David Gelphman's Blog

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30 Years of Macintosh

Without a doubt the introduction of the Macintosh changed my life.

In 1984 I was nearing the completion of my PhD in physics. I knew I wasn’t going to continue in physics and I had no idea what I would do instead. My interest in the personal computers of the day was non-existent. In January 1984 I was out of the country so I missed the introduction of the Mac. But a colleague had a friend who worked for Apple and that friend brought a Mac over to show us. It seemed like magic.

I was totally hooked. Stanford had some Macs that you could go and spend time with, playing with MacPaint and MacWrite. When Apple offered Macs through the university at $1000 (a huge discount from the $2500 list price) I scraped together money I didn’t have and bought one.

In the early days of Macintosh the internet was just a bit different than today. A couple of people at Stanford started the “Info Mac Digest” which was a daily mass mailing that went to thousands of people. It was an incredible information source and consisted entirely of postings from people who shared excitement about this sea change in computing. For a period of time I was moderator of info-mac and through that got to meet many people in the Macintosh community, many of which are colleagues and friends today. I have to take at least partial credit for organizing the “netters dinner” that took place annually around MacWorld. I still remember the year that about 70 of us gathered at MacWorld and walked from Moscone up to Chinatown and overtook the Hunan Restaurant. (See Netter’s Dinner.)

Stanford had a users group, SMUG, that met regularly. Gus Fernandez started a developers group associated with SMUG and he seemed to have every Apple superstar come and talk about Macintosh. I don’t remember everybody but I do remember Andy Hertzfeld, Larry Kenyon, Bruce Horn, Chris Crawford, and Bill Budge coming and blowing everybody away with stories, demos, and more. I still remember Andy saying that even though the LaserWriter had a 12 MHz processor (instead of the 8 MHz of the Mac), running PostScript brought the processor to its knees!

All this motivated me to go to the Stanford library where they had a loose leaf copy of a draft of Inside Macintosh and I started reading. Everything was totally new and exciting but completely foreign to me. I’d only done programming in Fortran previously and Pascal was literally a foreign language. It was nothing like the computing I’d done on mainframes! On July 13, 1985 I went to the “MacAfrica” one day class taught by Dave Wilson (see MacAfrica) and learned a ton.

When I finished grad school and started looking for jobs I had a couple of opportunities with high tech companies doing computing work that didn’t really excite me but they were good opportunities nonetheless. Then by chance I met Dave Gustavson at SLAC who was looking for a Mac programmer to do Mac programming using FORTH on a project to control a piece of hardware. I ended up working for him in the Computation Research Group at SLAC programming the Mac using the fantastic Mach1 programming environment created by Rick Miley and others at the Palo Alto Shipping Company.

One bonus of that job was that Dave got one of the first Apple LaserWriter printers. I got a serial cable and started to learn the PostScript programming language. Since it was syntactically similar to FORTH it was a breeze to get started. This was my real first experience with computer graphics and it was a really easy way to learn. This was helpful when a friend at SLAC, Kathy Dager, put me in touch with Dick Sweet at Adobe Systems.

At Adobe I got the opportunity to do a wide range of things, including teaching PostScript programming classes to a wide range of people, working with a number of high profile software developers, including Apple, Aldus, and Quark. While Adobe was in development of a second version of the PostScript programming language (PostScript Level 2) I got to be part of the design of the language.

When Adobe decided that they needed to write a new LaserWriter driver for the Macintosh, I met Rich Blanchard and he and I co-designed and (with a team of talented people) wrote a new PostScript printer driver for Macintosh. That project became a joint project with Apple and became Apple’s LaserWriter 8 printer driver.

This led to my direct involvement with Apple Computer. Over time I worked with Rich and others from the LaserWriter 8 team at RBI Software Systems where we did contract work for Apple, Adobe, Sun, IBM, and others. After 5 years of working with Apple as a contractor, Apple decided they wanted us to work exclusively for them and our team at RBI became Apple employees. I worked at Apple almost 13 years before leaving in January 2013 to take a break from working in the world of technology.

Without my involvement with Macintosh, I would not have met my wife of 25+ years nor most of the people who are my friends today. It has influenced my career, my personal life, and many of my interests that continue to this day.

So I mean it when I say the introduction of the Macintosh changed my life.



Moving the Crystal Ball

I never expected that my graduate school experience would include a ride in a C-5A military transport airplane, much less the opportunity to be in its cockpit during a mid-air refueling. But amazingly it did.

In April of 1982 I was part of a team that moved the Crystal Ball, a detector used for particle physics experiments, from Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) in Menlo Park, California to Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg, Germany. The Crystal Ball was unique among detectors used in particle physics in that it consisted almost completely of a spherical array of sodium iodide crystals and was an excellent tool for measuring the energy of gamma ray photons that can be produced in collisions of high energy particles. The success of the Crystal Ball at SPEAR resulted in an invitation from DESY to move it to the newly upgraded DORIS storage ring in Hamburg. (Some additional detail about the detector itself can be found in my PhD dissertation, starting on page 23 of the linked PDF file.)

