but put together big deals. Software guy needs a hardware guy? Jim made the intro. Someone had a good idea, but couldn’t afford Regis McKenna? Jim knew who to see and get it done. A great find for a writer, and any time I needed a story, Jim knew of one. I came to rely on his tips and we became pals. In fact, every few years, we’d get together on something. We even put together a product deal about 20 years after I had met him. Sadly, I’ve lost touch. Life works like that. But somewhere in The Valley, Jim is putting together a deal.

Doug Baker – a Canadian hockey player who moved South, Doug was a true visionary. He knew computers were useless without programs, and that business programs needed to be so generic that any company could use one. He worked as CEO of a little company called Basic/Four (now the giant MAI Basic Four) in Orange County, took small Z80-based systems, added an OS, and directed development of a set of universal business functions, written in BASIC, that most companies need. And – Wow! – up to 4 users could work simultaneously. Result: the “turnkey” system. A rush of competitors started doing it too – and this was the way the industry went. I was fortunate to work for Doug in later years and I learned this – if Douglas K. Baker said “here’s where it’s going”, that IS where it went.

There were so many more: engineers, programmers, marketing guys, promo guys – all builders. Guys like: Al Cosentino at MAI, Harry LeClair at Tab Products, Adam Osborne, Don Schnitter, Gene Sylvester, Jerry Cullen, Bo Frederickson, Noel Kyle, Mike Dakis, Dallas Talley, Jim LeBuff, – my memory is over-flowing. I’m the richer for having met them. They built the foundation, they made it happen, they were the first. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the other kids – they owe these pioneers a debt they can never pay.

 


This guest blog was submitted by Chuck Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.  

Here are the links to the other blogs in this series:

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 1: “The Way It Was”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 2: “First Wave of Characters”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 3: “Evolution of the Geek”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 4: “When Giant Frys.com Sold Pork Chops”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 5: “Mr. Yee and the Albrae Street – Taiwan Connection”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part I: “The Way it Was”

A guest blog, by Chuck Ritley

Few people know this: Silicon Valley wasn’t always its name. Nope. It used to be: “The Valley of The Heart’s Delight”. Nothing to do with printed circuits, web pages, iMacs, Google, or the Cloud. No – it was the apricot capital of the world.

I moved there in the 70’s, with my family, just when it was slowly acquiring that new appendage – Silicon Valley.

SV_ApricotsUntil Hewlett and Packard started doing electrical things in their garage in Palo Alto, the Valley was a giant apricot orchard. You see, the Valley is a bowl, surrounded by the Santa Clara Mountains on south and east, and the Santa Cruz Mountains on the west. While San Francisco, 50 miles north, is cold and foggy, the Valley, protected all year long by the hills, is 20 degrees warmer than SFO, and sunny – in short, the perfect apricot climate.

Ringed around downtown San Jose, the Valley’s hub, companies like Dole, Libby, and Heart’s Delight had huge canneries. Empty 6 months of the year, during the summer and fall when the ‘cots were ripening, they came alive. With the harvest, thousands of migrant workers came in for the picking. The canning and packing was done by mostly local help who worked part time for those months of the year. And the factories spewed out train loads of canned, dried, preserved and juiced apricots.

In the spring, the Valley was beautiful. The trees started blooming, and everywhere you looked there were gorgeous blossoms. Places were named after them: Blossom Hill Road, Old Orchard Drive, and even a town: Blossom Hill. It was odd driving the roads and even the expressways. Here would be a tract of houses, and there a huge apricot orchard. Even the streets in the housing developments were often lined with apricot trees, making for a slippery walk when they were falling.

But – Wow – what a wonderful place to be in the spring. We lived at the far north end of the Valley, but close enough to enjoy it all.

How many apricots? I have no clue. But I do know that a few miles from my home, on the mud flats of San Francisco Bay, there was a charcoal factory. I couldn’t figure that out. Why build a charcoal factory where there aren’t any forests? Well, next time you eat an apricot, notice that half of it is in the seed. Little fruit, great big seed.

So, if you ship out 100 tons of canned apricots today, what do you also have? 100 tons of apricot seeds. You can’t eat them. Can’t throw them out, else the Valley would be awash in pits 3 feet deep. So – since they’re fiber – you dry them out, roast them, burn them in a kiln, and press them into charcoal briquettes.   And, you need a giant factory down on the mud flats to do it. Here’s a fact: for every pound of apricots, half a pound of charcoal. But then no one really wanted it known as “Charcoal Valley”. (Sound like a bluegrass song title?) So the factory sat a few miles north on the mud flats in Alameda County, and garden of beauty remained beautiful.

But like the Eden of the Book of Genesis, big changes were afoot. Man was coming. Binary man, AC/DC man, silicon man, logical man, and program man. They were on the way and nothing could halt the tide.

 


This guest blog was submitted by Chuck Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.  

Here are the links to the other blogs in this series:

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 1: “The Way It Was”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 2: “First Wave of Characters”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 3: “Evolution of the Geek”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 4: “When Giant Frys.com Sold Pork Chops”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 5: “Mr. Yee and the Albrae Street – Taiwan Connection”