Thursday, July 15, 2010
Posted by Brad Wasson in "Apple Talk" @ 05:00 AM
I'm not an impluse buyer very often. In mid-June I walked into a local electronics store and browsed through the laptop section. As I walked by the Apple section I noticed they had a number of the new iPads set out for people to play with. I had, of course, seen many ads and videos about it online, but this was my first hands-on encounter. I walked over and picked one up and was immediately taken by the clarity of the screen. My first thought was "Wow, that is sharp". I turned the iPad over in my hands and looked at it from all sides. Again, "Wow, it was really well made". I turned it face-forward again and then started tapping on the icons. I opened up the calendar application and thought, "Wow, this is really nicely done". I opened the browser and browsed a few sites. Wow, this really works well. Scrolling, gestures, speed. What a neat experience.
I played with the iPad for probably 10 minutes, and then had a conversation with another customer. He was clearly enjoying the one he was using, and as I recall he commented that he wasn't sure yet if it could replace his netbook, but it might. He wasn't sure yet about the onscreen typing experience and how well that would work for note taking, and he thought it was a bit heavy. But I could tell he was impressed.
I picked it up again and marveled once more about the total package. I am not an impulse buyer by any stretch, but, at that moment, I was almost ready to grab a boxed iPad and head over to the checkout counter. I was very, very close.
Back to the IBM PC, circa 1980
I've been using PCs since the early 1980s when I was an undergraduate engineering student. My father was the founder and head faculty member of the computer science department at the University of New Brunswick in Atlantic Canada where I grew up, and as such we had a few interesting computing devices kicking around. The prize device was a 300-baud acoustic coupler modem in our basement office. With that, I could connect to the mainframe computer at the university over the phone lines from home (for you, ahem, older readers you may remember these fellas - you had to place the telephone handset into a couple of suction-cups so that the modem could pick up the analogue sound). Fellow students were mesmerized by the capability of writing and compiling programs on the mainframe from my house. Were they ever jealous! Scrolling through pages of code connected at 300-baud was not the most time-effective process, but it sure beat walking through snow and cold to go to the computing center.
Sometime around 1985 my father brought home our first "portable" computer (I think it was an IBM 5155). It looked like a piece of luggage, weighted something like 30 pounds, and had a 5" or 6" orange and black text screen. We also had a word processor called VolksWriter from LifeTree Software. I wrote a report on it for a summer job I had in the engineering faculty, and I was hooked on the utility of word processors.
I finished my engineering degree in 1986. My degree was in Surveying Engineering (now known as geomatics) and at that time the discipline was becoming very computer oriented. Calculating elliptical satellite orbits is difficult by hand! I loved the computing side of things, and took extra computer courses as I proceeded through my undergraduate degree. Upon graduation I decided to continue my studies and enrolled in a computer science master's program at the University of Saskatchewan in western Canada.
My arrival at the University of Saskatchewan coincided with their purchase of a number of Apollo workstations to complement their Sun lab. The graphical interface on those workstations was amazing. This was my introductory exposure to UNIX, and for the next 2 years I was immersed in the world of workstation computing, with "multiple windows" for command line instructions (does anyone remember that old UNIX text-based game called "robots"?). It was a huge learning curve, but very exciting. I started to take notice of the beauty of the graphical user interface, and realized that this could make a huge difference in a users' experience with the computer. There were a lot of talented grad students at the university, two of which went on to work for Pixar and were involved in the development of the first Toy Story movie.
I had a bit of an unusual home environment growing up. While my father was a highly-skilled electrical engineer, very scientific, and very astute in technology, my mother provided a very different world perspective. She was an artist, and much of her love for the graphic arts and live arts rubbed off on me. Dinnertime conversations could span from hexadecimal arithmetic to opera. I didn't realize it at the time, but it had a profound impact on my interests later in life.
Figure 1: An SGI Indy.
Back at the graduate program at the University of Saskatchewan, I was fortunate to be exposed to perhaps the most impressive computing technology of that era - the Silicon Graphics workstation. Its sheer power and ability to stimulate the development of software with a strong graphical element was quite unique. I loved the way they used icons and glyphs to provide a way to manipulate program controls. I was doing my thesis on the subject of short-term scheduling in shared-memory multiprocessing systems, but I sure found all the computer graphics developments that were going on fascinating.
Fast-forward 22 years and I find myself co-founder and owner of a management consulting business with my wife. After university I developed software in the geomatics industry (including doing X-windows development), spent 7.5 years with Hewlett-Packard in Ottawa, Ontario as a systems and process architect, and then returned back to Atlantic Canada and joined a national consulting firm. Along the way I developed a love of photography and video, and have developed a fair bit of skill in graphic design, which we leverage in our management consulting work. Our world with clients revolves around Microsoft Office and the Windows platform, and we've been tied to that environment, for one reason or another, for our whole careers.