Because the Crystal Ball was largely made up of sodium iodide, it needed to continually exist in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. Without this special handling, the crystals themselves would corrode and be worthless for experimental purposes. In addition there were concerns about it encountering excessive g-forces (i.e. sharp jolts) that might crack one or more crystals. Ultimately it was decided that instead of sending the most delicate portion via cargo ship, it would be transported by a C-5A military transport plane.

C5A overview

The heart of the detector was carefully packaged into special boxes constructed with a styrofoam cushion against shock and which allowed the flow of dry nitrogen to control the humidity. These boxes were loaded into a specially outfitted US shipping trailer and trucked to Travis Air Force Base northeast of San Francisco. The trailer itself was loaded into the C-5A and detached from the truck which stayed behind.

The cargo area of a C-5A is massive tube. Here’s a photo prior to the trailer being loaded.

Down the Plane Barrel

Prior to the flight we got a tour of the cockpit and I got to take some photos. This was as close as I ever expected to get.

Cockpit before flying

There were a couple of unusual aspects to flying in the passenger portion of the C-5A. For improved safety, the seat backs are in the direction of travel. At first this seemed odd but once you could no longer see out it really didn’t make any difference. And the windows themselves were either non-existent or were so high up that you couldn’t see out of them while seated. The biggest issue while flying was that it was LOUD. We all were given earplugs to wear during the flight but even with them it was loud. No doubt it was the most claustrophobic and uncomfortable flight I’ve every taken. But also the most incredible.

We took off and after a few hours there was going to be a mid-air refueling. I don’t know if that was strictly necessary or was done so that they could practice the process. Either way it was incredibly exciting because our team from SLAC was invited to the cockpit in groups so we could watch!

When I got to the cockpit, this was the scene I saw.

Cockpit During Refueling

After a short while I got to locate myself just behind the pilot’s seat, to the left of his left shoulder. And what I saw startled me at first. Flying at our speed, just above and in front of us, was another airplane. The photo below was taken through the left side of the windshield in the cockpit and you can clearly see the boom that was already attached to our plane, providing fuel. I don’t know the distance between the two planes but it could have been as close as 20 feet and almost certainly wasn’t more than 50. Let’s just say it was close.

Midair Refueling A

Below the boom is a window where the boom operator in the other plane can see our plane and properly guide the boom. I was able to take a photo where you can see the boom operator’s face through that window.

The Fueling Operator

Once the refueling was complete, the boom was withdrawn and the other plane slowly flew away from us.

Midair Refueling C

Once it got a sufficient distance away, the fins on the boom became visible.

Midair Refueling E

Midair Refueling G

What an amazing opportunity! It was an unforgettable experience to be in that cockpit. And I can’t believe that I got to take photos.

Once we’d taken off, the landing was the next risk point in the journey. Because large g-forces could be damaging to our cargo, we’d equipped the trailer with recording accelerometers so we could monitor the conditions. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was the smoothest landing I’ve ever experienced while flying. We landed safely and encountered no problems with the detector.

Here’s a photo of the trailer being safely unloaded from the C-5A. That’s me with the red backpack on the right side of the photo.

Arriving in Frankfurt

They took a group photo of the flight crew plus our team. The civilian team was led by Dr. Ian Kirkbride from Stanford and Dr. Don Coyne from Princeton. Chad Edwards (now at JPL) was a Cal Tech graduate student at the time and is the redhead at the bottom-left in front. I’m at the back with my hair flying, sandwiched between two air force men. Other members of our team were Jim Nolan, John Hawley, Bob Parks, and Sal Fazzino. (Apologies to anyone I left out or whose name I got wrong. It was almost 32 years ago!)

Flight Crew

Now all we had to do was drive from where we’d landed at Rhein-Main Air Force Base in Frankfurt to our final destination in Hamburg. But there was a surprise in store for us.

During the drive from Frankfurt to Hamburg we took turns traveling inside the trailer, riding with the crates holding the Crystal Ball hemispheres. The idea was to ensure that the environment was being maintained during the trip. At some point along the drive I was in the windowless trailer when the truck unexpectedly slowed down and stopped. The truck had blown out a gasket or thrown a rod and that was going to require a major overhaul. That didn’t seem like too big a deal until we found out that there was only one other truck in Germany that could pull our trailer. Apparently the coupling needed for pulling an American trailer was rarely available. It’s safe to say that there was a lot of confusion when the breakdown occurred. I think this photo captures that.

Frankfurt to Hamburg

In truth, the remainder of the trip went smoothly. The replacement truck arrived the following day and we were able to transport the trailer containing the Crystal Ball safely to its new home at DESY. Here’s a photo of the trailer after the Crystal Ball was unloaded from it at DESY.

Crystal Ball Trailer

And the Crystal Ball was installed inside the radiation area where the beams collide.

Experiment Pit

It was all quite an adventure. And one of my fondest memories from graduate school.